My Favorite Color Once Was Yellow, Now It’s Blue. What’s Yours?

A couple of stories ago I reported that, for health reasons, I recently started going out on half-hour walks four or five times each week. A lot of the walks have taken place in my remarkably hilly neighborhood. In early February, while hauling my ass up and down slope after slope, I listened to a podcast that I like quite well. The podcast, Music From 100 Years Ago, is hosted by easy-going and real knowledgeable Brice Fuqua, and the episode that played from my earbuds was called Yellow Music (click here to find it, if you like).

Now, I’d chosen this particular episode, one of many that I’ve heard in Music From’s archives, because the word yellow had jumped out at me and set my mind in motion. As I readied to begin that walk, I fondly remembered that yellow was my favorite color when I was a wee lad. Yellow was a good choice of color for me back then. It’s cheerful and packed with energy, like most little kids. I still dig yellow, but for a long time haven’t been in love with it to the extent that I was millions of moons ago. That’s especially true these days, seeing that I ain’t especially cheerful and packed with energy anymore. Ah, the joys of getting old!

I don’t know when yellow ceased to be my fave. Probably when I was more or less ten years old. For the next 35 or so years I didn’t have a favorite color, not consciously anyway. During that time I was a fan of just about every color, something that has remained true to this day.

But somewhere in the 1990s I began to notice that I was particularly attracted to blue, or should I say blues, because various shades of blue pleased me just fine. I suppose that blue will remain my favorite for the rest of my life. I’d be shocked and awed, for instance, if on my death bed my final words were something like these: “Listen, after all this time I’ve decided that I like green more than blue. Who’d have thunk it? Okay, it’s time for me to go. Goodbye, cruel world!”

And I’m not alone in my pick. Surveys have determined that blue is the favorite color of more people than any other. So, why blue? Well, I’ve given this some thought and have come up with some notions. For one, I suspect that the preference has to do with the prevalence of blue. In daylight, when the heavens above aren’t cloud-covered, it’s blue that dominates our world. Duh! And who can resist a blue sky? It smiles upon us with a twinkle in its eye and with welcoming embraces. We’ve probably come to think of blue as a healthful force.

Blue comforts us. It helps us to vibrate at a beneficial pace. You can’t say the same for all colors, I think. You better watch out for orange, red and yellow, among others, for example. They just might bop you in your frigging nose or get your hormones racing way faster than you’re in the mood to deal with. And though white, black and the rest of the neutrals might possess blue’s healthful qualities, they lack the factor that, to me, sets blue apart from them: prettiness. Blue has just enough in the looks department to keep you more than interested.

Still, what do I know? There’s no right or wrong when it comes to color preferences. I’d be very interested to learn what colors are favored by this article’s readers.

The time has arrived to insert a couple of photographs of my once and current favorite colors. The explosive painting below hangs in my living room. It’s from Haiti and won my heart when I saw it in a Philadelphia art gallery in the 1980s. There are a variety of giddy yellows in there.  As a child, all of them would have enthralled me.

I have no doubt which shade of blue rates highest on my scale. It’s the blue of a late-morning sky, a soft but rich blue. Looking at the photo below, which I took on February 16, I can feel my blood pressure dropping to an acceptable level. Healthful is right.

Let’s get back to Brice Fuqua, a guy with wide musical ears who builds each of his broadcasts around a theme. The theme for Yellow Music is songs with yellow in their titles. During my walk, the number that got to me the most was one I’d never heard before, Yellow Dog Blues. W. C. Handy wrote it in 1915. The version that Brice played, sung by the fabulous Bessie Smith, came out in 1925. The song is about a heartbroken lady who is desperate to find out where the love of her life has disappeared to.

Yes, it’s very appropriate to this essay that Yellow Dog Blues contains in its title the colors that have stood out the most for me in my life. Thank you, Brice, for enabling me to bring the present proceedings to a vaguely logical conclusion.

(As always, comments are welcome and appreciated. And please don’t be shy about sharing this story. Mucho gracias.)

Here We Go Again: Art On Wheels, Part Five

My editor, Edgar Reewright, wasn’t pleased when I told him last week that my next story, which in fact is the one you’re now reading, would comprise observations garnered and photos taken in my pursuit of nicely decorated motor vehicles.

“Edgar,” I said to him over the phone, “you know that I get a kick out of photographing these bad boys, and maybe an even bigger kick from writing about the photo shoots. What can I say? It’s what I do.”

“Well, Neil, editing your attempts at writing is what I do. And I don’t want to deal with yet another of your Art On Wheels efforts. You’ve done four of them already. That’s more than enough. Believe me, nobody has been praying that you’d turn out a fifth. Neil, if you insist on going ahead with Part Five, then you’re on your own until you come to your senses.”

Being more than somewhat of an asshole, Edgar then hung up. Screw him! Who needs an editor anyway? Well, I sure do, come to think of it. But if this story has to be editor-less, so be it. I’ll bring Edgar back on board after I launch Part Five into cyberspace. He may not be a fan of my journalistic output, but he damn well is in favor of the monies I pay him for his expertise.

Yup, I surely enjoy an occasional quest for trucks and other vehicles whose bodies are artistically painted canvases that advertise goods or services. What’s surprising is that relatively few commercial vehicles, maybe one out of 10, fit that bill. The rest are either very plain Janes or are decorated not at all. As for the latter (the totally unadorned ones), more often than not they are monochromatic homages to one shade or another of white. Sure, there’s something to be said for going about your business anonymously. But, vehicularly-speaking, I prefer a nice amount or more of splash.

