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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showing Red Some Love

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: My iPhone’s camera and I were made for each other. That’s because it was designed for technologically-challenged people such as I. Aim the camera in the correct direction, tap the phone’s screen to tighten the camera’s focus and to adjust the brightness level, and then press the big button. Easy f*cking peasy. And in most situations I’m pleased as punch with the images that result.

And I use the camera quite a lot. That point was brought home to me for the umpteenth time when I recently scrolled through the photos I snapped last year. I haven’t totaled the number, but four or five hundred feels about right. That’s a good deal of snapping. And a pretty high percentage of the pictures were taken with Yeah, Another Blogger in mind, because I like to jazz up most of my essays with a selection of pix.    

Well, upon examining 2020’s photographic output I came to the conclusion that I should turn some aspect of it into an entry for this publication. Display twelve photos, one from each of last year’s months, perhaps? Or select a bunch of pictures with oddly-angled components? Okay, why not? But in the end I decided to go with photos that feature, and not always prominently, the color red. I’m not exactly sure why, but after a while red was sort of jumping out at me from the photos, even though only a relative handful of them have any red elements in them. Maybe that’s why I gave red the green light. By which I mean that I don’t show red some love often enough, and the time had arrived to begin rectifying that. Which was fitting in a way, of course, as red is the color associated with love.

Cape May, New Jersey. October 2020

 

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. May 2020

And when I say red, I’m talking about bold reds. Not necessarily fire truck red, but not too far from that vicinity. I looked online at color charts a little while ago and was surprised to see colors listed as shades of red that I don’t consider to be reds at all. Pinks, for example, and salmon, and hues that I think of as being in the brown family. Whatever. Nice bright reds are what I’m sticking with for this essay. 

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. January 2020

 

Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. May 2020

You have to love those varieties of red, right? I mean, they’re truly eye-catching. Yet they are anything but ubiquitous in nature. You see bright reds in some flowers and produce and on some birds, yes, but almost nowhere else in the natural world that I can think of. I suppose you could say the same for bright yellows, oranges and purples too, but that’s outside the purview of this little story. (Yellows, oranges and purples, sue me for ignoring you! See how far that will get you.)  Yeah, greens, blues, greys, whites, browns and tans rule when it comes to nature. That’s just the way it is.

Ambler, Pennsylvania. December 2020

What’s more, you don’t come across a startling amount of traditional reds in the man-made world either. STOP signs, certain traffic lights, Coca-Cola vending machines and a smattering of motor vehicles are red, and red is used pretty often as a decorative touch on other objects. Bold red lipstick isn’t uncommon, and a modest number of people dress in red now and then. But, it seems to me, the use of red doesn’t go much beyond all of that. 

Shit, I’m starting to feel sorry for red. Excuse me for the next few hours . . . I’m going to paint both sides of every door of my house bright frigging red!

Okay, I’m back. And I chickened out. My doors remain as they were. Neutral colors, you dig?

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. December 2020

I’m now going to turn my attention to the sunset photo above. It comes from a series of pictures of a sunset and of Christmas lights that I snapped one day last month in my neighborhood (if you click here, my story about those sights will appear). The sunset that late afternoon was glorious, its colors spreading from the west to cover a large portion of the sky. I was facing north, looking at the sweeping colors, when I took this picture. And I took it because, as spectacular as the skies were, the red STOP sign commanded attention and admiration too. I applauded and acknowledged the sign by including it in the scene. I showed red some love.

Is it clichéd of me to stretch a theme wildly by saying that showing love is where it’s at in all aspects of life? For we know that there can’t be too much love in a world where darkness and hate always have been powerful realities. Yes, it is clichéd, but no matter. Concluding this essay in such a manner seems like an appropriate thing to do. Thanks for reading, girls and boys. If you have any comments, please don’t be shy about adding them. Adios till next time.

(My many photos from 2020 include about 40 that have red in them. I chose six of those for this story.) 

A Routine And Musical Story

Well, it was déjà vu all over again yesterday morning, seeing that I did the things that I do just about every morning. First, the preliminaries: I woke up. Amen to that! Then I headed to the bathroom to take care of urgent business, upon the conclusion of which I threw on some clothes.

At that point the morning routine began: I entered the kitchen to pour myself some freshly-brewed coffee (it was waiting for me because I’d loaded the coffee maker before I went to bed, setting its timer to begin the brewing process at 6:30 AM). With a cup of java in hand I walked into the living room and sat my bony ass upon one of my closest friends, the sofa. Next, I opened my laptop computer and brought to its screen BrainBashers, a site containing sudoku and other puzzles. Still only half awake, I had a go at two sudokus. Then I went back into the kitchen to swallow my daily regimen of assorted pills. Finally, I ate breakfast.

