This Is My 200th Story! Will It Be My Last?

Image by Karma Willow Designs

It’s amazing! They said it couldn’t be done! I’m going to throw a party to which you all will be invited. I’m going to hire a sky-writing plane to fly over Manhattan and cover the heavens with this announcement: Neil Scheinin, a grand slacker, somehow has written 200 stories for his blog. A miracle has occurred!

And after all of that I might just hang up my writing boots forever. Why? Because writing mentally exhausts me. I mean, after I finish a piece I’m so limp you’d have no trouble folding me up and squeezing me into a goldfish bowl. I’ve gone through this 200 times now. Maybe that’s enough.

And if it is enough, that wouldn’t be so bad. With writing no longer on the menu, I’d devote the extra time on my hands to my living room sofa, where I’m already spending an average of 10 hours a day. The sofa is where I do my best kind of work anyway, you know. By which I mean that I am a master at twirling the handful of hairs remaining on the crown of my head while stuffing my maw with boxfuls of Cheez-It crackers. I love my sofa. My gratitude for having the comfiest place in the world to rest my ancient ass is eternal.

To write or not to write, that is the question. Making the decision isn’t easy. Which is why I’ve recently sought guidance from three individuals. The first conversation took place a week ago. It was with my esteemed editor, Edgar Reewright.

“Neil, the exorbitant fees that you pay me for my services are crucial to my financial stability,” Edgar screamed over the phone after I laid out my thoughts. “Do you hear me? Crucial, I say. My stable of writers has been shrinking like a Greenland glacier. Without you on board I don’t know what I’d do! Oh, why was I born? Why was I born? I should have listened to my parents and majored in philosophy in college. If I had, then I’d know the answer to ‘why was I born?’ Shit, maybe it’s not too late. Where are those volumes of the collected works of Plato and Aristotle that I occasionally glanced at years ago? Ah, I remember. They’re under my dog’s mattress, firming it up. Spot! Spot! Get off your bed! Daddy needs to get something.”

“Later, Edgar,” I said. “I’ll be in touch.”

Edgar’s situation is no joke. Though not many people depend on me, he definitely does. Conversely, my psychiatrist, Dr. R. U. Forereel, is someone upon whom many people depend. Including me. The day after I spoke with Edgar I attended my bi-weekly session with Dr. Forereel.

“Doctor,” I said to her after seating myself in her patients’ chair, “I know that we normally discuss issues that have their roots in my misspent childhood, such as why in my 71 years of existence I’ve never once bonded with a cat. If I weren’t so sphinxlike, maybe by now we’d have uncovered an answer or two to that one. My bad! But today I need your opinions about my creative outlet. I’ve been writing steadily for almost four years, as you know. My next story will be my 200th, a true milestone. But I’m weary, doctor. Writing has taken its toll on me. I’m thinking of ending my career.”

Career?” Dr. Forereel immediately exclaimed. “What career? Neil, the essays and other pieces that you produce are trifles, no? And you receive how much in payment for them? Wait, let me guess. The answer begins with a z and ends with an o and has an e and an r in the middle. Am I right? Neil, what you do with words amounts to nothing more than a hobby, a way to pass the time. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s important to look at things realistically. I have no couch in my office for my patients, only a chair. But you, Neil, have a wonderful couch at home, as you’ve told me many times over the years. Take further advantage of that sofa. It’s one of your very best friends. Writing means little in comparison to the peace of mind that your sofa brings.”

At the end of the session I thanked the good doctor and then went to my car. Her advice echoed through my mind continuously during the drive back home.

Later that day I poured out my heart to my wife Sandy. Edgar Reewright had implored me to continue writing. Dr. Forereel had said, basically, “why bother?” What were Sandy’s feelings?

“Listen,” she began, “it’s entirely up to you. But I’ll say this: At least you’re not getting Cheez-It crumbs all over the couch when you’re at your writing desk. So that’s a good reason, in my opinion, for you to keep turning out your stories. However, there are how many projects around the house that you’ve never gotten to? Twenty? Thirty? Seems to me that starting a blog might be what you came up with to avoid doing what needs to be done around here.”

Valued readers, I’m in a quandary. I’m going to have to look deep within myself over the next several days. There’s plenty for me to ponder. Maybe I’ll be back on these pages. Maybe I won’t. Time, as always, will tell.

(Yo! Despite the uncertainties presented above, please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this story. Mucho gracias.)

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Signs In The Windows

Last Friday I could feel a story idea calling me from far, far away. I cupped my hands behind my ears and did what anyone would have done: “What?” I yelled into the wilderness of my soul. “You have to speak louder, for crying out loud. Give an old guy a break!”

I waited for a response for a while. When none was forthcoming I waited a little longer. Finally I gave up on the idea of waiting. I’m a man of action, right? Well, not exactly, as proven by the impressive and permanent dents in the cushions of my living room sofa. Still, I rose anyway, put on my coat, stuck my iPhone into one of the coat’s pockets and explained quickly to my wife Sandy what my amorphous game plan was. Then I headed for the door, on my way to the three-level mall minutes away from my suburban Philadelphia house.

“You’re not going to do any shopping?” Sandy said to me as I exited. “Anyone else would go shopping.”

Shopping? Hmmm, not a bad idea. I could use a pair of slipper socks to replace the ones joyfully embroidered with Daffy Duck images that I’ve been wearing for the last 60 years. But whatever it was that was trying to reach me from the wilderness of my soul, shopping wasn’t part of it.

I pulled out of the driveway at 10:15 AM and pulled into one of the mall’s gargantuan parking areas at 10:20. Few cars were around. I entered the wonderland through a door that deposited me in Bloomingdale’s, a classy department store whose goods and displays I always marvel at during my infrequent visits. I felt at home, pretty confident that something somewhere in the mall ultimately would result in yet another blog essay being catapulted into cyberspace.

