My Pal Alfie

Not a bad photo, huh? The dog, who goes by the name of Alfie and who is in possession of enormous eyes that peer deeply into yours, seeking your essence, is cute as can be. And he was even cuter a couple of weeks before this picture was taken. By which I mean that Alfie, a Wheaten Terrier, was the definition of luxuriously shaggy at that time (I’ve seen photographic proof of this). But when his owners — my brother Richie and my sister-in-law Sara — brought him to a groomer for what they thought would be a trim, the groomer, totally incompetent and/or smashed out of his or her mind, went hog wild and sheared off tons of hair. Alfie was left looking as sleek as a sausage. I’d have sued. Or maybe not . . . after all, the new version of Alfie is still damn cute.

I made Alfie’s acquaintance in early June when my wife Sandy and I visited the aforementioned couple and other family members in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The photo dates from that visit. Alfie was nine months old. At one time a human was prominently displayed in the photo too. Me. But I cropped the picture drastically because I look like absolute shit in it, disheveled and sporting neck folds as thick as ham steaks. I don’t know, maybe I look like absolute shit pretty much all the time. At my advanced age it’s perfectly possible. But I like to dream that such isn’t the case.

The most amazing and unexpected thing for me about the New Mexico trip was that Alfie and I took to each other as though we were predestined to become close pals. This was a wonderful experience. It felt totally natural, making me realize that I’ve missed the boat, pet-wise, never having had a dog or cat as a kid or an adult.

Now, cats ain’t my favorite cup of tea anyway, so I have no regrets about their continual absence from my life. They’re too aloof, though I know there are exceptions. Dogs, however, I feel fine about. I’ve been with a fair number of them, including three that Richie and Sara owned prior to Alfie. But only one canine — a mutt named Maggie who lived with friends of mine during the 1970s — ever showed more than the slightest interest in me. Maggie, exhibiting dubious taste, dug me a lot. The bond between me and her was the strongest I’ve ever had with a non-member of my species. Until Alfie entered the picture, that is.

My relationship with Alfie developed, no doubt, due to my lack of hesitancy in patting his head and rubbing his stomach. Alfie, it was clear to me, couldn’t get enough of those forms of contact. As a result, before I knew it he was paying meaningful attention to me, often laying his head on my legs or resting one of his paws gently on my arm. And gazing with wonder and interest into my eyes. Which resulted in my petting and rubbing him even more than I had, cementing the feelings that flowed between us. Strong feelings, you understand. Alfie, you’re my kind of dog. That is to say, you like me!

As for Sandy, well, she and Alfie had a mutual admiration society going too. But there’s no denying that Alfie seemed fonder of me than he did of her. Sorry, Sandy, but facts are facts!

Will Sandy and I ever get a dog? Probably not. Owning a dog is a big responsibility, one that requires a lot of time. I’m not particularly up for that. I haven’t discussed the topic with Sandy, but I’m pretty certain that she isn’t up for it either. You never know, though. The love and companionship that a dog provides aren’t to be underestimated, that’s for sure.

Sandy and I were around Alfie for eight days. When will we see him again? There’s a real chance that we’ll visit Richie and Sara next year. So, maybe it won’t be terribly long before my new friend and I commune once more. Usually it’s not easy making friends, especially when you’re frigging old, like me. If only all friendships developed as quickly as this one did.

A Family Gathering And A Desert Walk (My 300th Story)

It’s good to be around your relatives, is it not? Yeah, it is, but only if you like them! Well, my wife Sandy and I are crazy about my brother Richie and his wife Sara, and their oldest son Ben and his wife Amanda, and the latter couple’s two young boys. Ergo, we had one hell of a fine time recently when we gathered with this family grouping in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is where Richie and Sara reside.

Now, being Pennsylvania denizens, Sandy and I don’t get to see the folks listed above all that often, as they live so damn far away from us. Especially Ben and company, who call Hawaii home. So, when earlier this year the Hawaiian crew decided they would visit Richie and Sara in a few months, well, Sandy and I wasted no time in making our arrangements to join the upcoming celebration. We arrived in Santa Fe, via American Airlines, on the 31st of May.