Parts one through four of this series (which you can read by clicking here and here and here and here) describe expeditions in my immediate area (I live near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA). Each adventure was confined to one day, a day in which I spent a few hours trolling shopping centers, strip malls and wherever else I could safely and slowly drive my car. When I found my prey, I parked the car, exited from it, and documented with my phone’s camera the vehicle(s) that had caught my eye.

This time around, though, I took a different approach, which began on the first of this month while my wife and I were visiting The Big Apple. That evening, walking to Penn Station to catch a train that would take us part of the way home, we passed a trippy wonder of a truck that sold cannabis-infused sweet stuffs. Weed World Candies was painted in nearly every gleeful color under the Sun. Natch, I had to take its picture.

The idea for Part Five began to solidify in my mind at that moment. No need this time around to snap the photos in one day. And no need, necessarily, to troll in a car. Three days later, therefore, I wandered around my home area on foot, and found four victims that met my standards. But, lazy guy that inherently I am, I used my car the day after that to locate more artsy examples. The pictures of all the vehicles that passed muster on the various photo shoots are on this page, but in no particular order.

So, what do you think about the trucks and the one SUV (Kremp Florist)? Me, I’ve got to rate the cannabis truck as number one. It probably is as sharp as any example of art on wheels that I’ve ever seen. And my pick for second best is the Sysco truck. Its blues are calming, its message one of graciousness and welcome. The third-place prize? I grant it to the Trotter Services truck. The precise, hard-edged design, though severe, is oh so modern to my eyes.

By the way, when I was about 80 feet from Sysco, which was partially obscured from my view by plantings, I heard what I assumed was the opening or closing of the truck’s rear door. Not knowing which direction the door was moving, and not wanting to wait to find out, I quickly took up position behind some bushes, enlarged the truck’s image on the phone’s screen, and pressed the button. Man, I was lucky to get the shot. In the photo, that’s the driver only seconds away from climbing into the vehicle and taking off.

I tell you, the writing game can bring surprises. The longer you’re at it, the more likely your true nature and inclinations will emerge, not only in words and story lines but in real life. When I began this publication in 2015, never would I have expected that I’d be tracking down good looking vehicles, and liking it. I confidently say that, assuming I remain above ground for the foreseeable future, there will be another installment of Art On Wheels, Edgar Reewright notwithstanding. What, like I’ve got something better to do? As I’ve noted in my articles numerous times before, I’m an old f*cker. Humor me.

(As I almost always mention, please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this piece. I thank you.)

(If you click on any photo, a larger image will open.)

A Shadowy Walk In The Hood

Until recently, the only time I made a New Year’s resolution was during the waning days of 1976. My intent back then was to ditch the cigarette habit I’d been enjoying for a dozen years. Man, I did it, starting a few days later on the first of January, though I had a low-level relapse in 1982 that didn’t reach its conclusion till 1985.

Several weeks ago, the circumstances were right once again for the New Year’s resolution thing. That’s because an annual health checkup, in mid-December 2019, revealed that my glucose level had inched a bit over the top of the normal range. Crap! What was a very-aging boy to do if he wanted to try and prevent diabetes from setting in? Well, some dietary changes definitely were in order. As in, cutting back on the carbs. And the time also had arrived to up the hours that I spend in motion, as opposed to those spent while sitting on my wrinkly ass. The experts seem convinced, you see, that a decent amount of sustained movement each week can help many people drive their glucose numbers southward. Ergo, since early January, in addition to the energy I expend running errands and chasing my own tail, I’ve been taking four or five half-hour walks each week.

Most of the walks have been in my suburban neighborhood which, unlike the rest of the town, is hilly as hell (I live near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA). Going uphill on the steep slopes is good, obviously, for my exercise regimen, though there’s no doubt I’ll be withdrawing that statement if the exertion precipitates a cardiac event. That’s assuming I survive said event, of course. So far, however, I haven’t needed the assistance of emergency medical personnel or of an undertaker, so I’ll stop that train of thought in its tracks. Let’s return to the walks.

While pounding the pavement on January 22, I noticed a couple of things that ordinarily wouldn’t have jumped out at me but, for reasons unknown, this time did. “Yeah, shadows!” I silently exclaimed to myself, at the end of the walk, when I saw some of them on the sidewalk near my house. “Shadows are cool. I’ll scour the neighborhood for shadows on the next walk. That’ll give me something to write about for the blog. The story won’t be amazingly interesting, but so what? Nobody expects anything all that interesting from old f*cks like me anyway.”

January 23 soon enough arrived. As I left my house that day at 11:30 AM, the temperature of about 42°F (6°C) was bracing but not all that bad. The skies were clear, so our pal The Sun was able to help cast shadows right and left. Ordinarily I listen to podcasts on my iPhone while walking in the hood, to avoid becoming bored shitless. But this time I was podcast-less, the better to focus on my mission. And so focused was I, an hour sped by before I knew it. I hadn’t expected to be out that long. At the end of the hour I arrived back home, having gotten plenty of exercise, and with a bunch of photos of shadows sitting within the phone.

