A Doors-Filled Story (Second Edition)

It’s easy and normal to take doors for granted, though they are, of course, super important. I mean, where the hell would we be without them? Climbing in and out of windows, thats where. And who would want to do that?

But doors do have major fans. For example, a fair number of WordPress scribes write about them, maybe in recognition of their crucial value. Or maybe because certain doors are true works of art. Whatever the reasons, it is de rigeur for those scribes to launch their doors-centric essays into cyberspace on Thursdays. Why Thursdays?  Because . . . well, I sure as shit don’t have a clue. It just became one of those things to do, I think.

The ringleader of Thursday doors articles was a guy named Norm (here’s the link to his blog), who began the project in 2014 but recently gave up his duties. A responsible and caring sort, he didn’t simply walk away. No, Norm nimbly passed the baton to Dan Antion, the mastermind behind the blog called No Facilities. Authors of doors-related pieces now are asked to post notices of their latest opuses on Dan’s site rather than on Norm’s. And that’s what I’ll be doing today, which is Thursday in my time zone, as this is a story about doors.

I published my first doors narrative in June 2020, taking a look at doors in Jenkintown, and decided to examine those in Ambler for my second effort. Both Jenkintown and Ambler are cute, traditional-looking villages in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and are pretty close to Willow Grove, the not-too-cute town that I call home.

A few weeks ago I spent about 70 minutes scouring many of Ambler’s streets. I was in search of doors that made a big impression on me, though I wasn’t sure which types those would be when I began the expedition. As you’d expect, the vast majority of doors that I passed were the kinds you’ve seen millions of times before. Standard wooden ones on houses, for instance, and standard glass/metal ones on commercial properties. Most of them were perfectly nice and well-maintained, for certain. But, vanilla.

So, how about doors that might be described as elegant or artistic? Surprisingly, Ambler seemed to be lacking in them, for I noticed but two. One belonged to a church, the other to a restaurant. Now, I could have placed their photos on this page and devoted a couple of hundred words to various aspects of their worthiness. However, I’ve chosen not to, as the five doors that resonated with me during my walk were way humbler. And weathered and disheveled too, to one degree or another. What’s more, the word dilapidated also applies to two of the five (the white door with a big empty space next to it, and the cardboard-stuffed black door upon which the sturdy lavender-hued door closes). I liked all of the outsiders aplenty when I spotted them and, in examining their portraits a short while ago, I like them no less now. They have tons of character. They’ve been through a lot and have stories to tell. And they probably go unnoticed by most everyone, but so what? They’ve entered my heart, which contains a warm spot for the underappreciated. Yeah, I’m a f*cking softie.

And which of the specimens do I choose as my favorite? Tough decision, but I’m going with the wooden swinging doors. Man, crude though they are, they exude down-to-earth charm and nonchalant confidence, characteristics I’d be proud to call my own. But I’ll never be as cool as those doors are, Shit, I’m well into my septuagenarian era. So, if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s not about to now. But an old guy can dream, can’t he? Damn right he can, and will.

Is any essay about doors truly complete without a nod to The Doors, the explosive, brooding and trippy rock band that burst into the big-time in 1967? The answer is no, at least when it comes to my offerings. Thus, I shall leave you with a recording by The Doors that has one big thing in common with the doors I’ve written about above. To wit, it is underappreciated. Wintertime Love, performed in a flexible waltz time, finds the band behaving all happy and tender, something they weren’t particularly known for doing. The song appears on their Waiting For The Sun album, which hit the marketplace in 1968. Here it is. Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. And please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Till next time!

Let There Be Colors!

As some readers of this publication know, I am a big fan of colors, both the natural and man-made varieties. Obviously, there’s nothing even remotely unique about me that way. But somehow I wasn’t particularly conscious of this leaning till it became a subject that I felt drawn to write about pretty soon after I gave birth to Yeah, Another Blogger in 2015.

For instance, I’ve written about excellent sunsets any number of times, especially sunsets that my wife Sandy and I have inhaled on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, one of our favorite locales. And pieces about illuminated residential Christmas decorations have graced these pages, maybe not all that gracefully, at least thrice that I can recall.

But have I ever placed the colors of a sunset and those of Christmas displays into the same story? Uh-uh. Not until now, that is. And I had such a nice time doing the legwork for this narrative, I just might make the theme a tradition.

There I was, then, on the 13th of December, standing on my house’s deck and admiring the oranges and yellows and pinks that filled the western sky. It was 4:21 PM, fourteen minutes before the Sun would disappear below the horizon. I’d watched sunsets from my house, which occupies space in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, loads of times before. But as far as I can recall, I’d never left my abode to admire a sunset from elsewhere in the neighborhood. Why? Because I’m a dumb shit. For, as I discovered moments later, the views from other spots on the surrounding blocks were terrific, far better than from my deck, where trees get in the way of the festivities a whole lot.

The view 200 feet from my house

Following an impulse to do some exploring, I made my way from the deck to the house’s front door, exited, walked down my front path and made a left onto the sidewalk. At the first intersection I came to, a mere 200 feet from my house, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a pretty open view of the sunset at that corner, about as open as you’d hope to find in houses-and-trees-heavy suburbia. Very unexpectedly to me, someone else was gazing at the sunset too. “I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one here,” that someone, a lady in my advanced age range, said to me. “This is the best place in the neighborhood to watch a winter sunset from.”

