Posted in The Writer's Life


Librarygift card




I went to the library today.  My son, David, works there.  I went there to deliver a Christmas card to him.  No need to go back and reread the sentence.  It was today.  It was a Christmas card.  There’s a story there.  I’ll tell it to you if you like.  That was not the intent of this blog, though—telling the story, I mean—but life is complex.  That’s why I don’t often write in simple sentences.  To meet life’s complexities head-on, and write about them, I often write in compound sentences, sometimes complex sentences.

But the story … okay: 

Last Christmas we gifted many of our loved ones cash or gift cards.  David was one.  We bought him a fifty-dollar movie gift card.  He loves movies and since they were going through a financial rough patch, this gave him an opportunity to go to a movie without feeling like he was taking food off the family table.

Not too long ago, my wife and I heard on the grapevine (actually, the grapevine was my other son, Joe, who also loves movies), that the brothers went to the Marketplace Theater where David pulled out his gift card to pay for his ticket.

The teenager in the booth ran it through the scanner and put her mouth to the hole in the glass:  “That’ll be nine-dollars and fifty cents,” she said, around her chewing gum.

David said, “Yeah, go ahead and use the card.”

“You used the card,” she said.  “Fifty cents worth.”

Of course he told her the card was for fifty dollars, to which she retorted, “No.  Fifty cents.”

David’s a pretty mildly tempered person, but he was getting a bit heated at this point.  “Why would anyone buy a gift card for fifty cents?  Do you even sell gift cards for fifty cents?”

“No,” she replied and popped her gum.

That happened sometime in January.  Joe told us about it, I believe, in May.  I don’t remember how it came up, but it was a rather oblique reference, as I recall.  It was probably, by agreement between the brothers, that we weren’t to hear about it at all, but it somehow just happened.

My wife and I talked about it.  I mean, it wasn’t our fault.  We paid for a fifty dollar gift card.  It was the movie theater’s fault.  Specifically, it was the fault of the person who sold us the card.  But it was David who had really lost out.

So, last night my wife dug out a Christmas card from the drawer.  At the bottom of the greeting she wrote, “Merry Christmas all over again,” and tucked in two twenties and a ten.

And, I took it to him today.

Well … that’s the story, but it’s not the blog post I had intended.

What I really wanted to tell you was this:  As I was walking across the library parking lot, clutching the Christmas card, I found myself flowing forward with a river of library patrons, most of whose arms were loaded down with books.  One backpack so filled with books that the wearer was forced to walk in an awkwardly erect posture, threatening to fall over backwards, which conjured up images of a turtle on his back, unable to right himself.  Children skipping, laughing out of sheer joy, screaming, well, because they were children; parents exhorting, “Now you remember you whisper when you go inside.”  A little boy talking in excited tones to his sister, ” … and I’m gonna get me a book about horses and I’ll ask mama if I …” and his thin voice blends in with, and is blanketed by, other voices and noises and celebration.

Difficult to pin down, hard to put your finger on … this community of festivity, this carnival of expectation; hope—the possible unwrapping of a mystery inside those walls, between the hard, musty covers of a book plucked randomly from one of the thousand of shelves, the voice in the book, that one voice that says with precision and certitude what you have been forever feeling, but thinking you were alone, and lonely, in the feeling of it.  But, here you find a friend, a confederate, a confidant, here—here in this book, taken from that shelf within the whispering walls of the Library.

And I am being swept along, thinking about this and almost trip over a young man, hoisting in his arms a mountainfalling books of books, one of which slides down the slope and while he bends to pick it up two more fall, and making a wild grasp for all of them the entire mountain collapses.

And I stop and help him.  I pick up a one volume Works of Balzac, a Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and a paperback western novel.  He lifts a huge tome entitled the Essential Dictionary of Music Notation, and a few more paperbacks.  Enormous green eyes stare up at me through coke-bottle-lenses and he thanks me.