I’ll say it again: Shadows are cool. They are shape-shifting, darkened, alternate images of what passes for reality. They have no substance at all, as far as I, a guy who nearly flunked high school physics, know. And yet, there they are. Not only that, they’re everywhere, they’re everywhere! Well, almost everywhere. I hope that my voyage through the hood the other day doesn’t cause me to become fixated on shadows, as that would be a turn of events not the least bit appreciated. But I sure enough dug them during the session in which I sought them out.

Shadow-wise, I didn’t come across anything particularly unexpected. But that was okay.  Tree shadows that spread mightily across fences and paved streets impressed me muchly, as did the dainty silhouettes of traffic signs. I envied the long fingers of the patterns created by play equipment in the kids’ section of the park two blocks from my abode. And everyday objects that I ordinarily wouldn’t give the time of day to, such as fire hydrants and recycling bins, received my blessings because of the endearingly goofy shapes that they produced.

Still, among all the pictures, how could I not most admire the one containing my own alter-image? I damn well have star appeal in that one, I’m certain everyone would agree. If any movie producers are reading this story (and why wouldn’t they be?) and are in need of a mysterious figure to lurk in the shadows of a movie scene or two or more (and why wouldn’t they be?), look no further. Lurking is my middle name. I am your man!

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this story on Facebook, Twitter and the like.)

(If you click on any photo, a larger image will open in a separate window.)

We Deserve To Be Rocked!

The late Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Bluebeard, which came out in 1987 and which I read a few weeks ago, isn’t one of the best books I’ve ever pulled off a shelf. I mean, the plot is not particularly compelling. And whatever points Vonnegut was trying to make don’t congeal. But sometimes I’m a forgiving soul! And this was one of those times. Meaning, I enjoyed Bluebeard (though there’s no arguing that The Sirens Of Titan and Cat’s Cradle, among others, are better Vonnegut creations). It’s a breezy read. Its witticisms and absurdist underpinnings kept me flipping the pages. And eventually the book found its way into my heart when it helped to spur the production of this essay. See? It can pay to read a mediocre book!

Bluebeard is the supposed autobiography of septuagenarian Rabo Karabekian, a once-acclaimed but now-forgotten abstract painter who, through no real efforts of his own, has become ridiculously wealthy. But his riches mean little to Rabo. Hell, just about everything means little to him. He isn’t a basket case, but he passes through his “golden years” with emotions that rarely jump above a flatline pattern. Rabo would do well to allow joy to enter his life a whole lot more often.

I’ve incorporated Bluebeard into this opus as a result of my attention having been turned to one of the first pieces I wrote for this website. That occurred when I noticed, on my WordPress statistics page, that somebody in our big, old world recently had taken a look at said story, upon which I had bestowed an incredibly ungainly title:  Are We Just Boring As We Get Older? Jackson Browne, And I, Say It Ain’t Necessarily So (click here if you’d like to read it).

Well, last week I read that Browne essay to relearn what it’s all about. Shit, like I should have been able to recall something I penned almost five years ago? I’m lucky when I remember which drawer I keep my underpants in. Turns out that the piece is about the power of music to improve your life. Browne, a primo singer-songwriter who has been going strong in the music biz for over 50 years, has clear thoughts on the subject. Here are his words from my story. They are what he had to say, back in 2014, to interviewer David Dye when asked if people become boring in later life: “As you age, you look for ways in which to sustain yourself . . . Music is restorative, the act of doing it, the act of listening to it. Man, it’s good for you. It can really make the difference in how the rest of your life goes, and especially how you feel physically.”

Right on, Jackson! I couldn’t agree more. Music can calm you down. It can take your mind off your troubles and woes. And, way better from my perspective, music might lead you to inner regions that are so pure and enchanting, you can’t believe your good fortune in being there. Jackson’s quote put me in mind of Rabo Karabekian. Music seems to be absent from Rabo’s life, and he’s all the poorer for it.

Rabo aside, I’d guess that music plays anywhere from a reasonably big to a real big part in most peoples’ lives. Speaking personally, which I sure do a hell of a lot of in this publication, I’d be one sorry f*cker were music to be taken away from me. Listening to music sometimes makes my day. At the least, it helps to get me through each day. Unlike in my youth and middle age, I don’t need to hear tons and tons of music (like Rabo and Jackson, I’m into my 70s), but not a day goes by without a healthy dose, at minimum, of tunes greeting my ears.

And most genres of music suit me just fine. Jazz, blues, reggae, soul, classical, you name it. But more than anything, I like to be rocked. Rocked, that is, by loud, pulsating rock music, the varieties of same that prominently employ electric guitars. This doesn’t happen too much in my house, where my wife Sandy prefers music to be on the more sedate side of the spectrum. But I’ve made it a point over the past 12 months to attend concerts that rock me to the bones. I hadn’t done enough of that in the previous 10 or so years. Paradoxically, Sandy often accompanies me to these shows.

Rocked I was, and mightily, on January 11 when my much-better half and I went to a four-hour, five-band rock concert at City Winery, in Philadelphia. The bands took no prisoners. Nothing resembling a ballad was played that night. I liked each act, but one was head and shoulders above the rest. Namely, Joe Grushecky And The Houserockers (Joe is from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, has been rocking and rolling forever, and is pals with Bruce Springsteen). During long passages on each of their songs, the singing stopped and the group’s three-guitar attack took to the skies. Closing my eyes, I let the dense, rushing waves of sound bring me as close to “heaven” as I’ll ever get.

