Thanksgiving, TV-Watching And I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time!

Autumn Colors; Biden And Trump; Three Songs By Joes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Not-Socially-Distanced Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Closer? Yes And No

Man, in the early days of coronavirus I wouldn’t have guessed that this microbial demon would find its way into as many of my essays as it has. Its omnipresence and dangers, though, have made it impossible for me to ignore, in my everyday life and as a writer. Alas, truer words than these rarely have been spoken: We need an effective vaccine sooner than ASAP!

It’s anything but new news when I observe that in a mere handful of months the virus has impaired our world in oh so many ways. Hundreds of thousands of people have died at the villain’s hands, and that count will rise and rise. Livelihoods have disappeared. Economies have been derailed. And that which is normal behavior for most of us — having a fair amount of close contact with fellow members of our embattled species — has become, for the most part, a big no-no. We can, of course, be physically near to those who we are confident are non-contagious, assuming that we are confident that we meet that criterion too. But to anyone else? Yo, it’s risky!

It’s natural to wonder about the extent to which close contact will return after our savior, a good vaccine, rides in from whatever lab ends up creating it. That’s assuming the savior is creatable. It better be. Anyway, will the general populace go back to their merry old ways? You know, crowding into elevators, sharing joints, rocking out shoulder-to-shoulder at concerts, spilling their guts to friends seated near them at bars and cafés, etc., etc. (As we know, some people, against expert advice and governmental guidelines, are doing these sorts of things already. Spikes in coronavirus have resulted. Those folks just don’t want to keep their distance from one another!)

I’m betting that a full return never will happen. Maybe we’ll level off at about 75% of where we were, but no more than that. I mean, coronavirus has brought home the fact that microbes don’t always play nice, that unfriendly bacteria and viruses could be anywhere, and that cutting back a little on your potential contact with same might be a wise way to live your life.

For example, as many already have noted, the handshake has an uncertain future. Shit, that’s no big deal. To a decent extent, pre-virus, handshakes already had been replaced by fist bumps, elbow taps and other far-less-germy forms of greeting. I’m cool with that. But some also are predicting that hugs won’t be as common as once they were. Hugs? That is a big deal, and I’m not cool with it. Me, once the pandemic is no more, I’m going to give a nice big hug, if they want me to, to every pal and relative that I get together with. That will be a damn good way to celebrate the nightmare’s demise.

Well, like all good boys and girls, I’ve been trying to keep at least six feet away from nearly all homo sapiens. (The one exception to this regimen is, of course, my wife Sandy.) Doing so is frustrating, for sure. So, when the idea hit me the other day to get real, real close to something — in this case, certain inhabitants of the non-human sphere — I jumped at it.

Thus, a couple of days later, while walking around my neighborhood in the Philadelphia suburbs, I gave flora, stone walls, traffic sign posts and other objects a good looking over from way within spitting distance. Then I snapped their portraits, some of which are plastered on this page. Photographically-speaking, I dug the close-up approach and probably will venture out on a similar mission in the foreseeable future.

But, during the trek and after, I couldn’t stop thinking about human physical closeness, and decided that it would be appropriate to illustrate this story with songs that touch upon aspects of that wide subject. No doubt there are thousands and thousands that fit the bill. I’m going to go with two that popped into my head pretty much right off the bat. These great recordings, which more or less represent opposite sides of the closeness coin, remind me, as if I need any reminding, that I’m anxious for the day when once again I’ll be able to talk with people from a normal distance. And to pass within a whisker or two of strangers on the sidewalk as I nonchalantly walk from here to there. I present to you, then, The Temptations singing I Can’t Get Next To You, and Ol’ Blue Eyes’ heart-melting rendition of The Nearness Of You.

Till next time, gals and guys. Stay safe, as the saying goes. And, by the way, please don’t be shy about adding your comments.

 

Justice, Equality And Peace

It’s late morning on the third of June as I begin to type this essay. It’s not the essay that, up until June 2, I was planning on writing. That one will have to wait till next time. No, even though I’m not a particularly incisive observer of, nor commentator upon, societal and political matters, I feel compelled to lay down some thoughts about what’s been happening in my country (the USA), and in other parts of the globe as a result of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer, Derek Chauvin, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. George Floyd, who was unarmed and handcuffed during the incident, was black. Chauvin, who has been fired from his job and charged with murder, is white.

