A Puzzle Story

Almost every morning, while downing a couple of cups of coffee, I devote an hour and a half or so to numbers-based and words-based puzzles. Sudoku and crossword puzzles, specifically and respectively. Generally, I work my way through two sudokus and one crossword, a practice I’ve been pursuing for the last 11 years. The puzzles keep my brain limber, calm my nerves and provide a healthy dose of satisfaction if I complete them correctly. They are my pals.

Needless to say, I’m anything but alone in regularly attacking puzzles that revolve around numbers and words. Although some folks have no interest in sudokus, crosswords, cryptograms, Wordle, etc., or are interested but don’t have the time, legions of people are engaged with them. With jigsaw puzzles too. And there also are countless fans of the puzzles found in certain books, television shows and movies. To wit, the plots of mysteries, thrillers and the like in which it’s up to professional detectives or private individuals to identify and track down evil doers. I’m definitely drawn to that sort of fare. In recent weeks, for example, I watched the first three seasons of Unforgotten, a British drama series in which police detectives confront what they refer to as historical murders. In other words, newly discovered homicides that took place years before. Solving these crimes requires tremendous persistence and attention to detail. The members of Unforgotten’s police unit that take on these cases are up to the task, and I’m envious of their abilities.

And a few months ago I polished off A Mind To Murder, by the celebrated crime novelist P. D. James. It’s a good story with complicated circumstances, so much so that the lead detective, Adam Dalgleish, whose reputation for exemplary work precedes him, ultimately pursues someone who is not the killer. In the end, Dalgliesh is humbled by his errors and by the uncertainties that always surround him.

I hadn’t given this any thought before, but A Mind To Murder is more lifelike than most mysteries in that respect. Meaning, even the best detective might be thrown way off course. Man, if Adam Dalgliesh can blunder, what does that imply for the rest of us in the greater scheme of things? Oh well, what can you say? Life’s a big puzzle, for sure, one that’s always in flux and requires us to stay on our toes. We’re usually good at deciphering what’s going on, and consequently make appropriate moves to keep ourselves humming along decently. But it’s not always that easy, as we know all too well. Let’s face it, there are a lot of dynamics going on out there at every given moment, not to mention within us. Their interactions can be unnerving. Or worse.

With sudoku and crossword puzzles, though, you don’t run into unanticipated occurrences, emotional flareups, or anything of the sort. That’s because their components are designed to fit together precisely, unlike the components of life. Those are among the reasons why I enjoy sudokus and crosswords as much as I do. Which is not to say, of course, that they can’t be tricky. The most difficult sudokus are tremendously tricky, but can be untangled by applying rules of logic. And though some crossword puzzle creators adore tossing curveballs at us, via the sly wording of clues, that doesn’t change the fact that only one answer exists for each of those clues.

So, I feel as though I’m in a safe zone when I sit down in the morning to sudoku and crossword puzzles. I’m comfortable in their self-contained worlds where, intrinsically, everything is stable and exactly as it should be. What’s more, the peaceful hour and a half I spend with them makes me better able to deal with the noisy real world. Damn straight I give a big thumbs-up to that!

Two Sunsets By The Bay

It’s not as if there haven’t been enough sunset stories published over the years. Shit, their numbers probably run in the tens of millions. Nevertheless, I’m unashamedly adding to the mega-glut right now. And why not? Sunsets can be spellbinding. We watch primo ones quietly, maybe even reverentially, giving them the respect that they deserve.

From my experience, clouds, more than anything, are what make or break sunsets. Our friend the Sun, when setting, needs clouds to absorb, reflect and refract its light. To make things interesting, in other words. But not too many clouds, as the Sun ain’t got a chance when sheets of clouds abound. As for cloudless skies, well, they are canvases upon which sunsets do not rise above the meh level. When the white-hot fire ball heads downward on a cloudless day, the color and pattern possibilities for the upcoming sunset are limited.

And then there’s location. Needless to say, it counts for plenty when it comes to sunsets. If you’re in the middle of Manhattan, for instance, where tall buildings thrive, you are barely going to be able to see sunsets, whatever their quality, let alone appreciate them. On the other hand, if Cape Cod Bay is nearby, as it was recently for me and my wife Sandy, you’re f*cking golden.

Cape Cod Bay, enormous and fed by the Atlantic Ocean, abuts the northern coast of Cape Cod, a lengthy peninsula that’s part of Massachusetts, USA. We were on the Cape, vacationing our asses off, for a two-and-a-half week stretch that ran from mid-October to early November. During the trip, among a host of activities, we walked and hung out on four of the numerous public beaches along the bay. Over the years we’ve been on quite a few of the Cape’s other bayside beaches too, and have yet to be disappointed. The sands are clean, and masses of seagrasses are plentiful in many sections close to shore. And the waters themselves are inspiring, partly because of their vastness. Staring out at the bay, to me, sometimes seems like staring into infinity.