A poster in Bloomingdale’s cosmetics section caught my eye. “Everyone’s Invited!” it partly read. At once a bell rang in my head. Ouch, that smarted! I shook off the twangs of pain and went with the flow. If I wander around the mall, maybe I’ll spot all kinds of signage that share a sentiment similar to that poster’s, I thought. “C’mon in!” and “Don’t be a stranger!” would be good ones to come across, for example. But, nah . . . after I made my way out of Bloomingdale’s and into the main arteries of the mall’s lower level, I walked past store after store and came up with zippo. Nix that story idea.

All was not lost, however. Far from it. For what I realized is that beautiful signs, primo examples of artful composition, grace the windows of many of the shops. There was my story, I concluded. I would navigate all the avenues of each mall level, photographing the window signs that struck me as worthy of immortalization. I breathed a sigh of relief. The wilderness of my soul, at least for the moment, became a less scary place.

I went at it for an hour, 16 signs making my grade. The majority of them are on display in this essay. At the moment, examining the photos from the comfort of my home, it’s hard to say which of the signs I like best. Who can choose? Why choose? Isn’t it better just to appreciate each sign’s worthy aspects? Okay, you’re right. Choosing isn’t all that difficult. Let me think for a few seconds. I’ll be right back.

You know, I like the one picturing a pink Adidas cap, which fills a big section of glass at the Lids hat store. I’m one with its simplicity and admirable balance.

And I can’t deny the power of the seductive image of Selena Gomez balancing a black and pink handbag on her right leg. I had to restrain myself from marching into the Coach store and buying one of those bags, so helplessly jelly-like am I in the presence of gorgeous girls.

And let’s not overlook the black and white flag that stares out at potential customers from the mall’s Gap store. Maybe it’s a political statement of some kind, I don’t know. But it’s clean and taut and hard to take your eyes off of, from an aesthetic point of view.

There was more to my mall escapade than art appreciation, as it turns out. As I made my way around the mall’s highways and byways it dawned on me that I was getting some needed exercise. And that it felt really good to be stretching my legs. I tried to remember the last time I’d gone for a long walk. I think it was in October, on Cape Cod, upon whose open and natural areas I’ve racked up the miles in a major way.

But when I’m home? The landscape in the burbs, an homage to concrete and asphalt, doesn’t thrill me. And I sometimes forget that areas worth walking in, such as the olden streets of Philadelphia, aren’t much more than a hop, skip and a jump away.

But walk now and then in the mall? Hey, I never really thought about that before. We’ll see. I’ve read that plenty of folks do it regularly, placing one foot after the other upon the mall’s interior corridors as if those paths were athletic field ovals. I saw some of the hardy souls during my rounds. One of them, a millennial of the female variety who was attired in black workout clothes, passed me twice. I watched her do her thing. Her ears were home to earbuds and her eyes were glued to the screen of her phone as she relentlessly pushed ahead. You go, girl! Maybe I’ll join you some day. In my dreams.

An hour and change had passed by the time I got back in my car. I felt refreshed. My head was clear. My mood was up. And the remainder of the day, I was certain, would unfold attractively. That’s what good art and a two-mile stroll will do for you.

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An Important Announcement From Neil’s Editor: Neil’s Missing!

Greetings, Earthlings. My name is Edgar Reewright. I’m an editor. And I’m writing to you on bended knee, as I will explain a few paragraphs down the line.

Over the years I’ve worked at The New Yorker, The New York Times and, most recently, Playboy. Prestigious jobs they were, not to mention excellent distributors of cash and benefits to yours truly. But as we know, life can throw curveballs and spitballs at any of us at any time. And come my way they did.

I won’t go into too much detail. Let’s just say that I didn’t do myself any favors when, after having devoured two bottles of Jack Daniels at a dazzling party at the Playboy Mansion in 2014, I made a pass — actually, more like 15 passes — at Hugh Hefner’s wife. When I came to a few hours later I discovered myself to be robed in a Playboy Bunny outfit and draped over a traffic light, 20 feet above ground, on Sunset Boulevard. Hef’s boys don’t mess around. Needless to say, my career in big-time journalism was over.

Thanks are due, therefore, to the blogging gods of small-time journalism. A prime example of which is Neil Scheinin’s blog. The one you’re staring at right now. Neil fancies himself to be a writer. What the hell, I always say, let him believe what he wishes. He’s hardly the only delusional collection of skin and bones traipsing around among us.

Anyway, the flimsy quality of Neil’s opuses doesn’t mean a fig to me. What does matter is the paycheck that Neil sends my way weekly. Seven hundred and fifty dollars ain’t bad dough to someone in my situation. Damn good thing I answered Neil’s ad (“Help! Dork desperately in need of editorial assistance,” it read) in the January 2015 issue of All Praises To The Blogosphere. The rest is history. Or something along that line.

Here’s why I’m writing this article: I’m very, very worried. Neil has disappeared. Foul play? Nah, there’s no evidence of that. By his own volition? You can bet the house on it. The louse didn’t even have a story-in-waiting to be published this week. Who does he think he is, skipping a week of writing? His audience probably could care less, but me? I care like crazy. And that’s because Neil not only put down his story-writing pen, he also put down his check-writing pen. I have $236 dollars to my name. If Neil doesn’t come out of hiding, or wherever he is, and pay me my weekly allowance . . . hell, I don’t even want to think about it.

Readers of Neil’s blog, I’m pleading with you to try and find him. His wife Sandy has looked high and low for him and has reported Neil’s absence to the authorities, but so far they’ve come up with nothing.

Me, I think there’s a chance that, in search of inspiration and beneficial aura fields, he’s gone to visit one of his blogging buddies, people who, unlike him, truly fall into the category of writer. And who not only churn out essays with regularity but have penned books. K E Garland, for instance, whose The Unhappy Wife is a strong look at marriage and relationships. And Andrew Ferguson. He wrote The Wrong Box, a romp of a murder mystery filled with sex, laughs and a twisty plot. Neil has told me more than once that he too would like to create a book one of these days. Yeah, right. Believe me, holding your breath waiting for that to happen would be a mistake of the highest order.

