Provincetown, Sands And Seas

Well, as my previous opus points out, my wife Sandy’s and my vacation on Cape Cod last month was sweet. Real sweet. I’m back home now in the suburbs of Philadelphia, trying to become acclimated to the fact that the equivalents of quite a few of the Cape’s top features ain’t to be found anywhere in my region. For example, on the Cape there’s Provincetown, where bohemianism is alive and well. And beaches on which an individual easily can escape into higher dimensions by gazing upon waters that go on forever.

There’s a lot to be said for being home. But man, I miss Cape Cod!

Provincetown, located beside Cape Cod Bay at the tippy tip of Massachusetts, is a sizeable village, roughly two miles long and half a mile wide. Still, it comprises but a smallish percentage of greater Provincetown’s overall space. Waters, sands, woods and wetlands account for the rest.

Provincetown, Cape Cod

Since my first visit circa 2000, I’ve been in the village around 35 times I suppose. Old and bleached by the Sun, it looks countrified in parts, seaside-y in others, and is artsy and free-spirited throughout. A longtime commercial fishing center (it remains active as such), and once a whaling port, P-Town began to change its colors when The Cape Cod School Of Art, which is still in existence, set up shop in 1899. Before long, the village morphed into a mecca for creative types, tourists following in their wake. And in the second half of the 20th century, gays and lesbians in significant numbers began making the town their home. These days, about 3,600 individuals live there year-round. During summer, the height of the tourist season, many tens of thousands of additional humans appear.

Provincetown, Cape Cod
Provincetown,  Cape Cod

I love to meander through P-Town’s streets. Somehow they both relax and energize me. More important, they please my eyes. The homes, stores and restaurants are, comfortingly, of compatible size, usually one to two-and-a-half stories tall. Yet nearly every one carries a distinct personality. Not only that, many are tucked away in nooks and crannies and at odd angles to their neighbors. That’s why, whenever I’m in Provincetown, I notice buildings that I hadn’t before.

Pilgrim Monument (Provincetown, Cape Cod)

If I had to pick one sight over any other in the village, it would be the Pilgrim Monument. Not in daylight but when, illuminated at night, its gentle glow casts a spell. P-Town’s most uncharacteristic structure by far, it commemorates, if that’s the correct word, the landing in 1620 of English colonists on the shores of what later was dubbed Provincetown. Native Americans, not surprisingly, already occupied the land. I have no doubt that the indigenous folks were less than pleased by the strangers’ arrival. In any case, the Monument, at 252 feet in height, is an imposing creation, visible fully or in part from much of the village and its surroundings. And at night? Ooh la la! For the umpteenth time it captivated me one evening a few weeks ago.

How is it that I rarely exchanged meaningful hellos with sands and open waters until Sandy and I discovered Cape Cod in 1998? I mean, I wasn’t a stranger to them, having spent numerous days of my youth at one beach or another on Long Island. (I grew up on Long Island in a town that’s about 20 miles from Manhattan.) Whatever the reasons, I’m truly glad that the relationship developed. Hell, I’m nothing but putty in the hands of the Cape’s sandy coastlines and the liquid bodies (Atlantic Ocean, Cape Cod Bay, Nantucket Sound) that embrace them.

We always visit Cape Cod in the off-season, which is when there’s no problem finding long stretches of beach that are empty, or almost empty, of other individuals. Yeah, that’s the way we like it. With distractions at a minimum, we’re able to admire meaningfully the perfect elemental combination that is sand, water and sky.

Atlantic Ocean and Nauset Light Beach (Eastham, Cape Cod)
Cape Cod Bay and Corn Hill Beach (Truro, Cape Cod)

I took two solo beach walks last month and more than several in partnership with my better half. The latter strolls seemed more complete than the former. I mean, when the two of us stopped to stare at the endless waters every five or ten minutes, we kind of Zenned out together, no matter if the waters were roiling or calm. There is no doubt that going eyeball to eyeball with infinity, at the side of someone doing precisely the same, is a good way, a very good way, to spend some time. You can’t beat joint bliss!

(Please don’t be shy about entering your comments. I thank you. All of the photos, by the way, are from October 2021.)

Cape Cod 2021 Turned Out Just Fine

I’ve mentioned before on these pages that Cape Cod, a 65-mile-long chunk of sandy land bordered on three sides by magnificent open waters, is a locale in which I truly love to place my aged, scrawny ass. My wife Sandy and I fell for the Cape, which is in the southeastern part of Massachusetts, USA, during our first vacation there. That was in 1998. Since then, to both of our amazements, we’ve returned nearly every year, usually in autumn. Who’d have thought that there would be a somewhere we’d want to visit again and again? Not us!