We spent three days with the entire clan and, after Ben and company decamped for Hawaii, four more with Richie and Sara. The time flew by at lightning speed, as time is wont to do. Sandy and I did all kinds of fun things with the family. You know, shooting the shit, eating swell meals, playing with the kids, going here and there and there and here, etc., etc. It almost didn’t matter what was going on, though, since everybody was just plain glad to be together.

One activity in particular rang my bell exceedingly well. It resulted from Sara asking me, soon after Ben and his crew began their journey home, if there was anything special that I wanted to do in New Mexico. “Nah, not really,” I thought to myself. But all of a sudden I realized that there was: Below the surface I’d been itching for a desert experience, one that might rival the trek through Plaza Blanca that knocked my socks off when Sandy and I visited Richie and Sara in New Mexico four years ago (click here to read about it).

Right to left: Richie, Sandy, Sara, Alfie. (This photo and the other photos are from the Nambé Badlands.)

When I told Sara that the desert was calling me, almost at once she said that the Nambé Badlands was the place to go to. Man, turns out she was spot-on correct. A day later, there the four of us were (plus Richie and Sara’s trusty dog Alfie), strolling around this stunning wilderness together. Nambé thrilled our eyes and graciously allowed our feet to take us where they might.

The Nambé Badlands is a dizzying configuration, straight out of a surrealist’s mind, of gullies, canyons, hills, level grounds, and sculptural rock formations. It encompasses a huge chunk of territory about 20 miles north of Santa Fe. Sandstone and limestone are among Nambé’s main inorganic ingredients, and a highly surprising number of juniper trees, most of them roughly ten feet in height, pepper the landscape. We arrived at 9:15 in the morning, when the Sun was already more intense than we’d have liked it to be, but less so than it was when we bid adieu to the desert an hour and a half later. The skies were painted a sweet blue, and few clouds were on display. As totally expected, we spotted not a single drop of water on the premises.

For the most part, our group hiked on dusty trails, upon which we crossed paths with a dozen or so other humans, several of whom were zipping along on their sturdy bikes. The trails were easily followed. But I couldn’t resist going off-trail a couple of times, wandering down crumbly hills to peer more closely at canyon sides and dry gully beds. I toyed with the idea of making my way down to a bed or two, but in the end chickened out, though, to tell you the truth I think I could have done it. On the other hand, climbing back up without incident probably would have been a near impossibility for me, an old f*ck whose body contains more rings than 99.99% of the trees on Planet Earth.

Yeah, hell will freeze over before I’ll be mistaken for Indiana Jones. But so what? I lost myself for a while in the Nambé Badlands, my tensions and jumbled thoughts slipping away like yesterday’s news as I grooved on the wonderland surrounding me.

With any luck, some day I’ll be back.

(Girls and boys, this is my 300th story. I’m more than stunned that I’ve typed as many words as I have since launching this publication in April 2015. If I decide to throw a party to celebrate my unlikely feat, I’ll invite you all!. Here’s another important announcement: Anyone who enjoys mysteries that have a social conscience would do well to check out Murder At The Crossroads: A Blues Mystery, which was co-written by my friend Debra Schiff. It came out this year. A lot of info about the book is available by clicking here.)

Short Books And Lots of TV: That’s Entertainment!

Well, good ol’ 2021, part of the ongoing COVID era, found me doing this, that and the other thing to fill up the 17.5 hours during which I’m more or less conscious each day. None of those hours were spent at a workplace outside my home, because COVID deep-sixed the volunteer jobs that I had engaged in happily for years. I’m still working, however, because I spend a fair amount of time writing pieces for the shaky, suspect publication titled Yeah, Another Blogger. Yo, you take your part-time jobs where you can find them!

Writing aside, I’m left with shitloads of hours on my hands each week. Many of them are spent on my living room sofa, where I’ve mastered the art of staring into space as I twist the six strands of hair remaining on the crown of my head into fascinating shapes. Then I untwist them and start all over again.

Fortunately, I engage in a variety of more fruitful activities too. If I didn’t, my wife Sandy would have had me committed long ago.

For instance, I read books. Not an extraordinary number — hell, I know of some fellow WordPress denizens who tear through three or more books per week — but enough to keep my mind percolating a bit.