Send out the search parties! Spread the word on Twitter and Facebook! Neil is out there somewhere and he needs to return home. His wife will do just fine without him, sure. But not me. My bank account is staring at me with pitiful eyes. He better come back! And pronto. Here’s a photo of Neil. It’s the only one I have. It’s from a recent New Year’s Eve, and maybe will be an aid in finding him. Say what you will about Neil, you’ve got to admire his taste in leis.

Thanks for your help.

(Photo by Max Scheinin)

Time For A Checkup

Soon after I hit the Publish button last week in the very wee hours of Wednesday morning, sending yet another of my numerous music-related narratives into the ethers, I also hit something else. Namely, the sack. Not a grand number of hours later I arose, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, which to tell you the truth isn’t a pretty sight. I mean, I don’t know about you, but my tail hasn’t been looking too good for the last 30 years.

Anyway, an hour later, over breakfast, I began thinking about what I might write for the following week’s article, which is the one you are reading right now. I let my mind wander. And when nothing came of that I focused on a few specific story ideas that I’d been contemplating for a while. But the time seemed not quite right for any of those to flower. Uh-oh, the clock was ticking. If I failed to produce, who knows what ghastly consequences might result?

Dr. Mel Ifluous (in a playful mood)

Beginning to panic a bit, sensing sweat beads making their way onto the palms of my hands, I suddenly realized that a more pressing concern than story writing was attempting to stare me in the face. Somehow I’d forgotten that this blog’s two-year anniversary had arrived. Which meant, of course, that a two-year checkup was highly in order. Dashing to the phone I dialed the number of my internist, Dr. Mel Ifluous. His office manager answered. After I explained the situation to her, stressing its urgency, she squeezed me in for an appointment the following day. Dr. Ifluous is a wonderful physician, perceptive and sharp. I knew I’d be in good hands.

At 11:00 AM Thursday I was ushered into Dr. I’s examining room. A few minutes later he entered. We shook hands.

“Neil, it’s good to see you. How are you feeling?” Dr. Ifluous asked while thumbing through my medical records. “Hmmm, you were here three months ago complaining about sunburnt ear lobes, an inability to look at any and all green vegetables, and pains in your fingers from prying off the caps, using only your digits, of the 20 or so bottles of beer you drink each day. I take it that my prescriptions and suggestions didn’t solve the problems. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here right now.”

“Dr. Ifluous, to the contrary. I’ve followed your advice and, for the first time in decades, I’m feeling fit as a fiddle. My ear lobes, as you can see, are as pale white as the rest of my body. I now eat arugula and its kin and green beans like they’re going out of style. And I’m down to 12 bottles of beer per day, which has made all the difference in the world to my fingers. Doctor, I thank you.”

“This is good news, Neil. Why then, though, are you here?”

“Doctor, I made this appointment not for me, but for my blog. You see, I began the blog almost exactly two years ago, and I’ve written quite a few articles for it during that time. Two years is a long stretch, Doctor. Things can go wrong. Basically, I’m worried about the blog. I’m uncertain about its health. It needs a checkup.”

“I understand, Neil. I understand. What exactly are your concerns? I look at your stories now and then and I have to tell you that they seem alright to me.”

“It’s very nice of you to say that, Dr. Ifluous. But I’m not so sure. What’s bothering me more than anything are the topics I write about and the tone I take. Wouldn’t you say that my stories seem kind of light and fluffy? That too many of them are just plain loopy? And that my impressionistic ruminations about music, art and nature really aren’t making any kind of difference? Doctor, I’ve been thinking that I should move in headier directions and start writing about politics, science, religion, philosophy, not to mention the complexities of human relationships. The blog might be far superior if I did.”

Dr. Ifluous gave his chin a thoughtful rub, adjusted his eyeglasses and then laid my medical records on his desk. Looking deep into my eyes he said, “Neil, I’ve known you for a long time and, to be honest, you’ve never struck me as a PhD sort of guy. What do you know about philosophy, for instance? Tell me a thing or two about Kierkegaard and Sartre.”

“Well, Doctor, they both lived in Europe, right? I’m fairly sure about that. And Sartre, I think, smoked cigarettes by the truckload. Anything more I’d have to take a look at Wikipedia — that’s what it’s there for, you know.”

“Very deep, Neil, very deep. And please expound upon human dynamics.”

“Uh, that’s a complicated area. One thing I’m confident in saying is that life is like a checkout counter . . . you’re usually on line in one way or another.”

“Huh? I have no idea what that means. Neil, sit back and take a deep breath. Good. Now, listen to me. Go home, take two aspirin and don’t call me in the morning. Your blog is healthy. It is what it is meant to be. So, tell me . . . what’s your next story going to be about?”

“Doctor Ifluous, I wish I knew. Once I sit down to write a piece the writing process goes pretty smoothly. But before that, trying to come up with something to write about — that’s the tricky part.”

“Neil, keep on truckin’. That’s all I can say.” With those words of wisdom, Doctor Ifluous got up from his chair and left the room, with me on his heels. A weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

 

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Keeping It Short (A Story About Books)

Man, I don’t how they do it. They being the book bloggers I’ve come across who not only read an incredible number of books — three and up per week — but somehow also find the time, and have the brain power, to write sharp and detailed reviews about them. My little ol’ head spins madly just thinking about those folks’ accomplishments. Even in the days of yore when I read books aplenty I’d never have been able to follow them up quickly with well-plotted, good quality commentaries. Uh-uh. That kind of mental grandeur and endurance I do not possess, and never did. To put it a related way, my thoughts do not exactly flow in structured torrents along my neural pathways to my typing fingers. Hell, I’m lucky if a writing session produces 150 words that fit together in a useable manner. All I can say is that I stand in awe of those book bloggers. To repeat, I don’t know how they do it. (Lynne LeGrow, whose blog is called Fictionophile, is an example of what I’m talking about. Click here to find her blog.)

