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My Red Clay Diary is safely hidden from harm within my Book of the Thousand and One Amazements, deep within a bank of red clay, covered over by kudzu.

Each day, new amazements occur. I tend to notice them.


Once you’ve read the scariest books ever written, Halloween is never over, and you are never the same.

Now that the silly and frolicsome Day of the Living (the commercial free-for-all that Halloween has become) is done and gone, let’s contemplate some really scary stuff…the stuff that nightmares are made of.

The scariest book I ever read: Castaway by James Gould Cozzens, published in 1934.

I don’t know why every teacher of literature, every writing instructor, isn’t assigning this book to students who are interested in really writing scary, writing well. This book leaves a lifetime impression and may even defy categorization. It could be called a horror story, though nothing really supernatural occurs. It could be called a dark fantasy, but there are no levitations or spells or exploding heads. It could be termed a remarkable work of avant-garde fiction, but nothing about it is pretentious. It might be a mystery, but it’s even hard to define what’s mysterious about it.

I won’t reveal more, because I want you to read it for yourself. Let’s just say it’s the story of a man trapped in a department store. Let’s just say it might be a re-telling of Robinson Crusoe. Let’s just say it’s a survivalist tale, a morality tale. Let’s just say it will stick with you.

The amazement of books such as this is that one short line can make you jump, can make your neck-hairs stand on end, can bring chills...

Here’s my list of the scariest books/stories ever written.

Castaway by James Gould Cozzens

("What he would do if he heard it, Mr. Lecky did not know. In despairing anticipation he feared to hear as much as he feared not hearing anything. To be pursued and know it was hardly better than to be pursued and not know it...")


Dracula by Bram Stoker

("As the Count leaned over me and his hands touched me, I could not repress a shudder...")


It’s a Good Life by Jerome Bixby

(“Next day it snowed, and killed off half the crops--but it was a good day .”)


Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

(“…my only way to go about an attempt for an escape was, if possible, to get a savage into my possession…”)


The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

(“And strangest of all is it to hold my wife’s hand again, and to think that I have counted her, and that she has counted me, among the dead.”)


I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

("A coughing chuckle filled his throat. He turned and leaned against the wall while he swallowed the pills. Full circle, he thought while the final lethargy crept into his limbs." )


Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham

(“How do you get to be a geek? I can't understand how anybody can get so low.”)


October Game by Ray Bradbury

(“Then…some idiot turned on the lights.”)


The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber

(“Even if you were the mighty Zorn of Zorna, you could not escape the fury of the Duke. He’ll slit you from your guggle to your zatch…”)

--Jim Reed © 2009 A.D.





I am a hugger.

Not a mugger, not a lugger, not a slugger…but a hugger.

I generally keep my emotional and/or physical distance from strangers, but when I really like somebody, and when it’s safe to do so, I tend to greet them with a hug—or at least a handshake.

Over the decades, I’ve evolved. One of the few advantages of aging is that I now see patterns in things, cause-and-effect phenomena in things…so that my behavior has subtly shifted.

Some things I’ve learned about hugging:

1. Some people respond readily to a quick hug and seem flushed with pleasure at this nice surprise.

2. Some people respond but quickly back away, as if they don’t know what to do after a hug.

3. Some people stiffen and don’t respond to the hug. These are folks I won’t hug again, unless they initiate.

4. Some people back away and will do anything to avoid a hug in the first place.

5. Some people hug a little too long and make me want to back away.

6. Some people, at first reluctant at each hug, now approach me as if they will actually miss the hug if I don’t provide it.

7. Some guys are huggable, but others try to avoid it because, well, they don’t think it’s guyish. These are often older or elderly guys, whose generation doesn’t cater to this kind of behavior.

8. Some people exude a kind of sensuousness when I hug them, so I tend not to try to hug them again, lest something happens. This used to occur a lot more when I was young…with sometimes pleasant results. No more—I’ve been happily monogamous for more than three decades.

Even after studying hugging for sixty years, I still don’t know why most huggers pat each other on the back. Maybe it’s a kind of sign language that says, “Just hugging! Nothing more is meant!”

Anyhow, there’s lots of horror and sorrow and grief in the world that’s beyond my control. Maybe hugging is something I can do that reminds me that people can be pleasant to one another, even when they can’t think of anything comforting to say aloud

© Jim Reed 2009 A.D.





I was brought up in a two-bedroom asbestos-shingled bungalow housing two parents and four brothers and sisters. Sounds crowded, but we didn’t know it. My younger younger brother, Tim, slept in the den (where books and television and dining room and family room mingled), my older younger brother, Ronny, slept on the bottom bunk and I on the top bunk of our own bedroom, older sister Barbara slept in a room that was once our paneled-in front porch, and younger sister Rosi occupied Barbara’s room, then our bedroom, once we had up and moved away.

Our parents had their own bedroom.

So, we made do. And it all seemed perfectly natural.

But the one sacred room in the house was our sole bathroom.

It was the primp room, the reading room, the telephone booth (our single phone cord reached from the hallway into the bathroom)…the only place any member of the family could disappear into for a little privacy. The primary challenge was timing. In order to escape the merry chaos of seven people and assorted visiting pets and neighbors and relatives was to find the bathroom vacant and maximize your private time. That’s why the bathroom always housed books and magazines and notepads. It was the only place you didn’t risk having somebody look over your shoulder.

All spaces were small, in that little home on Eastwood Avenue in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. You learned to get a lot done in a tiny area…and to this day, I tend to work within a few square feet, no matter how much space is at my disposal. I surround myself with books and diaries and papers and magazines and keepsakes wherever I am. I even write and edit in small spaces—it just doesn’t feel right, sitting in the middle of a large, vacant room with plenty of stretch space. It’s not quite as extreme as hunching over your food, prisoner-like, guarding your plate on three sides, but it is the way I’ve survived all these years.

Five out of the seven of us Reeds are what you call introverts. For instance, I take my privacy with me wherever I go. Even in a crowded room, you’ll often find me in a corner looking at books or examining artifacts or talking with just one person at a time. Two of us introvert Reeds are performers, so sometimes you’ll see us entertaining large groups of people and mistake us for extroverts. Not so. We’re merely performers, actors. I am comfortable in front of a crowd when they’re all paying attention, when they have brought me in to entertain. It’s exhilarating. But, in the true tradition of introversion, it’s also exhausting.

After a performance, I re-charge by being alone and quiet.

All these years, I’ve been grateful for learning at the age of 13 that I was an actor, performer, public speaker at heart. This skill enables an otherwise shy person to excite crowds and classrooms—easy to do, so long as I know that I can ride away afterward, saying, as the Lone Ranger used to comment to his companion, “Our job is done here. Let’s go!”

It also allows me to run a very public bookstore and love it. I can perform for each customer, one on one or in groups, playing the part of book dealer. Then, I can go home to my quietness and re-charge for the next day.

Because of who I am, because of how I was raised, I have the best of both worlds. I’m able to be alone anywhere anytime with any number of people…and I’m able to switch on, enjoy, joke with and entertain whenever I feel like it.

I get my jollies, then ride off into the sunset.

Ain’t life great

--© Jim Reed 2009 A.D.





Kay Ivey, speaking at her good-ol’-boy deliberative mushmouth best in a broadcast interview this week, talked straight-faced about how heart rendering the situation was. I don’t remember now what the “situation” was because I was giggling too loud to hear the rest of the story. Her rendering of heart rending was one of those dozens of misunderestimations of the English language I hear daily.

These grating but funny language misuses and mispronunciations give me hope.

NOO-(rhymes with boo!)-kuh-ler physics

NOO-kuh-ler FIZZ-uz-ist

REEL-uh-ter (actually pronounced that way by two realtors I know)


PATH-us (it’s PAY-thoss, dadgummit!)

A-(rhymes with say!)-rab, Alabama (actually, this one is correct)

HEE-nee-uss crime (HAY-nuss, I tell you!) That’s a heinous way to pronounce this!

“The data is overwhelming.” No, the data are overwhelming!

“The media is biased.” No, the media are biased. Or not.

“It’s color is bright.” No, its color is bright. Please!

“Its high time.” No, it’s high time. Pleeze!

Ann-R-tic (no, it’s ant-ARK-tic)

FIZZ-uh-cull year (FISS-cull year!)

Miss-CHEEV-ee-us (It’s MISS-chev-vous)

And so on…

Why do these gaffs give me hope? Well, they distract me from the truly disturbing rants I hear from people who inject themselves with Type A LimbaughBeckPalin serum before leaving the house. I don’t mind their addictions, I just wish they’d button their lips when I’m trying to hold a normal conversation.

Our neighbor-across-the-alley’s car was vandalized overnight, and all he could say to Liz was, “One of your Obama voters broke into my vehicle last night.”

My customer searching for the book The Nazi Doctors urged me to read it, “because that’s where Obama got his plan for health care…they’re gonna get us all, you know.”

Another customer wants to purchase the Anarchist Cookbook because he’s preparing for the big revolution.

And one customer wants books on witchcraft so he can get rid of all those (fill in the blank) who are ruining this nation.

And so on, again…

Actually, I know that most folks have a box marked “crazy” under their beds (to paraphrase Jon Stewart), which they bring out on special occasions. But a little restraint would be appreciated by those of us who just want to laugh at a few mispronounced words. We’d rather not hear the misguided ideas that seem designed as code language for racism, bigotry, intolerance, hatred and mean-spiritedness.

Just bring a mispronunciation into the shop and make me laugh!

Or not

© 2009 A.D. Jim Reed





To you, I am who you think I am.


Is this true, or just a throw-away statement in the middle of a column of words?

Let me think…

When I the bearded bald elder walk into a gathering-place of under-thirties, I am assured of being left alone and ignored.

If I wear black shirt & jacket with a white square of plastic in the front center of my neckline, I am noticed, smiled at, glanced at, even greeted and engaged in conversation.

If I am garbed in checked lumberjack shirt and khaki pants, I am shunned and never looked in the eye.

If I walk into the gathering-place with a celebrity friend, the place is suddenly all eyes and flirtation.

If I totter in on walking cane, people are nervous, avert their eyes, but at least hold the door open for me.

If I walked in ostentatiously tossing five-dollar bills about and yelling, “There’s more where this comes from!” I would get more attention than I’ll ever desire.

And so on.

What is my point? Is it: I am all people, and each of the people you see wherever you go…they are all me. They are all you.

Do they deserve your attention, your concern, your engagement, your trust?

You tell me

--Jim Reed © 2009 A.D.




Here's an entry from March, 1997, back when I just didn't sleep much.

Know how that feels?


Red Clay Diary


Insomnia can bring the proudest the mightiest the most arrogant to their knees since there seems to be no magic solution to having a drug-free good night's sleep, the kind of sleep you used to have when you were young and without responsibility.

Back then, you just had to wake up, signal that you wanted to be fed, signal that you wanted to have your diaper changed, signal that you wanted to be cuddled, signal that you just felt restless and wanted to make sure everybody was paying exclusive attention to you and you alone, signal that you were once again ready to sleep the sweet-dreamed-sleep of the innocent.

But nowadays when you can't get a good night's sleep you spend the next day wandering around wondering whether you should just lie down on the floor when you feel like it and catch a few seconds of snooze to build up collateral for tonight when sure enough at the exact moment you want to go into deep sleep you become once again more wide-awake than you ever are in the daytime and you lie there trying to find just the right position just the right attitude just the right soothing slumbering thought to make you doze off but then you just snap right awake and find yourself meandering around the house eating ice cream working jigsaw puzzles reading partial chapters and finally dozing off in the most unlikely of spots--never of course in the genuine pre-approved guaranteed spot that they always made you believe you should be occupying during sleep.

In the wee gigantic hours of the morning you almost want to take medication hit yourself over the head into unconsciousness learn Zen so that you can meditate yourself into oblivion run laps till you're so tired you can at least lapse into exhaustion if not sleep but none of that ever seems to come about so you find yourself going through the daylight hours being distracted and almost completely forgetting that you should be dreading the fact that tonight you once again won't be able to sleep during the appointed hours and isn't this somewhat metaphorical or something or maybe you should just stop whining and get on with appreciating the fact that you don't need as much sleep as others.

You after all can get mucho stuff done like this here diary entry





Dear Diary,

Attended 50th high school class reunion.

This I definitely won’t be doing again.

I’m sad, glad, mad, bemused.

Life rushes, we trickle.

Those kids with their parents’ faces,

Their parents’ bodies,

Their parents’ movements and gaits…

They are now their own parents, their own grandparents.

Do I know everybody?

Do I recognize everybody?

Only in memory sweet,

In memory sad,

In memory most dear.

Do I brag or try to impress anybody?

The urge is gone,

All vanity spent.

Storytellers abound…

Tears and fidgeting,

Yawns and giggles.

It’s amazingly congenial.

No ego-needs apply here.

No egos need apply.

Did any of these old young people

Ever really get out of high school?

Where are the folks I want to see but can’t find?

Who are the dead I want to resurrect for a moment?

Down the days, who will be the last graduate standing,

Who will be the last to remember their locker combination,

Who will be the last player chosen for the phys ed team





"I haven't read a book since high school, when they made us read Silas Marner--and I hated that book," one of my lunchtime compatriots told me recently.

It wasn't the first time I'd heard that said, and I'm sure it won't be the last time. Many people just give up trying to read because of the way in which reading is taught. Too much criticism, too much handed-down dogma about what a book means, what an author was trying to say. Not enough attention is paid to reading for the sheer pleasure of it, reading to find one's own meaning separate and apart from what the author meant to say. Indeed, do we ever really know what an author intended to say? Does the author even know, most of the time?

Besides, it's not true that this compatriot doesn't read books. He happens to be one of the great sports fans of all time, and he knows as much about his special sports and his favorite players as Ken Burns knows about the Civil War! In other words, he's read Sports Illustrated cover to cover this week, read the sports page in the paper every day, and read other fanzines to keep up with his field--not to mention having watched a couple of dozen ball games on TV, when he isn't busy listening to one on the radio. If you place all the pages of material in a pile, all the transcripts from the broadcast shows in the same pile, then place hard covers on the top and bottom of the stack, you'll find that this fellow has read the equivalent of War and Peace in no time at all.

Yet he refuses to call this reading a book.

My only point is, this reader finds something off-putting about the term book, so he doesn't use that term. Perhaps we booklovers and scholars have done something to make him shun the word books. Maybe we've made bookie things sound too elitist or effete or affected. That's too bad--because if it's true, we've also painted him into a corner about wanting to write something about his life--in other words, if he won't read a book, he certainly won't write one!

"I don't know any poems, and of course I don't read poetry!" another diner companion vows.

This diner is denying the obvious: that there are literally hundreds of poems rattling around in his head, and he knows damned near every one of them by heart: They're called songs! Songs are just poems with some background noise thrown in. This guy drives around the city listening to all these poems and even reciting them aloud.

Have we turned him away from poetry, too?

No wonder the average American doesn't donate to the fine arts or go to libraries or frequent bookstores or write family reminiscences. Something has spooked the average American away from the printed word. It just ain't cool.

Your turn to rant.

Comments, please

(Adapted from How to Become Your Own Book by Jim Reed)





by Jim Reed

As a 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 loft, 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 sex 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





Good writing is what you like.

Bad writing is what you like that I don't like.

Good writing is what you don't like that the critics like, so you go along with it and pretend to like it.

Bad writing is what the critics don't like that I like, but I don't say anything because, you know, the critics must be right and I must have missed something.

Good writing is what gets you a good grade in Writing Class, no matter how bad it is.

Bad writing is what gets you a bad grade in Writing Class, no matter how good it is.

Good writing is what you are ready to read when you read it.

Bad writing is what may be good but you're reading it before you're ready to read it.

Good writing is, I know what I like, and this is it.

Bad writing is, What in the world came over that writer?

Good writing is my taste.

Bad writing is not my taste.

Good writing is writing that can't really be good because that very successful and filthy-rich writer produced it.

Good writing is what that starving, self-destructive but passionate writer produced--so it has to be good, you know?

Good writing must never be judged objectively. You might discard most of it if you did.

Bad writing must never be judged objectively. You might embrace most of it if you did.

Bad writing is necessary, in order to have good writing.

Good writing is necessary, in order to have bad writing.

Bad writing is sometimes the most-read, most long-lasting writing.

Good writing sometimes lasts about as long as ducktail haircuts.

Bad writing often endures





Who notices gravel?

when all about us is

mountain, sky, cloud, stream


Who notices dust?

when we only wish to scatter

it elsewhere


Who pays attention to the life and

well-being of shadows?

when we only want to deal

with solids and liquids and vapors


Who notices what the world is like

during a blink?


Jim Reed © 2009 A.D.





1 read the daily comics to each other

2 make each other laugh for no particular reason

3 scratch each others’ backs

4 go for rides in no special direction with no particular reason in mind

5 bump against each other in the kitchen

6 laugh at our differences and peculiarities

7 remark on the caricatures of aging

8 mull over our habits and customs

9 talk about how much better the world would be, if only

10 note how nothing ever really changes

11 compare aches and pains

12 laugh at the clerical mind and the bureaucratic mind and the blinders-vision of others

13 hug each other for a good reason

14 hug each other for no reason at all

15 go over the Past

16 ponder the Future

17 remind each other to avoid people who detest us or exploit us or depress us or suck up all our time

18 compare notes on the wonderful eccentricities of our favorite friends and acquaintances

19 compare our longings

20 share hope for the well-being of our kids and their kids and their kids’ future kids

21 try to come up with small ways to matter more

22 take turns doing what we can do

23 take turns avoiding doing things we do not know how to do effectively

24 share our individual solitudes in wordless communication

25 know when to talk and chatter and signify

26 know when to shut up and inhale the special silences

27 listen to the stories of our friends and customers and family and patrons

28 revel in relating our special stories and experiences to those who will listen

29 watch Jon Stewart and Bill Maher and Brian Lamb

30 have dinner with good conversationalists

31 talk about those pesky squirrels and pesky mice and pesky loud barkers and pesky fruit flies and pesky beetles

32 feel the beautiful creaking age of our century-old home

33 try to read the caller id before lifting the receiver





I like the slippery past of my mind.

May I explain?

As a village elder, I can tell you this for sure: memory improves with age. Once I experience something, it remains indelible in my stockpiled recesses. As I grow and gain wisdom and interpret those images a thousandfold, the pixels increase in density and complexity and project a clearer, higher-definition memoir.

I’m not kidding!

By the time the brew ferments, maybe a month later, maybe half a century later, it’s ready to share with others.

At that point, it is birthed as a fully-developed child in the latest story or column that writes itself for me. It comes out unedited, unexpurgated, undiluted, and complete.

I don’t understand how this happens, but now that I’ve written more than 2,000 stories and pieces of stories, and a dozen or so books, I’m pretty used to the process.

One litmus test is to allow the stories to leak out into the cosmos so that readers can check them out, test the facts, critique the results. From them, I’ve learned that my mind, as flaky as it outwardly appears, is actually a pretty good recorder of life.

At my age, I’m finally beginning to trust my writing instincts and storytelling skills.

So, I guess it’s time to dust off the manuscript I wrote a few years back and publish a new and improved edition for the world to see. With the encouragement of my muses, Liz Reed (www.lizreed.com) and Irene Latham (www.irenelatham.com), my workbook, How To Become Your Own Book, is going to press.

The book is for skilled writers who want some jumpstarting…for beginning writers who want an emotional roadmap…for those who don’t think they are writers but actually are.

Wish me luck. I’ll keep you posted.

Before my mind gets too slippery

© Jim Reed 2009 A.D.

* * * * * *

* * * * * *

* * * * * *

(True story...)

* * * * * *

* * * * * *

* * * * * *


Once upon a time or two

when I was less than three

A chicken jumped into my bed

and gave a fright to me.

She fluttered up and cackled ‘round

the room for all to see,

She made me cry, she made me laugh

and clap my hands in glee.

Granny chased her with a broom,

Mama shoo’d her loud,

The chicken left us with a zoom

and flew up to a cloud.

Later, when I saw her pecking

all about the grounds,

I cackled and she laughed at me.

We both made funny sounds.

I waved and smiled and whispered,

“Come back another day,

so we can scare each other

into having fun at play.”

* * * * * *

* * * * * *

* * * * * *

* * * * * *


My vision is photographic.

Not my memory, just my vision.

I remember small details that seem important at the time.

I don’t remember names, but I can tell you way too much about the image that sticks in my mind about everybody I meet.

Who knows how this happens? Probably just genetics.

But sometimes, this is fun. Want some examples?


The clerk at the counter seems not there. She looks like she’s there, but her mind, oh, her mind...her field of vision, oh, her field of vision...they are definitely somewhere else. She’ll never remember our moment together.


The singer is my age, his smooth tones have transmogrified into a galloping vibrato. It makes it more beautiful.


The overlapping-belly green-shirted baseball-capped Bermuda-shorted guy totes a large K-Mart bag and wanders about the lot, looking for his car.

Maybe he’s still searching.


The Day Glo fluorescent-finger-nail employee at the Salvation Army Thrift Store has bright blonde hair and deepdark skin and a ready wit. She makes me smile at nothing in particular.


Two tall hairbraided guys at Dollar Tree talk enthusiastically about their momentary problem: whether there’s enough ice at home or whether they should buy another bag next door at Food World. It’s a big deal, their moment, and don’t you laugh about it, you hear?


A bloated male clerk at the Salvation Army Thrift Store is in charge of re-arranging the deck chairs and making the place neater. There is an enormous stuffed mascot bear lying deathlike on the floor. He brings it to life by placing it into a wheelchair. Now, the animal is merely handicapped. The clerk kicks at the children’s books scattered about but doesn’t pick them up.

Bending would be required.

Effort would be required.


The golden-tressed woman with bare midriff looks good far away. But oh, the close-up: weathered face and flabby paunch and deep frown report her real life to me.


The smokin’ zombie girls still smoke on break outside my store, hissing into cellphones, double-inhaling, chain-lighting-up, happy to be outside in the heat, away from the smoke-free zombie cubicles inside the multi-decked office buildings

(c) Jim Reed 2009 A.D.





What if my opinion matters?

What if what I think and utter actually has importance?

What if my thoughts are carefully considered by those within receiving distance of my communiqués?

Well, that is quite a fantasy, isn’t it? I’ve become accustomed, here in my small world of tomes and ‘tiques, to expressing myself fairly openly and safely, simply because I’m certain that almost no-one listens or takes me seriously.

For many years, my now-defunct weekly column, Life Is An Open Book, was snail-mailed to fellow old bookies in four countries, almost entirely outside the State of Alabama. Within the pages of that column, I was able to chat about whatever seemed important to me, regardless of whether it was important to others. I could tell tales about my eccentric city and my eccentric customers and my eccentric proclivities without fear of hurting anybody’s feelings or incurring anyone’s wrath, because there was no chance these folks would ever see the column.

This was fine for me, because I have no desire to damage or embarrass anyone, even though I feel strongly that their stories must be told.

So, I had a grand time, in those pre-internet days, evangelizing my cause—the belief that everyone’s story is important to know, to learn from, even if the story is private. It was a great metaphorical way to tell the tale my life has become without worrying about lawsuits or vendettas or alienations.

Nowadays, though, with my weekly column (now known as a blast) going out to thousands of people both within and without Alabama, I find myself becoming more cautious and respectful of my readers. If I have a metaphorical tale to tell, I either change the names of the mentioned parties, or I use no name at all. Otherwise, I still write exactly what I want to write.

Interestingly, I find that the people about whom I write, when they happen to read the column, seldom recognize themselves…so I am safe.

And you, the reader, you the customer, I do write about you, too. You are buried within my stories and columns, but only because you have a special gift to share with the world…the gift of who you are and what we can learn from you, what you can teach us. You may not know it, but whenever you walk into my shop, contact me via email or phone, see me on the street, you are telling me a story that I must eventually pass along to my red clay diary, to my Book of Amazements, to my readers.

You are a story. You are a living book. I must and will turn your pages, even when you’re not looking.

Keep on reading.

You may discover that the most delightful story of all is you




THE FLUFFY GENTLE COTTON BLUE AND WHITE FROCK FLOATS IN THE BREEZE past the book shop window and contained therein is a young slim body topped with blonde long hair flowing flowing flowing in the June-cool Thursday morning.

