A Doors-Filled Story

I like to roam, to stretch my legs in a variety of locales while checking out the surroundings. And in recent years I often have turned my leg-stretching excursions into essays for this publication. These mini-adventures, thankfully, get me away from my living room sofa, upon which I spend hours upon hours each week engaged in questionable activities. Namely, staring into space, scratching my balls and twirling the five strands of hair that remain on the crown of my head.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that I’ve mentioned that sofa routine many times before on these pages. Can’t seem to stop myself from writing about it, though. What can I say? Would you prefer that I describe the nightly visitations paid to me by space aliens, and how I cured the aliens of toenail fungus? Nah, I didn’t think so.

Anyway, this article now will concern itself with doors. That’s what I was in search of when, on the penultimate day of May, I roamed the streets of Jenkintown, a nice village three miles south of Willow Grove, the town that I call home. Both communities are in the Philadelphia burbs.

Doors had been in the back of my mind as a story idea since 2017 or so, after I discovered that there are a goodly number of WordPress writers who launch door-oriented pieces into cyberspace on Thursdays. Their leader is a guy named Norm, who began a Thursday Doors theme in 2014 (click here to see Norm’s website). And so, I’m going to follow the leader by pressing the Publish button for this story during the opening minutes (in my time zone) of Thursday, June 18.

Concentrating on Jenkintown’s doors was right in my wheelhouse. After all, on walking excursions here and there during the last few years I’ve sometimes kept my eyes on alert for specific subjects: the color green for instance, shadows, store and street signs. Doing that kind of thing helps to make life interesting for me. On a low but real-enough level, it’s like a research project or detective work. It’s fun, basically.

King’s Corner pub
Private residence

I hit Jenkintown’s sidewalks at around 11:30 in the AM and concluded my mission at a quarter past noon. I might have stayed out longer than I did were it not for a vivid Sun that was getting a thrill from making me schvitz most admirably.

Grace Presbyterian Church
My Jewel Shop

I walked along most of the blocks in Jenkintown’s business district and along a sampling of its residential streets. One thing I realized is that the vast majority of doors in Jenkintown are vanilla. That is, non-threatening standard concoctions of wood, glass or metal, or a combination thereof. Yet, I deemed some of them as absolutely photograph-worthy, because of the decorations on or near them, or because of their silent commentary upon our present times.

Uptown Event Center

Take the Uptown Event Center’s door, for example. How many ordinary, metal-framed glass doors such as this are in the world? Many tens of millions, no doubt. Yet, it looks as sharp as can be, flanked as it is by a lady singer and a sax man. Cool. Very cool.

Velvet Sky Bakery

And what could be plainer than the opened door of Velvet Sky Bakery? It stands out, though, in a major way. With a table holding disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer beside it, it’s a reminder that we live in the days of coronavirus. This is a door through which you do not enter. You place your order from the sidewalk, pay when the items are brought to you, and walk away.

Immaculate Conception Church

On the other hand, sometimes you cross paths with grandeur, such as the front doors of Immaculate Conception Church. Lovely creations of golden brown wood, they are all the more impressive thanks to the elegantly-chiseled stonework that surrounds them.

Sprinkler room door

And then, in a category all its own, there’s a sprinkler room door, which is attached to the back of a building that I otherwise didn’t make note of. As of this writing it’s my favorite door in Jenkintown. That deep, deep color. That monolithic presence. Man, the door is the definition of gravitas.

We’d be in trouble without doors. I suppose that humans invented them in caveman days. Maybe way before that. Maybe later. Whatever the case, they provide protection from the elements and from members of the fauna categories, and they help to give us privacy. Right, duh! There are all kinds of philosophical interpretations that might be made regarding doors too. But I ain’t exactly Jean-Paul Sartre, so for me to go beyond the kiddie end of the pool in those matters would be a huge mistake. I will say this though: The Doors — and I’m referring to the rock and roll band — took their name from The Doors Of Perception, a book by Aldous Huxley that praises the use of psychedelics to open the mind’s doors, thus expanding one’s insights. I’m all for allowing more of life’s possibilities to present themselves. But there’s no need for psychedelics. For example, who knows what realms you’ll travel to when, non-medicated, you listen to Break On Through (To The Other Side), the opening track of The Doors’ first album, from 1967. Let’s find out:

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

Looking For Signs While Walking Around On A Sunny Morning

It will come as no surprise to some of you when I mention that for several years I have been turning out shitloads of written product that revolve around my taking walks in one locale or another. The present opus is yet another example of same. When, moaning and groaning and writhing, I birthed this website five years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed that essays along that line eventually would become my go-to form of expression. But that’s what has occurred, and I’m down with it. I mean, I like walking around while examining my surroundings. Always have. But I didn’t consciously realize it all too much until this publication began finding its comfort level. And so, I tip my hat to the writing process, because it has helped to give me a halfway-decent sense of who I actually am. And who is that, you ask? Don’t ask!

