Joseph E Bird

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



bucket list from the past

This is what happens when you clean out a closet. I came across this hand-written list from years ago. Not sure when, but most likely from my junior high school days. All the things I wanted to accomplish in my lifetime.

1. Learn to snow ski. I did. Even made my own pair of skis. I used old belts for the binding. Seriously.

2. Visit St. Albans, Vermont. I’m from St. Albans, West Virginia. Haven’t made it to Vermont. I guess there’s still time.

3. Build an underground hut. I don’t know why. Never did it. Never will.

4. Learn to pick padlocks and combination locks. Because that would be so cool. I still want to learn to do this.

5. Perform magic in front of a large audience. I learned a few card tricks in my day, but I’ll be happy to let this goal slide.

6. Master escape tricks as Houdini did. I once made my own wooden stocks to escape from, but I never became a great escape artist. I’ll let this one go, too.

7. Learn to scuba dive. I actually considered this a couple of years ago. May still do it.

8. Explore the Atlantic Ocean in a submarine. That’s a big step from scuba diving. I’m surprised I didn’t say I wanted to build my own submarine.

9. Learn to fly an airplane. The company I work for used to have an airplane. I flew in the co-pilot’s seat many times. I learned enough about flying that I was confident I could crash the plane within sight of the airport.

10. Learn to fly a glider. It’s just an airplane without an engine. Piece of cake.

11. Build a hovercraft. This is classic Joe. I figured I could do it with an old lawnmower.

12. Build a man-powered glider and/or a regular glider. What’s a man-powered glider? Yeah, I can build anything.

13. Go into space and/or visit the moon. It was the middle of the space race. Every kid wanted to go to the moon.

14. Learn to play the banjo. I can play the guitar. And I’m still thinking about the banjo.

15. Find out all possible about the Lost City of Atlantis. I know nothing more today than I did back then. Must have been a passing interest.

16. Live to the year 2000. Seemed so far into the future. Now it seems so far in the past. Time, it swallows everything. From the Amos Lee song, What’s Been Going On.

17. Get patents an at least three inventions. That’s just too much like work.

18. Write a book. Yes! I’ve written five! Six, if you count carnival dreams, my collection of stories, now available on Amazon (shameless plug).

That’s it. Guess I’ve always been a dreamer. Still am. And I think that’s a good thing.

Heather Girl (from an alternate universe)

Heather Roth has little to look forward to.

The alien overlords have enslaved Earth’s population.  Her two sons are working for the cyborg underground and her brother is the head of the Benevolent Alien Reconciliation Federation (BARF), which seeks to create a more peaceful world through mind control.  On top of all of this, Heather has a really nasty cold that just won’t go away.

And then she learns that her father is being paroled from the penal colony on Jupiter’s moon, Europa.  Which, as it turns out, is really not a big deal because he’s being assigned to work as a cook on the aircraft carrier Nimitz, which has been repurposed as a floating sheep farm.

Then Heather finds an old guitar, learns three chords and leads a musical revolution based on Nickleback songs.  The aliens leave.

A story of mathematics and free verse, Heather Girl takes the reader on the ultimate emotional journey, culminating in a long nap.

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.

He don’t have good sense.

It was an early evening.  The wife and I had been too busy for dinner at home, so we drove to KFC for something to go.

I don’t like the drive-through of any restaurant.  The lines are usually long and I get quicker service by going inside.  And with the drive-through, you don’t get to see the menu until you’re up to the speaker.

But it was past the dinner rush and there was no line at the drive-through so I pulled up to the speaker.  On the menu board, KFC was pushing their Georgia Gold Chicken. Now I’ve seen the ads on television with the latest incarnation of the Colonel covered in gold praising the new Georgia Gold Chicken, but I still didn’t know what it was.  It went something like this:

KFC Speaker Person (female): “Welcome to KFC.  Would you like to try our chicken pot pie?”

Me: “No thank you.”

At this point I pause.  I want to ask about the Georgia Gold Chicken but I’m not sure what I want to ask.  I see that there is no one ahead of me and I thought it might be easier to have a conversation about chicken face to face with the KFC representative.

Me: “Can I come up to the window to talk to you?”

Wife: “Joe!!!”

There is a long, long pause from the Speaker Person.  And then,

Speaker Person: “No, you can just order at the speaker.”

