Short Books And Lots of TV: That’s Entertainment!

Well, good ol’ 2021, part of the ongoing COVID era, found me doing this, that and the other thing to fill up the 17.5 hours during which I’m more or less conscious each day. None of those hours were spent at a workplace outside my home, because COVID deep-sixed the volunteer jobs that I had engaged in happily for years. I’m still working, however, because I spend a fair amount of time writing pieces for the shaky, suspect publication titled Yeah, Another Blogger. Yo, you take your part-time jobs where you can find them!

Writing aside, I’m left with shitloads of hours on my hands each week. Many of them are spent on my living room sofa, where I’ve mastered the art of staring into space as I twist the six strands of hair remaining on the crown of my head into fascinating shapes. Then I untwist them and start all over again.

Fortunately, I engage in a variety of more fruitful activities too. If I didn’t, my wife Sandy would have had me committed long ago.

For instance, I read books. Not an extraordinary number — hell, I know of some fellow WordPress denizens who tear through three or more books per week — but enough to keep my mind percolating a bit.

I’m picky, though. Any book that I contemplate tackling must be short, as in no more than 260 pages. And fewer than 200 as often as possible. I began taking this approach because my attention span and stamina, when it came to book-reading, began to fall off the table in 2015. I found my way to the ends of a mere two books that year. 2016 proved to be even worse, as I recorded a big fat goose egg.

Ergo, to kickstart my dormant love of books I devised the short-book strategy in 2017. And it has worked. Last year, for instance, I polished off 17 books, fewer than in my glory days of book-reading, but a number I feel good about.

All are members of the fiction category, including two mysteries (Sleeping Murder; And Then There Were None) by Agatha Christie that are as breezy and enjoyable as they can be. My list of conquests also includes Cathedral, a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver. Carver’s world is populated by people who have never figured out, or been encouraged to figure out, how to lead productive, happy lives. Matter-of-factly, but not depressingly, he lays out their plights in language that grabs hold of you from the opening paragraphs.

As it turns out, though, the first book I read in 2021 was the one I thought was the best: Flight, by Sherman Alexie (I expounded upon it here). It’s the tale, as vivid as daylight on a cloudless afternoon, of a 21st century Native American teen trying to come to terms with himself and with the country — the USA — that conquered and subjugated his peoples.

Yes, books entertained me mightily in the year that just entered our rearview mirrors.  The jollies that I got from them, though, paled in comparison to those provided by the magical medium known as television. Yeah, I spent quite a few hours in front of the home screen last year, continuing the practice I’d adopted at the start of the pandemic. Sandy used to watch the tube alone in the evening. But lack of outside-the-house entertainment options caused me to join her when coronavirus reared its f*cking head. We quickly developed into an adorable TV-viewing couple, settling in for an hour or two of laughs, gasps and whatever, five or six nights each week.

During 2021, Sandy and I watched around 20 movies on the tube and many more series than that. Almost every one was on commercial-free platforms and networks, mainly Netflix and HBO, both of which have become two of my closest friends. I’ve turned into a series addict, limited series particularly. Some of the limited ones that I especially liked last year are The Chestnut Man and Giri/Haji (tense crime dramas), Chernobyl (a dramatization of the nuclear disaster), and Maid (where relationships go very bad and where pure love is on display).

In closing, I give a hearty tip of the hat to Godless, a Western that, as is common to its genre, portrays a battle between decency and wickedness. This limited series is set in late-1800s Colorado. Jeff Daniels (Is there a better actor anywhere?) stars as Frank Griffin, an eerie bad guy who bosses around his band of associate baddies and takes his amputated left arm with him, like a good luck charm, everywhere he goes. (A bad wound necessitated the amputation.) In the end, does good triumph over evil? You’ll have to tune in to find out, because I ain’t one for dropping spoilers.

Thanks for reading, boys and girls. What activities/books/TV/music/etc. rang your bell in 2021? Feel free to comment.

Happy New Year!

