Looking Up Is Where It’s At: A Springtime Story

When my phone rang at 10 AM on April 27, I knew that I would be in for a scolding. That’s because the name displayed on the phone was none other than Dooitt Orr Else, the no-nonsense CEO of the blogosphere. I’d never had the pleasure of speaking with Mrs. Else, but I knew all about her. Bottom line: she does not suffer fools gladly.

I answered the call. “Hello, can I help you?” I asked, my voice trembling.

“Help me? I doubt it, fool. But you can help yourself. Listen, mister — and, by the way, this is Dooitt Orr Else speaking — it has come to my attention that you have yet to publish an article that centers around spring 2021. What is the matter with you? You’ve written about past springs, have you not? The answer is yes. Therefore it will be unacceptable if you allow the present season to vanish into your rearview mirror without comment.”

“Sir, you have fallen short of the contractual obligations that you entered into with WordPress. Get to work on a spring-related article or I shall be forced to revoke your writing privileges. Not that anyone would mind if I did. Over and out!”

Holy shit, that conversation, if you can call it that, left me worried. I mean, what the hell would I do with my freed-up time if I no longer were allowed to hurl my words of quasi-wisdom into cyberspace? Man, I don’t want to learn how to do yoga. And I don’t want to learn how to bake. Hence, the next day I took to the streets to see what spin I might put on spring 2021.

A lovely day it was when I began the adventure soon after breakfast. On the hazy side, yes, but there’s a charm to haziness. And the temperature was very comfortable, so I knew that I wouldn’t start sweating like a pig as I pounded the sidewalks. My plan was to admire and investigate the flora on some of the blocks in my neighborhood and also on some in a nearby area, as nature had begun to come alive gloriously several weeks earlier. Most deciduous trees were fully in leaf. And many of their flowering varieties were strutting their stuff. But what would be my focus? I wasn’t sure when I left the house, but two minutes later I knew.

I knew, because I decided to photograph a pine tree on a home’s front lawn, but not from a distance. Instead, I got real close to the densely-needled beauty and looked up. What a view! No pavement, no houses, no electrical wires were part of the scene. Nothing but the tree and the sky. The template for the walk, and for the story that you now are reading, immediately fell into place. I would look upward frequently and see what was to be found.

The natural world, needless to say, is infinitely complicated in terms of design, structure, materials, color, and in terms of every other aspect that one might think of. We reside on a planet that is an absolute wonderland. These facts are what hit me the hardest as I wandered along, stopping here and there to peer heavenward through tree branches. The branches, the leaves and needles, the blossoms on those trees so adorned, interplayed at wild angles, combining to form intricate canvases, canvases that shape-shifted whenever I changed position even slightly. Add to this the play of sunlight and the calmness of the sky . . .  the sights were truly stunning.

What’s more, most of the canvases looked like works of modern art to me, swaths of colors and in-your-face immediacy being major parts of their hearts and souls. But I also enjoyed the more delicate constructions, especially the unassuming manner in which one tree, with a smattering of white petals on its thin branches, met the sky.

For the past 18 months I’ve been walking my ass off in my and other neighborhoods, most of them in the Philadelphia burbs, doing so for health reasons and also to get off the living room sofa often enough so as not to take root on it. I’m a lazy guy at the core, though, not one who is thrilled about engaging in regular exercise sessions. But I plan to maintain the routine for as long as I am able. And looking up will help. As the title of this opus says, that’s where it’s at. Sometimes, anyway.

Okay, Mrs. Else. I’ve met your demand. Don’t call me again anytime soon!

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

Art On Wheels, Part Seven: And The Winner Is . . .

My editor, Edgar Reewright, couldn’t restrain himself when I told him last week that my next opus would be another entry in the Art On Wheels series.

“Neil, you’re straining my patience, not to mention your readers’ patience, with your ridiculous Art On Wheels stories!” Edgar shouted into his phone. “Good lord, one episode would have been enough, and yet number seven is in the works. What’s the matter with you? Can’t you think of something else to write about right now instead of trucks and vans that catch your attention? Sorry, fella, but I’m not going to edit this one. You’re on your own with it.”

