To The Deck!

How fortunate am I to live in a house that has a deck? Real fortunate. I like the deck a lot, though I don’t take advantage of it as often as I should. About eight feet above ground level and attached to the rear of my abode, it extends fully from one end of the house to the other. From the deck I have an assortment of scenes to look at, including partial views of man-made stuff on nearby properties: brickwork, garage doors, sheds, recycling bins, etc. But who cares about any of that? Manufactured items I damn well would look at carefully, though, if they were there, are swimming pools and hot tubs. But only if gorgeous girls were occupying them. Some day, after I’ve bit the dust, a pool or hot tub or two undoubtedly will appear, and gorgeous girls will put them to good use. Shit! Bad timing on my part.

Luckily, I have worthy viewing options. For instance, when on the deck in daylight I sometimes gaze at the sky and at the trees in my backyard and on other lots, all the while listening to the birdies do their chirping thing. That’s one of my go-to ways of trying to become one with Nature. And, you know, sipping on coffee, and grooving to human music in addition to the avian variety, tends to make that combination of activities even better. Which is why, after plopping my ass down on a deck chair, I had a swell time one recent Saturday morning.

Ah yes, the trees. The deciduous ones are voluminous right now here in Pennsylvania, where summer is in full swing. As I admired a collection of trees from the deck, their leaves as green as green can be, I nearly rose from my chair and bowed down to them. Trees project a majestic aura. I don’t take them for granted.

The skies were wonderful too. A dreamy shade of blue, with strands of clouds lolling about, they put me at ease. What’s more, though we were in the midst of a heat wave, the early morning temps hadn’t yet gone haywire. I was as comfortable as I’d be on a crisp autumn day.

In need of caffeine, I wasted no time saying hello to my mug of coffee. As I did so, I tuned in to the birdsong. Although I didn’t spot any of our feathered friends, it was obvious they were out there in abundance, because an a cappella opus, consisting of trills and staccato bursts, bounced energetically through the air. Now, I’m a f*cking dope when it comes to birds. I can identify only a handful by sight and only one species (crows) by sound. Nonetheless, I dig the music they compose. Who doesn’t?

Amazingly, typical neighborhood noises were absent or minimal during the 40 minutes I sat outside. Human voices (belonging to kids in a house opposite mine) didn’t arrive until the 30-minute mark. Motor vehicle growls and screeches were few. And not a single canine bark rang out. What? How was that possible? There are a million dogs in my immediate neighborhood, and they ain’t famed for being quiet.

Anyway, as it turned out, bird calls were not the primary sounds to reach my ears, because I decided after a few minutes on the deck that the scenario I was part of might reach a higher level if recorded music were added to it. I was proven correct when I dialed up some SiriusXM satellite-radio channels on my smart phone. Nearly all of the songs I heard hit the spot, two in particular: Goodbye Mr. Blue, by folk-rock star Father John Misty, and Chill On Cold, by little-known blues and soul singer BIGLLOU Johnson. They were released in 2022 and 2021, respectively. Goodbye Mr. Blue is a moody contemplation on a failed relationship. Chill On Cold talks about a lady whom guys would be wise to avoid. I think it’s cooler than cool, and that BIGLLOU deserves to become popular as hell one day.

That’s a wrap, ladies and gents. Here are the tunes. Till next time!

Ozark; Azaleas; Love Letter From A Red Roof Inn

Well, as millions of fans of dark and dirty doings know, the Netflix series Ozark has come to a close. And, predictably, this saga (44 episodes in all), heavily populated by morally compromised people doing despicable things, does not conclude in a tidy manner. As the screen goes dark and a gunshot thunders a mere moment before the credits begin their final roll, any number of questions are left unanswered about four of the show’s main characters, the Byrde family.

Unanswered, yes. I’d have to say, however, that the future clearly does not look bright for Marty and Wendy Byrde, the married pair around whom Ozark significantly revolves, nor for their 15-year-old son Jonah. Possibly Marty and Wendy’s daughter Charlotte, a couple of years Jonah’s senior, has a chance to grow towards the light. But I wouldn’t bet heavy money on that.

What else would you expect, anyway, from a series fueled by the unrelenting pressures placed upon Marty by a Mexican drug cartel whose monies he must launder if he wishes to remain above ground? Man, the directions in which those pressures take Marty, a financial advisor by trade, and Wendy are head-spinning. And the fallout from their maneuverings affects Jonah heavily, and nearly everyone else they come in contact with too.