Cape Cod 2021 Turned Out Just Fine

I’ve mentioned before on these pages that Cape Cod, a 65-mile-long chunk of sandy land bordered on three sides by magnificent open waters, is a locale in which I truly love to place my aged, scrawny ass. My wife Sandy and I fell for the Cape, which is in the southeastern part of Massachusetts, USA, during our first vacation there. That was in 1998. Since then, to both of our amazements, we’ve returned nearly every year, usually in autumn. Who’d have thought that there would be a somewhere we’d want to visit again and again? Not us!

Cape Cod satisfies us in many ways. For example, we spend plenty of time outdoors, walking on sands, in forests and beside marshes, and gazing at the endless seas. We go to museums, art galleries, movie theaters and restaurants. We play mini golf, fly our roughed-up but seemingly indestructible kite at one beach or another, and wander around villages that range from stately to countrified to funky. Yeah, Cape Cod is cool, a combination of ingredients and opportunities that both soothes and invigorates.

Atlantic Ocean and Coast Guard Beach. (Eastham, Cape Cod)
Marshes at an ocean inlet. (Orleans, Cape Cod)

Last year was one of the two or three, since 1998, in which Sandy and I didn’t meet up with Cape Cod. There was little point in going there during a time when our artsy and gastronomic options would have been severely limited by coronavirus.

Autumn 2021 seemed worth taking a chance on, though. For one thing, and it’s an important thing, we’re vaccinated against COVID. Also, life in general is far less restricted than it was 12 months ago. Thus, in early October we crammed a shitload of clothes and other stuff into our car, and drove from our home in Philadelphia’s suburbs to Cape Cod. We unloaded the shitload in the house we’ve rented many times before, in the town of Orleans.

Provincetown dunes. (Provincetown, Cape Cod)
Provincetown village. (Provincetown, Cape Cod)

Thankfully, the vacation, two and a half weeks in length, turned out A-OK. Sure, due to staff shortages and other virus-related reasons, a good number of art galleries, cinemas, restaurants, you name it, had reduced their hours and days of operation. But we worked around all of that as best we could, planning our activities with care. We didn’t have to worry about the sands, forests, marshes and waters, of course, because they hadn’t altered their ways of doing business. I’d have sued the f*ckers if they had!

Little Cifff Pond, nestled in a forest. (Brewster, Cape Cod)

So, in the end we were almost as busy as we were in past years. We didn’t feel shortchanged at all.

Now, I could go on and on about where we went, what we did. But I’m going to leave most of that for another day. I do, however, want to write about an activity that I didn’t mention above, one that as far as I can remember wasn’t in my repertoire prior to Cape Cod entering my life. I’m referring to sunset-viewing. Man, I suppose that Sandy and I have watched our pal the Sun drop below the horizon something like 40 times during our Cape sojourns. We’re fans.

Sunset at Cape Cod Bay. Many of the sunset-viewers are elsewhere on the sands. (Skaket Beach, Orleans, Cape Cod)

Our fondness for sunsets led us one evening this month to Skaket Beach, a smallish stretch of sand on Cape Cod Bay. Although it’s in Orleans, our home base, we hadn’t been to Skaket in years. Pulling into the parking lot, I  couldn’t believe my eyes. There were a lot of cars there. Several dozen. And strung along the beach were 75, maybe 100 individuals, more by far than I’d ever seen gathered to witness a sunset. Most of the attendees were seated on the sands upon folding chairs that they’d brought with them. Folding-chairless, Sandy and I grabbed seats on a bench a few feet behind the beach and admired the lovely skies. It was almost 6 PM, and the Sun was only minutes away from saying bye bye.

Well, as soon as the sun disappeared a good round of applause filled the air. Not only that, quite a few folks immediately left the premises. Huh? What the hell was their rush? The curtain hadn’t fallen. I mean, sunsets are generous. They linger and linger, gradually changing their patterns and color intensities. Sandy and I stuck around for another 20 minutes, oohing and ahhing and shooting the breeze. Maybe we should have stayed even longer, but darkness was descending and dinner beckoned. Back to the emptying parking lot we went, soon making our way to a nearby restaurant. We’d just seen the best show in town.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Mucho gracias. All of the photos are from October 2021)

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.)