Edgar paused for a couple of seconds before continuing. “Listen, Neil, I have to end this conversation. I’m about to head out to an appointment with my psychotherapist who, unbelievably and thankfully, is also a proctologist. He’s trying to help me understand why I deal with writers who turn out so much shit, such as you.” Without another word, he hung up.

Eh, screw Edgar! He’s a philistine. As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing wrong with spending some time now and then in search of snazzily-adorned motor vehicles. It gets me out of the house. It helps me pay attention to what’s going on around me. And it pleases my artsy-fartsy side. I’d rather look at works of art in museums, true. But I’m decently content to gaze at those that rest above axles and wheels.

I used to try to track down in a single day or two all of the good-looking vehicles that I would need for a story. And, by dumb luck or who knows what, I met the goal several times. But I missed the goal for episodes five and six (click here to read number six). And was even farther from it this time around, as I needed four days in January and February 2021 to encounter enough attractive vehicles for this story. What’s more, there were a few more days during those months when, on the prowl, I didn’t find any examples of vehicular art that met my standards or were capturable.

Now, capturable is a key point. Generally I locate my victims in the parking areas of supermarkets, strip malls and other businesses. And occasionally I run across them on residential streets. Usually they are making deliveries or service calls, so getting close to them and taking their portraits at those times is a relative snap.

However, sometimes things don’t work out. On more than one recent occasion, for example, I spotted fine specimens in parking lots that I was walking or driving around in, but they were pulling out and too far away for me to photograph. And, needless to say, I often see beauties on the road while I’m on the road. No way, though, that this ol’ boy is going to try and grab their pictures when he’s behind the wheel. If I were dumb enough to give that a go, I’d pretty much guarantee myself an ambulance ride to the nearest hospital emergency room or, even worse, a journey in a hearse!

I like the designs on all of the vehicles that illustrate this essay, some more than others. Big-Lil Heads is cooler than cool. Have green, orange, white and black ever looked better together than they do on that bus? And the Target truck’s design, so goofily minimalistic, is irresistible to me. I’ve never owned a dog, but if the Target dog should become available for adoption, I’ll be first in line to fill out the required papers.

Still, as much as those two ring my chimes, neither is my favorite. I have to give the nod to the W.B. Mason vehicle. The Mason design is, to me, perfection. Bright, solid and beautifully balanced, it is impossible to ignore and easy to love. W. B. Mason, as is noted on the truck, was founded in 1898. Based in Brockton, Massachusetts for its entire life, the company distributes office and janitorial supplies, and numerous other products, throughout the USA. Whenever I see a Mason truck I find myself attracted to it like a magnet. But I normally spot them when they are in motion, not when I can have a good long look at them. February 24, 2021, then, was my lucky day, because on that date a W. B. Mason truck was sitting quietly in the parking lot that surrounds the Wawa food market in my suburban Philadelphia town.

Yes, the W. B. Mason truck is number one in my book, followed, respectively, by the Big-Lil Heads and Target vehicles. I’d be happy to learn which of the artworks on this page you think are the best. Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Goodbye till next time!

A Case Of The Winter Blues

Man, not only did I wake up feeling kind of blue on the 15th of February, several hours later my funk was still hanging around. Knowing that I needed to take some action I picked up the phone to call my psychiatrist, Dr. R. U. Forereel. But a second later I thought better of it, because, after all the many years that I’ve been spilling out my guts to her, I knew what she would say.

“Are you for real, Neil?” Dr. Forereel would have replied to my explanation of the situation. “Why are you wasting my time over such a trivial matter? Everybody gets the blues now and then. Get off your scrawny rump, Neil, and go for a walk. That’s all you need to do to start feeling better.” And then she’d have hung up abruptly. And, hopefully, would not have sent me a bill for the brief phone session.

Yeah, the first half of February, blessing my part of the globe (I live near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) with lots of snow, ice and cold temperatures, was a big pain. Having lived with those kinds of conditions for most winters of my life, I’m used to them. And, normally, I grin and bear them.

