A Not-Socially-Distanced Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will We Stay Or Will We Go? (A Cape Cod Story)

I’ve written an awful lot of pieces that revolve around Cape Cod, the narrow 65-mile-long stretch of land, and its surrounding waters, in southeastern Massachusetts. Which is fitting. This publication, after all, is a personal narrative more than anything else, and Cape Cod has played a major part in my life for years.

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

In 1998 my wife Sandy and I vacationed on the Cape for five or six days, not knowing what to expect. We had researched Cape Cod, of course, and determined that it seemed to be a place that we’d relate to nicely, but the proof would be in the pudding. Well, we had a grand time, and decided that we would return the following year to soak up more of the Cape’s vibes.

Baker’s Pond (Orleans, Cape Cod)

The trip in 1999 sealed the deal. We were, and remain, smitten. For us, much of what Cape Cod has to offer (beautiful sands, waters, marshlands and forests; sweet villages; good eateries, museums, art galleries, music venues, cinemas, theater companies and more) comprise a damn near perfect package. We’ve returned again and again, usually for one vacation annually. We’ve been there in every season but summer, which is when Cape Cod is jammed with vacationers and visitors. F*ck jammed! We’ll stick with autumn, which has been our preference for the last ten or so years. In autumn, jammed doesn’t come into play.

Wellfleet village (Wellfleet, Cape Cod)

As the years went on, the lengths of our visits increased. In total we’ve spent somewhere in the vicinity of nine months on the Cape, a healthy chunk of our life together. Sandy and I think of Cape Cod as our second home. And, overall, we like Cape Cod more than we do our permanent home, which is the Philadelphia suburbs. We’ve thought of moving to our seaside paradise, but nixed the idea for two reasons. First, health care availability is limited on Cape Cod, but bountiful in the Philly region. When it comes to health care, we are fans of bountiful. Second, we don’t know anyone on Cape Cod. We ain’t spring chickens, and trying to create a good social life there would be a bigger challenge than we’re up to.

Marshland (Orleans, Cape Cod)

Friends, Romans and countrymen, it now has taken me about 400 words to get to the reason I am composing this opus. Here it is at last: Though Sandy and I are undecided as to whether we will visit our favorite place in 2020, it’s doubtful we will.

Hot Chocolate Sparrow café (Orleans, Cape Cod)

Why? Because of the pandemic. On Cape Cod we spend an average of eight hours daily away from our cozy rented house, immersing ourselves in various combinations of the environments and venues that I listed a few paragraphs ago. Yes, this fall we’d be able safely to stroll on beaches and pick our way though forests and around marshlands. Not too many people show up in those locales in autumn, and it would be easy to keep our distance from those that do. But it would be risky to enter restaurants, cinemas and all the other indoor places that help to make Cape Cod special for us (and many might be closed anyway, for pandemic reasons, by government mandate). Too much possibility of coming in contact with coronavirus microbes.

Rock Harbor, at Cape Cod Bay (Orleans, Cape Cod)

What it boils down to is this: With greatly limited options on Cape Cod I’d end up spending way more of my waking hours than usual in the rented house. There I’d watch the tube, work on sudoku and crossword puzzles, scratch my balls, and twirl the five strands of hair that remain on the crown of my head. Shit, that’s what I do at home. I don’t need to travel 360 miles to duplicate those activities somewhere else. Even if that somewhere else is the Cape. For similar reasons, Sandy is leaning towards staying home too.

Our kite in action at the Atlantic Ocean (Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, Cape Cod)

Oh well. C’est la frigging vie. Maybe we’ll end up on Cape Cod anyway. You never know. For now, I’ll picture myself on the Cape’s sand-cliff-backed Atlantic Ocean coastline. Nobody besides Sandy is in view. I’m scanning the skies, the sands and the cliffs, letting their essences flow into me, and also gazing at the ocean, a powerful, mesmerizing beast. I’ve done exactly that, in reality, many dozens of times. It’s as close to experiencing pure bliss as I’ve ever come.

