My Best-Seller-To-Be

The other day, all excited, I phoned my editor Edgar Reewright and told him about the book idea that had floated into my mind, from out of nowhere, that morning.

“Very nice, Neil, very nice. You’ve got quite the imagination,” he said in a flat tone when I was done. Then he excused himself, explaining that he had to tell his wife something. He asked me to hang on, neglecting to put me on hold. “Yo, Loretta!” I heard him yell. “You know that blogger whose crap I edit?”

Loretta was elsewhere in the house, obviously, but I was able to make out her response. “Right, his name is Noel or Niles or something like that, isn’t it?”

“You’re close. It’s Neil,” Edgar replied. “And he’s on the phone. He called because he plans to write a book, and he wants me to edit it. He’s never written a book before. All he does is turn out pointless essays for his blog. But if he does write this thing, it’ll be so bad it’ll make his essays look good.”

A few seconds later, Edgar spoke again. “I’m back, Neil. Where were we? I’m all ears.”

“All ears, huh? Well, it seems like you’re overlooking your big, loud f*cking mouth! I mean, you weren’t exactly whispering to Loretta just now, Edgar. Only the deaf wouldn’t have heard what you said. My man, you’ve got a lot of nerve talking about me like that. I’ll have you know that I’m a valued writer. WordPress, for instance, holds me in high regard. They contacted me a few days ago to let me know that my blog came in first in their If You Look Deeply, There’s A Slight Chance You’ll Find Something Of Worth And Interest Here competition for 2022. First place, Edgar! I’m very proud.”

“As well you should be, Neil. Listen, what can I say? Your book idea sounds like a loser to me, but maybe I’m wrong. Explain it to me once more, this time in a little more detail.”

“Okay, Edgar. It’s about a homely guy, Roy Oy, who’s going nowhere in life. He’s in his 50s, living with his elderly parents in the house he grew up in and stuck in a dead-end job as the fact-checker for Who’d Have Thunk It? magazine. He hasn’t been on a date in over 20 years and, needless to say, never has had a girlfriend. He spends his off-hours clipping coupons and watching YouTube videos about how to get in touch with space aliens.”

“I’m listening, Neil. Reluctantly,” Edgar said.

“Well, early one morning he’s awakened by a tap on the shoulder. Standing beside him is a strange creature. It’s four feet tall and slender, its bright skin colors pulsating like the aurora borealis and its head spinning around and around so as to take in just about everything all at once.”

“The visitor says, ‘Your incessant YouTube-viewing has paid off, for here I am. I initially planned to abduct you and take you back to my home planet. But I can tell that you’re really pathetic, so I’m not going to bother doing that. However, because I’m very magnanimous I will grant you one wish before I’m on my way. What may I do for you, Mr. Oy?’ ”

“Roy loses no time in answering. He tells the space alien that he wants the world to become a paradise, a place where everybody is loving, kind and generous, and where peace and prosperity reign. The alien says ‘okay, it’s done’ and then leaves via the window it had raised a minute earlier in order to enter the bedroom.”

“So, that’s it, Edgar. Just like that, Planet Earth becomes magnificent. Troubles are over. Everyone gets along. End of story.”

“Yup, I get it, Neil. But I don’t like it. Where’s the tension? Where’s the drama? Hell, nobody wants to read some half-baked, half-assed Pollyannaish tale. Count me out. Go ahead and write the book if you like, but I decline to edit it.”

“As you wish, Edgar. But you’re making a big mistake. Millions and millions of people love books with happy endings. My book, I have no doubt, will climb to the top of the charts and stay there for weeks and weeks. I’m going to become rich, Edgar, and I’d have given you a healthy cut of the profits. Your loss.”

At that moment I swear I could see dollar signs flashing in front of Edgar’s eyes.

“You know, Neil,” he said, “my judgment has been off for a long while. That’s what chronic constipation can do to you. I haven’t taken a dump in weeks, for crying out loud, even though I eat prunes like they’re going out of style and take stool softeners right and left. So, on second thought, count me in!”

“Thanks, Edgar. I’m going to pay you in prunes.”

75 And Counting

Eleven months ago I published a piece in which I noted that I couldn’t believe how fast 2021, and hence my life, was flying by. Well, somehow 2022 has equaled or maybe even surpassed 2021’s fleetness. And I have no doubt that 2023 will tear out of the starter’s block like Usain Bolt and then do nothing but pick up speed. Man, time unquestionably is the most precious commodity of all. It’s unsettling too.