Our vantage point for the first of the two great sunsets we saw on the Cape this year was First Encounter Beach, in the township of Eastham. It’s one of my favorite Cape Cod Bay beaches, possibly my top pick, though the competition is stiff. There we were on a comfortable mid-afternoon, admiring our kite as it did its carefree thing way overhead. The bay’s waters had receded profoundly, leaving many acres of mudflats in their wake. Great beauty surrounded us, and we knew it.

First Encounter Beach (Eastham, Cape Cod)
First Encounter Beach (Eastham, Cape Cod)

After reeling in the kite, we took a stroll upon the sands. Then we made our way back to our car, contemplating dinner. But it wasn’t dinnertime just yet, and sunset was scheduled to take place in about 20 minutes. So, we decided to stay, a wise decision, for we soon witnessed a sunset that we are unlikely to forget. At its beginning, and made possible by well-positioned clouds, bands and assorted streaks of oranges, golds and greys filled the western sky’s lower regions prodigiously. The greys took a back seat after a while, allowing the brighter colors to go wild. The darkening sky, at that point, was absolutely aflame. What a sight!

The second excellent sunset arrived a week and a half later at the bayside swath of territory known as Corn Hill Beach. It’s located in the township of Truro, which is far out on the Cape and, unlike Cape Cod’s 14 other townships, totally rural.

I’ve been a big fan of Corn Hill Beach since discovering it around 15 years ago. Like First Encounter Beach, it faces due west, perfect for sunset-watching. What’s more, the views from Corn Hill Beach, when you look seaward, are wide and unobstructed. A wonderful place.

Corn Hill Beach (Truro, Cape Cod)
Corn Hill Beach (Truro, Cape Cod)

Both Sandy and I agree that, as far as we can remember, we’ve never seen a sunset such as the one at Corn Hill Beach. The sunset appeared to be foggy and misty, despite the fact that nowhere else, in any direction, was fog or mist visible. Light on its feet, the sunset was the ideal partner for the bay waters moving gently beneath it.

We absorbed the sunset and its surroundings for 20 minutes, then returned, a bit downcast, to Corn Hill Beach’s parking lot. For we were fully aware of what we’d be losing soon. The natural world in all its glory is readily available on Cape Cod. Alas, back home in the grossly overdeveloped suburbs of Philadelphia, where we’d be in 48 hours, such is not even remotely the case.

Some Walks Are Better Than Others (A Cape Cod Story)

Well, another Cape Cod vacation almost has reached its conclusion, as my wife Sandy and I will be back home just as this story hits the presses. We have had a wonderful time. We’ve done a lot and seen a lot on the 65-mile-long peninsula that we think of as our second home, and which we have visited almost annually since the late 1990s.

In some important respects, Cape Cod (which is part of Massachusetts) far surpasses the suburban jungle, in Pennsylvania, where we reside most of the year. You can find genuine peace and quiet on Cape Cod, for instance, and gorgeous waters, sands and marshlands too. In our overpopulated and overdeveloped home base? Fuhgeddaboudit! If health care were better than it is on the Cape, we would consider moving there permanently.

We pursue all sorts of activities on Cape Cod. We stroll through charming villages, play mini golf, fly our kite at beaches, watch sunsets, eat and drink well at taverns and restaurants, go to movies, concerts and plays . . . holy shit, I nearly feel guilty about how good I have it on the Cape!

If I had to place one activity above the others, though, it would be immersing myself, via hikes, in the natural world, which exists abundantly on Cape Cod. These explorations usually set my mind at ease and my heart aflutter. That being the case, I try to make a walk part of my game plan for nearly every day that I spend Cape-side. Now and then I trek alone. In most instances, however, Sandy is my companion.

We’ve been on a number of especially good walks these past two weeks. Magic, or who knows what, was in the air, elevating the experiences to special heights. We oohed and aahed in unison and fed off one another’s energy. And we each made a few pretty sharp observations about Nature that wouldn’t have occurred to the other party.

One of those excellent hikes took place on the eastern coast of Cape Cod, where the Atlantic Ocean, sands and sky make beautiful music together (except when raging storms are doing their thing). They are in harmony because most of the Atlantic coastline is government-protected territory, meaning that hotels, boardwalks, amusement rides and concession stands ain’t to be found. That’s just the way I like it. Another bonus is that not too many humans are on the beaches in the off-season, which is when Sandy and I visit the Cape. I’m down with that too.