Another day at the shop, and its owner is standing at the window licking postage stamps and pressing them against the upper right-hand corners of a stack of envelopes.

Just the other day, a white sports car pulled up before the parking meter in front of the bookstore. Moving gracefully out of the driver's side was another young woman dressed in high heels and short short dress, her stockingless legs evenly toned and steady on the pavement as she walked around the front of the car and bent down to open the passenger door.

Gently, she removed a small basket from the seat and just as gently carried it to the book shop door and entered.

The owner recognized her as a regular customer who, a few weeks before, was body-large with wedlockless child, the same child who now occupied the basket she carried. The owner was introduced to the infant Sidney, whose tiny feet and toes curled in silent slumber, oblivious to the old books and the old relic proprietor and the young exotic dancer who had decided to raise her on her own and was now back to dancing at Sammy's Go-Go Lounge.

The customer beamed at the basket and its contents, picked up the books the owner had been holding for her these last few weeks, and pulled out the usual large roll of five-dollar bills she carried.

The tab was 50 dollars, so the owner was ten five-dollar bills richer.

He watched as she carried her precious cargo to the car and drove away, then went about his business and filed the experience away with all the other unusual and eccentric happenings of book shop life.

The infant Sidney was an intimate contact between the owner and his customer, and it occurred to him later that the five-dollar bills were probably equally intimate objects, since they had most likely been received as tax-free tips during her performances.

The book store owner had a sense of feeling intimate with all his customers, though the intimacies were varied and vexing and joyful and sad, depending on what and when and where.

He felt that opening a book and finding a pressed flower or a love letter was just as intimate an act as looking at a basketed infant fresh out of the womb or a folded five-dollar bill recently pressed against the skin of a young exotic dancer in the remains of a big city on a cool June morning



Customer walks into a bookstore and asks, "How much do your books cost?"

Customer walks into a bookstore and asks, "How do you know where everything is?"

Customer walks into a bookstore and asks, "Is this a library?"

Customer walks into a bookstore and asks, "What do you have all these old books for?"

Customer walks into a bookstore and asks, "Have you read all these books?"

Customer walks into a bookstore and asks, "Do you actually make a living, doing this?"

And so on.

Well, the bookstore is Reed Books Antiques/The Museum of Fond Memories, and these are representative questions asked us practically every week for more than twenty years.

I never know what to answer.

When I'm feeling Bugs Bunny-ish, I make a wisecrack--just to entertain myself ("Yep, I've read every book here--except for that one!").

But I'm learning over time (maturity is highly overrated) that a lot of people don't have a sense of humor--or they don't have my sense of humor, and think I'm just being a wise guy, which, after all, Bugs Bunny is, right?

Besides, many of the questions are asked by customers who don't know what to do, once they're inside the store. Some of them have never been to an old bookstore, some have never voluntarily read a book from cover to cover (no kidding--they brag about it), some actually mis-read the sign and think it says Free Books (thus the library question), others have been told by librarians that any book more than seven years old should be de-acquisitioned (thus the old books question), others don't see lots of folks lolling about drinking coffee and eyeing other customers (thus the make a living question), others don’t associate computers and databases with old books, thus the know where everything is question.

I try to assist these folks and am sometimes successful in making them feel comfortable.

I do enjoy the anthropology of it all, but I'm also grateful for folks who come in and get excited about the fact that we are a wonderful emporium of memories, dreams, reflections, thoughts, feelings...a bumper car-turned-rollercoaster kind of place where anything can happen, where anything can find you and beg you to adopt it, if you'll only just stop and listen for a mo'



My Red Clay Diary is safely hidden from harm within my Book of the Thousand and One Amazements,

deep within a bank of red clay, covered over by kudzu. Each day, new amazements occur. I tend to

notice them. In case you missed them, here are some more:



by Jim Reed

“The Big Bosses say we’ve got to get busy making Downtown Birmingham work better,” city employee L.G. says to fellow city employee G.L., as they sit down at the Formica conference table under the blue-tinged fluorescent lights.

“Well, what could be better than what we’re already doing?” asks G.L., who is willing to implement rules if it could just be determined what the rules are.

“I don’t know...but the Bosses say we need to do some brainstorming and bring them some new ideas,” L.G. grumbles, pulling out a legal pad and a pocket-protector ballpoint pen.

After a period of silence, during which both employees realize they don’t have any ideas but had darned well better come up with something to fill the pages of that legal pad, they start rattling off thoughts.

“I know—why doesn’t the city impose a fine that punishes visitors and shoppers for breaking the rules? That would bring in some extra revenue and maybe please the Bosses,” says L.G.

G.L. says, “How would that work?”

L.G. nibbles the tip of the pen and begins to get excited. “Well, let’s say some shopper breaks the law and parks in one on-street parking space for more than two hours. Any idiot should be able to get their shopping done in less time than that—then, they’d be taking up space that other people could use,” L.G. proudly exclaims.

L.G. likes this idea and is on a roll. “Yeah, let’s make the shopper really suffer, so that this won’t be repeated. What if we charge a $30.00 SHOPPING PENALTY for each infraction? That should teach ‘em!”

G.L. approves but has a sudden out-of-the-blue thought. “Is there any precedent for this? Like, does Homewood do this, or do the Summit and Galleria malls charge their shoppers for staying too long and spending too much money?”

L.G. is impatient. “Don’t be silly. Those malls would close down within a month if the public learned they’d have to pay for parking and pay extra shopping penalties—they’d just go someplace else.”

G.L. is confused. “Well, wouldn’t that be the case Downtown, too? I mean, wouldn’t people stop visiting and shopping here if they learned about these penalties?’

L.G. is trying to impart wisdom to the less experienced G.L. without being critical. “No, you don’t understand. This is BIRMINGHAM ! Birmingham doesn’t have to follow the same rules as the Malls and the Suburbs. The City doesn’t have to make money off of retail like those places do—in the City, we can make more money imposing fines than we could ever make from having free on-street parking for retail businesses.”

G.L. wants to learn but is still puzzled. “Are you sure? I mean, like, if you attracted a whole lot of retail and service and professional businesses Downtown, wouldn’t you wind up making big bucks from taxes…maybe even more bucks than the Meter Maids bring in?”

This is an alien concept to L.G., who was brought up in the post-Costa-Head/Birmingham Green era, when it was assumed that the City would never again be a retail center. “Look, it’s just plain easier this way. We won’t have to exert much effort to get this extra income. Just double the parking fines, double the loading zone fines, enforce the parking limits to a T and rake in the revenue. We don’t even have to be polite to the shoppers and merchants. Just do our job. The Bosses will be proud.”

G.L. at this point makes a mistake and begins to think outside the box. “But, what about the merchants? Won’t they lose customers and consider moving to the ’burbs? What about the customers, won’t they realize you can park free and friendly at every strip mall and shopping center in the state? What about the tourists and conventioneers and layovers and others who come through the City every day? Won’t they get a bad taste in their mouths, knowing that the Tourist Association is begging them to come to Birmingham but isn’t warning them about all these penalties in advance?”

At this point, L.G. make an important notation on his legal pad. Something like G.L. isn’t going to make it in this department. G.L. needs transfer. G.L. troublemaker.

"Well, let me spell it out for you, G.L. The more we punish the merchants and visitors and shoppers, the more money we make. If they're not willing to pay the penalties, let 'em go elsewhere. There are always plenty more fresh faces coming to town."

L.G. leaves the table, dismisses G.L. and starts preparing his report for the Big Bosses




How many lives have I saved today?

Hmm. Let me see…

I drive the speed limit to work, and a good thing, too, since one cell-phoner blissfully and unconsciously drifts through a busy stop sign intersection without noticing the resultant chaos on the part of drivers trying to avoid collision. One oblivious life spared.

I and other drivers slow to a stop to allow a vehicle to proceed one way the wrong way down a one-way street. We’re used to this. A life spared.

I carefully avoid racing through a neighborhood peopled with little people, just in case one might dart forth. Another life spared.

I try to comfort a disoriented pedestrian who has been attempting to make sense of Downtown addresses in order to reach a destination. I correct the inaccurate address, set the handicapped pedestrian straight, and watch till all seems safely reached. Another life spared?

I refrain from taking my own life to avoid the political rant my talk-radio-listening customer waxes angrily—he is pretending that everything he says is originally dreamed up by hisself, when it is actually straight from the memo that goes out to all believers in that particular section of the ultra-conservative-to-ultra-liberal electronic space-time continuum. One—perhaps two—lives spared.

In the end, do you and I get credit for saving these and thousands of other lives during a lifetime of trying to do the right thing? I guess not. And I guess we should feel guilty for even thinking about the subject.

What really interests me is how, with one slip-up, a person can be known for the rest of a long life as the one who caused somebody else’s death. A jury would simply laugh off the contention that this person spared some 40,000 lives during a lifetime of being careful, yet is judged finally by that one-time error.

I always think of what attorney Bryan Stevenson says: “A person is more than the worst thing he ever did.”

You are more than the worst thing you ever did.

Imagine that





(January 20, 2009 A.D.)


My friend, the late Marie Stokes Jemison, always had the same thing to say when she met somebody new, "And who are your people?"

Marie recognized that everybody was connected to everybody else. She just wanted to know exactly how.

When I drive around on this side of what we in Birmingham call The Mountain, I can’t help noticing how connected everybody is, and how every thing, even though inanimate, is connected to everybody, every living thing.

That philosopher guy, Emerson, said, "There is no such thing as history. There is only biography." If you don’t believe it, try looking at a Downtown structure without connecting it to somebody, lots of somebodies, as a matter of fact.

For the past 30 years, each time I pass by a certain building on Highland Avenue, I remember my father. Even though the building has been face-lifted and revived several times over the decades, one thing cannot be changed: my father helped build that building. And it is that fact alone that makes me realize how people-connected all the Downtown buildings are.

My father was a construction supervisor way back when, and his project was to build that building, and build it he did--with the help and companionship of a great diversity of people. Each brick in that building is engraved (but only in my mind) with the names of all the people who dreamed the building, who made the dream come true, all the people whose scraped knuckles and bruised fingers and dusty palms and stretched sinews made that dream come to life, made it last, down all the years.

Even one day in the future, when that building comes down, when that building is replaced with a new dream by a new diversity of minds and muscles, the essence of that structure will remain, as long as I and all the relatives and friends of those red-brick names remember...

We all come from red clay and will return to some version of it. But in the in-between period, it’s good and right to recall the people who made Downtown come alive, who nurtured it for a while, who treated it with respect, who infused their dreams into its girders and bricks and planks and asphalt.

Become a tourist for a few minutes. Cruise Downtown. Look at the buildings. Look beyond, at the friendly ghosts who remain a presence here.

Don’t forget to wave and smile and nod




(January 6, 2009 A.D.)


by Jim Reed

Trying to fight the grey day and the grey skies on Monday morning, I drop the humid laundry bags off and race from laundry door to car, hoping to dodge a panhandler or two.

"What do you writhe?" a feminine voice asks loudly behind me in the mottled parking lot.

Dang! I think. Someone's about to hustle me.

I look over my shoulder as I hurry to make it into the car.

There's a frizzy-grey-haired street woman of indeterminate age toothy-grinning at me. She repeats whatever it is she said.

"What do you writhe?"

"I can't understand you," I say, hoping she'll go away.

I notice that her toothy grin is actually an every-other-tooth grin, since she's missing sections of the usual white row. She grins widely again, like a happy, soulful jack-o'-lantern.

"What do you write?"

Now she points to the back of my car, where my self-printed bumper sticker proclaims O What Fun It Is To Write.

Dang again! I think to myself. I've once again made a fool of myself. She wants to know what it is that I write.

I grin back, showing more teeth than her.

"Oh, I write books and stories," I say.

"Like what?" she grins engagingly. She's really interested!

"Well," I stumble. "One of my books is Dad's Tweed Coat: Small Wisdoms Hidden Comforts Unexpected Joys." It's the most popular of my publications, and now I wish I had a copy with me, to give her.

She grins and glows again, appreciatively, and turns to walk away. She's satisfied with the answer.

Some days I writhe, some days I write. Seems all the same to me.

I drive on to work, thinking about her wonderful smile and wondering why all those grey people walking the grey sidewalks this morning left their smiles at home in sad sock drawers




(December 30, 2008 A.D.)




Enthusiastic, energetic seven-year-old daughter Margaret helps me wrap Christmas gifts, way back when.

Wife Liz is off working late someplace, daughter Jeannie is on the perpetual phone in another room, son Robin is doing his own life somewhere else on Southside

Margaret and I are trying to help Liz by wrapping some gifts. My wrapping skills are sloppy and patchwork. Margaret, though, devotes full energy to her task and makes every present look special.

We’re drinking eggnog and listening to a compilation of Christmas songs I play each year: Harry Belafonte singing about Mary’s boy-child, Mel Torme singing about chestnuts and nose-nipping, the Modern Jazz Quartet improvising England’s Carol.

We’ve even tried to revive the old fireplace downstairs with chunks of coal and alley wood.

Among the miscellany of boxes that I give Margaret to wrap…is her gift. A gift from me to her. But she doesn’t know it. She doesn’t know what’s in the box, I just make sure she thinks it’s something I’m giving to somebody else. She carefully wraps and decorates the box and slides it across the table, under my nose. “Who gets this?” she asks, colored pen in hand upon the gift card. “It’s your gift,” I say.

She pauses, eyes big, mouth open in dismay.

“What? It’s my gift?”

“Yep. From me to you.”

“But,” she sputters, “I didn’t know it was mine!” She grabs it from me. “What is it?”

“Can’t tell. But you did a great job of wrapping it.”

Margaret is conflicted. A cast-iron family rule mandates that no package is pre-opened. Poking and squeezing and shaking are allowed, but no pre-opening.

“You fooled me!” She shouts with laughter and dismay mixed.

“Yep,” I grin.

“Aarrgghh!” she screams in true Charlie Brown style.

“I’ll never let that happen again,” she vows.

By the following Christmas, she’s forgotten that vow and I play the same trick on her. It even happens yet a third time, the Chistmas after that. By then, though, I know that the trick is over. I’ll never be able to make it happen a fourth time.

But to this day, Margaret and I still joke about the old one-two combo I delivered to her three years in a row. I almost achieved the status of Lucy and the football, but she learns faster than Charlie Brown, and I can never get away with it again.

Down all the Christmas memories, this one sparkles in its own little world, in my heart, in my mind, in my forever memories of good times re-savored

© 2008 A.D. Jim Reed




(December 16, 2008)

There are amazements everywhere in the heart of the City, if you dare to peek.

Amazement # 9:

Every day this month feels like Christmas Eve.

Amazement # 10:

Each time I drive to work, I recall all the Christmas Eve trips I’ve taken from home to downtown and from downtown to home. When I look around, I see the most amazing things an instant at a time. Today is no exception. Well, that’s not exactly true. Today is an exception—an exceptional day on an exceptional planet.

Amazement # 11:

Driving Moby Dick, the great white Sable station wagon, I see, ahead of me, through the dust-brushed windshield, the gray towers of a city that’s not really a city at all. Birmingham is merely a series of small communities strung loosely together, each with its own dreams, its own challenges, its own governance, its own people. Calling it a City makes it sound organic and organized, which of course it isn’t and can’t be.

Amazement # 12:

Ahead of me, through the dust-brushed windshield, I see businessmen in nicely tailored suits and overcoats, businesswomen in nicely tailored suits, balancing gracefully upon impossibly tall stilts. They are interspersed with teenagers hunkered against the wind, cigarette smokers huddling in alcoves while puffing and wheezing and chatting, elderly women heading slowly toward the Family Dollar Store or the bus stop, shop owners setting up their A-frame signs and sweeping yellow leaves into the gutters, panhandlers rehearsing their next solicitation, drive-by travelers making sure their windows are up and doors locked, gossiping workers taking a break on the bench in front of Med Town Pharmacy, a shivering young loft dweller walking an enormous dog (or vice versa ), an orange-vested city employee pleasantly picking up trash…

And so on.

Amazement # 13:

I see these people, these individual solitudes, going about life and seldom stopping to think of themselves as The City or The Taxpayer or The Citizen or The Voter…they are just folks not unlike you and me and everybody else…folks who want to have a nice day, who want to stay out of the way of politicians and predators, who want to share a smile and a quip with someone nearby, who want to feel safe and unafraid.

Amazement # 14:

This is the way I see my trips to and from work…these daily Christmas Eve-feeling trips that prepare me for a good work day and a good evening at home…I see the people as a thousand individual sagas, a thousand lives and a thousand good and sad and funny and frightening stories to be told. And I’m hoping they will each enter my domain (called, variously, The Museum of Fond Memories, The Library of Thought, Reed Books Antiques) for a few moments and bring their goodwill and their tales and their longings with them.

If they stay long enough in my little world, they will find a fond memory or, better still, a fond memory will find them

© Jim Reed 2008 A.D.





There are amazements everywhere in the heart of the City, if you dare to peek.

Amazement #1:

Geoff and I are gossiping in front of his office on 20th Street North, when a paraplegic male about to pass us suddenly stops short in his motorized chair at the same moment we hear the clank of something hitting the cold and blustery sidewalk. Part of his chin-controlled mechanism has toppled and he is stranded. Geoff and I quickly pick up the funnel-shaped object and try to attach it to the man's chair. It attaches but doesn't seem stable. He quickly rolls on his way and I wonder whether he will again be stranded on the city sidewalks, this time in unfriendlier climes

Amazement #2:

I say Hello to Al, whom I haven't seen smoking in front of the Massey building for days, ever since he got on the front pages. He says, "Think of me," when I offer my sympathy. I can only think that I just shook hands with a congenial guy who was shackled just days before. The ironic world turns on

Amazement #3:

I package the petite (one-inch-high) pop-up picture book by Beatrix Potter to send away from the shop, to some miniature collector who pays much for a tiny delight. Wish I could have kept the book for my own pleasure, but dining tables must be set and food must be purchased

Amazement #4

On my way to work, I pass by the former location of Reed Books and see inside my old store...literally! The north wall has been demolished and what stands remaining is the old Museum of Fond Memories sign hand-painted many years ago by the late Pat King, crusty chain-smoking street artist. Another memory is disappearing visually, but it is indelible in my surviving mind

Amazement #5

Last night, some friends who truly understand me gave me gifts all thought out and tailored...Judith gives me a talking Statler and Waldorf toy. Both geezers look like me and sound like me. Frank gives me a toy guy who also reminds me of me, and he will rest beside the dirty old man flashing toy I have on display at the shop, for your enjoyment

Amazement #6

The jazz concert Sunday night made me take out my bookmarks and turn them into writing pads as these words flowed quickly out of my fingers:

Dancing in my head

My feet tapping

My body unmoved

except inside my gut my gut

feeling close to my heart my heart within

the music

Wondering what the Void would feel like if

bereft of the beat the sound the ecstasy of the

musicians and their extensions their cyborg


I the non-musician can remain outside the

performance but inside, oh inside, I am

stuck forever inside the music the

music the music

Amazement #7 Each day at my shop is a complete lifetime with a beginning a middle an end.

Each day, if I'm fortunate, someone walks out pleased, carrying an object of desire or a memory or a bit of wisdom or the lingering warmth of a handshake or hug.

You come, too

--Jim Reed © 2008 A.D.

From the Red Clay Diary of Mister Reed’s Neighborhood





by Jim Reed

THE FIREFLY NIGHTS AND THE 'SKEETER MORNINGS would frame each day as we the children of summer and autumn played at our chores and worked hard at our play.

Back then, in childhood, time didn't matter at all. We were too young to notice time slipping and sliding past our nighttime openscreened windows.

Sometimes we would lie on our backs on the black flat roof of our small home at 26 Eastwood Avenue in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and gaze up at the stars and the planets and the Moon and an occasional meteor and an even less frequent comet, and we would lie there and breathe the dampened chilly nonpolluted air and sometimes not be able to tell the difference between shooting stars and spasmed fireflies.

The shooting stars could be oohhed and ahhed at, but we could never catch one unless we were lucky enough to be hit directly by one and then wouldn't we be famous for a while? "There goes that boy who got hit by that meteor," everyone would say. The fireflies we could touch and gently cradle in our palms and place in widemouthed Ball jars for a few minutes in hopes of getting enough together to light the entire neighborhood, but we never gathered quite that many, because there was always something else to do.

Lying there on the flat black roof, looking at the stars and smelling the moist fragrance of the old quilts Mother let us use, we would not notice the mosquitoes. There was just too much to do, you see. We had to count the stars and figure out how many per square foot were up there, we had to hide the Moon behind our thumbs, we often counted the number of meteors we saw in a 15-minute period, then charted their paths on a sky map, we needed to take the lens cap off the old Criterion cardboard-tube refractor telescope and take a close look at the stars and now and then at the neighbors' homes, we had to wonder which of those tiny colored lights moving very high up in the sky might be satellites or planes or unidentified flying objects.

We never got bored, because we did not know what time was. We did not know that time passed and that everything changed all the time--even us.

We only knew that lying on our backs on the flat blacktopped roof, munching on a few Graham crackers we had taken from the kitchen, was the only thing going on that we were aware of.

The stars would twinkle. The planets would not. The Moon would be so glowy bright. The crickets would provide ambience so cleverly and persistently that we seldom heard them. The fact that the flat black roof was stone hard was not even noticed. We could sleep like the near-babies we still were, and not even complain in the morning.

At long last, the Sun would begin to rise and we'd slowly wake up to its radiant pressure on our faces and feel the dew over our clothes and now-soggy Graham crackers and quilts, and we never guessed that the Sun might never rise again, we never thought about the stars disappearing, we only wondered how far the Sun and stars went and what lay beyond the boundaries of the Universe. One thing we did know: we were dead-center in the middle of the Universe. We were each the center of the Universe. And we somehow knew, instinctively knew, that every creature in the Universe, whether on Earth or on Jupiter or in a distant galaxy, every creature, wherever it was, was definitely and individually at the center of the Universe, too. We somehow knew that the center of the Universe is always wherever you are at the moment, no matter who or what you are.

So, 26 Eastwood Avenue was the center of the Universe and at least in one dusty wing of my heart, it will always be thus

© Jim Reed 2008 A.D.





by Jim Reed

HER FACE WAS LIKE FINE CHINA only it was more like old china the pale white nearly transparent China that looks as if it would break into a million pieces if you dropped it .

Her face looked like brittle pale white China that had indeed incurred stress fractures throughout its surface so that tiny dark lines ran delicately about, some parallel, some crossing, some ending abruptly, like those tiny thin lines that a fortune teller would pay close attention to in the palm of an old withered hand.

She walked steadfastly into the Post Office and her gait was the gait of a young woman her body was the body of a young woman but her face oh her face though obviously young had been stress-fractured like fine old China and she was holding that face stiff and straight as if she knew for certain that the act of smiling or even of frowning would cause a million-pieced shattering.

Her face had frozen into this image that her mind had extruded through her pores and now she might never smile again lest she become tiny sparkling flak whirlpooling itself to the harsh and porous ground where it could never be assembled again in just the same way it had started out and so she kept the expression and held together the fine piece of China that she was, so that she could make it through the day or make it through the current events that had caused her to decide to stay in one expression till something better or something worse came along

--Jim Reed © 2008 A.D.





by Jim Reed

In the middle of the shop in the middle of the morning I’m in the middle of a 90%-sided conversation with a caller who wants to know which books I will purchase unseen from her, simply by her phone descriptions…when a streetman walks in and stands before me hoping to deflect my attention from the phone-in book lady. All the while, other customers ebb and flow among the stacks. Since the phone lady is first in queue, I’m asking the streetman to cruise around and browse until I’m finished—until the phone lady is finished, that is.

The streetman’s body language tells me he’s not here to buy anything, so after a while I put the phone lady on hold to find out what’s up. “I need some meat on the table…I got this jack-in-the-box that’s old.” “Are you wanting to sell it?” I ask. “Yes,” he says. I notice that he isn’t carrying anything with him. “Do you have it here?” I ask. “No, but I can go get it,” he replies. “OK,” I say.

I continue listening to the phone lady name names of books, most of which I can’t purchase because 1) they won’t sell 2) I already have multiple copies on hand 3) they’re in bad shape 4) and so on and et cetera. But I keep listening, because about every 15th title is something I might consider buying once I see it in the store. She continues naming names and I continue checking on my other potential customers to see whether they’re finding what they need.