She was correct, as far as looking in a westerly direction goes. But, as sunset aficionados know, colors float enticingly almost everywhere in the sky when the conditions are right. And that’s precisely what colors were doing that late afternoon. As I walked along many blocks in my neighborhood, I made frequent stops to admire the displays taking place in all directions above me. About 20 minutes into the walk, a guy pushing a baby carriage along a sidewalk succinctly summed things up when  he saw me snapping a sunset photo.  “There’s a lot of color in the sky tonight,” he said to me. “The sky’s beautiful,” I answered. It was.

A few minutes after my brief conversation with the carriage-pusher, as dusk entered its final stage, I started examining front lawn Christmas displays, of which there were many. They varied in composition, ranging from the tastefully traditional to the merrily over-the-top. Strings and clusters of blue, red, white and green lights, and of other colors, abounded. Inflatable Santas, snowmen and additional creatures were coming out of the neighborhood’s proverbial ass. Man, individually and collectively the displays wowed me. They created a giddy, phantasmagorical aura that I wouldn’t mind being around throughout much of the year. I took in the sights for a nice long while and then headed back home under a seriously dark sky.

The recap of my colorful adventure now is nearing its conclusion. Christmas-display-wise, I was glad to have learned that my neighbors’ talents had not waned even slightly in 2020. I’ve greedily enjoyed their splendid decorating efforts during each of the 16 Christmas seasons that I’ve spent in this neighborhood. As for the sunset, it showed me that I need to get out of my house more than I do, for, just outside my doorstep, there might be sweet experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t know were awaiting.

And, speaking of a sweet experience, and of a colorful display to boot, there’s one that I will be missing on New Year’s Eve. For years, Sandy and I have taken in NYE fireworks in Philadelphia’s historic section, near the Delaware River. But, due to the good ol’ pandemic, the fireworks have been nixed this year. Shit! Those displays always are great, and are an invigorating way to usher in a fresh set of days. I suppose that Sandy and I will spend the eve at home instead.

Still, there is this: Vaccines have arrived and Trump has been voted out of office. Therefore, there is every reason to think that 2021 will be far better than 2020, a f*cking shit show, has been.

Happy New Year one and all!

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Mucho gracias.)

Me? In The Biden Administration? We Shall See!

Will I be working for this gentleman?
(Photo copyright by Andrew Harnik, Associated Press)

I didn’t answer my cell phone when it rang yesterday, because the call was from a number not in my contacts list. But the caller left a voicemail message that any sensible person would respond to without haste. “Neil,” the message began, “this is Nick Oftime, an assistant director of President-elect Biden’s transition team. I got your phone number from your editor, Edgar Reewright. Please get back to me. I believe that you might be a good fit for a position in the Biden administration.”

Huh? Me? In Washington, DC? Man, I called Nick back faster than Usain Bolt got out of his starting blocks in the 2016 Olympics.

“Nick, this is Neil,” I said when Nick answered. “The President-elect wants little ol’ me to serve in DC? Why, this is a dream come true. I’m stunned. I’m excessively flattered. I accept the offer!”

“Neil, calm down. You don’t even know what the job is. What’s more, you’re not the only person we’re looking at. That’s why I said ‘you might be a good fit.’ Might, Neil. Might.”

“Okay,” I replied, “I understand. So, you know Edgar Reewright?”

“Yes. He’s my editor too, you see. He edited a book of mine that came out three years ago, one that I thought for sure would be a smash hit but bombed instead. It’s called Donald And His Teddy Bears: A President’s Obsession. It’s 100% factual, Neil. Though not many people know this, Trump has been collecting teddy bears since he was four years old. He owns hundreds of them, and every single one is in his White House bedroom. They take up so much space, he barely has any room for clothes, let alone Melania. That’s why he wears the same blue suit every damn day.”

“Nick, that sounds like a book that should have sold a million copies. What does Edgar have to say about that?”

“Oh, he always tells me to write another book, that the second one undoubtedly would do much better than the first. That’s what I was speaking about with him a few days ago. My plans are to delve into one of Trump’s other obsessions: his megalomania-fueled need to have powerful bowel movements four or more times every day. I’ll title the book Trump Takes A Dump (Many Dumps, Actually). This will reveal a side of Donald that he’s been hiding for years and years. But I have to put the President-elect above my writing career, so I’ll work on the book only in the occasional moments of spare time that come my way.”

“Nick, it can’t miss! I predict that your next effort will shoot to the top of every best seller list. Why, gastroenterologists alone will send sales through the roof. What’s Edgar’s opinion?”

“It’s hard to say. He didn’t seem overly enthusiastic, to tell you the truth. And that’s when he brought up your name. He said that, like mine, your ideas and writings are — and I’m going to quote him —  ‘pure drivel.’ Well, my ears picked up. ‘Give me Neil’s phone number, Edgar,’ I demanded. ‘He might be just the person I’m looking for.’ Edgar obliged.”

“And I’m glad that he did. Nick, I’m on pins and needles to hear about the job you’re considering me for.”