Yup, the same pattern morning after morning after morning. Holy crap, I’m a boring, regimented f*cker, aren’t I? Don’t answer that! Here’s the thing, though: I’m okay with the routine, as two of its components (coffee-drinking and sudoku-attempting) relax and comfort me. They don’t give me anything resembling major charges, for sure, but relaxation and comfort count for something.

On the other hand, there’s nothing about my late night routine that comforts me, let alone rings my chimes. This is what it entails: I put ground coffee and H2O in the coffee maker and set its timer for a 6:30 AM start. My wife Sandy places medicinal eyedrops in my eyes, to ward off glaucoma. Then, in the bathroom, I spend ten minutes cleaning my teeth and gums fastidiously, to ward off periodontal disease.

Yup, the same pattern night after night after night. Holy crap, I’m a boring, regimented f*cker, aren’t I? Don’t answer that!

Fortunately, that’s not the whole picture. Yes, hum-drum routines partially rule me, as is true for just about everyone, I think. But this aged boy, who has more wrinkles on his face than are found in a pound of prunes, hasn’t forgotten how to put some spice in his life. And television and music are two of the main outlets that I turn to when I need doses of spice. I wrote about TV recently, so the only thing I’ll say about that subject now is that my latest obsession is Borgen, a taut and fascinating political drama series from Denmark. Netflix carries it.

Okay, then. It’s time to devote a few words to my main passion, music.

For about 50 years I’ve been a music junkie. One of my aims during that time has been to discover music that is new to me. These days, an assortment of terrestrial and satellite radio channels help me in that quest. On them, I continuously hear great tunes from the past and present, many of which I never heard before. The following three, along with several others, stood out for me during 2020 and were released that year too: Lilacs, by Waxahatchee (that’s the alias that Katie Crutchfield uses for her musical projects); And It’s Still Alright, by Nathaniel Rateliff; Cold, by Chris Stapleton.

Some lowdown on the artists: Waxahatchee, Rateliff and Stapleton established solid musical careers in the  2000s. That’s especially true for Stapleton, who has become a huge star. Millions of country, rock and pop music fans are into him. Rateliff, several notches below Stapleton on the success ladder, attracted loads of followers this century with his rocking rhythm and blues band Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, which is on hiatus (Rateliff currently is doing his thing without the band). And Waxahatchee, a darling of the indie rock world, probably would like to break through to a wider audience, and probably isn’t holding her breath waiting for that to happen.

The songs appear on the artists’ latest albums. The lyrics of each are contemplative and piercing. Sonically, the recordings mesmerize me. I become putty in their hands, all too glad to have them take me to places deep inside myself. Is Cold my favorite of the three? Sometimes I think it is, so commanding is Stapleton’s voice. But when I give Lilacs or And It’s Still Alright an additional listen, I’m not so sure. I can make a case for each of them as being the best new song that I heard in 2020.

That’s enough commentary. Here comes the music. As I often mention, please don’t be shy about adding your thoughts. Gracias. Till next time!

This Is My 250th Story! (Thank You, Dr. R. U. Forereel, For Making It Happen)

As usual, you’re late!” my psychiatrist, Dr. R. U. Forereel, correctly and forcefully noted. “Neil, your chronic tardiness is a sign of, of, of . . . of what? Oh, who knows, who cares? Have a seat, Neil. Let’s get started. I’m waiting with baited breath to hear what comes out of your mouth during this session. Or not.”

Gingerly I settled into the large chair that, from a distance of ten feet, faced its twin, upon which Dr. Forereel sat. This being the Age Of Coronavirus, we both were masked. “Doctor, I’m sorry,” I said. “I try my hardest to arrive at your office on time, but something always seems to come up. Today it was a freak accident. Here’s what happened: When I got into my car to drive over here I very forcefully attempted to push the seatbelt buckle into place. But somehow I misjudged what I was doing and ended up stabbing my private parts real good. Holy crap, Doctor, that hurt! I managed to stagger out of the car and back into my house, holding the damaged goods as discreetly as I could. I hope none of the neighbors saw me. Anyway, the boys and the mighty sword are all bandaged up nicely now. I’m good to go! Actually, I lie. If I have sex before the year is out, it’ll be a miracle. In any event, it’s truly amazing that I’m only 20 minutes late.”

“Your privates will be in my prayers tonight,” said my psychiatrist almost sympathetically. “They deserve better, I’m sure. Now Neil, tell me what has been weighing on your mind since our last monthly session. Don’t tell me everything, of course. My eyes will have no trouble doing their glazing-over thing if you do. So, let’s stick to a highlight or two.”

