A Tuneful Time At The Mall (A Pandemic-Era Story)

Although I’m not much of a shopper, in at least a few respects I’m lucky to live near Willow Grove Park, a huge three-level shopping mall in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For instance, I like to go there now and then to gaze at its clean yet kaleidoscopic interior design and to marvel at the massive quantities of goods that its stores contain. I don’t think that the USA is anywhere close to being an idyllic land of milk and honey, but, as the mall demonstrates, there is no shortage of products in this country.

As things have turned out though, probably the main reason that I enjoy having Willow Grove Park close at hand is that it occasionally becomes story fodder for my blog. When I began this publication in 2015, never would have I expected that such would be the case. But I sure as shit am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. The story that you now are reading is the result of my latest visit to the mall. That visit took place on a recent, dreary, rain-dominated Thursday.

The mall was on my mind that day mainly because I wanted to take a walk. For the past eleven months, you see, I’ve been walking regularly for health-related reasons, four or five times per week and almost always outdoors. But an outdoors trek would have been unwise, as the rains were descending not in trickles but in f*cking buckets. Striding purposefully through the mall, an enclosed structure, though? Yes!

Due to the pandemic, the businesses in Willow Grove Park (excepting its two restaurants, which were allowed to sell take-out orders), along with almost countless other businesses state-wide, were ordered by Pennsylvania’s governor to close in mid-March. The lockdown eventually was partly lifted, the mall reopening on June 26. Arriving there at 11:25 AM on the wet Thursday in question, I was curious about the mall’s state of affairs four months post-reopening. How much damage had the pandemic inflicted?

Well, while spending 45 minutes walking the mall’s every avenue and byway, I saw a fairly decent number of people shopping and wandering, possibly about the same number that you’d find on a similar off-day during normal times. As for store vacancies, there were five or six, not the many more that I was half-expecting. However, several stores hadn’t opened for the day, which was not a good sign. Possibly they were on the verge of throwing in the towel altogether.

A truly bad scene, and probably indicative of the mall’s overall financial health, was the food court. There were not many customers at all, even though it was lunch time when I walked past that busy-in-normal-times area. It was sad to see the court’s businesses doing poorly. And, of course, millions of businesses worldwide are in the same boat, due to coronavirus. On any number of occasions I’ve said the obvious on these pages, and I’ll say it again: We need an effective vaccine pronto. It’s time for the suffering to diminish significantly.

But I’m not going to end this essay on a down note. How could I, seeing that I listened to an episode of The Many Moods Of Ben Vaughn, a terrific music podcast, as I walked through the mall? It put a whole lot of pep in my step and prevented me from getting anywhere near bummed out.

In that episode, which is from September 27, 2020, Vaughn spins the original versions of songs subsequently made famous by other artists. A large bunch of them jumped out at me. But let’s limit that bunch to three. Otherwise I’ll be here all day, and nobody, including me, would be in favor of that. The three songs are Louie Louie, Boys, and Do Wah Diddy.

Here are some facts: The infamous Louie Louie, an enormous hit for The Kingsmen in 1963, was originally recorded by Richard Berry And The Pharaohs way before that, in 1957 to be precise. Berry also penned the composition. The Beatles included Boys (written by Luther Dixon and Wes Farrell) on their first album in 1963, and popularized the tune, but the initial recording was in 1960 by The Shirelles. It was the B-side of their single whose A-side was wildly popular — Will You Love Me Tomorrow? And although Manfred Mann’s 1964 version of Do Wah Diddy (a composition by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich) conquered the world, the song’s first appearance was a recording by The Exciters one year earlier.

The tracks by Berry, The Shirelles and The Exciters rock, roll and rouse. Day-brighteners, they appear below. I think you’ll like ’em. Okay, boys and girls, that’s a wrap. As I almost always mention, please don’t be shy about adding any comments that you might have. Goodbye till next time!

In Search Of Yellows: A Walking Story

I’m nothing but amazed that I’ve sat myself down at a keyboard to begin the composition of this essay. It’s 11:31 AM on a weekday morn, a mere 27 minutes after I completed the walk around my neighborhood that I shortly will comment upon. I mean, I usually take forever to get enough thoughts together to write a story. What’s more, I usually take forever to come up with story ideas in the first place. So, I better keep pecking away before constipation sets in.

What, another walking story?” I hear a few of you crying in dismay. “Spare us, Neil! You’ve done dozens of them already. Can’t you think of anything else to write about?”

Believe me, I feel your pain, but what can I do? As I just indicated, I don’t exactly generate story ideas like Donald Trump generates lies. Anyway, I like to walk. Always have, because walking is the best way to see what’s going on around us. And the hodgepodge of ruminations and observations that I come up with after wandering around one locale or another is among this publication’s primary fuels.

