75 And Counting

Eleven months ago I published a piece in which I noted that I couldn’t believe how fast 2021, and hence my life, was flying by. Well, somehow 2022 has equaled or maybe even surpassed 2021’s fleetness. And I have no doubt that 2023 will tear out of the starter’s block like Usain Bolt and then do nothing but pick up speed. Man, time unquestionably is the most precious commodity of all. It’s unsettling too.

Now, not everybody would agree with my perception of time. Most young people, for instance, don’t sense time as being a high-speed train.  Hell, for the most part they don’t think about time at all. Like many senior citizens, however, I have time on my mind pretty often. Meaning, I’m anything but oblivious to the facts that I’ve been on Planet Earth for a good long while, and that I’m a whole lot closer to the end than to the beginning. I don’t become badly depressed about it, or anything like that. However, the reality of the situation definitely gets my attention now and then.

I mention the above because I was stunned big-time a couple of months ago as I neared the completion of my 75th journey around the Sun. I did not feel at all celebratory about the upcoming birthday. The cockles of my heart refused to warm even one little bit. “75? Are you shitting me?” I asked myself. “How is it possible that I’ve become so f*cking old?” I mean, it seems like only yesterday that I was in my twenties, let alone in my 40s. Holy crap, where in the world did the time go?

By anyone’s definition, 75 is old as frigging dirt, or nearly so. Yeah, I know that plenty of people are older than me. Not as many as you might think, though, nor as many as I thought until I researched the subject earlier this month on a website that can tell you where you fit, age-wise, on the human population ladder. (Click here if you’d like to see the site. When it opens, click on Let’s Go. Next, click on My Place In The Population, which is where you enter your age.)

The answer, for 75-year-old me, was not joy-inducing. That’s because I learned that I am older than 96% of the people on our beautiful, polluted planet. That figure was an absolute kick to the balls. All I could do was shake off the pain and acknowledge the bad joke with a half-hearted chortle. And then I got right back to doing the things I love, such as palling around with my wife and other friends, exploring the natural and man-made worlds, writing, reading, and imbibing cool music. They make for a good life. With luck, this regimen will continue for a bunch more years.

With 2023 a mere handful of days away, the time now has arrived for me to wish all of you a most Happy New Year. May it be rewarding. And may peace, love, understanding and freedom fully permeate the human condition one day. They are in short supply in many parts of the globe, as we know all too well. So, as I’ve been thinking about freedom a lot lately, I’ll conclude this essay by presenting a song, Miles And Miles, that knocked me off my feet when I heard it for the first time recently. It’s a brilliant rocker, released this year by The Heavy Heavy, a young British band that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with for a while, traveling with them from gig to gig and absorbing their vibes. For the song’s about being flushed with freedom as you groove to life’s rhythms and grab hold of the good stuff out there in the world. I tell you, that orientation has appealed to me exquisitely since I reached adulthood many moons ago. I hope I never stop feeling, and acting, that way.

Smiling Faces

The skies were depressingly grey two Saturdays ago, the wind was not gentle, and rain poured down in buckets. In other words, it was real shitty outside. I’m no fan of such conditions — except for ducks, who the f*ck is? — but I was itching to wander the aisles of a local public library, and my aged body was in need of some exercise. So, out the door I went that morning, scrambled to my car and headed off to take care of business.

Success awaited me at destination number one, the library, where I found a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time (A Year In Provence, by Peter Mayle). Next stop, Willow Grove Park, a three-story, enclosed shopping mall in the Philadelphia burbs. It’s located less than a mile from my house. I drove there not to shop but to walk its every corridor. I go for several walks each week, almost always outdoors. But when the weather truly sucks, and an exercise session is in order, I stretch my legs at this indoor mall.

And stretch them I did, for almost an hour, with plenty of bounce in my step and with an episode of The Many Moods Of Ben Vaughn, a music podcast that features a wide range of tunes, playing through my earbuds. There was a pretty good number of people at the mall, some of them youngsters lined up, in the special Christmas section, to have a chat with Santa Claus. A pretty good number, yes, but nothing much out of the ordinary, considering that the Christmas-shopping season was upon us. In fact, a third of the businesses, as I walked past them, had nobody but employees within. Can brick and mortar establishments continue to hang in there, what with the heavy body blows that online shopping delivers to them non-stop? It’s not an upbeat situation.

Being one with artsy leanings, I took a good look at the posters on display in store windows as I strode through the mall. Designed to catch the attention of potential customers, nearly all of them were great. And halfway into my walk it dawned on me that a considerable number of these artworks had something in common. To wit, they featured one or more people with smiling faces. Not just half-grins, mind you, but broad, joyful, glad-to-be-alive smiles. (A sampling of the posters illustrates this article.)