This year, though, slowly but surely winter’s assaults got to me, and I became symptomatic on the 15th. Seeing that my usual morning activities (drinking coffee, doing sudoku puzzles and scratching my balls) weren’t dissipating the blues at all, I decided to take the advice that Dr. Forereel would have offered. Thus, at around 10:30 I bundled up real good. Then I fired up an episode of The Many Moods Of Ben Vaughn, an excellent music podcast, on my phone, stuck earbuds in my ears and headed out the door to stroll around my suburban winter wonderland.

Wonderland? Nah, anything but. Sure, everything looked nice and idyllic right after the first of several snowstorms in early February. But, by February 15th, examples of beauty in my neighborhood were few and far between. That was only to be expected, of course, as snow plows had done their thing two or three times, piling ungainly mounds of snow and ice along the sides of every street. And sidewalk and driveway shoveling had added to the mess. An exception was the Willow Grove Bible Church, which was a pretty charming sight. Overall, though, I gave a rating of anywhere from meh to crap to just about every scene that met my eyes.

Plus, the grey skies weren’t doing anything to lift my spirits either. Ben Vaughn, on the other hand, was. I’ve written about Ben before. Each episode of The Many Moods contains an impressive mixture of musical genres. As I strode along my neighborhood’s blocks on the 15th, the tunes that poured through my earbuds improved my mood. Especially, by far, the hard-rocking ones. In fact, when I’d left the house I instinctively knew that in-your-face drumming was what I was in need of. Fortuitously, during the first 20 minutes of Ben’s show I heard three songs that featured such. They put pep and purpose into my steps. They got my juices flowing. No doubt it would be a good idea now for me to present them. Here then, via YouTube, are rad rockers by Mott The Hoople (“All The Way From Memphis”), Chuck Berry (“Almost Grown”), and Nick Lowe (“Half A Boy And Half A Man”). My humble story continues below them.

But you know what? The uplifting effects of my 45-minute walk didn’t have staying power. When I arrived back home I was feeling no more than 30% better than I did when I began the trek. Shit, it was just one of those days. I suppose that the pandemic was feeding my blues too. My wife and I, like just about everybody, have been limited in our activities since coronavirus reared its ugly head last year. But at least we were able to eat outdoors at restaurants and entertain friends outdoors at our home when the weather was decent.

We can’t do the same when it’s cold outside. And, because we are cautious when it comes to the virus, indoor dining and indoor entertaining definitely are off our schedules. What a drag, drag, drag.

Anyway, I’m a sucker for happy endings. They sure as hell make life seem better. And I’m going to present one to you. Yes, for reasons unclear to me, my skies began to brighten around 5:30 PM on February 15th. And by 7:00 PM I was back to being my normal self. You know, a grumpy, head-halfway-up-his-scrawny-ass septuagenarian. I haven’t always been a septuagenarian, but grumpy and head-halfway-up-his-scrawny-ass have been pretty accurate descriptions of me for years. Yo, nobody’s perfect!

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

Me? In The Biden Administration? We Shall See!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naturally, I gave my consent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elves!

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

This Is My 250th Story! (Thank You, Dr. R. U. Forereel, For Making It Happen)

As usual, you’re late!” my psychiatrist, Dr. R. U. Forereel, correctly and forcefully noted. “Neil, your chronic tardiness is a sign of, of, of . . . of what? Oh, who knows, who cares? Have a seat, Neil. Let’s get started. I’m waiting with baited breath to hear what comes out of your mouth during this session. Or not.”

Gingerly I settled into the large chair that, from a distance of ten feet, faced its twin, upon which Dr. Forereel sat. This being the Age Of Coronavirus, we both were masked. “Doctor, I’m sorry,” I said. “I try my hardest to arrive at your office on time, but something always seems to come up. Today it was a freak accident. Here’s what happened: When I got into my car to drive over here I very forcefully attempted to push the seatbelt buckle into place. But somehow I misjudged what I was doing and ended up stabbing my private parts real good. Holy crap, Doctor, that hurt! I managed to stagger out of the car and back into my house, holding the damaged goods as discreetly as I could. I hope none of the neighbors saw me. Anyway, the boys and the mighty sword are all bandaged up nicely now. I’m good to go! Actually, I lie. If I have sex before the year is out, it’ll be a miracle. In any event, it’s truly amazing that I’m only 20 minutes late.”