I bring up all of this partly because this is the first opus I’ve written that touches upon my book-reading activities. As I alluded to moments ago, I used to consume more than my share of books, especially in the 1970s and 80s. Leafing through a list that I’ve been keeping since 1970, I see that I knocked off 45 volumes in 1971, for instance, and 59 in 1983. The latter is my highest-ever yearly total.

Alas, my bookish endeavors came to a grinding halt in February 2015 when I reached the final page of Birds Of America, a collection of cool short stories by Lorrie Moore. That’s when the dark months set in, months marked by so much fretting about my place in the universe and in the kitchen, I became a cowering wreck. Books could wait. Oh well, it might have been worse. Like, if Trump had been elected president. What? You mean he is president? Holy crap! Let me outta here!

But the dark times didn’t last forever. Quite amazingly, quite unexpectedly, a few weeks ago I found myself picking up a book that had been hanging around the house for a pretty long while. I ran through it in five or six days. And one day after finishing it I headed to a local library and took out a work that I almost immediately set upon. Two days later I reached its end. Bravo, Neil, bravo! Back in the book-reading saddle I am, and probably will remain there for a decent spell.

Book number one, The Outermost House, by Henry Beston, was right up my alley. In fact, it is surprising that I hadn’t turned its pages ages ago, as it is set on Cape Cod, a locale I’ve gotten to know and crazily love over the last 20 years. The Outermost House describes the months (autumn 1926 till autumn 1927) that Beston spent living in semi-solitude, housing himself in a two room cabin in the dunes of Cape Cod’s raw and wild Atlantic Ocean coastline. Many times I’ve trod on the very sands and wetlands that grabbed hold of Beston’s heart and spirit.

Beston’s book has become one of the so-called classics, remaining in print since hitting the marketplace in 1928, and apparently still selling pretty nicely. I loved it. Beston writes gracefully and has an eye for subject matter that you don’t frequently cross paths with, such as his lengthy descriptions of the differing types of sounds made by the ocean waves and surf. Next time I’m on The Cape I’m going to have his book in hand as I investigate some of the observations that his keen senses and abstract mind came up with. I won’t be able to check out his cabin, though. A violent storm in 1978 destroyed it.

Now that I think about it, I believe I had the notion in the back of my head for a while to reacquaint myself with books, and that I knew I’d have book-reading success only by taking baby steps. By which I mean I wasn’t about to tackle monsters like Dickens’ David Copperfield or George Eliot’s Middlemarch, both of which ain’t that far from the 1,000 page mark. No, whatever I was to read would have to be short, and The Outermost House fit the bill just fine. Its 218 pages are endowed with a large typeface and spacious margins. Perfect. So, I seized the moment and gave the dark months a hardy wave goodbye.

As with The Outermost House, short also needed to apply to the next book I opened if I were to have any hope of establishing a bit of book-reading momentum. Which is why I bow to the memory of the late Penelope Fitzgerald, whose remarkably slim The Means Of Escape, an okay-but-could-be-better short story collection, became the second title I conquered this month. I tell you, a more ideal specimen for length-phobic and trepidatious book readers would be hard to find. You want short? Hey, The Means Of Escape numbers only 117 pages, and a bunch of them are blanks that separate one story from another. The pages that actually contain printed words total a very genial and genteel 96. My kind of book, for sure!

On the living room sofa I began to gloat about my accomplishments to my wife Sandy as the final pages of The Means Of Escape drew within sight. “Can you believe it?” I said. “I’m about to finish my second book in a nine or ten day period.”

Sandy gave me one of those looks. And then she gave Penelope Fitzgerald’s micro-tome one of those looks. “That’s not a book,” she said. “That doesn’t count as a book.”

Oh yeah? I beg to differ. Was it sitting on a library shelf? You bet it was. Does it have a front and a back cover? Damn straight.

It counts!

 

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Donnie Trump Doesn’t Like Me

Ah, it’s a comfortable day. Inside my house, that is. Outside, the temperature is an ass-nipping 23° F, too frigging cold for my refined tastes, as I begin to type yet another woozy sort of essay. Tight and controlled, not woozy, would be preferable, seeing that my membership status in The American Association Of Pseudo Writers has been on very shaky ground for awhile now, courtesy of Donnie Trump. If TAAOPW boots me out I’ll be required, per the organization’s guidelines, to put my blog in the deep freeze. And then what will I do with all of the time and energy I devote to blogging? Plea over and over with Cheez-Its’ parent company (Kellogg’s) to hire me as national spokesperson for the crispy, orange wonders that are my fave snack food? Go after the world record for consecutive minutes spent compulsively cleaning a clothes dryer’s lint filter (the current record is 368 minutes)? Well, I’d come up with something. No doubt about that. But I’d rather continue blogging.

AP photo/Nam Y. Huh
AP photo/Nam Y. Huh

As I mentioned, Donnie Trump, another orange wonder, is the cause of my current worries. Talk about a thin-skinned guy. I mean, did I say anything all that bad about him in the story I wrote in November (click here to read it)? How’d he even find out about that piece in the first place, considering that mine is one of the least-read publications on our globe? It must have been his private intelligence network that uncovered me. Man, they’re good. After all, it took them only — what? — six years to determine that Obama’s American birth certificate is legit? Impressive. Donnie sure knows how to surround himself with the best of the best.

Donnie’s discovering my November story is one thing. But his going after its virtually unknown author is another. How’d you like your incoming president throwing lightning bolts at you? No more than I do, I guarantee you. Totally predictably he complained about me on Twitter (“Neil Scheinin lies. And when he’s done lying he lies some more. Not fair. Unworthy of an American journalist.”). He forced my alma mater, The University of South Hoboken, to reduce my grade point average by 25 percent retroactively, nearly five decades after my graduation. And, worst of all, he put the heavy shoulder to TAAOPW, ordering them, if they know what’s good for them, to monitor my every blog story meticulously. I haven’t fared too well in that review process, TAAOPW so informed me. Where, then, will my second Trump opus land me?