There I was, then, on Thursday the 9th of April, sauntering along the long stretch of blocks that comprises most of Hatboro’s business district. (Hatboro, an old-fashioned-looking town, of which there are way too few in my region, is two miles from Willow Grove, the non-descript burg that I call home. Both Hatboro and Willow Grove are in the suburbs near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.)

I arrived in Hatboro at about 10:30 AM and departed 45 minutes later. The skies were as blue as blue can be, the temperature was mild, and a sweet breeze caressed my cheeks and those of the people that I saw. Due to the coronavirus situation, those people were few in number, and all stores in Hatboro (and throughout much of Pennsylvania) were shuttered, except for those of the sorts deemed essential by Pennsylvania’s governor. Thus, a hardware store, a pharmacy, ten or so food purveyors, and a handful of others were open for business. As for that sweet breeze, even though everyone was keeping plenty of distance between one another, hopefully it wasn’t blowing any coronavirus microbes into anyone’s eyes or mouths. But hey, I’m not here today to dwell upon coronavirus. No further mention of that demon shall I make herein.

On my person was my trusty iPhone. What, like I’d go anywhere without it? (Well, maybe to take a crap, but that’s about it.) For one thing, the phone’s camera is essential to my journalistic endeavors. And what I had in mind to do with the camera was to point it at store, street and traffic signs, and at whatever other signs caught my eye. I enjoy signs, you see. Even though I’d been in Hatboro many dozens of times over the years, I wasn’t sure what the outcome of my plan would be, as I hadn’t paid extensive attention before to the state of affairs of the town’s signage.

I needn’t have worried. From the get-go I found sign after sign that interested me. Some for their colors. Some for their designs. Some for their whimsicality. Some for the jaunty ways in which they interacted with other signs in their vicinity.

In other words, I damn well dug the time that I spent wandering Hatboro’s streets.

Unexpectedly, little was playing in my mind as I kept placing one foot in front of the other, so focused was I on the mission. I wasn’t contemplating the meaning of life. I wasn’t thinking about what other activities I’d fill up the rest of the day with. And I wasn’t analyzing the importance of signs. But, as I realized when I began to gather my thoughts for this essay, signs are important as hell. They provide all sorts of information, and succinctly. We’d be lost without them, would have little clue about what’s going on. Man, signs are essential to human society, don’t you think? Yup, that’s why there are so many signs in Hatboro, just as there are in every town and city. We’re builders, creators, doers. And the oceans of signs in the world prove, reflect and add to that.

Okay, I’m just about signed-out. It’s time for me to have a nice big glass of milk and some warm chocolate chip cookies, and take my afternoon nap. I can hear my sofa calling me. “Lie down, you creaky geezer, lie down,” it’s cooing. “You need your beauty rest. Only problem is, you ain’t got any beauty left. Tough crap. Such is life!”

Thanks for joining me on my passage through Hatboro, girls and boys, and for gazing at a selection of the photos that I took there. By the way, seeing that I usually mention several things at the ends of my stories, I might as well mention them again. Namely, please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this article. And if you click on any photo, a larger image will open in a separate window. Till next time!

A Springtime Walk To Try And Take My Mind Off Of Things

I’ve been doing a little of this and a little of that of late, most of it nothing to write home about. You see, my routine has been thrown way off as a result of coronavirus. Yours probably has been too. Due to that health catastrophe, my volunteer jobs have been suspended and the places I like to hang out in — restaurants, movie theaters, music venues, to give some examples — have closed their doors, leaving me with shitloads more time on my hands than I’m used to. I’ve yet to use that time productively.