Joe Grushecky And The Houserockers (Joe has the red guitar. Some band members wouldn’t fit in the photo.)

Yes, music, whether you’re a listener or performer, can be a nourishing force that opens hidden doors. And it’s not the only one, of course, though I have to think that it reigns supreme. For some people, painting or sculpting might take them to magical places. Or skiing. Or playing basketball. Who knows how long the list is. I believe that, consciously or not, we all crave more than the everyday, no matter what our age. And that, at least now and then, we want to soar. Man, we deserve to be rocked, in a good way of course, musically or otherwise. Damn straight about that. Our time on Planet Earth is limited, after all.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. And if you’re thinking about sharing this story on social media, go for it! I thank you.)

The Nighttime Was The Right Time: A Photography Story

As I was flipping through the photographs on my phone the other day, I more or less said this to myself: “Holy crap, I snapped away like a damn fool in 2019!”

I made that observation because it seemed to me that at least 800 photos from last year reside in my phone’s innards. Not only are they mementos, they’ve also proven useful, as a fair number of them have adorned articles published on this site. And you know what? I ain’t done with using the photos. No way! That’s because, in the midst of reviewing the pix, inspiration zapped me with a story idea. Shit, that hurt! And to make matters worse, I think I tore my right pectoral muscle when I grabbed for the idea before it could vanish into thin air. Shit, that really hurt! And still does. Man, the things we go through in the name and service of creativity.

Nighttime outdoor photos. Yes, that’s what this essay is going to feature. I hadn’t given it any thought before but, when perusing 2019’s photographic output, I realized that I hadn’t taken all too many that fit into that category. The heavy majority of the pictures was created in daylight. And half or more of the after-dark shots were from restaurants or music clubs. Indoor locations, you dig.

But we work with what we have. After sifting through the appropriate pictures on my phone, I’ve selected nine to be shared with the world, three each from Philadelphia (USA), Cape Cod (USA), and Edinburgh (Scotland, UK). Nicely inhabited places are they. And pretty safe places for the most part too. But my camera contains no night shots from their woodlands or desolate sections, because I don’t venture into areas such as those after the Sun dips below the horizon. I’ve got a heart and I’ve got a pair of balls, but nobody ever will mistake mine, metaphorically-speaking, for Rambo’s. I know my limitations.

As I’ve noted more than once previously in this publication, walking around while looking at things has been one of my main interests since I entered my early 20s, which occurred 50 years ago. And most of that walking has been done in daylight, as my photos from 2019 emphasized to me.

Spruce Street Harbor Park, Philadelphia. (August 8, 2019)
Spruce Street Harbor Park, Philadelphia. (August 8, 2019)
Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia. (December 27, 2019)

But I like to wander nocturnally too, and should do more of it than I have. What’s not to like? When natural light is low, the world seems to don new sets of clothes. For instance, some areas blossom wildly at night under artificial lights, because those lights contrast so magnetically with the darkness overhead. Think Times Square. Along those lines, there are blasts of man-made colors in the pictures that I’ve selected from Cape Cod and Philadelphia, though the mysterious nature of nighttime is mixed into all of those scenes too. They won’t be confused with Times Square.

Provincetown, Cape Cod. (October 13, 2019)
Provincetown, Cape Cod. (October 18, 2019)
Sunset as seen from Harding Beach, Chatham, Cape Cod. (October 19, 2019)

It’s a different story for the pictures I’m presenting of Edinburgh, Scotland. They are on the somber side. Melancholic. Their shadows possibly hold secrets. When I walked the streets depicted in those photos, I had the feeling that almost anything might happen. And I liked that. I was a bit wary yet relaxed, in a dreamy state that vibrated tantalizingly, deliciously. I guess I’m in a very receptive mode as I type these words, because I’m reliving my late night strolls through Edinburgh right now. They took me to locales within myself that I’m not often tuned into. They were good for my “soul.”

Edinburgh, Scotland. (May 22, 2019)
Edinburgh, Scotland. (May 28, 2019)
Edinburgh, Scotland. (May 28, 2019)

Well, several days have passed since I composed the above paragraphs on the 28th and 29th of December. I was planning to wrap up the essay with only a few more words. But it has become obvious to me that it needs to go on for a while longer. I say that because my wife and I spent part of New Year’s Eve with two friends near Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront. For many years Philadelphia has set off fireworks in the middle of the river on NYE, and the 31st of December, 2019 was no exception. The four of us took up positions atop a parking garage that overlooks the river. We didn’t have long to wait before the big event began at 6 PM.

How were the fireworks? Splendid as always. Not only do I love fireworks, I enjoy snapping photographs of them. And the ones I took the other evening are, of course, nighttime outdoor pictures. So, they are a natural fit for this story. Here are several of them. Happy New Year, one and all! Let’s hope that 2020 will be an uplifting year. And, by the way, please don’t be shy about adding comments or about sharing this story. I thank you.