“Let me run it by you. Mr. Biden and his team are thinking about making you the public presence for the little guy. And not just any little guy, but the type that’s going nowhere, that’s got no particular talent of any sort to speak of, and that nonetheless keeps their nose to the grindstone while remaining in pretty good spirits. You seem to meet those qualifications, Neil, and I say so because I spent half of yesterday reading dozens of stories on your blog. Edgar was right, you know. They are, for the most part, pure drivel. But that doesn’t stop you from turning them out at a halfway decent rate, does it? That’s very admirable. Still, you’re not a shoo-in to be hired. If it’s okay with you, I’ll be calling some of your friends and relatives to try and learn if you meet our requirements in every respect.”

Naturally, I gave my consent.

“Neil,” Nick continued, “you’d help to boost the morale of many Americans if we decide to choose you for this job, because they would learn that the much-better-than average Joe who soon will occupy the White House is thinking about all Americans, that he is committed to making the USA a welcoming place for every one of its citizens, including inconsequential ones such as you. The person we tap will go out on speaking tours and will be all over the media. It’s the chance of a lifetime. How about it, Neil? Might the job interest you?”

“Would I have my own office, Nick? I’d have to have my own office.”

“Yes, of course you would. There’s a secret supply room in the White House basement. Trump stores his cache of toilet paper in there. Thousands of rolls, I’ve been told. I assume that he’ll be taking them with him when he leaves office. In any case, we’d turn that room into a fairly comfortable work place.”

Nick paused. Then he said, “Neil, I have to go. Not to the bathroom, but to the President-elect’s strategy room. There are a few things that he and the team want to discuss with me there. Plus, there are two other individuals I plan to interview today over the phone for the job. One of them is a presumed writer too. Her stuff is even worse than yours. Goodbye, Neil. We will speak again.”

That, then, is where the matter stands for now. Maybe my nation’s capital is in my future. Maybe not. As they say, we shall see.

Thanksgiving, TV-Watching And I

It’s mid-morning on the 26th of November, 2020, the Thanksgiving holiday in the USA. Moments ago I placed my fingers upon my computer’s keyboard to begin composing this story. But I ain’t going to complete and publish it on the big day itself. No way! Shit, I’m too old and slow-working for that. But, better late than never, right? Well, actually, who the hell knows?

Anyway, getting back to Thanksgiving: I’m of the non-religious and non-believer varieties, which, among other things, results in many holidays being on my not-to-be-celebrated list. Thanksgiving, though, is a different story. As is true for most Americans, it is one of my favorite days of the year. I’ve always gathered with one medium-to-large-sized combination or another of relatives and friends on Thanksgiving, and by the time I was seven or eight or so, the holiday had burrowed deep into my heart. The burrowing hasn’t ebbed, because every year I’ve experienced Thanksgiving as a day of good cheer and good companionship. It means a whole lot to me.

Today, though, the combination of people with whom I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving will be, for the first time ever, composed of only two individuals: yours truly and my wife Sandy. Until recently, however, our plans were different. Several relatives were going to join us at our house to shoot the breeze and chow down on roast turkey with all the trimmings, pumpkin pie and a bunch of other dishes. But the skyrocketing numbers of coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths in the USA caused Sandy and me to reevaluate the situation. The conclusion that we came to was that it was better for all concerned to be safe rather than sorry. As a result, we cancelled the party. We will have a traditional Thanksgiving meal at home ourselves, but it won’t be nearly the same. We’ll wish that our relatives were with us.

Yeah, as is all too painfully known, coronavirus has f*cked things up real good all over the world. In my case, which is totally trivial in the greater scheme of things, many of the enjoyable activities that used to fill up much of my days are, due to the virus, no longer available. Volunteer jobs, movie-going and concert-going, for instance. And now that it’s too cold in my part of the globe to eat outdoors at restaurants (on warm days, Sandy and I ate outdoors many times this year), restaurant-dining is off the table too. That’s because we won’t eat inside restaurants, where the chances of coming in contact with the virus are far greater than they are in the open air. Bummer, man. F*cking bummer.

But, as I’ve noted on these pages before, one activity has come to my rescue big-time. Namely, focused television-watching. For years my television consumption largely had been a smattering of this and that during late-night channel-flipping sessions. However, in the pandemic era, for an hour and a half or thereabouts most evenings, I have tuned in to series and movies on commercial-free outlets. And that fare has entertained the hell out of me, keeping me in halfway-decent spirits as I navigate life’s currently-murky waters.

I’ll say some words about two of the series that I watched in their entireties in November: The Queen’s Gambit and Patrick Melrose (they are on Netflix and Showtime, respectively, and were released, respectively, in 2020 and 2018). Each consists of a modest number of episodes, so you won’t have to devote half your life to watching them. More important, these productions rightly are series. By which I mean that if each had been condensed into movies, much would have been lost in character development and story complexity.

Who’d have thought that the game of chess would make for compelling viewing? Not I. The Queen’s Gambit certainly proves otherwise. Here we have the saga of an orphaned Kentucky girl, Beth Harmon, who at age 15 is adopted by a couple whose male half is indifferent to her, but whose female member gives her care, love and understanding, sometimes idiosyncratically. Beth, who suffers from substance abuse problems and personality development issues aplenty, has been, from an early age, heavily consumed by chess. Why? Because she possesses an almost supernatural ability to visualize and analyze chess strategies. Her gift eventually places her head-to-head and mind-to-mind with some of the best chess players in the world.