Did anyone predict or expect that, in the wake of Floyd’s killing, hordes of people would take to the streets to denounce systemic racism and police brutality against blacks? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing not. Once put in motion, though, the protests expanded to locations far from Minneapolis. That includes Philadelphia, where I lived for decades, and which is very near to the town that my wife and I now call home.

I’ve watched television coverage of the marches and demonstrations, and of the violent turns that some of those gatherings took. The looting and property destruction that have taken place sadden and sicken me. Ongoing behavior such as that can deeply damage society, and can make conditions far worse than they already are. Fortunately, for the moment anyway, looting and destruction have lessened greatly, and peaceful protests continue.

Where will the protests lead? What will they result in? Will they result in anything, for that matter, or simply peter out as the energy and indignation that fuel them slowly evaporate? I hope that such will not be the case, because it’s undeniable that racism in the United States is alive and well, that many folks in this country don’t want equality-for-all to become an absolute given. The existence of white supremacy groups, and the continuing efforts by more than a few members of the Republican party to suppress the vote of minorities and of the marginalized, are two examples of this. The USA has a long way to go.

And what of the possibility that the protests explode into mayhem, uncontrollable violence, even civil war? I don’t discount this idea at all. Anything might happen, a frightening thought.

Barack Obama, in a level-headed and insightful essay about the Floyd tragedy, states what he believes should be the responses to it. Click here to read the piece. He urges us to vote out of office those elected officials with stone-age mentalities. And he focuses his exhortations on the young, who he says are the ones that must lead the efforts to make the world a better place. Here are a few of his thoughts: “The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.”

We can only hope that Obama’s way forward will prove to be the chosen path. His commentary, of course, would be lost on Donald Trump, who doesn’t care about the whys behind the reactions to Floyd’s death. That’s only to be expected from he who is callous, narcissistic, vindictive, a pathological liar and a thug. If Trump deploys federal troops, all bets are off.

At about 8:30 PM on June 2, I slipped outside to the deck at the rear of our house. Very unsettled by George Floyd’s death and the violence that partly filled its aftermath, I needed to decompress. That’s what happened as I stared at the dense foliage, listened to the birds and scanned the heavens.

Much of the sky was heavy with clouds, so almost no color emerged from the sunset. Bummer. But I was in luck anyway, because twenty minutes after I took my place on the deck I looked to the east and saw a vivid Moon rising, It seemed to have come from out of nowhere. Possibly it had been hidden by now-dispersed clouds. The Moon, as bright as a powerful LED light, was stunning. It made me feel somewhat hopeful.

As did Peace, a song recorded by the Ornette Coleman quartet in 1959. It played over the radio as I brushed my teeth two hours after Moon-watching. It wasn’t coincidental that WRTI, Temple University’s radio station, played this composition. That evening, the station was attempting to offer comfort to its listeners.

None of us knows with any degree of certainty where we are headed, but may justice and equality for all, and peace (it goes without saying), be intrinsic parts of the destination. And of the journey that takes us there.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this essay)

TV, I Bow Before Thee!

Like everyone, I’m anxiously awaiting the day when a vaccine is created that puts an end to the pandemic that has sent us into the twilight zone. It will be fabulous to ditch the f*cking masks and gloves that make us look like weirdo safe crackers. Better yet, getting together with friends and relatives will be back on our agendas, and the outlook will be fair or better for those businesses that were able to survive the dark times. Until that day arrives though, the overall picture, I believe, will continue to be anything but pretty.

Fortunately, life has been okay for me and my wife Sandy since coronavirus struck our part of the USA in March (we live near Philadelphia). Nowhere near as okay as it used to be, but okay enough. You adapt as best you can, after all, and try to deal with reality decently.

Among other things, the pandemic has forced me to make major adjustments to time allocation, as many of what had been my normal, much-enjoyed activities are only memories right now. That’s because, for health and safety reasons, my volunteer jobs were suspended and most of the usual outside-the-home entertainment choices that Sandy and I indulged in (socializing, cinemas, music venues, restaurants, museums) are unavailable, for now anyway.