“Your privates will be in my prayers tonight,” said my psychiatrist almost sympathetically. “They deserve better, I’m sure. Now Neil, tell me what has been weighing on your mind since our last monthly session. Don’t tell me everything, of course. My eyes will have no trouble doing their glazing-over thing if you do. So, let’s stick to a highlight or two.”

You see? That’s why I like Dr. Forereel so much: she doesn’t feed me bullshit, she’s more or less honest with her feelings, and she cuts to the chase.

“Okay, Doctor. Yes, something has been bothering me quite a lot. It has to do with my blog. You know about my blog, right?”

She shook her head in disbelief. “Of course I know about your blog. You bring it up in one context or another at almost every session! Neil, listen to me. Even though your blog is dear to your heart, I’ve tried to show you that you actually are in conflict with your writerly side. Writing puts tremendous strains upon you, and they are without a doubt unhealthy. I’m talking about the anxiety that you feel in trying to develop story ideas, and the mental and emotional exhaustion that leave you as limp as your once-mighty sword after you complete each article.”

“Neil, in my professional opinion you should change direction and not look back! Take up some other activities in writing’s place. Knitting would suit you just fine, for instance. It’s comforting, it’s creative, it’s a form of meditation, you know. And maybe it will improve your manual dexterity, so that you don’t stab yourself in your genitals ever again. What’s more, nobody in a million years would miss the trifling essays and attempts at humor that you fill your website with. Cyberspace is overflowing unmercifully with content. You should do your civic duty and help to declutter it. Stop writing, in other words!”

“Doctor, I tend to agree with you. I’m pretty well spent, but I can’t halt just yet,” I said. “You see, my next story will be my 250th. Shit, Doctor, I can’t not publish number 250. Pardon my French, by the way. Two hundred and fifty articles is a big milestone. I’d be tremendously disappointed in myself if I stopped at 249.”

“You’re kidding, Neil, right?” she asked. “There would be nothing for you to to be ashamed of were you to hang up your spurs right now. If you did, you would be demonstrating excellent sense and judgment. And 249 strikes me as such an ideally oddball number. In that sense it suits you perfectly!”

“Points taken, Doctor. But getting back to what’s been bothering me: I’ve been racking my brain to try and come up with a story idea for my 250th piece, but no luck. My mind has gone desert-like. What should I do, Doctor Forereel? Can you help?”

She looked at me long and hard, and took a few seconds before responding. Then she said this: “Neil, I doubt that I’m equipped to help you discover story ideas, unless you’re interested in writing about the deep underpinnings of your psyche that we’ve uncovered at our sessions. But they’re awfully boring, truthfully speaking, aren’t they? Nobody would want to read about them, I’m sure. Let me say, though, that part of your problem, without question, has to do with aging. Let’s face it, Neil, you’re an old f*ck — pardon my French — and writing doesn’t become easier as one’s hourglass empties and empties. That’s true for just about everything, right? Knitting excepted, of course.”

Those final comments brought me up short. Though I didn’t want to be, I was reminded that life is fleeting, no matter how long you live. My jaw sank. My eyes dropped. But my mind awakened. “Dr. Forereel,” I said, “believe it or not, you’ve just presented a fine idea to me. My 250th story will be about the preciousness of life, about how we should appreciate what we have, and that we should do our best to live joyfully. Thank you, Doctor, thank you.”

“Neil, I am delighted to have been of service. And a quick glance at the clock on the wall tells me that our time is up once again. Don’t bump your accessories into anything on your way out. They’ve suffered enough for one day. I’ll see you a month from now. And don’t be late next time!”

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Dr. Forereel and I would appreciate it.)