Cape Cod satisfies us in many ways. For example, we spend plenty of time outdoors, walking on sands, in forests and beside marshes, and gazing at the endless seas. We go to museums, art galleries, movie theaters and restaurants. We play mini golf, fly our roughed-up but seemingly indestructible kite at one beach or another, and wander around villages that range from stately to countrified to funky. Yeah, Cape Cod is cool, a combination of ingredients and opportunities that both soothes and invigorates.

Atlantic Ocean and Coast Guard Beach. (Eastham, Cape Cod)
Marshes at an ocean inlet. (Orleans, Cape Cod)

Last year was one of the two or three, since 1998, in which Sandy and I didn’t meet up with Cape Cod. There was little point in going there during a time when our artsy and gastronomic options would have been severely limited by coronavirus.

Autumn 2021 seemed worth taking a chance on, though. For one thing, and it’s an important thing, we’re vaccinated against COVID. Also, life in general is far less restricted than it was 12 months ago. Thus, in early October we crammed a shitload of clothes and other stuff into our car, and drove from our home in Philadelphia’s suburbs to Cape Cod. We unloaded the shitload in the house we’ve rented many times before, in the town of Orleans.

Provincetown dunes. (Provincetown, Cape Cod)
Provincetown village. (Provincetown, Cape Cod)

Thankfully, the vacation, two and a half weeks in length, turned out A-OK. Sure, due to staff shortages and other virus-related reasons, a good number of art galleries, cinemas, restaurants, you name it, had reduced their hours and days of operation. But we worked around all of that as best we could, planning our activities with care. We didn’t have to worry about the sands, forests, marshes and waters, of course, because they hadn’t altered their ways of doing business. I’d have sued the f*ckers if they had!

Little Cifff Pond, nestled in a forest. (Brewster, Cape Cod)

So, in the end we were almost as busy as we were in past years. We didn’t feel shortchanged at all.

Now, I could go on and on about where we went, what we did. But I’m going to leave most of that for another day. I do, however, want to write about an activity that I didn’t mention above, one that as far as I can remember wasn’t in my repertoire prior to Cape Cod entering my life. I’m referring to sunset-viewing. Man, I suppose that Sandy and I have watched our pal the Sun drop below the horizon something like 40 times during our Cape sojourns. We’re fans.

Sunset at Cape Cod Bay. Many of the sunset-viewers are elsewhere on the sands. (Skaket Beach, Orleans, Cape Cod)

Our fondness for sunsets led us one evening this month to Skaket Beach, a smallish stretch of sand on Cape Cod Bay. Although it’s in Orleans, our home base, we hadn’t been to Skaket in years. Pulling into the parking lot, I  couldn’t believe my eyes. There were a lot of cars there. Several dozen. And strung along the beach were 75, maybe 100 individuals, more by far than I’d ever seen gathered to witness a sunset. Most of the attendees were seated on the sands upon folding chairs that they’d brought with them. Folding-chairless, Sandy and I grabbed seats on a bench a few feet behind the beach and admired the lovely skies. It was almost 6 PM, and the Sun was only minutes away from saying bye bye.

Well, as soon as the sun disappeared a good round of applause filled the air. Not only that, quite a few folks immediately left the premises. Huh? What the hell was their rush? The curtain hadn’t fallen. I mean, sunsets are generous. They linger and linger, gradually changing their patterns and color intensities. Sandy and I stuck around for another 20 minutes, oohing and ahhing and shooting the breeze. Maybe we should have stayed even longer, but darkness was descending and dinner beckoned. Back to the emptying parking lot we went, soon making our way to a nearby restaurant. We’d just seen the best show in town.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Mucho gracias. All of the photos are from October 2021)

A Movie, Dinner, And A Walk On Darkened Streets

There we were last month (we being my wife Sandy and myself) in Ambler, Pennsylvania for a late-afternoon movie followed by an early-evening dinner. Ambler, a cute town in the Philadelphia burbs, suits us just fine. We’ve dropped in dozens and dozens of times over the years because its Ambler Theater, an art house cinema, books plenty of films that we want to see, and eateries galore are strung along its blocks. Yeah, Ambler is right up our artsy and gastronomical alleys.

A scene from The Alpinist

Well, the movie, a documentary about Marc-André LeClerc, a publicity-shy mountaineer, is damn good. It’s called The Alpinist (alpinists attack mountains with gusto, rather than using the more traditional methodical approach). Dinner, indoors at Gypsy Blu, a venue with enough variety on its menu to please the curmudgeons among us, hit the spot too. I had a beer and an eggplant parm sandwich, Sandy a glass of wine and a turkey burger. I bow down to the junk-food gods for the addictive house-made chips that came with each plate.