Words From A Philly Fan

I’m proud and relieved to say that I am fully vaccinated against coronavirus, the microscopic beast that, for us humans, likes nothing better than to cause pain and death and to make an unholy mess of things. And though there are plenty of unknowns about what the future holds, for the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, I’m proceeding on the assumption that the two doses of Moderna I received have done their job. In other words, protected me from developing COVID.

That’s why, earlier this month and for the first time since the pandemic began, I packaged together activities that used to be semi-regular parts of my repertoire. Namely, I hopped aboard a train, a means of transport that I deemed too risky to use pre-vaccination, and rode it for an hour from my suburban town to a station in the heart of Philadelphia, the city I know better than any other. Then, upon arrival, I took a substantial walk through The City Of Brotherly Love’s streets.

(Yeah, I could have driven into Philly at pretty much any time during the past year, but said drive is a major pain, as is finding somewhere to park in the sections I like to walk around in.)

Vivid sunlight greeted me as I exited the train station at 10th and Filbert Streets. With no game plan, no specific destinations in mind, I looked this way and that, shrugged, and let my legs and feet take me where they would. Three and a quarter hours later — a chunk of time that passed almost in a flash — I had walked upon a fair number of central Philadelphia’s blocks, covering about four and a half miles in all.

Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood

The area that I traversed on the Friday in question forms a large rectangle and includes a host of neighborhoods. Among them are Chinatown, Old City, Society Hill, South Street and Center City West. Old City and Society Hill, by the way, encompass much of what was within the city’s boundaries during its emergence as a major player in the 1700s. Reacquainting myself with these and other Philadelphia neighborhoods felt damn good, though my absence didn’t seem as long as it actually had been. What surprised me more than anything was that, despite all the walking I’ve done in central Philadelphia over the years, I probably never had been on some of the blocks that passed beneath my feet. For instance, had I ever before walked past or seen the enormous mural that proclaims WORK UNITES US on a building that is close to both Chinatown and Old City? I think not.

Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood
Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood

Well, the conditions were as fine as any I might have dialed up. The skies were a sweet blue, the temperature mild, and a healthy number of young ladies strolling around looked superb. Within the eastern half of the rectangle that I visited, the sidewalks were not particularly crowded. Its Old City and Society Hill areas normally teem with tourists, but not now, needless to say. Add to that the fact that mucho workers who used to be on the streets during their lunch hours are now working from home, another consequence of the virus. I saw quite a few more people, however, within the rectangle’s western half, mainly because of cafes and restaurants whose outdoor tables, in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, were packed. But not as many as I would have a year and a half ago.

Philadelphia’s South Street neighborhood
Philadelphia’s Center City West neighborhood

All in all, COVID has put Philly, and just about all American cities, I suppose, in a hell of a hole. For one thing, Philadelphia never will return to its former self should working-from-home remain a significant way of doing business. I mean, can you imagine the ripple effects that will occur if the city’s office buildings, whether modest or skyscraping, become half vacant, or worse, permanently? Man, I’m very worried about this.

Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood
Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square park

However, all is not lost. The city has much going for it. Deep history. Parks galore. Handsome buildings several centuries old. Modern skyscrapers tantalizingly sleek. I saw examples of all of that during my walk. What’s more, during the last 25 or 30 years Philadelphia’s restaurant scene became world-class and its cultural offerings exploded in number. Restaurants, in general, have hung in there fairly well during the pandemic, though there have been casualties of course. And culture is slowly returning as pandemic restrictions are being relaxed more and more.

No doubt about it, I’ll head back to Philadelphia a bunch of times pretty soon. To trek again. To dine. To take in movies and rock and jazz concerts. I dig the city a whole lot, as if you couldn’t tell. If I didn’t, I’d have moved to another region long ago.

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

Looking Back And Looking Ahead

Well, the Covid pandemic demonically dominated the year 2020. And so far it’s doing a number on 2021. But vaccines have arrived and are being administered at an escalating pace, so there’s absolutely no doubt that the pandemic will end in the foreseeable future and that, as a result, happy days will be here again. That’s the opinion, anyway, of Anthony Fauci, a top doc and the face of the USA’s fight against coronavirus. My wife Sandy and I heard him say so earlier this month on a late night talk show. Man, he better be right.