So, how have I, a lazy septuagenarian, been filling the 16 or so hours of freed-up time each week? Well, for one thing, the living room sofa and I see more of each other than ever before. Upon its sensuous cushions I while away the time, alternating between scratching my balls and twirling the five strands of hair that remain on the crown of my head. Yes, I’m proud to report that my fellas are hanging in there okay, considering my advanced age, and that the strands of hair look damn studly. Thanks for asking!

Now, the scratching and twirling account for about nine of the 16 hours, and largely are confined to mornings and afternoons. What about the other seven hours? In a word, television. You see, in early April I really began to miss the kicks I’d been getting for ages at concerts, cinemas, etc. This ol’ boy needed to get entertainment from somewhere. And I wanted to do that with Sandy, my partner in kicks-experiencing for lo these many years. Television was the obvious outlet.

It’s not that I’m a stranger to the tube. In fact, I once was a highly dedicated viewer. But that ended about 12 years ago. Since then I’ve watched TV mostly in shortish sessions and mostly late at night, compulsively and expertly flipping channels. That pattern now has expanded. Yeah, I’ve retained the late night regimen. But, in addition, several evenings a week at around 8:30 or 9:00, Sandy and I head upstairs to our bedroom, which contains the bigger and better of the two TV sets in our home. We then proceed to lose ourselves for an hour or more. Doing so is nothing new for Sandy, who always has racked up admirable numbers of evening hours in front of the home screen. But, as noted, it’s been more than a while for me.

And you know what? I love it! Laughing, gasping, oohing and aahing together has been fun. Together, of course, is the operative word.

And what have we watched? Good movies, such as The Two Popes, The Wizard Of Oz, Saving Mr. Banks,  and Standing In The Shadows Of Motown. And a not-so-good one, Roma, which won an Oscar as 2018’s best foreign language film but which left me blank.

And entertaining series, two of them (Modern Family and Curb Your Enthusiasm) on network and premium-channel television. The others (Sherlock; Lilyhammer; After Life) were on Netflix, which has become one of my greatest pals. Man, we tore through the Netflix series zestfully, usually chowing down two episodes per sitting (no binge-watching for us, though. Maybe Sandy has the energy for that, but I don’t). And we’ve only scratched the surface of what the Netflix library holds.

Yes, without a doubt we’ll keep watching TV together till outside-the-house entertainment opens up, and probably not stop even then. I’ve learned that there’s a whole lot to be said for TV togetherness. I used to know that, but had forgotten. So, at least one positive development has come out of the pandemic.

Girls and boys, in conclusion let me say this: The last few months have been disorienting to most, probably all, of us. What adjustments have you needed to make as a result of coronavirus’ far reach? How do you spend the extra hours that you might have found yourself with? Finally, which shows and movies have you been watching on TV? I’d be glad to hear your thoughts about any or all of these items.

How Glad Was I When The Kinks, The Byrds And Willie Nelson Visited Me Last Month? Very!

As everyone knows, billions of words are written each day about coronavirus, the f*cking demon that has done an excellent job of turning our world to shit. Among those words are repeated recommendations to be in touch with friends and relatives more often than usual. Most of those contacts, by necessity of course, must be via phone and internet rather than in person. We can thank the demon for that.

Good advice, right? Damn straight. After all, we have an innate need for human contact. And if ever there was a time for maintaining, strengthening and even expanding ties, this is it. Expanding? Sure. Now’s your golden opportunity, for instance, to pick up the phone and call that first cousin that you haven’t spoken to in eons because you’ve never particularly gotten along with him and because he absolutely pissed you off big-time by not inviting you to his son’s wedding 25 years ago.

“Guess who this is?” you should say before he has a chance to get a word out of his mouth. “It’s your favorite cuz, that’s who. The pandemic situation has convinced me that I should reach out to you, you loser. You better believe that I haven’t forgotten how you snubbed me all those years ago. Adios, baby. Nice talking to you!”

Okay, that attempt at communication possibly could have been handled more agreeably. But don’t sweat it! There are far more important things to worry about these days.