Wife: “I can’t believe you said that.”

Me:  “What?  I just want to talk about chicken.”

When I tell this story in person, it’s at this point that everyone’s eyes are wide in disbelief.  They can’t believe I said such a thing to the poor Speaker Person.  Everyone has had the same reaction.

So I order the Georgia Gold Chicken and pull up to the window.  The window slides open and the female Speaker Person, now the Window Person, tells me how much I owe her, and the Colonel, without making eye contact.

Me:  “I’m sorry. My wife says I shouldn’t have asked to come up and talk to you.  I just thought it would be easier that way.”

Window Person: “That’s ok. We never know what kind of people are in line.  We have to be careful.”

I apologized again, took our chicken, and went home.

Here is what I’ve learned: I don’t have good sense.

I still don’t see why asking to talk at the window is a big deal.  I obviously have poor judgment.  And that makes me question everything else I do in the public realm.  I may be committing other social transgressions without realizing it.

Such as complimenting someone’s tattoos.  When I do so, it’s because I really like your rose tattoo, not because I’m trying to put any moves on you.  I will refrain from complimenting tattoos in the future.

Or telling someone who passed me at the end of a race that they ran well.  That’s what friends and relatives are for.  Not creepy strangers.  I will refrain from offering encouragement to sweaty people.

Or commenting on a blog post of someone I don’t know. Yes, I know people put their posts out there so others will notice, but when my comments are ignored, I wonder if they think I’m a stalker. I’m not.  I’m just trying to be encouraging.  But I will refrain from commenting on blogs of people I don’t know.

There’s more, but you get the point.  He don’t have good sense.  Apologies to all.

And the chicken wasn’t all that good.






Joe Durango

I’ve never been big on New Year resolutions, but I think I’m going to try the George Costanza thing and do the opposite. So instead of ignoring the resolution tradition, I’m going all in, baby!

I’m going to change my writing style completely, and while I’m at it, I’m going to introduce a new character that will drive my writing from here on out. Joe Durango.

I realize that’s not so much a resolution as it is just a change, but heck, let’s not quibble. This is a big deal.

Now the name Joe Durango evokes kind of a rugged image. You don’t want to mess with Joe Durango. So with my character, I need to figure out what kind of story to write.  Here are some options.

Joe Durango.  A tough, gritty cop.  Misunderstood, with a lot of personal baggage. Solves cases his way. Women are drawn to him, but don’t understand him.

“You are one damaged cop, Joe Durango,” Damonica said. Then she walked away.  

Joe Durango, the lonely hero.


Joe Durango.  A drifter, just looking for a steady paycheck and a bunk. No one knows much about his past, but he has a way with horses. The other cowhands are afraid to ask him about the scar on his face. Women are drawn to him, but don’t understand him.

“So, Joe Durango, are you ever going to talk about what happened in Carson City?” Annabel asked. She waited.  “No. I didn’t think so.”

Joe Durango, alone on the range.


Joe Durango. Baseball prodigy, came out of nowhere. Throws a fastball like no one has seen before.  He plays one game in the majors, then walks away from it all. A living legend in baseball, but the rest of his life is a complete mystery.  Woman are drawn to  him, but don’t understand him.

“Take me with you, Joe Durango,” Willow said. “I just want to be with you, wherever that may be.”
“Where I’m going is no place for a lady,” he answered.

Joe Durango, man of mystery.

No, not really.


Ten Rules to be More Interesting

Author’s Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are opinions and as with most opinions, they cannot be verified by any supporting factual evidence, which is especially true in this case, as the author has absolutely no experience in being interesting. In fact, if he wanted to be factual, he would change the name of the article to Ten Rules for Being Uninteresting, and just describe himself. Maybe he should take that approach and reverse engineer this whole interesting/uninteresting phenomenon.

Here we go.

Rule One: Don’t talk in terms of reverse engineering and don’t use the word phenomenon.

Rule Two: Be the kind of person other people like. There is no how-to for this rule. You either got it or you don’t. But we’re not talking about winning a popularity contest here, we’re talking about being interesting. Apples and oranges. Or at least clementines and tangerines.

Rule Three: Don’t read books by Ha Jin. Or if you do, don’t tell anybody. You’re better off if you know who Doosledorf is. Doogledrone. Dumbledore. I had to look it up. (Google Harry Potter.)