But I can’t say that I especially love to walk in my suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. My neighborhood is none too fascinating, as is true for suburbs in general. Although I regularly pound its pavements, I do so mostly for health reasons, exercise presumably being beneficial to one’s bodily systems. Once in a while, however, I have an additional motive, and today I put such into play. “Yellows, Neil, yellows,” I said to myself at the start of the walk. “You’ve had it in the back of your mind to look for shades of yellow during a neighborhood walk, probably because yellow was your favorite color when you were a kid, and to turn the experience into an article. Today you shall do so!”

Yes, sir!” I responded silently. “I hear you loud and clear. Yellows it will be!”

To begin, I want to tell you that there ain’t a lot of yellows in my neighborhood. In fact, there’s a paucity of many colors. The greens of nature are what rule here, as they do in much of the world, at least when trees are in leaf. But your faithful and determined correspondent wasn’t deterred. My eyes in constant motion, I spotted enough examples of yellows to illustrate this piece decently. And I did so in a mere 34 minutes. I could have extended the walk beyond that time, but was pretty sure that I’d exhausted the yellow possibilities. And it’s a good thing that I came home when I did. You see, as I entered my house after completing my rounds I thought that the blazing Sun and moist air hadn’t gotten to me very much. Wrong! My sweat glands, in a delayed reaction, suddenly erupted, causing my tee shirt, mostly dry only seconds before, to cling to me amorously. Man, I was shvitzing like a frigging pig! I’m happy to report that the A/C system, and the cool water that I washed off with, quickly set me right.

Okay, it’s time to mention the highlights of today’s trek. The first involves sunflowers. A year ago, on a neighborhood walk, I was delighted to find that a family two blocks away from my residence was a lover of sunflowers. They’d planted a load of the gangly, happy plants on a long narrow strip of their property. And a week or two ago I  noticed that sunflowers were strutting their stuff anew there. Needless to say, I strode down that block this morning to snap the yellow beings’ portraits. Of the various yellow objects in my neighborhood, they are my favorites by far. Indeed, I am a total sucker for sunflowers, thanks to Vincent van Gogh, their greatest immortalizer.

As for the second highlight: On various walks over the last couple of months I’d seen a yellow truck shining proudly and vividly. It always was in the same spot, five blocks from my house. It was there again today. This truck adds needed pizazz to a sleepy block, and makes me wonder why more people don’t buy vehicles of eye-popping color. Like I’m one to talk, though. My wife and I own two cars that are conservative as shit, one of them dark grey and the other dark blue. Next time we’ll go for cars aflame in . . . what? Neon yellow, that’s what!

Well, the blogosphere’s overseers are whispering to me that this article has gone as far in a yellow direction as it needs to go. And I know better than to cross them. But, as usual, I’ll let the piece marinate for a few days, and do plenty of tweaking, before depressing the Publish button. Take care, everybody. And please don’t be shy about adding your comments!

What Do I Know? Good Question

Five or six times each week, for half an hour or so, I haul my sorry ass along the streets of one neighborhood or another, usually my own. I engage in this walking routine for fitness purposes and also just to get out of the frigging house during these pandemic-constricted days. I sure as hell am not a lover of regular exercise, but I’ve come to tolerate it for one reason: I listen to music podcasts as I stride along. Music, as we know, helps to keep boredom at bay. Duh!

One podcast that I often dial up is Downtown Soulville, hosted by a guy who calls himself Mr. Fine Wine. The program appears each week on New Jersey radio station WFMU, and then, luckily for me, is transformed by one form of magic or another into the podcast format.

Downtown Soulville is damn fine. During each episode, Mr. Fine Wine spins soul and rhythm and blues recordings, all of them on 45 RPM singles from his incredibly huge collection of same. He doesn’t talk too much during his shows, which is the way I like it, so song after song after song (most of them from the 1950s, 60s and 70s) hit the airwaves.

When I first started listening to Downtown Soulville I was struck not only by how very few of the recordings I’d ever heard before, but also by how very many of the artists I’d never heard of. This kind of shocked me, because, although I no longer try too hard to keep up with what’s going on in the various sections of the music world, for decades I did, waving my music-junkie flag proudly. I was, and am, into rock, jazz, soul, R&B, blues, reggae, Brazilian, African, classical, folk, and more musical genres. So, how was it that hundreds of soul/R&B singers that Mr. FW has thrown my way, such as Sugar Pie DeSanto, Billy Watkins and Mel Williams, were new to me?

