A Flowering Trees Story

Nobody is ever going to mistake me for a botanist, that’s for damn sure. By which I mean that I don’t know shit, basically, when it comes to plants. Yeah, I can identify a few trees and flowers. And I might exclaim “hey, there’s a fern!” when I see one. Beyond that, however, please don’t press me.

Nonetheless, I enjoy spending time outdoors among flora. Who doesn’t? We all want our minds to be expanded, if not blown, you see, even if we know it only subconsciously. And what better way to allow this to happen than to initiate close contact with Nature’s fibrous wonders, absorbing their good vibes?

With that in mind, on the morning of April 27th I eased my aged ass from the living room sofa, hopped, more or less, into my car, and drove to a pretty neighborhood in a nearby town. Specific sorts of flora — flowering trees — not only were on my mind, they were the reason for my mini-expedition.

I’m not sure why, but I didn’t pay much attention to flowering trees until fairly recent years. A big oversight on my part. Since then, though, I’ve made it a point to check them out in April and May, which is when they do their unfurling thing in my part of the globe (I live in Pennsylvania, USA). Their blossomy performance is, of course, a winner. What’s not to like about shades of, primarily, pink, purple and white? Those hues sure liven up the green-dominated landscape around here this time of year.

What’s more, knowing that the performance doesn’t last forever imbues it with poignancy. Poof! — before you know it the petals are gone. Until a new production is staged the following year.

Well, I wandered through the neighborhood for an hour, gazing at the flowers on magnolia, cherry, dogwood and other trees. They looked good. After 30 minutes, though, I found myself disappointed by the relatively modest numbers of those trees. At least half of the properties I passed that day contained none at all, in fact. Man, how cool would it have been if I’d seen 10 or 20 times as many? Very. The blossom experience then would have overwhelmed and enveloped, like an ecstatic fireworks display.

And so, with intensification as my goal, over the next half hour I got much nearer to the flowers than I had previously during the walk, within inches in most instances and nose-to-nose twice. The strategy worked. From those vantages the blossoms made a hell of an impression, intricately designed and decidedly gorgeous as they were. And they instantly became my friends, wanting only to please. “Hello, Neil,” they whispered, “thanks for visiting. We’re at your service.”

“You’re the best,” I whispered back.

“But don’t linger, old timer,” they added. “You won’t be a happy sightseer if someone storms out of their house, yelling at you to get the f*ck off their property.”

True! Thus, I kept my up-close-and-personal sessions short. Thank you, blossoms, for having my back.

Sitting at my computer keyboard now, a number of days after the events described above, I’m wondering what came over me halfway through the stroll, as I’d never felt let down before by any aspect of springtime. Maybe the rotten state of affairs in the world — Russia rearing its ugly head; the growth of fascism in many nations, including my own — was wearing on me, putting me in need of big jolts of beauty. In any event, I’m back to my normal self. Grumpy, as usual, but appreciative too.

Let’s close the proceedings with a tune that, title-wise, is a perfect match for this essay. I discovered it a couple of days after my close encounters with flowering trees. Ordinarily I’m not a big fan of bouncy songs. But the more I listen to Cherry Blossom, by pop and country star Kacey Musgraves, the more I like it. Beneath the sugar and gloss it has a strong layer of soul. Likening herself to a cherry blossom, Kacey hopes and prays that her relationship with her new boyfriend, whom she’s mad about, will hold, that the wind won’t blow her away. I’m pulling for her.

Two Hours In Philly: Art On Wheels, Part Nine

Writing is a mysterious enterprise, to be sure. Story ideas, characters, themes and other writerly considerations often emerge unexpectedly from neighborhoods of the mind that you barely know about. I find that to be enchanting, to tell you the truth, because the unanticipated, if of the right sort, is nothing but a good thing, no?

Along those lines, little has surprised me more, blog-wise, than the birth of Art On Wheels. Intrepid soul that I occasionally am, I said yes to the proposition when one fateful day in 2017 a from-out-of-the-blue idea — to scour my region for attractively-decorated vehicles and to report on them — came to me. It’s an oddball activity alright, but, as it turns out, has suited me just fine, as I’m into art and also into wandering around while looking at things. So, here we are at edition number nine of the series. Who’d have thunk it? Live and f*cking learn!

For the first seven Art On Wheels stories I did 90% of the wandering via my car and 10% via my feet. I located my victims in the suburbs of Philadelphia, for the most part in loading docks, strip malls and large parking areas. But for part eight of the series, and for this ninth story, I changed my approach: I explored strictly on foot, which is my preferred mode of travel, and, ditching the burbs, opted to see what I would see on the congested streets of Philadelphia.