Butler Avenue, which is Ambler’s main drag

What awaited us after dinner was a walk around town in the dark, something I’d suggested doing before we’d departed for Ambler. When we exited Gypsy Blu, though, Sandy almost at once recognized that she wasn’t dressed warmly enough for the evening’s chilly, and falling, temperatures. So, she headed back to our car and waited there. I wasn’t exactly bundled up either. However, being a man’s man, in my dreams if nowhere else, I forged ahead.

Butler Avenue
A view from a side street

Now, it’s not as though I never go for walks at night. I ring up 20 or thereabouts nocturnal strolls each year, I suppose. That Friday night in Ambler, however, seemed on the special side to me. The town’s main drag, Butler Avenue, on which most of the restaurants and bistros are found, took on the aura of a movie set, the darkness atmospherically softened here and there by restaurant and store lighting, street lamps and headlights. The movie set extended into the couple of side streets that I visited, where the wattage was even lower than on Butler. Gliding upon Ambler’s sidewalks, I felt as if I were the star of the scenes, an unobtrusive observer of the evening’s goings-on.

Butler Avenue
Butler Avenue

Unlike the side streets, Butler Ave. was buzzing. A whole lot of people were seated at the tables that, as a result of the pandemic, the town’s authorities had allowed restaurants to set up on sidewalks and in alleys. And most of the establishments were doing good business at their indoor tables too. The outdoor-diners’ energy was palpable, impossible not to absorb. My strides increased as I drank it in. Man, after a while I almost was floating. For sure, starring in a movie agreed with me. Watch out Hollywood! This wrinkled, age-spotted f*cker has his mind set on conquering you.

Getting back to a movie that actually is in distribution, I’ll say a bit more about The Alpinist, but only a bit, as having too much advance information about this flick isn’t a good idea, in my opinion, for anyone thinking of watching it. Here’s my main thought about The Alpinist: successfully scaling the unimaginably daunting structures that Leclerc is photographed tackling, especially the snow-and-ice-wrapped bad boys, is completely beyond belief!

Yet, of course, Leclerc was born to pull off one superhuman feat after another. Is there anything to be learned from his exploits? One truth, I think, is that, throughout history, nerves that are stronger than steel, and focus and talents that are totally off the charts, have been distributed to only a relative few.

The Alpinist possibly is in a theater near you. And, undoubtedly, it will make its way to a TV network or streaming service one day fairly soon. This movie blew my mind. It likely would blow yours too.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. I thank you.)

A Pretty Scene, A Pawpaw, A Song

Man, for a number of days the thoughts and themes that I’d been considering for this essay were as uncongealed as undercooked oatmeal. Eventually and fortunately, though, things began to come together when the word comforting eased its way into my mind. This occurred while I was looking over the photos that I’d taken while exploring Glenside, a town in the Philadelphia suburbs, a couple of weeks ago. To my great surprise, one of them reached out to me far more than any of the others did. It made me say aah. It made whatever stress I was feeling at that moment go bye-bye. The bottom line is that I found the scene in the photo to be very comforting.

What is it about the image that pleases me so? For one thing its colors are happy to be with one another. They get along splendidly. And the quiet reflection from across the street, in the door glass, adds to the sense of comraderie. I hadn’t even noticed the reflection when I walked up to the door to snap a picture of the Est. 2003 sign inches above it, for it was signs of one sort or another that I was seeking out and photographing that day in Glenside.

All in all, the photo strikes me as a representation of peace, warmth and tolerance. And if there’s anything in our little ol’ world that I’m totally down with, it’s those three commodities. I suppose that I’m reading a whole lot more into this picture than I might, but so be it. I’ll take my comforting moments when and where I can.

Moving right along: three years ago I wrote about my fruitless search for a pawpaw (click here if you’d like to read it). Thrice in that article I posed a question that maybe is on the tip of your tongue right now. Namely, “so, what the f*ck is a pawpaw?”

Well, it’s the fruit of pawpaw trees, which grow in various parts of the USA. There was a time when pawpaws were eaten fairly commonly. But those days are in the distant past. Though the pawpaw does retain pockets of popularity, there ain’t exactly shitloads of trees producing them in the States.

One thing about the pawpaw is that it is tropical in appearance, papaya-ish, not at all what you’d expect from an indigenous North American tree. I can confirm this because, astonishingly, my long, long search for a pawpaw ended successfully earlier this month. I have my friend Dave to thank for that, as he clued me in to the fact that a food co-op in my area had pawpaws in stock.

