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.)

Here We Go Again: Art On Wheels, Part Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Reflective Day In The City Of Brotherly Love

Howdy, girls and boys, and welcome to the website of he who just can’t seem to stop writing about Philadelphia. And why not after all, seeing that The City Of Brotherly Love has got what it takes. Yo, if it didn’t I wouldn’t have spent most of my adult life within or near its borders.

Anyway, it’s not as if I have something better to discuss right now. Well, I suppose that I could go into exacting details concerning how I gained entry in the Guinness World Records book last week by virtue of having tied some of my lengthiest nose hairs to a 50-pound dumbbell and then hoisting that f*cker two feet and eight inches off the ground without using my hands. Shit, that hurt! Fortunately my nose hairs are preternaturally strong and well-anchored, which allowed the feat to occur without major adverse effects. But nah, Philadelphia’s more interesting than that accomplishment. What now follows hopefully will validate the previous sentence.

The present story had its genesis last month in my piece on Philadelphia’s elevated parks. During my explorations for that essay I came across wonderful reflections on the surfaces of skyscrapers that flank one of the parks. And when my online friend Tanja Britton posted comments extolling those reflections, something inside of me clicked. Indeed, I then put it in mind to stroll around Philadelphia, checking out reflections in glass and metal on the faces of buildings. I tell you, Tanja’s got the power to inspire. Not only that, she’s a fine writer, one who is smitten by the grandeur of nature. You’ll be glad that you did when you click here to access her website.

Cira Centre, in West Philadelphia

On August’s final Thursday, then, a sunny and pleasantly-heated day, I hopped aboard a late-morning train in my suburban town and disembarked at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station an hour later. The station, located in the city’s gigantic West Philadelphia section, sits across the Schuylkill River from central Philly. And hovering above the station is Cira Centre, a sleekly monolithic skyscraper that I immediately fell in love with when it opened in 2005. No way was I going to gaze at reflections around town without including those on CC’s surface.

Cira Centre, sheathed in glass, is a testament to the glories of reflection. Because it is not boxed in by other tall buildings, it has an almost unlimited capacity to mirror the skies. I spent a couple of minutes admiring the ideal shade of medium blue that saturated its facade. Still, I was somewhat surprised that, other than the heavens, the only thing pictured on the side facing me was one single building.

There are other skyscrapers not far from Cira Centre, some of them belonging to or associated with the two educational behemoths (University Of Pennsylvania and Drexel University) that abut one another in West Philadelphia. But my walking tour didn’t lead me to any of those towers. Strolling through the university campuses and on the blocks that surround and transect them, I stayed on the lookout for nifty images presented in the windows of normal-height buildings. I kept getting distracted though, because it was an excellent day for girl-watching in West Philadelphia, as it also would be an hour and a half later when I made my way around a healthy number of central Philadelphia’s streets. But you know what? Not a single female watched me. What do they have against guys whose eye bags droop halfway to the ground? Man, being a geezer ain’t easy.

Ladies notwithstanding, I didn’t lose sight of why I’d gone into town. I’ve always liked to look at reflections, but I’m almost certain that this was the first time I ever devoted more than a few minutes to seeking them out. It wasn’t hard to find them. And obviously it rarely is, a fact that somehow hadn’t registered with me before. During my travels that day, West Philadelphia and central Philadelphia gave me many images to groove on.

Saxby’s, near Drexel University
Gothic building on University Of Pennsylvania’s campus
Dunkin’ Donuts, in central Philadelphia

The orange tables and chairs imbedded in the window of Saxby’s coffee bistro, inches from Drexel University, intrigued me. As did the tree and blue sky in the window panes of a Gothic building smack dab in the middle of the University Of Pennsylvania campus. Ditto for the street scenes, complicated yet quiet, playing out in the glasswork of a Dunkin’ Donuts store in central Philly.