The streetman re-enters the store with a shaggy canvas bag, so I motion that I’ll be with him in a mo’. He's sweating from the asphalt heat.

By now, the phone lady has mentioned perhaps a boxful of books that I would consider purchasing should she bring them in…but she’s not through. “Could you call back in an hour so we can continue this?” I ask, since I need to deal with the customers and the streetman. I hang up and go around the counter to see what’s in the bag. My insatiable curiosity is what drives me and my business.

He pulls forth a metal-and-plastic cube from the early 1980’s, and I immediately begin turning the handle to see whether the mechanism works. The tune is undecipherable, so my next hope is that the pop-up figure will work, allowing me to at least give the streetman something for his trouble and his meat.

A clown pops up on cue and looks rather cute, as beat-up music box clowns go, so I press him back into the box to see once more whether it’s a fluke or something an overgrown child might love to fool with once it goes onto a counter at the shop.

The music doesn’t work this time, and the streetman is getting apprehensive. At this point, I’m ready to pay him something just to be a good Samaritan—uh, good Birminghamian—but he tries once again to make the box work, holding his mouth just right.

It does work, which is enough for me. I offer him five dollars and he is grateful and leaves the shop gracefully, leaving me stuck back here in the best of all possible worlds with a jack-in-the-box at Reed Books Antiques/The Museum of Fond Memories, where broken toys and busted memories co-exist and, on some days, make a rather nice home for themselves

--Jim Reed © 2008 A.D.






By Jim Reed

I am a tattletale.

Can’t help it. I tell tales,

but I also in the process

rat on people.

I out you and your foibles,

vices, beauty, shallowness,


I sneak my pen around the page

when you’re not looking, and

immortalize your idiosyncracies and

your heroism.

I am a transcriptionist.

I copy you down and tell

others things you may not

know about yourself.

I tell things you wish I’d

keep secret.

I praise you when you don’t

even recognize your praise-


I describe you so accurately

you can’t even recognize

yourself in the story.

I tell on other people and you

suspect I’m talking about


Sometimes you are jealous of me.

Sometimes you secretly

admire what I do and wish

you knew my secret.

This flabbergasts me, because

I don’t know my secret—

I just write and let the

fingers and the page and the

pen and the gut and the

heart tell all.

If I try to force myself to

write, it’s like trying to squeeze

toothpaste from a flattened, spent


If I try to backtrack and

edit or expurgate and obliterate

what I’ve written, it’s like

trying to fill an empty tube

with toothpaste. It’s always

too late. What’s written

is written.

I am a tattletale, but nobody

escapes me. I can’t even stop

writing things about myself

that I don’t want you to know. It’s always too late.

I out everything when I write.

I tell the future, I look back to

the future, I tell the past, I

look forward to the past.

I am a writer.

I fictionalize the truth.

I spy the truth in fictions.

No matter how I write it,

it comes out true, it comes

forth as truth.

I write because I can’t lie.

I write because somebody has to

tell the truths that only I can


I am a writer, and I can’t go

back and change the facts

© Jim Reed 2008 A.D.




by Jim Reed

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 he read.

He'd send off for anything he could afford and he'd 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, never knowing what was inside each of them because by the time they arrived he'd already forgotten what he had ordered.

He liked to read the 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 could afford 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.

Now he could afford them, but where were they? The ads were no longer the same. The mail-order stuff he could buy now was different.

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

He bought those magazines and took them home to dream.

And one day, when he wasn't really thinking too seriously about what he was doing, he bought some old 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.

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

And one day, the mail 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 around smiling to himself quite a bit more than one actually should smile at himself in times like these

--Jim Reed © 2008 A.D.




by Jim Reed

Quiet morning alone in the shower, listening to the gentle solo piano wanderings of Bill Evans emanating from the CD player and trying to disregard the barely regardable and just be the moment, be the meditative alone-by-myself-in-the-old-house person I need to be at this instant. Don't have to shave because of my flourishing beard. Thankful for that. Have to cleanse my body simply because it makes me feel reborn and gets my juices activated to face the day and the following unknown evening.

Watch the steam cloud my face in the mirror and notice how it improves my grizzled features. Wish I had that kind of glazed look to the world all day, no warts and all. Check my bald spot which is becoming its own permanent yarmulka, and me a gentile already.

Suck in my considerable gut to see what it would be like to be 15 pounds lighter. But that doesn't cut it because I know that if I lose 15 pounds the weight will disappear in every place but my enduring gut and I will begin to look like a sunken grave.

Let the Bill Evans solo piano take over for another generous moment, reach to turn off the CD player but don't. Let it play to the end! Let the attic squirrels in the emptied house enjoy it while I'm away.

Go to the bedroom and find socks and pants and other apparel for the morning. Think about the speech I need to make south of Birmingham tonight, a speech about the value of silence, the silence that comes between songs.

Pick up last night's drinking glasses and wend my way downstairs to the kitchen to the jacket to wear against the cool a.m. Pick up my heavy Iranian carpetbag and my 12-pack of diet drinks for the Museum of Fond Memories, grab some ice cubes to go with them, turn on the alarm to keep anything larger than squirrels from getting inside the house.

As I close the door, Bill Evans is still entertaining the squirrels and massaging the cool gray plaster walls with his lonely lovely keyboard

--Jim Reed

© 2008 A.D.




by Jim Reed

“Heeeey, girl! How you doin’?”

Jessica runs up to hug Melissa. They're both shopping at The Mall, but from different directions.

“What’s happenin’?” says Melissa.

“Just hangin’,” says Jessica.

“Haven’t seen you in soooo long!” says Melissa. “Catch me up.”

“Oh, I’ve got these great pictures,” says Jessica. She's digging for her wallet deep in the bowels of a shoulder purse.

“Who of?” says Melissa, stooping to pick up a tube of purple lip gloss that falls out of Jessica's rummaged bag.

“Just a minute--they’re soooo cute!” says Jessica, finally retrieving the wallet and pulling at the fastener to get it open.

She flips through the usual boyfriend and mom and dad snapshots.

“Here they are! Just look!” says Jessica.

Melissa thumbs through three pictures fast, then goes back to examine them carefully, one by one.

“Oh, my! How they’ve grown! Melissa says. “When were these taken?”

Jessica ssays, “Oh, we have them taken every year ‘cause we don’t want to miss out on the way they change and grow.”

Melissa says, “Look at him! his beard is getting sooo white! And his hair is disappearing!”

Jessica says, “Oh, yes, they told us to expect that. But don’t you think he’s just precious? You should see how well he walks--even at this age!”

Melissa flips to another photo.

“Ooooh, she’s just darling! Look at that short hair and those designer glasses she’s wearin’. Cool!”

Jessica says, “Yeah, she’s progressing pretty well--you just can’t slow her down, she’s everywhere at once these days.”

Melissa says, “Oh, look! Here they are together! Where was this taken?”

Jessica says, “Oh, that was at the Botanical Gardens. We had a surprise party for them there.”

Melissa says, “Dang, they look so much alike as they grow. You’d think they were twins or somethin’.”

Jessica says, “Well, they’re just grandparents. But they're the only blood-relation grandparents I have, so I guess we'll just have to keep 'em!”

“What do you call them?” says Melissa.

“He’s Poppy and she’s Grammy!” says Jessica.

“Where’d you come up with those cute names?” says Melissa.

“Well, my Mom named them when I was born. I guess she just wanted me to call them something special.” Jessica hesitates and feels the need to explain. “Those aren’t their real names, you know.”

“Gotta go,” says Melissa. “Can’t wait to see the next pictures. Why not bring them over one day, to play?”

Jessica says, “That’ll be fun. They’re so cute at this age.”

--Jim Reed © 2008 A.D.




The mostly-gone day, drenched with the this and that and the other of earthly living, is furnace-warm, even though the earth has turned just enough to block the sight of the summer solstice Sun. It’s a year ago today on Planet Three, and I’m heading home from work, down the slopes of asphalted Birmingham and up the gentle hills, seeing only what I’m seeing right and left, below and behold! above.

Above me is a moon that is in shadow except for a healthy sliver reflecting the invisible sun’s nuclear beams.

Can you get moonburned if you bask too long?

Ten years ago, a comet was visible in the nighttime skies of Earth, visible for nearly a year, heralding a million nativities, making glow a million playgrounds, casting its light—also reflecting the sun’s rays—upon any eyes daring to look up for a mo’. For ten years now, I remark to people about that once-in-a-lifetime event, that comet you could see every night for a year, but none of them remembers it at all. They never looked up.

If the moon, if the comet, if the heavens, are never gazed upon, do they even exist, and if they yet exist, do they even matter?

All I know is that getting home safely to our century-old home below Vulcan and Channel 6 and the peacock sign and The Club, is all I need and want right now.

I know that my home, my wife, my street, my side of Red Mountain, all exist, all matter, because I am taking the time each day to see them. Really see them.

Really see them...and the occasional comet and the monthly moon and the always heavens

--Jim Reed © 2008 A.D.




by Jim Reed

Here in the Museum of Fond Memories, we take serious that which is silly, and we are known occasionally to dismiss as silly that which is fraught with undue seriousness.

On the shelves are books by Fred Rogers, late of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mister Rogers took serious those childlike behaviors of children often dismissed by adults who forgot how, not so long ago, they, too, were not only childlike, but actually children.

On the shelves are books by Groucho Marx, who knew how silly adulthood can be and how incredibly wise our funniest comedians sometimes are.

On the shelves of the Museum of Fond Memories are writings of Plato and Montaigne, who dealt with the daily joys and terrors of life in much the same way we continue to deal. They write of the youth these days, the corrupting power of politics, the pain of hemorrhoids, the wishy-washiness of young brides-to-be and old dried-prune coots.

I appreciate these and the thousands of other authors who knew when to be serious and when to laugh it off, and, as I noted on the dedicatory page of one of my books, in a long lifetime I’ve learned an important secret: People are tougher than they appear, and far more frail than they act.

Bluster is everywhere, but my mother taught me to look between the blusters at what’s really going on with people. We’re all running around confused and bedazzled, attempting to hide this fact from the world by behaving in distracting and sometimes destructive and often funny ways.

The days always go better around the Museum of Fond Memories, when I can remind myself that we’re all blustering, trying not to giggle at the wake, trying to appear smarter than we are, trying not to blink, trying not to let them see us sweat, and always whistling past the graveyard.

Come on in and hide from the wolves and the takers and the hustlers and the con artists. Come on in and let something old and wise and nostalgic and funny distract you for a few moments.

I’ll ignore your confusion and bedazzlement if you’ll ignore mine.

Together, we will contemplate how succotash overcame its sufferings

© Jim Reed 2008 A.D.




by Jim Reed

You can spot them immediately, and even though it’s happened a lot for the past 28 years, you can’t help but avert your eyes at first, because it’s so palpably painful.

I’m talking about the occasional appearance in the Museum of Fond Memories of those who walk among us as The Bookdead. The 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 iPods or DVDs or videogames or internet trolling, 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 2008 A.D.




By Jim Reed

Carl Sandburg said it, and I’m glad somebody did:

“Nothing happens unless first a dream.”

What was that?

“Nothing happens unless first a dream.”

Carl Sandburg’s words keep haunting me as I go through the motions of getting ready for a New Year, a New Year that’s about to envelop us.

Ever since I met Carl Sandburg in Tuscaloosa, back in the late 1950’s, I’ve found pleasure and hope in his words. But today, driving down the grey streets of Alabama’s largest city, I’m reminded once again that great thoughts have incredible staying power, if only we will preserve them.

Anyhow, I’m driving past an intersection. On my left, a loft dweller is walking his large dog, pausing at the corner to wait for the traffic light, wait for a poop break. Coming toward the dog man is one of the city’s scruffy street people, a homeless panhandler who, along with dozens of others, works the avenues for cigarette butts and quarters. The dog man is about to be solicited, but for a brief diverting moment, the street guy loses his attention, forgets his spiel, his story about why the dog guy should give him money. He forgets because he sees the large dog and freezes. Maybe he’s afraid, I think to myself. But no, he is not afraid. Suddenly, he’s a younger, more dapper version of himself. He bends over the dog, places his ragged-gloved hands on each side of the pet’s head, and pets him in a gentle and warm manner, smiling ear to hear and talking with the animal as if he’s his best friend. The dog responds and the two have 25 seconds of bliss, looking into each others’ eyes, one panting while the other laughs. Then, as suddenly as it begins, the moment disappears, the dog man continuing his leashed walk, the street man putting on his best panhandling face and heading the other way on his daily rounds.

The observer man (me) continues driving by, feeling a bit warmer and remembering all those endless childhood summer days when he and his dog Brownie ran the streets of Tuscaloosa and knew they would live forever.

Is the 25-second-smile enough to sustain the homeless man, enough to make him remember a childhood dream pet, enough to make him feel life is worth living a few extra days, just to re-live wonderful old memories?

Is the dream of a better time enough to make the dog owner and the observer decide to do something besides dream, decide to make some extra effort for the homeless, give some extra time to nudging someone else toward a better life?

“Nothing happens unless first a dream.”

Thanks, Carl. Thanks, homeless guy. Thanks, dog man. Thanks, Dog and Brownie.

You’ve all provided me with the dream I need to make something happen

--Jim Reed © 2008 A.D.




by Jim Reed

First things first is what gets me through the morning ritual of preparing breakfast on Sunday morning. Breakfast usually comes late, since this is my sleeping-in day. Never been good at sleeping in, since my brain is always coming up with ideas and projects and guilts that I should be up and around and taking care of.

Anyhow, first things first. I descend the stairs to the hundred-year-old kitchen and begin the ritual--I should say, the ritual with variations, since it is boring, just doing things the same way all the time.

I pull clean coffeemaker parts out of the dishwasher and assemble them, making sure I dip caffeinated coffee into the little metal cup. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I am married to a world-class coffee drinker, and I’ve learned over a thirty-year period that they cannot be fooled. She will know whether I’ve filled that little metal cup with high-test or decaffeinated. My parents drink coffee, but we kids don’t. That’s because we really believe her when she tells us kids that drinking coffee will stunt our growth. The evidence is unarguable...Mother is right. I never achieve the height of a basketball player. Must have smelled too much of her coffee.

Once the brew is brewing and the milk is microwaving, I trot out to the yard to retrieve two newspapers, each hidden in creative places in bushes or behind bricks or in the street. The New York Time paper deliveryperson throws one way, the Birmingham News deliveryperson throws another way, and they get creative at times.

Once I strip the papers of their wet plastic covers and ouchy rubber bands, I’m ready to pour the coffee and deliver the papers upstairs to my wife, who is always grateful for the effort.

Then, it’s back downstairs to prepare breakfast...excuse me, to fix breakfast.

I pull out my favorite frying pan, pull a couple of jumbo eggs from the refrigerator (excuse me...ice box), crack the first one open with two hands, then, bored already, try to crack the second one with one hand, like I’ve seen it done in the movies by macho actors. The yolk leaps into the air, splattering itself half on the counter and half into the sink, at which point I thank my lucky stars that no-one is watching. I slide another egg out of the ice box and do it right this time, beating both eggs with a metal whisk thing. I pull forth a spatula...excuse me, the (Chinese-translated) label says it’s a NYLON COOKING TURNER. Now I see it in a new way. By the way, it is "ideal for non-stick surface." If the surface is truly non-stick, why would I need a spatula, er, NYLON COOKING TURNER?

Back when I am a kid, my job each evening is to clear off the dining table after everybody has eaten. I wait till Mother is in the kitchen, Daddy is reading the paper, and siblings Barbara and Ronny are doing their specific tasks (Ronny dries as Barbara washes), then I try to accomplish something my hero, Dagwood Bumstead, does so well. I try to clear the table in one trip. This requires stacking the dishes flat, placing aluminum utensils on top of the stack. With plates in one hand, I pile the serving dishes on the arm leading to the plate hand, place napkins and other detritus atop the plates, pick up five glasses in the other hand by sticking one finger in each glass and squeezing, and lifting anything else it is possible to lift in the crook of my elbow and under my arm. Sometimes, it actually works! A couple of times, everything comes crashing down, along with my sense of accomplishment. I now know why Mother started purchasing Melmac and other unbreakable dishes--if she is to have her kids do their chores, she’ll have to make it as safe and inexpensive as possible, since taking over all the chores herself is not an option, what with a new kid on the way.

While bacon is microwaving itself, I am heating up the skillet on the gas stove. Back when I am young, Mother’s gas stove has no pilot light--we have to strike a large wooden match and hold it to the gas burner until WHOOSH the fire appears. Then, I plop some butter--or what appears to be something that looks and smells like butter--into the heating pan. When I am young, our butter is oleomargarine that comes white and pasty in a sealed plastic bag with a red cherry-like dye in the middle. To make it look like butter, the bag has to be massaged till the dye spreads throughout, yellowing up the contents, as if this will fool us into thinking this is cow butter.

I drop some cheese bits into the cooking eggs and pull marmalade out of the ice box to spread on toast. When I am young, we can afford no toaster, so the sliced bread (lightbread to you) has to be placed inside the oven and checked constantly till browned. And the marmalade or jelly always comes in glasses that can be used later.

Soon, some semblance of breakfast is ready. Since this is Sunday, I take care to select eating utensils that are not scarred by traumatic encounters with the garbage disposal, and I take the plate up to a beaming wife, who cooks 98 percent of our other meals, and my good deed is done for the day. Then, because nobody is looking--I’m downstairs and she is upstairs--I get to try for Dagwood’s record again. The kitchen is cleaned in one swell foop. Blondie will never know!

Now, if only I could learn to take sofa naps like Dagwood. Unfortunately, my Mother didn’t believe in naps, and neither do I. There are so many other records left to break--such as making the largest Dagwood sandwich possible, or avoiding collisions with the letter carrier. I have achieved at least one Dagwood aspiration. I no longer have dictatorial bosses.

Now, if I can only find Dagwood a good job

© Jim Reed 2008 A.D.




--Jim Reed

What was I thinking? How could I be so fifty years selfish? And how many teachers the world wide have been ignored in the same manner?

I could have thanked her, you know.

I could have thanked Helen Hisey for being one of the best teachers in my known universe. I could have shown up one day at the retirement home and said, “Mrs. Hisey, thanks, thanks, thanks for making my life so bearable.” And I would really have meant it, too. Helen Hisey made me take a right-angle turn and sent me on my way down the fifty year road to this moment, the moment in which I feel comfortable enough to write down this little thought.

I’m standing in front of a classroom full of eighth grade students, students who are required to sit quietly and pay attention to me, the fellow eighth grader standing before them. I’m making my first speech in Helen Hisey’s speech class at Tuscaloosa Junior High School in 1954. I have nervously prepared for this moment, going over my three-by-five lined stiff note cards until I have them memorized…only I’m so nervous that I can’t get up enough confidence to depend upon memory, so, for lack of anything else to look at besides students, I stare down at the note cards and try to give a speech, utilizing all those rules that good speechmakers are supposed to follow: make good eye contact with the audience (not furtive glances, which is what I am producing), speak loudly (I’m projecting ok, since I was born with this Voice), be convincing (I’m convinced I’m going to expire prior to taking my seat), make appropriate gestures (I’m sure my hands are flailing about, if not in time with my spoken emphases), and be passionate about my subject (I am, I am…only I’m afraid to show it before an audience).

Helen Hisey’s wonderfully warn and slightly nasal non-southern voice gently interrupts my speech, “James, try slowing down a bit,” is what she says, but what she manages to mean is, “James, you’re doing fine, and I’m enjoying this so much that I would really like to see you enjoying it, too…so relax and tell me a good story.”

I KNOW that’s what she means, and that’s what makes her a great teacher. Helen Hisey never makes you think she doesn’t have your best interests at heart, and her kindly, business-like manner reinforces this idea.

From that moment on, I do fine in Mrs. Hisey’s class, because, like every other student, I just know she is in my corner. Later that year, she inspires me to write my first short story, entitled “The Fool,” and from then on, I am hooked on writing and telling stories to anyone who will listen or read. Subsequent teachers seldom encourage my writing, save for high school instructors Mr. Campbell and Mrs. Williams, so there are years of gaps, years when I write lots of words for other people—my bosses—but seldom write what I need to say. There are times I feel perhaps nothing I have ever written is worthy—did Mrs. Hisey tell me my story was good just to encourage me and fortify my self esteem?

I learn the answer to that question years later, when it is revealed that Helen Hisey had kept my story, “The Fool,” and read it aloud to every class for many years, using it as an example of a good tale well told by a writer willing to slow down and enjoy the ride.

When my first “respectable publishing house” book is released 45 years after Mrs. Hisey’s eighth grade speech class, it contains a dedication to her on the first page. When I call to arrange to present her with a signed copy of the book, ready to tell her how much she has affected my life, I learn that she has just died. My dedication and devotion are a little too late.

What would Helen Hisey have said about THAT?

I can hear her clear voice, “James, you never had to thank me. Watching you emerge was the greatest thanks. Don’t you know that’s what good teaching is all about?”

Whenever I speak to gatherings of five or five hundred, I never have a moment of fear. Because of Helen Hisey, I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy the ride. Like her, I have learned that if you are enjoying the ride, and if you show your audience that you are enjoying the ride, they, too, will enjoy it.

Doesn’t matter what your subject is, the audience is there waiting to be taken away to a world full of good teachers who only want their students to emerge as good and happy grownups

© 2008 A.D. Jim Reed .............................






--Jim Reed

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, even 50 years later, 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 many 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

© Jim Reed




--Jim Reed

I’m walking beside Brian’s truck, which is moving slower than I am, so I have to adjust my pace to stay with it. I’m holding the face of the Red Lady, and Doug, squatting on the bed of the truck, is holding her lower torso so it won’t tilt over.

The Red Lady is life-size and made of plaster, so she’s quite heavy. Her flowing skirt and tilted hat are constantly in motion, since she’s eternally walking, strutting, while standing still.

Brian and Doug and I are attempting to transport the Red Lady from the former First Avenue South location of Reed Books, to the new site on Third Avenue North. The Lady has to ride standing up, sans seat belt, since she’d crack to pieces were we to lay her on her side. The reason we’re tilting her is, this low-overhead slab of concrete is another potential hazard to her health.

Lots of yelling back and forth between Doug and Brian and me, but not a peep out of the Red Lady, until we are safely past the barrier and she can be uprighted again. The rest of the trip is smooth. Doug remains in the truck to hold the Red Lady stable, and I follow in my automobile to watch the trio and the truck and the people who see this minuscule parade in Downtown Birmingham.

The Red Lady has quite a history. She was abandoned on First Avenue North years ago when artists no longer had any use for her. I rescued her, much to the chagrin of family and friends, who thought she should be tossed away. Over the years, she stood at Reed Books and held various toys and games, but very few people even commented on her presence. I finally found out how she came into existence when sculptor Branko Medenica saw her and confessed that she was the creation of Jim Neal and himself. Finally, when the contents of Reed Books was being shuffled around and prepared for the Big Move, the Red Lady was tossed aside and broken, her hat in shards and her fingers splintered.

I couldn’t part with her, so, to the rescue, came doll-repair expert Margaret Stefanson, who lovingly conducted plaster surgery and made the Red Lady good as new.

Now, at last, people are beginning to notice her. And, finally, she is resting exactly where she should have been all these years—in the show window of Reed Books, overlooking the hustle of Third Avenue North. She is in good company, with such companions as a giant Piggly Wiggly mascot, a metal playground rubber duckie, a preacher’s pulpit chair, a defused rocket-shaped bomb, a David Janssen “Wanted” poster, a picture of Jelly Roll Morton, a set of scales, and who knows what else. I’m happy with this merry jumble, and I hope the Red Lady is happy, now that she knows she’s loved and cared for and free to strut unmolested on the streets of Birmingham

© 2007 A.D. Jim Reed






by Jim Reed (www.jimreedbooks.com)

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 20th Street in Uptown/Downtown Birmingham, Alabama. These are stories about Birmingham and Downtown and Uptown, and they’re all a fun and sometimes disturbing mixture of urban mythology, high expectations, observation, low expectations, and a healthy salting of real stuff.

A rough-hewn woman with a tattoo (we’re talking Sailor-biker bar type of tattoo, not suburban 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 Uptown 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 and kind of drops the subject, only she’s still in a hurry to hit the road. She only lingers because Reed Books/The Museum of Fond Memories 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’s 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 it’s not true, you know it’s not true, but it’s almost frightening how many people mouth off about Uptown 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.