There we were, then, on the stretch of coastline known as Nauset Light Beach, located in the town of Eastham. This particular beach is one of my favorites on Cape Cod, partly because of the mighty sand cliffs that back it. The cliffs, ranging from about 30 to 80 feet in height, are part of a chain of cliffs that covers at least half of the approximately 40-miles-long Atlantic coast. They never cease to amaze me. And that day, at Nauset Light Beach, I was struck especially hard by the deep grooves and primordial shapes that storms have sculpted in them. Those storms have pummeled all the cliffs on the Cape’s Atlantic coastline for time immemorial. It’s estimated that they strip away an average of several feet of sand from the cliff-faces every year. As a result, houses and other structures at cliff-top level keep growing closer to the edges of the cliffs. Over the years, some structures have had to be relocated farther inland, and some currently are in worrisome situations. Nature, in no uncertain terms, rules. (Erosion is an ongoing process and concern on many sections of the Cape’s sandy coastlines, not just its Atlantic Ocean side.)

The skies were cloudy as Sandy and I made our way along the beach, sometimes stopping to gaze at the uneasy waters. A strong wind blew, but it didn’t bother us. On the contrary, it energized us, boosting our awareness of the surroundings. As pompous as it sounds, we came pretty damn close to becoming one with Nature, as close as suburbanites have any right to be. We absorbed the unceasing roars, gurgles and hisses of the ocean, the imposing grey skies, and the haphazard array of stones, shells and driftwood on the beach. Everything seemed perfect, exactly as it was meant to be.

Our mini-adventure at Nauset Light Beach went by in a flash. We’d have stayed longer, probably should have stayed longer. But we had other places to go, other things to do. Till we meet again, NLB!

Back To Work!

When I bid adieu to my government-work career 13 years ago, opting to cash in on retirement pensions, I knew that the regimented style of life I’d engaged in for decades was one I’d be remiss to discard entirely. I mean, I liked the job and didn’t mind the commutes. And, of course, I was very used to the overall arrangement. Thus, there was no doubt in my mind that I’d be lost at sea if I didn’t replace it, to a decent extent, with a similar routine.

That’s why, three days after hanging up my paid-employment spikes, I began trying out part-time volunteer jobs at various institutions, six or so months later settling down for the long haul with assignments at a health system (a hospital and its related facilities) near my home in the Philadelphia suburbs. I enjoyed the medical-related gigs quite a lot. But when the devilish coronavirus conquered Planet Earth in early 2020, the health system lost zero time in placing its volunteer staff on hiatus. The risks of us contracting the virus, or of infecting people with it, were just too high for the organization to keep us on board. And the same thing happened with a local food pantry where I helped out a little each week.

Wham! All of a sudden I had a bunch of extra hours on my hands, as if I didn’t have more than enough of them already. I took the easy way out, spending more time than ever on my living room sofa, one of my closest friends. I’m not proud to admit that last year, upon said sofa, I eclipsed the previous Guinness World Records top mark in the “Most Time Devoted To Scratching One’s Balls” category. Hey, what can I say? I ain’t all that genteel!

I’m glad to report that now I’m less of a slacker and balls-scratcher than I was, because in July I returned to one of the jobs that I had held with the health system, which has opened its arms to volunteers once again. Though I’m on site only four hours each week, I feel pretty damn good to have some amount of scheduled work in my life, and to be of service. More likely than not I’ll soon try to expand my hours by getting an additional assignment within the organization.

My official job title is Greeter. And greet people I do, via a “how’s it going?” or a nod when they arrive at the three-story medical office building whose ground-floor information desk I man on Thursday afternoons (the medical office building is across the street from the hospital). And I say “see ya” often too, as visitors, having completed their doctor appointments, head to one of the building’s several exits.

The main point of my being there, though, is to help people. A lot of them, for example, aren’t sure which office their doctor is in (a staff directory, mounted on a wall of the sprawling ground floor, is easy to miss), or can’t find the public restrooms or the alcove where vending machines are located, or aren’t even sure if they are in the correct building (more often than you’d expect, they’re not).

That’s where I come in, verbally or physically directing the lost souls to their proper destinations, answering a substantial variety of questions, and sometimes becoming involved in fairly complicated matters. Such as when I go to the multi-level parking garage behind the building with those who, their appointments over, can’t remember where they parked their cars. I have an excellent track record in locating the misplaced vehicles.

The job may not be top of the ladder on the excitement scale, but its pace and quality fit me comfortably most of the time. On average I respond to questions and unravel situations around ten times per hour, which is enough to keep me interested. And I like the fact that I never know what question or dilemma will be presented to me next.