Such an intense, over-the-top show! I couldn’t get enough of it. Each season I’d stare at the tube in disbelief as, left and right, minor and major players exited permanently, usually by gunfire. Ozark’s foulness put me in a bear hug and wouldn’t let go. I’ll miss the series. And I’ll pass on to you the one big lesson that Ozark taught me. Namely, don’t f*ck with a Mexican drug cartel, or with any similar enterprise, needless to say. You better believe that I damn well won’t.

I’m not strictly a denizen of the lower realms. So, some things way more positive than Ozark also have pleased me of late. For instance, the spring season. Yes, plant life has been looking good here in southeast Pennsylvania, USA for the last five or six weeks, with maple and oak trees and the like flaunting their foliage, and flowering trees dazzling human eyes with their blossoms. What’s more, most of the azaleas in my area burst into bloom about two weeks ago, adding tremendously to the spring spectacular. Ah, azaleas. When dense with flowers, they are hard to beat.

Fortunately for me, each year I get a mega-dose of azalea magic, because my friend Joyce, who lives nearby, is in possession of azaleas as fine as any I’m aware of. The azaleas in front of her house not only glow in a number of different hues, they also are enormous. I’d guess that the square footage taken up by those plants is about one-fourth of the square footage within her home. That’s saying something.

And, though maybe it’s only my imagination, Joyce’s azaleas look better to me this year, in terms of fullness and vibrancy, than ever before. In any case, I bow to them.

Before I bid you adieu, I’ll say a bit about a song, Love Letter From A Red Roof Inn, that needed no help in becoming a favorite of mine after I heard it for the first time earlier this month. It is a winner. (And, parenthetically, let me note that its title is as cool as they come.) Released in late 2021, Love Letter, by the blue-eyed soul band St. Paul & The Broken Bones, unfolds seductively. Lead singer Paul Janeway pours his heart out to the listener, quietly and in a falsetto as sweet as clover honey. Alone in a hotel room, he misses his lady. He’s homesick. He’s on the verge of crying himself to sleep.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones have got what it takes. I’ve seen them on TV and would love to catch them in person. After hearing this song you might want to also. Here, then, is Love Letter From A Red Roof Inn, a recording that would have made waves back in the 1960s and 70s, when soul music by The Temptations, Aretha Franklin, The Delfonics, etc., etc. rode high on the music charts. Till next time!

A Flowering Trees Story

Nobody is ever going to mistake me for a botanist, that’s for damn sure. By which I mean that I don’t know shit, basically, when it comes to plants. Yeah, I can identify a few trees and flowers. And I might exclaim “hey, there’s a fern!” when I see one. Beyond that, however, please don’t press me.

Nonetheless, I enjoy spending time outdoors among flora. Who doesn’t? We all want our minds to be expanded, if not blown, you see, even if we know it only subconsciously. And what better way to allow this to happen than to initiate close contact with Nature’s fibrous wonders, absorbing their good vibes?

With that in mind, on the morning of April 27th I eased my aged ass from the living room sofa, hopped, more or less, into my car, and drove to a pretty neighborhood in a nearby town. Specific sorts of flora — flowering trees — not only were on my mind, they were the reason for my mini-expedition.

I’m not sure why, but I didn’t pay much attention to flowering trees until fairly recent years. A big oversight on my part. Since then, though, I’ve made it a point to check them out in April and May, which is when they do their unfurling thing in my part of the globe (I live in Pennsylvania, USA). Their blossomy performance is, of course, a winner. What’s not to like about shades of, primarily, pink, purple and white? Those hues sure liven up the green-dominated landscape around here this time of year.

What’s more, knowing that the performance doesn’t last forever imbues it with poignancy. Poof! — before you know it the petals are gone. Until a new production is staged the following year.

Well, I wandered through the neighborhood for an hour, gazing at the flowers on magnolia, cherry, dogwood and other trees. They looked good. After 30 minutes, though, I found myself disappointed by the relatively modest numbers of those trees. At least half of the properties I passed that day contained none at all, in fact. Man, how cool would it have been if I’d seen 10 or 20 times as many? Very. The blossom experience then would have overwhelmed and enveloped, like an ecstatic fireworks display.