Rule Four: Learn to fish. Talk about small-mouth and walleye. This only works with certain people.

Rule Five: Travel extensively. Trips to Wallback and Big Ugly apparently don’t count.

Rule Six: Shop at Kroger, or whatever big, overcrowded supermarket is in your area. People love to talk about their horrific experiences while being forced to shop at stores with great selection and low prices. Relating your own experience will make you more, well, relatable.

Rule Seven: Shop at Walmart. See Rule Six. Same, but different.

Rule Eight: You know, maybe there’s just seven rules.

Rule Nine: Oh, I thought of another one. Ask people about their favorite restaurants. People love to talk about eating and they will appreciate your interest in their dining habits. Don’t tell them that you think Wendy’s makes great baked potatoes. It will destroy your restaurant street cred.

Rule Ten: When it doubt, play like Chauncey Gardner. “In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.” Ahhh. Very wise man. Except he really was just talking about gardening, because he was, after all, Chance, the gardener. Peter Sellers in Being There. Stick to Harry Potter.

Why this hillbilly wears shoes.

I’ve got a few ideas I want to tell you about, but there’s something distracting me right now and I need to get it off my chest. (That’s a weird expression. Remind to look that up.) You may not be able to relate to this, but I live in West Virginia, and most of us don’t wear shoes, what with us being hillbillies and everything. But my office has a dress code. We’re required to wear shoes, except on casual Fridays when pert near anything goes. I just threw in that “pert near” as typical hillbilly lingo to add some local flavor to my story. Most of us don’t really talk like that.

I’ve had my shoes on all day. And my knee’s been hurting from running too much. Either that or just one of them getting old things, so I didn’t run today. So I really have had my shoes on from about 7:12 this morning until now, which, according to the clock Steve Jobs gave me, is 8:13. I’ve been home since about 5:24. I stayed a little late because after everyone left the office, I wanted to try out my new guitar amp. There was a guy who used to work for us, but he got tired of having to wear shoes all the time, so he got himself a job in Florida where all he has to wear are flip-flops, or as we used to say back in the olden hillbilly days, thongs.

Rob – that’s the name of the guy who went to Florida to wear thongs – I mean flip-flops (don’t want to plant any untoward images in your mind) – was a guitar player, too, and he had an electric guitar in the office that he’d play around with on his lunch hour. When he left, I told him he had to leave his guitar. Since I was his boss, he had no choice. So he left me the guitar and a pick. But no amplifier. I went up the street the other day to the Fret N Fiddle. That’s what we call music stores here in hillbilly West Virginia. I asked for the smallest amplifier they had. The young feller (more hillbilly lingo) showed me one for $40. Said it ran on batteries. Well, that wouldn’t work, so he showed me another one for $100. I’m way too cheap to spend that kind of money. Then I saw a little amp on the way out that had vacuum tubes. I should have known better. $500. I blame that on the millennials. Even in West Virginia, we have millennial hipsters.

I ended up getting an amp from an online store for $25. I know what you’re thinking. It couldn’t possibly be any good. But I forgot to get a chord. So today I went back up to Fret N Fiddle. They’re closed on Thursdays. Just some random day to be closed, I reckon (lingo). Up the road I went to Gorby’s Music. I had time since I wasn’t running because of the aforementioned sore knee. Gorby’s has been around forever. I got my high school trumpet there, I think. Or maybe it was Herbert’s Music.

I asked the guy at the counter, who looked like a Gorby, if he ever got any Harold Hayslett cellos in the store. Harold Hayslett is also a hillbilly from nearby (actually, he’s the furthest thing from a hillbilly, but I have a theme going here, so we ask that you bear with us) who makes world class cellos and violins out of gopher wood. Just kidding about the gopher wood. The rest is true. I know this because my sister has a cello that he made when he was starting out. The Gorby fellow says he hasn’t seen one in a while and tells me old Harold is still up on the hill. I told him I thought he died. There was a piece on the radio the other day about Hayslett and I thought they said he died but I was wrong. He’s 99 years old and still going strong. It was John Lambros who died. Lambros was another prominent figure from my sister’s cello days in the area and I guess I got them mixed up. Lambros was 98. There might be a connection between music and living a long life.