Not being one who enjoys freezing his ass off or getting soaked to the frigging bone, I selected a sunny and mild day, the 11th of April, for my expedition. Off I went that morning, boarding a choo-choo that transported me from my little town to The City Of Brotherly Love, where I spent two hours pounding the pavement in the Old City section and two neighborhoods to its north — Northern Liberties and Olde Kensington. All three areas indeed are pretty old: Some of the buildings went up during the 1700s and loads date from the 1800s. The 20th and 21st centuries are well-represented too, including present-day creations . . . these neighborhoods have been undergoing a new-housing boom.

But I wasn’t in Philly to concentrate on the structures that cover its soil. As focused as a hungry tiger, and moving briskly along the blocks, I scanned my surroundings carefully for wheeled constructions whose bright colors and/or stylish designs couldn’t be dismissed. I found about a dozen, fewer than I was hoping for, but enough to make my day. The portraits of six of them illustrate this page. Almost needless to say, though, more than one of the fine specimens frustrated the photographer inside of me, as they were in motion when I spotted them. “Stop, you bastard!” I nearly yelled at each of those. But they wouldn’t have obeyed even if I had opened my mouth. Alas, by the time I got my phone’s camera in position to try and immortalize them, they were too damn far away. That’s the way it goes in the big city.

I’ve examined carefully not only the photos I took on the 11th, but my opinions about them too. Initially I’d have said that the Sweetwater Brewing Company truck (above) is untoppable. You don’t run across such attention to detail and such a majestic array of colors too often, do you?

Driver’s side of graffiti truck.
Passenger side of graffiti truck.

However, since then I’ve revised my evaluation. Maybe it’s because I’m in a free-wheeling mood. Maybe it’s because I have the late artists Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler, abstractionists of a high order, on my mind. Whatever the reasons, I now am awarding the gold medal to the truck, painted deliciously with graffiti, that sat on a narrow Olde Kensington street. Its driver’s side is a testament to the power of black on white. The passenger side of the canvas, partially obscured by hand trucks and wood pallets, keeps the black on white motif going, and also explodes with controlled bursts of gold and burgundy. Does this truck belong to one of the construction workers who was hammering away very nearby? Whatever the case, its owner should be proud.

That’s it for now, boys and girls. I’d be glad to hear your thoughts about the works of art on display in this story. Till next time!

A Love Story

A few weeks ago I published a piece that for the most part was a meditation on joy, a commodity without which our lives, to put it mildly, would blow. Seeing that I’m a f*cking softie at heart, I’ve decided to turn my thoughts now to another precious emotion, the greatest of them all, for it sustains and usually nourishes life, giving us reason to go on. I’m talking, of course, about love. Sure, The Beatles overstated things when they sang “all you need is love.” But they weren’t too far off the mark, as there is no doubt that the following is true: If an individual doesn’t feel love for at least one other human being (or pet, I hasten to add), they are in a most unenviable position.

Now, I’m not exactly an expert when it comes to matters of the heart. I know that for a fact because nobody in my seven-plus decades of residing above ground ever has asked my advice on the subject. Come to think of it, just about nobody ever has asked my advice on any topic or situation. Man, I should start an advice column called Maybe Neil Sort Of Knows, So Give It A Shot And Ask Him. That would show ’em how deep my font of quasi-wisdom is!

Anyway, getting back on track, what else might I say about love? Well, it’s innate, in most cases blossoming automatically between parents and their children, to mention one obvious example. But it sure doesn’t blossom automatically between everybody. That’s a main reason why it can be so difficult to make true friends, to find a partner to spend your life with, and to keep the fires burning with said partner after you’ve found them. Yup, love is a powerful force, but cultivating it properly requires skills that many do not master adequately, if at all. When we allow love to bubble within us consistently, though, our lives are much the better for that.

Love probably wouldn’t be on my mind so much were it not for the movie CODA, which my wife Sandy and I saw at a cinema early this month a few days after it grabbed the Oscar for Best Picture. It’s still in some theaters, by the way, and is streaming on Apple TV+ too.

CODA is a tale that revolves around Ruby, a high school senior who is the only hearing member of a family of four. She is devoted to her parents and brother and, in addition to attending school, spends mucho hours each week working on the fishing boat that her dad and sibling operate in order to put bread on the table. Whew! This girl, who also sometimes acts as an intermediary between her deaf kin and outside parties, has a whole, whole lot on her plate. Ruby’s life becomes even more complex when she is encouraged at school to develop her vocal skills and pursue a music career. This new element becomes the movie’s fulcrum.