Yo! And Ho, Ho, Ho Too: A Guest Post By Santa Claus

Yo! And ho, ho, ho too. This is your boy, Santa Claus, checking in from the suburbs of Philadelphia, USA. Yeah, I know that it will be Christmas Eve in two days. And yeah, I know that I should be at the North Pole, preparing to deliver gifts to a billion kiddies all over the world. But, screw it! I’ll go back home soon enough. And I fully intend to fulfill my obligations on the eve of all eves. For now, though, I’m playing hooky. I need a break from Mrs. Claus, who’s been getting on my nerves big-time recently. “Lose some weight, lose some weight,” she says to me 50 times a day. “Okay, girl, I will,” I keep telling her, “but it wouldn’t hurt if you drop a few yourself.”

There’s only so much aggravation a guy can take. That’s why I jumped into my sleigh a little while ago and guided the reindeer, at lightning speed, to the house of my pals Neil and Sandy in the Philly suburbs. What is it with those reindeer, by the way? When they’re not airborne they spend most of their time crapping, pissing and spitting. What a mess! And I’m the one who’s got to clean up after them. God forbid that Mrs. Claus pitches in once in a while. Well, it’ll be Neil and Sandy who’ll inherit that job this time. Tough luck, guys! That’s what can happen when Santa pays a visit.

Minutes ago, as quietly as falling snow, we landed on my friends’ backyard grass. It’s 4:45 PM and getting dark outside, so I doubt if Neil and Sandy realize that I’m here. I’ll knock on their door soon, but first I’m going to take a stroll through their neighborhood, which I did once before, on Christmas Eve in 2016 (if you click here, you’ll read all about it). I was down in the dumps then, and seeing the beautiful Christmas lights and other decorations on the houses and front lawns cheered me up tremendously. So much so that the next day, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, or something or other like that, I delivered the goods all over the world with unprecedented vigor. Mrs. Claus would be ecstatic if I ever demonstrated vigor like that in the sack. But what the hell . . . I’m Santa Claus, not Leonardo DiCaprio.

I must say that the temperature isn’t too bad here. It’s cold but a whole lot warmer than that frigging icebox of a region that I call home. You know, come to think of it, I bet that freezing my ass off like I do at the North Pole might be at the root of my chronically lackluster sexual performance. I’ve got to give some serious thought to relocating to warmer climes. Jamaica would be nice as a new home base. So would Tahiti. If we slimmed down, Mrs. Claus and I would look sharp in either of those places, strolling the sands in bright red Speedo bathing suits.

But you know what? I think that the Philadelphia burbs might be an even better choice. For one thing, Neil and Sandy are there. They’ve proven to be good friends, even though my contacts with them have been few. And I need friends. I hardly have any at the North Pole. How could I? Almost nobody is nuts enough to live there. Except for me and the missus and those weirdo elves.

Okay, it’s time to take in the sights. They improved my emotional state in 2016, and they better do the same tonight. Wow, look at that house! And that one, and that one, and that one! The people on these blocks sure know how to decorate. Bravo, folks, bravo! I tip my floppy cap to your excellent choices of colors and inflatable figures. Especially the inflatable Santas. This neighborhood is alive with good cheer and good taste. I love it! My stress level is heading south. I’m glad I decided to make this trip.

Uh-oh. My watch says that 6:00 PM has arrived. It’s almost time for me to head back home. But I have to drop in for a few minutes at the Scheinin household before that. The exterior of Neil and Sandy’s house isn’t decorated, of course. Christmas isn’t their holiday. They’re Jewish. And tonight is the first night of Chanukah. Maybe they haven’t lit the menorah candles yet. I hope so. I love lighting those little cuties and saying the Chanukah blessings. There aren’t many gentiles who can pronounce  Hebrew  as fluently as me. You better believe that it isn’t easy getting those kh sounds to resonate from the back of your throat.

I’m ringing their doorbell. I hear footsteps. The door is opening.

“Holy shit, it’s Santa!” Neil exclaims eloquently, concisely and accurately. “Why didn’t you tell us you were coming? C’mon in. We’re about to light the menorah candles. We’ll let you do that. And you can recite the blessings too. Sandy, we’ve got a guest!”

“Don’t mind if I do,” I say, moving gingerly so as not to get stuck within the door frame. I’m a fat f*ck. Mrs. Claus is right about that. “Neil, it’s more than a pleasure to see you again. And I’ve got big news. I love your neighborhood. There’s a very, very strong chance that you and I soon will be neighbors!”

(Santa Claus suggests that you not be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this story. He thanks you.)

(All photographs were taken by Santa. If you click on any photo, a larger image will open in a separate window.)

Shopping, Black Friday, And Yours Truly

If the clothing and footwear industries depended on me for financial sustenance, they would be shit out of luck. I don’t buy their goods very often. I mean, most of my attire is between three and about 45 years old. Yeah, I said 45. That’s the approximate age (I wish I could pinpoint the year in which I bought it) of a sweater that I want to be buried in when my bucket-kicking time arrives. The deep blue garment, which I treasure dearly and wear pretty frequently, still looks damn good to my eyes. Any coffin worth its salt would be proud to encase it.

My favorite sweater

I definitely haven’t been nice to the aforementioned industries in 2019. The only clothes I’ve purchased so far are underwear, socks and a sweatshirt. And as for shoes, none. That’s because I’m not too interested in regularly updating or freshening my look. Also, I seem to have excellent luck on most of those rare occasions when I do go shopping for apparel or accessories, which makes it unnecessary to shop very often. For example, three or four winters ago, upon entering a Macy’s department store near my home, I immediately found two winter coats that fit me perfectly and looked terrific. I whipped out my credit card and made them mine.