To the co-op I soon made my way, arriving back home an hour later with a large pawpaw so soft that a moderate squeeze would have punctured it. I purchased this specimen when a produce department worker at the co-op assured me that it was at the peak of ripeness, rather than overripe.

Photo by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin

I damn well wasn’t disappointed when, shortly thereafter, the pawpaw’s innards entered my mouth. The fruit possessed a variety of flavors, all subtle in intensity, reminding me of banana, honeydew and cantaloupe. But what I was taken with more than anything was its texture. The pawpaw’s flesh was firm yet creamy, pretty close in consistency, and in appearance for that matter, to the vanilla pudding that my mother made for my family frequently when I was growing up. I always loved her vanilla pudding. Because of that connection, the pawpaw worked its way into my heart. Eating the pawpaw was a comforting experience for me. Very comforting.

Moving right along again: I heard a wonderful song by The Wallflowers recently. The tune, Maybe Your Heart’s Not In It No More, comes from their album Exit Wounds, which was released a few months ago. Jakob Dylan (Bob’s son), is The Wallflowers’ lead singer and leader, and composed every song on the album.

The lyrics of Maybe Your Heart’s Not In It No More ruminate about the loss of mojo and direction, a circumstance that many people grapple with at one time or another. But it’s not so much the words that get to me. Rather, it’s the recording’s feel. I mean, this song hit my sweetest of spots the moment I heard it. I fell for the guitar lines intermingling like the best of friends; the steady, strong drumming; the hypnotic melody; Jakob’s straightforward vocals that mean what they say.

Maybe Your Heart’s Not In It No More comforts me, takes me in its arms and sweeps me away. What more could I ask for?

Art On Wheels, Part Eight (Thank You, Philadelphia)

A tad more than four years ago I was inspired to pen a piece for this publication that revolved around beautifully decorated motor vehicles. Pen it I did (click here), not expecting to return to the subject matter multiple times. However, as fate would have it, return I did. Yup, there’s no denying that I get kicks from seeking out and writing about art on wheels.

In each of the previous installments of this ongoing tale, I discovered most of my victims in the suburbs of Philadelphia. That was a matter of convenience, because I’m a suburbanite. However, for the current installment I decided to say “f*ck, no!” to the burbs and say “f*ck, yes!” to the City Of Brotherly Love itself. As a result, on the 16th of August I climbed aboard a train that took me from my little town to the city that I know better than any other.

As summer days go, it was a good one. The temperature was not oppressively hot. More important, the partly cloudy skies were blocking the Sun a good deal, which was absolutely A-OK with me. “And why is that?” you ask. Well, it’s because I instantly begin to sweat my aged ass off when I’m under an unobstructed summer sun!

Arriving in Philadelphia at 10:30 AM, I spent three hours, interrupted by a lunch break, striding along many of its central section’s innumerable blocks. When I began the scouting expedition I wasn’t confident that I’d spot enough good-looking vehicles to illustrate this story adequately. The trucks/vans/buses gods must have been sitting on my shoulders, though, because vehicles of interest entered my field of vision right from the get-go.

The first one I saw came in the form of a Peter Pan interstate bus, which was in the loading area of a bus terminal one block away from the train station that I had exited only minutes earlier. It’s a winner, futuristic in design and hues, and pretty much the epitome of confidence and cool. There’s no doubt in my mind that this bus is not to be messed with. Woe to whomever might even consider the idea.

Then, a minute after taking Peter Pan’s portrait I turned onto Arch Street, where a lovely Rosenberger’s food truck was zipping along. With no time to waste, I pointed my phone’s camera, pressed the button and hoped for the best. Happily, the picture came out clear instead of blurry.

I was on a roll. It continued on 12th Street not long after the Rosenberger’s encounter. There, two impossible-not-to-notice Philadelphia tour buses were parked a few feet apart from one another. Those vehicles are as explosively colorful as just about anything within Philadelphia’s borders. Man, it would be an honor to ride around town, seeing the sights, in either of them.


All in all, I snapped pictures of 15 motor vehicles during my trek. There were a few others I’d have liked to photograph, but they were on the move and eluded me. This page contains the portraits of nine of the fifteen.


The most invigorating aspect of my Philadelphia expedition was its by-chance nature. Shit yeah, it felt good to kick off the shackles of my structured and regimented life for a while and simply move from here to there, as loose as a goose, letting happen whatever might happen. I had no idea in advance where any decorative vehicles might be. And they sure as hell had no idea where I might be. Basically, I was on a very unpredictable treasure hunt without a treasure map in hand.

I was, of course, damn well pleased to locate as many eye-catchers as I did. The final vehicle that posed for me was a snazzy Dynatech van. After that I searched in vain for 20 minutes, and then began to run out of gas. The time had arrived to think about seating myself on a train that would bring me back to my little town.