To continue: So far during the pandemic I’ve done nicely in the keeping-in-touch part of life, though expanding my ties has yet to become a part of the picture. I speak regularly with a good number of my friends and relatives, more regularly than I did in the pre-coronavirus era, and have enjoyed all of those conversations. But what I enjoyed even more were the occasions when old friends of the sonic variety unexpectedly visited me. For it was in late April, over a two-day period, that I heard on the radio three songs that I truly love but had forgotten all about.

Each recording brought a couple of tears to my eyes and made my grizzled heart go all soft and mushy. I sang along with them. I vowed never to let them disappear again, a pledge I plan to keep. No doubt, I’m a happier, more contented individual now that, after long absences, Sweet Lady Genevieve (by The Kinks), Have You Seen Her Face (by The Byrds), and Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain (by Willie Nelson) have reentered my life. And that, by the way, is the order in which I heard them last month.

The songs came out on albums in 1973, 1967 and 1975, respectively. The album titles, again respectively, are Preservation Act I, Younger Than Yesterday, and Red Headed Stranger. I own copies of those albums, for crying out loud. Don’t ask why I hadn’t given any of the platters a spin in a zillion years. Mea culpa.

Each song possesses a personality distinct from the other two, but they have something in common with 90% of all songs ever written. That is, in one way or another they address the prime human emotion. Love. Sweet Lady Genevieve, composed and sung by The Kinks leader, Ray Davies, is a plea for forgiveness and a promise to become faithful and true. Have You Seen Her Face presents a not overly clear-thinking guy who suspects he’d be wise to pursue a certain beguiling lady whom, perhaps, he is destined to bond with. As for Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain, here we have the tale of someone who fully realizes that the love affair of his life has reached its end, and that he never will get over the breakup.

Yeah, to me each of the recordings is something special. Sweet Lady Genevieve’s melody, with its leaps and twists, is irresistible. And the lyrics? Well, the eloquence of the opening line — Once under a scarlet sky, I told you never-ending lies — makes it clear that you’re about to hear a cleverly-spun story. There are many, including me, who consider Ray Davies to be a songwriting giant.

Chris Hillman, who played electric bass in The Byrds, wrote both the music and lyrics for Have You Seen Her Face. Yes, the lyrics are messy, but little matter, considering how freely, almost giddily, the melody unfolds, and how the trippy guitar solos will lift you right out of your body.

And what about Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain? For one thing, Willie Nelson, an ace songwriter, didn’t compose the work. It was written in 1945 by the late Fred Rose, a musician, songwriter and music industry executive. The lyrics are direct and profound, the music likewise. Willie Nelson recognized all of this. His vocals, accompanied by spare instrumentation, will break your heart.

Little more do I need to add, except to mention that The Kinks and The Byrds, iconic rock bands, no longer are functioning units. Haven’t been for years. Many of their once-members, though, remain active musicians. As does Willie Nelson, a mere lad of 87.

And so, without further ado, here are the songs that resonated with me so well recently. Oh, just one more thing: I’d be happy to hear your comments about this article.

A Springtime Walk To Try And Take My Mind Off Of Things

I’ve been doing a little of this and a little of that of late, most of it nothing to write home about. You see, my routine has been thrown way off as a result of coronavirus. Yours probably has been too. Due to that health catastrophe, my volunteer jobs have been suspended and the places I like to hang out in — restaurants, movie theaters, music venues, to give some examples — have closed their doors, leaving me with shitloads more time on my hands than I’m used to. I’ve yet to use that time productively.

But my situation counts as absolutely nothing compared with the state of affairs worldwide. Tens of millions suddenly are without paychecks. Countless businesses and institutions very well might collapse. And people are succumbing in scary numbers to coronavirus. Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap. I have a sinking feeling. And when I say sinking, I mean sinking.

What will become of us? To try and protect ourselves, and to try and contain the virus, we stay in our homes as much as possible, practice social distancing when we leave the house, wash our hands numerous times each day, and use antiseptic wipes on potentially-suspect objects and surfaces. But, looking at the big picture, will any of that make much difference ultimately if an effective vaccine and/or other effective medical treatment isn’t developed in the very foreseeable future? Or if coronavirus doesn’t peter out on its own? I’m normally a fairly optimistic guy, but my answer is no. After all, in the twinkling of an eye, life as we know it has been turned on end. And right now there’s no reason to think that things won’t disintegrate far more than they already have.