I was down with that. Absolutely. After all, what’s better than being happy and showing it too? Not much. Anyone who spends a meaningful percentage of their waking hours in that state has found a strong path in life.

When I began composing this essay several days after being at the mall, I recalled someone who would have been a natural for a store poster, as he wore a smile almost all the time. He’s the only person I’ve ever known who fits that description. I worked with Ray, for that’s his name, in the 1980s. Everyone liked him. How could you not like a guy who brought bright light to the workplace? Ray never was stressed, never was in a bad mood. Unfailingly helpful and friendly, he was nothing short of amazing.

The posters at the mall, and thinking about Ray, have made me realize that I should start smiling more than I do. I would have nothing to lose by doing so, and possibly a good deal to gain, right? There’s no doubt about it. What’s more, can you imagine how much better the world would be if everyone upped their smiling quotient? We’d be on our way to creating paradise if that ever were to happen.

With that in mind, give a listen to a song I heard at the mall, courtesy of Ben Vaughn’s podcast, if you’re in the market for something that will put a nice big smile on your face. The one tune Ben played that really jumped out at me, it’s by The Penguins, a long-defunct doo wop cum rhythm and blues vocal group. Their biggest claim to fame was Earth Angel, a syrupy ballad that became a smash hit in 1954. You hear Earth Angel to this day. On the flip side of the Earth Angel single, however, was Hey Senorita, a song so cool it’ll make you want to bounce around madly. Thanks. Ben, for airing it. Here it is:

A Puzzle Story

Almost every morning, while downing a couple of cups of coffee, I devote an hour and a half or so to numbers-based and words-based puzzles. Sudoku and crossword puzzles, specifically and respectively. Generally, I work my way through two sudokus and one crossword, a practice I’ve been pursuing for the last 11 years. The puzzles keep my brain limber, calm my nerves and provide a healthy dose of satisfaction if I complete them correctly. They are my pals.

Needless to say, I’m anything but alone in regularly attacking puzzles that revolve around numbers and words. Although some folks have no interest in sudokus, crosswords, cryptograms, Wordle, etc., or are interested but don’t have the time, legions of people are engaged with them. With jigsaw puzzles too. And there also are countless fans of the puzzles found in certain books, television shows and movies. To wit, the plots of mysteries, thrillers and the like in which it’s up to professional detectives or private individuals to identify and track down evil doers. I’m definitely drawn to that sort of fare. In recent weeks, for example, I watched the first three seasons of Unforgotten, a British drama series in which police detectives confront what they refer to as historical murders. In other words, newly discovered homicides that took place years before. Solving these crimes requires tremendous persistence and attention to detail. The members of Unforgotten’s police unit that take on these cases are up to the task, and I’m envious of their abilities.

And a few months ago I polished off A Mind To Murder, by the celebrated crime novelist P. D. James. It’s a good story with complicated circumstances, so much so that the lead detective, Adam Dalgleish, whose reputation for exemplary work precedes him, ultimately pursues someone who is not the killer. In the end, Dalgliesh is humbled by his errors and by the uncertainties that always surround him.

I hadn’t given this any thought before, but A Mind To Murder is more lifelike than most mysteries in that respect. Meaning, even the best detective might be thrown way off course. Man, if Adam Dalgliesh can blunder, what does that imply for the rest of us in the greater scheme of things? Oh well, what can you say? Life’s a big puzzle, for sure, one that’s always in flux and requires us to stay on our toes. We’re usually good at deciphering what’s going on, and consequently make appropriate moves to keep ourselves humming along decently. But it’s not always that easy, as we know all too well. Let’s face it, there are a lot of dynamics going on out there at every given moment, not to mention within us. Their interactions can be unnerving. Or worse.

With sudoku and crossword puzzles, though, you don’t run into unanticipated occurrences, emotional flareups, or anything of the sort. That’s because their components are designed to fit together precisely, unlike the components of life. Those are among the reasons why I enjoy sudokus and crosswords as much as I do. Which is not to say, of course, that they can’t be tricky. The most difficult sudokus are tremendously tricky, but can be untangled by applying rules of logic. And though some crossword puzzle creators adore tossing curveballs at us, via the sly wording of clues, that doesn’t change the fact that only one answer exists for each of those clues.

So, I feel as though I’m in a safe zone when I sit down in the morning to sudoku and crossword puzzles. I’m comfortable in their self-contained worlds where, intrinsically, everything is stable and exactly as it should be. What’s more, the peaceful hour and a half I spend with them makes me better able to deal with the noisy real world. Damn straight I give a big thumbs-up to that!