So I said my goodbye to Mr. Gorby and went back to the office (still wearing my shoes). My lunch hour was over but I plugged in the guitar to make sure my $25 amp worked. It did. At one point in the afternoon I was tempted to take off my shoes and stick my feet under my desk, but at the time, it just seemed like too much trouble. At 5:02, most everyone had left the office so I plugged in the guitar again. At 5:13, someone hollered from the other side of the building to see if I was still there. In West Virginia, we holler, even when we have telephones. I hollered back and said I was, then he left. I had the whole place to myself, so I cranked it up. Then pushed the little button on the amp that made the distortion sound. All of sudden I sounded like a rock star. It was so cool that I kept playing for another fifteen minutes. Then I went home.

I kept my shoes on even then, because once, a few years ago, I took my shoes off at home and was going around in my socks (it must have been winter). And believe it or not, I stubbed my toe on my shoe. One of those freakishly bad stubs. On my shoe. Ironic, yes? Kind of like throwing your back out when you pick up a pillow, which I’ve done. I thought I broke my toe. The big toe, of course. Ever since then, I always wear some kind of shoe until I go to bed.

Ok. I’ve been writing this little story now for 26 minutes. It’s 8:41. My socks are all bunched up in the toes of my shoes and it’s driving me crazy. I can’t wait for that moment, maybe an hour from now, when I get to set my toes free and they can breathe again and escape their leathery prison. I might write a poem about it. No, I won’t.

I sat down here to make some New Year resolutions and I couldn’t get my mind off my uncomfortable feet. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not.

You didn’t remind me to look up “get it off my chest.”


Good night.

So, where are you from?

“Excuse me.”

She stopped, order pad in one hand, pen in the other, and looked at me. As did the rest of my family. It was the good-bye breakfast before they left for home hundreds of miles away. Some were sleepy, some were chirpy.  They were only slightly interested in what I had to say to our server.

“Do I detect an accent?” I said.

Now I had everyone’s attention, though that’s not what I was going for.


I’m somewhat of an expert on languages. In addition to my native English, I speak Mandarin. A little. Enough to order a glass of wine in Nanjing and answer any question with Wǒ bù míngbái nǐ zài shuō shénme, which, roughly translated means, I don’t understand what you’re saying.  Also, Nǎlǐ shì měiguó dàshǐ guǎn? Meaning, Where is the American embassy?  Essential phrases in a foreign land.

Forty years ago I took two years of Latin.  Veni. Vidi. Vici.  Ten years before that I was living in Texas and Spanish was part of the daily curriculum. I could count to twenty and say good day to Senora Folks, my teacher in the third grade. A few years ago I picked up a Spanish language CD for a dollar at a street fair and I’ve managed to get through the first three lessons. Si, senor.


“Me?” the server asked.

“Maybe eastern European,” I said.


The company I work for used to have a catered Christmas dinner at one of the hotels in Charleston, and most of the catering staff had, what seemed to me, a Russian accent. So I asked one of the servers. Yes, she answered, Russian. So being the sophisticated multi-lingual guy that I am, I asked her to teach me how to say thank you. After several tries, I learned Spasibo. The following year, I had learned a few more Russian phrases, including dobry y vecher, or Good evening. She was appreciative of my efforts, but I think the rest of the staff found me annoying. Bez raznitsy.  Whatever.

I must confess that I used Google Translate for that last phrase.  Have you checked out Google Translate?  Go do it. Right now. I’ll wait.

(Whistling in the background.)

Pretty cool, huh.

By now you recognize that I’m quite a cosmopolitan guy, even though I live in a very small town in a backwoods, hillbilly state. I really should start drinking martinis. Shaken, of course.


“Where are you from?” I asked.

I waited for the answer that would leave my family impressed by my ability to identify ethnic origins by accents. Ukraine. Maybe Kazakhstan. Could be Belarus.

“I’m from Red House,” she said.


Red House is basically two hollers over from the restaurant, to put it in the West Virginia vernacular.

Oh, she had an accent. A Mountaineer accent. How I mistook that for eastern European I’ll never know. Not much you can say after a faux pas like that. At least the family had a good laugh and went home with a story to tell.

Faux pas. That’s French. French should be easy to learn.



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.

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