As for Patrick Melrose, I have to say that it was a hard watch for me, as it’s the sad tale of a British boy raised by terrible parents, and of the angry and confused adult that the boy becomes. Parental neglect and cruelty are the cornerstones of Patrick Melrose’s childhood, traumatic truths that don’t dissipate very much in intensity as he ages. Benedict Cumberbatch is the main star (he plays the adult Patrick). As is true in all the productions that I’ve seen him in, he does a superior job. That chap can act!

I’m going to close the proceedings by asking which activities have been boons to you during the pandemic era. And if television-viewing has been one of them, I’d be interested to know the programs and movies that have captured your attention. Oh, and if you’re an American, how was your Thanksgiving?

Till next time!

Autumn Colors; Biden And Trump; Three Songs By Joes

I wasn’t expecting to write about autumn for a second time this year, seeing that I pretty well summed up my feelings about this, my favorite season, in an essay that hit cyberspace only last month (click here to read it). But I couldn’t resist. How could I, when colors on many of my neighborhood’s trees finally came alive on the 9th of November? How did that even happen? It was kind of a miracle really, because the leaves had been nowhere near as vivid even the day before. And, soon after the 9th, the colors diminished greatly in effect and stature, as our woody friends were having a contest to see which ones could de-leaf themselves the fastest. Yes, I was in the right place at the right time when I took an early afternoon walk through my community on the peak day.

There’s no doubt, however, that I’d have much preferred to wander among gorgeous trees in a forest, or in a substantial wood. You can truly commune with nature in those landscapes, unlike in most of my suburban Philadelphia region, where nature has been paved-over  and tamed significantly. But forests and woods are anything but around the corner from my house. A car not being at my disposal on the 9th, a visit to anywhere not within walking distance was off the table.

I wasn’t complaining, though, because my neighborhood looked so damn good. Golds, ambers, coppers, russets and burgundies abounded, and I was pleased as punch to roam for 45 minutes, soaking up their beauty, basking in their glory, etc. In other words, I dug the shit out of the color explosions! What’s more, the temperature was perfect (72°F, 22°C) and the skies were as soothing a shade of blue as you could hope for. Days such as that one don’t come around often enough, and are rarities in my part of the globe in normally pretty-chilly November.

I almost always listen to music during the walks that, for exercise, I take each week in one locale or another. But not this time. That gave me the opportunity to do a bit more thinking than usually happens during my treks. And what popped into my head and stayed there for a while? Why, thoughts about Joe Biden, a good guy, and Donald Trump, a f*cking jerk. That’s what!

Yup, I don’t like Trump even a teensy weensy bit, he who shamelessly has been trying to steal a decided presidential election. What is there to like about someone who is a force for chaos and darkness; who sneers at democracy’s principles and structure; who emboldens white supremacists; who can’t go more than thirty seconds without lying; who is callous, vindictive, narcissistic, uncivil, unhinged and a bully? Nothing, in my opinion. Yet, roughly 74,000,000 American voters gave him the OK in the recent election. That’s a highly unsettling and sobering truth for anyone who believes in equality and progress, and is concerned about American democracy’s stability and strength. Fortuitously, for the USA and for the rest of the world, about 80,000,000 voters, and a majority of electoral college votes, went for Biden. As a result, better days, saner days, lie ahead. And, by the way, those who agree with my assessment of Trump owe a huge debt of gratitude to Biden for entering the race last year, because I’m certain that no other Democratic Party candidate for president would have beaten The Despicable One.

As I inch closer and closer to this story’s exit door, I feel compelled to conclude the proceedings with hot, steamy recordings by three guys named Joe, all of whom, sadly, are no longer with us. I’m doing this in honor of Joe Biden, who is strongly with us and poised to undo much of the damage that Trump has inflicted at home and abroad during the last four years. Yo, Joe! — you and Kamala could do a whole lot worse than to boogie down to these tunes at your inaugural balls on Inauguration Day (January 20). They’ll fill both of you with loads of energy and get the two of you even more psyched than you already are to do your new jobs.

As for Donald Trump, these songs are appropriate for him too. They would make a fine soundtrack for him to angrily shake his oversized booty to as he leaves the White House, on the just-mentioned January date, for the final time ever.

Here, then, are recordings by Joe Tex (Show Me), Joe Cocker (High Time We Went) and Big Joe Turner (Shake, Rattle And Roll). Enjoy ’em!

A Tuneful Time At The Mall (A Pandemic-Era Story)

Although I’m not much of a shopper, in at least a few respects I’m lucky to live near Willow Grove Park, a huge three-level shopping mall in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For instance, I like to go there now and then to gaze at its clean yet kaleidoscopic interior design and to marvel at the massive quantities of goods that its stores contain. I don’t think that the USA is anywhere close to being an idyllic land of milk and honey, but, as the mall demonstrates, there is no shortage of products in this country.

As things have turned out though, probably the main reason that I enjoy having Willow Grove Park close at hand is that it occasionally becomes story fodder for my blog. When I began this publication in 2015, never would have I expected that such would be the case. But I sure as shit am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. The story that you now are reading is the result of my latest visit to the mall. That visit took place on a recent, dreary, rain-dominated Thursday.