And one day seven or eight years ago, at a Sears department store, I hit the jackpot, leaving with about eight pairs of jeans that I’m wearing to this day. I could cite several more examples of this kind, but you get the picture.

Yes, I’m satisfied with the clothes and shoes that I own. So, when Black Friday (an annual, mega-hyped shopping day in the USA that unofficially kicks off the Christmas buying season) rolled around last month on the day after Thanksgiving, as it always does, I ordinarily would have avoided like the plague the indoor shopping mall near my house. I had no desire to check out the wearables on sale. And the same went for the non-wearables. And yet, mall-ward I directed my car at 11:30 AM.

Why? Hell, basically I didn’t want to enter a coffin some day without ever having experienced Black Friday firsthand. Despite being nearly as old as dirt, there are times when I can prance around the altar of pop culture better than just about anyone from my old f*ckers demographic. And if Black Friday isn’t a major player in pop culture, I don’t know what is.

Black Friday at the mall near my house.

Yup, the mall was decently crowded. Yup, most stores had Black Friday sales going on. Nope, I didn’t feel even the slightest urge to examine any merchandise. Still, I liked being at the mall. I always do, though my visits are only occasional, because the mall strikes me as a wonderland. I like its three levels of winding avenues, its airiness, its colors and sounds. And the overabundance of merchandise in the stores, though easy to criticize as excesses of the capitalist system, amazes and captivates me. Mankind, though flawed as hell, sure can turn out products like nobody’s business.

Black Friday at the mall.
Black Friday at the mall.

One thing for certain is that I was the sole visitor whose purpose was not to spend cash, but to observe. And also to record scenes with his or her smart phone’s camera. After an hour and a half of doing exactly that, I got the hell out of there.

“I ain’t much of a shopper, that’s for sure,” I said to myself as I drove back home. But a few hours later I realized how imprecise that thought was. You see, when it comes to food markets (of which there are none in the mall), I love to shop, and spend two or more hours every week in that pursuit. This pattern began somewhere in the 1990s, when it became apparent to me that the variety and quality of food stuffs available in the USA were a whole lot better than they’d ever been.

Food nerd that I’ve become, I get a charge examining olives, relishes, juices, grains, yogurts, you name it, on store shelves. The numerous types of each blow the mind. Who in the USA ever heard of quinoa, farro or Kalamata olives until fairly recent years, for instance? Nobody that I personally know.

Whole Foods breads. Many loaves had already been sold.
Some of the cheeses at Whole Foods.

In my area, the store that excites me more than any other is a Whole Foods supermarket. (Whole Foods, by the way, is part of the Amazon/Jeff Bezos empire that is engulfing the world.) I can’t stay away from its coffee, cheese and bakery sections, each of which contains products that make my life better. Farm Loaf bread and other breads, all baked on the premises, are swell. So are any number of the cheeses from around the world that Whole Foods carries. And two varieties of Allegro coffee (Rainforest Blend and Extra Dark French) have found strong favor in my household.

Some of the coffees at Whole Foods.

I suppose that you could do far worse than having food shopping as one of your hobbies. It gets me off my ass, for one thing. And it has given me something to write about here. That’s all to the very good, considering that I’m chronically semi-constipated when it comes to coming up with story themes. Maybe prunes would help. Prunes are a staple of many old f*ckers’ diets, right?

(As I frequently mention, please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this essay on social media. Mucho gracias.)

(If you click on any photo, a larger image will open in a separate window.)

I’ve Got A Few Recommendations. How About You?

During our vacation on Cape Cod in October, my wife and I poked around the cute town of Chatham one fine, sunny afternoon. While my much better half busied herself in the aisles of a store or two, I went into the Chatham Orpheum Theater to try and find out which films would grace its screens in the upcoming weeks. Thumbing through the theater’s brochures at the ticket counter, I overheard a conversation taking place between the guy behind that counter and a patron. They were discussing literature, and one of them mentioned Cacciato. Man, I’d heard of Cacciato, so I opened my trap and said so.

“Are you talking about Going After Cacciato, the novel by Tim O’Brien?” I asked them. The ticket seller gave me what I interpreted as one of those Huh, this asshole knows about Cacciato? looks, but I wasn’t offended. Anyway, it turns out that the two fellows mostly had been gushing over another of O’Brien’s works, The Things They Carried. They briefly told me about the book, which came out in 1990 and, like Going After Cacciato, was inspired by the time that O’Brien spent in 1969 and 1970 as a soldier in Vietnam. It sounded intriguing. “Do you want me to write down the name for you?” the ticket seller asked. Indeed I did, and so he did. Into my wallet the slip of paper went.

Not long after I got back from vacation I borrowed The Things They Carried from a local library. I finished it last week. And I have to say that the gents were right. A series of interconnected, semi-fictional stories about the Vietnam War (pre, during and post), the work impressed me. It doesn’t glorify war, doesn’t dwell on battles. What it mainly does is lay on the table the emotions and mindsets of people attempting to deal with potential, immediate and imaginary dangers. You’ll find the good, the bad and the ugly in this book. And also the mysterious and the truly touching. In the best of the stories, O’Brien’s words come at you like the blows of a patient, precise boxer. Clearly, I recommend The Things They Carried.

Recommendations. There are a few other new ones kicking around inside me. And there’s no way I can contain them, so desperate are they to meet and greet cyberspace. With no further ado then, here they are.