I’ve been involved with people-oriented volunteer work for much of my adult life. As clichéd as it sounds, I believe in giving folks a helping hand, in paying back and paying forward. And I get a nice amount of satisfaction from my modest deeds. Thankfully, most people are on the same wavelength about all of this as me. If that wasn’t the case, the world would be an even more unsettling place than it is, right? Right.

Philadelphia Delivered Once Again: Art On Wheels, Part Ten

So, what we have here is a Philadelphia story. It is one of many I’ve penned in which The City Of Brotherly Love has starred or played a supporting role. Were it not for Philly, the contents of Yeah, Another Blogger would be pretty damn scanty.

For employment reasons I moved to Philadelphia in the mid-1970s, taking a liking to the city right from the get-go. I resided within its boundaries for about 30 years. And when my wife Sandy (whom I met in 1990) and I moved away in 2005, we deposited ourselves in a sleepy town not far at all from Philly, because we wanted to be within the city’s magnetic field.

Yeah, I absolutely dig Philadelphia. Even now, deep into my retirement years, I do one thing or another there anywhere from two to six times each month. Concerts, museums, parks, restaurants . . . the city is loaded with them and with other enticements, and I can’t resist.

One of my favorite activities is to wander around Philadelphia on foot, exploring many of its sections, not just the downtown ones. I become invigorated when pounding their sidewalks and other walking paths, no less so these days than I did during my young adulthood and middle age. I might be older than dirt, but my shoes were made for walking!

A recent Philadelphia walking adventure took place on a mid-September summer day. The weather was mild, guaranteeing that I wouldn’t sweat like a frigging pig, and the skies were a friendly shade of blue. I boarded a train in my town at 9:36 AM and found myself, 45 minutes later, inside a station in the heart of Philly. After taking care of business in the station’s men’s room, I headed for the streets. My mission was to keep my eyes open for, and to photograph, enticingly decorated vehicles. Yes, the time had arrived for me to begin creating the tenth installment of a project I’ve become enamored with: Art On Wheels.

Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood, one block from the train station I exited from, is a funky, lively area replete with Asian restaurants, produce vendors, nail salons, Chinese-American attorneys’ offices, and on and on. Within moments I was strolling its streets, positive that a cool truck or two would enter my field of vision in no time. When that didn’t happen, though, I began to get an uneasy feeling that my quest for vehicular beauty was destined not to pan out.

Not to worry! Twenty-five minutes into the walk, as I crossed from Chinatown into the city’s Callowhill section, a winner presented itself to me. Has the combination of orange and white ever looked better than it does on the Harbour Textile Service truck? I think not. Bold and confident, the design proves that simplicity can pack a punch with lasting effects. The Harbour vehicle is one of my two favorites from that day.

All in all I spent three hours, interrupted by a short lunch break, on the streets of Philadelphia, my aged legs covering a total of six miles. Besides Chinatown and Callowhill, the stroll took me into four or five other neighborhoods, including Spring Garden. That’s where I made the acquaintance of La Marqueza, a gorgeous food truck that I like as much as Harbour Textile Service and maybe more. It was parked alongside Community College Of Philadelphia. Man, I gazed upon La Marqueza hungrily, allowing its vibrancy and warmth to raise my spirits. Then, off I went in search of my next victim.

By adventure’s end I’d taken the portraits of about 15 vehicles, later deciding that only five were worthy of immortalization. Ergo, those five decorate this page. The final notable one I saw belongs to Foreign Objects, a craft brewery in Monroe, New York. That truck, far from home, is endowed with delicate and wispy artwork, not at all what you’d expect a beer truck to display. All I can say is, “damn straight, I’ll drink to that!”

In closing, I’ll mention this: The first seven editions of Art On Wheels are set in the suburbs, where I had to drive all over the f*cking place to find worthy specimens. Screw that! I’d rather locate them via foot power in Philly, which is what I’ve done since then. That’s why I’m sure that at some point next year I’ll return to the city I know best for Art On Wheels, Part Eleven. I’m already looking forward to it.

Call Me “Mister Helpful”

My most recent monthly session with my psychiatrist was a most unusual one, because Dr. R. U. Forereel opened up to me rather than the other way around.

“Have a seat, Neil,” Dr. Forereel said quietly when I entered her office, a small room whose every aspect is as stylish and welcoming as can be. I obeyed, placing my bony ass on the comfortable patient’s chair. It faced its clone, occupied by the good doctor, from a distance of five feet.

“Neil,” she continued, an unmistakable tone of dejection in her voice, “I’m in the midst of an existential crisis, one so powerful I can’t escape its clutches. I want to be totally upfront with you right now. Here’s the bottom line: My condition is interfering with my ability to do my job. Which is why I suspect that you won’t make much progress at today’s session. Not that you’ve progressed very far at all during the many years you’ve been seeing me.”