You see? That’s why I like Dr. Forereel so much: she doesn’t feed me bullshit, she’s more or less honest with her feelings, and she cuts to the chase.

“Okay, Doctor. Yes, something has been bothering me quite a lot. It has to do with my blog. You know about my blog, right?”

She shook her head in disbelief. “Of course I know about your blog. You bring it up in one context or another at almost every session! Neil, listen to me. Even though your blog is dear to your heart, I’ve tried to show you that you actually are in conflict with your writerly side. Writing puts tremendous strains upon you, and they are without a doubt unhealthy. I’m talking about the anxiety that you feel in trying to develop story ideas, and the mental and emotional exhaustion that leave you as limp as your once-mighty sword after you complete each article.”

“Neil, in my professional opinion you should change direction and not look back! Take up some other activities in writing’s place. Knitting would suit you just fine, for instance. It’s comforting, it’s creative, it’s a form of meditation, you know. And maybe it will improve your manual dexterity, so that you don’t stab yourself in your genitals ever again. What’s more, nobody in a million years would miss the trifling essays and attempts at humor that you fill your website with. Cyberspace is overflowing unmercifully with content. You should do your civic duty and help to declutter it. Stop writing, in other words!”

“Doctor, I tend to agree with you. I’m pretty well spent, but I can’t halt just yet,” I said. “You see, my next story will be my 250th. Shit, Doctor, I can’t not publish number 250. Pardon my French, by the way. Two hundred and fifty articles is a big milestone. I’d be tremendously disappointed in myself if I stopped at 249.”

“You’re kidding, Neil, right?” she asked. “There would be nothing for you to to be ashamed of were you to hang up your spurs right now. If you did, you would be demonstrating excellent sense and judgment. And 249 strikes me as such an ideally oddball number. In that sense it suits you perfectly!”

“Points taken, Doctor. But getting back to what’s been bothering me: I’ve been racking my brain to try and come up with a story idea for my 250th piece, but no luck. My mind has gone desert-like. What should I do, Doctor Forereel? Can you help?”

She looked at me long and hard, and took a few seconds before responding. Then she said this: “Neil, I doubt that I’m equipped to help you discover story ideas, unless you’re interested in writing about the deep underpinnings of your psyche that we’ve uncovered at our sessions. But they’re awfully boring, truthfully speaking, aren’t they? Nobody would want to read about them, I’m sure. Let me say, though, that part of your problem, without question, has to do with aging. Let’s face it, Neil, you’re an old f*ck — pardon my French — and writing doesn’t become easier as one’s hourglass empties and empties. That’s true for just about everything, right? Knitting excepted, of course.”

Those final comments brought me up short. Though I didn’t want to be, I was reminded that life is fleeting, no matter how long you live. My jaw sank. My eyes dropped. But my mind awakened. “Dr. Forereel,” I said, “believe it or not, you’ve just presented a fine idea to me. My 250th story will be about the preciousness of life, about how we should appreciate what we have, and that we should do our best to live joyfully. Thank you, Doctor, thank you.”

“Neil, I am delighted to have been of service. And a quick glance at the clock on the wall tells me that our time is up once again. Don’t bump your accessories into anything on your way out. They’ve suffered enough for one day. I’ll see you a month from now. And don’t be late next time!”

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Dr. Forereel and I would appreciate it.)

TV, I Bow Before Thee!

Like everyone, I’m anxiously awaiting the day when a vaccine is created that puts an end to the pandemic that has sent us into the twilight zone. It will be fabulous to ditch the f*cking masks and gloves that make us look like weirdo safe crackers. Better yet, getting together with friends and relatives will be back on our agendas, and the outlook will be fair or better for those businesses that were able to survive the dark times. Until that day arrives though, the overall picture, I believe, will continue to be anything but pretty.

Fortunately, life has been okay for me and my wife Sandy since coronavirus struck our part of the USA in March (we live near Philadelphia). Nowhere near as okay as it used to be, but okay enough. You adapt as best you can, after all, and try to deal with reality decently.

Among other things, the pandemic has forced me to make major adjustments to time allocation, as many of what had been my normal, much-enjoyed activities are only memories right now. That’s because, for health and safety reasons, my volunteer jobs were suspended and most of the usual outside-the-home entertainment choices that Sandy and I indulged in (socializing, cinemas, music venues, restaurants, museums) are unavailable, for now anyway.