Was he right?

© 2007 A.D. Jim Reed




--Jim Reed

Alabama is a state of mind.

No, I take that back.

Alabama is your state of mind.

Alabama is my state of mind.

Look at the map.

There is no logical border.

If logic prevailed, Alabama would be panhandled-with-care to the Gulf and barely miss the Mississippi to the west and stick-toed in the Atlantic to the east.



The Alabama state of my mind is:



Alabama is a truncated


Mixture of Appalachian

Foothills and Gulf beaches

And Tennessean

Valleys and Southern

Pines and black dirt

Flatlands and red

Clay banks and

Human-formed mounds

And dinosaur-chalked

Banks and ‘gator

Swamps and

Cricks and meandering-barged rivers

And angel-haired falls and bluebird

Nests and mosquito bites

And chigger itches and ancient

Warrior-ghosts and

Dirt-poor moonshiners

And proud farmers and

Vegetable-stand pickups

And blue highways

And washboard roads

And scorching sun and

Humid rashes and

Fields endless fields

And full moon-activated

Cemeteries and

Tombstone graveyards and

Midwife shacks and

Breezeways and clapboards

And wild blackberries and lazy

Cows cud-ding and calves

Cuddling and hay bales and

Barn lofts and suckling puppies

And strutting blue roosters

And water moccasins

And synchronized

Twilight fireflies and glistening

Stars so close you can

Touch them.

... ...

Alabama in my state of mind is

Far-off 3:00 A.M. train

Whistles and howling dogs

And skittish deer and roadside

Tire carcasses and skulking

Buzzards and dearly departed

Armadillos and skunk-fragranced

Air blended with sweet honeysuckle and smothered

With kudzu and life-saving

Breezes interspersed with

Gasping-for-air heat.



Alabama in my state of mind is

At her best

When you close your eyes

And remember how

Good she was when you

Were young, how wise

She became as you yourself

Wised up and how good she

Could be if only she

Would re-claim her fairness

Of spirit, if only she

Would get back to

The earth, get back

Down to earth,

Remember her hard-working

Closely-tied families.



In my state-of-Alabama-mind,

Alabama is at her best

When she’s all potential and

Hope and strut…at her

Best when she remembers

Her humble beginnings…

At her best when she

Gives up the chanting

And pays attention to

The pups and babies and the infirm and

Poor…at her best when

She recalls how wonderful

It is to be paid tender attention to,

To be paid with tender attention

--Jim Reed © 2007 A.D.



by Jim Reed

How to torture an otherwise calm and balanced junior executive: carefully, slowly, meticulously disassemble one styrofoam cup. They can’t arrest you for this, but you can exact revenge on just about anybody you don’t like, through the simple act of using the weapons at hand, Grasshopper.

Way back when, I worked in a mythic kingdom named ExecutiveLand. It was in ExecutiveLand that I learned the finest forms of guerilla warfare...a type of warfare that can bring strong grownups to their knees. I learned this fine skill from another executive, Hamp Swann. Now, Hamp Swann was a true scientist, an engineer who really knew things, as opposed to executives like me, who knew very little but pretended to know a whole lot.

Hamp and I used to have to attend these regular management meetings called the AEC (administrative executive committee) at ExecutiveLand. These were really boring meetings, because they consisted of a group of leaders telling each other how carefully they planned and executed things that always succeeded--whether or not they really succeeded, and whether or not they actually spent any time planning them. Kind of like cabinet meetings.

Anyhow, most of us who had very little power would find ways to survive these meetings--we’d look alert but would be largely brain-inert, since we didn’t really care what went on. We were the realists--we knew that no matter how many meetings were held, the chief executive officers of ExecutiveLand never varied from their actions (They would tell us we were conducting participatory administrative activities, but invariably they’d wind up doing exactly what they intended to do before receiving our input...they’d do this because they could do it.)!

Anyhow, we juniors would play little games with one another to keep from falling asleep or bursting into tears or jumping across the large meeting table to strangle somebody. This was our therapy. Hamp Swann didn’t play these games because he was a truly independent thinker and did not need our ideas to figure out what the right thing to do was. One day, Hamp, looking intensely interested in the goings-on of the meeting, began dismantling a styrofoam coffee cup. There are many ways to accomplish this task, but Hamp’s method was simple: he started at the rim of the empty cup and slowly separated the foam into one continuous strip, the way you’d peel an apple. This is a very noisy procedure, particularly noisy in a solemn room of solemn senior executives who hope that all the juniors are acting solemn and hanging on to their every word in silent adulation.

Screeckkk...screeckkk...screeckk...the styrofoam noise slowly infiltrated the subconscious and unconscious people in the room. At first, the screeckkk wasn’t noticed, because all the seniors were so self-involved and all the juniors were trying to stay awake, but eventually, the screeckkk started making people uncomfortable. Hamp was dismantling the cup absent-mindedly, so he didn’t even know it was making a sound, plus it was in his lap, so nobody knew where the sound was coming from.

Screeckkk...screeckkk...screeckkk. Now, people were looking around for the source, each person still not knowing whether anybody else was hearing the same thing. One executive adjusted his hearing aid, just in case it was static. Another shifted in his chair to see whether it needed oiling, yet another looked nervously at the ceiling insulation to see if an insect or rodent had been self-invited.

Then, there were the other juniors like me. I found this event to be the most entertaining one I’d experienced in years, so I started yearning for popcorn, since I can’t watch a movie without someting buttery and salty and crunchy in my mouth.

I won’t tell you the ending of this story--you’ll just have to ask me. All I know is, the Great Styrofoam Cup Dismantling Caper has stayed in my memory for decades, and nothing, but nothing, about the intended content of that solemn meeting lingers.

I dream of the day when somebody will stage a production of styrofoam cup dismantlings...a wonderfully chaotic symphony orchestrating the simultaneous screeckkk...screeckkk...screeckkks produced by hordes of cups large and small, each tuned to its own cacophony, its own joyfully annoying disruptive sounds

© Jim Reed




--Jim Reed

The entire Downtown world happens out of the corner of your eye. When you’re supposed to be watching something straight ahead, you can have some fun, just paying attention to what’s going on around the edges. For instance:

At the checkout counter, one tabloid headline catches my eye: DEMI PREGNANT

Who, I wonder, is only demi-pregnant? Doesn’t that translate to a little pregnant? I don’t think that’s possible. I don’t get to read the story, but later I guess the tabloid headline was referring to Demi Moore, who is either pregnant or demi-pregnant.

Just too much to ponder over. I have more important things to do in the demi-city.

Later, I’m leaning against my car, getting a sinking sensation as the meter approaches the $40 mark. The sinking sensation is doubled because the car is actually sinking. I can feel it inching down as the weight of the petrol increases its density.

I go home and sit on the deck for a while, listening to the weather sirens, watching the tree limbs brush against Vulcan, at least from my point of view. I can just see Vulcan’s profiled head and spear-truing arm from the deck chair. The setting sun brightens and darkens his pate as the clouds shadow on by.

When I drop laundry off on the way to work, a pedestrian goes from pillar to post—literally. As if wing-walking, he rushes to a street lamp and holds on for dear life, then goes quickly to a parking meter and clings to hold his balance. He goes down the street like that, reminding me of an inebriate I once knew who literally fell up a flight of stairs. No kidding. He started falling forward at the bottom of the stairs and, to keep his balance, began running up the steps to counteract his forward motion. It actually worked, just like in cartoons I used to watch.

I look through a restaurant window at a dining couple. She’s talking and pecking at her food, jamming her fork among the veggies, accenting her flow of conversation. The man she’s with seems dazed and silent.

Back on the street near my shop: even though Cowboy owes me money, he hits me up for more, but this time I refuse.

Panhandlers and fundraisers—how are they different from one another?

I still miss that packet of fresh, uncirculated two-dollar bills I lost the other day. I was enjoying giving them to grandkids and anybody else who might smile at the gift.

I did manage to give a sticky, oversized die (a demi-set of dice) to a kid today. It starts blinking colored lights when you throw it. It makes me smile, anyhow.

To cheer myself up, I always do what I would like others to do to me. I give a silent, unsolicited present, hoping to catch them off-guard, hoping to make them giggle despite their mindset. Sometimes it works so well, they’re not even aware it’s happened, not even aware I had anything to do with it. Then, that causes me to feel good for a moment.

After all, moments are all we have, one after another. Wing-walking: Not letting go of one moment till you’ve gotten hold of the next moment. Know what I mean

© 2007 Jim Reed




--Jim Reed

I keep gazing at two wonderful photographs taken by Birmingham’s David Murray. Both are Downtown-centric. One depicts the Storyteller at Five Points South. The other depicts the rusty, old, seemingly permanent, Sloss Furnace complex.

For some reason, these images make me think about Sheldon Schaffer, my friend who died last week.

Nobody was a bigger promoter of Birmingham and its endless potential for good, than was Sheldon Schaffer. If you never met Sheldon, it would be difficult to describe him. I’ll try:

Sheldon was an indefatigable instigator, an outside agitator who become a many-decades resident of this city. By his own self-description, Sheldon was a liberal secular Jew, a civil rights activist, a card-carrying ACLU member, an economist, a curmudgeon who had little patience with sluggards and uninsightful thinkers.

Sheldon wanted you to DO something, rather than just whine about it. And, like a bulldog, he would never give you an inch if you didn’t get up off your duff and campaign for justice and equal rights, if you didn’t fight against bigotry, racism, intolerance, mean-spiritedness and stupidity.

In David Murray’s photograph, the Storyteller sits implacable and weaves his tales--he’s not budging, because it is his job to stay in one place, tell you what you need to know, then wait for you to take some action.

In David’s photo of Sloss, much the same thing is happening. Sloss sits, looking like nothing you’ve ever seen before, waiting for you to figure out the history upon which it rests. Like the Sphinx and Sheldon Schaffer, Sloss waits for you to draw upon the wisdom you already have, and figure out the riddles yourself.

Sheldon Schaffer inspired, annoyed, egged on, a couple of generations of people who meant well but had little direction. He helped give us direction, whenever we got past our irritability at his techniques.

He made us feel like things were worth doing.

And, since he seldom thanked you when you actually did something good for the community, you just worked all that much harder next time, hoping to win his thanks.

A lot of people did not GET Sheldon, but I like to think I did. He was there to bring us up short when we did less than we could for each other.

Now that I’ve meditated upon Sloss and the Storyteller, something else comes to mind that expresses what I feel much more succintly. It is this poem by Langston Hughes:

I loved my friend.

He went away from me.

There’s nothing more to say.

The poem ends,

Soft as it began--

I love my friend

--Langston Hughes

© Jim Reed




by Jim Reed (www.jimreedbooks.com)

This story is about three long walks that changed the way people looked at the world. Every word is true. And in any town, you can learn more about what happened during those days of old, the days before yesterday, by paying attention and by visiting the Public Library, and by taking time to listen to the old stories.



When Gedney Howe was a little boy, his favorite companion was an elderly African American neighbor everybody simply called, "Frasier." As Howe’s daughter, Alabama attorney Belle Stoddard, tells it, "Frasier loved Gedney and was often making toys for him or giving him other presents.

"One day," Belle says, "Frasier proudly presented Gedney with a beautiful, most unusual type of seashell." Everyone was impressed, especially the child. Belle’s grandfather, Chief, recognized the shell as one that could be found only on Edisto Island, a very long way from Belle’s hometown of Charleston. Chief exclaimed,

"Why, Frasier, however did you find this here in town?"

Frasier patiently explained that he had not gotten the shell in town. He had found it on the island. Back then, there was little private--and no public--transporation available, so Chief asked whether Frasier had caught a ride.

"No, sir, I walked all the way and back."

Chief exclaimed, in amazement, "Why that must’ve been fifty miles."

"Well," Frasier said, "I caught a ride part way, but the long walk was part of the gift."


I was a mere toddler in 1944, and my older sister, Barbara, was just four years ahead of me. One day, my Mother, Frances Lee McGee Reed, and Barbara and I were riding the bus home from Downtown Tuscaloosa. This was back in the days when the bus company boldly displayed a sign up front that read, COLORED TO REAR, WHITE TO FRONT. It took me years to figure out what that meant.

Anyhow, at one of the stops, a very young, very pregnant African American woman boarded the bus, which was filled to overflowing--no seats available.

Mother immediately got up and offered her seat to the young woman, who was grateful for the chance to sit steady.

The bus came to a halt, the very red-faced driver stomped down the aisle, stared at the woman and demanded she get up and let the white lady sit back down. My Mother, suddenly also red-faced, stared him down and exclaimed, "This woman is pregnant, and she can have my seat!"

The driver would hear none of it--as long as there was no seat available, the black woman would have to stand up.

Mother’s solution was simple. She yanked Barbara’s arm and headed toward the exit, leaving the seat empty. Barbara yanked my arm and made sure the three of us were locked together as we got off the bus.

What my sister, Barbara, remembers, is that the day was bitterly cold, we didn’t have warm clothing, and Mother was very mad.

But we warmed up quickly by taking the long walk home.


We all know about the long walks of the late Rosa Parks, who was willing to walk rather than be subjugated because of her race. She, like Belle’s friend Frasier and Frances, my mother, all took long, unselfish walks. In the process these three heroes--one well known, the others almost invisible till right now, in this column...these heroes taught those around them the value of meanings behind actions.

The unselfish effort must always be noted, whether it succeeds or not.

They taught us the long walk is part of the gift

--Jim Reed © 2007 A.D.




by Jim Reed


She is roundfaced, attractive, young, with a pert short hairdo to match these wonderful attributes. Her eyes are bright against her tanned skin.

Only thing is, she has no apparent emotions. She's the clerk behind the counter of this fast-food restaurant, and she's waiting on the next customer up.

I am the next customer up.

She does not look me in the eye, she only stares off over the cash register, slightly rolling her eyes in boredom and glancing out the window as she slurs through the obligatory, "WelcometofastfoodcitymayItakeyourorderpleez."

I want to say in a merry and strong voice, "Good morning. I'm feeling good. Thanks for asking. And how are you?" or something sarcastic and inappropriate, but I of course do not say anything.

I try to enunciate my order so that she gets it punched into the register properly before her attention span shrinks.

She takes my money, still never looking at me (In the line-up at the Police Station she could never pick me out, so I guess I could get away with taking an extra catsup packet and heading for them thar Survivalist hills.), and she hands me a wad of change, then turns in the order. The fragrance of big burgers and fries and sanitized grease floats through the air.

Suddenly, her face comes alive, brightens with a big smile that makes her skin glow, that makes her briefly seem slimmer and happier and up from her fast-food coma. She's looking over my shoulder at a friend in another line. "Why hey, girl! How you doing?" she emotes, making the cool, dreary morning a degree warmer for a split second.

Then, as quickly as it appears, the smile is gone, the face sags and goes blank, and she gets back to the task at hand: completing my order so that I will get out of the way for the next invisible customer.

I miss her smile. She will not miss mine.

I miss, too, those days when proprietors thought it important to train employees in human relations and cordiality. I miss the days of Max Cooper--Max was an owner of one of the early fast-food franchises in Birmingham. Once, years ago, I saw him sitting in his car next to one of his restaurants, taking notes on what he saw. I always imagined that he was checking up on the Manners Quotient, inspecting the Attitude Adjustment Scale, getting ready to fine-tune his operation and his employees' ability to make you want to come back soon.

Those long ago days of fast-food restaurants were interesting--there was enough of the old mom-and-pop-service mentality left over from the independent-establishment days to carry over into the franchise decades. It kept the places merry and friendly and did not rely as heavily on toy premiums and playgrounds and 2-for-1 deals to keep the customers wanting more.

Shucks, am I an old fogey, or what? Why can't I just accept the food, pay my money, and pretend I'm at the Automat? If robots were dispensing the meals, I guess I wouldn't expect anything more than vending from them. Vending machines either work or they don't work. But each time, I get fooled into thinking that I might be treated like five dollars worth of human if I'm going to pay five dollars to be served by a human.

Or am I the only one who notices this kind of stuff?

© Jim Reed 2007 A.D.




by Jim Reed

I run a Christmas shop, a Christmas museum, a Christmas antique emporium.

Why Christmas?

Well, you’d know the answer to that--if you’d known my Mother.

To Mother, every day was Christmas Eve and Christmas Day combined. All her life, she was able to see through the pain and confusion of life, through to the sweetness that she felt from the time she was born till her own Mother died fifteen years later. She never left childhood alone on the back step, but took it with her and carried her understanding of children and their pure and innocent outlook on life, all the way to another existence, 83 years after her birth.

Every day was Christmas at our house. Each day, we paid careful attention to weeds and frogs and paint chips and stuffed toys and sunbeams and tears and relatives and concrete sidewalks and Pepsi Colas and fresh cornbread. Under Mother’s tutelage, we kids learned to note things, notice things, note people, notice people.

Taking her example, we learned to find something fine in just about everything, everybody, every Thing, every Body. Each day, we woke up to a Christmas gift of life, neatly wrapped, anxiously waiting to be unwrapped.

That being said, maybe the rest of this story will make more sense to you.

Whenever I use the gift of noticing people, I learn something new.

While she was still alive and active, Mother spent some time each day hiding messages she prepared for her kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, and her extended family of kids. She didn't give us these messages directly, since her experience with human nature warned her that we would probably ignore them because of our youth and immaturity.

So, Mother sent messages in bottles for us to find accidentally through the years, each time just as we were almost grown-up enough to recognize and appreciate them.

Christmas was Mother's favorite season, so she made sure that more secret messages were generated at that time. She wanted us to remember how much fun, how much love, swirled about our family so that we would remember to pass this joy along to our own families and extended families.

Mother died in 1997, and life went on without her, as life does. We kids and grandkids and great-grandkids went our way and did our own lives the way we thought we had designed them. At times, we acted as if we had never had a mother, as if we had invented ourselves, as if we were self-made.

But we could never fool ourselves for long.

Without Mother's nurturing and sacrifices, without her humor and overwhelming bluntness, we could not have been formed.

One day, my sister Barbara gave me a bunch of stuff she had salvaged from Mother's old house in Tuscaloosa. In the pile was an unopened box that felt hefty enough not to be empty. When I had time a few days later, I took that box up and peered at it, reading the words thereon:

"MUSICAL ROCKING SANTA. Sure to delight collectors of all ages, this 8 inch high rocking Santa captures the spirit of Christmas past with exquisite handfinished detail."

The box was colorful and depicted a kindly snoozing Santa.

The imprinting continued, "It features a genuine Sankyo wind-up musical movement from Japan. Handcrafted and handpainted in China by people who care. This copyrighted design is made under an exclusive licensing agreement with the copyright holder. (C) 1995 II INC."

This box looked familiar to me, but I couldn't quite get it. If it was manufactured in 1995, it couldn't have been one of my childhood toys.


I carefully opened the box, making sure not to damage anything, since I might find that it belonged to somebody else in the family.

Inside, a toy any Christmas Lover would covet:

A statue of Santa Claus--a dozing Santa Claus. I can still see the toy on my shelf at home, today: Santa's dozing, full-capped and furred, in a green highbacked rocking chair with a yellow kitten peeping over his right shoulder, a flop-eared dog in his lap, a December 26 calendar in his drooped left hand and a small toy at his feet. His bathrobe and striped longjohns and tasselled red boots top it all off.

This man is tired and at peace, falling sleep so fast he's forgotten to remove his spectacles.

When I wind him up, the chair gently rocks back and forth, a melody tinkles its way about the room, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas..."

I loved this toy, and it took me a few days to figure out its history. Recalling that Mother never stored anything she owned without leaving a note about it, I went back to the box, turned it upside down and, sure enough, there was Mother's message to me, these few years later. I could hear her musical voice saying it aloud,

"This goes back to Jim after I'm gone! I enjoyed this toy! --Mother"

That was my Mother, ok. She never threw anything away, knowing that someone in the far future would find joy in each remaining object, if only it was stored safely enough to be found.

This was her way of giving back to me the joy I had given her when I presented her with the Santa before she died.

Now, ol' Santa sits on my shelf, waiting to entertain, waiting to make me remember my Christmas Mother, waiting for me to pass him along to the next person who would take a close look at the bottom of the box to see what kind of message I would add to Mother's

--Jim Reed © 2007 A.D.




by Jim Reed

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, 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 Birmingham Weekly. 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 Putlizer 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 © 2007 A.D.




by Jim Reed (www.jimreedbooks.com)

The greyhaired man and his wife wander attentively through the stacks of books and ephemera in my Museum of Fond Memories.

They’ve never been here before, but they are excited to find a quiet haven, surrounded by 500 years of artifacts, the kinds of artifacts they know have just been lost to them forever in their hometown, New Orleans.

They are staying with friends and don’t know whether they have a home to return to.

A rough-edged woman shows up at the bookloft, talking excitedly about the old magazines and books she’s trying to sell to me. She’s getting rid of her possessions so she can trek southward to spend her life helping victims of Katrina. She’s had an epiphany but doesn’t know what an epiphany is.

Larry Fikes at the Redmont Hotel tells me stories about refugees he’s housing, Teresa Thorne sends emails pleading for aid for refugees at the Civic Center.

Beth Williams is lying in the hospital nearby, donating a kidney to a friend. My daughter, Margaret, sends a note that her church in Fairhope has turned itself into a refugee soup kitchen, that thousands are being helped throughout Baldwin County.

Suburban neighbors say they still don’t have electricity, but they don’t seem to be complaining or whining as much as you might think.

I remember back to the day after 9/11, when my son-in-law, Derek, walked into his home with a funny look on his face. He told Margaret, "They didn’t turn the trashcans over this time. And they even replaced the lids," referring to garbage workers who usually toss things about in their rush to get it done. They, too, acted not quite as abruptly as you might predict.

Every few minutes, I run into more anecdotes and stories about post-Katrina, post-9/11 times. Despite the horrors, many people are being kind to one another, and respectfully quiet now and then.

One of my favorite movie scenes drifts into full view in my mind. In the film STARMAN, an enthusiastic and frustrated SETI scientist, played by Charles Martin Smith, is desperately attempting to communicate with a superior-intelligenced alien, played by Jeff Bridges. Smith is trying to learn all he can before the Government and the vivisectionists arrive to enslave and examine this alien, just in case he presents a threat to Earth.

And then, a great cinematic moment occurs.

Scientist and alien are sitting face to face, just before all Bureaucracy breaks loose.

In reply to the scientist’s obvious question, "Why are you here?" the dying alien says, "We are interested in your species. You are a strange species...not like any other...and you would be surprised how many there are--intelligent but savage."

The scientist is hanging on to every word during this first-ever conversation between planets.

The alien asks, "Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you (Earthlings)?"

The scientist can only nod.

"You are at your very best when things are worst."

And that’s the scene.

It’s the kind of thing you don’t think about too much on a conscious level, but by and by, the significance begins to sink in. The metaphor applies. The soul takes a turn for the better.

We are at our very best when things are worst.

I look around me at the changed people, the changed lives, the refugees of 9/11 and Katrina and Hiroshima and Tsunami and a thousand other catastrophes human-made or human-preventable or human unpreventable. I see the good that people do lives after them. The bad is interred with their bones.

Sorry about paraphrasing you, Mark Antony, but you got it wrong. Most people are capable of great kindnesses, especially when they aren’t prepared to resist their gentle impulses.

Look around you. You’ll see small kindnesses everywhere.

Like the Starman, you will wonder at the mistakes and vanities, but you will think we’re all worth saving, once you see how we react when times are worst

© Jim Reed





by Jim Reed © 2007 A.D.

Most of us don’t get a chance to select our given names, mainly because, as infants, we can’t articulate the words needed to make a suggestion for a good name. So, we live with what’s given us.

My name is James Thomas Reed, III, which means that my father and paternal grandfather had the same name. It just kind of trickled down to me. My grandfather was called Jim, my father was called Tommy, and I am Jim.

My grandfather bought a house in the tiny coal mining town West Blocton, Alabama, around the turn of the century—a house that is still standing. On Easter Sunday in the year 1909, my father, Tommy, was born in that house. Since there were seven or so brothers and sisters ahead of Tommy, my grandfather Jim placed the infant in an Easter basket and announced to his brood that the Easter Bunny had delivered this pink, noisy package.