Back To Work!

When I bid adieu to my government-work career 13 years ago, opting to cash in on retirement pensions, I knew that the regimented style of life I’d engaged in for decades was one I’d be remiss to discard entirely. I mean, I liked the job and didn’t mind the commutes. And, of course, I was very used to the overall arrangement. Thus, there was no doubt in my mind that I’d be lost at sea if I didn’t replace it, to a decent extent, with a similar routine.

That’s why, three days after hanging up my paid-employment spikes, I began trying out part-time volunteer jobs at various institutions, six or so months later settling down for the long haul with assignments at a health system (a hospital and its related facilities) near my home in the Philadelphia suburbs. I enjoyed the medical-related gigs quite a lot. But when the devilish coronavirus conquered Planet Earth in early 2020, the health system lost zero time in placing its volunteer staff on hiatus. The risks of us contracting the virus, or of infecting people with it, were just too high for the organization to keep us on board. And the same thing happened with a local food pantry where I helped out a little each week.

Wham! All of a sudden I had a bunch of extra hours on my hands, as if I didn’t have more than enough of them already. I took the easy way out, spending more time than ever on my living room sofa, one of my closest friends. I’m not proud to admit that last year, upon said sofa, I eclipsed the previous Guinness World Records top mark in the “Most Time Devoted To Scratching One’s Balls” category. Hey, what can I say? I ain’t all that genteel!

I’m glad to report that now I’m less of a slacker and balls-scratcher than I was, because in July I returned to one of the jobs that I had held with the health system, which has opened its arms to volunteers once again. Though I’m on site only four hours each week, I feel pretty damn good to have some amount of scheduled work in my life, and to be of service. More likely than not I’ll soon try to expand my hours by getting an additional assignment within the organization.

My official job title is Greeter. And greet people I do, via a “how’s it going?” or a nod when they arrive at the three-story medical office building whose ground-floor information desk I man on Thursday afternoons (the medical office building is across the street from the hospital). And I say “see ya” often too, as visitors, having completed their doctor appointments, head to one of the building’s several exits.

The main point of my being there, though, is to help people. A lot of them, for example, aren’t sure which office their doctor is in (a staff directory, mounted on a wall of the sprawling ground floor, is easy to miss), or can’t find the public restrooms or the alcove where vending machines are located, or aren’t even sure if they are in the correct building (more often than you’d expect, they’re not).

That’s where I come in, verbally or physically directing the lost souls to their proper destinations, answering a substantial variety of questions, and sometimes becoming involved in fairly complicated matters. Such as when I go to the multi-level parking garage behind the building with those who, their appointments over, can’t remember where they parked their cars. I have an excellent track record in locating the misplaced vehicles.

The job may not be top of the ladder on the excitement scale, but its pace and quality fit me comfortably most of the time. On average I respond to questions and unravel situations around ten times per hour, which is enough to keep me interested. And I like the fact that I never know what question or dilemma will be presented to me next.

I’ve been involved with people-oriented volunteer work for much of my adult life. As clichéd as it sounds, I believe in giving folks a helping hand, in paying back and paying forward. And I get a nice amount of satisfaction from my modest deeds. Thankfully, most people are on the same wavelength about all of this as me. If that wasn’t the case, the world would be an even more unsettling place than it is, right? Right.

A Colorful Self-Discovery Story

When, via Yeah, Another Blogger, I began launching stories into cyberspace back in April 2015, I didn’t realize that, over time, the writing process would increase my knowledge about who the hell I am. I’ve found this to be kind of neat, an unexpected bonus. After all, I’m an old f*ck who, since his teens, has been a champ at moving unsteadily through life. So, you better believe I happily embrace any aha moments that arrive. It’s good when the lights turn on.

For example, while penning an essay (Hippieish Notes From The Information Desk) a few years ago, it became clear to me that the values of the hippie era — those heady days of my youth when freedom, open-mindedness, peace, love and understanding were put into practice by millions upon millions of young folks around the world — shaped many of my basic outlooks. Somehow this truth had eluded me consciously and, were it not for writing, probably would still be lost in the extensive foggy regions of my mind.

Which brings us to colors, a subject I’ll now present as a second example of my increased self-awareness. I’ve written about colors numerous times, having devoted pieces to red, orange and the beauty of flowering trees, to cite several instances. While knocking out the first few of my color-centric opuses, I came to appreciate more fully than before that colors are really important to me. They get to me emotionally, some color schemes relaxing me, some exciting me, some causing me to stare in wonder as the words oh, wow slip from my lips.