The conclusion that I came to was that, despite being well-informed about music, in a very real sense I don’t know shit about that subject compared to what there is to know. That was a sobering thought. And eventually it set in motion a sequence of questions and answers. To wit: If my knowledge about music is limited, what does that say about me regarding every other subject you can name? Well, I know even less about them than I do about music, in most cases incredibly less. But, okay, does that really matter? Yes, it does, since acquiring knowledge is a worthy goal. Sure, but nobody can imbibe everything, right? True, and, what’s more, it’s exhausting to try to. Indeed, but that notwithstanding, aren’t there things you’d love to understand more about?

The answer to that question is a no-brainer: Damn straight!

For instance, how come I Don’t Wanna Be A Doofus No More, the personality-enhancing potion that George Clooney gifted me with a few years ago (click here to read about it), isn’t helping me anymore? Man, that elixir cured me of being a schlemiel for the good long while that it worked. Clooney, I’m going to sue you if you don’t rectify this situation!

And how come Alicia Keys, Halle Berry and Jennifer Lawrence haven’t gotten back to me regarding the messages I left with their agents? What, the ladies have something against hanging out with a dorky septuagenarian? Did they somehow learn that I Don’t Wanna Be A Doofus No More no longer is having salutary effects upon me?

And, though not as pressing as the issues that I just mentioned, what’s the deal with the universe? Specifically, how did it begin? Yeah, yeah, there’s the Big Bang theory and all, but here’s the thing about that: If all the matter that became our universe once was contained in an impossibly-compressed chunk of whatever, as the theory states, where the f*ck did that chunk come from? Did it always exist? Is it possible for something to always exist? Boys and girls, truer words than the following rarely have been written: I sure as shit don’t know.

I tell you, all of this mental work is tiring me out big-time. Having reached my deep-thoughts limit, there’s little doubt that my living room sofa, and naptime thereupon, await me. Before I sign off, though, let me say that I’m always glad to receive readers’ comments, so please don’t be shy about adding yours. Goodbye, then, till next time. I’ll leave you with the songs that I heard on Downtown Soulville the other day by the aforementioned Sugar Pie DeSanto, Billy Watkins and Mel Williams. Hope you enjoy them.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Favorite Color Once Was Yellow, Now It’s Blue. What’s Yours?

A couple of stories ago I reported that, for health reasons, I recently started going out on half-hour walks four or five times each week. A lot of the walks have taken place in my remarkably hilly neighborhood. In early February, while hauling my ass up and down slope after slope, I listened to a podcast that I like quite well. The podcast, Music From 100 Years Ago, is hosted by easy-going and real knowledgeable Brice Fuqua, and the episode that played from my earbuds was called Yellow Music (click here to find it, if you like).

Now, I’d chosen this particular episode, one of many that I’ve heard in Music From’s archives, because the word yellow had jumped out at me and set my mind in motion. As I readied to begin that walk, I fondly remembered that yellow was my favorite color when I was a wee lad. Yellow was a good choice of color for me back then. It’s cheerful and packed with energy, like most little kids. I still dig yellow, but for a long time haven’t been in love with it to the extent that I was millions of moons ago. That’s especially true these days, seeing that I ain’t especially cheerful and packed with energy anymore. Ah, the joys of getting old!

I don’t know when yellow ceased to be my fave. Probably when I was more or less ten years old. For the next 35 or so years I didn’t have a favorite color, not consciously anyway. During that time I was a fan of just about every color, something that has remained true to this day.

But somewhere in the 1990s I began to notice that I was particularly attracted to blue, or should I say blues, because various shades of blue pleased me just fine. I suppose that blue will remain my favorite for the rest of my life. I’d be shocked and awed, for instance, if on my death bed my final words were something like these: “Listen, after all this time I’ve decided that I like green more than blue. Who’d have thunk it? Okay, it’s time for me to go. Goodbye, cruel world!”

And I’m not alone in my pick. Surveys have determined that blue is the favorite color of more people than any other. So, why blue? Well, I’ve given this some thought and have come up with some notions. For one, I suspect that the preference has to do with the prevalence of blue. In daylight, when the heavens above aren’t cloud-covered, it’s blue that dominates our world. Duh! And who can resist a blue sky? It smiles upon us with a twinkle in its eye and with welcoming embraces. We’ve probably come to think of blue as a healthful force.

Blue comforts us. It helps us to vibrate at a beneficial pace. You can’t say the same for all colors, I think. You better watch out for orange, red and yellow, among others, for example. They just might bop you in your frigging nose or get your hormones racing way faster than you’re in the mood to deal with. And though white, black and the rest of the neutrals might possess blue’s healthful qualities, they lack the factor that, to me, sets blue apart from them: prettiness. Blue has just enough in the looks department to keep you more than interested.