But my situation counts as absolutely nothing compared with the state of affairs worldwide. Tens of millions suddenly are without paychecks. Countless businesses and institutions very well might collapse. And people are succumbing in scary numbers to coronavirus. Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap. I have a sinking feeling. And when I say sinking, I mean sinking.

What will become of us? To try and protect ourselves, and to try and contain the virus, we stay in our homes as much as possible, practice social distancing when we leave the house, wash our hands numerous times each day, and use antiseptic wipes on potentially-suspect objects and surfaces. But, looking at the big picture, will any of that make much difference ultimately if an effective vaccine and/or other effective medical treatment isn’t developed in the very foreseeable future? Or if coronavirus doesn’t peter out on its own? I’m normally a fairly optimistic guy, but my answer is no. After all, in the twinkling of an eye, life as we know it has been turned on end. And right now there’s no reason to think that things won’t disintegrate far more than they already have.

“Yo, Neil,” I hear at least a couple of you yelling, “you’re bumming us the f*ck out! That’s enough, partner. Knock it off!”

I hear you, believe me. I’ve been bumming myself the f*ck out too, and for quite a while, as you can tell. Which is why, when I went for a walk on March 21 to try and take my mind off the current state of affairs, I had a potentially uplifting purpose in mind. The night before, driving home after buying take-out food from a restaurant, I’d noticed that some flowering trees around the corner from my house had burst into color. Thus, my plan on the 21st was to check out the flora in my suburban Philadelphia neighborhood and also in a neighborhood of a nearby, bordering township.

Now, walking is one part of what-had-been-my-routine that the coronavirus calamity hasn’t disrupted. Since early January, for personal health reasons, I’ve been hitting the pavement, in one locale or another, four or five times each week. Thirty minutes or more each session. That’s the most exercise I’ve gotten in years. And, knock on wood, so far I’ve enjoyed the regimen more than I’d have guessed I would.

Anyway, I embarked on the trek at about 1:30 PM. The skies gleamed, their blues a welcome sight for eyes in need of perking up. As I figured would be the case, green leaves hadn’t sprouted anywhere, though budding was in progress. Green’s domination over the browns of winter was another week or two away from taking place.

But, damn straight, some flowering trees were doing their thing, and that made a big difference. We’re talking magnolia and cherry trees, I think, and maybe a pear tree of one sort or another (I wouldn’t bet my life on those statements though, because I’m almost as dumb as dirt when it comes to identifying flora). Whatever, although the flowering tree performance normally doesn’t begin till early April or later, the milder-than-average temperatures that we’d had in the winter months pushed up the schedule. I let the trees’ pink, red and white petals grab me. The colors felt pretty good.

Other splashes of springtime colors were around. I spotted a few azaleas showing off their purple plumage. Forsythia bushes, which had opened in my region two weeks prior, looked damn fine in their mustard yellow. And the smattering of ground-level flowers on the properties brightened things up a bit too, especially the patch of small, yellow wildflowers in one yard.

What really struck me though, in this time of coronavirus precautions, was that I saw far more people than I’d expected to, which gave the afternoon a sense of normalcy. For instance: a father with his two young daughters, all on bikes; two middle-aged guys shooting hoops with a kid on a sidewalk basketball set-up; people sitting in their yards; four or five ambitious sorts hammering and sawing away, in their driveways or garages, at one project or another.

All told, at least 40 people crossed my field of vision during the hour I spent wandering around. I exchanged hellos with a bunch of them. None of them, or me, was doing anything that, virus-wise, might be problematic. That’s what medical people say, anyway. It’s okay to be outside, according to the experts, as long as you keep your distance from others.

And so, I recorded another entry in my Book Of Walks. The excursion was a good one. As spring progresses, the walks, I believe, will become even better. Lots more flowering trees and shrubs to gaze at. Lots more colors to absorb. Hats off to all of that.

(Comments are welcomed. Ditto for sharing this article.)

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!

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this story on Facebook, Twitter and the like.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relentlessly, Time Marches On (A Mortality Story)

For nearly all of my adult life, walking around while looking at things has been one of the activities that pleases me the most. I especially like to stretch the ol’ legs in cities, where there is no end of interesting sights, and in unspoiled natural areas, where the wonders of organic and inorganic matter never fail to amaze. And I’m also an explorer of towns that look like towns. Their old-timey ambience gets to me every time. This year I went for a healthy number of walks in all of these environments, both in the USA and in Europe, and consider myself fortunate to have done so.

