Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.



yeah, man. chicks dig me.

Ok.  So I go to Wendy’s last night to pick up a chicken sandwich. This act alone tells you something about me and my lifestyle. Friday night and I’m getting food at Wendy’s.

There is no line in the drive-through, but I hate drive-throughs because I have a history with girls in the drive through. Not a good history. So I go inside.

This Wendy’s has a television. It’s tuned to some political talk show. At the back of the store is an older guy, standing, grinning at no one in particular.  I learn later that he was waiting for a cab, but leaves before the cab arrives, which means that the cab company will no longer dispatch a cab for him. I learn this from the girl at the counter. (We actually had a conversation, which wouldn’t have been possible in the drive-through.)

There are maybe half a dozen other people sitting in booths including an old couple, which I realize are probably my age, except they look so much older than I do. (This little tidbit, in the parlance of writing, is foreshadowing, for those of you who may be taking notes.)

In another booth is another older woman (I’m pretty sure she really is older than I am) and a decidedly younger woman, who I notice by her blonde hair (which, for those of you who care about such things, had been chemically enhanced). So, you see, amongst all the older folks, myself included, this relatively young blonde woman stood out.

Now I’m standing in line. The woman at the head of the line is asking the cashier, Veronica (who later tells me about the old guy and the cab), about all the different toppings she could get on her sandwiches. For those of you taking notes, this is not how you order in Wendy’s. Surely you’ve been to Wendy’s before. It works like this:

Single, everything but cheese and pickles.

You get what you want, but you keep things moving. Plan ahead. That’s all I’m saying.

Anyway, this goes on for a couple of minutes so I start looking around the store again. The blonde lady stands and starts putting on her coat. Then she looks back at me. Stares at me. For a moment, I’m wondering if I know her. She keeps looking. I smile and turn away.

She was at least 20 years younger than me. But I’m a hip guy. I was dressed in my jeans and a sport coat, one day stubble on my beard. So yeah, it’s understandable that I caught her eye. Chicks still dig me. Cool.

The lady in front of me is still prattling on about toppings. I look around and the blonde lady is gone.  Her elderly companion, probably her mother, is still sitting in the booth.  Maybe she went out to her car.

And then I hear a hand dryer blowing behind me. The restroom is behind me. In fact, I’m standing directly between the blonde lady’s booth and the restroom.


She wasn’t looking at me at all. She was looking at the restroom, charting her path.

The hand dryer goes off, she comes out. She makes sure she doesn’t look my way. After all, I smiled at her. She wants nothing to do with an old man creeper.

I was at the nursing home a couple of weeks ago.

A lady in a wheelchair stopped me and took me by the arm.

“You are such a handsome man,” she said.  I thanked her and went on. Behind me, I heard her stop someone else and say the same thing.  Doesn’t matter.  I’ll take it.

Chicks dig me, man. There’s no getting around it.

Postscript: I am aware that the man who made the phrase, “Let me make one thing perfectly clear,” was Richard M. Nixon, not Richard E. Nixon. This is a joke within a joke. Bonus points if you can identify the source of Richard E. Nixon.

Is this really necessary?

Inculcateverb: to teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions.

Socrates inculcated his pupils with the love of truth.

What a clunky word.  Sounds like a medical procedure. If you left off the last phrase of the example sentence, it would sound like Socrates had vision problems.

Socractes inculcated his pupils. 

Maybe he used eye-drops.

But he’s talking about the love of truth.

Love and truth. Two beautiful words. Noble concepts. What a better place the world would be with more love of truth. Or just more love, for that matter.

So let’s inculcate truth. Sounds like something politicians do all the time.

Let’s inculcate love. Yikes.

Why not use a word everybody understands?  One that has the same air of nobility as love and truth?

How about instill?

Socrates instilled his pupils with the love of truth.

I like that better.

The meaning is clear. The thought is uplifting.

Just because words are out there, doesn’t mean we have to use them.

Do you whoop?

Or woo?

As in “woo, woo, woo, woo!!!”

Do you whistle?

Not the Andy Griffith theme song, but the two-fingers in the mouth shreaking whistle of appreciation.

I was listening to Mountain Stage this evening and as one of the acts finished, the applause was enthusiastic. And at shows like Mountain Stage, there are always whoopers.  And whistlers.