That question is a heavy one. In hopes of lightening its answers I have decided to reach out to Donnie Trump, whom, as my November article explains, I knew many moons ago on a high school debate team for which he starred and for which I sat in the wings as the fifth alternate. I spoke with Donnie in writing that piece, our first conversation in eons. Bear with me as I look up his phone number and try to reach him again. Dum dum duh dum dum . . .  the phone is ringing. And still ringing. And, yes! I have him on the line.

“This is Donald. Make this fast, whoever you are. The toilet in the master bedroom is leaking. I’m expecting a plumber to get here any minute now.”

“It’s Neil Scheinin, Donnie. The fifth alternate. The guy whose life you’re wrecking. What’s the deal, dude? Where’s your heart, man?”

“What, you again? Don’t you have lawyers? If you’ve got a gripe with me, they should be the ones handling the situation. Not a loser like you.”

“Donnie, I’m here to appeal to your better side, the one you show to Putin. Listen, I can handle your delusional tweet. And I don’t care about my GPA. It was embarrassingly low to begin with. But trying to kick me out of blogging? That’s going too far, man. I dig writing, Donnie, and my blog is where I deposit the written word, where I express myself creatively. Without my blog my life will be an even emptier shell than it already is.”

Photo by Mike Licht/Flickr
Photo by Mike Licht/Flickr

“Fifth alternate, I could care less about your happiness or your sense of fulfillment. You wronged me, fifth alternate. You wronged me. Maybe you forgot that I’m a firm believer in retribution. That’s why Sergio Leone and Quentin Tarantino are my favorite directors. Fifth alternate, one of my administration’s goals is to take down your blog within the first 100 days that I’m in office. Without a doubt I can do it. Those nitwits who run The Pseudo Writers Association, or whatever they call it, are playing ball. Once the plumber fixes the toilet and leaves I’m going to get in touch with them again and hammer the nail home. Loser, your blog is history. What’s that rat-a-tat-a-tatting that I hear in the background, by the way?”

“That’s my fingers typing away, Donnie. I’m transcribing this conversation as we speak. Anything else you’d like to add?”

“Shove it, you piece of  sh . . . ”

Readers, before he could finish that thought I hung up on our president-elect. For the second time in recent months I might add. My fingers continue to type. This story, I’d say, is now complete. In seconds I will hit the Publish button. After you have read the article, I ask you to petition TAAOPW on my behalf. In the end your efforts might outweigh Donnie’s influence, allowing this humble, woozy blog to continue its run. It’s never too late to try and stop Trump. Thank you very much.

I Was There For Santa Claus When He Needed My Help

“Yo! I mean, ho! As in ho-ho-ho. Can’t you see that I’m stuck, you idiot? Give a guy a hand.”

santa_claus_png9972Indeed he was, he being Santa Claus. The one and only. To say I was surprised to find the jolly gent dangling head-downward from within my living room fireplace would have been the understatement of 2016 were it not for Donald Trump. Needless to say, the understatement of 2016 is that Trump is way bad news. Hell, he’s way bad news times fifty! But, I digress.

It was 9:00 PM on the eve of Christmas Eve when the rotund one unexpectedly appeared. I was sitting on the sofa, ruminating about this and that, as usual arriving at no satisfactory conclusions. Also as usual, the sofa cushions were profusely dotted with Cheez-It cracker crumbs. I already had put away 500 or more Its and, prior to Mr. Claus’ arrival, had no plans to stop the ingestion process.

“Santa, is this a joke? What are you doing here? Your delivery rounds don’t start for another 24 hours. And you’re in the wrong household, anyway. I mean, me and my wife are Jewish!”

I put aside the Its, reluctantly, and walked to the fireplace where, with only a bit of exertion, I helped Santa out of his predicament. Standing upright, he brushed himself off.

“Yo, brother. I know that you and your wife are Jews. And I also know your name. Neil, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He extended his pudgy right hand, which I clasped warmly, and smiled at me in the friendliest of manners. Santa gave off such good vibes. I liked him a lot. Immediately.

“Santa, likewise, I’m sure. Are you hungry? Can I get you something to eat? To drink?”

“A toasted sesame seed bagel with a schmear would be nice,” Santa said. “And some schnapps to wash it all down would be outstanding. You don’t happen to have those around, do you?”

“Santa, this is more than your lucky day. My household overflows with bagels. And with schnapps in its many varieties. Come on, sit down at the dining room table and I’ll fix you up.” I assembled the simple meal and watched Santa happily eat and drink.

“Ah, this is delicious,” Santa said, alternating between bites and sips. Then, when his plate and glass were empty he got down to business. “I’ve had my eyes on you for awhile, Neil, and I’m certain I made the correct choice in visiting you. You see, I like Jews very much. Just like me, they know about good food and drink, and they rock the color red. Well, maybe I’m wrong about the second half of that statement. Anyway, speaking selfishly, what’s very important to me is that they boost my spirits. And once a year, believe me, I need that boost. You think it’s easy bringing toys to billions of children each year? Sure, if you only had to do it once or twice it wouldn’t be hard.  But year after year after year? Come on . . . talk about job burnout.”

“Many years ago I was schmoozing with a Jewish friend of mine, Morty Finkelstein, about this very problem,” Santa continued. “Morty listened carefully and let me pour my heart out. Then he proved himself to be a real mensch, saying all the right things to sooth my malaise. Since then, each year I seek out a Jew to help get me back on track. You were recommended to me a few months ago by the League Of Jewish Bloggers. That’s when I started reading your blog stories. I have to tell you that they give off the weird and optimistic sorts off auras that I’m partial to. Which is why I’m confident that you’re the person I need. Neil, tomorrow is my big day. I’m feeling down and tired, and I’m asking you to turn me around. I know you can do it.”