Sandy loved CODA, which is an acronym for child of deaf adults. She thinks it’s very great. Although I found CODA too formulaic to be placed on a pedestal, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It’s an old-fashioned sort of story that I’m certain would move anyone whose heart is not fashioned from stone. Why? Because CODA, at its core, is all about love, the kind of love that holds steady, not wavering even for a moment. What’s more, there’s nothing sappy about the love on display in CODA. A tight screenplay by Sian Heder, who also directed the flick, and four actors who tap into genuine places within themselves, see to that. Hats off, then, to Emilia Jones, who plays Ruby, to Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur (Ruby’s parents), and to Eugenio Derbez (Ruby’s music teacher).

I’ll close this love-centric essay on the right note, by presenting Beyond, a love song sung and co-written by Leon Bridges. Sweet and sultry as you could hope for, Beyond very well might put you in the mood to . . . yo, I don’t need to tell you where this sentence is headed. I accept your thanks in advance!

To The River!

If, like me, you’re an oldster fortunate enough to be in halfway decent shape, it behooves you to indulge your interests pretty damn frequently. That’s because time sure as shit ain’t on your side. I mean, I envision myself doing my thing for plenty more years to come. But who the hell knows?

Anyway, doing my thing partly involves taking a healthy number of walks, an activity I’ve enjoyed for decades. Villages, forests, beachy coastlines and cities are among my favorite locales to poke around in. When it comes to the latter, I’ve racked up far more miles within Philadelphia than any other. It’s the city I know best, having lived in or near it for most of my adult life.

My latest Philly trek began on the Ides of March an hour after I boarded a train that transported me from my little town, Willow Grove, to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. From there it was a short walk to my destination, the Schuylkill River, a lovely, narrow waterway that has its origins in Pennsylvania coal territory and flows southeastward for about 100 miles before reaching and, eventually, partially transecting Philadelphia. At the bottom of Philadelphia, the Schuylkill (both SKOOL-kil and SKOO-kil are accepted pronunciations) says goodbye by emptying into the mighty Delaware River.

With the construction in recent years of walking/biking pathways and parklands that border the river in central and southerly Philadelphia sections, most of the Schuylkill’s east bank in the city now is accessible and available for recreational use. Yet I hadn’t walked alongside the Schuylkill in a long while, a big oversight on my part.

The Philadelphia Museum Of Art is near here.
The Schuylkill Expressway can be seen in this photo.
The power plant is on the left.

And so, taking advantage of the Ides’ mild temperatures and blue skies streaked with happy clouds, I stretched my legs nicely while looking here, there and almost everywhere. The views were quiet and charming in some areas, such as those near the Philadelphia Museum Of Art. But most of the time I was very aware of the busy, often gritty city surrounding the river. On one long stretch across the river from where I walked, for instance, cars and trucks whizzed by non-stop on the Schuylkill Expressway. And an imposing power plant a block or two from the river wowed me as I neared the pathway’s current southern terminus (funding hasn’t been arranged yet to create pathways and parklands from the current southern terminus to the bottom of the city).

All in all, I walked about three miles, which is one-quarter or so of the total length of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill riverwalk. And I trod a short distance above the river too, having climbed the stairs that lead to the South Street Bridge’s walkway. (The South Street Bridge is one of many bridges in Philadelphia that span the river.)

Downtown Philadelphia as seen from the South Street Bridge.

Man, the sights were impressive from the bridge, because, duh, it’s way up there. As always, I was amazed by the undeniable fact that downtown Philadelphia is a place where towering modern structures and old buildings imbued with character get along absolutely just fine. And the heavy volume of those skyscrapers caught my attention more than it usually does. There weren’t all that many of them until the 1980s, you know. Since then they’ve sprouted vigorously.

What really made my day, though, was the human component. The pathways and lawn areas were by no means overrun, but substantial numbers of people, all of them on their best behavior, were around. I saw walkers, some of them with dogs, some of them pushing baby carriages, some unencumbered. Plenty of bicyclists too, and two guys fishing. And at least 30 joggers, a majority of whom were cute twenty-something ladies. Did I mention they were cute? Girls, wait for me! I know you’ve been praying for a wrinkled, balding geezer to join you.

