Joseph E Bird

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creative writing

The garage.

I recently attended the Design and Equipment Expo in Charleston and met a local photographer, Emily Shafer, who specializes in industrial photography. She has a creative sensibility and transforms ordinary images from the blue collar world in to works of art. Like a set of greasy Craftsman tools.

The next day I walked across the street to the mall and saw signs outside the Sears store announcing its closing. I went in and browsed a little, but there wasn’t much left. Empty shelves where the Craftsman tools used to be. With all of that, I couldn’t help but think of a scene I had written in my novel, Heather Girl.

Heather is traveling to Texas to see her father, who has just been paroled. She stops for gas in Montgomery, Alabama and has car trouble. A man and his son are watching (and eventually offer to help). As she’s trying to figure out what the problem is, she remembers learning about cars in her father’s garage.

She turned the key and the engine turned slowly a couple of times but didn’t start. She turned the key again. Same thing. And again.

She popped the latch on the hood and got out of the car. The boy looked up, then looked away. She opened the hood and looked at the battery.

Always start with the battery.

Her father’s voice. What was it now, thirty years ago?

Easiest thing to check, easiest thing to fix.

The smells of the garage came back to her. Warm, oily smells. There was a gas heater on the back wall and in the winter, there was always a hint of unburned fumes, but most of the time it was tools and parts and greasy rags that made the garage feel heavy and comfortable. The same garage that now is more of a storage locker. Her father’s tools went with him when her parents moved across town, then were sold when they moved south to escape the cold winters of the mountains. She and Robert bought the family home.  Robert took over the garage as his own workshop, complete with a table saw and other carpentry tools. His tools are still there, but are never used. Boxes of boys’ forgotten toys and yard sale finds make it nearly impossible to even see them. She keeps the lawnmower by the door, along with a few garden tools, and every spring makes the same promise that she’ll never keep to throw out the junk and put some order to the mess.

Despite everything, she found it hard not to think back to when the garage was truly a place for parking the family car, and for the weekend project of rebuilding the brakes or cleaning the carburetor or putting in a new radiator. Her dad had a natural genius for such things, part of the reason he was a good engineer. She loved being around him when he was working. It was when he seemed most content. Anything could be fixed.

She learned by watching, and when it became apparent that her brother Wayne had more interest in music than cars, she became her father’s tomboy grease monkey. She never learned enough to really diagnose a car’s problem, but she could change the oil, put in new spark plugs, and even tinker with the timing. She also learned why he enjoyed that kind of work so much, aside from the peace of the garage. Parts that didn’t work properly were thrown out, never to be seen again. Repair manuals didn’t lie. And the tools were always faithful.

If she had one of those old crescent wrenches, maybe the big one that had been used so much that the brand imprinted on the handle had worn away, she could tighten the nuts on the battery terminal. Though she knew that wasn’t the cause of the problem. She looked at the engine and tugged at the battery cables. They seemed tight. Not much corrosion. More than likely the battery was dead.

copyright 2017, joseph e bird

Goodbye, Sears.

Sears 1

Sears 2

We’ve all heard the news. Sears is closing stores. These photos are from the Charleston Town Center store. Four more days and it will close forever.

Do you remember when Sears was the place to go for tools?  For vacuum cleaners?  For back-to-school clothes?

I can’t tell you how many things I’ve bought in this store. How many hours I’ve spent roaming the aisles. To see it so barren is haunting and sad.

Remember the Sears catalog?  It was a precursor to internet sales. Thumb through the catalog, find what you want, fill out the order form and mail it in. I bought a guitar from Sears that way. I bought skis that way. Now I simply click.

Which is why Sears is closing stores. Retail isn’t changing, it has changed. There will be fewer actual stores in the future. But I don’t see them going away completely. Some of us still want to see how clothes fit before we buy them. We want to run the vacuum cleaner over carpet. And we want to see how the tool fits our hand.