The mall was on my mind that day mainly because I wanted to take a walk. For the past eleven months, you see, I’ve been walking regularly for health-related reasons, four or five times per week and almost always outdoors. But an outdoors trek would have been unwise, as the rains were descending not in trickles but in f*cking buckets. Striding purposefully through the mall, an enclosed structure, though? Yes!

Due to the pandemic, the businesses in Willow Grove Park (excepting its two restaurants, which were allowed to sell take-out orders), along with almost countless other businesses state-wide, were ordered by Pennsylvania’s governor to close in mid-March. The lockdown eventually was partly lifted, the mall reopening on June 26. Arriving there at 11:25 AM on the wet Thursday in question, I was curious about the mall’s state of affairs four months post-reopening. How much damage had the pandemic inflicted?

Well, while spending 45 minutes walking the mall’s every avenue and byway, I saw a fairly decent number of people shopping and wandering, possibly about the same number that you’d find on a similar off-day during normal times. As for store vacancies, there were five or six, not the many more that I was half-expecting. However, several stores hadn’t opened for the day, which was not a good sign. Possibly they were on the verge of throwing in the towel altogether.

A truly bad scene, and probably indicative of the mall’s overall financial health, was the food court. There were not many customers at all, even though it was lunch time when I walked past that busy-in-normal-times area. It was sad to see the court’s businesses doing poorly. And, of course, millions of businesses worldwide are in the same boat, due to coronavirus. On any number of occasions I’ve said the obvious on these pages, and I’ll say it again: We need an effective vaccine pronto. It’s time for the suffering to diminish significantly.

But I’m not going to end this essay on a down note. How could I, seeing that I listened to an episode of The Many Moods Of Ben Vaughn, a terrific music podcast, as I walked through the mall? It put a whole lot of pep in my step and prevented me from getting anywhere near bummed out.

In that episode, which is from September 27, 2020, Vaughn spins the original versions of songs subsequently made famous by other artists. A large bunch of them jumped out at me. But let’s limit that bunch to three. Otherwise I’ll be here all day, and nobody, including me, would be in favor of that. The three songs are Louie Louie, Boys, and Do Wah Diddy.

Here are some facts: The infamous Louie Louie, an enormous hit for The Kingsmen in 1963, was originally recorded by Richard Berry And The Pharaohs way before that, in 1957 to be precise. Berry also penned the composition. The Beatles included Boys (written by Luther Dixon and Wes Farrell) on their first album in 1963, and popularized the tune, but the initial recording was in 1960 by The Shirelles. It was the B-side of their single whose A-side was wildly popular — Will You Love Me Tomorrow? And although Manfred Mann’s 1964 version of Do Wah Diddy (a composition by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich) conquered the world, the song’s first appearance was a recording by The Exciters one year earlier.

The tracks by Berry, The Shirelles and The Exciters rock, roll and rouse. Day-brighteners, they appear below. I think you’ll like ’em. Okay, boys and girls, that’s a wrap. As I almost always mention, please don’t be shy about adding any comments that you might have. Goodbye till next time!

The Missus Kicked Me Out! (A Guest Post By Santa Claus)

Holy crap, I can’t believe that it’s come to this. Here I am, flying high in the sky with my reindeer during late October, when I should be back home at the North Pole keeping an eye on my crew of elves. Those pointy-eared creatures are becoming lazier and grumpier every year. I tell you, without a demanding boss like me around, last year they’d never have built all the toys that needed to be built. Many kids would have gone giftless on Christmas.

Elves! Shit, one of these days I’m going to replace those weirdos with robots. And what the hell are elves, anyway? I’ve been working with them for almost forever and I still can’t figure that out. One day, eons ago, dozens of them just showed up from out of frigging nowhere. “Hello, Santa,” they said in unison. “It’s colder than a witch’s you-know-what here, but since you apparently don’t mind freezing your ass off, we won’t mind either. Where’s your workshop? We heard you need a hand.”

Actually, they got that wrong. I hate the cold! But that’s enough about elves. I’ve got a bigger problem than them, and it has to do with the inimitable Mrs. Claus. She’s the love of my life. She’s the yin to my yang, or whatever the expression is. And — I can’t believe it — she kicked me out, in the middle of the night, a few hours ago.

Santa,” she yelled at me, her right index finger pointing to the door, “open it and go!”

“But, dear,” I said, “I haven’t . . . ”

She cut me off. “Don’t dear me. I warned you that I wasn’t going to put up any longer with these beautiful Nordic girls showing up at our doorstep. The occasional female visitor is okay. But ever since the pandemic began in March, they’ve been arriving in droves. That’s a strange aspect of the pandemic that nobody could have predicted. ‘Where’s Santa, the adorable, cuddly hunk?’ they all ask me. And then they search the grounds and find you in the reindeer stables or out on the snow fields. I don’t even want to think about how many of these temptresses have had their way with you. Santa, I’ve had enough! Go, and don’t come back until you’re prepared to mend your ways.”