“That’s not true, Dr. Forereel,” I replied. “You’ve enabled me to understand more accurately and fully who I am. Your insights have helped me come to grips with the fact that, basically, I’m just the most average of Joes, making my way haphazardly and erratically through this earthly realm. Why, without you I’d still be reaching for the stars, getting disappointed right and left when things didn’t work out. As a result, doctor, you’ve turned me into a fairly happy individual. I am in your debt!”

“That’s so kind of you to say, Neil. I wish I could share your opinion of my talents, but I’m afraid that my existential crisis won’t allow me to feel joy.”

“There, you’ve said it again. What the hell is an existential crisis, doctor?”

“Well, my problems are deep-rooted, Neil. You see, I’m ill-fitted to be a psychiatrist. Far too often I’m unsympathetic and, undoubtedly, prickly. If I were of the male gender, it wouldn’t be incorrect to describe me not only as prickly but as a prick too. In any case, my soul is roiling and troubled. Neil, I question the whys and wherefores of my existence.” She paused. “I hope I’ve answered your question adequately,” she then said.

“Yes, doctor, you have. Oy frigging vey! You’re in bad shape. But I’ll try to help, even though help isn’t exactly my middle name. The last time I provided assistance to anyone was 60 years ago, when, despite her vehement protests, I carried a little old lady across a small puddle in the middle of the road. I ended up in juvenile court for that attempt at doing a good deed. Lesson learned!”

“Well, in that case I won’t say that I’m in good hands, Neil. But I am interested in what actions you might be proposing.”

“Doctor, I have a website called Yeah, Another Blogger. That’s where I’ve published the various articles I’ve written over the last seven years. You know about this, I believe.”

Of course I do! You bring up this boring topic every damn time I see you.”

“My bad, doctor. But here’s what I’m getting at: My advice to you is to take up writing, just as I did. You should aim to go farther than me, however. In other words, you should write a book, a memoir of the journey that led you to become the wonderful psychiatrist that you are. If you do, I guarantee you’ll recognize and take comfort from the fact that you’ve guided countless people to better mental and emotional health.”

Dr. Forereel sat silently for many a second, mulling over my comments. Finally, and most energetically, she spoke.

“Neil, this is a genius idea! Yes, yes, yes! I will tell my story, and the world will listen and learn. And, just as important, I will learn too. Thank you so much. I’ll begin writing when I arrive home tonight. I’m sure I’ll need an editor, though. Is there anyone you might recommend?”

“Edgar Reewright is your man, doctor,” I replied without hesitation. “He has edited my pieces right from the start. Maybe we should call him and feel him out.”

Doctor Forereel nodded enthusiastically, so I dialed Edgar’s number and put the phone on speaker.

What the hell do you want, Neil?” Edgar shouted. “I’m in the middle of looking over the story you sent to me yesterday. Per usual, it blows.”

“Listen up, Edgar,” I said, ignoring his insult. “I’m with my psychiatrist, Dr. R. U. Forereel. She plans to write a memoir and wants to know if you’d edit the book for her.”

“Isn’t she the doctor whose office decor was voted best in the nation by the American Psychiatric Association this year?” Edgar asked.

At that, Dr. Forereel jumped right in. “Hello, Edgar! Dr. Forereel here. I’m impressed that you’re aware of the prestigious award I won from the APA. I’d be honored if you’d edit my book. I have so much to say and to reveal. Millions of people will take heart from my inspirational tale. Oh my, I’m feeling confident and purposeful once again. Please be my editor, Edgar!”

Edgar, undoubtedly envisioning a handsome commission, wasted no time in agreeing to the proposal. He chitchatted with Dr. Forereel for a while and then ended the call, promising to contact her soon to work out all the details. A few minutes later, my session having reached its conclusion, I rose from the patient’s chair.

“You are a lifesaver, a gift from above,” said Dr. Forereel as she ushered me to the door. “Thank you, Neil, thank you! To show my gratitude, your next five years of therapy, starting today, will be cost-free.”

“Doctor, I hope that I won’t need anything close to five more years of therapy. I’m doing so well, after all.”

“That’s what you think,” my doctor said. “But, alas, you’re wrong. Very, very wrong. I promise that I’ll continue doing my utmost to try and help you see things more clearly.”

Shit!

Here’s Some Of What I Liked In August. What Rang Your Bell?