So, how have I, a lazy septuagenarian, been filling the 16 or so hours of freed-up time each week? Well, for one thing, the living room sofa and I see more of each other than ever before. Upon its sensuous cushions I while away the time, alternating between scratching my balls and twirling the five strands of hair that remain on the crown of my head. Yes, I’m proud to report that my fellas are hanging in there okay, considering my advanced age, and that the strands of hair look damn studly. Thanks for asking!

Now, the scratching and twirling account for about nine of the 16 hours, and largely are confined to mornings and afternoons. What about the other seven hours? In a word, television. You see, in early April I really began to miss the kicks I’d been getting for ages at concerts, cinemas, etc. This ol’ boy needed to get entertainment from somewhere. And I wanted to do that with Sandy, my partner in kicks-experiencing for lo these many years. Television was the obvious outlet.

It’s not that I’m a stranger to the tube. In fact, I once was a highly dedicated viewer. But that ended about 12 years ago. Since then I’ve watched TV mostly in shortish sessions and mostly late at night, compulsively and expertly flipping channels. That pattern now has expanded. Yeah, I’ve retained the late night regimen. But, in addition, several evenings a week at around 8:30 or 9:00, Sandy and I head upstairs to our bedroom, which contains the bigger and better of the two TV sets in our home. We then proceed to lose ourselves for an hour or more. Doing so is nothing new for Sandy, who always has racked up admirable numbers of evening hours in front of the home screen. But, as noted, it’s been more than a while for me.

And you know what? I love it! Laughing, gasping, oohing and aahing together has been fun. Together, of course, is the operative word.

And what have we watched? Good movies, such as The Two Popes, The Wizard Of Oz, Saving Mr. Banks,  and Standing In The Shadows Of Motown. And a not-so-good one, Roma, which won an Oscar as 2018’s best foreign language film but which left me blank.

And entertaining series, two of them (Modern Family and Curb Your Enthusiasm) on network and premium-channel television. The others (Sherlock; Lilyhammer; After Life) were on Netflix, which has become one of my greatest pals. Man, we tore through the Netflix series zestfully, usually chowing down two episodes per sitting (no binge-watching for us, though. Maybe Sandy has the energy for that, but I don’t). And we’ve only scratched the surface of what the Netflix library holds.

Yes, without a doubt we’ll keep watching TV together till outside-the-house entertainment opens up, and probably not stop even then. I’ve learned that there’s a whole lot to be said for TV togetherness. I used to know that, but had forgotten. So, at least one positive development has come out of the pandemic.

Girls and boys, in conclusion let me say this: The last few months have been disorienting to most, probably all, of us. What adjustments have you needed to make as a result of coronavirus’ far reach? How do you spend the extra hours that you might have found yourself with? Finally, which shows and movies have you been watching on TV? I’d be glad to hear your thoughts about any or all of these items.

Colors, Colors, Colors!

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Colors, colors, colors! I’m in the mood to write about colors — big, bold combinations of them — and to look at those combos in the eight photographs that decorate this article. Who, after all, doesn’t like snazzy hues that are having a ball playing together? They can make your day.

Manhattan, New York City

Philadelphia Flower Show (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

And before I go any further, I have to say that the pictures, all of which I took in recent years, send tingles from my head to my toes. But wait, I’m exaggerating. The truth is that the tingles don’t come close to reaching my toes. Due to my advanced age, the best they can do is terminate one foot above my groin, where they paddle around for a second or two and then go poof! Shit, such is life.

Abington, Pennsylvania

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Where was I? Yeah, I’m a sucker for vibrant color displays. Always have been. Like just about everybody, for instance, I’ve dug fireworks for almost as long as I can remember. Circa 1954, when I was very young and living in Brooklyn, my parents took me to the roof of a tall apartment building on our block. There, along with a bunch of other families, we watched fireworks exploding in the skies above the Atlantic Ocean near Coney Island Beach. The fireworks were several miles away from where we stood, appearing small at that distance, of course, but I found them groovy. Colors, colors, colors.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

And in my adulthood, which has been a work in progress for over 50 years, my admiration of fireworks has done nothing but grow. I always get close to the displays, as I like having the shifting shapes and colors in my face as much as possible. Many communities in the USA, including Philadelphia and various towns surrounding it, set off fireworks on July 4, which is America’s Independence Day. My wife Sandy and I live near Philly and have attended many Fourth Of July shows in that city or in its burbs.

What’s more, for a long time Philadelphia has gone one step further by ushering in each New Year with fireworks on the city’s Delaware River waterfront. Sandy and I love those shows too. As long as the outside temperature isn’t an ass-freezer, we go. The fireworks photo included with this story was snapped in Philly on the final evening of 2019. Right, we didn’t freeze our asses off.