I turned the door handle and headed out, adding these words: “I’ve explained to you a million times that all I’ve ever done is talk with these girls, give them my autograph, and allow them to snap selfies with me. I swear to you that nothing further has ever happened. How could it, anyway? I mean, considering that my nuts are perpetually frozen solid in this icebox of a land, it’s amazing that I’ve been able to satisfy even one person occasionally, carnally-speaking. And that person, of course, is you.”

Where am I? I must be getting close. Ah yes, I see Willow Grove, Pennsylvania just a few miles away. I’m going to land the sleigh there in the backyard of my friends Sandy and Neil and ask them to take me in for the night (you can read part of our backstory by clicking here). Maybe it will turn out to be for many nights. Let me pull on the reins just so, and maneuver the reindeer downward. Success! We’ve landed silently. Sandy and Neil will be surprised to see me.

It’s 7:15 PM, and fully dark. I ring the doorbell. I hear footsteps. “Who’s there?” two voices ask.

“It’s Santa,” I say. “I need your help.”

The door opens, revealing Neil and Sandy. Both of them, like me, are masked. Neil, his eyes smiling, gives me a big hug. “Santa, what’s happened? By the way, you’re the first person, other than Sandy, that I’ve hugged since the pandemic started. You are virus-free, right?”

“Neil, I get tested every day. I’m as fit as a f*cking fiddle.”

“That’s what I love about you, Santa. You’re jolly and foul-mouthed, a hard combination to beat. Let’s all of us ditch our masks,” Neil says. We do.

“Foul-mouthed, yes. Not feeling too jolly right now though, Neil.” In a few brief sentences I explain the sorry situation that I’ve found myself in. “Sandy, Neil,” I then say, “I didn’t know who else to turn to. I can stay for a while, can’t I?”

“Indeed you can, Santa,” Sandy answers, planting kisses on my cheeks. “And maybe we will be able to resolve your big problem. First, though, how about taking a stroll with us around the neighborhood? Halloween is almost here, you know, and a lot of households in this town have gone whole hog in decorating their properties with Halloween displays. That’s become a thing, Santa. The decorations are almost as beautiful as the ones at Christmastime. You are sorely in need of some cheering up, and the displays will do that for you.”

Off we go. And my friends are right. I’m amazed by the colors, the lights, the ghosts and pumpkins. Ooh la la! My mood, which has been stuck on sour and troubled, is heading a bit north.

Back at the house, Sandy and Neil lead me to the ground-level guest bedroom. “You’ll be comfortable here, Santa,” Sandy says. “The bed is reinforced, so there’s no chance that you’ll collapse the springs. But perhaps you won’t need to stay. Santa, what’s Mrs. Claus’s phone number?” I tell her. She goes upstairs, out of ear range, and Neil and I wait for her return.

Five minutes later, she’s back. Smiling. “Guess what, Santa?” she asks.

“I don’t know. Mrs. Claus won the Powerball jackpot? She found my favorite pair of boxer shorts that’s been missing since 1907?”

“No, better. The elves, it seems, have been watching your every move for months. A half hour after you left the North Pole they went to talk with your wife. And they corroborated your statements. Santa, Mrs. Claus wants you to return home. Now!”

Well, needless to say, I guess that I’ve misjudged and undervalued the f*cking weirdos that work for me.

Elves!

(Santa suggests that you not be shy about adding your comments.)

A Not-Socially-Distanced Story

It’s funny, or maybe not, how my wife Sandy and I have changed our ways of thinking and acting during the it-better-end-soon pandemic era. Scared quite shitless when the era began in the USA in mid-March, we hunkered down, staying home nearly all of the time. We ventured out only to take walks, to buy provisions at supermarkets and to take out meals from restaurants. Right from the start, mask-wearing and social distancing were parts of our regimen. We wore disposable gloves when shopping, washed our hands regularly and used hand sanitizer profusely. None of this was unique to us, obviously. Most people were scared quite shitless, and took the same safety precautions that we did.

Thankfully, Sandy’s and my anxiety levels have subsided since then, mostly due to the easing of the lockdown in Pennsylvania, the state that we call home. As a result, we’re getting out of the house a lot more than we did a few months ago (we dine outdoors at restaurants frequently, for example), and are feeling better about things because of that. But the f*cking coronavirus, which ain’t going away any time soon, is still very much on our minds. Yes, we’ve ditched disposable gloves (hand-sanitizing and hand-washing make them superfluous, I think). But, in general we continue to follow safety guidelines.

“In general?” I hear a few voices ask. Right, 99% of the time we haven’t deviated from the guidelines. But the remaining 1% of the time we have, and that’s because we have pals named Cindy and Gene. When we’ve been with them recently, social distancing among the four of us has gone out the window.

It all began on an innocent day: the fourth of September. Sandy, myself, Cindy and Gene met up at the Philadelphia Museum Of Art, which only two days before had reopened after almost six months of coronavirus-precipitated closure. Masked, we began to wander the galleries together. Before we knew it, Sandy and I were practically shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends instead of the recommended six feet apart. If masks weren’t required in the museum, the four of us probably would have yanked ours off within minutes. Never fear, the yankings took place a couple of hours later when we all settled around a small table on the patio of a café near the museum. There we sat, ate and talked, a foot or two away from one another.