Philadelphia has made my day so many times over the years (I lived in Philly for about 30 years before heading to the burbs in 2005). Once again it hadn’t disappointed.

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

Seven Pix For Seven Months

I don’t know about you, but for me this year has been flying by at an insanely fast pace. I have no idea why. I mean, time seems to zoom when a person is busier than usual and/or is having more fun than usual. But those conditions haven’t applied to me. And yet, boom! Just like that, seven of 2021’s months are over and done, and month number eight is nipping at their heels. What the hell is going on?

January 20, 2021 
(Sunset viewed from Willow Grove, Pennsylvania)
February 11, 2021 (Willow Grove, Pennsylvania)
April 12, 2021 (Abington, Pennsylvania)

So impressed am I by 2021’s fleet-footedness, I think it’s only right to offer up an essay that photographically honors its seven departed months. One photo from each month. I took six of the pictures and would have taken all seven if such had been possible. However, seeing that it would have been a major no-no for me to snap a selfie while being inoculated against COVID, I asked my wife Sandy to document the event.

May 14, 2021 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
June 5, 2021 (Jenkintown, Pennsylvania)

I’ve decided against using any of the dozens of 2021’s photos that I’ve already placed in this publication’s stories. As for the seven included herein, only two hold any special personal meaning, and I’ll get to them in a minute. The other five just look good to my eyes, and would have been mad as hell at me if I’d not deposited them on the internet. The parking lot scene, for example, which contains a lady so wrapped up in her thoughts that she’s oblivious to the sharp red car doing its damndest to get her attention. Hey, the car threatened to sue if I gave it the cold shoulder!

Now, on to the two pix that, plain and simple, had to be presented, and about which I’ve got a few things to say.

March 19, 2021 (Elkins Park, Pennsylvania). Photo by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin

Sandy and I frantically and tirelessly tried to schedule appointments for COVID vaccinations when vaccines became available early this year. Basically, it was an exercise in frustration. But then, five or six weeks later and from out of the blue, appointments for March 19 fell into our laps. I tell you, it was a powerful day for me, one I ain’t going to forget any time soon. As the needle entered my arm I breathed great sighs of relief and shed some tears of joy.

Four weeks later my second dose of Moderna was administered, and since then I’ve felt free. Yes, coronavirus remains a major concern, but far less so for the vaccinated as opposed to the unvaccinated. Man, vaccine refuseniks, brimming with loopy and misguided beliefs, astound and annoy me. The common good is suffering because they won’t grab hold of the lifelines being tossed their way. I tell you, we reside in a world that too often is surreal and disappointing.

Due to the f*cking pandemic’s intrusion, the fireworks event that Sandy and I attended on July 4 was the first impressive show of any kind that we had been to in 16 months. (In the USA,  July 4 is a holiday that commemorates the states’ declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1776.) It took place on the sprawling grounds of a public school, in a town a couple of miles away from our suburban Philadelphia home.

We walked and walked on the school’s ball fields and lawns till we were very close to where the explosions would originate. And then we waited and waited as the skies grew dark and the time advanced to 9:40. At that point I got up from my chair to try and find someone who might know the scoop, as the show should have begun no later than 9:20. No luck, natch. So, I walked back to where our chairs were set up, looked at my phone to check the time, and said to Sandy, “It’s 9:49. I don’t think the fireworks are going to happen. We should leave.”

July 4, 2021 (Abington, Pennsylvania)

Three seconds later I was proven wrong, as the skies lit up with wonderful shapes and colors and thunderous sounds erupted. For the next 25 minutes Sandy and I oohed and aahed. In the end, we were in the right place at the right time.

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

A Sunflower Story

What the hell is wrong with you, Neil?” my unsubtle editor Edgar Reewright shouted into the phone a couple of weeks ago. He had called moments earlier with a special request — he wanted me to compose a story about sunflowers — and I had balked at the idea. “I mean, what do you have against sunflowers? Just about everybody likes sunflowers, right? Right. Furthermore, if they were good enough for Vincent van Gogh, who, unlike yourself, was a genius, then they damn well are good enough for you.”

“Neil,” Edgar continued, “have I ever asked anything of you before? Other than demanding high payments to compensate me for the extraordinary pains I take to make your writings intelligible, the answer is no. I haven’t been myself the last few weeks, so a bright, cheerful piece about the sunniest of flowers probably will boost my spirits. Write it!”