Yup, August has come and gone. And in a few blinks of an eye, 2023 will have arrived. Zoom! I tell you, there’s no doubt that time flies at accelerating rates the older we get. And being genuinely old, I ain’t happy about that. To say the least. I don’t know how many grains of sand remain in the upper part of my hourglass. But, whatever the number, a shitload more would suit me just fine.

Anyway, there’s nothing I can do about it. So, to steer my mind away from the above paragraph’s depressing direction, let me mention some things that brought a smile to my crinkled face during the month that waved goodbye to us a handful of days ago.

First up are peaches and corn on the cob, without which life wouldn’t be as sweet. It being summer here in the USA, the harvesting season for those fine forms of produce, my wife Sandy and I would have been fools not to indulge in them during August.

I’ve loved peaches for nearly all of my life. I think, though, that their deliciousness began to make truly deep impressions upon me somewhere in my 40s. Man, what a treat it is to bite into a peach. A good peach, that is, not one of the mealy ones that have become more commonplace in recent years. Such beautiful flavor, as luxurious as you could hope for. And a texture, in the happy zone between soft and firm, that was made to seduce. I had some real good peaches in August. And tossed aside a couple of very sub-par examples too. You win some, you lose some. In any case, the peach season in the States hasn’t all that much longer to go, a damn shame.

Likewise, fresh corn’s availability already has peaked. Last month, getting while the getting was good, Sandy and I chomped down on boiled ears of corn at dinnertime three or four times. We gave them a thumbs-up. Helpful public servant that I am, I’d like to give you a tip for dressing corn on the cob: Peel back the paper a bit on a stick of butter, then rub the exposed butter all over the corn while twirling the cob. This method is much better than attempting to place pats of butter on the corn with a knife. Those pats, as we know, usually end up skidding all over the f*cking place. I’ve already accepted your thanks in advance!

Now it’s time to talk about television series, a media format that has pleased the hell out of me since the start of the pandemic. Hungry for entertainment, I began watching series in earnest at that time, something I hadn’t done in years. Sandy has been my viewing companion. And, even though Covid’s roar has lessened, we haven’t slackened our pace, for during August we devoured two limited series (We Own This City and the scripted version of The Staircase, not the documentary by that name) and one season each of multi-season productions (Capitani and Never Have I Ever). The first three that I mentioned are very much worth watching, but they are grim. Ergo, I’ll limit my commentary to the sole smile-inducing series among August’s fare.

Never Have I Ever, a thoughtful comedy on Netflix, tells the tale of Devi Vishwakumar, an Indian-American public high school student in California. Devi, smart as a whip but fairly low in the self-confidence department, isn’t one of the cool, popular girls at school. She has a loving family, fortunately, and several trusted, loyal girlfriends. Thus, her situation overall is quite decent, despite the cruel fact that the death of her father, during her freshman year, was a blow that tests her mightily.

There have been three seasons of Never Have I Ever so far. Sandy and I have watched them all, polishing off the latest run in August. During season three’s ten episodes, Devi loses a boyfriend, attempts to land a new beau, contemplates losing her virginity, and completes her junior year of high school with top grades. And her pals are no slouches in the busy-lives department either. Wow! There’s a lot going on in this show. Cleverly too, partly because of the sarcastic, sometimes-exasperated voice-over narration by, if you can believe it, John McEnroe. He’s the former tennis champ who was known for his verbal outbursts on the court as much as for the beauty of his game. McEnroe does a great job, adding volleys of whams and bams to a coming-of-age story that’s handled with insight and care.

With that, I’ll toss a tennis ball into your half of the court. What rang your bell last month, food-wise, entertainment-wise, nature-wise, anything-at-all-wise?

A Colorful Self-Discovery Story

When, via Yeah, Another Blogger, I began launching stories into cyberspace back in April 2015, I didn’t realize that, over time, the writing process would increase my knowledge about who the hell I am. I’ve found this to be kind of neat, an unexpected bonus. After all, I’m an old f*ck who, since his teens, has been a champ at moving unsteadily through life. So, you better believe I happily embrace any aha moments that arrive. It’s good when the lights turn on.

For example, while penning an essay (Hippieish Notes From The Information Desk) a few years ago, it became clear to me that the values of the hippie era — those heady days of my youth when freedom, open-mindedness, peace, love and understanding were put into practice by millions upon millions of young folks around the world — shaped many of my basic outlooks. Somehow this truth had eluded me consciously and, were it not for writing, probably would still be lost in the extensive foggy regions of my mind.

Which brings us to colors, a subject I’ll now present as a second example of my increased self-awareness. I’ve written about colors numerous times, having devoted pieces to red, orange and the beauty of flowering trees, to cite several instances. While knocking out the first few of my color-centric opuses, I came to appreciate more fully than before that colors are really important to me. They get to me emotionally, some color schemes relaxing me, some exciting me, some causing me to stare in wonder as the words oh, wow slip from my lips.