Now, none of us four ever will be mistaken for a wild and crazy type. What, then, caused the two couples to say goodbye to social distancing and mask-wearing when in each other’s company? In my case, I think it was because it somehow just felt like the natural thing to do. Subconsciously, I apparently had been as ready as could be to have normal interactions with these two close friends. And I knew that Cindy and Gene routinely follow the coronavirus guidelines, and trusted that they had determined, as best they could, that they were virus-free.

Let the good times roll! That’s what they continued to do in Cape May, a sweet, seaside, beachy town at New Jersey’s southern tip, about 110 miles from my suburban Philadelphia abode. There, Cindy had rented a condo for the Saturday-to-Saturday week that straddled late September and early October. At Cindy’s invitation, Sandy and I came down to stay with her for the final three of those days. Gene, who was needed at his and Cindy’s Philadelphia home for most of the week, arrived one day after Sandy and myself.

Yeah, we all had a great time together. We social-distanced from other people, but not among ourselves. We wore masks in Cape May’s stores and when walking on visitor-crowded streets, but otherwise not. Our time together passed quickly. Sandy and I were delighted to be on a mini-vacation in a popular area that we’d been to only once before, halfway to forever ago.

Cape May is a lovely place. It is filled, primarily, with old, well-maintained houses, hotels and other structures, all exuding strong character. And Cape May’s public beach, beside the Atlantic Ocean, is wide and lengthy. I, who hadn’t strode on a beach or seen ocean waters since a vacation last year on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, was damn well thrilled to do so once again. And I also was damn well thrilled to walk through the woods and around the marshlands of Cape May Point State Park. They were a sight for sore eyes.

Well, hopefully Cindy and Gene and Sandy and I will be able to continue our undistanced get-togethers. I’m already looking forward to our next one, whenever that might be. And by the way, I’m sure that what the four of us have done is anything but rare. Worldwide, undoubtedly, plenty of people, who otherwise adhere to coronavirus-related safety guidelines, at times are meeting up with trusted relatives and friends in a normal, pre-pandemic manner. I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts about this and/or related topic(s).

Okay, that’s about it, girls and boys. Be well. Adios till next time.

(All of the photos were taken in Cape May, New Jersey, USA)

Autumnal Thoughts, Autumnal Tunes

Planet Earth, which we humans increasingly have been making a mess of since the Industrial Revolution began in the late 1700s, nonetheless has remained reliable in various ways. It keeps on spinning, for one thing, and traveling around the Sun, for another. Good thing that it does, no? If those movements were thrown out of whack, we, along with every entity taking up earthly space, would be goners in a couple of blinks of an eye.

Well, as we know, on the 22nd of September those good ol’ reliable movements brought about the autumnal equinox and the vernal equinox in, respectively, the northern and southern hemispheres. This was due to the Sun being directly above the equator, by the way. For me, a resident of the north, this event officially marked the beginning of my favorite time of year — fall — and prompted me to gather some thoughts about that season. Here they are, along with a few recordings that capture fall’s cozy, mellow essence. Damn straight, I’m in an autumnal mood!

This is the main reason why I like autumn as much as I do: I was born in late October, smack in the heart of fall. And my birthday has been lovingly acknowledged and celebrated, by one combination of people or another, every year of my life. Over time it became only natural for me to associate autumn with my birth anniversary. How could I not, seeing that autumn never fails to whisper frequent reminders in my ear about the approaching big day? And when that day arrives, autumn, behind the scenes, is one of the celebrants. Yeah, autumn loves me, and I therefore love autumn back, you dig?

Hatboro, Pennsylvania

To meld with autumn righteously and timely, on its first day this year I took a long walk through Hatboro, a cute town a few miles from where I live in the Philadelphia suburbs. I headed there with the newly-hatched season fully on my mind. The mid-day temperature was lovely, about 73° F (23° C), the skies were as blue as you could hope for, and a light breeze ruffled the few strands of hair that remain on the crown of my head. In other words, the day was pretty damn well ideal. How sweet it was not to be sweating like a pig, which I had done numerous times during walks in the just-departed summer. Autumn weather suits me just fine.

Produce Junction (Hatboro, Pennsylvania)
Hints of gold in a tree in Hatboro, Pennsylvania

Hatboro was starting to get its autumnal mode in order. For instance, I saw scarecrows on a couple of porches and in a couple of store windows, and I gazed with admiration at the arrays of pumpkins in Produce Junction, a store on Hatboro’s main drag. But there was little evidence of fall in the billions of leaves within Hatboro’s boundaries. Only in a smattering of trees did I notice a changing of the color guard, such as in a tree outside of Produce Junction. Hints of gold decorated that specimen, harbingers of full-blown color transformations yet to come. I’m eagerly awaiting mid-to-late autumn’s golds, russets, burgundies and ambers. That palette grabs me powerfully each year, yet tenderly. Yes, autumn is a period of beauty that goes down as satisfyingly as comfort food.

As I walked through Hatboro, I pulled some autumn tunes out of my memory bank and let passages of them play silently in my head. I’ve always loved Autumn Almanac, by The Kinks, and Van Morrison’s Autumn Song. They provided part of my stroll’s soundtrack. As did Harvest Moon, a Neil Young composition that quite a number of musicians have covered. Young’s version is special. It makes me go limp with wonder, so beautiful do I find it. In Hatboro, those songs, and a few others, kept me company excellently.