I’m picky, though. Any book that I contemplate tackling must be short, as in no more than 260 pages. And fewer than 200 as often as possible. I began taking this approach because my attention span and stamina, when it came to book-reading, began to fall off the table in 2015. I found my way to the ends of a mere two books that year. 2016 proved to be even worse, as I recorded a big fat goose egg.

Ergo, to kickstart my dormant love of books I devised the short-book strategy in 2017. And it has worked. Last year, for instance, I polished off 17 books, fewer than in my glory days of book-reading, but a number I feel good about.

All are members of the fiction category, including two mysteries (Sleeping Murder; And Then There Were None) by Agatha Christie that are as breezy and enjoyable as they can be. My list of conquests also includes Cathedral, a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver. Carver’s world is populated by people who have never figured out, or been encouraged to figure out, how to lead productive, happy lives. Matter-of-factly, but not depressingly, he lays out their plights in language that grabs hold of you from the opening paragraphs.

As it turns out, though, the first book I read in 2021 was the one I thought was the best: Flight, by Sherman Alexie (I expounded upon it here). It’s the tale, as vivid as daylight on a cloudless afternoon, of a 21st century Native American teen trying to come to terms with himself and with the country — the USA — that conquered and subjugated his peoples.

Yes, books entertained me mightily in the year that just entered our rearview mirrors.  The jollies that I got from them, though, paled in comparison to those provided by the magical medium known as television. Yeah, I spent quite a few hours in front of the home screen last year, continuing the practice I’d adopted at the start of the pandemic. Sandy used to watch the tube alone in the evening. But lack of outside-the-house entertainment options caused me to join her when coronavirus reared its f*cking head. We quickly developed into an adorable TV-viewing couple, settling in for an hour or two of laughs, gasps and whatever, five or six nights each week.

During 2021, Sandy and I watched around 20 movies on the tube and many more series than that. Almost every one was on commercial-free platforms and networks, mainly Netflix and HBO, both of which have become two of my closest friends. I’ve turned into a series addict, limited series particularly. Some of the limited ones that I especially liked last year are The Chestnut Man and Giri/Haji (tense crime dramas), Chernobyl (a dramatization of the nuclear disaster), and Maid (where relationships go very bad and where pure love is on display).

In closing, I give a hearty tip of the hat to Godless, a Western that, as is common to its genre, portrays a battle between decency and wickedness. This limited series is set in late-1800s Colorado. Jeff Daniels (Is there a better actor anywhere?) stars as Frank Griffin, an eerie bad guy who bosses around his band of associate baddies and takes his amputated left arm with him, like a good luck charm, everywhere he goes. (A bad wound necessitated the amputation.) In the end, does good triumph over evil? You’ll have to tune in to find out, because I ain’t one for dropping spoilers.

Thanks for reading, boys and girls. What activities/books/TV/music/etc. rang your bell in 2021? Feel free to comment.

Happy New Year!

Woman’s And Man’s Best Friend

Some may say that I never really had a pet, but that isn’t true. I mean, when I was a lad, many decades ago, I owned small turtles and fish. They’re pets, right? I liked them and took care of them. And maybe they liked me, though that of course is something I wasn’t able to determine. Still, despite my diligent efforts to make their lives healthy and comfortable, the wee f*ckers bit the dust left and right. It was disappointing to know that the turtles preferred riding the train bound for reptile heaven more than hanging out in a shoe box in my bedroom, but what can you do? In regard to the fish, all I can say is that their main talent was jumping out of their tank and landing on the floor when nobody was around. I guess you’ve heard that fish don’t do well when not in water.

As for significant pets — cats and dogs — well, I’ve never lived with one, not when growing up nor during the many years since I left my parents’ home. I believe that this places me in a tiny minority. And I doubt if I’ll ever join the majority. At this point I’m way too old, most likely, ever to take the plunge.

Here’s the thing, however: Though cats aren’t my favorite creatures, I dig dogs. Certain dogs anyway — those that are smart, playful and able to size up situations. When you look deep into the eyes of the ones that meet said description, you realize that their essence isn’t much more than a stone’s or a stick’s throw away from yours. Yeah, dogs without a doubt can be cool.

That fact was driven home to me last month when I read a book that I think would hit the sweet spots of anyone who owns or otherwise admires woman’s and man’s best friend. Its title is A Dog’s Life. Supposedly written by the late Peter Mayle, I adored it. (Mayle was a Brit who, when middle-aged, moved to a small town in France. There he penned A Year In Provence, a best-selling memoir released in 1989. It made him famous. You can read more about him by clicking here.)