“Listen, Edgar,” I said. “I’ve got nothing against sunflowers. On the contrary, I love them. I mean, they’re just adorable. Big and grinning, and their gangly stalks are so improbable. They’re like dogs that want nothing more than to please you, that know they’re goofy and would have it no other way.”

“So, what’s the problem, Neil?”

“Well, it’s just that I’ve written quite a few nature-related articles the last several years. I don’t want to overdo it, you know.”

“Overdo it? Neil, you can’t go wrong with nature. And I highly doubt if you have anything better to write about right now, anyway.”

“Oh yeah? Listen, Edgar, I’m planning to do a piece on the wonders of napping. I’ll explore its ins and outs: how I position my head just so on the living room sofa before nodding off, for instance. And how I awake 10 or 15 minutes later with glazed eyes, uncertain where the hell I am. Edgar, I’m one hundred percent certain that the readers of that article will be enthralled. My exciting revelations will have them panting for more.”

A few seconds passed. And then Edgar had this to say: “A short while ago I asked, ‘what the hell is wrong with you, Neil?’ And I was right on the money, because a better question hasn’t been posed anywhere in the world today! Napping? You’ve got to be kidding me! Listen up, haven’t I always strived to help you create agreeable product?”

“Yes, that’s very true, Edgar. I don’t know how you do it, but you whip my reportage into decent shape.”

“Thank you, Neil. Even though I’ll never figure you out, I have to admit that anybody who unashamedly uses a clunky word like reportage in conversation can’t be all bad. Okay then, I strongly recommend that you drop the napping idea and move on to sunflowers. Are we on the same page?”

We were.

Thus, during three walks in the latter half of July, in my neighborhood and in nearby towns, I kept an eagle eye out for sunflowers, and found about 15 homes on whose grounds they were displayed. Having strolled past hundreds of houses, though, I was a bit surprised by the low percentage that carried this form of joyful flora. But little matter. Every sunflower that I saw smiled at me. They truly were glad to see me, and the feeling was mutual.

But you know what? Despite the time I spent with real-life sunflowers, I have to admit that I much prefer a particular Vincent van Gogh sunflower painting over them. Vincent painted sunflowers a dozen times, and one of those oils hangs within the Philadelphia Museum Of Art, where I have passed hundreds of hours. (I’ve lived in Philadelphia or its suburbs for most of my adult life.) It very well might be the most popular art work in the museum. It certainly is one of mine.

Vase With Twelve Sunflowers, by Vincent van Gogh (image credit belongs to Philadelphia Museum Of Art and to vggallery.com

Vincent had the abilities to find the hearts and souls of his subjects, to bring his subjects alive in both traditional and unexpected ways. And he did exactly that when he painted the canvas in question in 1889. It is glorious and imbued with vigor. It has deep stories to tell. Sunflowers never have looked so good.

(My editor has been getting on my frigging nerves big-time. So, you know what? F*ck him! I won’t allow Edgar to edit this article. I’m going to press the Publish button right now. Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Mucho gracias.)

An Artsy Walk Through The Mall On A Hot-As-Hell Day

It was hot as hell in my area (the suburbs of Philadelphia) on the 30th of June. I’d gone for walks on each of the two previous days, days that weren’t exactly on the mild side temperature-wise either. But June 30 was a different ball game, one of those in which a mere minute in the sun causes sweat to pour from your face and back of your neck like lava from a mountain that is experiencing gastric distress.

However, I, an old guy who for the last year and a half has been very diligent about exercising regularly, was not about to not go for a walk. A walk was totally doable, because I live close to Willow Grove Park, a three-story, air-conditioned indoor shopping mall. Thus, in late morning I headed to the mall, to pound its avenues and corridors in A/C’ed comfort.

I like spending time now and then at Willow Grove Park, even though I rarely buy anything there. Architecturally it looks real good, and I’m always amazed by the copious amounts of eye-catching wares for sale. Plus, I almost always cross paths with some lovely ladies.

And I find Willow Grove Park to be quite an artistic environment, hardly different from art museums. For example, many merchandise displays within the stores are beautiful and creative. Even more so are the graphic artworks — posters and other printed creations — in merchants’ windows and free-standing elsewhere. Ergo, on June 30 I made it my mission, in addition to stretching my legs, to examine the state of affairs of graphic art at the mall.

I was drawn to any number of pieces. They ranged from the minimalistic (the large Sale signs, in flamboyant red, that bordered the H&M clothing store), to the complex and futuristic, qualities belonging to a poster hung within an Aerie shop.

Not surprisingly, many of the works featured human faces and, usually, additional body parts. More often than not, these creations were photography-based, but their painterly counterparts were on display here and there too. In the face/body category, the one that I found myself staring at the most was the group shot of five youngsters. It adorned the Gap Kids store. If everyone got along as well as those individuals do, the world would be pretty close to paradisiacal. And I was entranced by the two girls, their heads as close as canned sardines, aglow in a window of the Primark establishment.