Still, what do I know? There’s no right or wrong when it comes to color preferences. I’d be very interested to learn what colors are favored by this article’s readers.

The time has arrived to insert a couple of photographs of my once and current favorite colors. The explosive painting below hangs in my living room. It’s from Haiti and won my heart when I saw it in a Philadelphia art gallery in the 1980s. There are a variety of giddy yellows in there.  As a child, all of them would have enthralled me.

I have no doubt which shade of blue rates highest on my scale. It’s the blue of a late-morning sky, a soft but rich blue. Looking at the photo below, which I took on February 16, I can feel my blood pressure dropping to an acceptable level. Healthful is right.

Let’s get back to Brice Fuqua, a guy with wide musical ears who builds each of his broadcasts around a theme. The theme for Yellow Music is songs with yellow in their titles. During my walk, the number that got to me the most was one I’d never heard before, Yellow Dog Blues. W. C. Handy wrote it in 1915. The version that Brice played, sung by the fabulous Bessie Smith, came out in 1925. The song is about a heartbroken lady who is desperate to find out where the love of her life has disappeared to.

Yes, it’s very appropriate to this essay that Yellow Dog Blues contains in its title the colors that have stood out the most for me in my life. Thank you, Brice, for enabling me to bring the present proceedings to a vaguely logical conclusion.

(As always, comments are welcome and appreciated. And please don’t be shy about sharing this story. Mucho gracias.)

A Shadowy Walk In The Hood

Until recently, the only time I made a New Year’s resolution was during the waning days of 1976. My intent back then was to ditch the cigarette habit I’d been enjoying for a dozen years. Man, I did it, starting a few days later on the first of January, though I had a low-level relapse in 1982 that didn’t reach its conclusion till 1985.

Several weeks ago, the circumstances were right once again for the New Year’s resolution thing. That’s because an annual health checkup, in mid-December 2019, revealed that my glucose level had inched a bit over the top of the normal range. Crap! What was a very-aging boy to do if he wanted to try and prevent diabetes from setting in? Well, some dietary changes definitely were in order. As in, cutting back on the carbs. And the time also had arrived to up the hours that I spend in motion, as opposed to those spent while sitting on my wrinkly ass. The experts seem convinced, you see, that a decent amount of sustained movement each week can help many people drive their glucose numbers southward. Ergo, since early January, in addition to the energy I expend running errands and chasing my own tail, I’ve been taking four or five half-hour walks each week.

Most of the walks have been in my suburban neighborhood which, unlike the rest of the town, is hilly as hell (I live near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA). Going uphill on the steep slopes is good, obviously, for my exercise regimen, though there’s no doubt I’ll be withdrawing that statement if the exertion precipitates a cardiac event. That’s assuming I survive said event, of course. So far, however, I haven’t needed the assistance of emergency medical personnel or of an undertaker, so I’ll stop that train of thought in its tracks. Let’s return to the walks.

While pounding the pavement on January 22, I noticed a couple of things that ordinarily wouldn’t have jumped out at me but, for reasons unknown, this time did. “Yeah, shadows!” I silently exclaimed to myself, at the end of the walk, when I saw some of them on the sidewalk near my house. “Shadows are cool. I’ll scour the neighborhood for shadows on the next walk. That’ll give me something to write about for the blog. The story won’t be amazingly interesting, but so what? Nobody expects anything all that interesting from old f*cks like me anyway.”

January 23 soon enough arrived. As I left my house that day at 11:30 AM, the temperature of about 42°F (6°C) was bracing but not all that bad. The skies were clear, so our pal The Sun was able to help cast shadows right and left. Ordinarily I listen to podcasts on my iPhone while walking in the hood, to avoid becoming bored shitless. But this time I was podcast-less, the better to focus on my mission. And so focused was I, an hour sped by before I knew it. I hadn’t expected to be out that long. At the end of the hour I arrived back home, having gotten plenty of exercise, and with a bunch of photos of shadows sitting within the phone.

I’ll say it again: Shadows are cool. They are shape-shifting, darkened, alternate images of what passes for reality. They have no substance at all, as far as I, a guy who nearly flunked high school physics, know. And yet, there they are. Not only that, they’re everywhere, they’re everywhere! Well, almost everywhere. I hope that my voyage through the hood the other day doesn’t cause me to become fixated on shadows, as that would be a turn of events not the least bit appreciated. But I sure enough dug them during the session in which I sought them out.

Shadow-wise, I didn’t come across anything particularly unexpected. But that was okay.  Tree shadows that spread mightily across fences and paved streets impressed me muchly, as did the dainty silhouettes of traffic signs. I envied the long fingers of the patterns created by play equipment in the kids’ section of the park two blocks from my abode. And everyday objects that I ordinarily wouldn’t give the time of day to, such as fire hydrants and recycling bins, received my blessings because of the endearingly goofy shapes that they produced.