After giving the matter a little thought, however, I think I’ll skip jogging. For one thing, I don’t enjoy getting sweaty. Plus, jogging might be dangerous to my health, precipitating a meeting between me and my maker, whoever or whatever it might be. Such an occurrence, needless to say, would suck, suck, suck.

I’m going to stick with walking.

(A note: Riverwalks have been constructed along much of the Schuylkill River, not just in the river’s Philadelphia leg. If you’re interested in learning more, click here.)

A Decently Joyful Story

It’s an understatement to remark that ours is a perplexing species. Yes, most people might be pretty good at heart for the most part. But you’d hardly know that by the wars that have raged in one place or another throughout recorded and, I have zero doubt, prerecorded history. The latest nightmare, of course, is the Russian assault on Ukraine. It is only one of many post-Second World War examples of cruelty and of refusal, inability even, to live harmoniously. Horrible conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia are others. The Russia/Ukraine situation is by far the most worrisome, needless to say, because a f*cking asshole with nuclear weapons at his command, good ol’ Vladimir, is its lead villain.

Okay, I needed to get that off my chest. And seeing that I’m not in the mood to bum myself out any further, nor anyone else, I now will pivot sharply and head into my comfort zone. Sitting there patiently are a song I first heard in February and a television series that my wife Sandy and I watched earlier this month. I kind of have to write about them. Why? Well, they brought me joy. And I don’t take joy lightly. When I experience it I thank my lucky stars, because joy, though weightless and invisible, is a sweet substance that we require at least now and then. Joy helps us feel whole. It is one of the finest things in life.

First up is Broken Heart, a tune by The Fiestas, a New Jersey vocal quartet (and at times a quintet) that inhabited the worlds of doo wop and rhythm and blues. I’m certain that just about everyone knows this group, if not by name then by their song So Fine, which was released in late 1958 and which I love. So Fine became a smash hit a few months later and receives substantial airplay to this day.

Little did I know that The Fiestas were more than So Fine. Little did I know, that is, until one night last month when a SiriusXM radio channel delivered Broken Heart to our ears while Sandy and I were at home having dinner. Man, in an instant I was hooked. I stopped chewing to let the song give me some thrills. And, via YouTube, I’ve listened to Broken Heart a bunch of times since that evening.

Subsequent research taught me that The Fiestas, whose career lasted into the late 1970s, scored a medium-sized hit with Broken Heart in 1962. Which is why I’m surprised I’d never heard it before. Such a song! Sure, its exuberance belies the warnings about love that are embedded in the lyrics, but who cares about that incongruity? I mean, you don’t run across singing as majestic as this very often. Lead vocalist Tommy Bullock soars, hitting notes so fluidly, so gleefully, he almost brings tears to my eyes. And his partners wrap their voices around his with precision and power. I’m listening to Broken Heart as I type this sentence. Am I feeling joyful? Damn straight! Without further ado, here’s Broken Heart:

Let’s move on now, joyfully, to Anxious People, a Netflix mini-series (six episodes of about 30 minutes each) set and produced in Sweden and based on a novel of the same name by Fredrik Backman. Backman, by the way, is famous, having penned the international bestseller A Man Called Ove.

Sandy and I knew almost nothing about Anxious People before dialing it up, and are pleased as punch that we took the leap. It’s a whimsical tale centered around a group of folks who find themselves held hostage, in a loose sense, by an inept bank robber, and the police investigation that follows. I’m tempted to divulge a whole lot about Anxious People, multi-layered and fascinating as it is. For me to do so, though, would be a crime on my part, as telling too much would spoil the show for anyone interested in giving it a try.

So, I’ll add but a few more handfuls of words. To begin, are there flaws in the series? I, who can be picky to a fault, didn’t find any. The plot lines unfold and interweave deliciously, and the characters, nearly all of whom are laden with foibles and self-doubts, ring true. What we have here, then, is a gentle story that warmed the hell out of my heart. When the final episode reached its end I was filled with joy that carried over to the next day.

Boys and girls, that’s a wrap. I’d be happy to learn about who or what has given you joy of late. Till next time!

A Doors-Filled Story (Fourth Edition)

A lovely day it was indeed. The Sun beamed and gleamed. The skies, nary a cloud within them, were an expanse of blue at its finest. Unexpectedly mild for winter (51°F/11°C), a steady breeze on hand to keep me refreshed, the afternoon of February the ninth presented to me a perfect opportunity to go out and peruse doors in Hatboro, a town in the Philadelphia burbs that’s a couple of miles from the one I call home. I grabbed the opportunity.