My neighborhood (November 7, 2019)

However, one place where I don’t go out for walks too often is my own neighborhood, which occupies a fair amount of space in the suburbs of Philadelphia, USA. Basically that’s because my neighborhood is bland, man, bland, as is much of suburbia. Early this month, though, the urge hit me to hit my house’s surrounding blocks. Why? I wanted to check out how much of autumn’s colors were still in evidence. So, off I went in mid-afternoon. I strode along many streets, my eyes primarily focusing on tree foliage, or what was left of it. One hour later I returned to my home, having been wowed not all too much. That’s because, in my little corner of the world, yellows and ambers and russets and burgundies were close to being placed on life support. The autumnal party was just about over.

My neighborhood (November 7, 2019)

Yet, the walk had its good points. The temperature was pleasant and the air was still. Few cars made their way along the roads, and I crossed paths with only a couple of fellow humans. My mind and emotions, as a result of all of this, were in a state of relative calm. I was getting my Zen on. And I kind of liked that. You know, maybe I should enroll in a Zen monastery. I hear that they give heavily discounted rates to old f*ckers like me. Plus, I’d look great in a real long robe.

Calm as my mind was during the expedition, however, the obvious failed to impress itself upon me. Two days later it did. What I realized is that not only is fall waning in my section of the globe, but winter is drawing near. Not exactly an earthshattering observation, of course, but a useful one. Note to myself: Get ready to start freezing your ass off!

And one day after that I became somewhat melancholy as my thoughts expanded beyond winter’s approach. What struck me is that last winter seemed to be not all that long ago. For instance, I can recall in detail the events of last December’s New Year’s Eve, when my wife and I went with friends to dinner and to see John Oliver perform stand-up comedy at a Philadelphia theater. Was that really eleven months in the past? It feels like five months max.

Which at long last brings me to the main theme of this opus. Namely, our lives are flying by right before our very eyes. This would be okay if we went on and on and on. Time, then, would be irrelevant. I’ve reached the age, though, where time’s rapid pace mildly depresses me. I think semi-regularly about how much time I have left. My end might be imminent, after all. Shit. Double shit. Then again, I might hang around for another 30 years, which would bring me into my early 100s. Who knows? Whatever, if it were up to me, I’d go on forever. As in forever. I know that some or maybe most people wouldn’t choose the same. But even though the state of affairs on Planet Earth is incredibly far from perfect, overall I like being here.

“Huh? Who would want to live forever, considering that wars, floods, droughts, health epidemics and untold other calamities never go away?” I hear someone ask.

“Well, to my way of thinking, these things shouldn’t exist,” I reply. “For that matter, the whole setup on our planet would be different if I were in charge. I mean, what’s the deal with animal species — and that obviously includes humans — feeding upon other animal species? Where’s the value of life in that? And let’s not get started about other orbs in the cosmos. I shudder to think what varieties of mayhem are taking place among life forms out there.” Sigh. “It’s a pity that I wasn’t around for consultation when the universe began spinning itself into shape.”

Yeah, yeah, I sidestepped the question big time. Sue me.

And so we move along through life, hopefully trying our best to do our best. What matters in life? We all know the answers: Showing others that you care, and attending to them when your help is needed; providing properly for those that depend on us, and for ourselves; respecting the planet on which we pass our days; pursuing that which rocks our boats, as long as our passions don’t cause harm.

The list, without question, could hold many more entries. But I think I got most of the basics right. Seeing that our time on Planet Earth is limited, we might as well spend it wisely and meaningfully. And, speaking of time, it’s a late morning as I type this essay’s final words. Shortly I’ll be out the door, meeting the world and trying to keep in mind the unsolicited advice I offered in the above paragraph. Onward and upward!

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

The Flowers In My Neighborhood Weren’t Wilting, But I Was: A Walking Story

It’s been hotter than hell — well, maybe not quite that hot, but hot enough — in the Philadelphia region, where I live, during much of July. And it’s been similarly hot in countless other portions of Planet Earth. You don’t need me to tell you that global warming has had a strong grip on our orb’s metaphorical balls for many years now, and that the situation is only getting worse.