Holy man-o-Manischewitz. Was this really happening? Was I dreaming? I pinched myself on the right forearm real hard. Yikes, that hurt like crazy! No doubt, Santa truly was in the house. “Sir, I’m at your service,” I said. “And I think I know just what to do.” I motioned to Santa to rise.

“C’mon, guy. Follow me. I’m going to give you a powerful dose of lights. Christmas lights. Beautiful ones are all over this neighborhood, and some of the best are only two blocks away from here. I’m bummed out a little, too, right now. So, let’s take a walk, Santa. The lights will do both of us a lot of good.” I grabbed Santa by the arm and off we went. Thirty seconds later we hit pay dirt.

“Look at that house, Santa. Great, no? What artwork!”

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“And look at over there!” I yelled in his ear. “I ask you, who needs lavish, over-the-top Christmas light displays? Modest lights on cute, small houses often are where it’s at.”

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I could tell that Santa was impressed, even though for a while he didn’t say anything. But then he did. “You know, Neil, when I’m flying over houses all over the world on Christmas Eve and early Christmas morning, I never get a true head-on view of the decorations. I haven’t seen Christmas lights from this perspective in ages. I’d forgotten how sweet and heartwarming they can be. Why, that house right there is magnificent.” He pointed across the street.

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“And here’s another lovely one,” he said, as we continued a short distance down the block.

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I certainly couldn’t disagree. My suburban region, not known for its esthetic charms, becomes grand this time of year. And only at night.

I felt a powerful pinch on my right forearm, directly on the spot where I’d pinched myself only 10 minutes earlier. As if I required proof a second time that Santa was real. “Ouch, Santa! What’s the deal, dude?”

“Sorry, mate. But let’s turn back. I’m all energized once again, so I got to go. Mrs. Claus will start worrying if I don’t get back to the North Pole soon. It’s a miracle that nobody spotted me on the street, or I’d be here signing autographs till who knows when. I’ll need to borrow your cell phone, by the way. I’ll return it tomorrow night when I’m back this way. Mine broke into pieces when I was sliding down your frigging chimney. Once I’m in the air heading home tonight the missus will expect me to call her every half hour. She might want me to stop to pick up a quart of milk somewhere. Or maybe some Slim Jims,. My old lady, you never know what she’ll want.”

Santa embraced me in a thank-you hug. Minutes later I watched him nimbly scale the front of my house, its low side, and climb into his sleigh which, complete with reindeer and unnoticed by me, had been sitting atop the roof. “Bye, Santa,” I shouted. “Till next time. And keep those calls to the Pole short. International phone rates are a bitch.”

 

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My 100th Post: Donald Trump And Joyce Carol Oates Chime In

1001I was giddy with joy last week when I began designing the story that is now before your eyes. Why wouldn’t I have been? Incredibly to me, it is the 100th opus that I’ve published on this blog, though its finalized shape differs substantially from my original conception. Despite that, I am of the opinion that 100 stories is a true milestone for someone whose life has been light on milestones. Very light. The last time I did anything noteworthy was decades ago, in 1985, the year in which I set the Guinness World Record for the most Cheez-It crackers consumed in one sitting. The 8,271 Its that tumbled down my gullet on June 17 of that year remain a number yet to be topped. You can look it up.

One hundred stories. Wow, indeed, considering that when I started this blog 20 months ago I was uncertain as to its future. I began strongly, banging out articles every four or five days. And even though my pace soon slowed slightly, I held the old nose to the old grindstone and efficiently kept the stories rolling off the assembly line. So, I feel comfortable in saying that my blog isn’t going away anytime soon. Hey, I’ve discovered that I like to write. Who’d have thunk it? At last, something to hold on to!

Still, by nature less than wonderfully confident, I was in need last week of some reinforcement, some pats on the back that would keep my elevated mood elevated and provide uplifting quotes to incorporate into story #100. With that in mind, a few days ago I picked up the phone and made a series of calls to a variety of intermediaries, eventually directly reaching the persons I wanted to chat with. Persons whose votes of confidence I was hoping to win. Things didn’t end up the way I had envisioned, but WTF. I tried. And I did snare conversations with two individuals from my past whose thoughts, I’d venture to say, haven’t been included in the same story ever before. Namely, Donald Trump, “Donnie” to me, and the brilliant and incomprehensibly prolific novelist, essayist and memoirist Joyce Carol Oates.

Donnie Trump was the first of the two I was able to get on the line.

“Who’s this?” he said after I offered my greeting. “Hurry up, whoever you are. I’m busy. It’s not as easy as you’d think to unravel and unnerve a country.”

“Donnie, it’s Neil Scheinin. Remember me? We were not quite friends but were more than acquaintances during the one year we spent together at Mister Gruel’s High School For Future Winners. You were 15 and I was 14. We were on the debate team together. You were its star, natch. I was the fifth alternate. Remember?”

There was a pause. Then he spoke. “Neil, I have a vague memory of you. You’re the guy, I think, who couldn’t string two sentences together coherently. Am I right?”

“Yeah, Donnie. As always, you’re right. Here’s why I’m calling. You weren’t very nice to me all those years ago, mocking me, belittling my meager talents. That’s why I wanted to let you know that these many moons later I’ve gained success. I’ve become a blogger, a writer if you will, and I take the job seriously. I’m about to publish my 100th story soon, which to me is a momentous event, and I’d like the piece to include your comments about my achievement.”

“So you’re a writer, are you, Neil? I don’t like writers. They tend to be thinkers, and I don’t like thinkers either. What I like are doers, men who bulldoze their way through life. Men who bulldoze their way through nature, for that matter. Look at me. I’m a bulldozer, and everyone admires me. I’m so popular it’s ridiculous.”

All of a sudden I felt something weird starting to happen inside my mouth. My tongue, normally held well in place, was itching to flap wildly. I couldn’t control it. I’d come seeking a few words of support from the USA’s next leader, selfishly hoping to boost my blog’s readership as a result. But what I said next was guaranteed not to elicit kind responses.