Doors? Yes, doors are a favored subject for a fair number of WordPress scribes, including, occasionally, yours truly. I’ve written about them three times before. And, it should be noted, the hub on WordPress for all things doors is the Thursday Doors project run by Dan Antion on his No Facilities blog. So, if you click here you will be directed to Dan’s handsome site, where links to the writings of and photographs by doors enthusiasts may be found.

As I drove to Hatboro I was confident about what I’d find, because I’ve been there a multitude of times over the years — to shop, to dine, to stretch my legs on its sidewalks. It’s a down-to-earth community with pleasant residential blocks and a commercial area that, though hanging in there, has seen better days. Sure, maybe a unique or snazzy door or two awaited me. But no more than that, I figured.

And you know what? I was right. Of the hundreds of doors that passed before my eyes that afternoon as I wandered around many of Hatboro’s streets, alleys and parking areas, nearly all were of one standard style or another and also plain as can be in the color department.

And you know what else? I was absolutely fine with that, as I’ve long believed there is value and beauty in just about everything if I look hard enough and, when needed, adjust my way of thinking. After all, who am I not to admire the seemingly ordinary? I mean, I understand what it’s like to be ignored. I ain’t exactly Bradley Cooper when it comes to looks, you dig, proof of which is the fact that I can count on two hands, probably one, the number of times in my life that a girl has given me the eye. And those occurrences were decades ago. Shit, now that I’m pretty damn deep into my senior citizen era, there ain’t a chance in the world that I’ll ever again be gazed upon with interest, unless it’s by somebody working on a doctoral thesis about old farts. Boo hoo, man! Boo f*cking hoo!

Ordinary and admirable
Ordinary and very admirable

Among the “ordinary” portals that made a real impression on me in Hatboro, two of whose portraits I’ve included above, my top pick is the one identified by a nice big 3A. It more or less stopped me in my tracks because, I now realize in hindsight, its grey-green coloration struck an oceanic chord within me. I’m an ocean lover, and over the years I’ve seen the Atlantic’s waters take on a hue similar to 3A’s. Plus, how could I not fall for a door with a newspaper sticking out of its mail slot, like a tongue looking for attention?

Still, there were two doors that I preferred to 3A, both of which struck me as being a step or two above “ordinary”: a swinging door made of wood planks and metal, and the front door to a house. The latter, alive in orangey-red and decorated with a display of shadows that dazzled, easily garnered the gold medal in the doors competition that day.

In honor of Hatboro’s très cool red door, I’m going to end these proceedings by presenting an equally cool song titled — what else? — The Red Door. It was recorded in 1952 by a group led by tenor saxophonist John “Zoot” Sims and was released the next year. Zoot, who co-wrote the tune with Gerry Mulligan, takes the first sax solo. Mulligan, by the way, doesn’t appear on the recording.

Sims, a hell of a musician, was a presence in the jazz world for about 35 years (he died in 1985, having made it to only age 59). I had chance after chance to see him perform in New York City clubs during the 1970s and 80s, but, stupidly, let them pass me by. I’ve regretted those decisions ever since.

Here then is Zoot and his compadres on the lovely, swinging tune that The Red Door is. Enjoy.

My Lips Are Sealed!

Like all good citizens, I believe in heaping praise on those who deserve it. That’s why I’m giving a real big shout-out right now to my perceptive editor, the one and only Edgar Reewright. When it comes to the writing game, I’d be lost without him. Edgar watches out for me and tries to keep me on course. Thank you, Edgar!

Edgar demonstrated his concern very recently. Last week, in fact, when I sent him, via email, a book review I’d just written that I was convinced would be a worthy addition to Yeah, Another Blogger. Twenty seconds later he called me.

“Neil, you’re out of your f*cking mind!” he said before I could say hello. “You can’t publish this piece. A few glances at it showed me that you’d be making a huge mistake if you did. You know why? It’s because you’re taking on a subject that’s totally uncharacteristic of and inappropriate for your publication.”

“Listen,” he continued, “you have a cultured, discerning audience. None of your readers would want to read your review of Nomore Limpdikk’s book Getting Hard The Aztec Way. Sure, this might be Limpdikk’s masterwork, like I think you remarked in the review, and undoubtedly it is a valuable addition to the scientific literature about erectile dysfunction. But you should stick with your flimsy pieces about the walks you take, the music you listen to, blah, blah, blah. Your readers seem to enjoy that sort of stuff, so give them what they’re used to, for crying out loud! Why is erectile dysfunction on your mind, anyway? Do you have a problem?”