Chatham Orpheum Theater (Chatham, Cape Cod)

And I’ll imagine the kicks that Sandy and I get from flying our kite at the ocean or at Cape Cod Bay. And the quiet awe that fills us when watching sunsets. And the fun we have while wandering the cozy, quirky streets of Provincetown village. And the thrills that climbing up and down the enormous, otherworldly dunes on Cape Cod’s far end gives to me.

Provincetown village (Provincetown, Cape Cod)

Man, I could go on and on about activities such as these. But that’s enough. I will say this though: Until 1998 (the year in which I turned 51) rolled around, it never had occurred to me that there might be a somewhere with which I’d bond profoundly. I’m a fortunate son of a gun that it happened.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this piece. Gracias. All of the photos are from recent years.)

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.

 

Who You Calling “Retired”?

A week ago I paid a visit to my long-time barber, Paul. His mission? To make presentable the three strands of hair remaining on the crown of my head. Or is it five? Hang on, I’m going to take a look in the bathroom mirror. I’ll be back in a sec.

Here I am again. It’s five. And those motherf*ckers are lookin’ good!

Where was I? Ah yes, my barber, Paul.

Now, this guy is something else. Paul’s smart. He’s goofy, approaching the world from twisted angles. He cuts hair really well. And, despite being deep into his 70s, puts in nine or more hours at the job, six days a week. Paul’s got energy up the wazoo, and makes hordes of the world’s workers, no matter what their age, look like slackers. If he hangs up his scissors one day, the town in which his barber shop is located ought to erect a statue in his honor. And the inscription on the statue should include words such as these: “Paul’s work ethic was superb. You think you work hard? Think again, homie. Compared to Paul, you probably don’t.”

During that recent visit to Paul’s establishment, he posed a question. “How long have you been retired, Neil?” he asked while contemplating how to handle those five strands of hair.

I tensed up a bit at Paul’s inquiry. Retired? I’ve got to tell you that I don’t like the sound of that word when it’s directed at me. Sure, I left my government-work career in 2009. And sure, I’m in the early stage of my septuagenarian era. But I’m not retired, at least not by my way of looking at things. I mean, I do a decent amount of volunteer work every week. And I sweat bullets turning out the stories that I launch into cyberspace, such as the one you’re reading right now. Between volunteering and writing, I’m clocking up an average of about 20 hours of work weekly. That isn’t in Paul’s league, but it ain’t bad.

Anyway, I explained to Paul that I’m still a part of the workforce, though unpaid, and then let him have a go at the strands.

Indeed, I like to work. I need the structure that working provides, and I value the physical and mental energies that work requires. And, happily, I’m a recipient of job satisfaction: My volunteer gigs — for two shifts each week I man the information desk in a medical office building — agree with me. As does writing, though in a masochistic sort of way. The bottom line is that I have no plans to ditch my occupations.

What would occur if I put my work aside? Nothing to write home about, that’s for sure. I’d have way too many additional hours to fill comfortably. I already regularly indulge in good stuff such as concert-going, museum-visiting and traveling here and there, and don’t have the urge to devote more hours to those pursuits. No, if I stopped working I’d probably spend more time than ever on my living room sofa, where I’ve become expert at idly surfing the Web, snacking, and scratching my balls to make sure they haven’t shrunk. Working’s a better alternative.

Yes, there’s a lot to be said for working. And substantial numbers of folks in my age bracket, and older, are still heavily in the game. Some of my relatives and friends who are card-carrying seniors, for example, rival or surpass Paul in the number of hours they expend on their jobs. A few of them wouldn’t have it otherwise, being in love with their chosen fields. And then there’s the childhood pal of mine who continues to work full-time as a lawyer. I was at lunch with him last month. Unlike the people I just mentioned, he’s not fully enthralled by his occupation, but he knows himself well enough not to leave it behind. “What else am I going to do?” he asked me. “Mow my lawn all day?” He thinks like me. And he likes his place in life.

