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.

Provincetown, Sands And Seas

Well, as my previous opus points out, my wife Sandy’s and my vacation on Cape Cod last month was sweet. Real sweet. I’m back home now in the suburbs of Philadelphia, trying to become acclimated to the fact that the equivalents of quite a few of the Cape’s top features ain’t to be found anywhere in my region. For example, on the Cape there’s Provincetown, where bohemianism is alive and well. And beaches on which an individual easily can escape into higher dimensions by gazing upon waters that go on forever.

There’s a lot to be said for being home. But man, I miss Cape Cod!

Provincetown, located beside Cape Cod Bay at the tippy tip of Massachusetts, is a sizeable village, roughly two miles long and half a mile wide. Still, it comprises but a smallish percentage of greater Provincetown’s overall space. Waters, sands, woods and wetlands account for the rest.

Provincetown, Cape Cod

Since my first visit circa 2000, I’ve been in the village around 35 times I suppose. Old and bleached by the Sun, it looks countrified in parts, seaside-y in others, and is artsy and free-spirited throughout. A longtime commercial fishing center (it remains active as such), and once a whaling port, P-Town began to change its colors when The Cape Cod School Of Art, which is still in existence, set up shop in 1899. Before long, the village morphed into a mecca for creative types, tourists following in their wake. And in the second half of the 20th century, gays and lesbians in significant numbers began making the town their home. These days, about 3,600 individuals live there year-round. During summer, the height of the tourist season, many tens of thousands of additional humans appear.

Provincetown, Cape Cod
Provincetown,  Cape Cod

I love to meander through P-Town’s streets. Somehow they both relax and energize me. More important, they please my eyes. The homes, stores and restaurants are, comfortingly, of compatible size, usually one to two-and-a-half stories tall. Yet nearly every one carries a distinct personality. Not only that, many are tucked away in nooks and crannies and at odd angles to their neighbors. That’s why, whenever I’m in Provincetown, I notice buildings that I hadn’t before.

Pilgrim Monument (Provincetown, Cape Cod)

If I had to pick one sight over any other in the village, it would be the Pilgrim Monument. Not in daylight but when, illuminated at night, its gentle glow casts a spell. P-Town’s most uncharacteristic structure by far, it commemorates, if that’s the correct word, the landing in 1620 of English colonists on the shores of what later was dubbed Provincetown. Native Americans, not surprisingly, already occupied the land. I have no doubt that the indigenous folks were less than pleased by the strangers’ arrival. In any case, the Monument, at 252 feet in height, is an imposing creation, visible fully or in part from much of the village and its surroundings. And at night? Ooh la la! For the umpteenth time it captivated me one evening a few weeks ago.

How is it that I rarely exchanged meaningful hellos with sands and open waters until Sandy and I discovered Cape Cod in 1998? I mean, I wasn’t a stranger to them, having spent numerous days of my youth at one beach or another on Long Island. (I grew up on Long Island in a town that’s about 20 miles from Manhattan.) Whatever the reasons, I’m truly glad that the relationship developed. Hell, I’m nothing but putty in the hands of the Cape’s sandy coastlines and the liquid bodies (Atlantic Ocean, Cape Cod Bay, Nantucket Sound) that embrace them.

We always visit Cape Cod in the off-season, which is when there’s no problem finding long stretches of beach that are empty, or almost empty, of other individuals. Yeah, that’s the way we like it. With distractions at a minimum, we’re able to admire meaningfully the perfect elemental combination that is sand, water and sky.

Atlantic Ocean and Nauset Light Beach (Eastham, Cape Cod)
Cape Cod Bay and Corn Hill Beach (Truro, Cape Cod)

I took two solo beach walks last month and more than several in partnership with my better half. The latter strolls seemed more complete than the former. I mean, when the two of us stopped to stare at the endless waters every five or ten minutes, we kind of Zenned out together, no matter if the waters were roiling or calm. There is no doubt that going eyeball to eyeball with infinity, at the side of someone doing precisely the same, is a good way, a very good way, to spend some time. You can’t beat joint bliss!