Comcast Center, in central Philadelphia
Looking toward the top of Comcast Technology Center, in central Philadelphia

And what, other than ooh la la, can you say about the sky, clouds and buildings captured in the facade of Comcast Center, the city’s second-tallest structure? That soaring canvas was hard to beat. Comcast Center, in the center of town, reigned as Philadelphia’s highest building for 10 years until its sibling, Comcast Technology Center, opened a block away last year. CTC is a gorgeous creation too. The geometric reflections upon its mirrored surfaces were a minimalist’s delight.

The Graham Building, in central Philadelphia

I was in the midst of a varied show. Some images were perfect or near-perfect replicas of the physical world. Others, though as clear as day, had a distinct life of their own, such as the tables and chairs at Saxby’s. And as for fractured pictures, I was totally down with the few I encountered, especially the dizzying plays of light on The Graham Building’s revolving door, a few blocks from Comcast Center.

Iron Hill Brewery, in central Philadelphia
That’s yours truly with the camera in front of his face, in West Philadelphia
Two Liberty Place, in central Philadelphia

Reflections can mess with your head in a good way and might put you under a spell. What else would you expect from phenomena that, though weightless, in their mysterious ways are as substantial as solid matter? One thing for certain is that I, who came close to flunking high school physics, never will understand the mechanics and processes behind reflections. But who cares? Their call got me off my bony, lazy ass the other day. I needed that.

(As almost always noted: Please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this story. Thank you.)

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

When Martin Scorsese Asked For My Help, I Obliged!: A Cinematic Story Of Sorts

Martin Scorsese (Photo by Jeff Vespa; copyright WireImage.com)

“Neil! It’s Marty. Do you got a minute? I really need your help,” Martin Scorsese, the titanic film director, said to me a few days ago. He was calling from his production studios in Manhattan, where he’s putting the finishing touches on The Irishman, a crime drama with an all-star cast that includes Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: How can a schlub like me be friends with a luminary like Scorsese? Maybe I’ll go into the details in a future article. For now, let me merely say that Marty and I first met, a few years ago, in a dream (click here to access that dream). Our relationship evolved and deepened organically from there into a real-life friendship.

Leonardo DiCaprio (photo credit: NASA/Goddard/Rebecca Roth)

“Listen, Neil,” Marty went on, “here’s why I’m calling. You know Leo, right? Leonardo DiCaprio? He’s been in a bunch of my films.”

“Sure, everybody knows who he is. But I never met him, if that’s what you mean.”

Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci (attributed to Francesco Melzi)

“Leo’s a great guy,” Marty went on. “Talented as hell. Smart as hell too, a genius in fact. That’s why, I suppose, I came up with this fabulous idea: DiCaprio should portray Leonardo da Vinci in a movie. One genius playing another genius. One Leonardo playing another Leonardo. Could anything be cooler than that? I love it, man! It can’t miss . . . except that I’m having trouble figuring out what angle the movie ought to take, what it should be about. A straight drama? Forget it. I’ve done enough of those. A comedy? Definitely could work. Picture this: Da Vinci would be a bumbler in the film, stumbling from one misadventure to another. The running gag would be da Vinci getting his humongous beard caught in a door wherever he goes. ‘Get me out of this hairy situation, I beg you! The f*cking door is stuck!’ would be his catchphrase.”

“Marty, that’s good. You can’t go wrong with a comedy. But you know what’s even better? A superhero movie, Marty, a superhero movie. Da Vinci was gifted as hell. He was a painter, an inventor, a scientist, a mathematician, a you-name-it. Shit, there was nothing that old boy couldn’t do. He was the Renaissance man of all Renaissance men.”

Marty cut me off. “I’m listening, Neil. And I like where I think you’re going with this. Tell me more.”

“Well, only the greatest Renaissance man of them all has what it takes to save the hub of the Renaissance — Florence, Italy — from two potentially catastrophic invasions. The first assault is by aliens, the second by zombies.”