Still, among all the pictures, how could I not most admire the one containing my own alter-image? I damn well have star appeal in that one, I’m certain everyone would agree. If any movie producers are reading this story (and why wouldn’t they be?) and are in need of a mysterious figure to lurk in the shadows of a movie scene or two or more (and why wouldn’t they be?), look no further. Lurking is my middle name. I am your man!

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

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

Walking Away From A Cold

Where the f*ck have I been that I wasn’t aware that a summer cold is a thing, a topic of active discussion, and probably has been a member of the thing category for a good long while? Had I ever heard the term before? Possibly. But if I had it didn’t stick like glue to my brain cells. Anyway, a week or so ago two people mentioned the words when they learned of my ailment. In sympathy, one of them said that “summer colds are the worst.” The other said that he knew of someone else who was suffering from the symptoms of this dastardly condition.

Summer colds. Are they different from colds that you might pick up at any other time of the year? Beats me. In any event, I was down and partly out for the count during the first week of August. The cold was heavy. It was a summer cold, you dig?

I went through Kleenex tissues as if they were salted peanuts, so full of amazingly robust mucus was my respiratory system. I moaned and groaned like a wuss. I had less energy than a used flashlight battery. But eventually my body pulled itself together and I began to feel pretty damn good.

Yeah, pretty damn good indeed. And so, on August 8 I decided that I needed to stretch my legs in a meaningful way in environs that might inspire and intrigue me. Looking forward to a mini-adventure, off I headed to Hatboro, Pennsylvania, a town that looks like a town (Hatboro has two long strings of stores and businesses along a main street, which is crisscrossed by tidy residential blocks). In other words, it’s not a hodgepodge collection of housing developments and strip malls. I’ve been to Hatboro many times, what with it being only three miles from my home, but never had gone on more than a 15-minute ramble there. At 10:30 AM I parked my car on Hatboro’s shopping drag (York Road), fed the parking meter and set off.

York Road’s shopping section is lengthy, extending for half a mile. The stores are mostly of the mom and pop variety. I’ve often wondered how most of them stay in business, as I’ve never seen Hatboro’s sidewalks even remotely crowded. But stay in business they somehow do. You have a hardware store, several barber shops, bakeries, delis, diners, a big furniture store . . . and I’ll end the list now to avoid this becoming a 2,000-word essay. None of the shops are glitzy. Glitziness has little place in Hatboro, a blue collar area and proud of it.

Not unusual for me, I took a lot of photos during the walk. At first I concentrated on bouncily-decorated storefronts and nifty store signs. Who would turn a thumbs-down on the Hatboro Barber Shop’s facade, a parade of red, white and blue? Or on Village Hardware’s “We Fix Stuff” sign, which succinctly (and hopefully accurately) tells a story. Nobody, I’m sure.

And when I wandered off York Road into the neighborhoods, I was surprised by the goodly number of old, beautiful homes. Had to snap some of their images, of course, one of which is directly above.

But halfway through the stroll my focus changed unexpectedly, as I became enchanted with the idea of looking for bright yellows. I guess it was a riveting yellow (and red and black) traffic sign on a residential block, meant to announce that a stop sign was ahead, that put the notion into my head.  That and the fact that I was getting some exercise on a supremely sunny day, the Sun being the finest yellow friend that any of us ever will have. Ergo, a patch of yellow flowers aside a house became fodder for my phone’s camera. As did the golden arches of Hatboro’s McDonald’s franchise.

But enough about yellows. Let’s face it, in most regards, the walk ultimately wasn’t very different from nearly any neighborhood walk that one might take. It lasted one and a quarter hours and encompassed two miles. Nothing special about those figures. But here’s what I’m getting at: I enjoyed the heck out of the walk. I was glad to have recovered from my illness, glad once again to be outside breathing freely and taking in the sights.

Which is why it would have been very, very cool if the lyrics to Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah had been playing in my mind as I walked around. You know them:

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
My, oh my, what a wonderful day
Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

Alas, they weren’t. Still, I’m in tune with the song’s message. Meaning, I know enough not to take things for granted. Hopefully many walks lie ahead. Onward!

(Don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this story. Gracias.)

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

A Better-Than-Usual Walk Around My Hood

It was hot as hell two Fridays ago, as in 90°F (32°C), a temperature that usually makes me want to stick to the comfort of my air-conditioned house. But come 2:30 PM I was getting restless. And so, grabbing a cap to shield my hair-challenged pate and a pair of sunglasses to make me look like a movie star, I unlocked the front door and stepped outside. Ordinarily I don’t particularly like walking around my neighborhood, part of a suburb a few miles from Philadelphia, because I’ve seen it a million times and because there’s nothing much here that’s going to knock your socks off. But what the hell  . . . I needed to stretch my legs.