(Please don’t be shy about entering your comments. I thank you. All of the photos, by the way, are from October 2021.)

It Was A Sad Day When Charlie Watts Passed Away

© Ursula Düren/dpa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Pix For Seven Months

I don’t know about you, but for me this year has been flying by at an insanely fast pace. I have no idea why. I mean, time seems to zoom when a person is busier than usual and/or is having more fun than usual. But those conditions haven’t applied to me. And yet, boom! Just like that, seven of 2021’s months are over and done, and month number eight is nipping at their heels. What the hell is going on?

January 20, 2021 
(Sunset viewed from Willow Grove, Pennsylvania)
February 11, 2021 (Willow Grove, Pennsylvania)
April 12, 2021 (Abington, Pennsylvania)

So impressed am I by 2021’s fleet-footedness, I think it’s only right to offer up an essay that photographically honors its seven departed months. One photo from each month. I took six of the pictures and would have taken all seven if such had been possible. However, seeing that it would have been a major no-no for me to snap a selfie while being inoculated against COVID, I asked my wife Sandy to document the event.

May 14, 2021 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
June 5, 2021 (Jenkintown, Pennsylvania)

I’ve decided against using any of the dozens of 2021’s photos that I’ve already placed in this publication’s stories. As for the seven included herein, only two hold any special personal meaning, and I’ll get to them in a minute. The other five just look good to my eyes, and would have been mad as hell at me if I’d not deposited them on the internet. The parking lot scene, for example, which contains a lady so wrapped up in her thoughts that she’s oblivious to the sharp red car doing its damndest to get her attention. Hey, the car threatened to sue if I gave it the cold shoulder!

Now, on to the two pix that, plain and simple, had to be presented, and about which I’ve got a few things to say.

March 19, 2021 (Elkins Park, Pennsylvania). Photo by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin

Sandy and I frantically and tirelessly tried to schedule appointments for COVID vaccinations when vaccines became available early this year. Basically, it was an exercise in frustration. But then, five or six weeks later and from out of the blue, appointments for March 19 fell into our laps. I tell you, it was a powerful day for me, one I ain’t going to forget any time soon. As the needle entered my arm I breathed great sighs of relief and shed some tears of joy.

Four weeks later my second dose of Moderna was administered, and since then I’ve felt free. Yes, coronavirus remains a major concern, but far less so for the vaccinated as opposed to the unvaccinated. Man, vaccine refuseniks, brimming with loopy and misguided beliefs, astound and annoy me. The common good is suffering because they won’t grab hold of the lifelines being tossed their way. I tell you, we reside in a world that too often is surreal and disappointing.

Due to the f*cking pandemic’s intrusion, the fireworks event that Sandy and I attended on July 4 was the first impressive show of any kind that we had been to in 16 months. (In the USA,  July 4 is a holiday that commemorates the states’ declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1776.) It took place on the sprawling grounds of a public school, in a town a couple of miles away from our suburban Philadelphia home.

We walked and walked on the school’s ball fields and lawns till we were very close to where the explosions would originate. And then we waited and waited as the skies grew dark and the time advanced to 9:40. At that point I got up from my chair to try and find someone who might know the scoop, as the show should have begun no later than 9:20. No luck, natch. So, I walked back to where our chairs were set up, looked at my phone to check the time, and said to Sandy, “It’s 9:49. I don’t think the fireworks are going to happen. We should leave.”

July 4, 2021 (Abington, Pennsylvania)

Three seconds later I was proven wrong, as the skies lit up with wonderful shapes and colors and thunderous sounds erupted. For the next 25 minutes Sandy and I oohed and aahed. In the end, we were in the right place at the right time.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Gracias.)

An Ode To Orange

I shall begin the proceedings by stating that this story would not have come into existence were my wife Sandy and I not subscribers to The New Yorker magazine. Thus, if you read this opus and decide that it sucks, then sue The New Yorker, not me. As always, I’m blameless!