“When the aliens, looking for all the world like seven-foot tall ants, descend upon Florence from a distant galaxy, in 1505, the city’s residents are thrown into a panic,” I continued. “But Leonardo da Vinci, a Florentine, stays cool, immediately putting his scientific know-how into use. Within an hour he invents a chemical spray that anything resembling an ant will be powerless against. Then he disguises himself with a Mona Lisa mask, whose enigmatic smile stops the invaders in their tracks. They’ve never seen such a smile before, and are nearly hypnotized by it. Spray bottles in hand, da Vinci now advances on the creatures, systematically killing them one by one.”

David, by Michelangelo (photo credit: Jorg Bittner Unna)

“‘All we wanted to do was steal Michelangelo’s statue of David from your city and bring it back to our planet,’ the alien leader says to da Vinci with its final breaths. ‘David’s hung like a horse, after all. Most impressive! The statue would have sat majestically in our supreme ruler’s palace. He’d have gazed at it admiringly and enviously, sometimes bemoaning the less-than-daunting size of his own genitalia.'”

“You’re on a roll, Neil,” Marty said. “What’s next?”

“Well, only one week after da Vinci dispatches the aliens, Florence is confronted with an untold number of zombies. Those f*ckers seemingly came from out of nowhere. But they don’t stand a chance, not with our Renaissance man on the scene. He dons his signature mask, whose smile has the same effect on the zombies as it did on the aliens. That’s when da Vinci whips out the hammer and chisel that he’s borrowed from Michelangelo — the very same tools that Michelangelo used to carve the David statue — and bashes the living crap out of the baddies. Problem solved! Case closed!”

“Yes, this is the best!” Marty exclaimed. “Mega-sance Man, short for Mega Renaissance Man, is what we’ll call da Vinci’s alter ego. And that’ll be the name of the film too. Neil, I can tell that this will be the most popular movie I’ve ever made, an absolute blockbuster. I’m going to hang up now. I’ve got to call DiCaprio and tell him about your genius ideas. For years he’s been itching to play a guy who saves the world. Thank you, Neil, thank you. You’ll receive a screenwriter credit, of course, and hefty payments for your contributions.”

“Marty, in your hands Mega-sance Man will be stunning. Leonardo da Vinci, if he were alive, would be flattered and proud.”

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this story on social media. Mucho gracias.)

I Have Some Faves. How About You? (Art On Wheels, Part Four)

There must be a good reason why I occasionally slip behind the steering wheel of my ancient but spunky Honda Civic and drive around my area to photograph attractively-adorned motor vehicles. Maybe it’s because I’m older than dirt, a condition that leads some people to engage in oddball activities. Or maybe it’s because I’m inherently an oddball, and has nothing at all to do with my advanced years. I asked my psychiatrist, Dr. R. U. Forereel, about this during a recent session.

“The answer, Neil, is obvious,” she said. “Yes, you’re old. Really old. Might not be a bad idea to have some work done on your face, in fact. There are dried-out prunes in my refrigerator with fewer wrinkles than you have. And yes, you’re an oddball. But who isn’t? Neither of those factors explains the situation, though. So, here’s the answer: The universe requires each of its components to play their proper roles. One of your roles is to immortalize eye-catching designs on motor vehicles. If you don’t do it, who will? Nobody, Neil, nobody. So, keep up the work. Notice that I didn’t say good work, by the way. I’ll see you next week. And pay at the front desk with a credit card this time. The check you used for the last session bounced.”

Perhaps Dr. Forereel’s theory is correct. It’s as good as any. Anyway, where was I? Right, last week, for the fourth time since launching this website, I hit the roads in the Philadelphia suburbs, aiming to find sharp vehicles to photograph (the previous entries in this series may be read by clicking here, here and here).

Plenty of lovely vehicles passed me as I drove, but, having no interest in buying a ticket for an early grave, I didn’t attempt to snap their pictures when my Honda also was in motion. As always, then, I pulled into strip malls and shopping centers and other commercial areas where my potential victims might be parked. Whenever I spotted a looker, I’d park too, get up nice and close to it, and press the button on my phone’s camera.