Back home later that day I did some research into fall-themed songs, discovering Eva Cassidy’s live rendition of Autumn Leaves (music by Joseph Kosma, English lyrics by Johnny Mercer). With vocals emanating from Cassidy’s most-private chambers, this performance would break the hearts of all but the stoniest. And I reconnected with Autumn Serenade (music by Peter DeRose, lyrics by Sammy Gallop), off the album that the famous saxophonist John Coltrane recorded in 1963 with the not-so-famous vocalist Johnny Hartman. A bit more research would have revealed many others, so deep a hold has autumn maintained on songwriters past and present.

Rather than overload this essay with YouTube presentations, I’ve decided to limit the recordings to three. I think you’ll enjoy the following Young, Cassidy and Coltrane/Hartman works. Be well, boys and girls. And, as I usually mention, please don’t be shy about adding your comments.

Some Of This Year’s Pix: A Photography Story

Ah, the wonders and the ease of digital photography. I mean, you’ve got to love it. No mess and no fuss, which is precisely the way that little ol’ me, who is lazy as shit, likes things to be.

What’s more, digital photography can be quite addictive, as half or more of the world’s population is fully aware. I’m definitely addicted. In spurts, anyway. I don’t take pictures of every damn thing I do or of every place I go, but, ever since obtaining my first smart phone in 2015, I’ve snapped more than enough. And a fair number of those shots have found their way onto the pages of the publication that you now are reading. Man, writing stories for this site usually drains the hell out of me. But snapping pix for it with my phone? That’s a gas, gas, gas!

And so, the other day I decided to have a look at the hundreds of photos from 2020 that sit quietly and patiently in my phone’s storage room. I did so with the idea in mind to put a small bunch of them on public display for the first time. Fortunately, there were enough that struck me as worthy. Thus, this essay became a go. That brought a nice big sigh of relief because, as I’ve noted semi-regularly over the last few years, story ideas don’t exactly spew from me with the force of volcanic eruptions.

Miles Table (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). January 15, 2020
Abington, Pennsylvania. March 21, 2020
Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. May 29, 2020

Are there any connective tissues holding these photos together? I suppose so, since they portray scenes that appealed to me sufficiently to try and capture them. For instance, I’m into color juxtapositions, arrays of angular shapes, and unexpected elements. And all of those are to be found in some of the pictures, such as the one taken in front of Miles Table, the Philadelphia café where my pal Gene and I ate lunch one January day.  The reflections in Miles Table’s windows intermesh giddily with the interior of the shop. Dig that crazy tree cozying up to a prim and proper table! You don’t see that every day.

Photo taken in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania on June 2, 2020
Georgian Bakery And Café (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). January 10, 2020
Photo taken in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania on June 22, 2020

On the other hand, I also enjoy simplicity, and there was a sweet simplicity to the early-evening cottony sky that I photographed from my house’s deck. We’ve all seen skies like this one mucho times before. But we never grow tired of them, because they are both calm and majestic. They give us pause.

My house (Willow Grove, Pennsylvania). May 24, 2020

And, speaking of my house, how could I resist the photo of the rhododendron bush that sits in my front yard? I tell you, that plant preened exuberantly this spring, something that it never had done before during the 15 years that my wife Sandy and I have lived here. To my mind, this was proof that flora can be unpredictable in their moods and actions, sometimes behaving wonderfully and sometimes not. Humans, take heart in that! Every entity on Planet Earth is complicated as hell, not just us.

I’ll leave you with some thoughts related to the selfie that I took a few weeks ago at the Michener Art Museum, a medium-sized and excellent museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It is named after the famous author James Michener, who, in the 1980s, donated tons of money to help establish the institution.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the museum closed its doors in March of this year. But the pandemic situation improved in Pennsylvania over time, allowing some cultural facilities to re-open. The Michener did so on July 20.

Sandy and I, who are museum lovers, were as happy as two masked people could hope to be, because we last had been at a museum in January. Being able to visit the Michener helped to create the illusion that the world was spinning towards normality. Anyway, we spent an hour looking over the exhibits. One of them, which displayed works that various artists created in recent years in reaction to climate change, kept us rapt.

But, as much as anything that day, I liked looking at oil paintings by Fern Coppedge (1883-1951), who lived much of her life not far from Doylestown. A number of her works are in the museum’s collections. Sandy and I have visited the Michener pretty frequently this century, and both of us have come to admire Coppedge’s art very much. Bold, tastefully-arranged colors. Strong brushstrokes. Depictions of scenic old towns and beautiful natural landscapes. I mean, what’s not to like?

Photo taken in Michener Art Museum (Doylestown, Pennsylvania). August 25, 2020

So, natch, it was in front of a Coppedge oil painting that Sandy and I positioned ourselves to grab the selfie, an art form whose mechanics I haven’t come close to mastering. Yeah, the painting appears to be drunkenly crooked in the photo, but that’s kind of charming, don’t you think?  Coppedge, who wasn’t a stickler for perfect balance, probably wouldn’t have minded a bit. And I bet that she’d have dug the contrasts and connections that our masks and tilted heads established with her painting. This photo will remain a fine reminder to Sandy and me of a very good day during the Pandemic Era.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Thanks.)