A few hours after I arrived back home I began to mull over my mall experience, and damn if I didn’t feel slighted more than a bit. Shit, I realized that every human pictured at the mall was somewhere between young and the cusp of middle-age. How come someone like me wasn’t on display? I mean, what do companies have against male septuagenarians whose hairlines are receding faster than Greenland’s glaciers and whose faces are peppered with weird f*cking growths that dermatologists probably don’t even have names for? It ain’t right, I tell you! Those in power are going to hear from me!

But before they hear from me, I will bring this narrative to a close. Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. And give a listen, if you’re in the mood, to mall-istic songs that I discovered recently. After all, it’s not every day that you encounter music inspired by shopping malls.

The first recording, Let’s Go To The Mall, is by Robin Sparkles, a stage name once used by Robin Scherbatsky, who is a character in the television series How I Met Your Mother (the series ended in 2014). Cobie Smulders, the actress who played Sparkles/Scherbatsky, provides the lead vocals on this pop music confection. Did you get all of that? Not sure if I did.

In the second tune, The Last Mall, Steely Dan uses a mall metaphorically to comment on humankind’s fate. Such headiness is only to be expected, of course, as the brains behind Steely Dan — Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker — were not your everyday song-writing team. The Last Mall, sardonic and clothed in the blues, paints an uneasy picture.

Beautiful Indeed

Well, I’ve been real tempted lately to pen an essay about the repressive, heads-up-their-asses people in my country who continue to believe in demagogic, riot-inciting Donald Trump and embrace his outrageous lies about the 2020 election having been stolen from him.

On the other hand, I haven’t been real tempted lately to have my blood pressure head into the stratosphere. So, I’ll stay calm by moving in my semi-natural direction. Towards the light, you dig. What follows, therefore, are a few words about beauty, a quality I found a couple of weeks ago in, among other things, a book, a song and some flowers. Away we go!

First up, the book: Local Girls is a collection of stories, by Alice Hoffman, about Gretel Samuelson and her small circle of relatives and friends. The stories are presented chronologically, and appeared in various publications before being gathered and published in one volume in 1999.

Not exactly a novel (some stories are narrated by Gretel, the others are in the third-person), but close enough, Local Girls follows Gretel from age 11 or 12 into her mid-20s. It’s set in suburban Long Island (which is near New York City), and is not the happiest of tales. Drug addiction and serious illness are among the book’s prime themes.

Nevertheless, drollness permeates the proceedings, partly by way of the sharp observations and bon mots of Gretel, her best friend Jill, Gretel’s mother Franny, and Gretel’s adult cousin Margot. Overall, Local Girls struck me as hard-as-nails realistic, despite the inclusion, unnecessary in my opinion, of some mystical occurrences. (Hoffman, I gather, is known for doing this in her works.) The book took me by the arm and then spoke intimately to me. It is damn well alive.

What got to me more than anything about Local Girls is the absolute beauty of much of its language. Time after time Hoffman took my breath away. Before ending this short discussion of Local Girls, I’ll leave you with three examples of Hoffman’s way with words.

It was a bad summer, and we all knew it. We liked to phrase it that way, as if what was happening was an aberrationa single season of pain and doubtinstead of all-out informing people that our lives were falling apart, plain and simple as pie.

She had been thinking about sorrow for so long she was amazed to hear the sound of love. What a foreign language it was. How odd to an ear unused to such things.

The streetlamps cast a heavy glow, the light of a dream you’re not quite finished waking from.

Yes, Hoffman has more than got the touch.

Now for the song: I’ve seen Brandi Carlile on a couple of TV shows and heard her music pretty often on the radio. I think she’s good but certainly not great. However, her recording Save A Part Of Yourself, is another matter. To me, it’s fab. The song, which Carlile co-wrote and sings lead on, was released in 2012.

Save Part Of Yourself concerns a love relationship that, though ended, has not been forgotten by one of its two parties. She hopes that her ex will not throw away memories of her. Such a lovely composition, so tender and imbued with longing. Yet, it also sparkles. That mandolin riff that enters five seconds into the tune, those handclaps, the joyful whoo-hoo-hoos. I for one cannot resist them.

Save Part Of Yourself’s main message, I think, is that remembrance can help us heal and make us better individuals. Who would argue with that? Here it is, following which we’ll turn our attention to flowers.