On the other hand, I also have relatives and friends in the seniors camp who no longer work and are as happy as clams. They lead fulfilling lives and have no regrets about occupying the post-employment category. You can’t do much better than that. After all, whether we’re employed or not, achieving happiness and feeling fulfilled are among our top goals, right? And by our, I’m referring, I figure, to about 75% of dear Planet Earth’s human residents, not just to seniors.

Family life, social life, work, hobbies, studying, spirituality, creative endeavors . . . these and other avenues, usually taken in one combination or another, can make our goals reality, whatever our age. Different strokes for different folks, and all that. Life’s cool that way.

Okay, sermon over. Amen. Class dismissed.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this piece. Sharing buttons are below. Mucho gracias.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Shadowy Walk In The Hood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hippieish Notes From The Information Desk

Infamously lazy as I am, it’s a damn good thing that for eight hours a week — four hours each on Mondays and Tuesdays — I man my post at a medical office building a couple of miles from my house. If it weren’t for these assignments, long ago I’d have set a world record for hours spent on a living room sofa, and my bony ass would have bored even deeper into my sofa’s cushions than it already has. And it has bored deeply.

Anyway, the medical office building is across the street from a suburban Philadelphia hospital and is owned by an enormous health care organization of which the hospital is another component. I’m a volunteer in that organization. My job is to provide information to visitors (I’m the answer man for questions such as “What room do I go to for my colonoscopy?” and “Where’s the men’s room, pal?”) and to help out those who find themselves in one sort of pickle or another. The job takes me here and there within and outside the building, but most of the time I’m positioned behind a sturdy, unassuming black desk. The information desk.

The information desk

Tuesday the 24th of September was a busy morning for the guy standing behind that desk. Questions came at me left and right. More in-a-pickle people than usual appeared. But, despite that, there were a number of lulls in activity during my shift. Usually nothing to write home about goes on in my mind during lulls. But on the 24th, from absolutely out of nowhere, some words of note silently materialized: “I was more comfortable in the hippie era than in any other era,” I thought to myself.

Wow! The succinct, unexpected notion startled me. And immediately I recognized that it was true. I never was a full-fledged hippie, but during the hippie heyday (1965 to 1972, more or less) I felt at ease with hippie philosophies and lifestyles. And I still do.

Copyright Anna Vynohradova

A baby boomer, I came of age during the hippie era. I’m not mentioning anything you don’t already know when I say that war in Vietnam raged during those years. And that political and social turmoil gripped the USA and other parts of the globe. And that, maybe partly in reaction to those realities, an inquisitive, peaceful and kind mindset developed among many millions of youths worldwide.

Who could argue with hippie slogans such as “Make love not war” and “Flower power”? Not me. I didn’t drop acid, move to San Francisco (the hippie epicenter) or put flowers in my hair. But I did grow my hair long and smoked a lot of cannabis. And I felt nothing but admiration for and solidarity with those who were all about camaraderie, harmony with nature, and attempting to bring peace to the world. Still, I was too unsure of myself to take a full plunge. So, I stayed on the hippie movement’s periphery.

Yeah, those were the days. I miss them. And, later that Tuesday morning, I was reminded of them a number of times while standing behind the information desk. Now, a lot of visitors to the medical office building are friendly towards me, but on most of my shifts one or two are unusually friendly, acting as if seeing my drooping eyelids and wrinkled puss is the greatest thing that’s happened to them in ages. I’m amazed by this. I mean, without even trying did I develop a lofty form of personal magnetism in my over-the-hill years? It ain’t likely. Shit, only in my dreams might Emma Stone or Charlize Theron appear at my doorstep, looking me over with lust in her eyes.