Now, not everybody would agree with my perception of time. Most young people, for instance, don’t sense time as being a high-speed train.  Hell, for the most part they don’t think about time at all. Like many senior citizens, however, I have time on my mind pretty often. Meaning, I’m anything but oblivious to the facts that I’ve been on Planet Earth for a good long while, and that I’m a whole lot closer to the end than to the beginning. I don’t become badly depressed about it, or anything like that. However, the reality of the situation definitely gets my attention now and then.

I mention the above because I was stunned big-time a couple of months ago as I neared the completion of my 75th journey around the Sun. I did not feel at all celebratory about the upcoming birthday. The cockles of my heart refused to warm even one little bit. “75? Are you shitting me?” I asked myself. “How is it possible that I’ve become so f*cking old?” I mean, it seems like only yesterday that I was in my twenties, let alone in my 40s. Holy crap, where in the world did the time go?

By anyone’s definition, 75 is old as frigging dirt, or nearly so. Yeah, I know that plenty of people are older than me. Not as many as you might think, though, nor as many as I thought until I researched the subject earlier this month on a website that can tell you where you fit, age-wise, on the human population ladder. (Click here if you’d like to see the site. When it opens, click on Let’s Go. Next, click on My Place In The Population, which is where you enter your age.)

The answer, for 75-year-old me, was not joy-inducing. That’s because I learned that I am older than 96% of the people on our beautiful, polluted planet. That figure was an absolute kick to the balls. All I could do was shake off the pain and acknowledge the bad joke with a half-hearted chortle. And then I got right back to doing the things I love, such as palling around with my wife and other friends, exploring the natural and man-made worlds, writing, reading, and imbibing cool music. They make for a good life. With luck, this regimen will continue for a bunch more years.

With 2023 a mere handful of days away, the time now has arrived for me to wish all of you a most Happy New Year. May it be rewarding. And may peace, love, understanding and freedom fully permeate the human condition one day. They are in short supply in many parts of the globe, as we know all too well. So, as I’ve been thinking about freedom a lot lately, I’ll conclude this essay by presenting a song, Miles And Miles, that knocked me off my feet when I heard it for the first time recently. It’s a brilliant rocker, released this year by The Heavy Heavy, a young British band that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with for a while, traveling with them from gig to gig and absorbing their vibes. For the song’s about being flushed with freedom as you groove to life’s rhythms and grab hold of the good stuff out there in the world. I tell you, that orientation has appealed to me exquisitely since I reached adulthood many moons ago. I hope I never stop feeling, and acting, that way.

That’s Life

A few weeks ago I headed to a nearby public library to engage in an activity that I like a lot: wandering up and down fiction aisles in search of my next read. Sometimes I have a specific author or title in mind. But more often than not I examine the shelves randomly, pulling out books here and there and giving them the once-over. Prone to quick judgments that undoubtedly are incorrect the majority of the time, within seconds I commonly return many of those books to their assigned places. Hey, they had a chance to make a good first impression, but they blew it!

However, by the end of almost every visit I stand at the checkout desk with two or more volumes in hand, hoping that at least one of them is worthy. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose. A few weeks ago, at the aforementioned library, I won, arriving home with a pile of books that included An Actual Life, by Abigail Thomas, whom I’d never heard of until her novel caught my roving eye. Normally a herky-jerky reader whose attention span over the last 20 years has fallen off a f*cking cliff, I found myself gliding through Thomas’s opus, digging the journey. An Actual Life, which was published in 1996, is good. Damn good.

It is the saga of married couple Virginia and Buddy, their baby daughter Madeline, and a small cast of other characters. Virginia is 19, Buddy is 21. Though they knew far too little about each other, wanting to do the “right thing” they’d wed after Virginia, during the first coital session she ever had engaged in, became pregnant by Buddy.

Most appropriately and agreeably, Abigail Thomas has endowed Virginia, the narrator of An Actual Life, with a homespun way of talking. Set in small-town New Jersey and Massachusetts circa 1960, the book opens when Madeline is just shy of her first birthday, by which time Virginia and Buddy’s marriage has become nearly as cold as a refrigerator’s freezer section. Not only are they not in love, they never truly were. Unhappy and stumbling through life, Virginia doesn’t know what she should do. And she has little idea what Buddy thinks about their situation, or about anything else really, as he is pretty much the silent type. Around her, anyway. Her love for Madeline, whom she adores, is enough to keep Virginia going, but to where?