A biopic of sorts about the late Fred Rogers, host of the legendary kids’ show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, has just come out. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is its name, and it stars Tom Hanks as Rogers. Now, I know that Fred was a strong force for decency and love. But his nasally voice, his sloooow talking pace, and his unnervingly calm manner never appealed to me. Nevertheless, my wife and I went to see the film a handful of moons ago. And I loved it. Having read no reviews in advance, I was happy to discover that it is not a typical biopic. Instead, it’s an imagined examination of the relationship between Fred and a cynical journalist named Lloyd Vogel, who is assigned, in 1998, to interview and profile Fred for Esquire magazine (the movie is drawn from the friendship that developed between real-life journalist Tom Junod and Fred).

A Beautiful Day rings very true. Hanks is Fred. And decency and love are largely what the movie is all about. Will Lloyd Vogel come to believe in the powers of Fred? I ain’t saying. Will Fred start talking faster and become the type of guy I’d want to discuss sports, music, food and girls with? Nah, but that’s more than okay. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood flirts with sappiness here and there, sure, but it got to me anyway. That’s because it gently aims for the heart and doesn’t miss.

Hey, it’s almost dinner time in my household, so I’ve got to wrap this up. You know what else is good? Beers from Magic Hat and New Belgium breweries, that’s what. In November I bought variety packs of their robust, soul-satisfying ales. And I’m going to apply those same adjectives (robust; soul-satisfying) to the coffees that Allegro and Green Mountain coffee companies turn out. My wife and I are hooked on several of their roasts. I’m tempted to use the adjectives also to describe myself, but I’d be lying out my ass if I did. So, I won’t.

The ball is now in your court. What’s been ringing your chimes recently? Down below is a section where you can enter your comments.

Before I go, though, I have to mention and recommend a golden oldie — Bernadette —  that has been stuck in my head for a few weeks. I’ve heard it dozens of times in my life and always dug it. But when the tune came on the radio not long ago it walloped me like never before. Bernadette, by The Four Tops, was released in 1967. And it’s never gone away. Such a great song. The desperation in lead singer Levi Stubbs’ voice sends chills up and down my ol’ spine. I don’t like having earworms. But if I’ve got to have one, this is an excellent choice. Bernadette!

Relentlessly, Time Marches On (A Mortality Story)

For nearly all of my adult life, walking around while looking at things has been one of the activities that pleases me the most. I especially like to stretch the ol’ legs in cities, where there is no end of interesting sights, and in unspoiled natural areas, where the wonders of organic and inorganic matter never fail to amaze. And I’m also an explorer of towns that look like towns. Their old-timey ambience gets to me every time. This year I went for a healthy number of walks in all of these environments, both in the USA and in Europe, and consider myself fortunate to have done so.

My neighborhood (November 7, 2019)

However, one place where I don’t go out for walks too often is my own neighborhood, which occupies a fair amount of space in the suburbs of Philadelphia, USA. Basically that’s because my neighborhood is bland, man, bland, as is much of suburbia. Early this month, though, the urge hit me to hit my house’s surrounding blocks. Why? I wanted to check out how much of autumn’s colors were still in evidence. So, off I went in mid-afternoon. I strode along many streets, my eyes primarily focusing on tree foliage, or what was left of it. One hour later I returned to my home, having been wowed not all too much. That’s because, in my little corner of the world, yellows and ambers and russets and burgundies were close to being placed on life support. The autumnal party was just about over.

My neighborhood (November 7, 2019)

Yet, the walk had its good points. The temperature was pleasant and the air was still. Few cars made their way along the roads, and I crossed paths with only a couple of fellow humans. My mind and emotions, as a result of all of this, were in a state of relative calm. I was getting my Zen on. And I kind of liked that. You know, maybe I should enroll in a Zen monastery. I hear that they give heavily discounted rates to old f*ckers like me. Plus, I’d look great in a real long robe.

Calm as my mind was during the expedition, however, the obvious failed to impress itself upon me. Two days later it did. What I realized is that not only is fall waning in my section of the globe, but winter is drawing near. Not exactly an earthshattering observation, of course, but a useful one. Note to myself: Get ready to start freezing your ass off!

And one day after that I became somewhat melancholy as my thoughts expanded beyond winter’s approach. What struck me is that last winter seemed to be not all that long ago. For instance, I can recall in detail the events of last December’s New Year’s Eve, when my wife and I went with friends to dinner and to see John Oliver perform stand-up comedy at a Philadelphia theater. Was that really eleven months in the past? It feels like five months max.

Which at long last brings me to the main theme of this opus. Namely, our lives are flying by right before our very eyes. This would be okay if we went on and on and on. Time, then, would be irrelevant. I’ve reached the age, though, where time’s rapid pace mildly depresses me. I think semi-regularly about how much time I have left. My end might be imminent, after all. Shit. Double shit. Then again, I might hang around for another 30 years, which would bring me into my early 100s. Who knows? Whatever, if it were up to me, I’d go on forever. As in forever. I know that some or maybe most people wouldn’t choose the same. But even though the state of affairs on Planet Earth is incredibly far from perfect, overall I like being here.

“Huh? Who would want to live forever, considering that wars, floods, droughts, health epidemics and untold other calamities never go away?” I hear someone ask.