“Yo, Neil,” I hear at least a couple of you yelling, “you’re bumming us the f*ck out! That’s enough, partner. Knock it off!”

I hear you, believe me. I’ve been bumming myself the f*ck out too, and for quite a while, as you can tell. Which is why, when I went for a walk on March 21 to try and take my mind off the current state of affairs, I had a potentially uplifting purpose in mind. The night before, driving home after buying take-out food from a restaurant, I’d noticed that some flowering trees around the corner from my house had burst into color. Thus, my plan on the 21st was to check out the flora in my suburban Philadelphia neighborhood and also in a neighborhood of a nearby, bordering township.

Now, walking is one part of what-had-been-my-routine that the coronavirus calamity hasn’t disrupted. Since early January, for personal health reasons, I’ve been hitting the pavement, in one locale or another, four or five times each week. Thirty minutes or more each session. That’s the most exercise I’ve gotten in years. And, knock on wood, so far I’ve enjoyed the regimen more than I’d have guessed I would.

Anyway, I embarked on the trek at about 1:30 PM. The skies gleamed, their blues a welcome sight for eyes in need of perking up. As I figured would be the case, green leaves hadn’t sprouted anywhere, though budding was in progress. Green’s domination over the browns of winter was another week or two away from taking place.

But, damn straight, some flowering trees were doing their thing, and that made a big difference. We’re talking magnolia and cherry trees, I think, and maybe a pear tree of one sort or another (I wouldn’t bet my life on those statements though, because I’m almost as dumb as dirt when it comes to identifying flora). Whatever, although the flowering tree performance normally doesn’t begin till early April or later, the milder-than-average temperatures that we’d had in the winter months pushed up the schedule. I let the trees’ pink, red and white petals grab me. The colors felt pretty good.

Other splashes of springtime colors were around. I spotted a few azaleas showing off their purple plumage. Forsythia bushes, which had opened in my region two weeks prior, looked damn fine in their mustard yellow. And the smattering of ground-level flowers on the properties brightened things up a bit too, especially the patch of small, yellow wildflowers in one yard.

What really struck me though, in this time of coronavirus precautions, was that I saw far more people than I’d expected to, which gave the afternoon a sense of normalcy. For instance: a father with his two young daughters, all on bikes; two middle-aged guys shooting hoops with a kid on a sidewalk basketball set-up; people sitting in their yards; four or five ambitious sorts hammering and sawing away, in their driveways or garages, at one project or another.

All told, at least 40 people crossed my field of vision during the hour I spent wandering around. I exchanged hellos with a bunch of them. None of them, or me, was doing anything that, virus-wise, might be problematic. That’s what medical people say, anyway. It’s okay to be outside, according to the experts, as long as you keep your distance from others.

And so, I recorded another entry in my Book Of Walks. The excursion was a good one. As spring progresses, the walks, I believe, will become even better. Lots more flowering trees and shrubs to gaze at. Lots more colors to absorb. Hats off to all of that.

(Comments are welcomed. Ditto for sharing this article.)

A Coronavirus And Philadelphia Flower Show Story

These are tough times. I’ll mention but three of many calamitous situations: War, raging in Syria and Yemen, has displaced millions of people from their homes and homelands. Ocean levels are on the rise as a result of melting Arctic and Antarctic glaciers and ice shelves. And coronavirus, emerging like a demon from a dark, dark corner, is throwing mankind into a tailspin. The virus is the story, so far anyway, of 2020.

Most of us might be fortunate and not contract coronavirus. But how can we not pay attention to it and worry about it? We can’t. As I began to compose this essay on March 11, I relived the conversations I’d had with the ten relatives and friends that I’d spent time with in the six days before that date. Coronavirus was, and remains, heavy on their minds. And on mine too. How far will this renegade spread? Just how deadly might it become? Will an effective vaccine or other treatment be developed, and if so, when? Will coronavirus mutate into other strains that will raise the human condition’s havoc level to even higher heights?

Before March 11, the virus hadn’t infiltrated my region too much (I live near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA), or so it was thought. How quickly things have changed since then, though. As of this article’s publication date (March 16), there are many confirmed cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania. And, as we all know, numerous national and local governments, worldwide, have increased restrictions on travel, and have ordered schools and certain businesses and other organizations to close until further notice (this is true for my region). Much of the same has occurred via voluntary restrictions and closures too.