I think he'd look better as a brunette. (Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
I think he’d look better as a brunette. (Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

“Donnie,” I said, “I guess you heard that Hillary is more popular than you, didn’t you? She won the popular vote, n’est pas? By a lot. You know, two months ago you were proclaiming that the election process was rigged in her favor. Seems like just the opposite was true. I mean, if it wasn’t for our demented Electoral College system you’d be spending your time right now deciding whether or not to change the color of your hair. Instead, you’re doing your best, like you have for months, to energize the haters who keep crawling out of the woodwork because of you.”

Donnie didn’t enjoy that. “Listen up, fifth alternate. You’re a loser. Did you hear me? I said loser. Me, I’m a winner.” He stopped talking. Someone was calling to him. “Stay right where you are, loser,” Donnie said a moment later. “I’ll be right back — ‘What’d you say, Rudy? That it’ll be a snap to obstruct poor peoples’ right to vote? And a snap to cancel environmental protection regulations? Keep it coming, Rudy. You’re the man!'”

Holy crap. The phone call wasn’t going well. It was bringing me down, not up. I decided to hang up on a future president. Which is what I did.

If kudos for my solid achievement weren’t to be found with Donnie, I was certain that they would be with Professor Oates, who for many years has taught at Princeton University, merely an hour’s drive from my suburban Philadelphia home. Three hours of trying to reach her via phone calls to university staff the other day finally paid off.

My phone rang. “Hello, this is Joyce Carol Oates. What may I do for you?”

“Professor, this is Neil Scheinin. Possibly you recall me from the marvelous class you taught six years ago, Faulkner, Bellow And Fitzgerald: As Novelists, Were They Really Any Good? I always sat in the first row in the seat nearest the exit, a bag of popcorn on my lap.”

“Ah yes, Mr. Scheinin. How could I forget? You are the gentleman who audited the course and managed never to add a perceptive or entertaining comment to the classroom discussions. What, sir, are you calling about?”

“Professor, as unexpected as this might be to you, believe it or not I have taken to writing like a duck to . . . well, maybe not to water, but to something. You see, last year I started blogging, and since then I’ve written up a storm. Right now I’m excited to be working on my 100th story. One hundred, Professor! A number that amazes me. Have you any comments about this?”

Joyce Carol Oates. (Photo: Thos Robinson/Getty Images)
Joyce Carol Oates. (Photo: Thos Robinson/Getty Images)

I almost could hear Professor Oates’ mind revving. It didn’t take long for her to respond. “Neil,” she said, “what you have done amounts to little. You say you’re about to complete your 100th story? And it took you months and months to do this? Why, I could write that many in a week. Possibly in four days if need be. But forget about stories . . . Do you have any idea how many books I’ve written, most of them long and detailed books? Over a hundred, Neil. Over a hundred. Call me back whenever your blog expands in size fiftyfold. Maybe then we’ll be able to have a satisfying and meaningful discussion.”

Well, here I am then with little more to say. I thought that this story might have had a chance to go viral had Donnie and Professor been more congenial interviewees. But such is life. Thanks for reading number 100. It’ll take some time for me to bounce back to my normal self, but I assure you that when that happens I’ll get to work on 101.

 

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The No Bell Prize

Before I threw this blog into gear, in April of last year, I’d hardly ever looked at any of the who knows how many millions of blogs that flap their wings in cyberspace. Since then, though, I’ve become a blog addict and have clicked on the pages of at least a thousand. Most I’ve never revisited, for reasons only my valet Jeeves is privy to. But there are over 100 whose words and images I imbibe anywhere from occasionally to frequently. And that’s because they are good. Real good in numerous cases. If anyone had told me in April 2015 that Planet Earth houses many times more strong thinkers and boffo writers and discerning photographers than I ever imagined, I’d have responded “yeah right, and I’m going to win the Nobel Prize in Literature before this decade is out.” Well, all I can say is that I now am totally impressed, and intimidated, by the oceans of citizens who can turn a sweet phrase and/or snap a fine photo. And despite the obvious fact that a Nobel isn’t part of my future, I’m here to announce somewhat reluctantly that a No Bell is. More about that later.

Intimidated. Yes, that word surely applies to me. Trying to keep pace with the many who, anywhere from twice a week to daily, knock out good stories for their blogs intimidates me. I mean, it’s all I can do to compose a ditty once a week. Twice a week or more often than that? Ain’t about to happen anytime soon. I’m more likely to pack my bags for the Himalayas and scale Mount Everest or K2.

Inspiration that leads somewhere is what it boils down to, and some writers have it up the wazoo. Me, uh uh. Take one day last week, for example. I hit my blog’s “Publish” button early that morning, lofting my latest masterwork, Ponds, into the ethers. Hours later I was sweating up a storm, racking my brains for a topic I could wrap my head around and turn into another addition to the publication whose sentences you presently are glued to. The pressure was on. If something didn’t emerge pretty soon I’d be in sharp danger of being empty-handed when, the following week, the “Publish” button coolly beckoned me to depress it confidently. Becoming more desperate by the minute I yelled to myself “come here, topic, come here. Be a good boy and come here.”

And who’d have guessed it? Next thing I knew a few ideas began to dribble in. Starting to feel better I grabbed a pen and a pad and scribbled some notes.

img_1254Cape Cod were the first words I jotted down. Sure, how about another opus about The Cape? My previous two fell into that category, so why not make it a threepeat? On the other hand, I quickly decided, fuhgeddaboudit. I needed to point my blog in a direction away from The Cape, if only temporarily, before my meager readership abandoned ship entirely. “Cape Cod, my love,” I said to myself, “I’ll come back to you. Sooner rather than later. Wait for me, my dearest. Please wait.”

monkey-scratching-headIf not Cape Cod, what then? A few more words transferred from my brain cells to paper: Movies That Made Me Scratch My Head. Not a bad idea, I thought, as I’d seen two action flicks in October that I enjoyed but whose plots, par for the course for me, I couldn’t keep up with. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, a Tom Cruise-led endeavor, and Ben Affleck’s The Accountant were the films in question. Sitting back on my living room sofa I tried to bring Reacher and Accountant to life in my mind, but had only middling success. I could barely recall the plot twists that a few weeks earlier I’d been scratching my head about. Like much of my life, they’d faded into wispy memories. What, you expect a body to take notes when he goes to the movies in the event he might want to comment pointedly on them for his blog? I’ll take it under consideration.