On the Tuesday in question, though, not one or two, but six individuals walked past me with their friendliest instincts at the fore. “How are you, man?” one guy said to me, a big smile on his face. “Take care, brother,” said another, unquestionably meaning what he said. In all six instances it felt good to be greeted so warmly. Real good. This kind of thing happened fairly commonly among the population in the hippie era. That’s because hippies’ good will, thankfully, permeated the culture to a decent extent.

The hippie movement, of course, went way beyond friendliness. Concern for the environment and a pretty wide degree of open-mindedness are among its lasting effects. How cool would it be if a neo-hippie movement, a drug-free incarnation, were to germinate and flourish? And if its good vibes and progressive actions were to become major parts of the norms throughout the world? Man, it would be more than cool. It would be miraculous. Our troubled planet is waiting.

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It’s Old, And Now It’s Almost Gone: Goodbye, Honda Civic

If it had been up to me, the Honda Civic that my wife Sandy and I bought fresh from the factory in 2001 would still be parked in front of our house, ready for action. I’ve always liked that car. Even though its body paint eventually mimicked the appearance of my age-mottled skin, and the fabric on the underside of its roof has drooped like a cow’s udder for years, I didn’t care. Sure, a paint job and a fabric repair would have been just what the doctor ordered, but I’ve got a knack for putting things off. Ergo, I happily continued to drive the Honda in its unattractive condition, allowing it to take me around my immediate area. In its old age, no way was I going to test the car’s capabilities on a long-distance drive. For modest daily transportation needs, however, the Civic has performed its job damn well.

On the other hand, Sandy has disliked the Honda, which I fully admit is an eyesore, ever since its appearance went south. She wouldn’t be seen as a passenger in said eyesore. Nor, as follows, would she drive it. She therefore stuck exclusively with our other car, a much, much newer model that I also motor around in a lot. And, needless to say, she also wasn’t thrilled that the Honda was on full display, for everyone to see, in the neighborhood. Who could blame her?

That’s why I promised last year that I’d help to make the Honda disappear by replacing it with a modern vehicle, one that looks good and is equipped with far more safety features than the Honda possesses. One situation or another kept getting in the way of that happening. But finally a miracle occurred a few weeks ago. Hallelujah, a new Toyota has become part of the family!

So, now we possess two recent-vintage vehicles. Sandy and I share them. And the Honda has been relegated to the bottom of the driveway, behind our house, where it awaits its fate. In a matter of days it will be towed away, a donation to a worthy charitable organization. I suppose they’ll get a few hundred bucks for it. I’ll be sorry to see it go.

Dig the drooping fabric inside the car.

But why will I be sorry? It’s a good question, one I probably wouldn’t have thought about had I not decided to bless cyberspace with a Honda tale. Luckily, a few insights have popped into my head.

I’ve never been too much of a materialistic sort of guy. Partly that’s because I had only a small amount of funds during the first 12 or so years of my adult life. And even though I’ve done all right financially since then, I haven’t felt the need to make up for lost time, acquisition-wise. Fact is, most of my possessions mean little to me anyway. Except for my vinyl album collection. Vinyl is f*cking cool, after all. And for a few pieces of artwork that tug at my emotional core. And for the Honda Civic, which, it’s only now dawned on me, reminds me of some qualities that I like and admire in people.

The Civic, which I’m going to refer to in the past tense here, was easy to be with, unpretentious, and made its way through life in good spirits despite my neglect of the face that it presented to the world. It also was reliable, having had very few mechanical issues in its lifetime, and, by virtue of its reliability, demonstrated excellent loyalty towards me.

Is it any wonder then that I felt totally at home when I slipped behind the Honda’s steering wheel? Being inside that car was like spending time with a good friend. I was on the same wavelength as the Honda. I understood it. Our personalities melded admirably. We were a compatible pair that had grown old together very comfortably.