Cape Cinema (Cape Cod, Massachusetts)

The other photograph that I’ll expend some words on is the one from Cape Cinema, a movie theater in the Massachusetts town of Dennis, on Cape Cod. My wife and I have vacationed almost annually on Cape Cod since 1998. And Cape Cinema has become one of our must-go-to entertainment venues. It shows good movies. And, incredibly, it is blessed with a swirling, otherworldly artwork that covers every inch of its auditorium’s ceiling and much of the auditorium’s walls.

Is there another theater in the world such as this? If so, I’m unaware of it. Created by Rockwell Kent and Jo Mielziner in 1930, the enormous mural (which was painted on canvas strips that then were glued to the interior surfaces) blows my mind every time I see it. Which is often, because I’ve been to this theater at least 35 times. The mural depicts mythological creatures and heavenly objects, but the subject matter hardly matters to me. No, what I’m interested in is allowing the feast of colors and patterns to intoxicate me, which they always do. I get lost in them. Cape Cinema is magical.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Yet, here’s the thing: As much as I love to be around color extravaganzas, there are limits to how often. Lengthy exposures to them on a regular basis (or to any forms of excitement, come to think of it) would cause my system to overload, to beg for mercy. Of that I have no doubt.

And so, if I were forced to make a choice, color-wise, between flash on the one hand and mellowness on the other, the latter would win hands down. To cite an example of mellowness, there’s almost nothing I’d rather do than stand, facing the water, on a sandy ocean coastline on a clear day. Hundreds of times I’ve done exactly that, drenching myself in the tans below me, the teals in front of me, and the great expanse of baby blue overhead. The palette in such a setting soothes, man, soothes. No, I wouldn’t be pleased about eliminating bouncy, bright color schemes from my life, but I would if I had to. I have a feeling that most people would choose the same as me.

Thank goodness that none of us has to make that choice, though. There’s a vast number of colors out there. And there’s a time and a place for each of them. Say hallelujah, girls and boys! Amen.

(Comments are welcomed, as is the sharing of this article. Mucho gracias.)

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

Who You Calling “Retired”?

A week ago I paid a visit to my long-time barber, Paul. His mission? To make presentable the three strands of hair remaining on the crown of my head. Or is it five? Hang on, I’m going to take a look in the bathroom mirror. I’ll be back in a sec.

Here I am again. It’s five. And those motherf*ckers are lookin’ good!

Where was I? Ah yes, my barber, Paul.

Now, this guy is something else. Paul’s smart. He’s goofy, approaching the world from twisted angles. He cuts hair really well. And, despite being deep into his 70s, puts in nine or more hours at the job, six days a week. Paul’s got energy up the wazoo, and makes hordes of the world’s workers, no matter what their age, look like slackers. If he hangs up his scissors one day, the town in which his barber shop is located ought to erect a statue in his honor. And the inscription on the statue should include words such as these: “Paul’s work ethic was superb. You think you work hard? Think again, homie. Compared to Paul, you probably don’t.”

During that recent visit to Paul’s establishment, he posed a question. “How long have you been retired, Neil?” he asked while contemplating how to handle those five strands of hair.

I tensed up a bit at Paul’s inquiry. Retired? I’ve got to tell you that I don’t like the sound of that word when it’s directed at me. Sure, I left my government-work career in 2009. And sure, I’m in the early stage of my septuagenarian era. But I’m not retired, at least not by my way of looking at things. I mean, I do a decent amount of volunteer work every week. And I sweat bullets turning out the stories that I launch into cyberspace, such as the one you’re reading right now. Between volunteering and writing, I’m clocking up an average of about 20 hours of work weekly. That isn’t in Paul’s league, but it ain’t bad.

Anyway, I explained to Paul that I’m still a part of the workforce, though unpaid, and then let him have a go at the strands.

Indeed, I like to work. I need the structure that working provides, and I value the physical and mental energies that work requires. And, happily, I’m a recipient of job satisfaction: My volunteer gigs — for two shifts each week I man the information desk in a medical office building — agree with me. As does writing, though in a masochistic sort of way. The bottom line is that I have no plans to ditch my occupations.

What would occur if I put my work aside? Nothing to write home about, that’s for sure. I’d have way too many additional hours to fill comfortably. I already regularly indulge in good stuff such as concert-going, museum-visiting and traveling here and there, and don’t have the urge to devote more hours to those pursuits. No, if I stopped working I’d probably spend more time than ever on my living room sofa, where I’ve become expert at idly surfing the Web, snacking, and scratching my balls to make sure they haven’t shrunk. Working’s a better alternative.

