Joseph E Bird

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He is severely disabled.

It’s obvious just from watching him for a few minutes.

His walk looks painful.  He knees come together in an angle that is not in the least bit natural. He stops, and then one of his knees moves out in the opposite direction, poking sideways through his filthy trousers.

He’s picking up something in the parking lot.  A stray coin, maybe?  A valuable scrap of  something.  He moves on, slowly.  Near a light pole, he stops and puts his collection on top of the concrete base of the light pole.  Some he tosses back onto the parking lot.

I’ve seen him around town before.  One Sunday he just walked out in the middle of traffic to cross the street.  His disability is not only physical, it’s mental.

We’re in line at KFC.  Yes, we eat there a lot.  Good chicken.

This particular KFC is not in the affluent part of town.  Not that there is an affluent part of my town.  But it’s near the homeless shelter.  Near St. Mark’s where lunches are provided to those in need.  Near the bridges, where some choose to make their homes.

Should we buy him something to eat? my wife asks.

I don’t know. 

I didn’t know if he would take it.  Didn’t know if he would just cuss us.  Didn’t even know if he really needed it.

We place our order. Just for us.

At the window, we ask if they know anything about the guy wandering the parking lot.

That’s John, she says.  We give him something to eat every day.

She asks us to pull up while our order is prepared.

John’s off to the side of us now, emptying his pockets on the sidewalk.  Just stuff.  Rocks.  Dirt.  Who knows what.

She brings our food.

John, are you ready to eat?

He nods.  He mills around a bit before they go inside.

One other time I was inside at this store and there was an older gentleman with a cane.  He was not as bad off as John.  Seemed like he had all his faculties, as they say, but life had not been generous to him.  The manager asked what he wanted.  A cola, he answered.  He reached in his pocket for some change.  The manager waved him off.

Don’t worry about it.

The folks working at this KFC are probably making minimum wage, maybe a little more.  They don’t have a lot of money to spare.  And the store itself is probably working on razor-thin margins. Giving away food is not in their best interests.

And yet they do.

Let others fight about borders and immigration and gun control and geopolitics.

Our neighbor is in need.

Our neighbor needs something to eat.

give the world a nudge

“Playwright Tom Stoppard once said the reason he writes is because every once in a while you put a few words together in the right order and you’re able to give the world a nudge. And sometimes I’m able to do that.”

— Charles Krauthammer

Mom and Pop

mom and pop

They were the definition of simple folk.

My grandfather, Justus Jennings Bird, died shortly after his 100th birthday.

His wife of 70-some years, Bettie Pearl, was 97 when she passed away.

I never knew my grandfather when he worked. By the time I was old enough to remember anything, he was retired and spent his time gardening. In the neighborhood, he was known as the man with the greenhouse. He would sell tomatoes and corn and green beans from his front yard in the shade of the tall oaks with the white-washed trunks. What he didn’t sell, Betty Pearl canned. They had home-grown vegetables all through the winter.

They had pride in their work.  Pop’s rows in the garden had to be straight. Mom’s apple pie crust had to be perfect. It was good, healthy pride, not like the kind in the Bible that makes you bad, to borrow a phrase from an Avett Brothers song.

Of course there was no social media in their day. They would have enjoyed seeing photos of their family, but there would have been no pics of prize-winning tomatoes, no snap-shot of the perfect pumpkin pie. They were appreciative if someone liked what they did, but it wasn’t why they did it. Pop liked to grow things. Mom liked to cook.

Simple folk. Simple ways. A lifetime of contentment.

Photo by Rick Lee.


You can call me Jim.

There are people I have known for years – no, make that decades – who have trouble remembering my name.  ”Hi, Bob,” someone will say.  No, Bob’s my uncle.  Or “Hey, Rob, are you back in town?” Well, you’re thinking of my cousin who lives in Florida. I’m Joe. I’ve been here all along.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called Jim. Yeah, Jim is close to Joe and it’s an understandable mistake for someone I don’t see very often. But time and time again I have to re-introduce myself to the same person who thinks they’ve never met me.