Back then, kids believed that sort of thing.

Now, to know my father, you’d have to know the people he admired, since men in his generation weren’t much for sitting around telling you about themselves. No, you just had to look around and pay attention to the men whose lives they emulated.

In my father’s case, I can remember who some of his heroes, both literary and real, were:

Sergeant Alvin York, who never accepted a dime in trade for the heroism he’d shown for his country in World War I.

Preacher Josiah Dozier Grey, and Uncle Famous Prill, the heroes of Joe David Brown’s Birmingham novel/movie, Stars in My Crown, men who never wavered from belief in family and neighbors and principles. They were forerunners of Atticus Finch and other strong Southern heroes of fiction and non-fiction.

Harry Truman, who dispensed with nonsense and tried to do the right thing, even when it was not popular. He was in a long line of no-nonsense leaders, such as John L. Lewis and Eric Hoffer, people who thought for themselves and never followed a posse or a trend.

Jesus Christ, who, like my father, was a carpenter, and a principled man.

And so on.

Now, it’s important to understand this one thing about my father—to look at him, to be around him, you’d never know he was a hero. He was a working-class, blue-collar, unassuming person you’d probably not notice on the street, unless you noted that he limped from an old coal mining injury received when he tried to save another man’s life.

It was his very invisibility that made him a true hero, because he did the kind of thing that nobody gets credit for: he loved unconditionally and without reward.

That’s right. He was a practitioner of unconditional love for family, the kind of love that seeks no return, no attention. You would have embarrassed Tommy Reed if you had tried to thank him for his acts of kindness, because you were not supposed to notice.

He gave money in secret to relatives in need.

He grimaced and bore silently the abuse of those who forgot to appreciate or thank him.

And he never announced his good deeds. You just had to catch him now and then in an act of kindness.

His heroes were all men who didn’t need adulation. What my father needed was a hard day’s work at an honest job, a few moments of privacy after a good meal, time to read a book or watch television with a child or grandchild on his lap, and an occasional hug from his 50-year wife, my mother.

You could do worse than have a father like Preacher Grey and Joel McCrea, Uncle Famous and Juano Hernandez, Gregory Peck and Atticus Finch, Eric Hoffer, John L. Lewis, Harry Truman, Sergeant York and Gary Cooper, and Jesus.

Do they make ‘em like that any more? You bet they do, but you won’t know about it for a while, because they don’t have press agents.

What they do have is the appreciation that takes years to grow and make itself known, the appreciation we come to have after we, too, have been called upon to commit an occasional act of unrewarded kindness.

Take another look at your father.

Who are his silent heroes?

Who are yours?

--Jim Reed ©






by Jim Reed (jim@jimreedbooks.com)

There are as many kinds of fathers as there are fathers, plus some!

After all, a father can come in more than one size, more than one shape, more than one gender, even!

So, here’s to every good and kind father, whatever the planet of origin:

You go! biological fathers, test-tube fathers, guardian fathers, absentee fathers, only-in-your-imagination fathers, good-pal fathers, uplifting fathers, step-fathers, out-of-step fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, fathers both great and grand, foster fathers, stand-in fathers, well-meaning fathers, wanna-be fathers, to-be fathers, female fathers, long-gone fathers, faraway fathers, surrogate fathers, gentle fathers, good example fathers...

You rock! gay fathers, straight fathers, not-quite-sure fathers, black fathers, brown fathers, red fathers, pale pink fathers, pasty complexioned fathers, fathers we wish we had, fathers we wish we had back, fathers in jail, fathers on bail, disenfranchised fathers, fathers in the hospital, fathers in a nursing home, fathers asylumed, banned fathers,

absentee-but-not-on-purpose fathers, appreciated fathers, outcast fathers, should-be-appreciated fathers, fathers whose wallets are depreciated...

You mean much to us, you good and kindly fathers. If we’ve failed to say it to you lately or never, take this little page and place it in a pocket where you can sit down and look at it for a moment, now and then.

You go!

This is especially for fathers who go to the trouble to, fathers who take care of the fatherless, Big Brother fathers, fathers who listen, fathers who’ve downgraded their attitudes from critical to judgmental to kindly and sweet, fathers who love loudly, fathers who love quietly, fathers who just do the right thing and never expect credit

Your loving son,

Jim Reed © 2007 A.D.



DOWNTOWN RHAPSODY # 1...........


My latest bookloft customer is a pleasant, attractive young woman who's dropped in to pick up an out-of-print book we've ordered for her.

As usual, I've placed the book in an obscure place and must spend a few minutes locating it, er, trying to remember where I put it.

The young woman stands at the bookloft counter, staring straight ahead, not looking right or left.

"It may take a little while for me to put my hands on the book, so why don't you browze through the store a bit?" I ask, fully aware that she's a first-time customer and has yet to be amazed at what we carry in our 6,000-square-foot museum of fond memories.

I continue rummaging about, but notice out of my peripheral vision that the young woman is still staring ahead, not turning around to be astounded.

I repeat my invitation for her to look around, and she makes bodily motions as if she's going to do just that, but when Craig finally fishes the book out of obscurity and brings it to her, she's still standing in the same spot.

She's happy to have the book--just the one she's wanted for years--but she still fidgets a bit and doesn't leave the store. I've already gone back to my computer cataloguing, thinking she's left the building, when she says, "I wonder...do you think...uh, would you mind escorting me down the stairs to my car?"

I realize then, that she's got the FEAR OF DOWNTOWN SYNDROME, one we see several times a week, year 'round, one we keep thinking is going to go away, someday.

I immediately volunteer to escort her downstairs. I'm happy to do so, since it means she might feel less afraid, I might get a chance to propagandize her a bit about the wonders and safety of Downtown Birmingham, Alabama, these days, and she will at least get to her car safely, as I promise she will.

While we're walking around the block to the Water Works parking lot, I'm chatting away at how Downtown is so much safer than the superdupermegaMALL parking lot or any of the overcrowded suburbs, but, at the same time, I'm trying to see the world through her eyes for a minute.

We pass by the diverse group of people waiting for a bus or a poor-man’s trolley, past the line outside the Water Works payment center, right by the corner where a panhandler aggressively walks toward us, past the bankers and office workers who are strolling comfortably to get a snack at the hotdog stand beneath the bookloft and a little piece of sunshine, past the peanut vendor who's trying to hustle another dollar bag, past the boom-box-loud cars parked in the lot, drivers waiting for whoever's inside paying the water bill or whoever's crossed the street to pay the gas bill, past the automobile salesman who's hurrying a customer to a Ford backlot to see a particular car.

It's a melting pot of folks, young and old, ethnic and not, poor and middle-class, bored and happy, employed and looking...but they are all simply doing their thing, their things, in Downtown Birmingham.

A friendly civic security officer waves as he swooshes by in his silent battery-driven vehicle, I help the customer into her car, she promises that, oh, yes, she'll be back one day when she has more time, she throws the electric locks on the door, checks to see if windows are secure, and drives nervously away to more familiar territory.

There are thousands of stories in the naked city, and this one feels and looks like a whole lot of stories I've experienced in all the years I've lived and worked Downtown. I know Downtown is safe and fun, but how do I convince this woman and all the other customers who furtively run up the stairs, their drivers running the getaway car motors all the while, waiting, then run down the stairs, never having experienced Mister Reed's Neighborhood the way Mister Reed does?

All I can do is keep trying.

Because, as you and I know, our special place, Downtown Birmingham, is just another place. If you work and live here, and then visit the alien suburbs, you're apt to be just as nervous as that young woman, just as anxious to get the heck out of Dodge and come back home to the center of the universe.

--Jim Reed ©



DOWNTOWN RHAPSODY # 2.................


I hear it, even when I’m not listening to it.

Listen: you can hear it, too.

It’s a sound peculiar to the South, and most peculiar to Downtown Birmingham right now. It’s a rattle that’s immediately recognizable, a multiple-clinking, hollow sound that gurgles just a bit.

Now, this sound is accompanied by certain movements, if you cast your eyes sideways and take a peek.

The hand next to me in the eatery is shaking, the glass of iced tea rattling loudly. A yankee might think the diner is palsied, but we indigenous folk know the facts. This person is doing exactly what thousands of Birminghamians do each and every day--he’s shaking loose the ice cubes right before glugging some tea.

There’s a purpose to this act of quivering. Everybody knows that ice cubes tend to stick together once they’ve sat for awhile. If you don’t shake them down a bit before drinking, they’re likely to come loose when you tip the glass, and spatter you with more fluid than you’re prepared to absorb.

I like the iced tea palsy. It has a rhythm that is mere underlayment to the noise of the restaurant.

If you tune out the conversation and listen to everything else that’s going on, it’s like a free-form jazz concert. There’s rhythmic throat-clearing, a snort now and then, a guffaw that punctuates a melody, the aluminum squeak of a door that doesn’t hang just right.

You can also hear a flushing toilet nearby and hope, usually in vain, to hear the sound of a faucet running for a moment afterward.

There’s the loud waitress’s call to the customer, “Whatchugonehave?” and there’s the even louder translation of what the customer mumbles, “Chicken salad hold the pickle add fries...eye-TAL-yun!”

Other parts of this continuing jazz festival include slurping noises as a child finishes up a Pepsi through an air-bubbled straw, rustling of newspapers as diners squeeze their shoulders tight to accommodate other diners, some kind of whiny country music on the speaker system not quite tuned to the station’s frequency, the distinctive noice produced when you carefully dismantle a styrofoam cup piece by piece.

There are two free jazz concerts you won’t want to miss if you come Downtown. One is the concert that’s all around you everywhere you go, the other is the first-Sunday-of-the-month concert on Southside at 5:30pm (in Foster Auditorium at Southside Baptist Church). Each is a world of its own, but the startling and wonderful thing about these two concerts is that they overlap with one another.

Each concert is perpetual, by the way.

The Foster Auditorium Jazz Vespers gig has been going on for ten years, the other one is, well, forever minus the breadth of human existence in Birmingham.

It’s that parallel-universe overlap of excruciatingly beautiful and provocative sounds that makes life in the city so special.

Come do some jazz, Downtown. Be a player (use your drinking straws for countertop impromptu drumming, your nervous twitch to follow a boombox beat) or be a good listener (is the air conditioning hum in tune with the street-level brake squeal?), or be a good watcher (peek over your menu to observe the three-year-old slapping some catsup on his forehead, look over the table at the nervously tapping shoes).

There’s music to be had, and there’s music that will have you, if you’ll only stop to notice

--Jim Reed ©



DOWNTOWN RHAPSODY # 3..............


You can look at art anywhere you go in Downtown Birmingham.

You can look high, at the cracks and cornices of buildings. You can look low, at the splits and gaps in the sidewalks, at the graffiti messages left on walls. You can look in merchants’ windows and do a little daydreaming.

You can peer through loosely taped windows of vacant buildings and see ghosts.

You can look at Downtown Birmingham itself as a work of art--a conglomeration of mixed media, moods, politics and procilivities many decades old.

You can look at art fingered in the dust of automobile hoods. Or, you can actually see structured, commercially-priced art in galleries, shops, offices, restaurants...all over town.

The variety of art on display is amazing, the range of talents daunting, the total cost of professional framing astronomical.

But it’s well worth it.

I was standing in the Birmingham Art Association gallery one night, enjoying the view: members’ works of art ranging from massive sculpture to oil and pastel paintings to thingies made out of tin cans and styrofoam cups.

I was really into diversity at the time, so I found metaphor in everything I saw.

Suddenly, a completely original work jumped out at me. There, right in front of me, was an ornate, carefully carved and painted picture frame...without a picture! “Wow!” I said, as people of my generation are wont to say, about a hundred too many times, each day. “Wow!” This artist simply turned her creativity inside out and made the FRAME the subject to enjoy, to study, to examine.

A frame without a picture. What a concept!

I was already writing my next column in my head, on the aesthetic and social appeal of frames, in which the content of the frames itself was meaningless, while only the frame held substance.

“Excuse me!” a young artist said, as she walked between me and the frame and stood with her back to me. I was about to say something, when I realized she was actually doing something to the framed wonder before me.

“There!” she exclaimed (she really did EXCLAIM). She backed up, murmured (she really did MURMUR) her approval, and walked away.

There before me was the frame, complete with painting. She had just now gotten around to placing the picture in the frame.

I glanced around to see if anybody had read my mind or heard my thoughts about the effete and “in” world of paintingless frames. “Whew!” Nobody knew that I had just made a fool of myself--in front of myself.

Somewhat cowed and wiser, I slunk over to the hors d’oeuvres table and ate a bit too much for the duration of the art exhibit.

See? Art is anything you want it to be. But pause long and hard before advancing new theories to the art world. Chances are, somebody got there ahead of you, and thus knows more than you.

Just enjoy the moment.

Downtown is a work of art. Art works are everywhere Downtown. Check it out

--Jim Reed ©



DOWNTOWN RHAPSODY # 4...............


If you live or work or shop or tour Downtown, you know stuff that suburbanites don’t know...things they can’t know till they join the Downtown Explorers Club.

Now, the Downtown Explorers Club is a well-kept secret, mainly because I just made it up. But why don’t we form one?

Downtown is a remarkable place, and here’s how you can prove it to yourself:..but only if you are daring and adventuresome! JOIN THE DOWNTOWN EXPLORERS CLUB.

Do an about-face and take a long look at where you spend your time Downtown.

For instance, if you work Downtown, now’s the time to strike out on your own and learn new and interesting and profound things. Take a break sometime during the day and leave your place of work (flint and coonskin cap not required!). Walk two blocks north. Look right, left, behind and up. Note what you see, hear, smell, feel…notice what you like, what makes you uncomfortable, what your thoughts are.

Then, Walk two blocks south, back to your place of work. Think about everything you learned, think about what you’d like to learn, think about what buildings and shops you want to explore, what faces you’d like to see again.


Next day, take a break and walk two blocks south. Repeat previous directions.

You can do variations on this exercise as you get more comfortable with being a Downtown Explorer. On a city map, draw a circle around your place of business that is two blocks in radius. Give yourself a couple of weeks to explore every part of that 4-block-in-diameter circle around where you work.

What can you purchase within that circle? What services can you obtain? What poetic experiences can you have? What art and graffiti do you see? What signs and posters stand out? What statues and plaques are within that circle? What kind of architecture do you see around you?

Are there gargoyles atop the buildings, bits of molding you never saw before, mysterious windows you’d like to see through, ledges you’d like to walk in your imagination?

Think of that circle as your own private island. Think of yourself as Robinson Crusoe, a castaway in paradise, determined to learn and experience something outside the ordinary routines you’ve established all these years. Imagine what kind of people work and live in those buildings, what kinds of street people and vendors thrive there, what kinds of families Downtown denizens have, what they’re like after-hours.

And next time, triple your circle size by hopping a Dart each day. Go forth and join the elite circle of the Downtown Explorers Club.

You’ll never be the same

--Jim Reed ©




I used to have this recurrent fantasy. In my daydream, I am driving along, heading down Birmingham's 20th Street, windows down and radio turned up full-blast. Bliss is written all over my face. I pull up to a traffic light and in the lane beside me is a man whose radio is turned up full-blast, too. His radio is playing emotion-laden, scatalogically robust hip hop music, full of profanity and violence. And it’s real loud. Attitude Bliss is written all over his face. My radio, on the other hand, is playing emotion-laden, violence-ridden, over-the-top grand opera. Suddenly, for a split second, he realizes that my music is his music. I realize that his music is my music. Each music in its own small universe is the music of nightmares and reality and deprivation and hopefulness, love, lust, and celestial warfare. The driver looks me in the eye, raises an eyebrow, and nods, then speeds away. I continue my trek through Downtown, a moment of revelation and wisdom filed away for later.

At the age of 17, I became a radio announcer at a public radio/classical music FM station just like WBHM, only this station was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and it was called WUOA. Back then, in 1959, there were only a few such stations in the country, but they set the standard for what really good public radio stations would be for the next forty years. On our Tuscaloosa station, we concentrated wholeheartedly on classical music, opera, music from the theatre, ballet...with a smattering of jazz, stand-up comedy, folk and experimental music.

And on Saturday afternoons, there was the Metropolitan Opera.

I had never heard entire operas before, but as the newest member of the announcing team, I got to work the shifts nobody else favored--and that included Saturday afternoons. While other students were attending football games and going creek-banking, I was trapped inside the control room, listening to opera. While I did all those things announcers were expected to do on duty--file recordings, cue up tapes, read transmitter gauges, fill in program logs, write narratives and promotional announcements for future shows--I was exposed to the wonderful dulcet announcing tones of Milton Cross, the host for the Texaco Opera. Cross always sounded as if he were the world's greatest and most well-informed opera buff, and he told me way more than I ever had planned on knowing. At first, I felt like the nerd that I was, listening to all those great singers. But it didn't take long for me to immerse myself in the music, appreciate the enormous voices that opera singers always possessed, and eventually feel very incomplete if I didn't get to hear an entire opera at least once a week.

It was an incredible education, and I was being paid to obtain it!

And, so, more than forty years later, I still find myself arranging life so that I am a captive audience of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. I work the Saturday shifts at Reed Books, and I do all those things that bookdealers have to do--catalogue new acquisitions, file and arrange books, pay bills, greet and assist customers, answer the phone--but mainly, I get to listen to a full opera each Saturday all by myself.

It's been a wonderful life. Surely, no-one would ever dream of taking this life away from me. It's just too beautiful, listening to voices that are a dozen times bigger than the voices of hip hop artists, orchestras a hundredfold larger than hip hop bands. And all right here, in Downtown Birmingham, where you can get anything you want--even grand opera!

Why, if anyone ever took that away, anything could happen next. What if they decided to remove Daniel Schorr from the airwaves? That would be like taking the wisest, most experienced journalist in radio and locking him inside a padded room.

In another daydream, I'm actually in a padded room with the late Milton Cross and the present-day Daniel Schorr, and we're having a great time, listening to the music and chatting between acts. And the hip hop radio guy joins us now and then, listens knowingly, then plays us a cut or two of his music. And after awhile, we begin to appreciate and understand one another, and the diversity that all forms of music can bring to the world, if we'll only keep listening together

--Jim Reed ©




I always appreciate it when I'm reminded that there are people like me. It's a little scary, since, like Groucho Marx, I'm not sure I want to hang out with the likes of me. But, nevertheless, I like knowing that, here and there, there are people like me.

For instance, The Olympic Games remind me that there are people who will never succeed at sports because, like me, they are clumsy or uncoordinated or non-aggressive or just plain bored by sports.

Bored by sports? Un-American! Well, certainly, Un-Alabamian. I don't mean it to be--I'm just being honest. I'm not interested in competitive sports.

But I LOVE sports for the fun of it!

Take the Silly Olympics. The Monty Python comic troupe used to hold a Silly Olympics. It was my kind of sport! Everybody was having fun, nobody got hurt, and nobody won.

For instance, in the Silly Olympics there was a track event for people with a poor sense of direction. When the gun was fired into the air, the runners took off in every compass direction and never returned. There was a track event for people who walk funny, one for people hard of hearing...you get the gist. It was for fun!

In the world's greatest daily comic strip, Pogo, the characters always held their own Oleolympics games. Nobody knew what the rules were but everybody had a good time.

I would buy a ticket to the Tim Conway Little Old Man Olympics. Conway doesn't know this, but in my mind, I'm picturing a bunch of elderly guys, all of whom walk excruciatingly slowly, racing to see who will come in last and win the big prize.

And all Li'l Abner fans remember that the winner of the Sadie Hawkins Day race was always the person who came in Number Two and nabbed the frontrunner from behind.

Oh, I might watch an Olympic event or two, but always for the wrong reasons. I like to watch slow motion events, but I always wonder why the ice skaters have to have their performances critiqued aloud while they are skating. Why don't announcers and over-the-hill ballerinas criticize and comment during an entire Alabama Ballet performance? ("Oops! Her tutu is just too-too! Guess her performance just isn't up to par.")

The comedians Bob and Ray once narrated an entire football game halftime show as if it were a biblical spectacle, and satirist Peter Schickele once did a play-by-play calling of a Beethoven Fifth Symphony movement as if it were a football game. Now if THOSE were Olympic events, I'd buy a ticket!

Surely, in all of Ancient Greece, there must have been at least one non-sports guy entertaining himself by walking past the ticket booths at The Games and wondering whether it wouldn't be more fun to hold a Toga party to see how many people would fit inside one of those booths.

Now THAT'S a sporting event, to people like me

--Jim Reed © 2007 A.D.




--Jim Reed

When you're traveling around Alabama trying to find a fun festival to attend, sometimes you just gotta have some good old-fashioned Southern bar-b-q

But sometimes, the best bar-b-q exists only in your fondest memories, and you have to make do with what you can find.

All Bar-B-Q is hereunto judged against the toughest standards that you and I and time could ever dream up, once you've had the best.

In Tuscaloosa, the universal immovable irrevocable highest standard was set--at least in our little family on Eastwood Avenue--by Smalley's Bar-B-Q.

Most people in Tuscaloosa never even heard of Smalley's when I was growing up, but our family thought of Smalley's as being the one and only truest-tasting bar-b-q in the known universe. Smalley's was located on a tiny out-of-the-way one-way lane called Convent Street. You had to be going to Smalley's to even know where it was. It was close to the University of Alabama though largely invisible.

The thing about Smalley's bar-b-q was its absolute leanness--if you can call pure pork lean. It was thick, virtually without fat of any kind, and evenly textured, and it went with anything you could dream up to eat with it. The sauce was sweet with a touch of bitterness, but the pork was so flavorful and charcoaly that you could serve it without sauce and still know you were eating good old fattening original Southern bar-b-q.

Smalley's bar-b-q was our family's way of showing affection to one another. When anybody came from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to see me, they'd bring a chunk of Smalley's with them, knowing that although I'd eat just about anybody's bar-b-q, I was never quite as satisfied as when I got hold of some Smalley's.

Whenever I'd visit home, more often than not my brother Tim or sister Rosi or my Father would have gone by Smalley's and picked up some slaw and beans and pork to have sitting on the table by the time I got there.

It was a sure way of knowing that my family remembered not only me, but the things I liked.

In the early 1980's after football coach Bart Starr would visit Birmingham's Children's Hospital, I'd drive him back to the airport, but always after taking him to the Golden Rule Bar-B-Q Restaurant for an order of bar-b-q to be taken home to his wife.

He claimed nobody in Green Bay knew how to fix bar-b-q.

Starr felt the same way about Golden Rule that our family felt about Smalley's--and I'll bet he would have found Smalley's somewhat lacking, though I can't tell why.

Orders of Smalley's Bar-B-Q kept me in touch with my memories of Tuscaloosa all those years I was away. Smalley's always helped me remember the good times and the great days I had in that little college town. If you think about it, the specific taste of a dinner you love is a great way to re-live a wonderful experience. Mercy! It just occurred to me that Jesus himself probably knew exactly what he was doing when he laid out the ritual all his followers would need to practice in order to keep their memories of him strong and alive: break a certain kind of bread (unleavened), eat a certain kind of meat (roast lamb) and a certain kind of salad (parsley and other greens), drink a certain kind of drink (red wine), savor the taste and texture and goodwill associated with a good, friendly and deeply felt meal--and then repeat the procedure lots of times for all time to come.

And that, I guess, is what a famous football coach, a barely famous Tuscaloosa family and a most-famous Rabbi of old had in common: a need to help others revive and re-live the important turning points of life through a simple ritual involving food and friendship.

In my mind, I can just taste Smalley's Bar-B-Q now.

As long as I'm able to recall that charcoal flavor I can pull up a whole host of memories that make me realize that I've never left Tuscaloosa at all. That is, Tuscaloosa has never left me

©Jim Reed



--Jim Reed

From the time I was 3 years old, the living room of my family's home on Eastwood Avenue in Tuscaloosa prominently displayed two large, very dramatic paintings: one of a great big moose whose profile gazed into the distant wilds of an unfamiliar landscape, the other of Old Ironsides, a ship listing bravely through a storm.

Both these paintings were created by my Aunt Matty Reed Wooten, who lived in West Blocton, and who was the first adult artist in my life.

Much of the artwork I was to see through life somehow had to live up to what Aunt Matty had painted, and I couldn't help comparing her images to all those that came later. Aunt Matty's paintings were straightforward and largely self-taught, but you could read the emotion that she had poured into them from her paint-stained fingers. Nothing ever looked static in her pictures--Something was about to Happen at any moment in both of them.