When the f*cking virus gripped the States last March, I was scared shitless. As were zillions of my fellow citizens. Initially, I went to places frequented by others (I’m mainly referring to supermarkets) only once a week, wrapping up my business as quickly as possible to try and avoid becoming infected. But two or three months later, as my health remained stabile and my worst personal fears didn’t materialize, I began to gain courage. Since then I’ve been out and about for a fair number of hours each week. Cautious yet unafraid I keep my distance from others, wear a mask when inside stores, and use hand sanitizer liberally, Still, those precautions don’t guarantee protection from an invisible enemy. The vaccines do though, apparently. Needless to say, Sandy and I can’t wait to get jabbed a second time (we each got our first dose of Moderna on March 19).

My life has been diminished by the pandemic, but not incredibly so. Who am I to complain about anything anyway, considering that the virus has ended more than two million lives and significantly disrupted countless more? I’m an old guy on a pension, so I don’t have to deal with anywhere near the number of demanding familial and economic situations that are typical for many folks.

Yeah, I miss the part-time volunteer jobs that gave me heavy doses of satisfaction. By necessity, they were put on hiatus when the virus hit. And I miss the very decent social life that I had. But it hasn’t entirely disappeared, because I have met up with friends now and then, most notably in October. That’s when Sandy and I vacationed for a few days with two pals in Cape May, New Jersey. Social distancing went out the window among the four of us during that time. Very thankfully, we all remained virus-free. And those several days of normalcy have gone a long way in helping to keep my spirits up. 

And though I miss seeing my brother, sister-in-law and other relatives, most of whom live too far away to make getting together possible right now, I’m in regular contact with them. And it’s been tough not being able to go to movies and concerts — two of my favorite activities —  but TV-watching has kept me nicely entertained.

Overall, I’m in a fortunate place.

However . . . there’s no doubt whatsoever that I’m itching madly to reinstate the lifestyle that I’m accustomed to. A big part of which involves casually exploring places near and far, something that I’m wired to do. The good ol” pandemic has limited that dramatically.

When it comes to near, in normal times I often investigate on foot various sections of Philadelphia, a fascinating city a relative handful of miles from my town. But doing so, at least my way of doing so, requires the use of public transportation to get to the areas where I want to be. And I’ve felt that it’s just too risky, virus-wise, to situate my aged ass inside trains or buses. Yeah, soon after I get jabbed a second time it will be Philadelphia, here I come! 

In regard to far, heading to New Mexico with Sandy, to visit my brother and sister-in-law, is high on my list. Not only because we are close with them but also because they dig exploration as much or more than I do. Ditto for meeting up in Europe with Sandy’s and my friends who live in Gay Paree. We’ve had fabulous times with that couple in their city and also in Amsterdam and Edinburgh.

It’s almost closing time for this essay. I shall not depart, however, without expending some wordage on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which isn’t anywhere near my home but isn’t terribly far away either. I’ve written about the Cape maybe too many times before. But I can’t help myself. The reasons? Cape Cod fills me with wonder and delight. I feel totally at home there. At peace. Sandy would say the same about her Cape relationship.

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A small section of the enormous dunes in Provincetown, Cape Cod (October 2019)

On Cape Cod I’m almost as free as a bird. And nowhere more so than on its Atlantic Ocean coastline, a stunning expanse of water, beach, dunes and sand cliffs that never ceases to floor me. I’m anxious to stare once again at the ocean, and to do my old-guy scampering thing among the humungous dunes that dominate a long section of Cape Cod’s farthest reaches. The pandemic nixed the Cape vacation that Sandy and I would have had last October. But I’m taking Dr. Fauci at his word. In other words, I expect to be on Cape Cod with Sandy this coming autumn. Being there is going to bring me to tears.   

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Atlantic Ocean coastline (Eastham, Cape Cod, October 2019)

(How has the pandemic affected you and yours? Are you hopeful for the future? Please don’t be shy about adding your comments about those or any related topics. Thanks.)