Right from the start the book pulls no punches. A couple of hundred words in, mulling over the fact that Buddy is with her only out of a sense of duty, Virginia has this to say:

And there’s really nothing about me to love anyway. There’s not even really any me, exactly. I keep changing inside my skin. There’s no definite person in here. My voice comes out weird and I hardly ever say anything I mean.

Man, those are heavy-duty statements. Virginia’s low self-esteem is on clear display throughout the remaining pages too. Fortunately for the reader, Virginia also is witty as hell. The combination of bleakness and barbed observations makes An Actual Life feel real. There’s nothing strained or artificial here. Thomas writes like a champ.

Unlike the vast majority of books I tackle, An Actual Life got me thinking about life, its challenges, pitfalls, delights, vagaries, and all the rest of the deal. If Thomas ever were to pen a sequel to An Actual Life, I’m guessing it would take place 15 or more years later, and that Virginia, having faced up to her realities, would be on at least fairly strong footing.

Isn’t that the way things go for most of us? In our teens and into our twenties or beyond, we’re still babes in the woods, more or less, trying to figure out what paths to take and to decipher what the hell our garbled inner voices are saying to us. Even if we don’t necessarily lift the veils perfectly, and few folks do, eventually we create lives for ourselves that make the grade.

What’s more, when we think about it, we likely realize that we’ve acquired a nice amount of wisdom along the way. The pearls I’m about to spout seem obvious to me now, but they weren’t until maybe 15 years ago. I believe, for instance, that being loving and kind absolutely is where it’s at, and that said behaviors are the keys to a fulfilling life. And I’m convinced that it’s crucial to cultivate and nourish friendships. We can’t have too many friends, good ones especially. Solid friendships, after all, bring us joy and, when needed, comfort, and can open our minds in delightful ways.

Well, seeing that I ain’t exactly Plato or Confucius, I sure as shit better end my philosophizing right now, before I get in way over my head. Till next time!

A Love Story

A few weeks ago I published a piece that for the most part was a meditation on joy, a commodity without which our lives, to put it mildly, would blow. Seeing that I’m a f*cking softie at heart, I’ve decided to turn my thoughts now to another precious emotion, the greatest of them all, for it sustains and usually nourishes life, giving us reason to go on. I’m talking, of course, about love. Sure, The Beatles overstated things when they sang “all you need is love.” But they weren’t too far off the mark, as there is no doubt that the following is true: If an individual doesn’t feel love for at least one other human being (or pet, I hasten to add), they are in a most unenviable position.

Now, I’m not exactly an expert when it comes to matters of the heart. I know that for a fact because nobody in my seven-plus decades of residing above ground ever has asked my advice on the subject. Come to think of it, just about nobody ever has asked my advice on any topic or situation. Man, I should start an advice column called Maybe Neil Sort Of Knows, So Give It A Shot And Ask Him. That would show ’em how deep my font of quasi-wisdom is!

Anyway, getting back on track, what else might I say about love? Well, it’s innate, in most cases blossoming automatically between parents and their children, to mention one obvious example. But it sure doesn’t blossom automatically between everybody. That’s a main reason why it can be so difficult to make true friends, to find a partner to spend your life with, and to keep the fires burning with said partner after you’ve found them. Yup, love is a powerful force, but cultivating it properly requires skills that many do not master adequately, if at all. When we allow love to bubble within us consistently, though, our lives are much the better for that.

Love probably wouldn’t be on my mind so much were it not for the movie CODA, which my wife Sandy and I saw at a cinema early this month a few days after it grabbed the Oscar for Best Picture. It’s still in some theaters, by the way, and is streaming on Apple TV+ too.

CODA is a tale that revolves around Ruby, a high school senior who is the only hearing member of a family of four. She is devoted to her parents and brother and, in addition to attending school, spends mucho hours each week working on the fishing boat that her dad and sibling operate in order to put bread on the table. Whew! This girl, who also sometimes acts as an intermediary between her deaf kin and outside parties, has a whole, whole lot on her plate. Ruby’s life becomes even more complex when she is encouraged at school to develop her vocal skills and pursue a music career. This new element becomes the movie’s fulcrum.