And stretch them I did on that tail-end day of June. For an hour. Under a summer sun that was sending down heat rays as if there were no tomorrow. Luckily, it turned out that there was a tomorrow. If there hadn’t been, then I wouldn’t be at my writing station right now, pecking out this ultra-fascinating tale.

What with the heat, a lesser man might have decided quickly that he’d made the wrong decision, that he’d be better off back inside his cozy house where he could resume reading the collected works of I. C. Fairley-Farr, the all but forgotten British existentialist whose philosophy is best summed up by a simple phrase. To quote him: Life is for living, water is for drinking, and . . . shit, where’d I put my distance glasses?

Stumps I, II And III

But on that day I wasn’t a lesser man. Nope, for some reason the brutal ball of fire in the sky wasn’t bothering me. And for some reason, right from the get-go, I found myself enjoying the walk. Why, only half a block from my house I noticed something that on another day might not have registered at all — three neat and concise tree stumps on the lawn of a church. Transfer them to the grounds of an art museum, give them a title such as Stumps I, II And III, and they’d gain esteem as a fine piece of minimalist outdoor sculpture. See? There’s always an alternative way of looking at things.

And how about the township park and playground behind the church? There wasn’t a soul there, not even on the basketball courts. Yeah man, I had the neighborhood to myself!

Well, not really. Still, during the walk I came upon only 25 or so people, many of them unloading this or that from their cars, and not a one of them out for a walk. And I crossed paths with but one dog. I exchanged hellos with its master who, positioned on his home’s front path, was eyeing me with mouth slightly agape. It must have been my sunglasses. In them, I’m a ringer for George Clooney. Or so I’ve dreamt.

Suburban jungle

Block after block I wandered along, going downhill on some and uphill on others. My area is seriously hilly, almost San Francisco-worthy in places, and the upward climbs got me decently sweaty. One thing I realized was that I should have a much better working knowledge of the layout of my hood than I do, because I trekked upon a couple of streets whose names I didn’t even vaguely recognize. And I also realized something that I knew but hadn’t experienced in a healthy while. To wit, parts of my neighborhood are very, very heavy with trees and other foliage. Those blocks are a suburban jungle, a dreamscape in shades of green.

Tiger Lillies

On the other hand, most of my hood’s blocks, though cute in a comforting way, are kind of vanilla in appearance, including the street on which my house sits. But I found myself getting into the vanilla, grooving on those blocks’ occasional good-looking flower beds and other decorative touches that homeowners here and there have added to increase their residences’ wow factor. When I passed one abode with a fine grouping of Tiger Lillies, naturally I stopped to admire them. And to take their picture. I couldn’t have done otherwise, seeing that the house in which I grew up, forever ago on Long Island (near New York City), was blessed with large patches of Tiger Lillies. My heart since then has maintained a very soft spot for that variety of flora.

And the walk turned out to be a learning experience too. Only two blocks from my house are extremely tall metal towers. I’ve lived in my neighborhood for 13 years, yet I’ve never known what the heck those towers do, if anything. For all I knew, they might have been decommissioned years ago after serving one purpose or another.

As it turns out, they are important pieces of equipment. They transmit messages to and among personnel of police departments, fire departments and 911 emergency systems. I know that now because, early in my walk, there was a worker at the towers as I approached them. I stopped to ask him what the towers’ functions are, and he told me. Yes, opportunity had presented itself, and I took advantage of it. Too bad I haven’t applied that principal consistently over the course of my life. Oh well.

As far as I can recall, this walk was the longest, time-wise, that I’ve ever taken in my neighborhood. I don’t expect my next venture into the hood, whenever that may occur, to resonate with me as satisfyingly as this one did. But that’s okay. I returned home mentally refreshed, feeling pretty chipper and somewhat seeing the brighter side of life. Not every walk is a keeper, but this one was.

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The Stairs And I: An Exercise Story

Yo, reading fans, listen up! It’s shout-out time, because if it weren’t for Janet Sheridan, the hunk of wordage that you’re staring at right now wouldn’t exist. If you end up not enjoying this story, then blame Janet, not me!

Now, Janet is the talent behind an excellent website to which she has given the name Aunt Beulah. You’ll have to go over to Janet’s place (clicking here will direct you to it) to find out why she titled it as she did. Janet is a witty and agile writer. Her essays about her life are well worth your time.