But my relationships with colors go farther than that, for, while writing, it also dawned on me that I encourage colors to affect me, by seeking them out pretty damn often. I’d feel a bit less alive if I didn’t. “Pursuer of colors” is an occupational title that I’m proud to have on my resumé.

Well, one morning a couple of weeks ago, as my bony ass sank deeper and deeper into my living room sofa, I decided that rising to my feet might not be a bad idea. Nor would a pursuit of vibrant hues to brighten up the day. That’s why I promptly stood up, exited the house and drove a few miles to Glenside, Pennsylvania, a fine town whose commercial corridors are studded with every type of small business you can imagine. I arrived there at 9:00 AM, under soothing blue skies.

Now, in my neck of the woods, which includes Glenside, neutral colors rule: the tans, browns, greys and blacks that, in one combination or another, fill buildings, paved roads and sidewalks. And greens are dominant too, the deep greens of foliage, specifically. As much as I like those tones, they never have, and never will, send me over the moon exactly.

Of course, plenty of happier hues, the ones I was on a mission to locate, also exist in Glenside. After pounding the pavement for an hour, I found a dozen or more scenes bright enough to put a nice big smile on my face. Five of the scenes illustrate this story.

There was no denying the power of the Sunoco gas station, for certain. Its signage, an in-your-face rainbow of colors, all bursting with life, won me over from the second it came into view.

As did a subtler composition, one that centers around avocado green umbrellas. The umbrellas, belonging to a café at the Glenside railroad station, added a ton of juice to a setting that otherwise would have been described as drab, man, drab. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.

All in all, though, I felt that there was one clear winner, a striking combination of Beauty (a dreamy mural) and the Beast (a mottled, pale-orange-tinged trestle, emboldened with wide black and gold stripes to lessen the chances that motorists will plow into it). When I saw the mural peeking out from behind the trestle, which supports overhead railroad tracks, I was taken by the incongruity of the overall display. An incongruity that totally works, however. The mural and the decorated trestle are partners. They feed off each other’s energy. The music they make together might be on the dissonant side, but despite that, it’s a composition that hits all the right notes.

To The Deck!

How fortunate am I to live in a house that has a deck? Real fortunate. I like the deck a lot, though I don’t take advantage of it as often as I should. About eight feet above ground level and attached to the rear of my abode, it extends fully from one end of the house to the other. From the deck I have an assortment of scenes to look at, including partial views of man-made stuff on nearby properties: brickwork, garage doors, sheds, recycling bins, etc. But who cares about any of that? Manufactured items I damn well would look at carefully, though, if they were there, are swimming pools and hot tubs. But only if gorgeous girls were occupying them. Some day, after I’ve bit the dust, a pool or hot tub or two undoubtedly will appear, and gorgeous girls will put them to good use. Shit! Bad timing on my part.

Luckily, I have worthy viewing options. For instance, when on the deck in daylight I sometimes gaze at the sky and at the trees in my backyard and on other lots, all the while listening to the birdies do their chirping thing. That’s one of my go-to ways of trying to become one with Nature. And, you know, sipping on coffee, and grooving to human music in addition to the avian variety, tends to make that combination of activities even better. Which is why, after plopping my ass down on a deck chair, I had a swell time one recent Saturday morning.

Ah yes, the trees. The deciduous ones are voluminous right now here in Pennsylvania, where summer is in full swing. As I admired a collection of trees from the deck, their leaves as green as green can be, I nearly rose from my chair and bowed down to them. Trees project a majestic aura. I don’t take them for granted.

The skies were wonderful too. A dreamy shade of blue, with strands of clouds lolling about, they put me at ease. What’s more, though we were in the midst of a heat wave, the early morning temps hadn’t yet gone haywire. I was as comfortable as I’d be on a crisp autumn day.

In need of caffeine, I wasted no time saying hello to my mug of coffee. As I did so, I tuned in to the birdsong. Although I didn’t spot any of our feathered friends, it was obvious they were out there in abundance, because an a cappella opus, consisting of trills and staccato bursts, bounced energetically through the air. Now, I’m a f*cking dope when it comes to birds. I can identify only a handful by sight and only one species (crows) by sound. Nonetheless, I dig the music they compose. Who doesn’t?

Amazingly, typical neighborhood noises were absent or minimal during the 40 minutes I sat outside. Human voices (belonging to kids in a house opposite mine) didn’t arrive until the 30-minute mark. Motor vehicle growls and screeches were few. And not a single canine bark rang out. What? How was that possible? There are a million dogs in my immediate neighborhood, and they ain’t famed for being quiet.