Sandy loved CODA, which is an acronym for child of deaf adults. She thinks it’s very great. Although I found CODA too formulaic to be placed on a pedestal, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It’s an old-fashioned sort of story that I’m certain would move anyone whose heart is not fashioned from stone. Why? Because CODA, at its core, is all about love, the kind of love that holds steady, not wavering even for a moment. What’s more, there’s nothing sappy about the love on display in CODA. A tight screenplay by Sian Heder, who also directed the flick, and four actors who tap into genuine places within themselves, see to that. Hats off, then, to Emilia Jones, who plays Ruby, to Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur (Ruby’s parents), and to Eugenio Derbez (Ruby’s music teacher).

I’ll close this love-centric essay on the right note, by presenting Beyond, a love song sung and co-written by Leon Bridges. Sweet and sultry as you could hope for, Beyond very well might put you in the mood to . . . yo, I don’t need to tell you where this sentence is headed. I accept your thanks in advance!

An Ode To Orange

I shall begin the proceedings by stating that this story would not have come into existence were my wife Sandy and I not subscribers to The New Yorker magazine. Thus, if you read this opus and decide that it sucks, then sue The New Yorker, not me. As always, I’m blameless!

Back cover of The New Yorker magazine

For it was about six weeks ago that I noticed the colorful back cover of the aforementioned magazine’s March 1 issue. That cover was an ad for Sumo Citrus, a variety of fruit that I’d never heard of before. Grown in California, it’s a large version of a mandarin orange, and boasts what pretty much looks like a top knot on its head. Sumo wrestlers sport top knots. Hence, the fruit’s name.

Anyway, not many days later Sandy and I were filling up our shopping cart at a Whole Foods supermarket when a table piled sky high with bright orange produce caught my eye. Holy shit, it was a Sumo Citrus mountain! Were we enticed? Yo, is the pope Catholic? So, overpriced though the fellas were, we purchased one. And ate it the next day. Yeah, it was seedless and easy to peel, as advertised, points definitely in its favor. But how about the taste? That’s the main thing, right? Well, the flavor was good. Quite good. But hardly a revelation. I mean, it tasted like an orange!

Whether we buy or don’t buy another Sumo Citrus some day, the fruit made a real impression on me because, subconsciously, the color orange remained on my mind. I love colors, just about all of them, and have published many essays on this site that revolve around one color or another: odes to blue, green, red and yellow come to mind. But I haven’t waxed poetic very much about orange. On April 5, a Monday, I decided that the time had arrived to do something about that.

In mid-afternoon of that day, off I went to Willow Grove Park, a three-story indoor shopping mall near my home in the suburbs of Philadelphia. From past experience, I knew that examples of just about every color under the sun can be found there, some on store merchandise and displays, some on signs, and some adorning the bodies of the mall’s employees and customers.

I spent an hour in the commercial wonderland, which, despite the pandemic, was as busy as I’ve ever seen it outside of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. A diligent journalist, I kept my eyes focused on colors, rather than on cute girls, as I scoured the premises. Some hues definitely predominated: shades of white, black, blue, grey and red, I’d say. Orange wasn’t a member of the in crowd. In fact, only purple, by my estimation, was represented less at the mall than was orange. Nonetheless, I found a fair number of examples. They were hard to miss, so flamboyant is orange.

Macy’s department store carried some ladies’ clothes, shoes and accessories in knockout versions of orange, for example, and a small number of men’s shirts in same. A vendor in the mall’s food court had shelves filled with candy bars whose wrappers exploded in orange and in other hues. And a teenager, strolling the avenues with a young lady, shone like a star in his orange shirt. In fact, he was the only person I saw at the mall who wore any orange at all. Wait a minute . . . that ain’t true! Wandering around the mall was a f*cking weirdo whose orange, black and white mask covered half of his wrinkled face. It was good of him to stop and pose for a selfie for this story. If you surmise that the f*cking weirdo was yours truly, you possibly are correct.

Why isn’t orange more popular in the USA than seemingly it is? Good question. It should be a hit. Orange is snazzy, jazzy and full of good spirits, after all. But maybe the American personality leans a bit too much toward the repressed side for orange to get its due. Its day may come, though. You never know. I’m pretty sure of one thing, in any event. To wit, my eyes will stay open for orange. Once you start looking for that color, it’s hard to stop.