As a result, over the last few days my wife Sandy and I have made big adjustments in regard to what we do and don’t do. So, it’s sobering to think that until recently pretty much everyone around here was living life fairly normally — the population was aware of the virus, but was only starting to act cautiously. Sandy and I certainly weren’t exercising a whole lot of caution when, on March 6, we boarded a train in our suburban town and rode it into the heart of central Philadelphia. A short walk away was the Pennsylvania Convention Center, a huge-as-hell structure that for nine days this month was home to the Philadelphia Flower Show. We bought tickets for the show at one of the Center’s box offices and entered the exhibition hall.

The Philadelphia Flower Show is an annual, world-famous event. It began modestly in 1829 as a project of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society and has become, by far, PHS’s most noted endeavor. Millions of people have taken it in over the years. Now, I’ve lived in or near Philadelphia since the mid-1970s and have been aware of the Flower Show all of that time. But I didn’t give a shit about it, and never went. Until a few years ago, that is. “What the hell, let’s go to the Flower Show,” I said to Sandy in 2016, and we did. We liked it. We returned in 2018, took 2019 off, and decided two weeks ago not to extend that non-attendance streak to two consecutive years.

One of the reasons that I didn’t give a shit about the Flower Show is that I wasn’t keen on looking at exhibit after exhibit of flowers. If I had investigated what the show really is about, though, I’d have discovered that it features all sorts of flora, not just flowers, and often replicates natural and man-made landscapes and waterscapes too. Hell, I’m down with all of that, so I should have given the Flower Show a shot way before I eventually did. I don’t live and learn all that often, but in this case it happened.

Almost needless to say, I found the 2020 version of the show to be absolutely a-ok. As did Sandy. Each year the Flower Show is centered around a theme, and this year’s was Riviera Holiday. Meaning, displays inspired by Mediterranean life in Spain, France, Monaco and Italy took up much of the hall (horticultural-competition areas and booths selling this, that and the other thing grabbed the rest of the floor space).

The themed section, filled with movie-set-like constructions, was where I spent most of my time. The gardens, some formal, some not, were lovely. As was a villa, and a modest cottage beside which a motor scooter was stationed, and the whimsical, color-drenched representations of Italian fishermen’s houses.

I dug the recreation of the Princess Grace Rose Garden. The original garden is in Monaco, the itsy-bitsy nation where, in 1956, the actress Grace Kelly became a princess by marrying Monaco’s Prince Rainier. A mannequin, clothed in a copy of Kelly’s wedding gown, stood in the garden. Grace, I’m sure, would have approved of the tribute.

Yes, the Flower Show had atmosphere. It brought me back to 1977, the only time I was on the Mediterranean coast. I spent six weeks in Europe in the spring of that year, travelling solo, before returning to a job in Philadelphia that I foolishly had quit two years before. One of those weeks was passed in southern France and in Monaco. A very good week it was. And the Flower Show gave me the urge to return, this time with Sandy. But the coronavirus situation will have to be under control before we step onto a plane. And who knows when that will be?

The crowds at the Flower Show on the day we attended were noticeably smaller than those we encountered in 2016 and 2018. One of our friends, a Flower Show aficionado, went twice this year. She told Sandy that attendance was less than usual on the days she visited too. Part of the shrinkage was due I’m sure to the hefty ticket price increases that PHS instituted in 2020. But the main factor, I’m also sure, was the threat of coronavirus posed by being in crowds.

That threat was understood on March 6 in my area, but nowhere near as well as it is understood today. That’s why the Philadelphia Flower Show was lucky, in a sense, that it was able to complete its run (last week, government mandates in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania banned large events such as the Flower Show.) On the other hand, it’s more than possible that some amount of virus transmission took place at the show. And that truly sucks.

Coronavirus ain’t playing. It already has killed thousands. And its course is unpredictable. Hang on tight as best you can, girls and boys.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. And if you’re in the mood for sharing this article, go for it! I thank you.)

(The photos, duh, are from the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show. If you click on any photo, a larger image will open.)