You get the picture. I played around with a couple of other ideas and ended up tossing them aside too. And so, here I am with an essay about not much of anything. And the “Publish” button is staring me in the face. What’s a boy to do? That button is a demanding and inscrutable entity, one best not to ignore. It’s anyone’s guess what ghastly forces might be unleashed if I do.

In conclusion, I return to the aforementioned No Bell Prize. Here’s the situation: I have it on good  authority that next week I will be invited to Stockholm, Sweden, where, should I accept the invitation, I would be presented in December with a document inscribed as follows: We at The No Bell Institute Of Blogging Mediocrity hereby state that Neil Scheinin’s blog post from November 10, 2016 is not ring-a-ding-ding. It is unworthy of any number of bells, not five, not even one. No bells being more like it, we are issuing this certificate to Mr. Scheinin.

Ouch!

Oy vey!!

Onward and Upward!!!

 

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I Won An Award! (Sort Of)

Folks, this is a post I never anticipated writing. It has nothing to do with what my blog’s about, whatever that might be. And at first I wasn’t going to write these words at all, but then I took a look at the smiling face of blogger April Greene and was charmed into proceeding.

liebsterYou see, a number of years ago someone out there in the blogging community came up with the idea that bloggers would do well to recognize and encourage and promote their peers. Can’t argue with that. And that same someone decided that a good way for this to happen would be for newish bloggers to bestow an award upon other newish bloggers. And that same someone, as far as I know, also named the award. The Liebster Award, that’s what it’s called. Why Liebster?  Who knows? The award’s origins are about as clear as the waters of the Ganges River. In other words, not. Whatever, Liebster Awards have been granted to oodles of bloggers over the years. And April Greene, an excellent writer whose blog and smiling face may be viewed by clicking right here, has nominated me for (meaning, she has awarded me) a Liebster. Thanks, April, for thinking of me.

Wouldn’t you know it, though? This whole Liebster thing is a form of a chain letter, so it’s kind of a pain. More than kind of, actually. Yet, at this point I’m pretty happily playing along because, as April Greene mentioned on her website, Liebster Awards are all about spreading the love. OK, I’m ready! Let’s go!

As part of the chain I am expected to nominate other bloggers for the Liebster. I shall do so, but I totally understand if my nominees decide to bag it and break the chain, which is what my initial reaction was. In any case, let me mention that I look periodically at many relatively new blogs, of which loads are worthy of recognition. I wrote the names of those worthies on pieces of paper, placed the pieces in a big bowl and randomly pulled out three. They are my nominees. There are plenty of real good articles to read in those three blogs, as you will discover by clicking on the following links:

Runaway American Dream          Speaking Of Life         Bookmark

Naturally, the Liebster Awards come with various rules that seem to have evolved over the years without firm consensus as to what are the rules. For the sake of making things somewhat easier and less time-consuming, I’m going to modify the rules once again by reducing the number of hoops a Liebster nominee need jump through.

Most versions of Liebster’s regulations ask nominees to answer 11 questions posed to them by their nominators, and to nominate 11 bloggers for the Liebster. To that I say: “Huh? Who’s got all day to do this stuff?” And thusly if any or all of my nominees decide to accept the Liebster from me, and by so doing decide to keep the ol’ chain in motion, they need answer only three questions. And I suggest that they propel the Liebster mechanism by nominating no more than three bloggers.

And now for a Q & A session. Complying with her duties as a Liebster nominator, April Greene asked 11 questions of me, per the instructions she received from her nominator. Here are her Qs with my As attached:

  1. What’s the coolest award you’ve ever gotten? (You can say the Liebster Award if you want.) —  Hey, I’ve been awardless till now, so Liebster it is.
  2. When did you last ride a public bus? — I only take limos.
  3. Have you ever slipped when getting out of the shower and felt older than you actually are? — No comment.
  4. Which of your childhood friends are you saddest to have lost touch with, and what do you think they’re doing now? — My teddy bear. He’s exploring Antarctica these days.
  5. Honestly: Do you really consider it the three-second rule? Have you ever extended it to more seconds? If so, how many? — Thousands upon thousands.
  6. Why do you think all those houseplants have died under your care? — How did you know?
  7. Please describe the time you sung most humiliatingly in public. — It would take too long.
  8. Best popcorn topping. Go. — I like the classics (ketchup and mustard).
  9. Would you rather dream of a spider infestation or a snake infestation? Why? — Yuck!
  10. What is your least favorite color? Explain. — Only my psychiatrist is privy to this.
  11. Should 7-Eleven have discontinued their Sour Patch Watermelon Slurpee flavor? Why or why not? — No. The masses will revolt.

Moving right along, I now am obliged to ask questions of my nominees. I’m not feeling smart-alecky anymore, so the questions will be legit.

  1. What television series, if any, are you currently watching?
  2. What are your favorite fruits?
  3. What are your hobbies?

Finally, as guidelines for my nominees I’m supposed to list the Liebster Award’s general rules and regs. Here goes:

Once you accept a nomination, you are asked to complete the following steps:
– Create a post in your blog displaying the Liebster Award logo
– In that post, thank and link to the blogger who nominated you
– In that post, answer the questions assigned by the blogger who nominated you
– In that post, nominate new favorite bloggers for the Liebster Award
– In that post, come up with a list of questions for your nominees
– In that post, provide rules/instructions for your nominees in re accepting the award
– Notify the nominees
– Post your Liebster blog post link in the comments of your nominator’s Liebster post

If anyone out there has read all of this, my condolences.

Normal programming will resume with my next article.