Who are these whoopers?

Are they so enthused about the music that they just can’t contain themselves?

I love music, but I’ve never had the urge to whoop or whistle.

Are they plants? Designated whoopers and whistlers to generate excitement in the audience?

Maybe I’m just too reserved. Maybe they’re people really enjoying life.

If you are a whooper, please tell me.


Boogie Nights

I want to tell you about the conversation I had once with Davy Jones.

Which Davy Jones, you might ask. Why, the lead singer for The Monkees, I would reply. You remember The Monkees, the group that was assembled back in the 60s by music executives as an answer to the original Fab Four, The Beatles. The Monkees were the Prefab Four. And despite their kitschy persona, they’re credited with some pretty good tunes. Last Train to Clarksville. I’m a Believer. Pleasant Valley Sunday. Their fame peaked in the late 60s, early 70s. I met Davy Jones many years later.

One of the advantages of being old is that I can claim a first-row seat to significant historical events. I saw JFK’s motorcade in Houston the day before he was assassinated in Dallas. I watched on live television as Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. And I was smack-dab in the middle of the original disco craze.

I was a student in Morgantown when a still skinny, still cool John Travolta danced his way through Saturday Night Fever. Then we would go to the local disco, Fat Daddy’s, and try to dance the Hustle to music by Yvonne Elliman and the Bee Gees.

Disco was like a spectacular shooting star and by the late 70s the fad was already on its way out. Then in 1980, a still skinny, still cool John Travolta danced his way through Urban Cowboy. So we all went to the faux-cowboy clubs and tried to dance the two-step to music by Mickey Gilley and, well, it was pretty much Mickey Gilley.

Which brings me to The Galaxy 2000.

In the late 70s, a Kroger store in Spring Hill (WV) had closed and sat vacant until someone decided to cash in on the disco craze and converted the building into a giant disco, The Galaxy 2000. It was actually well done, by disco standards. It had a big dance floor, lots of colored, flashing lights, and the requisite mirrored disco ball.  And then came the aforementioned fading of the flashing disco craze. No problem. The club was converted to West Virginia’s version of Mickey’s (as in Mickey Gilley’s club where Urban Cowboy was set).  But country line dancing died out faster than disco and The Galaxy scrambled to stay relevant.

Their answer?  Live music.

In 1980, The Police released Zenyatta Mondatta and began their climb to world-wide fame. And we’re talking Beatles level of fame. Some time before that, they played at The Galaxy 2000. Really. No, I didn’t see the show. I’d never heard of The Police.

But I had heard of The Monkees. By then, they had broken up and Davy Jones was touring as a solo act and one of his stops was The Galaxy. At that point he was more of a b-list act, maybe even c-list, if there is such a thing. Still, The Galaxy was packed. It was an intimate setting and the show was surprisingly good. Davy could really sing. Between sets, he actually mingled with the audience a little. Then he went into one of the side rooms to relax and shoot some pool. A bunch of fans followed and stood around and watched. I was one of them.

He walked around the table, looking for his best shot. Then he stopped in front of me and studied the balls on the table. He lined up the shot. It was a tricky kiss off the bumper to the corner pocket. The place went quiet. He pulled a couple of practice strokes and then softly struck the cue ball. It traveled slowly over the felt and hit the bumper and ball at the same time, nudging  it toward the pocket. And then it dropped.

“Nice shot,” I said.

He turned and looked at me with that famous Davy Jones smile and said, “Thanks.”

True story. All of it.

Yeah, that’s it. Not a deep conversation. Pretty much the typical brush with fame story people like to tell.  Really, it means nothing.

I once met Stephen Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics.  I had a similarly brief conversation. It meant nothing.

Real conversations and real connections take time.  They take people who are willing to put themselves out there and exchange thoughts and ideas. That’s what I love about talking to you guys who read what I write. We have real conversations. We make great connections.

Thank you for that.  It means more than you know.


A Prayer for Rain – Logline

Logline:  The pitch you give to Spielberg when you see him at Hillbilly Hotdogs.  30-35 words, one sentence.

Logline for A Prayer for Rain:

A rising musician’s dreams of stardom are shattered in a debilitating accident, and as he rebuilds his life he discovers new ways to express himself musically, but struggles against the seductions of fame.