The WordPress Gods Were Looking Out For Me: Art On Wheels, Part Six

And so, here I am again with yet another essay centered around my quests to find and photograph commercial vehicles that are adorned with fine designs. This story is the sixth installment of what will remain an ongoing project (assuming that I continue to stay above ground, that is). What, like I’ve got something better to do with my time than to troll streets and the parking areas of shopping centers and strip malls for handsome trucks, vans and cars? I don’t! At my advanced age I ain’t interested in reaching for the brass ring, goal-and-activity-wise, you dig? Not that I ever was, to tell you the truth. Thus, no novels will I be writing. No corporations will I be starting. No applications to graduate schools will I be submitting, unless there’s a PhD program out there that would accept a doctoral thesis titled An Unambitious F*cker’s Aimless Thoughts.

In other words, trolling suits me just fine.

Frustratingly, it hasn’t been easy finding an adequate number of beauties for this story. Five hunting trips, each of an hour or more in length, brought forth only six vehicles whose images I deemed worthy of inclusion. I want and need one more pleasing photo, but I’ve had my fill of intensive hunting. I’m very confident, though, that an object of my desire will present itself during my normal activities over the next few days (I’m typing these words on the 20th of July). Lucky number seven surely is heading my way!

I didn’t run into a numbers problem during the creation of this series’ previous installments. In fact, for most of them I bagged enough useable photos during only one or two expeditions. Which was amazing, considering that the vast majority of commercial vehicles have little, indifferent or no artwork upon their bodies.

What accounted for the change in numbers? Partly it was just one of those things. A cold streak, if you will. But I’m pretty sure that the good ol’ coronavirus was the main reason. Although many stores and offices are open in my area (I live near Philadelphia), the pandemic has harmed business here, as it has everywhere. Decreased demand for goods translates into fewer deliveries. There weren’t as many chances, as a result, for me to cross paths with good-lookers.

Luckily, part of the shortfall was made up by artistic vehicles of the non-delivery type. The Omni Comp car, for example. It belongs to a computer repair store in my town and is used, I assume, by the workers there for service calls. That car is cute as a button, no?

And how about the van owned by Noble Dentistry, whose office is in a town nearby to mine? The van’s greens and blues are oh so dreamy. But why does ND need a van? For mobile dental services? Uh uh. Their website makes no mention of that. I suppose the practice’s owners simply want to have a sharp vehicle parked in front of their building in the hopes of catching the eyes of some potential patients.

My favorite hunk of metal and glass, though, is of the delivery sort. It’s a truck that was delivering Canada Dry beverages to a Wawa food market near my home. As with Noble Dentistry’s van, greens and blues rule on the truck, only much more profoundly and on a significantly larger scale. Man, it was hot as hell on the day I walked around Canada Dry, admiring it from various angles. Its soothing, refreshing facade cooled me down, though that was mostly in my head. In reality, I continued to sweat like a pig.

With that, I’ve come to the end of my commentary. But only for now. I shall resume the narrative when beauty number seven reveals itself to me. Don’t go away!

I’m back! It now is the 21st of July. Two hours ago I returned home from a dental appointment in Philadelphia’s congested Mayfair section. Because traffic was lighter than usual — another consequence of the pandemic — I arrived ten minutes before my appointment time. I parked on one of the neighborhood’s countless rowhouse-filled blocks and silently said something along these lines to myself: “Might as well walk around for a couple of minutes before going to the dental office. There’s a decent chance I’ll spot a sweet vehicle parked on the street.” Turns out there was a 100% chance, for on Frankford Avenue, a shopping mecca, I saw a vision in red and white: a Meadow Gold dairy truck that was making a delivery to one of the stores nearby. It’s a great beauty, colorful and wonderfully designed. But I still have to go with the Canada Dry truck as my favorite, because of the loving way in which its greens and blues resonate with me. Meadow Gold, you are a real close second.

Naturally, I snapped Meadow Gold’s picture and gave deep thanks to the WordPress gods for looking out for me. They wanted me to bring this story to a satisfactory conclusion, of that I have no doubt.

Well, that’s about it. As I do with all of my stories, though, I’ll let this one marinate for a few days and tinker with it compulsively. Thanks for reading. Please don’t be shy about letting me know which vehicles you like the best, or about anything else. Goodbye till next time!