I enjoy but have yet to develop anything resembling a love affair with either of the vehicles that Sandy and I now drive. And I’m nearly positive that I never will, which is okay. As long as they get me from here to there and back, that’s all that really matters. But they are too high-tech for me to fall heavily for them, too full of buttons and knobs and adjustment options and display screens. All of that places them far from the warm and cuddly section of my spectrum that the Civic occupied. These two newer cars don’t remind me of the sorts of people that I want to be around.

I don’t know, maybe I’ll go out for a final spin in the Honda before it’s towed away. Haven’t decided yet. Whether I do or don’t, the deep green Honda Civic, once as handsome as hell, soon will be gone from my life forever. Shit, I’m going to miss that old boy.

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My Mom (A Belated Mother’s Day Story)

My mother and yours truly in the late 1940s

Not many days go by when I don’t think of my mother, Elaine Scheinin. This has been true since her passing in 1994. She lives on in my mind because she was an exceptionally fine person. Honest, warm and unpretentious. And blessed with an openness that few could resist. Pretty much everyone that knew her was crazy about her.

If I remember my output correctly, I’ve written about her only once before. That was in an article about the late, famed jazz pianist Thelonious Monk (click here if you’d like to read it). My mom, a jazz fan, became part of that article because she once spoke with Monk on the phone in 1976. Drawing up her courage, she took the initiative to obtain and dial his number (Monk, a Manhattanite, somewhat surprisingly did not have an unlisted phone number). She hoped to ask him if he knew that WKCR, a New York City radio station, was in the midst of airing a multi-day tribute to him and his music.

Monk answered the phone. Yes, he was very aware of the tribute. And he thanked my mother for calling him. I was sitting with her when she reached out to the great musician, and the incident left me awe-struck. Hers was a spontaneous and innocent act of good-heartedness and caring. She would have been disappointed if Monk somehow missed out on the love being shown to him on the radio.

Now, here’s the thing. I think of my mother often not only because of her enviable natural state of being, but also because of what happened to her in her middle age and how she responded to that tragedy. In 1969, when she was 49, her retinas hemorrhaged badly, a consequence of diabetes. She lost her sight, living the remaining 25 years of her life in total darkness. The pain I felt was intense. And it hasn’t lessened. Her blindness was, and in memory remains, heartbreaking to me.

For nearly all of those 25 years she didn’t complain, didn’t bemoan her fate. She suffered, but she almost always kept it to herself. At a party once, though, I overheard one of her sisters-in-law say this to her: “It’s a shame about your vision.” To which my mother responded, “You have no idea.” Those few words pretty much said it all.

Basically, my mom soldiered on, remaining the person she always had been, bright and optimistic, fully continuing her household work and community involvement. In the early 1990s, though, diabetes struck again, ravaging her body and ultimately her mind. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” has been asked by countless folks. The answer is that good people are not immune to the slings and arrows, and lightening bolts, of life. If only they were.

Ideally, I’d have liked to have published this remembrance on Mother’s Day. But I didn’t complete it in time. Better late than never, as the saying goes. Many of us are fortunate to have been raised by loving, good people. I surely was. My father was ace too. And so, I wish a Happy Mother’s Day, belatedly, to the fine ladies who give their heart and soul, selflessly, to their children. And I accompany that wish with a major tip of the hat.

The Call Of The New: A Curious Story

Let it be known that I’m not too much the self-analytical type, which means I usually don’t give a lot of thought to what I do or why. Shit, basically I wake up in the morning and try to make a go of the day. But recently a certain aspect of my behavior became clear to me. And the more I thought about this aspect, I realized that it’s part of everybody’s makeup, that it reaches back to our baby years. It’s part of human nature, in other words. This innate need cools down for most of us as we get older, for sure, but it remains a force, one that makes our life journeys interesting and productive.

“Yo, Neil,” I hear a chorus of voices exclaiming, “time is precious and our attention spans are shorter than your dick. Give us some pertinent facts, guy. Tell us what the hell you’re talking about already!

Woe to those who ignore a chorus of voices. Here goes.