You could take the old Nat King Cole classic, Unforgettable, and change it to So Forgettable, that’s who I am.

I’m a quiet guy in person. I don’t stand out. I used to imagine that my laconic nature would be perceived as brooding and mysterious. But no, just boring.

I’m not very outgoing. I used to watch the way my mother could talk to anyone and have them laughing within minutes. Why couldn’t I be more like her? I’m better than I used to be, but I can’t help but to fall back into my loner tendencies.

I’m not one to shout about my beliefs and political leanings. I think such things are complex and multi-layered and don’t lend themselves to slogans or sound bites. If you want to have a long, serious conversation, I’m in. But of course, ain’t nobody got time for that.

I write stories. You like them? Cool. Not getting it? That’s ok.

I write poems. Dig the rhymes? Groovy. Free verse not you thing? NBD.

I write novels. Well, the truth here is that it seems that I’m the only one who gets something out of them.  That’s ok, too.

We all want to be known and appreciated. We want to know that our lives, our work, our being here, is meaningful in some way.

We cross paths with hundreds, probably thousands of people in our lifetimes. Some we know, some we don’t even catch their names. Some we see face to face, some we only see what they’ve done.

There’s a painting hanging on the wall of the pizzeria in South Hills by an artist whose name will never be known outside of her family. For a moment, it takes me to a different world, one that I wouldn’t know without her painting.

A fiddle player plays a mournful solo, for the moment upstaging the star, only to step back from the spotlight and return the glory to the charismatic singer.

An old man, who stops and looks inside every dumpster and eats at the church kitchens, whose clothes are dirty, nonetheless walks with dignity and greets you with a warm smile and an unashamed hello, and gives hope, that despite our circumstances, we can show love and respect.

So you can call me Jim. Maybe you’ll remember me, maybe you won’t. And maybe something I do will make a difference to someone.








More miles to go.

shoes 1 for web

Looks like my running days are over.

I first said that probably twenty-five years ago. I was struggling to finish the Charleston Distance Run, a grueling 15-miler. I had run the race several times before and done fairly well for an amateur runner. Not this time. At about the 12 mile mark I was so beat, I questioned why I was putting myself through it. Being as competitive (prideful?) as I am, I didn’t want to run if I couldn’t be constantly improving.

Looks like my running days are over.

I haven’t run the Distance Run since, but I shelved my pride and kept running.

Then about 15 years ago my orthopedist said I had a condition called spondylolisthesis. Bad back. He told me to quit running.

Looks like my running days are over, for real.

I started sleeping in on Saturdays, but I wanted to stay in shape.  I found an old video from the 80s and started doing step aerobics. Then Tae Bo with Billy Blanks.  I did this for maybe three years. But I missed running.

I started out slowly. Not even a mile on my first run. Kept adding a little bit each time. I was soon running about three miles every other day. I wasn’t running like I used to, but I was running. And no back pain.

So of course I kept adding miles. Then hills. Then speed work. I ran a few races and actually won my age division a couple of times, which, really, is nothing to brag about. At my age, just showing up for the race almost assures you of a trophy. And if I can manage to knock out the guy with the walker ahead of me, then I win.

So I kept running. Then came the knee pain. I tried running through it but it only got worse. I laid off for a couple of days. When I tried again, the pain was almost unbearable. I did what you’re supposed to do. Ice and pain relievers. Nothing helped.

Looks like my running days are over.

I went back to step aerobics. After a couple of weeks, I tried the treadmill. The pain was still there.

More aerobics.

After about four weeks, I tried the treadmill again.  No pain for a quarter mile.

More aerobics. Treadmill. Half mile.

Aerobics. Treadmill. One mile.

And then I was out on the road again.

That was a year ago. Yesterday I did about four miles of hills and speed work.

I’m sure some other ailments will pop up. I’ve had hamstring problems. Foot problems. But I take it easy for a few days and then I’m back at it.

Here’s what I’ve learned from running:

The body is very resilient.  Sure, there may be a time when my running days are really over. But it won’t be for lack of trying.

Be patient. Be positive. Be persistent.


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.


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