And so, with intensification as my goal, over the next half hour I got much nearer to the flowers than I had previously during the walk, within inches in most instances and nose-to-nose twice. The strategy worked. From those vantages the blossoms made a hell of an impression, intricately designed and decidedly gorgeous as they were. And they instantly became my friends, wanting only to please. “Hello, Neil,” they whispered, “thanks for visiting. We’re at your service.”

“You’re the best,” I whispered back.

“But don’t linger, old timer,” they added. “You won’t be a happy sightseer if someone storms out of their house, yelling at you to get the f*ck off their property.”

True! Thus, I kept my up-close-and-personal sessions short. Thank you, blossoms, for having my back.

Sitting at my computer keyboard now, a number of days after the events described above, I’m wondering what came over me halfway through the stroll, as I’d never felt let down before by any aspect of springtime. Maybe the rotten state of affairs in the world — Russia rearing its ugly head; the growth of fascism in many nations, including my own — was wearing on me, putting me in need of big jolts of beauty. In any event, I’m back to my normal self. Grumpy, as usual, but appreciative too.

Let’s close the proceedings with a tune that, title-wise, is a perfect match for this essay. I discovered it a couple of days after my close encounters with flowering trees. Ordinarily I’m not a big fan of bouncy songs. But the more I listen to Cherry Blossom, by pop and country star Kacey Musgraves, the more I like it. Beneath the sugar and gloss it has a strong layer of soul. Likening herself to a cherry blossom, Kacey hopes and prays that her relationship with her new boyfriend, whom she’s mad about, will hold, that the wind won’t blow her away. I’m pulling for her.

A Love Story

A few weeks ago I published a piece that for the most part was a meditation on joy, a commodity without which our lives, to put it mildly, would blow. Seeing that I’m a f*cking softie at heart, I’ve decided to turn my thoughts now to another precious emotion, the greatest of them all, for it sustains and usually nourishes life, giving us reason to go on. I’m talking, of course, about love. Sure, The Beatles overstated things when they sang “all you need is love.” But they weren’t too far off the mark, as there is no doubt that the following is true: If an individual doesn’t feel love for at least one other human being (or pet, I hasten to add), they are in a most unenviable position.

Now, I’m not exactly an expert when it comes to matters of the heart. I know that for a fact because nobody in my seven-plus decades of residing above ground ever has asked my advice on the subject. Come to think of it, just about nobody ever has asked my advice on any topic or situation. Man, I should start an advice column called Maybe Neil Sort Of Knows, So Give It A Shot And Ask Him. That would show ’em how deep my font of quasi-wisdom is!

Anyway, getting back on track, what else might I say about love? Well, it’s innate, in most cases blossoming automatically between parents and their children, to mention one obvious example. But it sure doesn’t blossom automatically between everybody. That’s a main reason why it can be so difficult to make true friends, to find a partner to spend your life with, and to keep the fires burning with said partner after you’ve found them. Yup, love is a powerful force, but cultivating it properly requires skills that many do not master adequately, if at all. When we allow love to bubble within us consistently, though, our lives are much the better for that.

Love probably wouldn’t be on my mind so much were it not for the movie CODA, which my wife Sandy and I saw at a cinema early this month a few days after it grabbed the Oscar for Best Picture. It’s still in some theaters, by the way, and is streaming on Apple TV+ too.

CODA is a tale that revolves around Ruby, a high school senior who is the only hearing member of a family of four. She is devoted to her parents and brother and, in addition to attending school, spends mucho hours each week working on the fishing boat that her dad and sibling operate in order to put bread on the table. Whew! This girl, who also sometimes acts as an intermediary between her deaf kin and outside parties, has a whole, whole lot on her plate. Ruby’s life becomes even more complex when she is encouraged at school to develop her vocal skills and pursue a music career. This new element becomes the movie’s fulcrum.

Sandy loved CODA, which is an acronym for child of deaf adults. She thinks it’s very great. Although I found CODA too formulaic to be placed on a pedestal, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It’s an old-fashioned sort of story that I’m certain would move anyone whose heart is not fashioned from stone. Why? Because CODA, at its core, is all about love, the kind of love that holds steady, not wavering even for a moment. What’s more, there’s nothing sappy about the love on display in CODA. A tight screenplay by Sian Heder, who also directed the flick, and four actors who tap into genuine places within themselves, see to that. Hats off, then, to Emilia Jones, who plays Ruby, to Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur (Ruby’s parents), and to Eugenio Derbez (Ruby’s music teacher).