The mid-morning hours of the 20th day of April, a Saturday, found me, as usual, upon the living room sofa. The radio was tuned to Sleepy Hollow, a weekend show of peaceful music on WXPN, a Philadelphia station. I was only half-listening to the tunes being played, though alert to the possibility that a few might mesh beautifully with my inner tunings. And, as always, I was hoping to meet some music that I’d never heard before. Around 9:30 one number that met both criteria floated out of the stereo’s speakers. The song was Bird, by the singer-songwriter Azniv Korkejian, who is known professionally as Bedouine.

Bird is good. Really good. It’s about loving someone so much, you’re willing to let them go when freedom is what they require. I’ve listened to Bird several times since the Saturday in question, feeling it wash over me and into me. This song’s got power!

Bedouine, who is fairly new to the music scene, sings in a resignation-tinged voice, her words coming across in almost an offhand manner, though she probably worked on them religiously. Bird is a quiet emotional outpouring. It will remind you of introspective songs by Joni Mitchell.

Yes indeed, I’d been open to hearing something that was new to me. And very luckily, the haunting Bird came my way.

The day progressed. I could have stayed home, doing any number of things that are part of my routine. Lawn mowing, laundry, grocery shopping, etc. Invisible strings, however, were pulling on me to get out of the house and meet up with something that I hadn’t crossed paths with before.

And so, in late afternoon my wife Sandy and I went to the nearby Ambler Theater to see Amazing Grace, a documentary about the making of an Aretha Franklin gospel album in 1972. The album was recorded in a Los Angeles Baptist church, its pews filled with music lovers (the faithful and non-faithful alike), and the performances and behind-the-scenes moments were faithfully filmed. The movie was intended for release, but for various reasons sat on a shelf for lo these many years. Clap your hands, sisters and brothers, rejoicing in the undeniable truth that Amazing Grace has seen the light of day! It’s great.

Chalk another one up for following the call of the new.

And at Deterra, a good restaurant across the street from the movie house, without consciously realizing what I was doing I searched the menu for clever dishes that I hadn’t previously encountered anywhere. And I found them. Potato gnocchi, with mushrooms and fava beans and a froth of parmesan cheese, brought a big smile to my face. So did pappardelle (wide pasta noodles) served with sautéed shrimp and pesto sauce. Yowza, yowza, yowza!

The next day is when it dawned on me that what I’d done on April 20th is what I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember: I hear the call of the new and I move on it. Not obsessively. Not even every day. But regularly. Acting like this is to a large extent who I am. Partly I follow this path to keep boredom away from my door. But it’s far more than that. I seek new experiences because many of them turn out to be enlightening and inspiring. I wouldn’t want to live any other way.

And the pattern is nothing more than one that began in my early years. The world is new and intriguing to little kids, after all. They want to know. They want to explore. “What’s this? What’s that? Look at this! Look at that!” is their mantra, their engines’ fuel.

It all boils down to curiosity. Humans are born curious. And we retain our curiosity, though some far more than others. Hell, does anybody want to sit around day after day doing the same old, same old? I don’t think so. We like to shake things up, at least a little, and add interesting spices to the stew. We can’t help ourselves. I mean, where would we be without curiosity? Stalled, man, stalled, in the pre-civilization eras.

And, come to think of it, that would be okay. Sure, our fair species’ prodigious achievements over the last 10,000 or so years have resulted, in part anyway, from the curiosity genes populating our cells. That’s because curiosity is one of the mothers of invention. But in the process, Planet Earth has been brought to its knees since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Carbon dioxide emissions, depletion of resources and pollution of the waters have done an excellent job of that. Oy vey, to say the least!

Hey, this essay has taken a turn that I wasn’t expecting. Writing can be funny that way. Seeing that I ain’t in the mood for bumming myself out, I’m now going to remove my digits from the keyboard. It’s a bright, sunny morning as I type this paragraph. My lawn needs mowing, and I hear its call.

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