Back cover of The New Yorker magazine

For it was about six weeks ago that I noticed the colorful back cover of the aforementioned magazine’s March 1 issue. That cover was an ad for Sumo Citrus, a variety of fruit that I’d never heard of before. Grown in California, it’s a large version of a mandarin orange, and boasts what pretty much looks like a top knot on its head. Sumo wrestlers sport top knots. Hence, the fruit’s name.

Anyway, not many days later Sandy and I were filling up our shopping cart at a Whole Foods supermarket when a table piled sky high with bright orange produce caught my eye. Holy shit, it was a Sumo Citrus mountain! Were we enticed? Yo, is the pope Catholic? So, overpriced though the fellas were, we purchased one. And ate it the next day. Yeah, it was seedless and easy to peel, as advertised, points definitely in its favor. But how about the taste? That’s the main thing, right? Well, the flavor was good. Quite good. But hardly a revelation. I mean, it tasted like an orange!

Whether we buy or don’t buy another Sumo Citrus some day, the fruit made a real impression on me because, subconsciously, the color orange remained on my mind. I love colors, just about all of them, and have published many essays on this site that revolve around one color or another: odes to blue, green, red and yellow come to mind. But I haven’t waxed poetic very much about orange. On April 5, a Monday, I decided that the time had arrived to do something about that.

In mid-afternoon of that day, off I went to Willow Grove Park, a three-story indoor shopping mall near my home in the suburbs of Philadelphia. From past experience, I knew that examples of just about every color under the sun can be found there, some on store merchandise and displays, some on signs, and some adorning the bodies of the mall’s employees and customers.

I spent an hour in the commercial wonderland, which, despite the pandemic, was as busy as I’ve ever seen it outside of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. A diligent journalist, I kept my eyes focused on colors, rather than on cute girls, as I scoured the premises. Some hues definitely predominated: shades of white, black, blue, grey and red, I’d say. Orange wasn’t a member of the in crowd. In fact, only purple, by my estimation, was represented less at the mall than was orange. Nonetheless, I found a fair number of examples. They were hard to miss, so flamboyant is orange.

Macy’s department store carried some ladies’ clothes, shoes and accessories in knockout versions of orange, for example, and a small number of men’s shirts in same. A vendor in the mall’s food court had shelves filled with candy bars whose wrappers exploded in orange and in other hues. And a teenager, strolling the avenues with a young lady, shone like a star in his orange shirt. In fact, he was the only person I saw at the mall who wore any orange at all. Wait a minute . . . that ain’t true! Wandering around the mall was a f*cking weirdo whose orange, black and white mask covered half of his wrinkled face. It was good of him to stop and pose for a selfie for this story. If you surmise that the f*cking weirdo was yours truly, you possibly are correct.

Why isn’t orange more popular in the USA than seemingly it is? Good question. It should be a hit. Orange is snazzy, jazzy and full of good spirits, after all. But maybe the American personality leans a bit too much toward the repressed side for orange to get its due. Its day may come, though. You never know. I’m pretty sure of one thing, in any event. To wit, my eyes will stay open for orange. Once you start looking for that color, it’s hard to stop.

I’m going to leave you with two recordings that pay homage to orange — to skies of orange, specifically. The first (Orange Skies) is by Love, a trippy rock band that was popular in the hippie era. They recorded it in 1966. The second (Orange Colored Sky) was put on wax by the one-and-only Nat King Cole in 1950.

Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Please don’t be shy about entering any comments you might have. Till next time!

Going To Pot?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Book, A Sunset and A Pair Of Slippers: Good Things From January

Actually, the title to this essay is incomplete, because the best thing of all from January was the departure from the presidency of lying-through-his-teeth, seditious Donald Trump. Faithful readers of this publication are aware that I despise Trump. He’s a poisoner of minds. I’m far, far from alone in being able to breathe normally now that he’s not in the White House.