I’m going to leave you with two recordings that pay homage to orange — to skies of orange, specifically. The first (Orange Skies) is by Love, a trippy rock band that was popular in the hippie era. They recorded it in 1966. The second (Orange Colored Sky) was put on wax by the one-and-only Nat King Cole in 1950.

Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Please don’t be shy about entering any comments you might have. Till next time!

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.) 

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!

(As I almost always mention, please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this piece. I thank you.)

My Mom (A Belated Mother’s Day Story)

My mother and yours truly in the late 1940s

Not many days go by when I don’t think of my mother, Elaine Scheinin. This has been true since her passing in 1994. She lives on in my mind because she was an exceptionally fine person. Honest, warm and unpretentious. And blessed with an openness that few could resist. Pretty much everyone that knew her was crazy about her.

If I remember my output correctly, I’ve written about her only once before. That was in an article about the late, famed jazz pianist Thelonious Monk (click here if you’d like to read it). My mom, a jazz fan, became part of that article because she once spoke with Monk on the phone in 1976. Drawing up her courage, she took the initiative to obtain and dial his number (Monk, a Manhattanite, somewhat surprisingly did not have an unlisted phone number). She hoped to ask him if he knew that WKCR, a New York City radio station, was in the midst of airing a multi-day tribute to him and his music.

Monk answered the phone. Yes, he was very aware of the tribute. And he thanked my mother for calling him. I was sitting with her when she reached out to the great musician, and the incident left me awe-struck. Hers was a spontaneous and innocent act of good-heartedness and caring. She would have been disappointed if Monk somehow missed out on the love being shown to him on the radio.

Now, here’s the thing. I think of my mother often not only because of her enviable natural state of being, but also because of what happened to her in her middle age and how she responded to that tragedy. In 1969, when she was 49, her retinas hemorrhaged badly, a consequence of diabetes. She lost her sight, living the remaining 25 years of her life in total darkness. The pain I felt was intense. And it hasn’t lessened. Her blindness was, and in memory remains, heartbreaking to me.

For nearly all of those 25 years she didn’t complain, didn’t bemoan her fate. She suffered, but she almost always kept it to herself. At a party once, though, I overheard one of her sisters-in-law say this to her: “It’s a shame about your vision.” To which my mother responded, “You have no idea.” Those few words pretty much said it all.

Basically, my mom soldiered on, remaining the person she always had been, bright and optimistic, fully continuing her household work and community involvement. In the early 1990s, though, diabetes struck again, ravaging her body and ultimately her mind. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” has been asked by countless folks. The answer is that good people are not immune to the slings and arrows, and lightening bolts, of life. If only they were.

Ideally, I’d have liked to have published this remembrance on Mother’s Day. But I didn’t complete it in time. Better late than never, as the saying goes. Many of us are fortunate to have been raised by loving, good people. I surely was. My father was ace too. And so, I wish a Happy Mother’s Day, belatedly, to the fine ladies who give their heart and soul, selflessly, to their children. And I accompany that wish with a major tip of the hat.

Looking At Love: A Musical Story

It was about 8:30 on a recent Saturday morn. Breakfast having slid down my throat 15 minutes earlier, I was in position on the living room sofa where I was thumbing through the newspaper, absentmindedly twirling the handful of hairs on my head into poor facsimiles of ionic columns, and listening to the radio. In other words, per usual, I wasn’t doing much. But that’s the way I often like it.

The radio station generating tunes in my house was WXPN, the stellar music provider from Philadelphia that has sparked me to compose any number of stories since my blog’s inception in April 2015. I’ve given XPN a ton of free publicity on these pages, but that’s a-ok. They deserve it.

WXPN likes to keep things mellow on much of Saturday and Sunday mornings. Appropriately, they named the show that airs during those hours Sleepy Hollow. You ain’t going to hear anything by Albert Ayler or Public Enemy or The Sex Pistols on the Hollow. James Taylor and Billie Holiday and Conor Oberst you will. Nice and easy does it, as Frank Sinatra once sang.

And that’s fine with me. And with my wife Sandy. We’re of the sort who like to ease slowly into the day. Sleepy Hollow is the proper conduit for such.

There I was, then, having constructed two unstable ionic columns and working on a third, when a lovely song caught my attention. A few numbers later another beauty made my eardrums sigh. And, it being my lucky day, a third tune, sweet as it could be, soon entered my living room. I’d never heard the songs before. Right away I suspected that I was going to write about them.