“Who, me? Edgar, I’m as powerful as a bull, I’ll have you know. Or maybe not, but none of that is any of your damn business! On the other hand, you should be aware that your business is all over town. I’ve heard it through more than one grapevine that your bedroom performances, are, shall we say, lacking.”

There was a long pause before Edgar responded. He broke the silence by calling to his wife, Loretta, asking her to come upstairs and join him in his home office. I heard her footsteps growing nearer.

“Yes, dear?” she asked.

“Sweetie pie,” Edgar said to her, “I have it on good authority that the situation involving my once-mighty sword has become the talk of the town. Who have you been blabbing to? Your mother? Your loose-lipped girlfriends? Loretta, I can’t believe that you’d do this to me.”

“What are you saying, Edgar?” Loretta answered. “I never talk to anyone about our sex life. You know as well as I do, though, that you can’t keep your mouth shut when you have your goofy friends over to play pinochle. So, one of those guys must have spread the word. Maybe more than one of them.” Receding footsteps then told me that she was leaving the room.

“Edgar, are you there?” I asked ten seconds later.

“I’m here. I’m here,” he said. “But I don’t know what to do. Neil, I think I need your help.”

“Edgar, help is my middle name. It’s a good thing that I read Getting Hard The Aztec Way, because it contains information that will solve your problem. Nomore Limpdikk is a brilliant man, a researcher non pareil. If you’d done more than glance at my review, you would understand that. How is it that nobody over the last 500 years, before Nomore investigated the subject, knew that performance-challenged male Aztecs ate the leaves of the bonerium cactus in order to remedy their sexual deficiencies? The leaves contain chemicals that take effect almost instantly, and the results are startlingly good. Why, Nomore Limpdikk proves that today’s ED pills, such as Viagra, are pitiful compared to the wondrous bonerium.”

“Neil, I’m flabbergasted. And I’m relieved to learn that better days for myself are a real possibility. I’ve tried Viagra, you see, but I’m the one-in-a-million male that it has absolutely no effect upon. Bonerium cactus leaves are what I need! Where do I get them?”

“Edgar, they are hard to come by, because nobody is cultivating them commercially. Not yet. But they can be found here and there in the Mexican deserts that the Aztecs once occupied, Nomore says. And, as luck would have it, I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy. Well, you get the picture. Within a week a shipment of the magic leaves will arrive at your doorstep.”

“I can’t thank you enough, Neil. This is the greatest favor that anyone has done for me since my third ex-wife, as part of our divorce settlement, agreed to let me keep our collection of pet rocks. I’m going to repay you by waiving my editor’s fee for the next two years. Thank you again. And please promise me two things. First, that you won’t publish an article about erectile dysfunction.”

“I promise,” I said.

“Good. And second, that you won’t mention our conversation to anybody.”

“Edgar, my lips are sealed!”

A Gloomy And Colorful Story

Oh, to be back in the hippie era, that golden time when I was young and when open minds and open arms were, for many, the order of the day. Alas, it is long gone. Now, here in the USA, there is an abundance of folks who are anything but welcoming. In fact, one of their primary missions is to deprive others of basic rights required for democracy to survive, let alone prosper. I find that truth hard to believe and even harder to understand. A sad example occurred in January: the banding together of every Republican Party member of the United States Senate to doom the passage of a bill that would have helped protect voting rights. Would any reasonably moral and honorable person vote against such legislation? They wouldn’t. Those senators, troublingly, are nowhere near moral and honorable.

The gloomy morning in question.

Yup, gloomy describes the state of affairs in my country. And that word also describes the recent morning (a few days before the voting rights bill met its demise) that sparked the writing of this story. Grey as hell, not to mention damp and chilly, it was bringing me down. So, I hopped into my car and drove to Willow Grove Park, a three-story indoor shopping mall near my home in the Philadelphia burbs. I was in need of a barrage of color jolts not obtainable, for the most part, within my house, where earth tones and soft blues predominate.  Not that I have anything against those hues. Au contraire. An overly tense f*cker, I’d be even more on edge without their calming influence.

I made the right decision, as the mall turned out to be precisely what the doctor ordered. I walked around for 45 minutes, happily permitting window and merchandise displays and an arcade popping with multi-hued energy to brighten my mood.