Yes, there’s a lot to be said for working. And substantial numbers of folks in my age bracket, and older, are still heavily in the game. Some of my relatives and friends who are card-carrying seniors, for example, rival or surpass Paul in the number of hours they expend on their jobs. A few of them wouldn’t have it otherwise, being in love with their chosen fields. And then there’s the childhood pal of mine who continues to work full-time as a lawyer. I was at lunch with him last month. Unlike the people I just mentioned, he’s not fully enthralled by his occupation, but he knows himself well enough not to leave it behind. “What else am I going to do?” he asked me. “Mow my lawn all day?” He thinks like me. And he likes his place in life.

On the other hand, I also have relatives and friends in the seniors camp who no longer work and are as happy as clams. They lead fulfilling lives and have no regrets about occupying the post-employment category. You can’t do much better than that. After all, whether we’re employed or not, achieving happiness and feeling fulfilled are among our top goals, right? And by our, I’m referring, I figure, to about 75% of dear Planet Earth’s human residents, not just to seniors.

Family life, social life, work, hobbies, studying, spirituality, creative endeavors . . . these and other avenues, usually taken in one combination or another, can make our goals reality, whatever our age. Different strokes for different folks, and all that. Life’s cool that way.

Okay, sermon over. Amen. Class dismissed.

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We Deserve To Be Rocked!

The late Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Bluebeard, which came out in 1987 and which I read a few weeks ago, isn’t one of the best books I’ve ever pulled off a shelf. I mean, the plot is not particularly compelling. And whatever points Vonnegut was trying to make don’t congeal. But sometimes I’m a forgiving soul! And this was one of those times. Meaning, I enjoyed Bluebeard (though there’s no arguing that The Sirens Of Titan and Cat’s Cradle, among others, are better Vonnegut creations). It’s a breezy read. Its witticisms and absurdist underpinnings kept me flipping the pages. And eventually the book found its way into my heart when it helped to spur the production of this essay. See? It can pay to read a mediocre book!

Bluebeard is the supposed autobiography of septuagenarian Rabo Karabekian, a once-acclaimed but now-forgotten abstract painter who, through no real efforts of his own, has become ridiculously wealthy. But his riches mean little to Rabo. Hell, just about everything means little to him. He isn’t a basket case, but he passes through his “golden years” with emotions that rarely jump above a flatline pattern. Rabo would do well to allow joy to enter his life a whole lot more often.

I’ve incorporated Bluebeard into this opus as a result of my attention having been turned to one of the first pieces I wrote for this website. That occurred when I noticed, on my WordPress statistics page, that somebody in our big, old world recently had taken a look at said story, upon which I had bestowed an incredibly ungainly title:  Are We Just Boring As We Get Older? Jackson Browne, And I, Say It Ain’t Necessarily So (click here if you’d like to read it).

Well, last week I read that Browne essay to relearn what it’s all about. Shit, like I should have been able to recall something I penned almost five years ago? I’m lucky when I remember which drawer I keep my underpants in. Turns out that the piece is about the power of music to improve your life. Browne, a primo singer-songwriter who has been going strong in the music biz for over 50 years, has clear thoughts on the subject. Here are his words from my story. They are what he had to say, back in 2014, to interviewer David Dye when asked if people become boring in later life: “As you age, you look for ways in which to sustain yourself . . . Music is restorative, the act of doing it, the act of listening to it. Man, it’s good for you. It can really make the difference in how the rest of your life goes, and especially how you feel physically.”

Right on, Jackson! I couldn’t agree more. Music can calm you down. It can take your mind off your troubles and woes. And, way better from my perspective, music might lead you to inner regions that are so pure and enchanting, you can’t believe your good fortune in being there. Jackson’s quote put me in mind of Rabo Karabekian. Music seems to be absent from Rabo’s life, and he’s all the poorer for it.

Rabo aside, I’d guess that music plays anywhere from a reasonably big to a real big part in most peoples’ lives. Speaking personally, which I sure do a hell of a lot of in this publication, I’d be one sorry f*cker were music to be taken away from me. Listening to music sometimes makes my day. At the least, it helps to get me through each day. Unlike in my youth and middle age, I don’t need to hear tons and tons of music (like Rabo and Jackson, I’m into my 70s), but not a day goes by without a healthy dose, at minimum, of tunes greeting my ears.

And most genres of music suit me just fine. Jazz, blues, reggae, soul, classical, you name it. But more than anything, I like to be rocked. Rocked, that is, by loud, pulsating rock music, the varieties of same that prominently employ electric guitars. This doesn’t happen too much in my house, where my wife Sandy prefers music to be on the more sedate side of the spectrum. But I’ve made it a point over the past 12 months to attend concerts that rock me to the bones. I hadn’t done enough of that in the previous 10 or so years. Paradoxically, Sandy often accompanies me to these shows.