A Dog’s Life, which entered the marketplace in 1995, was my first encounter with Mayle. To create this book, he placed a pen and pad before his treasured dog Boy, instructing Boy to tell it like it is and was. Somehow Boy was able to manipulate the writing implement, producing an autobiography that goes down as easily as a glass of iced tea on a sweltering summer day. Man, it ain’t right that Mayle took credit for Boy’s work!

Boy, whose high opinion of himself permeates A Dog’s Life, is a fount of slippery wisdom and of cutting remarks. Here is a paragraph, one of dozens I could cite, that displays his self-assurance and brain power. And, yes, his coolness.

If, like me, you have a logical turn of mind, a self-indulgent nature, and a frequently dormant conscience, there is a certain aspect of human behavior that can put an immense strain on the patience. It’s spoken of, always in sanctimonious tones, as moderation — not too much of this, not too much of that, diet and abstinence and restraint, colonic irrigation, cold baths before breakfast, and regular readings of morally uplifting tracts. You must have come across all this and worse if you have any friends from California. Personally, I’m a great believer in the philosophy of live and let live, as long as you keep your proclivities to yourself. Follow the road of denial if that’s what you want, and all I’ll say is more fool you and spare me the details.

Boy and I, had we known one another, would have become pals. Of that I’m certain. In any case, I thank him for writing one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in recent years.

Girls and boys, it’s time for me to go. Somewhat fittingly, I shall leave you with two musical numbers of the canine variety. The first, a song called Dog, played on the radio, totally appropriately, on a day during which I was reading A Dog’s Life. Damn good, it was written and recorded a few years ago by Charlie Parr, a not-at-all-famous singer-songwriter and guitar picker. Another singer-songwriter and guitar picker, the mega-famous Neil Young, also composed an ode to a dog. Dating from 1992, his Old King is an excellent companion to Parr’s work. Here they are. Thanks for your attention. Goodbye till next time!

It Was A Sad Day When Charlie Watts Passed Away

© Ursula Düren/dpa

The 24th of August, 2021 was a sad day for millions of people, mostly baby boomers such as myself, because Charlie Watts, the drummer of The Rolling Stones, left this mortal coil on that date. I felt as if I was gut-punched when I read the news. And I shed a few tears too. The backbone and heartbeat of one of my favorite bands, he was in my life for nearly 60 years, though of course I didn’t know him. And now he’s gone.

Charlie Watts lived to the nicely ripe old age of 80. Still, his death came unexpectedly, at least to the public, seeing that he had been gearing up, initially, to join his fellow Stones (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood) on a stadium tour of the States this autumn.

But in early August, about two weeks after the tour was announced, he bowed out due to health issues. With his OK, a temporary replacement drummer was hired. The expectation was for Charlie, after a period of recuperation, to be back on his drum stool next year and beyond, pounding away on the skins and cymbals. And why think otherwise? I mean, the Stones seemed to be eternal, powering down the rock and roll highway since the early 1960s.

Well, the remaining Stones, though shaken to their bones I’m sure, are going ahead with the tour (it begins on September 26). This doesn’t seem right to me. Charlie Watts was a fixture, an icon. Cool, calm and collected, he was as important to the band as Jagger and Richards. Can The Rolling Stones really be The Rolling Stones without Charlie Watts in their future? The answer, I believe, is a profound no.

Charlie’s passing nearly marks the end of an era for me, which is not a happy realization. That’s because he was one of my musical heroes, a direct link to my young and innocent days. Few of my musical heroes remain among us. What’s more, his death stopped me in my tracks, causing me to ponder a subject that I don’t enjoy. Namely, the final curtain. My final curtain, to be precise.

Yeah, we all know that our ends are coming. Their arrival dates are up in the air, sure, but arrive they eventually will. Yet, you know what? As old as I’ve become — I’m well into my 70s — I still find it kind of hard to believe that my days are diminishing, that there are far more grains of sand at the bottom of my hourglass than there are at its top. Shit, I’d like to go on forever. That would be cool, especially if famine, violence, intolerance, etc. weren’t part of the picture. Alas, the game is designed way differently. What a f*cking, f*cking drag.