Anyway, the heat was especially nasty in my area on the 21st and 22nd of July, days during which the highs came this close to hitting the fabled 100°F (38°C) mark, ultimately falling a degree or two short. The humidity was impressive too. Nice weather, no? Like countless millions around the globe, though, I had little to complain about. That’s because I stayed inside my air-conditioned home most of the time. Sure, air conditioning is made possible largely by the burning of massive amounts of fossil fuels, thus contributing significantly to the global warming crisis. But what’s a guy to do? Turn off the A/C and melt like a Popsicle? Shit, my balls, which aren’t metaphorical, wouldn’t appreciate becoming liquified.

That unfortunate possibility notwithstanding, at 11:45 AM on the 22nd I decided to throw caution to the wind by launching myself into the elements. I’d had enough of being an indoors wuss. The time had arrived to become an outdoors wuss! I smeared sunscreen lotion all over my wrinkled, age-spotted face and then drank about 20 ounces of water to up my hydration level. Those important tasks accomplished, at noon I stepped outside with one main idea in mind: I was going to walk on many blocks of my suburban neighborhood in search of pretty flowers. The many flowering trees and azalea bushes in my hood all had dropped their blossoms well over a month ago, but whatever other flowers were around (and I knew that there wouldn’t be a whole lot) would have little chance to escape my eagle eye. Off I went. The walk turned out to be a pretty good one, two miles in length and one hour in duration.

My wife and I moved to our abode 14 years ago. And somewhere in the middle of those years I came to realize that there ain’t an amazing quantity of summertime flowers on the two hundred or more properties surrounding us. There’s no explanation for this. It’s just one of those things. I mean, all of the residents keep their lawns and shrubbery trimmed nicely, so it’s not that they don’t care about appearances. But the zing factor from flowers could be far, far better. The color that dominates is green. Green lawns. Green tree leaves. Green bushes. These two photos show my neighborhood’s typical summertime looks:

Yet, of course, there are exceptions. And I dug them. Here and there were excellent flower beds. And here and there were A-OK flowering bushes, including Rose Of Sharon shrubs. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Rose Of Sharon, there having been several of them on the front and back lawns of the house I grew up in decades ago. And they grow brilliantly in my current backyard. Theirs are the only flowers to make an appearance on my property this time of year. I’m glad that a previous owner of my house planted those bushes because I, one of the world’s most inept and lazy gardeners, wouldn’t have taken that step.

Rose Of Sharon shrub in my backyard. This is the only photo taken on my property.

If there’s one flower for which I have an even softer spot than Rose Of Sharon blossoms, it’s the sunflower. Is that because Vincent van Gogh’s sunflower paintings elevated it to iconic status? Maybe. Or is it because of the neat, trim house, in Manhattan’s quaint West Village enclave, that I walked past sometime in the 1970s? Lofty sunflowers grew in front of that small structure, contrasting magnificently with its white exterior. It’s possible that flowers never had made an impression on me like those did. And maybe none have since then. After all, here I am, all these years later, remembering them most fondly. And writing about them.

Yes, I encountered sunflowers on my neighborhood trek the other day. I was two blocks from my house, heading home and sweating like crazy. Despite all the water I drank before leaving home, my lips were unpleasantly dry. I was wilting. Lo and behold, at a corner property I saw them, a long row of sunflowers grinning at me. I stopped to say hello. I took their picture. And I’m going to go back and look at them again after I finish writing this essay. The world needs a lot of things. Peace, compassion and tolerance, for instance. And vastly more sunflowers would be very good too.

Sunflowers

In closing, it should be noted that the blazing Sun and extreme temperature kept things uneventful and quiet in the hood during my walk. The streets were almost empty of people. I saw but one human other than myself. Few cars passed me. And for the first time ever on my strolls in my town, not only did I not encounter any dogs, I didn’t hear barking from inside or outside their houses either. Not until I was about to enter my home at 1:00 PM, that is, when the distinctive yaps of a next-door neighbor’s pet escaped through closed doors and windows. Inside my house I stepped. I checked my balls. They seemed not much the worse for wear. Hallelujah!

(Please don’t be bashful about adding your comments or about sharing this story. As always, I thank you.)

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An Evening On The Deck In The Burbs

Photo taken on July 9, 2019 at 8:26 PM, five minutes before the Sun set.