Rocked I was, and mightily, on January 11 when my much-better half and I went to a four-hour, five-band rock concert at City Winery, in Philadelphia. The bands took no prisoners. Nothing resembling a ballad was played that night. I liked each act, but one was head and shoulders above the rest. Namely, Joe Grushecky And The Houserockers (Joe is from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, has been rocking and rolling forever, and is pals with Bruce Springsteen). During long passages on each of their songs, the singing stopped and the group’s three-guitar attack took to the skies. Closing my eyes, I let the dense, rushing waves of sound bring me as close to “heaven” as I’ll ever get.

Joe Grushecky And The Houserockers (Joe has the red guitar. Some band members wouldn’t fit in the photo.)

Yes, music, whether you’re a listener or performer, can be a nourishing force that opens hidden doors. And it’s not the only one, of course, though I have to think that it reigns supreme. For some people, painting or sculpting might take them to magical places. Or skiing. Or playing basketball. Who knows how long the list is. I believe that, consciously or not, we all crave more than the everyday, no matter what our age. And that, at least now and then, we want to soar. Man, we deserve to be rocked, in a good way of course, musically or otherwise. Damn straight about that. Our time on Planet Earth is limited, after all.

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Relentlessly, Time Marches On (A Mortality Story)

For nearly all of my adult life, walking around while looking at things has been one of the activities that pleases me the most. I especially like to stretch the ol’ legs in cities, where there is no end of interesting sights, and in unspoiled natural areas, where the wonders of organic and inorganic matter never fail to amaze. And I’m also an explorer of towns that look like towns. Their old-timey ambience gets to me every time. This year I went for a healthy number of walks in all of these environments, both in the USA and in Europe, and consider myself fortunate to have done so.

My neighborhood (November 7, 2019)

However, one place where I don’t go out for walks too often is my own neighborhood, which occupies a fair amount of space in the suburbs of Philadelphia, USA. Basically that’s because my neighborhood is bland, man, bland, as is much of suburbia. Early this month, though, the urge hit me to hit my house’s surrounding blocks. Why? I wanted to check out how much of autumn’s colors were still in evidence. So, off I went in mid-afternoon. I strode along many streets, my eyes primarily focusing on tree foliage, or what was left of it. One hour later I returned to my home, having been wowed not all too much. That’s because, in my little corner of the world, yellows and ambers and russets and burgundies were close to being placed on life support. The autumnal party was just about over.

My neighborhood (November 7, 2019)

Yet, the walk had its good points. The temperature was pleasant and the air was still. Few cars made their way along the roads, and I crossed paths with only a couple of fellow humans. My mind and emotions, as a result of all of this, were in a state of relative calm. I was getting my Zen on. And I kind of liked that. You know, maybe I should enroll in a Zen monastery. I hear that they give heavily discounted rates to old f*ckers like me. Plus, I’d look great in a real long robe.

Calm as my mind was during the expedition, however, the obvious failed to impress itself upon me. Two days later it did. What I realized is that not only is fall waning in my section of the globe, but winter is drawing near. Not exactly an earthshattering observation, of course, but a useful one. Note to myself: Get ready to start freezing your ass off!

And one day after that I became somewhat melancholy as my thoughts expanded beyond winter’s approach. What struck me is that last winter seemed to be not all that long ago. For instance, I can recall in detail the events of last December’s New Year’s Eve, when my wife and I went with friends to dinner and to see John Oliver perform stand-up comedy at a Philadelphia theater. Was that really eleven months in the past? It feels like five months max.

Which at long last brings me to the main theme of this opus. Namely, our lives are flying by right before our very eyes. This would be okay if we went on and on and on. Time, then, would be irrelevant. I’ve reached the age, though, where time’s rapid pace mildly depresses me. I think semi-regularly about how much time I have left. My end might be imminent, after all. Shit. Double shit. Then again, I might hang around for another 30 years, which would bring me into my early 100s. Who knows? Whatever, if it were up to me, I’d go on forever. As in forever. I know that some or maybe most people wouldn’t choose the same. But even though the state of affairs on Planet Earth is incredibly far from perfect, overall I like being here.

“Huh? Who would want to live forever, considering that wars, floods, droughts, health epidemics and untold other calamities never go away?” I hear someone ask.

“Well, to my way of thinking, these things shouldn’t exist,” I reply. “For that matter, the whole setup on our planet would be different if I were in charge. I mean, what’s the deal with animal species — and that obviously includes humans — feeding upon other animal species? Where’s the value of life in that? And let’s not get started about other orbs in the cosmos. I shudder to think what varieties of mayhem are taking place among life forms out there.” Sigh. “It’s a pity that I wasn’t around for consultation when the universe began spinning itself into shape.”