And we all also know that we should make good use of our time, an irreplaceable commodity. Helping others and being kind, loving and trustworthy are paramount. Obviously. Absolutely. And not far behind, for some of us, is grooving in the arms of music, something that I’ve been doing for a long, long time and have no plans to stop. It’s liberating and mind-expanding, taking me to planes that I don’t otherwise visit. Charlie Watts has aided me in this pursuit over the years.

On that note I’ll leave you with a beautiful song, released in 1974, from The Rolling Stones catalog: Time Waits For No One, a Jagger and Richards composition. Time Waits For No One laments life’s fleetingness, life’s finiteness. Even so, Jagger, Richards and Watts , who were young when they and the other Stones at the time (Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor) put the song on wax, probably would have been amazed back then to learn that their common journey was destined to continue for decades more (Wyman and Taylor left the group ages ago. Wood signed up in 1975). As you listen, focus on Charlie Watts’ drum work. It is precise and gripping. He and his mates will carry you away.

Going To Pot?

A recent Tuesday found me hauling my wizened ass around my hilly neighborhood for half an hour, something that I do on a lot more days than I care to. By which I mean that the frequent treks usually are not particularly exciting. However, brisk walking, and the huffing and puffing induced by climbing hills, supposedly are good for you. Thus, I’ll continue to haul said ass diligently, in the hopes that the pace at which the sands in my hourglass fall to the bottom will be nice and slow as a result.

As it turned out, though, the neighborhood walk had several things going for it that made it a good deal better than tolerable. I’m referring to three songs that came my way via The Many Moods Of Ben Vaughn, a podcast, as I pounded the hood’s blocks. I’d heard these recordings, all of them great golden oldies, many times before. But, quite unexpectedly, I was hearing them with fresh ears.

Specifically: How was it possible that I’d never fully noticed the gleeful whooping that saturates Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love), by the Swingin’ Medallions? Or the fact that the instrumentation on Peggy Lee’s delicious rendition of Fever comprises nothing more than an upright bass, finger snaps, spare drumming and, of course, Peggy’s voice? Or that there is wispy vocal harmonizing, seemingly from a galaxy far, far away, on T. Rex’s Mambo Sun?

The answer, I think, is that I was in a state of heightened awareness, allowing me to pick up on the above. And I’m glad that I did, as I’m a sucker for beauty and wonder, and seek them out religiously. Yup, that’s who I am and what I do.

As strong as my orientation and inclinations are, though, there was a time when beauty and wonder struck me with even more force than they do now. I’m referring to a lengthy stretch of years that began during the heart of the hippie era. Back then, a major key to my finding enhanced enchantment in the world was — and I’d be surprised as hell if any readers guess incorrectly — marijuana, a product beloved by millions upon millions over the centuries. I wasn’t anything resembling an around-the-clock stoner. I picked my moments. But in toto I spent a goodly number of enjoyable hours in the arms of cannabis-created highs.

Not recently though. Nope, pot hasn’t been part of my life for many years. (I gave up cigarettes in 1985 and, though I can’t pinpoint the year, probably nixed cannabis around the same time, not wanting to have smoke of any kind enter my lungs.) But I’m reconsidering that position. Maybe it’s time for me once again to become a pot man. That’s what I started thinking about soon after hearing the songs mentioned above. I realized that if I had been agreeably stoned that Tuesday, not only would the previously-unnoticed aspects of the recordings have jumped out at me, I’d have been easing myself into the flow and taking in just about everything around me. Ah, how great it would have been!

I’ll absolutely be judicious in cannabis’s use, however, should I once again indulge. As there’s no denying that I’m an old guy with a sometimes-erratic system, there’s a real chance that strong strains of cannabis would wallop me upside (or should I say inside?) my head, rather than mellow me out. Hence, my game plan would be to take only one or two tokes of a mild variety of pot, and be satisfied with wherever they lead me, even if it’s not to the heights of yore. I’d do this once or twice per week at first, and see where it goes from there. Well, we shall see if this scenario some day comes to pass. I’m betting that it will.