I continue on, thinking about all this and what it is urging me to remember.  And, then I do remember.  I remember something I had read, or seen on TV, or heard …something that was from a respected source that told us we were, mentally, becoming a nation of pablum ingestors.  We have lost our intellectual teeth and are growing incapable of thinking on our own.  A dangerous thought: other people thinking for us!  Books being replaced by television; outdoor activities by video games.

We’ve all heard the naysayers.

How many aspiring writers have given up in the face of such cultural inevitability?  I remember thinking back then, “What’s the bloody use in writing! Who will be there to read it, anyway?”

Today, with Christmas card in hand, caught in the flow and flood of this army of cultural dissenters, I hear and see, and, yes—I feel: the alphabet is hearty, the squiggles and squams of punctuation still function, words, almighty slippery, wriggling, palpitating words, still have meaning thanks to this army, thanks to this marvelous, beautiful army converging in to burst through the door and into the mystery world inside the whispering walls.



My Twitter account identifies me as “a writer, a salesman, an optimist, a dreamer,” and adds: “may the four always cohabit and produce wondrous progeny.” Each of the first two identifies a blood-and-bone human being, living in the real world who works very hard at being honest and caring—but, who is still evolving in these areas. The last two (“optimist” and “dreamer”) are foundational qualities in my life. They keep a fire crackling under me that hopefully fuels the writer … and also the salesman, whose hat each of us is hard-wired to wear. Sandwiched somewhere between writing and selling, I attended college and even tried my hand at selling high school kids on why they should love learning and reading and writing. That was a brief stint. Whether teaching failed me or I it, I don’t know. You’d have to ask the kids—though many might be doddering by now, and some dead. Still, experientially, it is a part of me. I am married, living with my dog, Sirius, in Bakersfield, California, and separately from my wife.


  1. I enjoy reading. I enjoyed reading your post. And now, I feel my cheeks warm as I confess… I shared it with my with my friends and family on FB. =) Thanks to you, I will not have to pull out my soapbox for the summer reading programs. Maybe I’m just susceptible, but I don’t think anyone can read and not think of the importance of cultivating a love for books/reading in our youth. (Nor feel a little prod of guilt or shame, for using television and video games as a babysitter.) It’s sad when a child has an ‘entertainment center’ TV almost as large as the one in the family room, two game consoles (or more), and a stack of games for each

    1. Your comment was so meaty that it printed twice! You’ve given this post some heady praise, for which I thank you, humbly. Anything that can be used to prod the children into reading (and taking a little break from the crackling molecules in their video games) is a good thing, Felicia. Thank you for utilizing my post for that purpose.

  2. I enjoy reading. I enjoyed reading your post. And now, I feel my cheeks warm as I confess… I shared it with my friends and family on FB. =) Thanks to you, I will not have to pull out my soapbox for the summer reading programs. Maybe I’m just susceptible, but I don’t think anyone can read this and not think of the importance of cultivating a love for books/reading in our children/youth. Nor avoid a little prod of guilt or shame, for using television and video games as a babysitters. It’s sad (to me), when a child has an ‘entertainment center,’ with a TV almost as large as the one in the family room, two game consoles (or more), a stack of games for each, and no bookshelf actually holding books. I had fun playing video games with my children, and we also had fun reading.

    1. I don’t know what happened to yesterday’s brilliant response to your comment, but I did make it and somewhere in cyberspace some cyber-presence is loving it — as I loved the message you left me. I was especially moved that you shared my post with your FB friends and family. I have such warm memories of my summer reading programs at the Sylvan Park Library, in Redlands California. Strange how I can, to this day, 65 years ago, still recall the touch and heft and smell of those treasures I held in my lap on the steps of the Abe Lincoln memorial, across the park from the library. (You were automatically substituting “books” for “treasures” in the above sentence, weren’t you, dear? In case you weren’t, let me add this sentence: “…and after that I would tell them to run off and play with their dolls while I read!”)