“Well, to my way of thinking, these things shouldn’t exist,” I reply. “For that matter, the whole setup on our planet would be different if I were in charge. I mean, what’s the deal with animal species — and that obviously includes humans — feeding upon other animal species? Where’s the value of life in that? And let’s not get started about other orbs in the cosmos. I shudder to think what varieties of mayhem are taking place among life forms out there.” Sigh. “It’s a pity that I wasn’t around for consultation when the universe began spinning itself into shape.”

Yeah, yeah, I sidestepped the question big time. Sue me.

And so we move along through life, hopefully trying our best to do our best. What matters in life? We all know the answers: Showing others that you care, and attending to them when your help is needed; providing properly for those that depend on us, and for ourselves; respecting the planet on which we pass our days; pursuing that which rocks our boats, as long as our passions don’t cause harm.

The list, without question, could hold many more entries. But I think I got most of the basics right. Seeing that our time on Planet Earth is limited, we might as well spend it wisely and meaningfully. And, speaking of time, it’s a late morning as I type this essay’s final words. Shortly I’ll be out the door, meeting the world and trying to keep in mind the unsolicited advice I offered in the above paragraph. Onward and upward!

(As I almost always mention, please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this piece. I thank you.)

Picking Cape Cod Pix

Last month, while vacationing on Cape Cod, I saw a small, very good exhibit about daguerreotype photography. The show, appropriately, was in a small, very good museum, the Cahoon Museum Of American Art. Before setting foot in the Cahoon I knew zero about daguerreotypes. Now I know a bit. What I learned is that daguerreotypes were the first form of photography widely available to the general public. During the 1840s and 1850s, which were the heyday for daguerreotypes, millions of them were produced. They documented the everyday and the less common aspects of the world.

What I also learned is that the process for making daguerreotypes is a mother. You need shitloads of patience and scientific know-how to turn out the finished products. Trained professionals handled the job in the 1800s, not the average Jane or Joe. You wanted a portrait of your family to be taken? You went to a pro’s studio, or maybe they came to your home, for that to be accomplished.

But time marches on, and sometimes fruitfully. For quite a few years now, any old fool — and I fit the last two words of that term awfully well — has been able to take photographs quickly and easily. Smart phones and digital technology have seen to that. Yup, I just stated the obvious.

How many people around the world are snapping away with their phones? I’m going to guess that the answer is about one billion. If the correct number is far higher than that, I wouldn’t be surprised. In any event, I was part of the snapping-away crowd while on Cape Cod. I took 300 photos, give or take a few, over a 20-day period.

Clearly, 300 is a high number. But I easily could have taken 300 more. I restrained myself from doing so, however, because obsessively photographing events takes away from truly experiencing life. You can get so caught up in photographing everything that catches your eye or seems to demand immortalization, you pretty totally miss out on the bigger picture.

Still, it’s a-ok to stop now and then to grab a shot or two or three. Playing the photographer, after all, usually is fun. For instance, when I began this blog over four years ago I didn’t anticipate that in the near future I’d be getting a kick and a half not only from taking pictures with an iPhone, but from illustrating my essays with some of them. It’s gotten to the point where sometimes I think I enjoy photography more than I do stringing words together. There’s a whole lot less angst involved with the former, that’s for sure.

Now, I’ve previously published two pieces about last month’s Cape Cod excursion, and each contains a bunch of my photos. It certainly seems unfair to me to leave all the rest of the pix sitting within my phone. I mean, those photos are begging to be set free, to travel through the ethers and to pop up on screens around the world.

On the other hand, I just heard a chorus of readers begging me not to loft every damn one of the photos into cyberspace. “Shit, Neil,” they said, “we sort of like you, but don’t try our patience. A relative handful of photographs is all right. Any more than that, though, and we’ll unfollow you faster than Superman can take a piss! Doing his business at lightning speed is one of his super powers, you know.”

Hey, I hear you! Here then are a mere nine previously unpublished photographs. I like them for various reasons. In some cases they portray what to me were unexpected scenes. In others, a feeling of melancholy or moodiness pervades. And the one of birds in flight over Cape Cod Bay was impossible to ignore. By the way, the photo within Land Ho!, a restaurant in the town of Orleans, was the first one I took during last month’s trip, though that isn’t the reason it’s included. The atmospheric ocean of dimly illuminated signs is why it’s here.

Land Ho! restaurant (Orleans, Cape Cod)
White Crest Beach, at the Atlantic Ocean (Wellfleet, Cape Cod)
First Encounter Beach, at Cape Cod Bay (Eastham, Cape Cod)

My wife Sandy and I returned from Cape Cod about two weeks ago. The trip is still on our minds, partly because Cape Cod’s combination of nature, culture, mellowness and good restaurants is mighty fine. If we vacation there again next year I’ll pen more articles about The Cape. And stick plenty of photographs into them. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

A small section of the enormous dunes in Provincetown, Cape Cod
Provincetown village, Cape Cod
Chatham, Cape Cod

As I almost always mention, please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this essay. Mucho gracias. And, oh yeah, if you click on any photo, a larger image will open in a separate window.

The Blue Trees, an outdoors art/environmental exhibit at Cahoon Museum (Cotuit, Cape Cod)
Hyannis Port, Cape Cod
Nauset Light Beach, at the Atlantic Ocean (Eastham, Cape Cod)