In a moment I’m going to roll into a metaphorical joint the thoughts I’ve enclosed on this page and mentally puff away on them with gusto. But before I do, let me leave you with YouTube offerings of the three songs that inspired the reverie you’ve been reading. They have the power to improve your day. Oh wow, man . . . they’re outta sight!

 

Looking Back And Looking Ahead

Well, the Covid pandemic demonically dominated the year 2020. And so far it’s doing a number on 2021. But vaccines have arrived and are being administered at an escalating pace, so there’s absolutely no doubt that the pandemic will end in the foreseeable future and that, as a result, happy days will be here again. That’s the opinion, anyway, of Anthony Fauci, a top doc and the face of the USA’s fight against coronavirus. My wife Sandy and I heard him say so earlier this month on a late night talk show. Man, he better be right.

When the f*cking virus gripped the States last March, I was scared shitless. As were zillions of my fellow citizens. Initially, I went to places frequented by others (I’m mainly referring to supermarkets) only once a week, wrapping up my business as quickly as possible to try and avoid becoming infected. But two or three months later, as my health remained stabile and my worst personal fears didn’t materialize, I began to gain courage. Since then I’ve been out and about for a fair number of hours each week. Cautious yet unafraid I keep my distance from others, wear a mask when inside stores, and use hand sanitizer liberally, Still, those precautions don’t guarantee protection from an invisible enemy. The vaccines do though, apparently. Needless to say, Sandy and I can’t wait to get jabbed a second time (we each got our first dose of Moderna on March 19).

My life has been diminished by the pandemic, but not incredibly so. Who am I to complain about anything anyway, considering that the virus has ended more than two million lives and significantly disrupted countless more? I’m an old guy on a pension, so I don’t have to deal with anywhere near the number of demanding familial and economic situations that are typical for many folks.

Yeah, I miss the part-time volunteer jobs that gave me heavy doses of satisfaction. By necessity, they were put on hiatus when the virus hit. And I miss the very decent social life that I had. But it hasn’t entirely disappeared, because I have met up with friends now and then, most notably in October. That’s when Sandy and I vacationed for a few days with two pals in Cape May, New Jersey. Social distancing went out the window among the four of us during that time. Very thankfully, we all remained virus-free. And those several days of normalcy have gone a long way in helping to keep my spirits up. 

And though I miss seeing my brother, sister-in-law and other relatives, most of whom live too far away to make getting together possible right now, I’m in regular contact with them. And it’s been tough not being able to go to movies and concerts — two of my favorite activities —  but TV-watching has kept me nicely entertained.

Overall, I’m in a fortunate place.

However . . . there’s no doubt whatsoever that I’m itching madly to reinstate the lifestyle that I’m accustomed to. A big part of which involves casually exploring places near and far, something that I’m wired to do. The good ol” pandemic has limited that dramatically.

When it comes to near, in normal times I often investigate on foot various sections of Philadelphia, a fascinating city a relative handful of miles from my town. But doing so, at least my way of doing so, requires the use of public transportation to get to the areas where I want to be. And I’ve felt that it’s just too risky, virus-wise, to situate my aged ass inside trains or buses. Yeah, soon after I get jabbed a second time it will be Philadelphia, here I come! 

In regard to far, heading to New Mexico with Sandy, to visit my brother and sister-in-law, is high on my list. Not only because we are close with them but also because they dig exploration as much or more than I do. Ditto for meeting up in Europe with Sandy’s and my friends who live in Gay Paree. We’ve had fabulous times with that couple in their city and also in Amsterdam and Edinburgh.

It’s almost closing time for this essay. I shall not depart, however, without expending some wordage on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which isn’t anywhere near my home but isn’t terribly far away either. I’ve written about the Cape maybe too many times before. But I can’t help myself. The reasons? Cape Cod fills me with wonder and delight. I feel totally at home there. At peace. Sandy would say the same about her Cape relationship.

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A small section of the enormous dunes in Provincetown, Cape Cod (October 2019)

On Cape Cod I’m almost as free as a bird. And nowhere more so than on its Atlantic Ocean coastline, a stunning expanse of water, beach, dunes and sand cliffs that never ceases to floor me. I’m anxious to stare once again at the ocean, and to do my old-guy scampering thing among the humungous dunes that dominate a long section of Cape Cod’s farthest reaches. The pandemic nixed the Cape vacation that Sandy and I would have had last October. But I’m taking Dr. Fauci at his word. In other words, I expect to be on Cape Cod with Sandy this coming autumn. Being there is going to bring me to tears.   