  3. What a happy reflection. If it helps we surveyed my class of (UK) 11 year olds, inner city kids. All but one prefers reading from a paper and board covered book and not an e-reader. “It just feels better Miss”.

    1. Thank you, Charlotte, for feeding me the results of your survey. I suspect that eBooks will have their day in the sun, and while they will be an ever evolving part of our life, the tactile presence of “paper and board” will always be in the forefront of our lives. And that will be for no better reason than the genius of your kids’ words, “It just feels better Miss.” Welcome back any time, Charlotte.

  4. Enjoyed reading this- would just like to say, though, that there’s an awful lot of (sometimes) sniffy disparaging of TV /vids etc etc, but for a lot of kids they’re the only choice they have of experiencing a world outside their own . If they stimulate imagination & curiosity, then what’s the problem? The purpose of books is – in a large part – to give us insights into others’ worlds, & consequently widening our own…seems to me the method of acheiving this is pretty irrelevent. And if the imagination/curiosity of the kid is piqued, they will almost certainly get into books.
    Don’t get me wrong mate – I love books (and by the way, I’m NOT accusing you of sniffiness), but, as the actress said to the bishop – there’s more than one way to peel a banana.

    1. Great point, Mick! I’m glad you recognized that I wasn’t being sniffy, but was reporting something vaguely remembered from some time ago, one of many I’m sure we’ve all heard. And, I agree that whatever stimulates imagination and curiosity is good and that the curious and stimulated will “almost certainly get into books.” It seems like we’re on the same page here, Mick. I do have some thoughts on the types of video games our youth are watching, but that would be the subject of another post — possibly, but not necessarily, my own. Mick, I SO appreciate you visiting my blog and commenting so articulately on this post. Please come back again, okay?

  5. Nice post, Jay. It’s good to hear that people are still reading them–print books. My granddaughter loves the real thing. She plays (educational) games on her mom’s Kindle, but prefers to have stories read from paper books. Thanks for sharing this tale. Made me smile! 🙂

  6. Jay, you thoughts never cease to impress me ( this is an understatement, for I can’t find superlatives to describe them. My intellectual teeth, are falling out of their sockets?) We are on the same waters, swimming upstream to beat the ongoing rush of high tech digital merciless flow. But no matter will these waters of change takes the modern man, none could beat the ” placid lake of life.” That was once ours. Namaste, Jay. Will you please write more? You keep me swimming.–jb villegas

  7. Jay What an ” article-that-made-me-think-and-think-and-and- ask-why-are -there-more-articles-like-this-around-instead-of-celebrities-giving-birth-and-what’s-the-baby’s name?” Thanks for keeping us out of garbage journalism. Have not received your book yet, The Dead of Winter, but I’ll wait. I’ll put an order on your Greatest collection of Short Stories. I love to receive a free copy from you, but let me give the author his due. Maybe, I’ll ask for my copies autographed in person. Who knows? We follow the wind, where friends are. Take care. Hope you are well, esp. with the dental issues. And prayers are on your favor–jb


    1. Your comments on my blog post are so sweet.

      Sorry you haven’t received the book yet.

      Ah, the dental issues, Yes! Happy to say (think I’m happy to say) the last of the dental surgery was performed Wednesday the 19th. I am the proud possessor of two wonders of plastic, metal and … whatever they make teeth out of. They soak and adhere with the help of pink goop. I brush and floss my three remaining natural teeth religiously and when I cover my mouth at the coming of a cough or sneeze it is to keep from spreading teeth, not germs.

      If you haven’t purchased the collection of short stories yet, wait until next week (starting Thurs., 6/27 and going thru Saturday, 6/30. Both my Kindle Ebooks will be FREE! Please catch blog post
      scheduled for Monday announcing it and the sharing of stats with my blog readers. I’m gonna promote the heck out of it so please tell your Twitter/ Face Book and other friends and family to jump- aboard and help me. The blog will explain.

      Thank you, dear, J B.


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