The day proved to be not only pretty fruitful but less demanding than I’d expected. I found more than enough subjects within a three mile radius from my house, rather than the eight miles I’d been expecting. That took a nice amount of strain off my sagging shoulders, though the crazy amount of traffic in my region and the abundance of assholic drivers more than made up for that. “Yo, dipshit, get off my tail!” I yelled in my mind any number of times at others sharing the roads with me. Man, my kingdom for a relaxed, casual drive.

I set one rule for the day: I wouldn’t take photos of vehicles I’d photographed before. Alas, I had to ignore a magnificent, huge Dunkin’ Donuts truck, which was delivering goods to a Dunkin’ franchise near my house. One of the truck’s clones made an appearance, you see, in the Art On Wheels story that I published last August.

And I had to tread lightly a couple of times. I’ve shopped now and then at the Best Buy store a mile and a half from my house, but till the other day hadn’t noticed an employee parking area behind this electronics emporium. Wow, it was partially filled with Geek Squad vans, the vehicles used by the Best Buy workers who make home visits to fix problems with computers and other complicated wares. Damn right I took a bunch of photos there. And damn right somebody drove into the lot to ask what the hell I was doing. “Nothing much,” I mumbled. “I’ll be on my way now.”

So, off I went to Best Buy’s customer parking section, where sat a delivery truck upon which was painted a very fine arrangement of fruits and vegetables. A produce truck at an electronics store? Its driver, who was sitting comfortably behind the wheel, probably had pulled into the lot to take a breather. I loved the truck. It would have made it into this article. But I didn’t need the driver climbing out or rolling down a window to ask what the hell I was doing. One encounter of that sort was enough.

I snapped the portraits of 17 vehicles during the two and a half hours that I devoted to the project. Looking over the pix after I got back home, I concluded that 10 made the grade for this mighty story. I’ve looked at that group several times, narrowing down my absolute favorites to four: Terminix, for its design’s clean lines and limited but highly effective palette. U-Haul, because who else ever has painted bats on a truck? Fast Signs, which is as colorful and cool as it can be. Five Star Painting, for the same reasons as Fast Signs.

And my number-one choice is? Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no way I can not go with Five Star Painting. Concise, breezy and hip, the artwork on that car is a feast for the eyes.

And how about you? Which designs rock your world? I need to know! The box in which to enter your comments is below. Adios till next time, amigos.

Jeff Bezos Spoke With Me! (An Amazonian Story)

I was mad as hell. You would have been too if the monogrammed boxer shorts that you ordered from Amazon came with incorrect initials. My initials are NSS, not ASS, for crying out loud! And the manufacturer got it wrong not once, not twice, but thrice. And so I decided to give Amazon a piece of my mind before returning defective goods to them once again. They needed to know that Underpants R Us, based in Crotchonia, Bulgaria, is a firm that does not deserve to have its products handled by the world’s largest online retailer!

That’s why I dialed 888-280-4331 last week, Amazon’s customer service number in the USA. I wasn’t sure where my dissatisfaction would take me. Turns out that the call resulted in an experience that in a million years I wouldn’t have expected.

“This is Anna, in Amazon’s customer service department in beautiful Kennewick, Washington. Whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with, and how are you this fine day?” were the words that greeted me. Ah, such a lovely tone. Anna seemed so agreeable, so gentle over the phone, I almost decided not to burden her with my complaint. But complain I did, succinctly explaining the situation without ever raising my voice.

Anna listened attentively, confirming all pertinent information and asking appropriate questions. Then she took me aback.

“Mr. Scheinin,” she said, “I am pleased to let you know that there is a special visitor in our facility today. He stops by several times each year, being a very hands-on individual. He has been listening to our conversation and has indicated to me that he would like to talk with you. He will provide you with the highest level of customer satisfaction. If it’s all right, then, I’m going to place Mr. Bezos — Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO — on the line.”