Bold yellows, reds and oranges, exploding at elite levels as only they can, were all over the place. At one store’s windows, pink and lavender, working together in sweet harmony, seriously caught my eye. And I was captivated by the inner and outer glow of handbags that, two minutes into my trek, I spotted on a table in Bloomingdale’s department store. Three in cherry and two in green, the accessories projected a self-confidence that I was in awe of. Shit, I’d be delighted to be half as cool and enticing as they are.

Colors are powerful, for sure. They influence our thoughts and emotions, our very states of being. And sometimes they inspire the creation of excellent music. The world would be a lesser place, for instance, if Little Green, a song by Joni Mitchell, were not in it. The same holds true for Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Those tunes reside on the melancholy side of the spectrum. What I’m in the mood for right now, however, just as I was when I headed to the mall, are some strong jolts. What’s more, I want the jolts to emit lots of steam. Overly tense f*ckers need stimuli of that nature now and then, don’t they? Damn straight they do.

Well, there is no shortage of recordings that deliver the goods. One of the best is Little Red Corvette, by the late, great Prince. Released in 1983, it recounts an encounter with a lady who loves to give and to receive.

And then there’s Devil With A Blue Dress On, written by Shorty Long and Willam Stevenson. Most folks, including me, are unfamiliar with those composers, but nearly everyone has heard the recording of their song, from 1966, by Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels. It gets my juices flowing every time I hear it. By the way, Mitch and the boys mixed Devil With A Blue Dress On with Good Golly, Miss Molly, two songs seamlessly becoming one.

The party’s starting! Here are the tunes. Feel free to comment on them, politics, democracy, colors, or anything you like. Till next time!

Cold Fingers, Cold Beer

Holy shit, being a writer can be numbing! That’s what I discovered a week and a half ago when I strolled around my neighborhood as darkness was settling in. Earlier that day my region had received its first snowfall of the winter (I live in a town near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Dedicated journalist that I occasionally am, I decided to see how the powdery white stuff looked in moonlight, and to document my walk in words and with photos.

Well, it took me only a minute to realize that I wasn’t in a winter wonderland. Yeah, there were several inches of snow on the ground, but the effect was much less charming than I’d thought it would be. And what I’d been hoping especially to see — softly glowing snow clinging to tree branches — was virtually nowhere to be found. The day’s steady breezes had emptied the trees.

There were some worthy scenes, however. For instance, a number of households had not yet taken down their Christmas lights, so I stopped to admire those displays. And, 20 minutes into my walk, I watched a few kids sledding down the hilly front lawn of an apartment building. They were having fun. But you know what? I wasn’t! And that’s because my f*cking fingers were freezing!

Sure, I wore gloves during most of the walk. But I had to take them off every time I decided to snap a photo. Otherwise, there was no way I could have aimed my phone’s camera properly and pressed its button. Thus, my hands were exposed intermittently to 25°F (-4°C) air.

That shouldn’t have been enough to cause my fingers to become comatose. But somehow it damn well was. So, after being on the streets for almost half an hour, I knew I needed to get inside. Picking up my pace, I strode to my block. In front of my next-door neighbor’s home though, I chose, like a fool, to torture myself a little more by photographing the Moon, which was peeking through a tangle of tree branches. Then I walked the remaining 50 feet to my house, where I struggled to muster enough finger coordination to insert the front door key into its designated opening. Ten seconds later, finally, success! In I went.

Yup, having cold fingers sucks. Big time. On the other hand, having cold beers is a pleasure. In fact, it’s one of my greatest pleasures. I’d be in mourning if beer disappeared from the face of the Earth.

Though I’d enjoyed beer for many years (mainly mainstream lagers, such as Budweiser), my appreciation of the beverage rose to a higher level when, in my late 40s, I discovered that there were far more styles of beer on the market than I’d realized, and that the quality of many of them was steps above what I’d been used to. I have the craft beer revolution to thank for all of that. It began in the 1980s and really took off during the following decade, which is when I fell under its spell. Today, the revolution is at a high point. I mean, so many breweries worldwide produce primo beers.

Some of my pals.

Stouts, porters, pilsners, India pale ales (IPAs), and on and on . . . I pretty much like ’em all. And I look forward to downing one of them with dinner most evenings. I’m salivating right now, thinking about which brew I’ll have tonight. A quick look into the frig tells me my choice likely will be the Dogfish Head brewery’s 60 Minute IPA, an aromatic and seriously bitter quaff that’s refreshing as hell. I tell you, in these times of climate change, COVID, authoritarianism and racism, to name but a few problems bedeviling humankind, it’s wonderful to have something to look forward to.