In a piece that she published on April 15, Janet talks about her experiences over the years with exercising. I added a comment to her article in which I indicated that I don’t particularly love to engage in regimented exercise, but that for a long time I’ve consistently performed one form of same. Lucky for me that I read Janet’s essay. If I hadn’t, nor posted a comment, then I wouldn’t have been sparked to write an opus of my own on the subject.

Zipley parking garage

Here’s what I said in the comments section of Janet’s essay: “I’m not as devoted to exercise as you. But I’ve been doing the following for years: Three or four times a week I climb (without stopping) the 130 steps in a parking garage near my home. Doesn’t take too long, which I like (because I’m lazy!).”

Damn right I’m lazy. And I’ve gotten to the age (70) where, in my biased opinion, there’s no shame in being that way. Hell, after decades of mowing the lawn, raking leaves, vacuuming rooms, shoveling snow, etc., etc. — all of which I continue to do, extremely reluctantly  — about the only things I actually want to break a sweat over anymore are chowing down Cheez-It crackers late at night while sitting on my sofa as I twiddle the few strands of hair remaining on the crown of my head, and devouring slices of pizza at lunchtime at pizzerias.

Excuse me while I catch my breath . . . that was a long sentence.

Oh yeah, and walking. I like to go out for walks, as regular readers of this publication are aware. If it weren’t for the walks I take and write about, this here blog would be only half the size that it is. But I don’t think of walking as exercise. That’s because it gives me love, not pain. Not only that, walking doesn’t raise my heart rate to the level at which I wonder if I’m going to expire within the next few seconds, which is something that true exercise, I think, is supposed to do. Expire? Me? Shit, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

I now shall devote some paragraphs to stair-climbing. But before I do I’m going to head out the door to the parking garage I mentioned. I’ll climb the stairs there and also snap some dazzling photos that I’ll place in this story. Is there anything better than looking at pictures of a parking garage and of its stairwell? Talk about excitement! I’ll be back at my keyboard fairly soon, hoping to complete this noteworthy essay in two or three more writing sessions. Till then, peace, sisters and brothers.

As promised, I’m back. Not only did I climb the stairs and push the button quite a few times on my iPhone’s camera, I subsequently went to a local pizzeria for a couple of slices. So I’m now typing away on a full, satisfied stomach.

Near the bottom of stairwell

Turns out I was in error when I said to Janet that the parking garage I frequent contains 130 stairs. On my jaunt up its stairwell an hour and a half ago (that is, at 12:30 PM on April 18), I paid strict attention to the number of stairs. There are 135 of them, and they are spread out over 15 half-flights. It was an uneventful climb. For some reason I was out of breath merely a bit by the time I reached the top. Usually I’m panting like a lost soul desperate for water in the Sahara and wondering if I’m going to expire. And, as always, I was glad that my workout was quickly accomplished, this time in around a minute and a half. Not only am I lazy, but exercise bores me. Those are the main reasons why I settled on the stair-climbing regimen that has been part of my life since the late 1990s. Boom, boom, boom and each session is over.

When the idea came to me to climb stairs as an easy way, hopefully, to keep in halfway-decent shape and strengthen my cardio system, I was working in an office tower just outside of the heart of downtown Philadelphia. I pounded the stairs therein countless times until I retired from my job in 2009.

The top of stairwell

But I knew that I needed to maintain a minimal exercise program after saying goodbye to paid employment, and not too much later I found the solution. Hallelujah, I would continue to climb stairs because only a mile and a half from my suburban house was the Zipley parking garage, the newest and tallest of several parking garages surrounding Abington Hospital. I felt right at home at Zipley. Why not? In mid- 2010, just before beginning to ascend the Zipley stairs, I became a member of the AH family when I started two volunteer assignments at the hospital, assignments that I continue to perform to this day.

View from middle of stairwell

Well, there’s only so much you can say about stair-climbing and parking garages, right? Yes indeed, truer words never were written. I can sense more than one pair of eyes glazing over, and that includes mine. But before I bring this story to its natural conclusion, let me add that I’m somewhat in awe of people like Janet Sheridan who conscientiously exercise for several or more hours each week. Me, I’m an incredible slacker compared to them, as I devote about six or seven minutes weekly to stair climbing. Water finds its own level, as we all know. And that’s mine.

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A Long Walk In Philadelphia On A Warm Winter’s Day

Cira Centre

There I was two Wednesday mornings ago, unfruitfully occupying space on my living room sofa. My shoulders were tense, my mind was neither here nor there. In other words, it was business as usual.

“Yo, schmuck! Snap out of it!” I silently yelled to myself. “Somebody ought to paint your portrait right now and call it Here Sits A Schlump. Life’s for living, boyo. Get with it already.”