But my relationships with colors go farther than that, for, while writing, it also dawned on me that I encourage colors to affect me, by seeking them out pretty damn often. I’d feel a bit less alive if I didn’t. “Pursuer of colors” is an occupational title that I’m proud to have on my resumé.

Well, one morning a couple of weeks ago, as my bony ass sank deeper and deeper into my living room sofa, I decided that rising to my feet might not be a bad idea. Nor would a pursuit of vibrant hues to brighten up the day. That’s why I promptly stood up, exited the house and drove a few miles to Glenside, Pennsylvania, a fine town whose commercial corridors are studded with every type of small business you can imagine. I arrived there at 9:00 AM, under soothing blue skies.

Now, in my neck of the woods, which includes Glenside, neutral colors rule: the tans, browns, greys and blacks that, in one combination or another, fill buildings, paved roads and sidewalks. And greens are dominant too, the deep greens of foliage, specifically. As much as I like those tones, they never have, and never will, send me over the moon exactly.

Of course, plenty of happier hues, the ones I was on a mission to locate, also exist in Glenside. After pounding the pavement for an hour, I found a dozen or more scenes bright enough to put a nice big smile on my face. Five of the scenes illustrate this story.

There was no denying the power of the Sunoco gas station, for certain. Its signage, an in-your-face rainbow of colors, all bursting with life, won me over from the second it came into view.

As did a subtler composition, one that centers around avocado green umbrellas. The umbrellas, belonging to a café at the Glenside railroad station, added a ton of juice to a setting that otherwise would have been described as drab, man, drab. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.

All in all, though, I felt that there was one clear winner, a striking combination of Beauty (a dreamy mural) and the Beast (a mottled, pale-orange-tinged trestle, emboldened with wide black and gold stripes to lessen the chances that motorists will plow into it). When I saw the mural peeking out from behind the trestle, which supports overhead railroad tracks, I was taken by the incongruity of the overall display. An incongruity that totally works, however. The mural and the decorated trestle are partners. They feed off each other’s energy. The music they make together might be on the dissonant side, but despite that, it’s a composition that hits all the right notes.

That’s Life

A few weeks ago I headed to a nearby public library to engage in an activity that I like a lot: wandering up and down fiction aisles in search of my next read. Sometimes I have a specific author or title in mind. But more often than not I examine the shelves randomly, pulling out books here and there and giving them the once-over. Prone to quick judgments that undoubtedly are incorrect the majority of the time, within seconds I commonly return many of those books to their assigned places. Hey, they had a chance to make a good first impression, but they blew it!

However, by the end of almost every visit I stand at the checkout desk with two or more volumes in hand, hoping that at least one of them is worthy. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose. A few weeks ago, at the aforementioned library, I won, arriving home with a pile of books that included An Actual Life, by Abigail Thomas, whom I’d never heard of until her novel caught my roving eye. Normally a herky-jerky reader whose attention span over the last 20 years has fallen off a f*cking cliff, I found myself gliding through Thomas’s opus, digging the journey. An Actual Life, which was published in 1996, is good. Damn good.

It is the saga of married couple Virginia and Buddy, their baby daughter Madeline, and a small cast of other characters. Virginia is 19, Buddy is 21. Though they knew far too little about each other, wanting to do the “right thing” they’d wed after Virginia, during the first coital session she ever had engaged in, became pregnant by Buddy.

Most appropriately and agreeably, Abigail Thomas has endowed Virginia, the narrator of An Actual Life, with a homespun way of talking. Set in small-town New Jersey and Massachusetts circa 1960, the book opens when Madeline is just shy of her first birthday, by which time Virginia and Buddy’s marriage has become nearly as cold as a refrigerator’s freezer section. Not only are they not in love, they never truly were. Unhappy and stumbling through life, Virginia doesn’t know what she should do. And she has little idea what Buddy thinks about their situation, or about anything else really, as he is pretty much the silent type. Around her, anyway. Her love for Madeline, whom she adores, is enough to keep Virginia going, but to where?

Right from the start the book pulls no punches. A couple of hundred words in, mulling over the fact that Buddy is with her only out of a sense of duty, Virginia has this to say:

And there’s really nothing about me to love anyway. There’s not even really any me, exactly. I keep changing inside my skin. There’s no definite person in here. My voice comes out weird and I hardly ever say anything I mean.

Man, those are heavy-duty statements. Virginia’s low self-esteem is on clear display throughout the remaining pages too. Fortunately for the reader, Virginia also is witty as hell. The combination of bleakness and barbed observations makes An Actual Life feel real. There’s nothing strained or artificial here. Thomas writes like a champ.