What Do I Know? Good Question

Five or six times each week, for half an hour or so, I haul my sorry ass along the streets of one neighborhood or another, usually my own. I engage in this walking routine for fitness purposes and also just to get out of the frigging house during these pandemic-constricted days. I sure as hell am not a lover of regular exercise, but I’ve come to tolerate it for one reason: I listen to music podcasts as I stride along. Music, as we know, helps to keep boredom at bay. Duh!

One podcast that I often dial up is Downtown Soulville, hosted by a guy who calls himself Mr. Fine Wine. The program appears each week on New Jersey radio station WFMU, and then, luckily for me, is transformed by one form of magic or another into the podcast format.

Downtown Soulville is damn fine. During each episode, Mr. Fine Wine spins soul and rhythm and blues recordings, all of them on 45 RPM singles from his incredibly huge collection of same. He doesn’t talk too much during his shows, which is the way I like it, so song after song after song (most of them from the 1950s, 60s and 70s) hit the airwaves.

When I first started listening to Downtown Soulville I was struck not only by how very few of the recordings I’d ever heard before, but also by how very many of the artists I’d never heard of. This kind of shocked me, because, although I no longer try too hard to keep up with what’s going on in the various sections of the music world, for decades I did, waving my music-junkie flag proudly. I was, and am, into rock, jazz, soul, R&B, blues, reggae, Brazilian, African, classical, folk, and more musical genres. So, how was it that hundreds of soul/R&B singers that Mr. FW has thrown my way, such as Sugar Pie DeSanto, Billy Watkins and Mel Williams, were new to me?

The conclusion that I came to was that, despite being well-informed about music, in a very real sense I don’t know shit about that subject compared to what there is to know. That was a sobering thought. And eventually it set in motion a sequence of questions and answers. To wit: If my knowledge about music is limited, what does that say about me regarding every other subject you can name? Well, I know even less about them than I do about music, in most cases incredibly less. But, okay, does that really matter? Yes, it does, since acquiring knowledge is a worthy goal. Sure, but nobody can imbibe everything, right? True, and, what’s more, it’s exhausting to try to. Indeed, but that notwithstanding, aren’t there things you’d love to understand more about?

The answer to that question is a no-brainer: Damn straight!

For instance, how come I Don’t Wanna Be A Doofus No More, the personality-enhancing potion that George Clooney gifted me with a few years ago (click here to read about it), isn’t helping me anymore? Man, that elixir cured me of being a schlemiel for the good long while that it worked. Clooney, I’m going to sue you if you don’t rectify this situation!

And how come Alicia Keys, Halle Berry and Jennifer Lawrence haven’t gotten back to me regarding the messages I left with their agents? What, the ladies have something against hanging out with a dorky septuagenarian? Did they somehow learn that I Don’t Wanna Be A Doofus No More no longer is having salutary effects upon me?

And, though not as pressing as the issues that I just mentioned, what’s the deal with the universe? Specifically, how did it begin? Yeah, yeah, there’s the Big Bang theory and all, but here’s the thing about that: If all the matter that became our universe once was contained in an impossibly-compressed chunk of whatever, as the theory states, where the f*ck did that chunk come from? Did it always exist? Is it possible for something to always exist? Boys and girls, truer words than the following rarely have been written: I sure as shit don’t know.

I tell you, all of this mental work is tiring me out big-time. Having reached my deep-thoughts limit, there’s little doubt that my living room sofa, and naptime thereupon, await me. Before I sign off, though, let me say that I’m always glad to receive readers’ comments, so please don’t be shy about adding yours. Goodbye, then, till next time. I’ll leave you with the songs that I heard on Downtown Soulville the other day by the aforementioned Sugar Pie DeSanto, Billy Watkins and Mel Williams. Hope you enjoy them.

 

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.

Tomatoes, Beer And The Kominsky Method: A Sexy Story

Over the phone I could feel my editor Edgar Reewright’s blood pressure galloping towards very unhealthy levels. I could sense that the veins in his forehead were bulging more than his famously small pecker ever has. And, almost needless to say, I heard him roar loud and clear.

