Before, During And After Lunch: Slices Of Life And Of Pizza

I’ve been thinking recently about the nature of this blog. Not a whole lot, but enough to see that my stories — when you look at their sometimes straight, sometimes wavering and sometimes loopy as hell strokes — paint a pretty good picture of what I’m about. I’m not one to reveal all. I’ll never write a word, for instance, about the time, 40 years ago, when I went undercover in Nepal to help bring down the notorious Himalayan gang of bank robbers that dressed themselves in highly-convincing yeti costumes. Or about my space-boot shopping spree with Neil Armstrong a few days before he blasted off for the Moon. But I reveal plenty, I think.

Basically I’m a simple guy who does simple things. Well, simple cum lopsided things often might be a more accurate description. And for the last two and a half years I’ve been writing about them. My articles peer at, for the most part, typical days for yours truly, show what my interests are and have been, and show who has accompanied me (and whom I’ve accompanied) on this journey through what we affectionately call life.

Slices of life. Yeah, that’s what I usually find myself describing. And now that I’ve expended nearly 200 words in trying to establish a degree of context for this current opus, I’ll turn my attention in that direction. “Yo, you better, pal,” I hear a few voices saying. “Our time is limited. We’re this close to closing out your article and checking out some YouTube videos of skateboarding kangaroos.”

Right, right, ye whose attention span is shorter than Donnie Trump’s fuse (but not shorter than his dick). Here we go.

Last Friday I found myself heading north from my suburban Philadelphia abode. My car, having a mind of its own, drove itself two and a half miles to an establishment that ranks high on my ladder of places where I like to grab a bite for lunch. In fact, it probably is my favorite lunchtime eatery in my neck of the woods. And that’s because, speaking of slices, I believe that the slices of pie that one purchases at Nino’s Pizzarama are damn good. A card-carrying fool for pizza, I down them there two or three times a month (and I go to other pizza joints throughout each month too).

I ordered a slice of regular pie and one of Sicilian. They hit the spot regally, though I was slightly disappointed in the regular’s crust. Too chewy. The pie needed to have been left in the oven for another 20 or 30 seconds to become as crispy as it itself was hoping to become. Such is the life of pie.

While munching away, I couldn’t get out of my head a song I’d heard on the radio during my northward trek. It’s a very beautiful recording, one that I instantly became attached to soon after its release in 1968: Hickory Wind, by The Byrds. As always, it sounded wonderful.

Hickory Wind comes from Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, a magnificent country-rock album. The Byrds, famed for earlier numbers such as the psychedelic nugget Eight Miles High and the folk-rock staple Turn, Turn, Turn, had undergone some significant stylistic and personnel shifts by the time it was waxed. Three of the five original members were gone and new guys, most notably the space cowboy Gram Parsons, who helped push the band partly into country-music territory, were on board. Parsons is one of rock and roll’s legendary names, not only for his big musical talents, but for his wild and wooly and troubled life. He died of a drug overdose in 1973.

Gram Parsons is credited with having written Hickory Wind in 1968 with his musical compadre Bob Buchanan. (There is a dispute over the song’s authorship, by the way. Some claim that a little-known folksinger named Sylvia Sammons composed it, and that Parsons stole it from her. The truth never will be known, it seems.) It has been recorded by many since then, but The Byrds put it out first.

What a song. Wistful and melancholy, it stands you up straight and makes you think about the times when loneliness and an aching heart might have ruled your days. That’s Gram singing lead. In the car I melted as I listened to his yearning voice and to the sad, sad notes coming from Lloyd Green’s pedal steel guitar. Man, you want to be in a happy mood when you’re eating pizza. But me, I sat at one of Nino’s tables in a contemplative frame of mind, not fully able to concentrate on the powers of sweet tomato sauce, excellent melted cheese and could-be-better crust.

There’s much to be said for contemplative, though. It’s a state that can be good for the inner being, helping us to put things in perspective and, if we’re lucky, softening our defenses. On the way home from Nino’s I turned on the radio and found myself on the receiving end of another helping of such as Horace Silver‘s Lonely Woman filled the car. Silver, whose rich 60-year career in the jazz world ended with his passing in 2014, composed and recorded Lonely Woman in 1963. It came out in 1965 on his most famous album, Song For My Father.

There’s little I need to say about the song. It is subdued and righteous and should be better known than it is. A trio (Horace on piano, Roy Brooks on drums, and Gene Taylor on bass) perform Lonely Woman, Horace having decided that the tune would benefit if saxophone and trumpet, which appear on the majority of his recordings, sat this one out. Less sometimes is more. What’s more, Horace plays straight through Lonely Woman’s seven-minute length, having further decided that neither a bass solo nor drum solo were appropriate. Hats off to that.