Unlike the vast majority of books I tackle, An Actual Life got me thinking about life, its challenges, pitfalls, delights, vagaries, and all the rest of the deal. If Thomas ever were to pen a sequel to An Actual Life, I’m guessing it would take place 15 or more years later, and that Virginia, having faced up to her realities, would be on at least fairly strong footing.

Isn’t that the way things go for most of us? In our teens and into our twenties or beyond, we’re still babes in the woods, more or less, trying to figure out what paths to take and to decipher what the hell our garbled inner voices are saying to us. Even if we don’t necessarily lift the veils perfectly, and few folks do, eventually we create lives for ourselves that make the grade.

What’s more, when we think about it, we likely realize that we’ve acquired a nice amount of wisdom along the way. The pearls I’m about to spout seem obvious to me now, but they weren’t until maybe 15 years ago. I believe, for instance, that being loving and kind absolutely is where it’s at, and that said behaviors are the keys to a fulfilling life. And I’m convinced that it’s crucial to cultivate and nourish friendships. We can’t have too many friends, good ones especially. Solid friendships, after all, bring us joy and, when needed, comfort, and can open our minds in delightful ways.

Well, seeing that I ain’t exactly Plato or Confucius, I sure as shit better end my philosophizing right now, before I get in way over my head. Till next time!

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 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!

Time Flies!

“Doctor, you’ll be pleased to know that I don’t have any major problems to discuss with you today,” I said to my psychiatrist, Dr. R. U. Forereel, at the start of our most recent monthly session. “But there definitely is something that’s perplexing me.”

“Neil, I’m happy that you’ll be taking it easy on me,” she replied. “I’ve had a rough week, what with patient after patient yapping away about their lives, complaining about this, that and the other thing. What is wrong with these people anyway? I’m sure that I don’t know. Don’t they realize that life isn’t a bowl of cherries, let alone a bowl of oatmeal? I tell you, I should have listened to my parents and become a dairy farmer instead of going into medicine. Cows aren’t demanding. Oh well, live and learn. Neil, let’s proceed. Time’s a wastin’.”

“Funny you should use that word, doctor,” I said, “because time is precisely what I’d like to talk to you about. It’s moving too fast, isn’t it? Why, you’d think that 2021 has a fire cracker up its ass, pardon my crudity. Before we know it, Santa Claus will be shimmying down chimneys all around the world. And a week after that, 2022 will have arrived.”

“Your perceptions are interesting and valid, Neil,” said my psychiatrist. “Did 2020 also move quickly for you?”

“Indeed it did, doctor, despite all my worrying about COVID. But 2021 is zipping along faster than any year ever has. What gives?”

“Well, how can I put this politely, Neil? Hmmm . . . a quick glance at your patient information chart reveals to me that the last time you might have been described as a spring chicken was five decades ago. To put it another way, your glory days are ancient history. Here then is the bottom line: You officially are old as shit, pardon my crudity. And it’s been proven that, as the years pass, time moves unusually quickly for a particular segment of males in the old as shit category, far more so than it does for anyone else. Sadly, you are a member of said segment.”

She sighed and shook her head, gazing, with pity in her eyes, at the abundant prune-like creases on my face. Then she said, “Neil, I refer you to the writings of Albert Einstein. Apparently, you are not familiar with his Specific Theory Of Relativity For Heavily-Wrinkled Old F*ckers, a brilliant treatise that explains how time affects those gentlemen with your dermatological condition. Pardon Professor Einstein’s crudity, by the way.”

“You are in your life’s homestretch, Neil,” she continued. “This is true even if you manage to hang on for another 25 years. And as if that isn’t bad enough, your remaining years are absolutely going to zoom by so fast they’ll make 2021 seem as though it had been in slow motion. Poof! In the relative blink of an eye your days above ground will be over. All of what I say, of course, paraphrases the Specific Theory, which I urge you to read. Einstein certainly was a genius, no? Fascinatingly, he was a prune lover too.”

“Holy crap, Dr, Forereel! You’re bumming me way out! What am I to do? I feel one hundred times worse than I did when we began today’s session.”

“I’m so sorry to be the bearer of truths, Neil. And I would like to help you dissolve the bleakness that you’re experiencing, but I’m afraid that this session has reached its end. Please try to keep your chin up. It’s sagging, you know. I hope to see you in four weeks.”

As down in the dumps as I’ve ever been, I shuffled out of her office, got into my car and made my way home. Not surprisingly, I arrived there in no time at all.