But that’s enough about Trump. Let’s move on to a book I read in January that I think is awfully close to being great. It’s a slim volume too, a proper length for a reader whose attention span these days often is measured in nanoseconds. Namely, me. Flight is the novel’s name and Sherman Alexie is its creator. It follows the doings of a teen who calls himself Zits, a painful nod to the pimples that cover his face unmercifully. Zits has been dealt a pitiful hand. His American Indian father abandoned the family when he was born. And his mother, a white woman, died when Zits, an only child, was six. His life since then has been a revolving door of foster homes and youth facilities. Opening in the early 2000s in Seattle, Washington, and narrated by Zits, Flight drew me in from the get-go.

Zits is smart and funny, but exceedingly anti-social too. Basically, he’s lost. Love doesn’t factor into his life. He has no friends. A career path isn’t in sight. And he feels the pull of, but is disconnected from, his indigenous roots. He knows all of this, and possibly is open to his plight taking upward directions. However, how might such ever occur?

One day, strange business begins happening to Zits. From out of the blue he becomes a time traveler, tossed by forces unknown and unseen into the bodies of others whose circumstances make Zits examine his American Indian heritage and the ways in which American Indians have interacted with, and been treated by, the USA’s white population. On one of his journeys into the past, for instance, Zits uneasily faces complicated moral issues at the Battle Of The Little Big Horn, a gruesome confrontation, in 1876, between Native Americans and the U.S. military.

Loneliness and anger have defined Zits for many of his days. But his surreal experiences, affecting him deeply, widen his perspectives and loosen his emotions. Those experiences affected me deeply too. As did the book’s entirety. Flight felt authentic to me, including the time-travelling episodes. The dialog sparkles throughout Flight, and Zits’ thoughts and observations are sharp and alive, not wobbling for even a moment. Alexie can write. Alexie, by the way, grew up on an Indian reservation in the state of Washington. He left the reservation years ago, and has become a well-known author. The position of  American Indians in society is an ongoing theme in his works.

Is there a way to segue gracefully from Sherman Alexie to a sunset? Shit, I ain’t even going to try. Sunsets . . . man, I hardly can believe how often I’ve written about them on these pages. And I think it will be a while before I’m sunset-ed out.

My previous opus contains a few words about a magnificent sunset that I caught in December 2020. I viewed it while walking around my neighborhood. During that walk I realized that the finest spot to gaze at the setting Sun in my hood is from a corner half a block from my house. That corner provides as open a view of the western horizon as you can get in my town (I live near Philadelphia). It had taken me a mere 15 and three-quarters years of home ownership to make that discovery!

Anyway, since the eureka moment arrived I’ve moseyed to that corner a number of times to watch the Sun do its thing. And on the second of January I hit the jackpot. Most sunsets in my locale are good but not great. But as the skies darkened on the date in question, what had been a pleasant sunset transformed miraculously. Fiery oranges exploded beneath blues and greys that were not to be played with. Pale yellow shards seethed. I knew without a doubt that I was in the right place at the right time.

From sunsets to slippers? Sure, why not? For the past five or so years I was the owner of a navy blue pair of slippers that did their job just fine. Until 2019, that is, when they decided that they enjoyed sliding off my feet when I strode up and down stairs. I began to dislike them at that point, and got really sick of the f*ckers when the sole of the right-foot slipper opted to decompose, in no time developing a hole big enough to stick a corn cob through. But, lazy as I am, I hung on to the siblings rather than purchase replacements.

Finally, though, enough became enough. Last month I scouted out slippers on the internet, and bought a pair that appeared to meet my modest requirements. When they arrived at my front door I deposited the crappy ones in the trash. I adore my new slippers so far. They are comfortable, fit nice and snugly, and look damn good too. Yeah, I’m in slippers heaven. Out with the old and in with the new! Hey, that’s not always a top-notch idea, but this time it was.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Mucho gracias.)