I’ll close this love-centric essay on the right note, by presenting Beyond, a love song sung and co-written by Leon Bridges. Sweet and sultry as you could hope for, Beyond very well might put you in the mood to . . . yo, I don’t need to tell you where this sentence is headed. I accept your thanks in advance!

A Decently Joyful Story

It’s an understatement to remark that ours is a perplexing species. Yes, most people might be pretty good at heart for the most part. But you’d hardly know that by the wars that have raged in one place or another throughout recorded and, I have zero doubt, prerecorded history. The latest nightmare, of course, is the Russian assault on Ukraine. It is only one of many post-Second World War examples of cruelty and of refusal, inability even, to live harmoniously. Horrible conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia are others. The Russia/Ukraine situation is by far the most worrisome, needless to say, because a f*cking asshole with nuclear weapons at his command, good ol’ Vladimir, is its lead villain.

Okay, I needed to get that off my chest. And seeing that I’m not in the mood to bum myself out any further, nor anyone else, I now will pivot sharply and head into my comfort zone. Sitting there patiently are a song I first heard in February and a television series that my wife Sandy and I watched earlier this month. I kind of have to write about them. Why? Well, they brought me joy. And I don’t take joy lightly. When I experience it I thank my lucky stars, because joy, though weightless and invisible, is a sweet substance that we require at least now and then. Joy helps us feel whole. It is one of the finest things in life.

First up is Broken Heart, a tune by The Fiestas, a New Jersey vocal quartet (and at times a quintet) that inhabited the worlds of doo wop and rhythm and blues. I’m certain that just about everyone knows this group, if not by name then by their song So Fine, which was released in late 1958 and which I love. So Fine became a smash hit a few months later and receives substantial airplay to this day.

Little did I know that The Fiestas were more than So Fine. Little did I know, that is, until one night last month when a SiriusXM radio channel delivered Broken Heart to our ears while Sandy and I were at home having dinner. Man, in an instant I was hooked. I stopped chewing to let the song give me some thrills. And, via YouTube, I’ve listened to Broken Heart a bunch of times since that evening.

Subsequent research taught me that The Fiestas, whose career lasted into the late 1970s, scored a medium-sized hit with Broken Heart in 1962. Which is why I’m surprised I’d never heard it before. Such a song! Sure, its exuberance belies the warnings about love that are embedded in the lyrics, but who cares about that incongruity? I mean, you don’t run across singing as majestic as this very often. Lead vocalist Tommy Bullock soars, hitting notes so fluidly, so gleefully, he almost brings tears to my eyes. And his partners wrap their voices around his with precision and power. I’m listening to Broken Heart as I type this sentence. Am I feeling joyful? Damn straight! Without further ado, here’s Broken Heart:

Let’s move on now, joyfully, to Anxious People, a Netflix mini-series (six episodes of about 30 minutes each) set and produced in Sweden and based on a novel of the same name by Fredrik Backman. Backman, by the way, is famous, having penned the international bestseller A Man Called Ove.

Sandy and I knew almost nothing about Anxious People before dialing it up, and are pleased as punch that we took the leap. It’s a whimsical tale centered around a group of folks who find themselves held hostage, in a loose sense, by an inept bank robber, and the police investigation that follows. I’m tempted to divulge a whole lot about Anxious People, multi-layered and fascinating as it is. For me to do so, though, would be a crime on my part, as telling too much would spoil the show for anyone interested in giving it a try.

So, I’ll add but a few more handfuls of words. To begin, are there flaws in the series? I, who can be picky to a fault, didn’t find any. The plot lines unfold and interweave deliciously, and the characters, nearly all of whom are laden with foibles and self-doubts, ring true. What we have here, then, is a gentle story that warmed the hell out of my heart. When the final episode reached its end I was filled with joy that carried over to the next day.

Boys and girls, that’s a wrap. I’d be happy to learn about who or what has given you joy of late. Till next time!

A Doors-Filled Story (Fourth Edition)

A lovely day it was indeed. The Sun beamed and gleamed. The skies, nary a cloud within them, were an expanse of blue at its finest. Unexpectedly mild for winter (51°F/11°C), a steady breeze on hand to keep me refreshed, the afternoon of February the ninth presented to me a perfect opportunity to go out and peruse doors in Hatboro, a town in the Philadelphia burbs that’s a couple of miles from the one I call home. I grabbed the opportunity.