And so I did. Gathering myself together, I decided to go for a walk. A nice long walk. But where? Not in my suburban area, whose charms are incredibly limited. Philadelphia it would be then. Philly’s the metropolis that never bores me. Soon I was at my little town’s train station. A late-morning ride arrived and I climbed into the second of its three cars. Fifty minutes later I exited said metal box at 30th Street Station, in the city’s West Philadelphia section, all set to explore a nearby area that I was barely familiar with. Ferdinand Magellan I’m not, but I’ve always liked to poke around.

It’s amazing though, being someone who likes to poke around, that I’d never done so among the blocks only a hop, skip and a jump northwest of 30th Street Station. Those streets, part of West Philadelphia’s Powelton Village neighborhood, contain a good bit of Drexel University’s sprawling campus. From the mid-1970s until 1991 I lived in West Philadelphia, only a mile and a half from Powelton Village, but I didn’t venture to the Drexel enclave there, despite Drexel’s rise during that time to major-player status in the academic world. And in the ensuing years, which have seen me visit West Philadelphia who knows how many dozens of times, the pattern continued.

Hallelujah, now the deed is done! I came and I saw. I’ll leave conquering for another day.

Powelton Village
Powelton Village

Now, let me say that my stroll through Powelton Village, checking out not only the Drexel facilities but the sturdy, soon-to-be-leafy residential blocks, wasn’t a walk for the ages. I mean, not too many urban campuses are going to knock your socks off. And Philadelphia’s older housing — rowhouses, twins and stand-alones — are so much with us in Powelton Village and in many other Philadelphia neighborhoods, I’ve come to think of them as comfort food.

Still, stretching my literally old legs felt great. Especially since the day was sunny and warm, as in 74°F, an insanely high number for mid-February winter. I worked up a good, pungent sweat hauling my ass and my bones around. And my eyes did plenty of darting, admiring the college girls who were dressed for summer. Skimpily, shall we say.

In addition to the girls, certain sights during my travels did make quite the impression on me. For instance, before I reached Powelton Village — in fact, when I was only 150 feet from 30th Street Station — I remembered to take a look at the Cira Centre, a majestically sleek office tower that smiles down upon the station. But I didn’t see it. Was the station somehow obscuring my view? Turns out, of course, that Cira was there in plain sight. Sort of. A glass wonder, the reflections of the sky on its surface were camouflaging the building, as the photo at the beginning of this article reveals. Man, that was something, clouds seeming to float everywhere on the glass along with the reflected image of a tower under construction several blocks away.

Drexel’s Buckley Recreational Field
Vue32 apartment building

And in Powelton Village, just up the block from Drexel’s Buckley Recreational Field, I was most surprised to see a tall, modern apartment building (Vue32) being erected on North 32nd Street. Some might say that Vue32, a non-Drexel project, is totally out of place in a quiet two-and-three-story-high neighborhood, and if I lived nearby I’d probably agree. But it looked cool to me.

SEPTA rail yard

Speaking of North 32nd Street, if I hadn’t been there I would have missed being near-stunned by the sight of oceans of commuter railroad cars — just like the one I took into the city — a smattering of feet east of where Vue32 stands. As I later learned, I was looking at a rail yard used by SEPTA, the Philadelphia region’s public transit agency, to house and do maintenance work on trains. I’ve lived in Philadelphia or its suburbs for most of my adult life and I’d only vaguely noticed that enormous yard before, though it is glimpsable from numerous vantage points in the city. Call me Mr. Observant.

An open square on Drexel campus

Well, the early afternoon passed pleasurably. I ambled along block after block in Powelton Village. Many streets contained a mixture of private homes and Drexel buildings. Everything was peaceful and quiet, just the way you’d wish that all the world would be. I saw many students, some on their way to or from classes and residences, some munching away or doing work at tables in a campus open square, some lolling on the grass in pocket parks. I enjoyed being a college student, but you’ll never find me enrolling once again in an institution of higher learning. There would be just too much work. In these latter stages of my life I prefer things that are way on the easier side.

By the time I made my way back to 30th Street Station I’d racked up four miles of ambulation. My shoulders were a lot looser than they’d been five hours earlier. My mind was no longer neither here nor there. And I was happy to be heading home. A few minutes before the train pulled in to whisk me back to my sleepy town, for no particular reason I took a photo of the “Watch The Gap” warning painted on the platform. It refers to the open space of an inch or two between the platform and each train car. Looking at that picture the next day it occurred to me that watching the gaps elsewhere in life is good advice too. Relationship gaps can be painful. Equality gaps are unfair and often hideous. But, with effort, gaps can be closed or dealt with productively, though not always.

With those words of wisdom I’ll now take my leave. But (hopefully) I’ll be back! Till next time.

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