One more photo. It’s a sign in what’s left of the clothing department. It may be the only sign left in the store.


jazzing up a classic

Editor’s Note:  I’ve been on a jazz kick lately and I remembered this post from a couple of years ago. In case you missed it the first time.

Dig it.

There’s a club in London called the Troubadour. It was founded in the 1950s and has hosted legendary musicians through the years. It’s also famous as a hangout for writers and artists and coffee-house poetry.

Finger snap.

Picture this: Stanley Kubrick had a favorite table at the Troubadour back in the early 60s. He comes in, sips espresso, takes in a poetry slam, and works on his screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In 1968, his seminal film is released.

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Far out.

Featured in the film was the music of Richard Strauss, specifically, Also Sprach Zarathustra, which, interestingly, is a tone poem. Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls (Laugh-In reference).

In 1972, the jazz musician Deodato put out his take on the classic, which was later featured in the Peter Sellers film, Being There.

“As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.”

Heavy, man.

So for all you poets out there, put on your black turtleneck and beret, go back in time, and tap your toes to the groovy, jazzy, coffee-house version of Also Sprach Zarathustra by Deodato.

Dig it.


i hear the voice

i hear the voice
it’s yelling at me
i hear the voice
but i don’t agree
to argue is pointless
our words are in vain
i can’t understand
and you can’t explain
can we sit and be calm
and maybe break bread
i’ll listen again
perhaps i misread
and i hear the voice

i hear the voice
calling me to speak
i hear the voice
to say for the weak
is anger so righteous
that respect doesn’t matter
our cause is just
it’s yours we must shatter
walk with me now
let’s talk and be friends
to find the true answer
we must make amends
and i hear the voice

i hear the voice
telling me not to fear
i hear the voice
saying peace is still near
the strife of the world
is now and has been
and will be tomorrow
again and again
so let’s stand for the lost
and fight the good fight
but let’s do it together
for that is what’s right
and i hear the voice

i hear the voice
it’s soft like a dove
there’s no sound that i hear
does it come from above
i hear the voice
and you hear it too
let’s listen together
there is so much to do

copyright 2017, joseph e bird

The Epic Battle

Back in the day
I played
a mean game
ping pong
I hear ya
You’re laughing
your momma
and your
at the table
lofting lazy volleys
back and forth
gnip gnop
gnip gnop
It ain’t like that
Serious stuff this was
Crazy spins
smokin slams
so fast so fast so fast
feet always movin
strategy and anticipation
flip the backspin
over the top
hit the line
play the edge
workin hard
sweat drippin
on the table
Serious stuff, it was,
so long ago.

And then this kid
talking smack
talking his game
I talk back
talking my game
how it was
so long ago
A table shows up
then the net
then paddles
then balls
I watch him play
he’s good
wicked spins
fast slams
I start eating
my words
playin on my age
slow reflexes
unorthodox style
I ain’t what
I was, I say
But I can’t dodge.

Last night
I’m playin
by myself
balls off the backplay
tryin to find a rhythm
and he shows up
with his own
personal paddle
in his own
personal case
Last time
I played
someone like that
I got smoked
Time for the truth

The game is on

I win serve
first five points
I hold serve
next five
he holds
but I’m
still ahead
I miss a slam
then I hit one
just like back then
I spin a shot
and he’s in the net
I can’t handle
his serve
and he slams
past me
on and
it goes
sweat flying

Deuce at 20

i feel good
to have done
this well
but the
kid will
his day

More volleys
then he hits
off the table
My add
More volleys
and then he hits
into the net
My game
just like it was
I got old

My game

gnip gnop?
I’ll show you some
gnip gnop

Editor’s Note:  In the grand scheme of important things in the world, a game of ping pong is waaaaaay down there, and the creative writing describing this non-event is likewise unimportant. The author realizes this. Nonetheless, it amuses him. Besides, you didn’t really think he was another Hemingway, did you?

Obla di, obla da.

copyright 2017, joseph e bird

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