Many goods.

Our high school band was full of amazing musicians, many who are still playing in bands locally. It was the time when Chicago (the band) was still cool and playing album-oriented, blues and jazz-influenced rock. Some of the guys in our marching band formed their own group called Chite (not sure of the spelling) and developed their own language. “Many goods” was one of their catch phrases.

This crazy clip from NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert reminded me of the old days. Enjoy Mucca Pazza.  Many goods, as they would say.

Unsalted Pretzel

“Hey, do you guys think I’m an unsalted pretzel?”

“I could eat.”

“No.  Am I like bland and a safe snacking choice?  I was just wondering if that’s what people think of me.”

“Uh, I don’t think people think of you.”

“Well, I want people to think I’m spicy and fun and dangerous.”

“Like a bullet made of chorizo?”

“Kind of.”

“Where are you going?”

“Oh, I have to renew a library book.  It’s not due today, but I don’t want to cut it too close.”


This is a scene from the animated television series, Bob’s Burgers.  I’d never heard of the show, but yesterday when driving back from Logan, the show’s creator, Loren Bouchard, was interviewed by Chris Kimball on America’s Test Kitchen radio show.

It’s gold, Jerry.  Gold.

See the clip from Bob’s Burgers here.

Alfred Einstein

Editor’s Note:  The following account is basically true, in the sense that high drama has eluded the author’s life. And in the sense that the author does not have a particularly engaging personality.  And in the sense that the author is pretty much forgettable. It’s not that he hasn’t experienced a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.  He has.  And there will be more such times.  Nonetheless…


Everyone has a story to tell.

I heard that most recently from a writer at a gathering of St. Albans Writes.

“I don’t,” I said.

A lot of people do.

Andrew does.
Chris does.
Ashley does.
Larry does.
Sharon does.
Kevin does.
Amos does.

I could tell you about the most interesting things that have happened in my life, so technically, yeah, I have a story, but it’s not worth telling.  I have no great triumphs; no spectacular failures. I have not experienced war. I have (so far) dodged personal tragedies. I have not traveled the world.  I have not been in the crucible. Even the lessons I’ve learned along the road of life are not associated with intriguing vignettes that might elicit empathy.

You know the guy who throws a dart on the map or closes his eyes and picks out a name in the phone book (remember phone books?) and then goes and interviews them to learn their story?  If he came to my house, it would go something like this.

“So, Joe.  Tell me what it was like growing up in St. Albans.”

“It was nice. We played a lot. Rode bikes. Played in the creek.”

“What was the most traumatic thing you endured as a child?”

“I remember one time I came home from school and the front door was locked.  I couldn’t get inside.  That was pretty bad.”

“How long were you locked out?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe five minutes.”

The clock ticks in the background.  He looks at the guitar setting on the stand.

“Do you play?” he asks.

“A little. I’m really not very good.”

“Can you play something for me?”


Tick, tick, tick.

“What about your family?”

“I was found in a shoebox, brought up by welders, and educated by wolves. Then I went to Harvard.”

He raises his eyebrows.

“That’s a line from In Sunlight and In Shadow, a Mark Helprin novel.  No, I’m from a conventional family.  Mom, Dad, two sisters. I was a middle of the road student. At work, just a steady manager type. Been married for almost thirty years.”

He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly.  He taps his pen and looks around the room.  

“What difficult challenges have you had to overcome in life?”

I think for a minute. “People tend to forget my name,” I say. “Sometimes they call me Jim. Or John. So I’ve had to learn not to get offended when they don’t remember me.”

He looks at his watch, but he’s not wearing one.  

“Ok, then.”

He leaves.  The segment never airs.

I have no compelling story to tell, but I’m not complaining.  I’m glad that my life has been absent of trauma and gut-wrenching challenges. Boring can be good.

If I want to tell a story, I’ll just do what I’ve always done.  I’ll make one up.

Remind me some day to tell you about Albert Einstein’s brother, Alfred.







Another good line.

“I was found in a shoebox, brought up by welders, and educated by wolves. Then I went to Harvard.”

Harry Copeland, from the novel In Sunlight and In Shadow, by Mark Helprin.

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