Doors? Yes, doors are a favored subject for a fair number of WordPress scribes, including, occasionally, yours truly. I’ve written about them three times before. And, it should be noted, the hub on WordPress for all things doors is the Thursday Doors project run by Dan Antion on his No Facilities blog. So, if you click here you will be directed to Dan’s handsome site, where links to the writings of and photographs by doors enthusiasts may be found.

As I drove to Hatboro I was confident about what I’d find, because I’ve been there a multitude of times over the years — to shop, to dine, to stretch my legs on its sidewalks. It’s a down-to-earth community with pleasant residential blocks and a commercial area that, though hanging in there, has seen better days. Sure, maybe a unique or snazzy door or two awaited me. But no more than that, I figured.

And you know what? I was right. Of the hundreds of doors that passed before my eyes that afternoon as I wandered around many of Hatboro’s streets, alleys and parking areas, nearly all were of one standard style or another and also plain as can be in the color department.

And you know what else? I was absolutely fine with that, as I’ve long believed there is value and beauty in just about everything if I look hard enough and, when needed, adjust my way of thinking. After all, who am I not to admire the seemingly ordinary? I mean, I understand what it’s like to be ignored. I ain’t exactly Bradley Cooper when it comes to looks, you dig, proof of which is the fact that I can count on two hands, probably one, the number of times in my life that a girl has given me the eye. And those occurrences were decades ago. Shit, now that I’m pretty damn deep into my senior citizen era, there ain’t a chance in the world that I’ll ever again be gazed upon with interest, unless it’s by somebody working on a doctoral thesis about old farts. Boo hoo, man! Boo f*cking hoo!

Ordinary and admirable
Ordinary and very admirable

Among the “ordinary” portals that made a real impression on me in Hatboro, two of whose portraits I’ve included above, my top pick is the one identified by a nice big 3A. It more or less stopped me in my tracks because, I now realize in hindsight, its grey-green coloration struck an oceanic chord within me. I’m an ocean lover, and over the years I’ve seen the Atlantic’s waters take on a hue similar to 3A’s. Plus, how could I not fall for a door with a newspaper sticking out of its mail slot, like a tongue looking for attention?

Still, there were two doors that I preferred to 3A, both of which struck me as being a step or two above “ordinary”: a swinging door made of wood planks and metal, and the front door to a house. The latter, alive in orangey-red and decorated with a display of shadows that dazzled, easily garnered the gold medal in the doors competition that day.

In honor of Hatboro’s très cool red door, I’m going to end these proceedings by presenting an equally cool song titled — what else? — The Red Door. It was recorded in 1952 by a group led by tenor saxophonist John “Zoot” Sims and was released the next year. Zoot, who co-wrote the tune with Gerry Mulligan, takes the first sax solo. Mulligan, by the way, doesn’t appear on the recording.

Sims, a hell of a musician, was a presence in the jazz world for about 35 years (he died in 1985, having made it to only age 59). I had chance after chance to see him perform in New York City clubs during the 1970s and 80s, but, stupidly, let them pass me by. I’ve regretted those decisions ever since.

Here then is Zoot and his compadres on the lovely, swinging tune that The Red Door is. Enjoy.

A Gloomy And Colorful Story

Oh, to be back in the hippie era, that golden time when I was young and when open minds and open arms were, for many, the order of the day. Alas, it is long gone. Now, here in the USA, there is an abundance of folks who are anything but welcoming. In fact, one of their primary missions is to deprive others of basic rights required for democracy to survive, let alone prosper. I find that truth hard to believe and even harder to understand. A sad example occurred in January: the banding together of every Republican Party member of the United States Senate to doom the passage of a bill that would have helped protect voting rights. Would any reasonably moral and honorable person vote against such legislation? They wouldn’t. Those senators, troublingly, are nowhere near moral and honorable.

The gloomy morning in question.

Yup, gloomy describes the state of affairs in my country. And that word also describes the recent morning (a few days before the voting rights bill met its demise) that sparked the writing of this story. Grey as hell, not to mention damp and chilly, it was bringing me down. So, I hopped into my car and drove to Willow Grove Park, a three-story indoor shopping mall near my home in the Philadelphia burbs. I was in need of a barrage of color jolts not obtainable, for the most part, within my house, where earth tones and soft blues predominate.  Not that I have anything against those hues. Au contraire. An overly tense f*cker, I’d be even more on edge without their calming influence.

I made the right decision, as the mall turned out to be precisely what the doctor ordered. I walked around for 45 minutes, happily permitting window and merchandise displays and an arcade popping with multi-hued energy to brighten my mood.