The day in which I am described as a knowledgeable identifier of flora isn’t about to arrive any time soon. Yeah, on a good day I’m able to look at a tulip and say, “Yup, that’s a tulip.” Ditto for a pine tree and a maple tree. But my scope doesn’t extend all too far beyond that. Still, that doesn’t stop me from going out to admire nature’s wonders. Hell, I’d be heartbroken if I couldn’t.

And I’m glad when my botanical expertise expands. Such as when I learned last month that a flowering plant I was gazing at during a visit to New Hope, Pennsylvania, a funky, former artists colony to which visitors often throng, was an example of a hydrangea bush. The plant impressed me. Thus, while walking and driving around my town a few days later I kept my eyes open for hydrangeas. And I found some, photographing two of them. Hydrangeas, I believe, were at the height of their flowering powers in my region (greater Philadelphia) at the time that I took these portraits. The flowers are sincerely beautiful.

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

A Doors-Filled Story (Third Edition)

Well, here I am, dispensing thoughts about doors for the third time. Huh, doors? Damn straight! I mean, doors are cool. Or can be, anyway. And I’m hardly alone in holding this opinion. Various WordPress writers, for instance, launch doors-centric articles into cyberspace every Thursday. And they publicize the pieces by placing links to them on the No Facilities blog, of which a fine gent named Dan Antion is the heart, soul and brains. I’m part of that Thursday club today.

Okay, then. On a clear and comfortable morning in late May I visited the sprawling town of Glenside, a community in the Philadelphia suburbs about five miles from my home. Leafy, handsome residential blocks abound in Glenside. And there also are business sections that include Main Street-like corridors. Now, I wasn’t about to stroll up the front paths of homes to check out their doors closely (I wasn’t eager to hear something on the order of  Yo, asshole! What are you doing on my property? directed at me), so I confined most of my investigating and picture-snapping to commercial blocks. In the end, though, I also got pix of a couple of residential doors that were not set back from their respective sidewalks.

While I didn’t cross paths with any doors that might take your breath away during the hour I spent in Glenside, I became fascinated by the varieties of doors on public display. They ran the gamut from the solid and stolid to the utilitarian to the well-worn to the neglected. I passed at least two hundred doors, possibly many more than that, and a dozen or so of them grabbed me almost instantly. I’ve chosen images of seven of them to grace this page.

Could I possibly have resisted a sky-blue door, endearingly shop-worn a bit, whose street address (number 12) beams proudly above it? No way! I tell you, if that door were a human being I’d have smiled at it generously and then given it a great big hug. Yup, the blue door is the one I felt most in tune with in Glenside. In a low-key manner it exudes warmth and wisdom. It’s my kind of door.

Unexpectedly, the four garage doors belonging to Santilli’s auto repair shop connected with me. They’re ordinary, right? We’ve seen doors such as these a million times. Yet, as I stared at them I thought to myself they are worthy of admiration. Non-complaining and tireless, they enable important work to get done. In the doors-ian realm, these four are among the salt of the earth.

And what can you say about the rust-stained shed door that probably hasn’t been opened in years? The healthy green plant a few feet away, doing all it can to brighten the scene, knows that the door has been ignored. It’s the norm to pass by a door such as this without a thought. But I’m a softie at heart, and so my old ticker went out to it. Its life has been anything but easy.

By the way, I had no intention of having my spectral double show up in five of the photos, but that’s what happened. Yeah, I saw the f*cker aiming his phone’s camera at me from a door beneath the NAPA sign as I snapped that picture. But not till I was examining all of the Glenside pix a day or two later did I realize that he also was present in other doors, the sky-blue door and the ones belonging to Elcy’s, the antique store, and Santilli’s. “It figures, Neil,” my wife Sandy just mentioned to me, shaking her head in disapproval as she looked over this article before I hit the Publish button. “It’s bad enough that you write about yourself incessantly in your stories. Now your readers are likely to overdose on your sort-of-spitting image too. Give ’em a break, for crying out loud!”

Shit, she’s right. She almost always is. On the other hand, has a ghoul ever before rocked a Cape Cod-emblazoned cap so magnificently? I think not!

The time has arrived to bring this essay to a close. On a musical note, of course, as that’s what I did with my first two doors pieces. With each of those, I included a tune by the hippie era band The Doors. This time around I’ve decided to forego one of their blasts from the past. Instead I’ve selected a blast from the present. It’s called, appropriately, Leave The Door Open, and it’s by Silk Sonic, a new band led by pop superstars Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. The song is a throwback to the sweet soul/R&B music, lovingly orchestrated, that The Stylistics, The Delfonics and other groups filled the air with during the 1970s. I dig Leave The Door Open a lot.

I’m done! Goodbye till next time, boys and girls. Please don’t be shy about adding your comments.