Aunt Matty was kind of a gentle, no-nonsense person who always found just the right positive note to inject into any conversation. With her almost mid-western twang, she would pronounce things a bit differently from other Southerners. The word "battery" would become BATT-tree, the word "fetch" seemed exactly accurate and more descriptive than mundane words like "carry" or "retrieve." And she used words that country people still use: a suitcase was a "grip" or a "tote," for instance.

Aunt Matty lived in the house her father, James Thomas Reed (my grandfather), had purchased near the local coal mines at the time the 19th century became the 20th, and the foyer of the house was a shrine to any child who entered and saw a wonderful old foot-pedal organ just waiting to be played.

Old books and papers and other essential ephemera abounded in Aunt Matty's house, and visiting her always made me remember the wonderful times I spent there as a child.

There would be wild turkeys in the back yard, a no-longer-used out-house to the side, kerosene lanterns left over from the days when the house had no electricity, and a genuine wood-burning kitchen stove always in action.

Even in the days after the house was electrified and plumbed and heating did not depend upon chopped wood or coal lumps, the house still had the feel of being primitive, of existing in another time when little luxuries were great big luxuries and nobody had yet learned about Television and Computers and Space Travel and Muggings in the streets.

The hand-hewn house in which Aunt Matty lived still lives fresh and strong in my memory as a symbol of all the simple, pleasant pleasures we enjoyed long before we learned to compare what we had with what our neighbors had.

It was a time when we took each joy separately and with reverence and placed it in special nooks of our minds to be dredged up on days like this, a day when I need to remember the purity and strength of Aunt Matty's paintings in our little living room, paintings of things I'd never see in the flesh, paintings of things I'd never have to see to believe, because those paintings were much more real to me than anything like them I've seen in the best galleries of Atlanta, New York and Chicago.

Aunt Matty and I shared the same Scotch-Irish-Native American bloodstream, and it was good to know that she represented my father's family a good ten years beyond my father's death.

It was good to have an Aunt Matty, a gentle, witty and artistic soul whose purpose among us was in part to remind us of what we, too, have deep inside: the ability to depict a large moose or a gigantic ship in any way we feel them, and no matter what anybody else would ever say about our depictions, they would always be exactly the way we saw them, and to Aunt Matty that's all that was important

© Jim Reed




I'M SITTING IN MY BOOKLOFT BITING into chewy chunks of a big lump of ShurFine Marshmallows from Merv Torme's grocery store, the marshmallows being a big lump because they've somehow managed to stick together, making one enormous ten-ounce piece of candy--or confection--or mushy mint--or, well, just what is a marshmallow anyhow?

As I peel back the plastic wrapper and bite off another lump, I realize that I really don’t know what marshmallows are. There must be some kind of history about them.


A marshmallow has no center core, since the consistency is the same throughout. The outside is slightly different from the inside, possibly because of air getting into the exterior pores and somehow hardening it in a barely noticeable manner.

Now, to the true marshmallow gourmet, it is apparent that not all marshmallows are born equal. I notice that the ShurFine marshmallow is sweeter and a bit stickier than the traditional spongy marshmallows I was brought up eating and roasting. Marshmallows belong in their own food group, just like popcorn does. If I had to choose just two foods to survive on for a week, I just might pick marshmallows and popcorn.

The marshmallow, being one of the basic elements of the universe, is the only known substance that you can make those Rice Krispy squares with, and it is the only thing that you can stick on the end of a straightened coat hanger, hold over an open flame, and get such a peculiar delectable as a result--a delectable that is in all ways different from the unroasted marshmallow. After roasting, it becomes a crusty-exteriored (sometimes blackened or burning) object with a runny, sticky interior that must be eaten quickly before it gets into your beard or your lap.

A marshmallow is about the only thing an adult will allow a kid to hold over a fire, and a coat hanger makes a fine weapon to swing around after a kid has dropped a flaming marshmallow into the fire.

Nobody eats marshmallows just as candy snacks anymore--except me. Each time I drop by Grant's inconvenience store near my home and purchase a bag of the less-sweet-but-more-nostalgic-than-ShurFine marshmallows, the clerk smiles and says, "Looks like somebody's going to do some roasting." She says this every time I go there, as if I've never been there before. It is the only interchange we ever have. She knows what a marshmallow looks like, but she would not be able to describe me to the police were I to bolt and run with my bag of marshmallows, because she's never looked me in the eye. I'm just the Marshmallow Man who's never been there before and who will never be by again, since each time I go there, it's as if she's surprised all over again that somebody is buying a bag of marshmallows.

I don't roast the things, anyhow. I eat them for small snacks now and then.

Marshmallows are just my way of finding a food that is the kind of unchanged food I've been eating all my life. It's as basic as that. The older I get, the more I look for stuff that hasn't changed.

Besides, marshmallows taste and feel like a soft first kiss...but that's another story

--Jim Reed ©




--Jim Reed

SOMETIMES IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE WHERE YOU ARE when you wish upon a star, but in some circumstances you can actually embarrass yourself, wishing upon a star out loud, so in those cases it actually does make a difference.

If a dream is a wish your heart makes, does a nightmare count, too?

How do I know that when I talk to the trees they don't listen to me? And what would they care if they did listen?

And where's the proof that every cloud has a silver lining?

And could it possibly be true that if you make just one someone happy that you will be happy, too? What if that someone turns out to be a mugger who can't stand it when someone makes him happy?

Why doesn't "I'll Be Loving You Always" sound as kinky as "I'll Be Loving You All Ways?"

Ever wondered what kind of guns Quaker Puffed Wheat was shot from and whether there'll someday be a class action suit brought by people who have permanent powder burns from eating too much breakfast cereal?

Have you ever actually known an old dog named Tray? Is this some kind of hoax?

Is all larceny petty--what's the cut-off point?

If April showers bring the flowers that bloom in May, what brings the flowers that bloom in June?

Exactly what is the difference in measurement between "missed it by that much" and "missed it by this much"?

Did you ever see a dream walking, and did it terrify you at the time?

Does Freddy Kruger own a nail clipper? Would he associate with the likes of Edward Scissorhands? Or Captain Hook?

No, I'm not on medication, I just can't stop my brain

© Jim Reed




The song rolls in like a damp fog and slowly caresses you, and suddenly you realize what good songs are all about, what ALL good songs are all about.

I'm listening to this Voice and these Lyrics, and without meaning to, I am suddenly not in control of myself. I am suddenly the Lyrics, suddenly the Voice singing those Lyrics. I am the song.

For just three minutes.

But for those three minutes, a good song can seduce you, pull you out of your funk, distract you from your challenges, make you feel a bigger part of the Universe.

Two songs are like that--and they are both performed by the same singer.

Get inside these Lyrics. Don't pre-judge them, just let them take you over. If this works, if you really do become the Lyrics, you will want to hear the Song, and you will especially want to hear the Song sung by the Singer of the Lyrics. Here they are:

********************************************************** IT'S SUNDAY

Drowsy morning sunlight, gentle kisses for my love

It's Sunday, it's Sunday

She needn't waken, I'll fix the eggs and bacon her way While she just dozes

Lately I've taken to bringing her a flower on her tray

She's fond of roses

We'll talk away the morning, read the papers, misbehave

Enjoying each other

The world is ours to play in, we'll take a walk or stay in

Long and lazy hours to have and hide away in for one day

Thank goodness, it's Sunday

It is Sunday, it's Sunday


This song tells you it knows you've Been There, these Lyrics tell you the writer of the song has Been There. This song holds your hand for three minutes and guides you through Sunday morning.

The other song? Here it is:




I should have saved

Those leftover dreams


But here's that rainy day

Here's that rainy day

They told me about

And I laughed at the thought

That it might turn out this way

Where is that worn out wish

That I threw aside

After it brought my love so near

Funny how love becomes

A cold rainy day


That rainy day is here


See what I mean? This song, just like IT'S SUNDAY, tells you it knows how you feel, holds you close just long enough to console you, then disappears. We don't know which song came first. Did the singer have love, then lose it? Or did love come just in time, right after loss?

Both these songs were performed by the late Frank Sinatra. IT'S SUNDAY is the only song he recorded with just a guitar accompaniment. It's just right, just Right There. Look for it.

Borrow it from me. Listen to it any way you can.

HERE'S THAT RAINY DAY, recorded decades earlier by Sinatra, puts its arm around your shoulder and tells you that you may feel alone but you're not--there are others feeling the same things in the same way.

Take these two recordings and play them back to back.

This is one rollercoaster ride you'll want to return to, again and again.

--Jim Reed ©

The songs:

IT'S SUNDAY written by Susan Burkenhead

HERE'S THAT RAINY DAY written by Johnny Burke

Available wherever Sinatra is still remembered.



--Jim Reed

One of the funniest sight gags I ever saw was in a Bob Hope-Bing Crosby movie back in the 1940’s.

As a tad, it probably didn’t take much to make me laugh, because the aging process had not yet presented life’s back-stories to me.

Anyhow, in this Hope-Crosby Road movie, Hope has pulled off his shoes and is ready to go to bed. Note that Hope and Crosby always slept together, as did Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and a lot of other comic teams. Anyhow, Bob Hope’s toes are showing through the ends of his socks, when Bing says something like, “Better get some shoe polish to cover that up.”

May not sound like much to you, but this was exactly the kind of humor a six-year-old could grasp, and it opened the door to many more sight gags that other comedians would make me laugh out loud over: Abbott and Costello enter a restaurant when the headwaiter says, “Walk this way!” meaning “follow me to your table.” Of course, Costello walks with the same snooty sway as the headwaiter. Now, that was easy to understand and very funny to me and my friends.

Back then, before a theatrical movie began , we’d be entertained by a cartoon, a serial chapter, some previews, and--wonder of wonders--what we called a “Pete Smith Short.” In one of those brief Pete Smith movies, a bus stops, a woman gets off and walks through a shallow mud puddle, then the man behind her disembarks and falls into the puddle over his head. Again, how could life get any funnier than that?

The most beautiful sight gag I ever saw was Red Skelton, at the practice bar with several ballerinas, getting ready to place one unbent leg straight out to rest on the bar, which he does. Then, in an astounding act that looked as logical as any six-year-old’s idea of logic can become, Skelton raises the OTHER unbent leg to place it on the bar at the same time. Now, it happened so fast, in those days before slow-mo’ photography, that you just knew for a split second that it would work. Of course, it didn’t, which makes it funny to this day, in my mind. Even later, when Ed Wynn did the same thing, it again seemed logical.

Now, there are worse things than being brought up watching Bob Hope and his contemporaries do silly things on the silver screen. I NEEDED Bob Hope and company to get me through the tough times, and I grew to expect them to be there when I needed them.

And they always were.

Before you send me to the nursing home to languish away my final days, put a stack of old movies in my lap in the wheelchair, and let me watch them. Bring on all the Benny Hill, Mr. Bean, Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, Bill Cosby, Laurel and Hardy, Red Skelton, Steve Allen, Mort Sahl, Henny Youngman and company stuff you can afford and let me sit there chuckling at the guys who got me through to this age.

If I’m lucky, I’ll take the chuckles and the sight gags with me.

Thanks for the memories

--Jim Reed ©






There was this Pepsi Cola television commercial that ran over and over again during the 1960's, and oh, I would love to see it again. Just to see if my hormones are still as responsive as they were when I was young and shallow.

This Pepsi Cola commercial was advertising Pepsi Lite, or whatever they called sugarless Pepsi back then, and it had this perfect, perfect music in the background, this Bossa Nova style music that drew you into the cathode ray image as surely as the image itself drew you in.

The music kind of loped along, and the subject of the commercial kind of swiveled along, the subject being a young and beautiful woman seen only from the rear as she walked along the beach. Wearing a slight bikini and just swiveling along the beach, gracefully moving as only an unself-conscious young woman can at a certain point in her life, a certain point that comes just seconds before she becomes aware of her beauty and then aware of the effect she has on people and then, aware of the lined-up propositioners who will dog her every day till her beauty fades. The music was as sensual as the woman.

Then there was The Girl from Ipanema, the song that made real and accessible the idea that every young man has of what the object of his dreams must be like, look like, swivel like.

Listen to The Girl from Ipanema. It's the perfect song for the perfect time in your life, the time when you know that you want to possess everything that's beautiful while at the same time realizing that it is never to be. As my high school buddy Doug Bleicher used to remind me each time I fell in love, "You ain't gonna get any of that!"

Doug Bleicher was correct: Nobody gets any of That, because That is a figment of the imagination, That is a wonderful piece of music with an honest and true lyric that won't go away, a lyric that says, "Appreciate the beauty that's around you, but don't ruin it by touching it...listen to the music, smell the musky fragrance of moist beachside skin, hear the gentle and sensuous strokes that the music applies to your forehead, your ego, your id."

The lyric speaks for every young man who ever yearned for a young woman:

Tall and tanned and young and lovely

The girl from Ipanema goes walking

And when she passes

Each one she passes

Goes Aaah...

We all went "Aaah!" each time we saw that Pepsi commercial, each time we heard the lyrics of Yinicius de Morges and Antonio Carlos Jobim, the men who actually knew That girl from Ipanema. In fact, she is real and still exists! Is that too much for the yearning young reader to handle? Her name is Helo Pinheiro, and she lives in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. She's the one! The one the songwriters saw on the beach that fateful day so long ago.

Perhaps The girl from Ipanema should never have revealed her true identify. How could she possibly live up to the image she left in our minds?

The painful part comes next, as it must to all young dreamers:

And when she passes I smile

But she doesn't see

No she doesn't see

She doesn't see me...

Beauty passes and ignores you, then you spend the rest of your life with a memory more vivid than anything you're going to experience, at least on the cosmic level of Romance and Imagination and Young Dreams.

The Pepsi girl and the girl from Ipanema leave us with hope. They are the kind of women young men would die for, like Helen of Troy or Joan of Arc. They are powerful by their absence and made immortal by the music they inspire, the wonderful, dreamy music

--Jim Reed ©





Good art is what you like.

Bad art is what you like that I don't like.

Good art is what you don't like that the critics like, so you go along with it and pretend to like it.

Bad art is what the critics don't like that I like, but I don't say anything because, you know, the CRITICS must be right and I must have missed something.

Good art is what gets you a good grade in Art Class, no matter how bad it is.

Bad art is what gets you a bad grade in Art Class, no matter how good it is.

Good art is what you are ready to see when you see it.

Bad art is what may be good but you're seeing it before you're ready to see it.

Good art is, I know what I like, and this is it.

Bad art is, What in the world came over that artist?

Good art is my taste.

Bad art is not my taste.

Good art is art that can't REALLY be good because that very successful and filthy-rich artist produced it.

Good art is what that starving but passionate artist produced--so it has to be good, you know?

Good art must never be judged objectively. You might discard most of it if you did.

Bad art must never be judged objectively. You might discard most of it if you did.

Bad art is necessary, in order to have good art.

Good art is necessary, in order to have bad art.

Bad art is sometimes the best, most enduring art.

Good art sometimes lasts about as long as ducktail haircuts.

Bad art often endures

--Jim Reed © 2007 A.D.




--Jim Reed

In times like these, when leaders of nations are rattling their missiles and red buttons at each other, I long even more for leaders who do not have Rambo and John Wayne and World Wrestling Federation stars as their heroes.

The real heroes and heroines are the gentle people.

Some time back, I wrote a letter to the most gentle of all people, the Gandhi of our times: the late Fred Rogers. Here's my letter to him and his reply to me...

Dear Mister Rogers,

I may be the oldest fan who's ever written to you, but there's a good reason for this--maybe a lot of good reasons.

For one thing, I've never forgotten what it's like to be four years old and ten years old and even 60 years old--which is what I am now. When you get to be all these ages at once, you start trying to catch up on what you've missed, and writing a letter to you is one of the things I've missed doing.

Anyhow, I just wanted to say that I appreciate what you've been trying to do all these years for families and especially for the children who still exist inside those who can remember.

This is a society in which we see many blatantly macho images cast upon us each day, so it's so pleasing to see a gentle man portrayed on television and in books as a hero of sorts.

I have fond memories of my uncles, most of whom were kind and gentle to youngsters, and most of whom gave me a special gift--the gift of humor. You have become the kindly-uncle image and understanding-father image and even the attentive-grandfather image for some people like me, and I for one appreciate it. It kind of reminds me of all the nice times I had with my uncles, my father, and my grandfather.

Following your example and the examples of other gentle men I've admired (ranging from Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding to Bob Keeshan and Ray Bradbury), I've tried to be a decent father, husband, uncle and grandfather. On my best days I believe I've succeeded.

We need more gentle male images in our collective lives, and sometimes I wish we could have an annual meeting of kind people just so we'll know there are some more of us out there.

Keep doing what you're doing so well, and try not to die-- during my lifetime, at least.


Your friend

Jim Reed

From: Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

Dear Mr. Reed,

Your letter meant so much to me and to all of us here in the Neighborhood. Thank you for taking the time to write and share with us some of your thoughts and feelings about our work.

Your letter is an inspiration to all of us.

It was especially heartwarming to know that you appreciate the child in you, and the way the men in your life nourished you when you were growing up. I'm grateful that you feel our Neighborhood has also helped you know that men can be caring, kind, and gentle.

It's wonderful that you've passed those values on to your children, your grandchildren, and to your nieces and nephews.

I've long believed that attitudes and values are "caught," not taught, and I couldn't help but think that everyone in your family is fortunate to have such a loving heritage.

Please give your family our warmest regards. We will remember with great pleasure that the Reeds are a part of our Neighborhood...and that we're a part of yours.


Fred Rogers

© Jim Reed

NOTE: Here's another memory of Mr. Rogers:

Tom Cherones, a former high school classmate (and producer-director of the early Seinfeld television series), worked early-on with Fred Rogers. When I saw him at a High School Reunion last year, I asked whether Fred was as much of a saint as I thought. He replied, "He's even better than you think. He's a wonderful man!"

And one more memory of Mr. Rogers:

Many years ago my daughter's friend Ami told me that she loved Mr. Rogers when she was a child. I replied offhandedly that lots of people loved Mr. Rogers. Her eyes widened in surprise, "You don't understand! I mean I LOVED Mr. Rogers! Each time his show would come on the air, I would walk over to the TV screen and kiss him! I wanted to marry him!"




Arthur Voss was my bodyguard in the eighth grade. Dot Jones was my girlfriend. Pat Flood was my best friend.

How did all of this come about? Well, I'll tell you my version of the story, since most people in the story are dead or distant or disinterested.

This is a true story. It's also actual.

First day of eighth grade on the school grounds of Tuscaloosa Junior High. It must be recess time on the first day of eighth grade. I'm wandering around the red-dirt dusty summer grounds of the school. The sun is bright and stark and unflattering to the uncontrolled acne on passing faces, a bit too revealing of the unprofessional makeup work most of the coeds have done at home before schooltime.

One scowling guy struts by me and catches my eye. He must think I'm glaring a challenge at him, because he comes over, still staring, and punches me on the shoulder. I continue to stare back because I'm startled, because I don't dare turn my back on him, because I don't know any better. He's a rough-hewn country-looking kid who wants me to know who's boss. His scowl deepens and he punches me again, harder. I avert my gaze, pretending to suddenly remember an important engagement. "Dear me--must run. I left my baby on the bus!" is what I want to say, but I have no way of knowing whether that would just make him madder.

"Why'd he do that?" a tow-headed, barrel-chested student asks. I am standing to the side of the playground, wondering whether I am going to be punched again.

"I dunno," I say.

Arthur Voss is this kid's name. He is shy, too, and seems relieved that I'm willing to talk with him. Arthur is tough and knows a little about schoolyard survival. He never picks fights. But you can tell just from the way he stands that nobody is going to pick on him. HE has a clean-cut no-nonsense air.

The bell rings and Arthur doesn't go right in. Like me, he waits for the crowd to disperse. "Stick with me. Nobody's gonna punch you again." Arthur says this. I make a joke out of it because that's usually how I survive. "You mean you're my bodyguard?" I ask. "Yeah," is all Arthur Voss says. We go our separate ways to class.

"Hey, this is Arthur, my bodyguard," I say to Dot Jones, a very cute and perky petite blonde I meet at recess the next day. Dot is impressed and giggles her approval. Arthur just stands nearby and looks pleasant and alert. He really is my bodyguard. He's always close by when we're on school grounds before, during and after class. He makes no demands. We kid around, but he's not prone to idle conversation. He's just there. At lunch, we sit together with Dot and my other new friend, Pat Flood. Arthur is quiet, Pat is frenetic and funny, and Dot is giggly and cute. I actually have friends in junior high! Maybe I'll survive eighth grade.

The two-step is all I can muster. If I want to dance with Dot Jones at the Friday night junior high gymnasium dances, I'll have to learn how to dance. Dancing is the only way I know how to justify getting my body close to Dot's body. We hold hands during school breaks, but there's no body contact and definitely no kissing. Not even any smooching, whatever that is. I don't know what smooching is, but I know I'm going to like it.

What is the perfume called that Dot uses? We do the two-step. We are exclusively paired and don't want to dance with anyone else. Will I be in love with Dot forever? Will Arthur Voss remain my bodyguard for life? Is Pat Flood going to remain my best friend? I know the answers to these questions, but in junior high I don't. Shall I reveal the ending or leave you guessing? I've always felt I don't want to know my own fortune, but in these pages, I sometimes do know how things turn out, but the story must be told while simultaneously the characters within don't know outcomes even when their later versions do know the answers. Time travel is always confusing like this, but time travel must be done in order to get the stories told.

Will Pat Flood be my best friend till we're 80 and barely able to remember the stupid and silly gags we loved, the snickering fun we had? The junior high school gymnasium doesn't smell like sweaty locker room mildew tonight while the dance is going on. The nostrils only pick up what the sweet hormonal couple wants them to pick up. The smell of Dot's perfume. The fragrance of the flower in her hair. The smell of Wildroot Cream Oil hair tonic from my fevered scalp, the rustle of one too many petticoats, the riding up of my underwear, the squeezing-toe leather shoes, the slow dance music, the dimmed gym lights, the chaperoning teachers, the coeds all transmogrified by their acne treatment salve, their new lipstick, freshly Pepsodented teeth, lacquered nails, home-permanent natural curls, saddle oxfords and penny loafers shuffling over the parkay flooring, the scuffed shoe polish, the crepe paper decor, watery Kool-Aid punch, cool kids outside catching a smoke, brittle teachers, hawklike, searching for cool kids outside catching a smoke, pre-air-conditioning gym floor humidity-laden, red dirt and weeded grass and cool fungus fragrance outside the school while we wait for her father or my father to pick us up and deliver us to our respective homes.

Daddy drops Dot and me off at her house while he gives us a full three minutes alone, during which he drives to the end of the block on the pretense of U-turning the damp green Willys car, and taking his time to do it as if he couldn't just turn around in front of her house, but that would be dropping the pretense, wouldn't it? Daddy is complicit in the romantic effort to give us lovebirds a chance to cuddle, but all I can get the courage to do is shake Dot's hand and run to the car, never having been kissed, never having kissed. Kissing would break the spell, don't you know? The magic spell consists of never realizing your dream, which gives the dream such power, such magnification. The intense pleasure of anticipation is all there is, the knowing that if you break the spell with a kiss or a too-too touch, you just might fall from the grace of unfulfillment. The pressure of Almost is so powerful, so fantasy-making, so just plain carnal, though I'm not yet sure what carnal is, nor can I ever be sure. The overwhelming pleasure of knowing Dot and handholding Dot and dreaming of Dot and talking too long on the phone with Dot in the hallway of my parents' home just feet away from their bedroom door, trying not to stand over the floor furnace too long, trying not to be heard by anyone but Dot.

You see, at this point, here at this moment, I close the red clay diary and close my eyes and almost nap, then open up, get alert, and start again that which is never ended--the story of me and Dot and Arthur and Pat and who we are and who we were before now and who we were before the before time, and then who we will yet be and who we might be once we stop being we four who walk the dusty earth of 1954 Tuscaloosa junior high.

The faux doze starts once more, and I am closing the page, topping the pen, ready for the next episode of what's happening 50 years later, tonight, on Planet Three.