What the hell’s wrong with you, Neil?” Edgar screamed at me. “Why do you keep doing this? Is it so hard to come up with story ideas whose components go together like hats and gloves? It isn’t. In fact, it should be easy!”

“Neil, an essay about tomatoes, beer and The Kominsky Method just won’t cut it. They’ve got nothing in common, and I say that even though I don’t have a clue about who or what Kominsky is. If you want to write this story, then write it. But edit it yourself. Oh, where did I go wrong to end up with you as a client? If you weren’t a reliable source of income I’d drop you faster than my first three wives dumped me!”

“For crying out loud, Edgar, calm down,” I said. “What’s wrong with this story idea? The answer is nothing. I like writing about things that give me a buzz, and this story will be about the ones that have excited me the most lately. Not only that, somewhere in the piece I’ll ask the readers to let me know what’s been ringing their bells. They’re a discerning lot and will help to expand my horizons.”

“Horizons, huh?” Edgar snickered. “You’re old, Neil, remember? Your horizons are too stiff and achy to expand more than an inch.”

“Maybe so, Edgar,” I said, “but that inch is more than your famously small pecker is capable of expanding.” Edgar didn’t respond to that cutting remark.

“Hear me out, Edgar,” I continued a few moments later. “Let’s start with tomatoes. Have you ever tasted little yellow ones? I never paid any attention to them until a few months ago, when they caught my eye at the supermarket. Now I’m hooked on them. “Comets” is the brand name of the ones I buy, and they’re damn fine. Sweet as sugar, with just the right amount of tang. They make any salad better.”

Edgar didn’t say a word.

“And how about the beers that Magic Hat Brewing Company, in Vermont, turns out?” I continued. “Magic is right. The brewers there are magicians, Edgar. Magicians! I have two Magic Hat variety packs at home. And every one of the brews in those boxes is absolutely delicious. I’ve been drinking their beers for years, but didn’t know about the vastness of the Magic Hat repertoire until the variety packs entered my life not long ago. That brewery rules!”

Once again, Edgar remained silent. What was wrong?

“Edgar, this conversation isn’t going well, so I think we should say our goodbyes soon. Then I’ll start writing the story. But I can’t leave without recommending The Kominsky Method to you. It’s a television series, a comedy/drama done charmingly and with a sharp wit. Netflix carries it. Edgar, I don’t turn on the TV too often, so I’m glad I decided to give Kominsky a try. Do you like Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin? I do. They’re the leads in the show and are fabulous. So is everyone else in the cast. Watching Douglas and Arkin try to deal with the slings and arrows that life throws at them in their old age is a blast, and touching too.”

I paused. Then I said, “Edgar, you haven’t talked in three minutes. I don’t hear you breathing. Speak to me, Edgar. Speak to me! Are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here,” Edgar, sounding sad, said ten seconds later. “I heard you talking all along, but nothing registered. I was deep in thought. Neil, how do you know about the size of my manhood? I thought that nobody knows except for my wife Loretta and my three exes.”

“Edgar, you’re kidding me, right? Everybody has heard about your short sword. Your third ex-wife went into all the details in a post on her Facebook page last week. She mocked you real good. In no time the article took off. You’re famous, Edgar. Maybe you don’t want to be, but you are.”

What? I’m going to sue her. I’ll have my day in court. I’ll tell the world that size isn’t everything. It’s quality that counts, Neil, not length! Quality is my middle name, in bed and, as you know, as an editor. I’ve got to go now. Good luck with your story. You’re on your own with it. Hopefully your next idea will be better than this one.”

Just before Edgar pressed the red button on his cell phone to end our call, I heard him yelling to his wife: “Loretta, I’ve been defamed! I need top-tier representation. What’s that lawyer’s name? You know who I mean. He used to star in porno films before he went to law school and became an attorney. Wait, I’ve got it. Big Dick Johnson! Please get him on the phone for me!”

(What’s been ringing your bells lately? Comments about that, and about Edgar or anything else, are welcomed. Ditto for sharing this story.)