Bold yellows, reds and oranges, exploding at elite levels as only they can, were all over the place. At one store’s windows, pink and lavender, working together in sweet harmony, seriously caught my eye. And I was captivated by the inner and outer glow of handbags that, two minutes into my trek, I spotted on a table in Bloomingdale’s department store. Three in cherry and two in green, the accessories projected a self-confidence that I was in awe of. Shit, I’d be delighted to be half as cool and enticing as they are.

Colors are powerful, for sure. They influence our thoughts and emotions, our very states of being. And sometimes they inspire the creation of excellent music. The world would be a lesser place, for instance, if Little Green, a song by Joni Mitchell, were not in it. The same holds true for Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Those tunes reside on the melancholy side of the spectrum. What I’m in the mood for right now, however, just as I was when I headed to the mall, are some strong jolts. What’s more, I want the jolts to emit lots of steam. Overly tense f*ckers need stimuli of that nature now and then, don’t they? Damn straight they do.

Well, there is no shortage of recordings that deliver the goods. One of the best is Little Red Corvette, by the late, great Prince. Released in 1983, it recounts an encounter with a lady who loves to give and to receive.

And then there’s Devil With A Blue Dress On, written by Shorty Long and Willam Stevenson. Most folks, including me, are unfamiliar with those composers, but nearly everyone has heard the recording of their song, from 1966, by Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels. It gets my juices flowing every time I hear it. By the way, Mitch and the boys mixed Devil With A Blue Dress On with Good Golly, Miss Molly, two songs seamlessly becoming one.

The party’s starting! Here are the tunes. Feel free to comment on them, politics, democracy, colors, or anything you like. Till next time!

Cold Fingers, Cold Beer

Holy shit, being a writer can be numbing! That’s what I discovered a week and a half ago when I strolled around my neighborhood as darkness was settling in. Earlier that day my region had received its first snowfall of the winter (I live in a town near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Dedicated journalist that I occasionally am, I decided to see how the powdery white stuff looked in moonlight, and to document my walk in words and with photos.

Well, it took me only a minute to realize that I wasn’t in a winter wonderland. Yeah, there were several inches of snow on the ground, but the effect was much less charming than I’d thought it would be. And what I’d been hoping especially to see — softly glowing snow clinging to tree branches — was virtually nowhere to be found. The day’s steady breezes had emptied the trees.

There were some worthy scenes, however. For instance, a number of households had not yet taken down their Christmas lights, so I stopped to admire those displays. And, 20 minutes into my walk, I watched a few kids sledding down the hilly front lawn of an apartment building. They were having fun. But you know what? I wasn’t! And that’s because my f*cking fingers were freezing!

Sure, I wore gloves during most of the walk. But I had to take them off every time I decided to snap a photo. Otherwise, there was no way I could have aimed my phone’s camera properly and pressed its button. Thus, my hands were exposed intermittently to 25°F (-4°C) air.

That shouldn’t have been enough to cause my fingers to become comatose. But somehow it damn well was. So, after being on the streets for almost half an hour, I knew I needed to get inside. Picking up my pace, I strode to my block. In front of my next-door neighbor’s home though, I chose, like a fool, to torture myself a little more by photographing the Moon, which was peeking through a tangle of tree branches. Then I walked the remaining 50 feet to my house, where I struggled to muster enough finger coordination to insert the front door key into its designated opening. Ten seconds later, finally, success! In I went.

Yup, having cold fingers sucks. Big time. On the other hand, having cold beers is a pleasure. In fact, it’s one of my greatest pleasures. I’d be in mourning if beer disappeared from the face of the Earth.

Though I’d enjoyed beer for many years (mainly mainstream lagers, such as Budweiser), my appreciation of the beverage rose to a higher level when, in my late 40s, I discovered that there were far more styles of beer on the market than I’d realized, and that the quality of many of them was steps above what I’d been used to. I have the craft beer revolution to thank for all of that. It began in the 1980s and really took off during the following decade, which is when I fell under its spell. Today, the revolution is at a high point. I mean, so many breweries worldwide produce primo beers.

Some of my pals.

Stouts, porters, pilsners, India pale ales (IPAs), and on and on . . . I pretty much like ’em all. And I look forward to downing one of them with dinner most evenings. I’m salivating right now, thinking about which brew I’ll have tonight. A quick look into the frig tells me my choice likely will be the Dogfish Head brewery’s 60 Minute IPA, an aromatic and seriously bitter quaff that’s refreshing as hell. I tell you, in these times of climate change, COVID, authoritarianism and racism, to name but a few problems bedeviling humankind, it’s wonderful to have something to look forward to.