Slices of life. Slices of pizza. I’m sure a spot-on connection could be drawn between them, and that slice-y metaphors are out there ripe for the picking. Those with bulbs brighter than mine would have no trouble drawing and picking. Which is why I now shall quietly exit the stage, before long to return with another tale of the sublimely simple. Till then, amigos . . .

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The Sweet Spot (Musically Speaking)

It was a typical Sunday evening in the Scheinin home. There we were, my wife Sandy and I, sitting on the living room couch, twiddling our thumbs in unison and waiting for the tea kettle to come to a boil. I know that this picture sounds bland, but you’d be surprised how strongly it, and many similar moments in my life and Sandy’s life, resonate with a group of media honchos who for now will go unnamed. Let me just say that Sandy and I have been tabbed to star in a reality TV series projected to air beginning in early 2017. It’s tentative title is Action Is Overrated: Flying Low With The Scheinins. Stay tuned to this website for updates.

Earlier in the day, though, I had gone against grain and been an energetic person. In the aftermath of January’s Blizzard Jonas, which had dumped two feet of snow in my suburban Philadelphia region the previous day, I had spent three hours shoveling. Incredibly, my back hadn’t stiffened like a log. In fact it felt pretty good as, the kettle finally having tooted,  Sandy and I settled back with our cuppas and I started paying attention to the tunes emanating from the radio. On most Sunday nights we flip between three stations which, at those hours, keep things on the non-bombastic side. We didn’t feel the need to scramble our brains with punk rock or heavy funk or avant garde jazz. Not that I would have minded, to tell you the truth, but I wasn’t in the mood to provoke divorce proceedings.

Gram Parsons
Gram Parsons

And at around 8 PM something wonderful happened. WPRB, Princeton University’s eclectic-minded station, played a song that changed my tunings. The song not only caught my attention, it caused me to melt and then to float. I liked that. “Oh wow,” I said to myself. “I wouldn’t mind a joint right now.” But those really high days are so far behind me I’d need Daniel Boone to help me find the trail leading back to them. Instead, I settled for present-day reality. Closing my eyes I began to vibrate in a most splendid way. I followed the music as it traveled, gently swirling in and around the sounds. Gram Parsons’ countrified version of The Streets Of Baltimore (click here to listen) had gone straight to my sweet spot.

Sweet spot? I’m definitely at a loss to say exactly what this is. In nearly 60 years as a music imbiber I hadn’t given it much thought till Gram came on the radio the other night, although I’d been its beneficiary thousands of times before. I suppose that my sweet spot is a magical kind of place whose gatekeepers, when awakened by just-right combinations of tones and rhythms, send me on a calm yet mysteriously exciting journey. It’s all very cool.

But you know, music can bypass my sweet spot and still make me feel great. For instance, there’s nothing better than straight-ahead Stonesy rock when pumping up my internal volume is a priority. And Sinatra singing I’m A Fool To Want You or some other such brooding song is my ticket to a deep and contemplative experience. At times though, such as on the post-Jonas night, I realize that I want nothing more than allowing my sweet spot to be opened. Stringed instruments often, yet hardly always, hold the key.

The Waterboys
The Waterboys

Soon after WPRB’s disc jockey spun The Streets Of Baltimore he threw another transporter at me, and it got to me even more than the Parsons number. It was Fisherman’s Blues (click here to listen), a Celtic-rocker by The Waterboys. The Streets Of Baltimore’s gorgeous pedal steel guitar and fiddle lines, trancelike clip-clop beat and Gram’s quietly potent singing had sent me to the upper atmosphere. Fisherman’s mandolin and fiddle work took me even higher. Man, those two instruments intertwined like perfect friends, hard and steady drumming allowing them to soar. And Mike Scott’s gruff vocals and exuberant whoops?  Spine-tingling.

The Robins
The Robins

After Fisherman’s Blues ended I wanted another sweet ride. Turning thumbs-down on the next few songs that WPRB aired, I flipped over to University of Pennsylvania’s WXPN, but came up empty there too. Another channel switch brought me to the low wattage operation based a few miles from where I live, the all-volunteer WRDV. I’m crazy about this station. Five or so years ago it reignited my love for R&B, soul and doo wop. And minutes after I tuned in on that recent Sunday night they played a song that took me away: My Heart’s The Biggest Fool, recorded and released in early 1953 by The Robins, a pretty popular R&B vocal group during that era. I tip my hat to WRDV for knowing about this obscurity. I’d never heard of the song before (click here to listen). As it played I went with the flow and swam for the third time that evening through the ethers. Simple instrumentation, vocals that swell and bubble majestically, understated electric guitar work that subtly pushes things along. Magnificent.

Sweet spots. We’re lucky we have ’em.

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