Does Arthur Voss ever have to fight anybody on my behalf? No, but nobody picks on me the rest of eighth grade, thus I am afforded the opportunity and mixed-feeling pleasure of living to enter the ninth grade

--Jim Reed © 2007 A.D.




by Jim Reed

Some universities talk about it but do little.

Some universities brag about how much they do about it, but it's difficult to see the hard evidence.

Some universities want you to think they think about it, but all you see are enhanced computer images that may or may not reflect what is really going on.

Then, there's the University of Alabama at Birmingham. They talk about it, brag a little, want you to think they think about it. But in UAB's case, something is actually happening!

I'm talking about diversity.

Diversity in a University setting means living the dream, not just pretending. At UAB, you can see diversity in person and in your face, and it's quite exhilarating sometimes.

Just sit on the patio at Al's Diner on 10th Avenue South and 17th Street. Order a Greek salad or the best hamburger in town (loaded). Then, look around you. Just across the street and leaking over onto this street is the edge of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, an urban school that wants to pretend it's not. But this urban school is filled with diversity. Turn your head, take in the neon trimming lights and the neon food signs at Al's and you see something you won't see at the Birmingham Country Club: real diversity. Muslim women keeping careful watch over their children while they eat; white male medical students in their breaktime scrubs, huddling over their humus; African students (not African-American, but Current African students) dining and chatting with Asian students; Pakistani students being served by Indian students at the outdoor tables; Arab students breaking bread with Jewish students; African American students sitting back to back with Native American students.

And you may even find another form of diversity that's definitely influenced by the international community at UAB: elderly people sitting right alongside kindergartners, handicapped students enjoying strong iced tea with a redneck or two, science students flirting with art students, street people dropping by to count their pennies.

It's nice to live a few hundred feet from Al's and UAB, because when I go to eat or shop or mail something, I'm going to see a variety of faces representing the world around us, desegregated just for my benefit, intermingled in an unconscious stew.

I don't know why I feel more comfortable in a setting like this. Maybe it's the fact that when I stand before all-white audiences for a speech, I get the feeling they are missing something and don't even know it. When I visit an all-white school or church, it feels incomplete, stripped of some hidden passion that would spice it up and make it come alive. Even when I speak to an all-black civic club, I get the feeling the members are not getting a complete picture of the Birmingham world I inhabit.

Just think what these isolated groups are missing out on: the flavorings and secret ingredients that make humanity more interesting than an anthill or a cold bear's den, more lively than a lonely evening at home watching electronic images glow up on you, more exciting than milling around seeing nothing but people who look and think and feel and smell exactly like you.

Come on down to UAB and see the world. Come on down to Al's and watch the world while actually participating in it

© Jim Reed A.D.




Jessica, all sixteen years and nine months of her, brakes her car in front of our Southside home just seconds after I pull up and stop in the parking place right in front of her.

She and her friend Dawn get out and strut their stuff.

Jessica has just bleached her beautiful red hair a lemony color, and she's wearing some kind of gel to make the hair stand up not of its own accord. Dawn's jet black hairdo is puffed up on top and longer in back, and they both wear the latest things that can be had at your friendly neighborhood thrift store.

I'm happy to see Jessica, because she's the first granddaughter of a long line of grandkids, and I guess she's taught me more about how to be (and not be) a grandfather than all seven of the other grandkids--and sometimes, she's enough of a handful to overshadow the other grandkids. But that's Jessica, you see. Jessica has always been an in-your-face kind of woman, a woman who's liable to tell you what she thinks even when you wish she would pull her punches just a little. In the long run, I appreciate this ability of Jessica's, the ability to tell the truth unexpectedly and the extra-added ability to lie when you wish she wouldn't. This is how Jessica makes sensible her world, this truthtelling and truthbending, this saying what you know is true but would rather not hear, this saying what isn't quite true when you wish you knew the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Jessica is an artful dodger, but this is just her way of getting through the thicket on her terms. She has to keep you a little off-balance in order to maintain her balance.

Anyhow, Jessica and Dawn accompany me into the house, helping me carry loads of freshly-done laundry and newly-formed smiles to bring to her grandmother, Liz, whom she has called "Grammy" since she was able to talk. I'm "Poppy," you know.

Grammy brightens up considerably when she sees Jessica. She always brightens up when she sees Jessica, Jessica being attached to her by an almost visible chain of experience and genetics.

Jessica sports her new lemon hair and we make all the necessary comments about it and about how it got all lemony, and then we get down to the business of eating and sipping and chatting about this and about that.

It's a nice visit. Its significance is unfathomable, but it's quite significant that, once Jessica got her license to drive and her own wheels, she started attempting to visit us more often. We need to see her, you know, just to be sure she's still with us, still thinks of us, still needs to appear.

Jessica and Dawn head out of the house, full of coffee and laughs and expectations, headed for their next Southside adventure.

Grammy and I finish our soup. We reflect on the complications of simplicity. As always, we try to find a way to simplify the complications. Too often, we stumble and complicate the simple. We take our daily doses of friendly encounters and season them with whatever seems to work at the time, based on experience, skill, and just plain luck.

That's how we get through the day--a chunk at a time. We don't spend too much time looking back at what we should have done. We don't dare look too far into the future for fear of actually seeing it (wouldn't that be scary?). We try to focus on right now, right this moment. We try to appreciate the times we feel good. We try to see the sunny light reflecting off lemony hairdos. We try to wish real hard for peace and love for everybody, including us

--Jim Reed ©





by Jim Reed

Every Monday morning, some 50 mornings a year, you'll notice the strangest thing if you show up early at the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama.

There, in a round auditorium just off the 15th-Street entrance, you'll see one or two people quietly rearranging the burgundy conference chairs. Before long, a circle of chairs will emerge, so that wherever you sit in that circle, you will be able to look into the eyes of anyone else in the circle. Wherever the group leader sits, status will not be noticeable to the newcomer. It looks like King Arthur's roundtable meeting--without the table.

Come to the Civil Rights Institute one Monday morning around 7:20am and help arrange the chairs. It's part of the ritual practiced by a group that's been meeting weekly since 1969.

By 7:30, members of the Community Affairs Committee will be arriving and socializing, drinking their coffee, nibbling on whatever goodies somebody has provided this morning, shaking hands, talking and signifying together.

By 7:45 or so, the meeting will come to order, but for the next half hour people will continue to trickle in and settle down, in quiet respect for whatever discussion is going on. Unlike many Birmingham civic group meetings, this meeting does not begin with a prayer to any particular Muslim or Jewish or Christian deity. In fact, there is no prayer at all, out of an acute awareness that many people of goodwill professes no religion at all. Instead, the PLEDGE is read aloud by several members, then a few seconds of silence are observed, each using the silence to reflect upon whatever is important to the individual--last night's televised ballgame, yesterday's Sunday sermon, the current moment's concern for peace and harmony in the world--whatever.

By the way, the PLEDGE is not the one most schools and clubs recite. This particular PLEDGE is named THE BIRMINGHAM PLEDGE, and it's strictly about racism and the efforts of this group to defeat and diminish racism in our lifetime. It goes like this:

"I believe that every person has worth as an individual. I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of race or color. I believe that every thought and every act of racial prejudice is harmful; if it is my thought or act, then it is harmful to me as well as to others. Therefore, from this day forward I will strive daily to eliminate racial prejudice from my thoughts and actions. I will discourage racial prejudice by others at every opportunity. I will treat all people with dignity and respect; and I will strive daily to honor this pledge, knowing that the world will be a better place because of my effort."

That's it. That's what all the chair-arranging is about.

It's about the dream of a small circle of citizens in Birmingham, Alabama, a dream of a day when people throughout the world will sit in circles looking each other in the eye, appreciating each other's differences, marveling at each person's diversity and uniqueness, trying hard to see the decent side of one another in a way that most nations have failed to do for many centuries.

It's a silly dream, isn't it? How could it ever happen? After all, humans are always disapproving of each other and slamming one another and snubbing one another and one-upping one another. They won't ever change, will they?

Well, some people may believe that. Many people may believe that. But this particular group meeting this particular Monday morning on this particular planet does not believe that. This group believes we can all get along and find peace and happiness with one another--black, brown, white, yellow, old, young, liberal, conservative, gay, straight, bright, average, tall, short, beautiful, plain, rich, poor, alien, indigenous, handicapped, healthy, male, female.

The circle of chairs is the great equalizer.

You know, it just might work. Just think: if one wildly diverse and divergent group of people in Birmingham can meet more than 1500 times since 1969 without getting at each others' throats, then think what the world would be like if a thousand groups could be meeting together in like manner. What would the world be like if in every town, every neighborhood, every district, groups of people started meeting together BECAUSE they are diverse? What if they ignored all the naysayers, all the racists, all the cynics who say humans aren't meant to get along and get things done together...what if they set out to disprove these folks, what if they decided to show the world what a thousand gatherings of goodwill-minded people can do?

If one group of people like those who belong to this Community Affairs Committee can rise out of the pain and ashes of the turbulent civil rights movement of the 1960's and learn to get along with one another, you can't help but laugh at those who say it can't be done. Those who say it can't be done have never tried it.

It's easier and more joyful than you think

--Jim Reed ©





"We've eliminated that conception of political freedom which holds that everybody has the right to say whatever comes into his head."

Somebody famous once said that, and you know, at first glance, it sounds just like something you'd say in the heat of an argument with, say, a rebellious teen-ager or an obnoxious neighbor. But it's the kind of statement that only works in a heated argument. When sanity returns, you have to tilt your head back, look down your nose at the words you've just uttered, and find a way to return to reason and calmness.

Does everybody have the right to say whatever comes into the head? I guess so. Actually, I know so. This is, I have to remind myself, the kind of country where idiots and sages have the right to speak out. Around these parts, we don't tend to execute people just because they say something stupid or provocative. Such folk may make us mad as hell, but we don't try to destroy them.

Walk up to me and say something like, "Anybody who burns the American flag on purpose should be thrown in jail," and you'll likely be annoyed by the fact that I don't immediately agree with you--that is, if you're the kind of person who says things like, "Anybody who burns the American flag on purpose should be thrown in jail" and really means it.

Usually, when somebody makes a bold statement like that, they are really just saying in so many words, "Damn! It makes me really angry, seeing somebody burn the flag." I don't believe that you would actually want somebody jailed for such an act. I privately believe that you are venting your frustration and anger at an act you think is just not right.

"I'd like to jump over the fence and grab my disagreeable neighbor by the throat," is something anybody might say under the right circumstances. But few of us act this kind of feeling out. It is probably human to have such hostile thoughts. It is the worst part of human to try to follow through on such a thought.

Most mature people would go along with all this: they might agree that it's human to think a bad thought as long as you don't put that thought into practice, such as jailing a flag-burner or strangling a neighbor or abridging a teen-ager's mouth.

So, the question to ponder is this: do we really want to "eliminate the freedom that everybody has the right to say whatever comes into the head?"

That might mean incarcerating or punishing anybody who says something offensive in public. A bit extreme, eh what?

By the way--just who was it that said, "We've eliminated that conception of political freedom which holds that everybody has the right to say whatever comes into his head."?

It was Adolf Hitler, that's who.

Guess I just may have to tamp down my anger and re-consider another famous quote: "Our flag stands for the right to burn it."

Now, it's time for you to tell me: just who was it that said that?

--Jim Reed ©




by Jim Reed

Southside Birmingham, Alabama, has a future. I know this, because Southside is a repository of fond memories, and the memories keep building up as more time passes, making the future hopeful and even bearable.

We've lived in our little Southside home since 1977, and various kids were raised and protected till they could get out on their own.

Now, we live in our hundred-year-old home, just the two of us. But as I said, Southside is filled to the brim with fond memories. What fond memories do you have?

Here's one:

It was the age of little refrigerator-magnet reminders, small scrawled notes from parents to kids to let them know where things were happening and what was going on, the age of notes from kids to parents to let them understand that things must be done or picked up or prepared or scheduled.

Our little family was the kind of little family that still left each other notes once in a while, still made handmade valentines and crayoned masterpieces to hang on the mantle for all to see, still took time to eat dinner together and work through the problems and the small pleasures of the day together.

Once, my wife Liz found a small message scrawled and printed in pencil on a 3X5 notecard and left for her to find. It was a most magnificent note, the kind that would make any great writer of words momentarily jealous of its eloquence and simplicity, of its unashamed use of the immediate grammar at hand, of the instant flush of excitement of passion that it expressed without guile.

It was the lovenote of a lifetime, a fully-expressed feeling that is instantly understandable in its implications, a lovenote that pays the highest compliment a young girl can pay at a particular time in her life.

The note still sits after all these decades right next to my wife's workdesk, right where she can see it each and every day, right where she can be reminded of what it's like to receive pure, unadulterated love, love that has not taken time to prepare and edit and expurgate and correct itself, love that is a spontaneous flush of emotion and determination and grit all in 20 penciled words on a 3X5 notecard.

The note was from Little Margaret, our youngest critter:


Dear Moma

I love you so much that if I wher a boy I whud have a crush on you.


In the cold of winter and its discontents, in the heat of summer and its humid annoyances, in the deathlike wee hours of a sleepless morning, Margaret's note still shines bright to light Liz' way back to balance, to sanity

--Jim Reed ©







3. WOKING TOUR (Outside London, England)











Excerpt from my book:


Christmas DOES come but once a day!

I can't keep it out of my mind.

My mother was a Christmas mother. Every holiday provided the excuse she needed for bolstering her own spirits and the spirits of those around her. Our little family on Eastwood Avenue in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was a Christmas family because of Mother.

You see, Christmas was the very thing we needed most to counteract the dead of Winter, to bring light to the longest nights of the year, to give us a chance to once again believe in the idea of Spring. Without the idea of Spring in mind, how could we possibly have survived the winter?

We kids and Mother decorated everything that didn't move, and some things that did. Our pet dogs Brownie and Sissy might be seen running through the house decked in wreaths or gossamer aluminum icicles. The windows would be sprayed with fake snow. The plastic candles with big red bulbs shone through the fake snow to provide just the right glow to passersby.

The Christmas tree had to be somewhat democratically selected by the entire family as we trudged through the cold woods near Uncle Pat McGee's home in Peterson, Alabama. It wasn't really a Christmas tree if it didn't have to be lugged through what seemed like miles of forest to our waiting Willys automobile. It wasn't really a tree if we didn't later find pine or fir needles in our underwear, if we didn't get our fingers sticky with resin that couldn't be removed voluntarily. It couldn't be called a Christmas tree unless half the needles had fallen off by New Year's Day. Those needles were necessary to remind us in the middle of July--when we were still finding them under the sofa and in our socks--that, yes, another Christmas just might come one day.

Every part of Christmas was special to Mother and us kids. We got the tree up and decorated as early as possible and sometimes did not take it down till February was threatening to occur.

And every decoration counted, every decoration was sacred.

There were cheap plastic Baby Jesuses and velvet-clothed Santa Clauses, bakelite angels and glassy angel hair strands, small ceramic Snoopies and brown-paper handmade stars, miniature mangers and stockingcapped elves, tin whistles and school-pasted wooden shards with glitter applied, strung popped popcorn necklaces and varnished mummified cookies.

Mother's fireplace mantle was fully and carefully decorated and arranged with a mixture of kids' handcrafted stuff and store-bought doodads. The front and back doors were decorated, the lawn was bedecked, even the bathroom door was all Christmassed-up.

Christmas was a yearlong idea, a monthlong project, an intense array of garlands and gewgaws, clutter and array. So much was put into Christmas that the images stayed with you all year long and in fact all life long.

Every and each time I smell ginger or apples or vanilla or pine or baking dough or roasting pecans, Christmas comes back to me in a second. Each time I pass an ornately dressed bungalow in a tiny neighborhood, it all comes back. Every time I hear the old carols, whenever I look up in the frozen winter to see a bright star or two, whenever I see the gleam in a child's eye, Christmas comes back to me.

Christmas comes but once a day.

When the very idea of Christmas, the very idea of unselfish giving, the very idea of warm family gatherings and sharings...when these things die from our lives, won't we all die a bit, too? When the soul goes flat from lack of sweet remembrance, the world will be declared flat, too.

Thanks to you, Mother, I can hold on to Christmas even when there's nothing visible to grab hold of

-- Jim Reed
(excerpted from his book,
(C) 2007 a.d. by Jim Reed





This is a Haiku:


Haiku! Gesundheit!
I just sneezed some poetry.
Haiku! Gesundheit!

-- Jim Reed (C)2007 a.d.





by Jim Reed

WE WERE TRUDGING THROUGH THE SAND PITS at Woking, looking carefully about for any signs of the Martians' space cylinders, when I realized for the umpteenth time in my life that it's good to get away and do something different with mind and body and spirit.

H.G.Wells lived in Woking (Great Britain) whilst writing THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, and a few things, such as the sand pits, had not radically changed.

In the cool and humid forest we finally found the exact landing site, then went on to other landmarks of the Martian invasion--places where houses and buildings had been destroyed, and the house where the story's hero had lived. Once in the town square, I got to stand beneath one of the 55-foot-high Martian robots, something the Martians had left behind when an earthly virus finally killed them all off.

H.G. would have been delighted to see this machinery, but he might have expressed disappointment that his warnings about unanticipated invasion (invasion from Fascists, invasion from bad ideas, etc.) have gone largely unheeded.

Soon after he published WAR OF THE WORLDS, the invasions of WWI began, the war destined not to be the war to end all wars. And, finally, in 1945, Wells had a chance to see what horrible use his predictions about atomic energy would be put to.

The good news is, Wells' early draft of a universal human rights statement for mankind was adapted by the League of Nations, then the United Nations. His visionary views of racial harmony, feminism, sexual freedom, equality and freedom from repression have stuck with us. But it's good to know that there's an ever-present reminder of what can happen if mankind doesn't learn to stick together and get along: the Martian machine can be re-animated at any time and the world can plunge once more, as it has plunged many times in the past, one step forward, two steps back, one step forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one step back.

It's hard to find the pony some days, but, as Wells reminded us: Despite the despairs and depravities of humanity, we must do two things simultaneously: do everything we can to fight them, and at the same time live each day as if these despairs and depravities do not exist.

After my Martian trek through the forests of Woking, I returned to the States with renewed hope, and within two days I'd caught a strange virus

-- Jim Reed (C) 2007 a.d. (Taken from Jim Reed's notebooks and red clay diaries about his visit to England in 1998, for the War of the Worlds centennial meeting of the H.G. Wells Society.)






by Jim Reed

He pressed down hard on the three-hole punch machine, using the heel of his left hand to provide the additional pressure needed to punch holes through an extra-thick stack of paper, paper that he held in place against the machine with his right hand.

It should have worked just fine, but it did not work just fine. Two of the three holes punched clear through the pages, but of course, the third and top holes did not go all the way through. Now he was faced with the prospect of having to re-punch the holes, but that proved to be messy because it was difficult to get all three holes aligned exactly right again, so he ended up with some holes that weren't punched through, others that dangled just half-way, and some that overlapped previous holes, making a sort of double circle thingy that just would not look right on the manuscript he was trying to prepare.

Now he had to start all over, running the complete manuscript again on the printer and preparing to punch the holes again, only a few sheets at a time this time so that he would not be repeating the same mistake. That meant waiting for the very slow printer to do its thing, hoping the toner cartridge in the printer would not run out on him in mid-stream like the previous toner cartridge--which meant he had to run the entire manuscript yet again because the printer program did not allow him to run just a section of the manuscript, it was all or nothing, you know. This meant, of course, that multiple parts of the manuscript were unusable because they were partials, so there went more paper into the trash can, piled on top of test sheets and blank sheets that the printer randomly would spit out from time to time (these blank sheets being un-re-usable because the heat of the printer made the paper curl so that if you tried to print something else on it, it would clog up the printer and the message "paper jam" would fly up at him, making him wonder what paper jam might taste like, come breakfast time).

He kept on printing and re-printing and punching and re-punching through the dreary hours, till something just right finally came out and was placed into a three-ring binder, only the rings would not fit the binder because the top hole punch of the puncher had been moved slightly during the hours of re-doing. So, the process had to be repeated till at last the project was completed.

He sighed deeply and loudly and picked up the binder and manuscript and headed toward home and his easy chair and a cool Diet Coke and an apple, where he would quietly place the bound manuscript in his lap and proudly open it to see what a neatly bound manuscript might look like and of course on the third page he spotted the first typo

Jim Reed (C) 2007 a.d.







by Jim Reed

The elderly couple, man and woman, were having a wonderful time touring downtown Birmingham and Five Points South. They were much amazed at the City, since this was the first time they had ventured forth outside the suburbs, in several decades.

As the city Dart bus they were riding bounced along on the washboard road that Locals refer to as Twentieth Street, the couple pointed at this and that road and building, enjoying their memories and remarking how amazing it was that the town still existed.

"You have to get off now!" the Dart driver announced into the rearview mirror, addressing the couple directly. They looked confused, so the driver spoke louder to counteract the bumpiness and the rumbling motor, "You can't make a complete round trip. You have to get off and catch another Dart," she announced, as if reciting something she'd heard in an employee orientation session at the Bus Company.

The pudgy little couple looked even more confused, since it was getting dark and the driver was apparently attempting to abandon them Downtown on an empty corner in the middle of their blissful journey.

There was some conversation back and forth among the man, the woman, and the female driver. Finally, the driver said, "Ok, I guess you can ride all the way, since you didn't know the rules." The couple got off anyhow, too polite to buck the system, but determined to abandon the very town that was just now abandoning them.

The Time Traveler, who sat at the rear of the bus, watched all this and could not help wondering just what the Dart system was supposed to be: since the driver was making it clear that this was no Tour Bus for people to simply ride and enjoy, then perhaps it was in reality a Get There As Quickly and Bumpily As Possible Bus. This latter thought seemed to have validity, since the other passengers the Time Traveller observed had a completely different idea of why they were aboard the Dart. The driver was intent on staying on schedule, while the riders, almost all of them first-time passengers, were boarding the Dart just to see: whether it was safe, whether Birmingham had anything to offer over the suburbs, whether it was better to ride than to find a parking space, whether this one chance they were giving the City of Birmingham would wind up being a good experience.

As the Time Traveler made more journeys on the Dart, he was amazed at what passengers told him. Several different Black passengers said they had never ridden a City Bus before (what happened to that White Flight notion that only Blacks rode buses? he wondered), other passengers were tourists, hoping to find something interesting to do in town (the drivers were singularly uninformed, for the most part--it became obvious that they had never spent any time Downtown, either). Each driver was different. One driver proudly pointed out points of interest and tried to let riders know where they were and what there was to do. Other drivers were sullen and headachy and did not wish to speak to the customers or look them in the eye when addressing them. Yet other drivers just wanted to follow the rules, or even make up rules as they went.

The Time Traveler remembered those New Orleans trolley drivers who, without exception, were rude, abrasive and distant--but that was New Orleans, the Big Difficult, where lots of people were rude, abrasive and distant. Birmingham did not need this, the Time Traveler mused. Tourists were not exactly flocking to this town, so this was the kind of place that needed to bend over backward to help and greet people, assuming the goal was to attract and embrace visitors and make locals want to ride the Dart a second and third time.

The Time Traveler sat in the back of the bus, since, being White, he had not been allowed to do so when he was young in segregated Alabama. The back of the bus was fun! Soon, a Black man got up from his forward seat and came to sit by the Time Traveler. "Guys smells bad and is drunk," he noted. Indeed, the boisterous and over-friendly street person who had gotten on the Dart was dominating sounds and odors for those he sat near.

A pleasant-looking young woman wearing denim overalls got off the bus Downtown. As the bus took off with a jerk, the black passenger said in a flat, dead-serious tone to the Time Traveller, "Those homosexuals and lesbians are taking over everything." The Time Traveler shook his head to see if the man's words were still in his head. He pretended he didn't know what the black man was talking about. "Where are the homosexuals and lesbians," he asked, looking around innocently. "That's one," the black man said, pointing to the dwindling figure of the woman and using a tone and gaze that quickly took the Traveler back to segregation days in Birmingham and the way whites used to refer to black people.

"Don't stand at the door!" the driver shouted to a young man who was about to de-bus (deplane?). Her words only confused the passenger, since it was not clear how one could get off the bus without standing near the door.