“Why, yes, that is absolutely all right, Anna,” I said. “Thank you.”

A few seconds passed. And then I heard the voice of the world’s richest person. (He’s worth well over 100 billion American dollars.)

Photo of Jeff Bezos by Tom Stockill/Redux

“Neil! This is Jeff Bezos. I’m so sorry that you’ve been having problems with some of our merchandise. I don’t quite understand what the situation is, though. Something’s wrong with your ass, is that it?”

“Well, not exactly, Jeff. You see . . .”

He cut me off. “Neil, if your derriere isn’t feeling right, I have just the product for you. I totally swear by it. I tell you, it’s provided me with wonderful relief many times in recent years. Preparation H, Neil. Preparation H. It’s been around forever, and that’s because it works. Hemorrhoids begone! Neil, Amazon will be glad to sell you a case of this magical concoction, enough for many years, for a mere $109.99. And shipping, it goes without saying, is free. What do you say, Neil? May I process your order?”

“Mr. Bezos,” I said, “you’ve got it all wrong. Let me start from the beginning. You see, I’ve been having enormous difficulty obtaining properly-monogrammed boxer shorts . . . oh, it’s a long, boring story. Who really cares? I’ll just keep the ones with ASS stitched onto them. My wife thinks those initials are appropriate, anyway. Listen, do you have a couple of minutes?”

“Indeed I do. Wassup?”

“Jeff, you’ve climbed to the top of the mountain. You have achieved success and wealth to a degree that boggles the mind. Obviously you are a man with a plan. On the other hand, I’m a chap with no map. Jeff, all my life I’ve been bouncing through life like a pinball, rarely finding satisfaction, unable to smell the roses because of my intense sinus condition. Hire me, Mr. B! I want a job that I can throw myself into.”

“Neil, I liked you the moment we started talking. But I have to probe a little deeper to make sure that you’re the right individual for the position I have in mind. Spot quiz: Spell hemorrhoid quickly!”

Wham! The convoluted letters flew off my tongue like bullets.

“Excellent! Another spot quiz: How many writers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”

“Jeff, that depends on how deeply they want to analyze the situation. Writers, you know, can be complicated.”

“Right on, Neil! You’re the first person to get that one correct. My man, I can’t believe my good fortune in meeting you today. I want you to join Amazon as my sounding board. I have so many ideas to bounce off you. For instance, I’d like to create a chain of restaurants that serve nothing but LOL sandwiches — liverwurst, onion and Limburger. Man, I love me a good LOL! And I have the perfect slogan for the sandwich: It surely does smell, but what the hell.”

“That’s brilliant, Jeff. Brilliant.”

“Thanks, Neil. And how about this one? Amazon gas stations manned by robots who give you the best hugs of your life before and after they fill up your car’s tank. Customers will drive away bursting with happiness!”

“Bravo, Jeff! You have your finger on humanity’s pulse. It will be an honor to work for you. What’s my salary going to be, by the way? Eighty grand a year sounds about right, don’t you think?”

“Salary? Who said anything about a salary? This is an unpaid internship, Neil. Despite the lack of remuneration, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. When, my boy, can you start?”

That was a good question. I don’t encounter good questions all that often. And when I do, I usually don’t have good responses to them. This time I did.

“Later, Jeff,” I said.

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

This Is My 200th Story! Will It Be My Last?

Image by Karma Willow Designs

It’s amazing! They said it couldn’t be done! I’m going to throw a party to which you all will be invited. I’m going to hire a sky-writing plane to fly over Manhattan and cover the heavens with this announcement: Neil Scheinin, a grand slacker, somehow has written 200 stories for his blog. A miracle has occurred!