The time has come to wrap things up. I’ll do so with songs that mesh, title-wise anyway, with this narrative. First up is Cold Fingers, by the late great Tony Joe White. Much of his music, Cold Fingers included, sounds primordial, as though it was born in our planet’s bowels. Tony Joe was something else. And then there’s Blake Shelton, a country music star and a pretty talented cat. Generally I’m not a big fan of today’s country music, overblown as much of it is. Though Blake’s Straight Outta Cold Beer leans in that direction, it tells a realistic story and packs a wallop. I like it.

Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Feel free to comment. Here are the songs:

Short Books And Lots of TV: That’s Entertainment!

Well, good ol’ 2021, part of the ongoing COVID era, found me doing this, that and the other thing to fill up the 17.5 hours during which I’m more or less conscious each day. None of those hours were spent at a workplace outside my home, because COVID deep-sixed the volunteer jobs that I had engaged in happily for years. I’m still working, however, because I spend a fair amount of time writing pieces for the shaky, suspect publication titled Yeah, Another Blogger. Yo, you take your part-time jobs where you can find them!

Writing aside, I’m left with shitloads of hours on my hands each week. Many of them are spent on my living room sofa, where I’ve mastered the art of staring into space as I twist the six strands of hair remaining on the crown of my head into fascinating shapes. Then I untwist them and start all over again.

Fortunately, I engage in a variety of more fruitful activities too. If I didn’t, my wife Sandy would have had me committed long ago.

For instance, I read books. Not an extraordinary number — hell, I know of some fellow WordPress denizens who tear through three or more books per week — but enough to keep my mind percolating a bit.

I’m picky, though. Any book that I contemplate tackling must be short, as in no more than 260 pages. And fewer than 200 as often as possible. I began taking this approach because my attention span and stamina, when it came to book-reading, began to fall off the table in 2015. I found my way to the ends of a mere two books that year. 2016 proved to be even worse, as I recorded a big fat goose egg.

Ergo, to kickstart my dormant love of books I devised the short-book strategy in 2017. And it has worked. Last year, for instance, I polished off 17 books, fewer than in my glory days of book-reading, but a number I feel good about.

All are members of the fiction category, including two mysteries (Sleeping Murder; And Then There Were None) by Agatha Christie that are as breezy and enjoyable as they can be. My list of conquests also includes Cathedral, a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver. Carver’s world is populated by people who have never figured out, or been encouraged to figure out, how to lead productive, happy lives. Matter-of-factly, but not depressingly, he lays out their plights in language that grabs hold of you from the opening paragraphs.

As it turns out, though, the first book I read in 2021 was the one I thought was the best: Flight, by Sherman Alexie (I expounded upon it here). It’s the tale, as vivid as daylight on a cloudless afternoon, of a 21st century Native American teen trying to come to terms with himself and with the country — the USA — that conquered and subjugated his peoples.

Yes, books entertained me mightily in the year that just entered our rearview mirrors.  The jollies that I got from them, though, paled in comparison to those provided by the magical medium known as television. Yeah, I spent quite a few hours in front of the home screen last year, continuing the practice I’d adopted at the start of the pandemic. Sandy used to watch the tube alone in the evening. But lack of outside-the-house entertainment options caused me to join her when coronavirus reared its f*cking head. We quickly developed into an adorable TV-viewing couple, settling in for an hour or two of laughs, gasps and whatever, five or six nights each week.

During 2021, Sandy and I watched around 20 movies on the tube and many more series than that. Almost every one was on commercial-free platforms and networks, mainly Netflix and HBO, both of which have become two of my closest friends. I’ve turned into a series addict, limited series particularly. Some of the limited ones that I especially liked last year are The Chestnut Man and Giri/Haji (tense crime dramas), Chernobyl (a dramatization of the nuclear disaster), and Maid (where relationships go very bad and where pure love is on display).

In closing, I give a hearty tip of the hat to Godless, a Western that, as is common to its genre, portrays a battle between decency and wickedness. This limited series is set in late-1800s Colorado. Jeff Daniels (Is there a better actor anywhere?) stars as Frank Griffin, an eerie bad guy who bosses around his band of associate baddies and takes his amputated left arm with him, like a good luck charm, everywhere he goes. (A bad wound necessitated the amputation.) In the end, does good triumph over evil? You’ll have to tune in to find out, because I ain’t one for dropping spoilers.

Thanks for reading, boys and girls. What activities/books/TV/music/etc. rang your bell in 2021? Feel free to comment.

Happy New Year!