The songs in question are Cold As Canada, Time Will Tell and Love Had To Follow. Paul Kelly, Gregory Alan Isakov and Ron Renninger, respectively, are their composers and singers. I’ve given each song repeated listenings on YouTube since that fateful Saturday morning and have not lowered my estimations of their qualities. They are real good works of art.

I think these songs grabbed hold of me because of their sonic similarities. Each is spare in instrumentation, and each singer handles his words gently. Plenty often that formula results in sappy drivel, but not in the case of the Kelly, Isakov and Renninger opuses. And what I realized, after first hearing them, is that they concern themselves with the most powerful and basic of human emotions, and the one that I’d guesstimate about 75% of the non-instrumental songs ever written either touch upon or are fully consumed with.

Sisters and brothers, we’re talking about love.

Yeah, love. I’m not exactly issuing any news bulletins when I say that love can be as present as air, as elusive as a yeti or as slippery as a shapeshifter. It might be hot, it might be tepid, it might barely register a reading on the Celsius or Fahrenheit scales. What can you say? . . . Love’s usually complicated.

We get three differing discussions of love in my Sleepy Hollow songs. Cold As Canada, tender and sorrowful, an ideal vessel for Paul Kelly’s nasal, Dylanesque voice, is about a gal whose love for her guy has faded a whole lot. Unhappily cold, she’s leaving him, knowing that, as Kelly writes, there’s “no good way to say goodbye.” There isn’t.

Cold As Canada, which comes from Kelly’s 2012 album Spring And Fall, is a straightforward and humble work, its melody clean and pure. Kelly, a gent of 62 with a four-decades-long career in place, is a major star in his native Australia and can rock vigorously. But rock he doesn’t on this song or on quite a few others in his large oeuvre.

Now, I’m a sucker for a waltz, especially one with an unusually beguiling melody. Which means that Time Will Tell doesn’t want to give up occupancy in my brain. If there’s a lovelier, more wistful tune out there, I’d eat my hat if I owned one. And you know what? A few days ago I almost rolled off my bed when I heard Time Will Tell in a Subaru television ad. Huh? How did Subaru come across this song? Whatever, I’m glad that what I imagine are decent bucks have landed in Isakov’s pockets. It’s a struggle for most musicians to pay the rent.

What we have in Time Will Tell is a lyric open to interpretation. The words are seductive and vivid, but somewhat cloudy at the same time. Blowing the clouds away, however, I’ve decided that the story concerns a couple, two good folks who have been together for a long time and, as good folks sometimes do, are wondering if their common path is separating. It might be, but not too seriously. Their love is destined to get back on track. “Time will tell, she’ll see us through.”

Time Will Tell, from 2013’s The Weatherman album, is not dissimilar to much of Isakov’s output. He’s a folkie at heart, a mystical one who has attracted a lot of fans and has sold a lot of tickets. At 38, he’s two decades into his career and seems to have found a good, solid path to mosey down.

What, then, of Love Had To Follow? This is an easy one to decipher, even for the likes of me who couldn’t get the gist of Horton Hears A Who and How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The song is all about love at first sight, a love that lasts forever. Really, it’s that simple. I promise.

Unlike Kelly and Isakov, I’d never heard of Renninger before the Hollow brought him my way. He’s one of those guys who has been around forever (his music career began in the mid-1960s) but has never come remotely close to becoming even a wisp of a household name. But he’s still at it. Love Had To Follow is found on The Man Who Became A Song, his album of one year ago. If I owned a hat, I’d tip it to Renninger’s perseverance and love of music.

Over the centuries, hundreds of thousands, probably several million good songs have been written about love. I imagine that hundreds more were composed while I penned this article. Love . . . it makes the world, and the music biz, go round.

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One Of Al Green’s Songs Righted My Ship For A While

Mount Digitalium

If I were younger by about 30 years I’d buy a good pair of hiking boots and some mountaineering gear and then haul my ass up to the top of Mount Digitalium. Once at its summit I’d catch my breath before laying into the resident gods who control the performance of the internet and of computer hardware and software on Planet Earth. These titans are, needless to say, magnificently intelligent. They also are f*cking pains. And they seem to get a big kick out of being the latter.

“Yo!” I’d yell at them. “I can’t take it no more. It’s bad enough that my desktop computer has had a nasty case of the freezing-ups for the last year. And a worse case of the displaying-message-alerts-that-make-no-sense. But did you have to slip a bottomless bottle of vodka to the computer monitor two weeks ago? I can barely make out anything on it since then. It’s taken wobbly and blurry to Olympian heights.”