Yeah, yeah, I sidestepped the question big time. Sue me.

And so we move along through life, hopefully trying our best to do our best. What matters in life? We all know the answers: Showing others that you care, and attending to them when your help is needed; providing properly for those that depend on us, and for ourselves; respecting the planet on which we pass our days; pursuing that which rocks our boats, as long as our passions don’t cause harm.

The list, without question, could hold many more entries. But I think I got most of the basics right. Seeing that our time on Planet Earth is limited, we might as well spend it wisely and meaningfully. And, speaking of time, it’s a late morning as I type this essay’s final words. Shortly I’ll be out the door, meeting the world and trying to keep in mind the unsolicited advice I offered in the above paragraph. Onward and upward!

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It’s Old, And Now It’s Almost Gone: Goodbye, Honda Civic

If it had been up to me, the Honda Civic that my wife Sandy and I bought fresh from the factory in 2001 would still be parked in front of our house, ready for action. I’ve always liked that car. Even though its body paint eventually mimicked the appearance of my age-mottled skin, and the fabric on the underside of its roof has drooped like a cow’s udder for years, I didn’t care. Sure, a paint job and a fabric repair would have been just what the doctor ordered, but I’ve got a knack for putting things off. Ergo, I happily continued to drive the Honda in its unattractive condition, allowing it to take me around my immediate area. In its old age, no way was I going to test the car’s capabilities on a long-distance drive. For modest daily transportation needs, however, the Civic has performed its job damn well.

On the other hand, Sandy has disliked the Honda, which I fully admit is an eyesore, ever since its appearance went south. She wouldn’t be seen as a passenger in said eyesore. Nor, as follows, would she drive it. She therefore stuck exclusively with our other car, a much, much newer model that I also motor around in a lot. And, needless to say, she also wasn’t thrilled that the Honda was on full display, for everyone to see, in the neighborhood. Who could blame her?

That’s why I promised last year that I’d help to make the Honda disappear by replacing it with a modern vehicle, one that looks good and is equipped with far more safety features than the Honda possesses. One situation or another kept getting in the way of that happening. But finally a miracle occurred a few weeks ago. Hallelujah, a new Toyota has become part of the family!

So, now we possess two recent-vintage vehicles. Sandy and I share them. And the Honda has been relegated to the bottom of the driveway, behind our house, where it awaits its fate. In a matter of days it will be towed away, a donation to a worthy charitable organization. I suppose they’ll get a few hundred bucks for it. I’ll be sorry to see it go.

Dig the drooping fabric inside the car.

But why will I be sorry? It’s a good question, one I probably wouldn’t have thought about had I not decided to bless cyberspace with a Honda tale. Luckily, a few insights have popped into my head.

I’ve never been too much of a materialistic sort of guy. Partly that’s because I had only a small amount of funds during the first 12 or so years of my adult life. And even though I’ve done all right financially since then, I haven’t felt the need to make up for lost time, acquisition-wise. Fact is, most of my possessions mean little to me anyway. Except for my vinyl album collection. Vinyl is f*cking cool, after all. And for a few pieces of artwork that tug at my emotional core. And for the Honda Civic, which, it’s only now dawned on me, reminds me of some qualities that I like and admire in people.

The Civic, which I’m going to refer to in the past tense here, was easy to be with, unpretentious, and made its way through life in good spirits despite my neglect of the face that it presented to the world. It also was reliable, having had very few mechanical issues in its lifetime, and, by virtue of its reliability, demonstrated excellent loyalty towards me.

Is it any wonder then that I felt totally at home when I slipped behind the Honda’s steering wheel? Being inside that car was like spending time with a good friend. I was on the same wavelength as the Honda. I understood it. Our personalities melded admirably. We were a compatible pair that had grown old together very comfortably.

I enjoy but have yet to develop anything resembling a love affair with either of the vehicles that Sandy and I now drive. And I’m nearly positive that I never will, which is okay. As long as they get me from here to there and back, that’s all that really matters. But they are too high-tech for me to fall heavily for them, too full of buttons and knobs and adjustment options and display screens. All of that places them far from the warm and cuddly section of my spectrum that the Civic occupied. These two newer cars don’t remind me of the sorts of people that I want to be around.

I don’t know, maybe I’ll go out for a final spin in the Honda before it’s towed away. Haven’t decided yet. Whether I do or don’t, the deep green Honda Civic, once as handsome as hell, soon will be gone from my life forever. Shit, I’m going to miss that old boy.

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