And after all of that I might just hang up my writing boots forever. Why? Because writing mentally exhausts me. I mean, after I finish a piece I’m so limp you’d have no trouble folding me up and squeezing me into a goldfish bowl. I’ve gone through this 200 times now. Maybe that’s enough.

And if it is enough, that wouldn’t be so bad. With writing no longer on the menu, I’d devote the extra time on my hands to my living room sofa, where I’m already spending an average of 10 hours a day. The sofa is where I do my best kind of work anyway, you know. By which I mean that I am a master at twirling the handful of hairs remaining on the crown of my head while stuffing my maw with boxfuls of Cheez-It crackers. I love my sofa. My gratitude for having the comfiest place in the world to rest my ancient ass is eternal.

To write or not to write, that is the question. Making the decision isn’t easy. Which is why I’ve recently sought guidance from three individuals. The first conversation took place a week ago. It was with my esteemed editor, Edgar Reewright.

“Neil, the exorbitant fees that you pay me for my services are crucial to my financial stability,” Edgar screamed over the phone after I laid out my thoughts. “Do you hear me? Crucial, I say. My stable of writers has been shrinking like a Greenland glacier. Without you on board I don’t know what I’d do! Oh, why was I born? Why was I born? I should have listened to my parents and majored in philosophy in college. If I had, then I’d know the answer to ‘why was I born?’ Shit, maybe it’s not too late. Where are those volumes of the collected works of Plato and Aristotle that I occasionally glanced at years ago? Ah, I remember. They’re under my dog’s mattress, firming it up. Spot! Spot! Get off your bed! Daddy needs to get something.”

“Later, Edgar,” I said. “I’ll be in touch.”

Edgar’s situation is no joke. Though not many people depend on me, he definitely does. Conversely, my psychiatrist, Dr. R. U. Forereel, is someone upon whom many people depend. Including me. The day after I spoke with Edgar I attended my bi-weekly session with Dr. Forereel.

“Doctor,” I said to her after seating myself in her patients’ chair, “I know that we normally discuss issues that have their roots in my misspent childhood, such as why in my 71 years of existence I’ve never once bonded with a cat. If I weren’t so sphinxlike, maybe by now we’d have uncovered an answer or two to that one. My bad! But today I need your opinions about my creative outlet. I’ve been writing steadily for almost four years, as you know. My next story will be my 200th, a true milestone. But I’m weary, doctor. Writing has taken its toll on me. I’m thinking of ending my career.”

Career?” Dr. Forereel immediately exclaimed. “What career? Neil, the essays and other pieces that you produce are trifles, no? And you receive how much in payment for them? Wait, let me guess. The answer begins with a z and ends with an o and has an e and an r in the middle. Am I right? Neil, what you do with words amounts to nothing more than a hobby, a way to pass the time. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s important to look at things realistically. I have no couch in my office for my patients, only a chair. But you, Neil, have a wonderful couch at home, as you’ve told me many times over the years. Take further advantage of that sofa. It’s one of your very best friends. Writing means little in comparison to the peace of mind that your sofa brings.”

At the end of the session I thanked the good doctor and then went to my car. Her advice echoed through my mind continuously during the drive back home.

Later that day I poured out my heart to my wife Sandy. Edgar Reewright had implored me to continue writing. Dr. Forereel had said, basically, “why bother?” What were Sandy’s feelings?

“Listen,” she began, “it’s entirely up to you. But I’ll say this: At least you’re not getting Cheez-It crumbs all over the couch when you’re at your writing desk. So that’s a good reason, in my opinion, for you to keep turning out your stories. However, there are how many projects around the house that you’ve never gotten to? Twenty? Thirty? Seems to me that starting a blog might be what you came up with to avoid doing what needs to be done around here.”

Valued readers, I’m in a quandary. I’m going to have to look deep within myself over the next several days. There’s plenty for me to ponder. Maybe I’ll be back on these pages. Maybe I won’t. Time, as always, will tell.

(Yo! Despite the uncertainties presented above, please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this story. Mucho gracias.)