On Tuesday evening of last week a simple notion swam into my mind. When it made its presence felt I immediately became comfortable with it. And minutes later I answered its call. To wit, I gathered together a bottle of beer, a glass mug, a bottle opener, a box of Cheez-It crackers and a portable radio. Then I opened one of the two doors that lead to the deck attached to the rear of my house and stepped onto that planked structure with the just-mentioned items in hand. Atop the outdoor table I placed them. And upon one of the chairs surrounding the table I deposited my bony, lazy ass. I like the deck a lot, but for reasons associated with a mild-to-medium case of stupidity I don’t relax on it as often as I should. Tuesday evening of last week was only the second or third time I took advantage of the deck since outdoor-sitting weather arrived in April.

The trees on my lot and on surrounding properties have grown madly since my wife Sandy and I took ownership of our suburban-Philadelphia home in 2005. Back then you could see the Sun dip below the horizon from the deck, because our wooden friends were of manageable size. But that was then and now is now. On the night in question I stepped outside at 8:20 PM, eleven minutes before the big ball of fire was scheduled to bid adieu to the Philadelphia region. Not only did trees block out the horizon and the Sun from my perch, they did the same to much of the sky. Ergo, there wasn’t a whole lot of sunset to be seen.

But I didn’t let those realities bother me, as I was in a relaxed mood, a mood that inched closer to the “highly contented” end of the spectrum during the hour and 40 minutes I spent on the deck. And why not? That’s what drinking beer, munching on Cheez-Its and listening to music on the radio will do to you. As will nonchalantly paying a decent amount of attention to what’s going on around you as the sky gradually makes its way from plenty bright to awfully dark. The bottom line is that, after a while, I found myself lost in the evening’s slow flow, a gentle state of affairs the likes of which happen to me only every now and then.

8:48 PM
8:56 PM

Fifteen minutes or so after sunset I admired the pale pink and purple hues in the western part of the sky not obscured by leafy branches or by houses, including mine. And I took note of birds chirping and of insects’ buzzes and clicks. The insects continued to harmonize once dusk began to take hold, but the birds stopped their chatter at that point and hit the sack. And it was impossible not to steal glances at the Moon, which was a few rungs above eye level in the southern sky. It glowed proudly in the clear heavens both before and after darkness arrived, and noticeably moved westward during my stay outside.

Motorcycle roars, somewhere in the distance, filled the air on several occasions while I sat. Central air conditioner systems hummed in unison. I heard the tooting of a train passing through my little town, and the sirens of two or more police vehicles. You know, the man-made sounds seemed as natural as those of the birds and insects, even the jarring ones that usually bug the hell out of me. Yeah man, I was in a mellow groove.

9:28 PM

Music kept me company mighty finely, as I’d known it would. I heard 20 songs or thereabouts on the radio, and they all fit snugly into the evening. One of them especially pleased me, partly because it came over the airwaves (via WRDV, a station in a town close to mine) when darkness was comfortably settling in. That’s the time of day when dreaminess becomes part of the picture.

I’d never heard of Theola Kilgore (born 1925, died 2005) before. I don’t know why, because she had a strong career in the soul and gospel music worlds. Nor had I heard her recording or any other recording of This Is My Prayer, which came out in 1963 and is such a good love song. The late Ed Townsend, a singer and songwriter who fully penned “For Your Love” and co-wrote “Let’s Get It On” with Marvin Gaye, composed Prayer. I sighed happily when Theola began to sing. I knew that I was in good hands. Her pleading, honest vocals can shake you to your knees.

At about the time that Theola Kilgore was entering my heart, a quarter past nine o’clock, I couldn’t help but notice that fireflies were starting to kick their show into high gear. Tiny lights flashed to my left, to my right, in front of me, everywhere. The performance was wonderful, and was the main focus of my attention until I headed back into the house at ten after ten.

Is it possible to photograph fireflies? With high-end cameras in the hands of knowledgeable photographers I have no doubt that it is. But with an iPhone in the hands of an amateur? Well, I tried, snapping shot after shot, hoping that one or two little light bursts would appear at the moment that my finger pressed the camera button. I’m not going to bet my life on it, but I believe that one of my attempts might have paid off. It’s hard to say, of course, whether those pinpricks are from fireflies or are artificial lighting, peeking through dense foliage, from a house behind mine. But I’ve got my money on the former. Here’s the photo. The dots are firefly lights, right? Right?