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Atlantic Ocean coastline (Eastham, Cape Cod, October 2019)

(How has the pandemic affected you and yours? Are you hopeful for the future? Please don’t be shy about adding your comments about those or any related topics. Thanks.)

A Routine And Musical Story

Well, it was déjà vu all over again yesterday morning, seeing that I did the things that I do just about every morning. First, the preliminaries: I woke up. Amen to that! Then I headed to the bathroom to take care of urgent business, upon the conclusion of which I threw on some clothes.

At that point the morning routine began: I entered the kitchen to pour myself some freshly-brewed coffee (it was waiting for me because I’d loaded the coffee maker before I went to bed, setting its timer to begin the brewing process at 6:30 AM). With a cup of java in hand I walked into the living room and sat my bony ass upon one of my closest friends, the sofa. Next, I opened my laptop computer and brought to its screen BrainBashers, a site containing sudoku and other puzzles. Still only half awake, I had a go at two sudokus. Then I went back into the kitchen to swallow my daily regimen of assorted pills. Finally, I ate breakfast.

Yup, the same pattern morning after morning after morning. Holy crap, I’m a boring, regimented f*cker, aren’t I? Don’t answer that! Here’s the thing, though: I’m okay with the routine, as two of its components (coffee-drinking and sudoku-attempting) relax and comfort me. They don’t give me anything resembling major charges, for sure, but relaxation and comfort count for something.

On the other hand, there’s nothing about my late night routine that comforts me, let alone rings my chimes. This is what it entails: I put ground coffee and H2O in the coffee maker and set its timer for a 6:30 AM start. My wife Sandy places medicinal eyedrops in my eyes, to ward off glaucoma. Then, in the bathroom, I spend ten minutes cleaning my teeth and gums fastidiously, to ward off periodontal disease.

Yup, the same pattern night after night after night. Holy crap, I’m a boring, regimented f*cker, aren’t I? Don’t answer that!

Fortunately, that’s not the whole picture. Yes, hum-drum routines partially rule me, as is true for just about everyone, I think. But this aged boy, who has more wrinkles on his face than are found in a pound of prunes, hasn’t forgotten how to put some spice in his life. And television and music are two of the main outlets that I turn to when I need doses of spice. I wrote about TV recently, so the only thing I’ll say about that subject now is that my latest obsession is Borgen, a taut and fascinating political drama series from Denmark. Netflix carries it.

Okay, then. It’s time to devote a few words to my main passion, music.

For about 50 years I’ve been a music junkie. One of my aims during that time has been to discover music that is new to me. These days, an assortment of terrestrial and satellite radio channels help me in that quest. On them, I continuously hear great tunes from the past and present, many of which I never heard before. The following three, along with several others, stood out for me during 2020 and were released that year too: Lilacs, by Waxahatchee (that’s the alias that Katie Crutchfield uses for her musical projects); And It’s Still Alright, by Nathaniel Rateliff; Cold, by Chris Stapleton.

Some lowdown on the artists: Waxahatchee, Rateliff and Stapleton established solid musical careers in the  2000s. That’s especially true for Stapleton, who has become a huge star. Millions of country, rock and pop music fans are into him. Rateliff, several notches below Stapleton on the success ladder, attracted loads of followers this century with his rocking rhythm and blues band Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, which is on hiatus (Rateliff currently is doing his thing without the band). And Waxahatchee, a darling of the indie rock world, probably would like to break through to a wider audience, and probably isn’t holding her breath waiting for that to happen.

The songs appear on the artists’ latest albums. The lyrics of each are contemplative and piercing. Sonically, the recordings mesmerize me. I become putty in their hands, all too glad to have them take me to places deep inside myself. Is Cold my favorite of the three? Sometimes I think it is, so commanding is Stapleton’s voice. But when I give Lilacs or And It’s Still Alright an additional listen, I’m not so sure. I can make a case for each of them as being the best new song that I heard in 2020.

That’s enough commentary. Here comes the music. As I often mention, please don’t be shy about adding your thoughts. Gracias. Till next time!

Thanksgiving, TV-Watching And I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time!

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)