The time has come to wrap things up. I’ll do so with songs that mesh, title-wise anyway, with this narrative. First up is Cold Fingers, by the late great Tony Joe White. Much of his music, Cold Fingers included, sounds primordial, as though it was born in our planet’s bowels. Tony Joe was something else. And then there’s Blake Shelton, a country music star and a pretty talented cat. Generally I’m not a big fan of today’s country music, overblown as much of it is. Though Blake’s Straight Outta Cold Beer leans in that direction, it tells a realistic story and packs a wallop. I like it.

Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Feel free to comment. Here are the songs:

Scenes That Caught My Eye, Tunes That Caught My Ear

Two years ago, due to a health issue that required attention, I upped the number of walks that I take. I did so because, as everybody knows, the medical experts among us are convinced that regular exercise can improve the functioning of our internal machinery, thus extending our lives. Well, since then I’ve gone a-walkin’ hundreds of times, as I’m not in any rush to bid adieu to the polluted planet that we call home.

A lot of the walks, for convenience’s sake, have taken place in my neighborhood, which is in a town a few miles from Philadelphia. Though I like my house, which is as cuddly as a toddler, I’m totally aware that my hood ain’t exactly the most exciting locale in the world. And that’s putting it mildly. Let’s face it, when you’ve seen one suburban block you’ve pretty much seen them all.

So, to break up the monotony I sometimes head to one or another nearby village when a pounding-the-pavement session is in order. Yeah, they’ve got more than their share of typical residential blocks too. But, unlike my town, they also contain old-timey business sections, always of interest, not to mention the real possibility of unexpected sights. The other day, with all that in mind, I hopped in my car and drove three miles to Hatboro. I was psyched to stretch my legs there and to see what I would see.

I spent an hour scouring a good bit of Hatboro, exercising ye olde legs more than I had expected to. I was into it, my eyes looking up, down and all around, in search of this, that or the other thing as I strode along. Man, I felt good, breathing freely and fully, and admiring the nip in the air in addition to the sights. Importantly, I also made sure that my phone’s camera was ready for action.

In the end, I pressed the camera button about 20 times, documenting some of the types of scenes that I’m prone to immortalizing. Those with strong contrasts of colors, for instance, or with lines and planes that intersect wildly. As I’m also drawn to well-proportioned minimalistic configurations, I was brought up short by the section of a parking lot whose three yellow metal posts peacefully guard a small building. It’s plain, but I like it.

What’s more, when I’m in the right mood, as I apparently was in Hatboro, I get a kick from the absurd. On the grounds of a funeral home, of all places, a dog statue rocking its woolen scarf like a fashion model fit into that category just fine.

The walk in Hatboro was pretty swell, but a few days later I heard two songs that pleased me far more. That’s not surprising, considering that music has the potential to awe and transport like nothing else. Sure, literature might blow you away, as might art, as might sex, as might nature’s splendors. For me, though, music trumps them all. Not every piece of music, of course. Hardly. But when a musical composition gels with me just so, off I go into the stratosphere, riding gently on the wings of a most mysterious power.

That’s what happened when B-Side, by Leon Bridges and Khruangbin, visited my eardrums. Whoosh! In no time I was airborne. Later that day, Cautionary Tale, by singer-songwriter Dylan LeBlanc, caused the same to occur.

Lyrically, B-Side is a love song and Cautionary Tale is the musings of a guy who has lost his way in the world. But the words of both numbers, which could use some tidying-up anyway, hardly matter to me. What does matter are the steady grooves that embrace and won’t let go, the dancing interplay between the instruments, and the fact that Bridges’ and LeBlanc’s voices are at ease in the ethers. In other words, each of these tunes has a feel that I can’t ignore.

B-Side came out this month and is part of a continuing collaboration between Bridges, who has immersed himself in soul and other musical genres since breaking onto the scene in 2015, and the trance-rock trio with the unpronounceable name. Cautionary Tale reached the marketplace in 2016. It gets played now and then on radio stations that I listen to, proving that I’m not the only one who finds it worthy. I’d be happy to hear what you think about these recordings. Or about exercising, photography or any damn thing at all. Shit, I’m not particular!

 

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!