Fireflies? (Photo taken at 9:47 PM)

(Please don’t be bashful about adding your comments or about sharing this essay. Mucho gracias.)

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Spring Indeed Has Sprung

The morning of April 13, a Saturday, was drizzly and grey. But the weather forecasters swore up and down that by early afternoon the Sun would be smiling broadly upon us. Damned if they weren’t right. It was, I decided, a good afternoon in which to take action.

Scads of flowering trees had burst into bloom during the previous few days. And because this annual seasonal display doesn’t last all that long, and because I’m the sort of guy who likes to commune with nature every now and then, I figured I better get hopping if I wanted a good look at the show. So, at 2:30 PM I drove to Jenkintown, a town near mine in the Philadelphia burbs. After parking on a tree-infused residential block, I spent 75 minutes imbibing a healthy amount of spring 2019.

Why Jenkintown? Well, it’s an attractive and tidy place. And I know its layout well. What’s more, I have ties to Jenkintown. It’s where my barber does a magnificent job of styling the five strands of hair that remain on the crown of my head. It’s where my wife Sandy and I go out to dinner fairly often. And, most important, it’s where she and I bought our wedding rings. Yeah, Sandy likely would have threatened to knee me in the balls if I hadn’t included most important in that last sentence. But that has nothing to do with why I wrote those words!

Jenkintown was, as expected, peaceful and calm while I trod upon many of its blocks. I saw people of all ages outdoors taking advantage of the warm, comfortable conditions. Some sat on their porches. Others puttered in their yards. One eight or nine year old bounced somewhat proficiently on a pogo stick. And two little kids streaked wildly on their scooters, up and down a sidewalk, as their father kept an eye on them. It was a nice day.

And I heard birds, a lot of birds, though I didn’t see any of them except for a few that were zooming real high in the sky. I don’t know much about them, but I’m not a total nitwit when it comes to our avian friends. I proved that to myself by recognizing the caw, caw, caw of a crow a few minutes into my walk.

And what about vegetation? For one thing, Jenkintown was looking a lot greener than it had in months. Most deciduous trees were not yet in leaf, but a few were, and they were beautiful. What’s more, much shrubbery had traded drab greens for sprightlier shades of that color.

One of the few azalea bushes that I saw.

Forsythia bushes, which had opened in my region in late March, rocked their yellows throughout the town. Ground-level flowers were starting to pop up all over the place. But where the hell were the azaleas? I saw only three. Maybe somewhere in Jenkintown were a bunch of “Azalea Bushes Are Not Welcome In This Community” legal notices.

And then there were the flowering trees, the main subjects that I had left my house to examine and to write about. Jenkintown doesn’t boast incredible numbers of them, but there were more than enough. I stopped to admire most that I crossed paths with.

Magnolia petals on the ground.

When it comes to flowering trees, magnolia, pear and cherry are the varieties in favor in Jenkintown. Their petals abounded, flaunting pinks, whites and pale greens. On one property I saw a powerful reminder, though, that the show’s days are numbered, because the lawn and sidewalk there were blanketed with magnolia petals. Before long, similar scenarios will be playing out all over town.

Is this a magnolia tree?

As my stroll was coming to a close I passed a house on whose lawn a young tree grew. It was scrawny but in flower, displaying a color I’m positive I’d never seen before on tree petals. Yellow. A soft, milky yellow. As with birds, my knowledge about plant life ain’t much to write home about. That’s why, a short while ago, I turned to Google for enlightenment. I’m now offering the possibility that what I was looking at is a member of the magnolia family, though I sure as shit wouldn’t bet my life on that. Some of my readers are wise in the ways of flora, and I’m hoping that they will set me straight.

The time to go home arrived. I’d more than met my minimum daily requirement of nature. Therefore, into my car I eased. And you know what? It was hot as hell inside the mighty machine, 10 degrees hotter than it was outside. That’s what happens when you forget to leave a window cracked. Within seconds sweat began pooling on my forehead. Plenty of it. And of course the sweat headed downward, saying a nasty hello to my nose, lips and chin, and reminding me that summer is on the horizon. I hadn’t thought about summer in a long time. I’m not a fan of that season. F*ck summer heat. F*ck summer sweat. I prefer spring.

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

(If you click on any photo, a larger image will open in a separate window. All photos were taken on April 13, 2019 in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, USA.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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