“And that’s not all,” I’d continue. “This morning my wife Sandy wanted to take a look at her most recent credit card statement, wobbly and blurry be damned. She signed into her account, and you know what? That’s a stupid question because of course you know what, seeing that you caused the problem in the first place. I’ll tell you anyway — the statements section of the website was empty. Nothing was available to examine or to print out!

I would be shaking like crazy at this point. And the gods undoubtedly would let me shake for nearly forever before one of them made a comment or two.

“Thanks for stopping by, Earthling,” the chief god, Malfunctional, finally would say. “Now, though, it’s time for you to be on your way. Suck it up, fella, and figure out what your next steps should be. And, by the way, nobody ever said that life was easy for humans.”

That’s true. Nobody in their right mind ever did.

Back to what passes for reality. Still shaking, I fled the house and left Sandy to figure out what were the appropriate next steps, as I needed to be somewhere soon. Namely, at a local supermarket where once a week I bag and then load bakery items, donated by the market, into my car. Sandy delivers these goods to the food pantry she volunteers at.

Naturally, the credit card website situation wouldn’t disappear from my cranium. Man, I need to hire a personal assistant to handle tech issues for me and Sandy. It’d be worth it. That would free up more time for other aspects of living to rattle my very rattle-able nerves.

As I pulled out of the driveway, though, relief arrived. It came in the form of music, as often is the case for me. My benefactor was SiriusXM satellite radio’s The Loft, a channel that plays all sorts of good music. And the tune that filled the car’s interior and my ears as my journey to the supermarket began was a superb number that I hadn’t heard for some time: Al Green’s Tired Of Being Alone.

You know, there are hundreds of recordings that, when I hear them, I say to myself that they are just about as good as any recording possibly could be. That’s exactly what I thought when Tired Of Being Alone shot into my blood vessels and set me vibrating. A few simple, clear and rolling notes from an electric guitar, a handful of piercing trumpet blasts, and drums that snap steadily and regally set the table for Al’s entry. And what a pleading, powerful entry he makes. His is one of the great voices of the last 50 years, vulnerable when it needs to be, strong and sure when it doesn’t.

Not to downplay Green’s singing even a little bit, but I have to mention that I’m in love with the late Al Jackson Jr.’s drum work on Tired Of Being Alone. It couldn’t be more alive, even at the 1:47 mark when, empathizing with Green’s meandering, uncertain thoughts, it softens into a clickety-clack pattern for a spell. But when the spell breaks, Jackson’s drums explode, truly explode, as Green’s voice moves into vivid mode and female backup singers kick in loftily.

It all ends shortly after this, the dials in the studio having been gently turned to fade out the song. Maybe I wish that a different choice had been made conclusion-wise. I’d be a happy boy to be able to listen to another minute or more of Al’s and the gals’ and the instrumentalists’ amazing ride.

Or maybe it’s better that the proceedings were cut off artificially. After all, I was left breathless, a very good way to be left.

Al Green wrote Tired Of Being Alone in 1968. For various unimportant reasons it didn’t come out until 1971, and has been a pop music staple ever since. It’s a song about love, as most songs are. Al loves a girl. He can’t stop thinking about her. But she has sent him packing, and Al wants her back. He knows, though, that she’s unlikely to change her mind. But a guy can fantasize, can’t he? And that’s what Al does, ruminating during the song’s middle section about the nature of lost love and what he might be able to do to re-win a heart. With these words Al describes what many of us have felt at one time or another:

I’ve been wanting to get next to you, baby,
Sometimes I fold my arms and I say,
Oh baby, yeah, needing you has proven to me,
To be my greatest dream, yeah.

Many folks have heard Al Green sing Tired Of Being Alone not only on record but on stage. But will anyone ever encounter a stage version again? Hard to say. About 40 years ago religion called Al, and he, for the most part, left the pop music scene (his most recent tour was in 2012). He is the pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle church in Memphis, Tennessee. In an interview last year he left the door open for a return to public performance (click here), but I’m not holding my breath.

Yes, Al is doing what he must. And as he does so his many hits live on. I was a lucky individual to hear one of them on my way to the supermarket. It steadied my jangly nerves for a while. Thanks, Al. I needed that.

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