Anyway, as it turned out, bird calls were not the primary sounds to reach my ears, because I decided after a few minutes on the deck that the scenario I was part of might reach a higher level if recorded music were added to it. I was proven correct when I dialed up some SiriusXM satellite-radio channels on my smart phone. Nearly all of the songs I heard hit the spot, two in particular: Goodbye Mr. Blue, by folk-rock star Father John Misty, and Chill On Cold, by little-known blues and soul singer BIGLLOU Johnson. They were released in 2022 and 2021, respectively. Goodbye Mr. Blue is a moody contemplation on a failed relationship. Chill On Cold talks about a lady whom guys would be wise to avoid. I think it’s cooler than cool, and that BIGLLOU deserves to become popular as hell one day.

That’s a wrap, ladies and gents. Here are the tunes. Till next time!

That’s Life

A few weeks ago I headed to a nearby public library to engage in an activity that I like a lot: wandering up and down fiction aisles in search of my next read. Sometimes I have a specific author or title in mind. But more often than not I examine the shelves randomly, pulling out books here and there and giving them the once-over. Prone to quick judgments that undoubtedly are incorrect the majority of the time, within seconds I commonly return many of those books to their assigned places. Hey, they had a chance to make a good first impression, but they blew it!

However, by the end of almost every visit I stand at the checkout desk with two or more volumes in hand, hoping that at least one of them is worthy. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose. A few weeks ago, at the aforementioned library, I won, arriving home with a pile of books that included An Actual Life, by Abigail Thomas, whom I’d never heard of until her novel caught my roving eye. Normally a herky-jerky reader whose attention span over the last 20 years has fallen off a f*cking cliff, I found myself gliding through Thomas’s opus, digging the journey. An Actual Life, which was published in 1996, is good. Damn good.

It is the saga of married couple Virginia and Buddy, their baby daughter Madeline, and a small cast of other characters. Virginia is 19, Buddy is 21. Though they knew far too little about each other, wanting to do the “right thing” they’d wed after Virginia, during the first coital session she ever had engaged in, became pregnant by Buddy.

Most appropriately and agreeably, Abigail Thomas has endowed Virginia, the narrator of An Actual Life, with a homespun way of talking. Set in small-town New Jersey and Massachusetts circa 1960, the book opens when Madeline is just shy of her first birthday, by which time Virginia and Buddy’s marriage has become nearly as cold as a refrigerator’s freezer section. Not only are they not in love, they never truly were. Unhappy and stumbling through life, Virginia doesn’t know what she should do. And she has little idea what Buddy thinks about their situation, or about anything else really, as he is pretty much the silent type. Around her, anyway. Her love for Madeline, whom she adores, is enough to keep Virginia going, but to where?

Right from the start the book pulls no punches. A couple of hundred words in, mulling over the fact that Buddy is with her only out of a sense of duty, Virginia has this to say:

And there’s really nothing about me to love anyway. There’s not even really any me, exactly. I keep changing inside my skin. There’s no definite person in here. My voice comes out weird and I hardly ever say anything I mean.

Man, those are heavy-duty statements. Virginia’s low self-esteem is on clear display throughout the remaining pages too. Fortunately for the reader, Virginia also is witty as hell. The combination of bleakness and barbed observations makes An Actual Life feel real. There’s nothing strained or artificial here. Thomas writes like a champ.

Unlike the vast majority of books I tackle, An Actual Life got me thinking about life, its challenges, pitfalls, delights, vagaries, and all the rest of the deal. If Thomas ever were to pen a sequel to An Actual Life, I’m guessing it would take place 15 or more years later, and that Virginia, having faced up to her realities, would be on at least fairly strong footing.

Isn’t that the way things go for most of us? In our teens and into our twenties or beyond, we’re still babes in the woods, more or less, trying to figure out what paths to take and to decipher what the hell our garbled inner voices are saying to us. Even if we don’t necessarily lift the veils perfectly, and few folks do, eventually we create lives for ourselves that make the grade.

What’s more, when we think about it, we likely realize that we’ve acquired a nice amount of wisdom along the way. The pearls I’m about to spout seem obvious to me now, but they weren’t until maybe 15 years ago. I believe, for instance, that being loving and kind absolutely is where it’s at, and that said behaviors are the keys to a fulfilling life. And I’m convinced that it’s crucial to cultivate and nourish friendships. We can’t have too many friends, good ones especially. Solid friendships, after all, bring us joy and, when needed, comfort, and can open our minds in delightful ways.

Well, seeing that I ain’t exactly Plato or Confucius, I sure as shit better end my philosophizing right now, before I get in way over my head. Till next time!