Soon the drunk and the black man got off the bus and the driver yelled to the Time Traveler that he, too, had to get off. The Time Traveler was in no mood to disembark in the middle of the evening in the middle of the town, so he made up a lie in order to give the driver a way to admit that this was a stupid rule, which she did. He said he was ill and needed to return to his point of departure to get some medicine. The driver was sympathetic and he rode the rest of the round trip, safe from would-be muggers and the wrath of a rule-obsessed driver.

Now and then a passenger got on who knew the driver, and the exchange was warm and personal. Then, the driver lapsed into her sullen mind-set, making quick and passenger-jostling turns, running over manhole covers full speed (sounded like a cannonball hitting the side of the Merrimac, the Traveler recalled later).

Later, on another jaunt, a young skateboarder rode the bus downtown in order to try his board in Lynn Park. He got back on after the bus had gone around the block. "It's like a ghost town," he remarked about twilight Birmingham. "Yep, Friday night!" laughed the driver.

As the bus bumped along, the Time Traveler could see the lighted insides of shops and businesses that in daylight hours were invisible. People no longer window-shopped as they did fifty years back, he mused. But at dusk, you could see inside and wonder what lives were going on in those buildings.

This round trip took 42 minutes and 30 seconds, he noted.

"The Dart ride is what Birmingham still is," the Time Traveler wrote in his notes. "You meet people who are looking for hope, seeking something positive in the city, and each time they only get part of what they seek. A bit of underlying intolerance, a bit of name-calling, a bit of sullen rule-following, an occasional kind and kindly glance, an unseen threat of violence that never occurs, a hint of the vaguely unknown, a great memory or two. What the riders also get are a very bumpy, feisty ride that teaches them nothing about the graceful art of enjoying the scenery, a blur of unidentified buildings, few answers to their hopeful questions...but at least, a bus that is primarily on time!"

The Time Traveler wrote in his notes, "The last time I tried to ride the Dart was many years ago when they still charged a dime for the trip. Never having been this adventuresome before, I took my lunch hour to board and ride Downtown. As soon as I got on the bus, the driver, without looking at me or near me, still saw that I had a dollar bill in my hand. 'We don't give change,' he said flatly. He did not say, 'Here, let me try to change that for you.' He did not say, 'Sorry, sir, we are not allowed to make change, but, this is a stupid rule so I keep some change myself for these occasions.' He did not say, 'Please get off the bus and don't try getting back on till you have the correct change.' Worse than that, he simply did not look me in the eye, smile sympathetically, and try to help me. That's the last time I rode the bus in Birmingham."

The Time Traveler looked at all the notes he had made in his several Dart trips. "Will I ride the Dart again? Will I bother to share my notes with the Chamber of Commerce, Operation New Birmingham, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Bus Company, the City Government? Or will I mimic so many other people who simply throw up their hands, write Birmingham off their list of pleasant experiences, and move to the 'burbs?"

The Time Traveler's experiences with trying to communicate helpful ideas to city leadership and bus company public relations officials had been thwarted many times. Almost no-one ever returned calls, emails, voice mails or fax messages. In his notes, he was compiling a long list of these individuals, the individuals whose salaries his taxes helped support, who never, ever returned messages--thus never, ever, sought input from citizenry in order to improve services.

"What will I do with this list of people? Will I throw it away and move away? Will I publish it in order to have a stab at shaking people up enough so that they begin responding to the public? Does it even matter?"


The dart sped over another manhole cover, jarring the Traveler out of his meditations. It was once more growing dark on a Dart, and he was about ready to disembark, holding on for dear life as the driver made a right-angle turn at full speed. He remembered his bus rides as a child, living in Tuscaloosa. For a nickel (the drivers always made change with a smile), he could ride Downtown safely and enjoy the scenery along the way, since the drivers never sped--they were always looking to pick up riders who were between bus stops, or waiting for riders who were walking toward a bus stop.

Their job was to accommodate riders and get them to their destinations unharmed, un-insulted. The buses moved smoothly along, so that you could catch up on your reading if you wanted to.

"What have I gained that is positive from this ride?" the Time Traveler asked himself in his notes. "Well, I do know that in a pinch, I can catch a Dart within a few minutes. I do know that it will be well-air-conditioned or well-heated. I do know that I can't expect kindness or instructions or guidance or change, but at least I know the Dart will start and stop and eventually let me out, if I don't stay too long." He turned his page of notes and twisted his pen. "But the most thrilling thing I'll get to do is the thing I was never allowed to do when I was a kid. I'll get to ride in the back of the bus, where you can see all around you and feel for a moment as if you're in control, feel for a jiffy as if you are on your way someplace important, even if it winds up being sad, old Birmingham and hopeful old Southside."

--(C) Jim Reed 2007 a.d.



Story Number 6


("Grove of the Dolls" won Jim a second place award in the 2001 Alabama Writers' Conclave competition. It is a true story. It is also actual!)


THE LIFE-SIZE MANNEQUINS INSIDE THE 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 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 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--an Erskine Caldwell/James Dickey world that really exists if you go thirty 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.

(C) 2007 A.D. Jim Reed

-- Jim Reed (C) 2007 a.d.






Uncle Adron is bouncing up and down, head nearly bopping the ceiling of his Model-A Ford automobile, each time he pops upward. He's bouncing involuntarily about every second, so that you could set your watch by the sound of his bottom hitting the seat on the front driver's side.

Uncle Adron is bouncing along because he's driving one way across a railroad trestle in Lilita, Alabama. One way along a one-track traintrack, heading east.

The wheels of the Model-A don't quite fit inside the parallel tracks, don't quite fit onto the surfaces of the rails, and aren't quite far enough apart to fit on the outer sides of the rails. So, the Model-A automobile is riding kind of side-saddle, the driver's side wheels on the outer edge of the rails' north side, the passenger-side wheels nudging the inner edge of the rails' south side.

Below the trestle is water. No bridge. No road. No field. Just water. The water came from nowhere last night--at least, the water came from the sky in torrential rains and caused water to fill up the small valley under the train trestle. A lake appears where grazing grass lay yesterday, Saturday. A road had cut through that pasture on Saturday, the road that Adron and his three companions had travelled on westward early Saturday morning.

Right now, on Sunday, Adron is steering the Model-A to the east, trying to get home safely, hoping that the lumber mill behind him is closed on Sundays. It is the lumber company for which the railroad trestle exists, and trains usually go to and from the mill--when the mill is open for business.

At this moment, Adron is operating on his usual stock of blind faith and extra ounces of sheer gut and willpower. He's hoping that the old tenant farmer who manages the hunting lodge nearby is right: "Nassuh, that sawmill don't open on Sunday. Ain't no train today!"

If the farmer is correct, Uncle Adron doesn't have to worry about being hit by a train. All he has to worry about now is controlling the Model-Al as it enters no-person's land in the middle of the trestle, bumping over and intimately feeling each and every crosstie under the tracks. One moment of concentration broken could make those wheels slip beyond the trestle and the rails and the crossties.

Limping ahead of Uncle Adron, scouting to be sure there are not broken crossties or other surprises along the track, is Tommy Reed, my father. In the 1940's, when Tommy and Adron are still young enough to have adventures such as this, Tommy is the cautious one, Adron the daring one.

Behind the Model-A, following like careful sheep, are Brandon McGee and Jack (Buddy) McGee, my uncles.

The four men have spent the weekend doing what they like best--travelling from Tuscaloosa past Epes, past Livingston, to go to the Hunting Lodge in Lilita--a shack in the middle of nowhere (Lilita being almost nowhere, you see)--where they can have a few laughs, a few smokes, a chaw or two, without any visible signs of the heavy responsibilities they carry on their shoulders during the work week.

The Hunting Lodge is a place to listen to the silence, clean weapons, and talk without talking aloud, laugh now and then about the silliness of life and the predicaments they find themselves in now and then--and Now.

Earlier in the day, the four hunters weigh their possibilities, looking at that water below the trestle and wondering how deep it is, wondering whether they risk getting into even more trouble by trying to drive that Model-A Ford into and across the water. At last, help arrives. A large cow saunters to the edge of the lake that was on Friday its dinner buffet of mixed greens. The men stiffen and watch silently. If the cow walks across the water safely, they'll take their chances in the Model-A. After another thoughtful pause--or thoughtless, as the case may be--the cow walks into the water and freezes.

"As soon as I seen that water go over the cow's tits, I know'd it was too deep to drive across," Uncle Adron tells me, a full fifty years later.

That's when the four men--Tommy, Uncle Adron, Uncle Brandon and Uncle Buddy--put their heads together and come up with the Master Plan.

Now, here is Uncle Adron, bouncing up and down as the car lopes over the crossties one by one, looking down from the driver's seat at nothing but a great expanse of uninvited and uninviting water, sticking his head out to see if he still has the feel of the car wheels hugging the train tracks.

And that's the story.

Did Uncle Adron survive his adventure so that he could tell it to me fifty years later? I just told you that, didn't I?

Did Uncle Buddy avoid having to jump into the lake to keep from being run over by a train, so that he could move to Harlingen, Texas, and raise a family and try to forget all the atrocities he'd seen as a paratrooper in World War II?

Did Uncle Brandon survive another day in order to work his father's general store in Peterson, Alabama, for a few more decades, bringing laughter and fun to two generations of nieces and nephews and great nieces and great nephews?

Did Tommy Reed go back to being a carpenter on Monday morning, so that he could spend the next forty years raising kids and grandkids in Tuscaloosa?

Did I, the son of Tommy Reed, live long enough for Uncle Adron Herrin to finally tell me and my brother Tim the tale of the tit-high water reservoir and the one-way train trestle trip without a train in Lilita, Alabama?

--Jim Reed (C) 2007 a.d.





My brother Ronny and I are just about ready to give up trying to find Uncle Adron’s 160-acre property in the middle of which sits the home we know he and Aunt Annabelle live in.

“I remember some of the road, so I know it’s around here somewhere,” says Ronny, who was last a visitor here some forty years ago.

Truth is, we are almost lost and not quite found in our search for the old homestead in Tuscaloosa County. Dirt roads and narrow-laned asphalt roads and orange washboard roads run this way and that, and the car I’m driving enters a different time and place and era every few minutes. Mobile homes perch on concrete blocks near century-old breezeway houses, and a little further along there’s a 1950’s ranch-style house with dirt bikes and pickup trucks in front--in back of which an old out-house and shambled barn still struggle to defy the gravity that is soon to pull them down. As we turn from blue road to red clay road, a shack with a satellite dish smugly hides is mysteries.

We finally give in to the 21st Century and whip out a cell phone to get Uncle Adron or somebody to tell us how to find the homestead.

And there it is--deep in the forest, there’s my cousin Harold and some of his brood, and sitting on the front porch in laconic meditation is Uncle Adron, who greets us as though we are dropping by for the second time this week.

There are no strangers in Uncle Adron’s world of family and kin.

As we talk and tour the old wooden house, we feel as if we’ve never left. In some ways, visiting Uncle Adron and Aunt Annabelle is like coming home after a rough day at work and finding out that work and everything else that occurs away from this place are fleeting and paper-thin.

Ronny knows which room he spent the night in 45 years ago, I know where Aunt Annabelle served up chicken and dumplings 50 years ago. We both know that this place in the depth of the countryside is as vivid and timeless as a cool drink of water from an old wooden bucket.

I step outside to clear my head of all these memories that are so sweet and compelling that at any moment they might bring with them a sadness that can’t be swept aside like a spiderweb.

Harold shows us the enormous prefab building where he runs his RFD business, and we look down the lane to see where grandkids live nearby.

“Can you show us around the property?” I ask Harold, certain that a nice brief hike in the woods would be therapeutic.

“You want to see the land?” Harold asks, as if he can’t quite believe that a city slicker would condescend to tour his front and back yards, the yards he sees every day.

“Sure, I’m serious,” I say.

Harold says, “OK,” and I start walking toward the trees.

“Where are your going?” he asks.

“Isn’t this the way?” I reply.

Harold starts getting into his large four-wheel vehicle. “You want a tour, don’t you?”

I have trouble believing that anybody would actually drive around their yard, rather than walk. Maybe it’s Harold’s bum leg. I get into the truck and yell for Ronny to join us.

Within seconds I understand why we’re trucking rather than walking. Uncle Adron’s property is enormous, and we’re about to see all of it.

Three country dogs appear out of nowhere and start running ahead of the vehicle, not behind it. They know the route, even though there is no visible road.

Harold takes us into deep brush, the car rocks side to side into and over century-old ruts. The limbs and leaves splat against the closed windows and we lose sight of the sun.

Looking behind us, I see no sign of where we’ve been. Ahead, only Harold and the dogs can tell where we’re going to wind up.

What if the truck goes dead? Will we survive out here in the compass-less land that nobody outside our family traverses?

We dive deep into small valleys, pop up into sunlight over brief hillocks, go through a scratchy meadow past natural-gas pumps, and wind up in the completelly quiet forest near a beaver pond.

Harold turns off the motor and we roll down the windows.

To a city boy like me and a city boy like Ronny, there is silence. Our silence consists of hearing nothing we’re used to each day: airplanes, cars and trucks, horns, car alarms, shouted invectives, whirring air conditioners, boom boxes.

The silence of the forest takes over and overwhelms us. Insects communicating. Water lapping. Dry grass crunching under dog paws. Panting, wet dogs, frolicking in the pond.

The noisy silence of a million invisible insects going about their work-day, punching in, doing their shifts, living and protecting and procreating and dying in ways we cannot see.

“Sometimes, we come out here and just sit and watch the beavers and just be quiet,” Harold grins.

The dogs play in the water, swimming and snorting and acting like puppies.

And that’s where we remain for a long time, my brother Ronny and I, that’s where we remain long after we’ve made our respective treks back to Houston and Birmingham

--Jim Reed (C) 2007 a.d.





The 1950's had barely begun when I became aware of the practice of Hunting.

My father--"Daddy," to all us kids--and his friends were of a generation born just after the turn of the 20th Century, and they lived to Hunt.

There was never any doubt in my young mind what the term Hunt meant. I knew what it was to hunt Easter eggs on Sunday afternoon once a year. I knew how to dig down into the laundry basket filled with clothesline droppings and hunt for a pair of socks. And I knew that Hunt's Catsup was never depleted in our refrigerator. But I never mistook the term Hunting for any of these usages.

If was the way Hunting sounded and was used. Grown men didn't hunt wild animals. They Went Hunting. They didn't hunt deer and squirrel and duck. They Went Hunting to get them.

Or so they said.

I knew that everything in the house came to a standstill when Daddy decided--infrequently--to go hunting. It was OK to go hunting. If Daddy announced to Mother that he was going to go hunting, there was never any resistance to the idea. Even if he had been working long hours all week and hadn't been home much, hadn't mowed the lawn (We never Mowed the Lawn. We Cut the Grass--a much more appropriate term, since our lawn seemed to be whatever came up, rather than a velvet mat like our more affluent friends had in their yards), even if he needed to do home repairs on the weekend, it was OK to skip them all if he and his friends decided to go hunting.

Daddy would get up early on Saturday morning. Very early. And there always seemed to be several men in a car with an idling motor, waiting in front of the house for Daddy to join them so they could all go hunting together.

Then, we kids would watch Daddy load into the waiting car all the paraphernalia he had carefully packed the night before. He had his father's enormous old 19th Century pump-action 12-gauge shotgun, glistening with fresh oil. Friday night he would clean it, looking down the barrel to see how slick it was, running old soft rags through it to make it shine, letting us pick it up--very carefully--to see how heavy it was. He would use cylindrical hard-cardboard red shotgun shells (they probably call it ammunition these days, but we never heard that term back then), and we would marvel at how heavy they seemed, and how they contained dozens of little metal balls--the kind that got in our teeth when we reluctantly ate game that had been killed with these little spheres.

Daddy had all these leather and corduroy clothes, and long underwear, and lighter fluid-fueled handwarmers and gun cases and pockets that snapped and zipped and held mysterious objects that hunters knew all about but that small boys could not yet understand. Daddy would show us little boxes of various sizes that, when rubbed across the top with their lids, would imitate the noises that turkeys and ducks and other creatures make in the forest. When we tried to imitate the sounds, it just sounded like a wooden lid scraping across a wooden box. But Daddy and his buddies could make them sound like the real thing, we thought. We never had a chance to check out their authenticity with the animals they supposedly fooled.

We also knew that every hunter had to have a hunting knife. Daddy would get out a hand-cranked knife sharpener and make all his hunting and pocket knives glisten with dangerous edges. Every man in that generation carried a pocket knife at all times, just as surely as they all wore hats when going Downtown. We boys would try to emulate them by carrying knives when we remembered to, but in a dozen years of trying to carry one in my pocket, I never found any reason whatsoever to use it. Still, you never knew when you might get stranded in the woods and have to survive on your own with only your knife and your wits to help you. We didn't live anywhere near woods and never seemed to be out of sight of pavement when I was growing up. Daddy would let us play with the knife sharpener but, again, we only seemed to mess things up when we tried to sharpen a blade. It would get all uneven and jagged, but Daddy's knives would be perfectly honed to their potential use.

Off Daddy would go, and we kids and Mother would spend a Daddy-less weekend and soon forget him while we pursued our own pleasures and fantasies and chores.

Then, sometime late on Saturday or Sunday evening, Daddy would show up and we'd all dance toward the door. We could smell him coming. The odor was distinctive, and I remember it still. There was a faint scent of woods and red clay and fog that seemed to have seeped into Daddy's clothes. It was a nice odor, and seemed very manly, just as was Daddy's two-day-old growth of facial hair. It was proof that Daddy had been out doing what a man needed to do once in a while: hunt and kill and provide for the family, lug home the game and have the woman with her small helpers and hinderers clean it and store it and eventually find a way to make it palatable for the table.

Daddy's boots would be dirty, and sometimes we were allowed to clean them for him. He would always groan as if he were tired, but he always seemed happier and more relaxed when he got home from hunting.

We kids would stare with awe and horror at the things he brought home with him. The cold eyes of dead ducks. The stiff-feeling tails of squirrels full of buckshot. Red slabs of venison. Bambi dead! Fish smelling that awful fishy smell. We were fascinated and repelled, and so was Mother, we could tell. Venison tasted stringy, though it was definitely like beef. Duck tasted gamey and kind of tough. Squirrel was not very much to talk about at all, but we could imagine getting to like it if that was all that was left in the world to eat.

We would watch Daddy and Mother clean the meat and fish and fowl. Again, the word Clean was used in a manner unlike any other usage we had heard. When you cleaned the floor, you could see it shine again, or at least get less sticky from kid-leavings. Cleaning up our bedroom meant pushing everything that was on the floor into something that could not reveal its contents to the casual observer. Even coming clean was a term we heard in gangster movies. We knew it meant to confess or be honest for a change.

But cleaning a dead animal didn't seem like cleaning at all. Some of the insides were thrown away. I wondered if the Native Americans or prehistoric people knew what to do with those entrails. Had we lost some valuable knowledge? The fur and feathers and scales were roughly pulled away from the animal, leaving it embarrassed in its cold comfort, leaving it red and helpless.

When you get down to what we actually did eat, it didn't seem like much.

No, for the amount of edible food Daddy brought home, it didn't seem likely that going hunting really had much to do with bagging game for a hungry family. There had to be something else.

To a certain extent, a small boy could understand the idea of going hunting. I knew how much fun it was to escape the house and run free in the yard across the street and escape the watchful eyes of adults. I knew what it was like to be with my buddies, away from the womb of home. We could get some idea of the fact that Daddy was getting a chance to go outside and play once in a while. But, being bigger and older, he naturally had to go further away and do more important sounding things and bring home more significant symbols of his activities.

Mother's way of going outside to play, we figured, was to attend an occasional Carpenter's Union Auxiliary meeting or go to Forest Lake Baptist Church social events or gossip over the back fence--even though we really didn't have much of a fence in those days and resented any neighbor who put one up.

So, we figured Daddy was going out to play with his buddies and that it made him feel good.

In later years, Daddy stopped going Hunting and we always talked among ourselves about how he didn't seem to have much fun anymore.

We remembered other times Daddy had fun when we were younger. When he would swing us high toward the ceiling and terrify us into joyful screaming, he would smile big and long. When he sat with many relatives at reunions in Peterson and West Blocton, he would have fun. All the men would gather under trees, drink beer, play poker with dried butterbeans as chips, cook bar-b-q and generally ignore the women. Daddy seemed to have fun then.

But he never seemed so happy as when he came bursting into the livingroom late in the weekend, carrying assorted items and odors he hadn't left with, smelling a bit like some unidentifiable alcohol beverage, and unloading a pile of dirty items destined to be washed on Monday morning by Mother and a few underlings like us kids, who had to help hang things on the clothesline and run like a streak to take them off the line when it started raining, and wonder at how fresh they smelled, and sadden a bit at the fact that that awesome odor had disappeared with Monday, along with Daddy's big grin

(C) Jim Reed 2007 a.d.

(An edited version of the above story appears in Down South Magazine. See "Down South" icon.)





MY EARLIEST IMPRESSIONS OF THE BIG CITY OF BIRMINGHAM came from the simple act of visiting there when I was very small. My Uncle Adron and Aunt Annabelle Herrin would load us kids, their kids and my mother into their Model-A Ford and take us from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham by way of the old Old Birmingham Highway.

In my lifetime, there have been three Tuscaloosa-to-Birmingham routes. There was first the old Birmingham Highway that ran right past my Grandfather's General Merchandise Store in Peterson, then there was the newer Birmingham Highway that bypassed the older road and began the demise of many businesses along the way, including, eventually, R.L. McGee General Merchandise. The newer Birmingham highway was made of light asphalt and ran by Hamm's Pottery and a host of other landmarks in Tuscaloosa County. Then, much later, both roads were consigned to oblivion when the Interstate 59 highway made travelling to Birmingham a lot faster and a lot less interesting.

But way back then, in the late 1940's, the only logical route to the City was via the old Old Birmingham Highway, a black-asphalt, curvaceous two-lane route that took us past Peterson into Brookwood, from Brookwood to Bessemer, where we looked excitedly for the landmarks that would tell us Birmingham was near, such as the old Wigwam Motor Court--you could actually spend the night in a motel shaped like an Indian teepee, though I never got the chance to do it.

Then, we would look to the far right horizon in Bessemer to see who could spot the gigantic iron statue of the Roman God Vulcan, standing atop Red Mountain. Once we saw this rusty icon, we knew we were near the end of our voyage.

Speeding along the old Old highway on a clear cold December night, you could see the near-full moon ahead of the Model-A flying high in the purple-black sky. The moon would dance over the twisting road, touching the treetops, dipping out of sight, rising instantly high up as we followed that snaking trail and rose and fell with the hills and valleys along the way.

Uncle Adron, always a speed demon, would make that Model-A feel like a roller coaster, and he would always remind us that our primary goal was to catch up with that moon.

On the way to the annual Birmingham Christmas Parade, we kids would wiggle all over the back seat in impossibly tortured anticipation of seeing the Meccas of the season: Santa Claus on a parade float, and S.H. Kress and F.W. Woolworth, where everything Santa could ever dream up would be on display.

Coming into Birmingham, my first impression was a lasting one: I had never seen so many Black people, and they were a beautiful sight to a small boy, since they seemed to be dressed up in brightly-colored outfits and stylish hats and shoes, the likes of which I had never seen in Tuscaloosa. I thought it would be wonderful to be able to dress so boldly, for bright mixtures of colors always signify to a kid happiness, good times and playfulness. I noticed that White people didn't dress nearly as well.

The big wide streets of Birmingham always seemed littered and not very well kept, compared to our little town of Tuscaloosa, but that didn't much matter to us kids. It would be unbearably cold on those Birmingham streets, but that was part of the excitement, you understand.

The parade would be gigantic, the stores brightly decorated, the city blocks long and arduous to walk, and the whole experience thoroughly exhausting and delightful.

Then, Uncle Adron would pack all of us and our purchases back into the old Model-A and start the long trip back to Tuscaloosa. By then, the dancing moon and the cold stars in the purple sky would be forgotten because we could snuggle down into our musky blankets and sleep the safe sleep of children who knew nothing bad would ever happen to them as long as Uncle Adron was in charge, as long as Uncle Adron was running away from that dancing moon and aiming us all back toward Tuscaloosa and our own sweet-smelling beds

********************************* (C) Jim Reed 2007 a.d. *********************************