An Artsy Walk Through The Mall On A Hot-As-Hell Day

It was hot as hell in my area (the suburbs of Philadelphia) on the 30th of June. I’d gone for walks on each of the two previous days, days that weren’t exactly on the mild side temperature-wise either. But June 30 was a different ball game, one of those in which a mere minute in the sun causes sweat to pour from your face and back of your neck like lava from a mountain that is experiencing gastric distress.

However, I, an old guy who for the last year and a half has been very diligent about exercising regularly, was not about to not go for a walk. A walk was totally doable, because I live close to Willow Grove Park, a three-story, air-conditioned indoor shopping mall. Thus, in late morning I headed to the mall, to pound its avenues and corridors in A/C’ed comfort.

I like spending time now and then at Willow Grove Park, even though I rarely buy anything there. Architecturally it looks real good, and I’m always amazed by the copious amounts of eye-catching wares for sale. Plus, I almost always cross paths with some lovely ladies.

And I find Willow Grove Park to be quite an artistic environment, hardly different from art museums. For example, many merchandise displays within the stores are beautiful and creative. Even more so are the graphic artworks — posters and other printed creations — in merchants’ windows and free-standing elsewhere. Ergo, on June 30 I made it my mission, in addition to stretching my legs, to examine the state of affairs of graphic art at the mall.

I was drawn to any number of pieces. They ranged from the minimalistic (the large Sale signs, in flamboyant red, that bordered the H&M clothing store), to the complex and futuristic, qualities belonging to a poster hung within an Aerie shop.

Not surprisingly, many of the works featured human faces and, usually, additional body parts. More often than not, these creations were photography-based, but their painterly counterparts were on display here and there too. In the face/body category, the one that I found myself staring at the most was the group shot of five youngsters. It adorned the Gap Kids store. If everyone got along as well as those individuals do, the world would be pretty close to paradisiacal. And I was entranced by the two girls, their heads as close as canned sardines, aglow in a window of the Primark establishment.

A few hours after I arrived back home I began to mull over my mall experience, and damn if I didn’t feel slighted more than a bit. Shit, I realized that every human pictured at the mall was somewhere between young and the cusp of middle-age. How come someone like me wasn’t on display? I mean, what do companies have against male septuagenarians whose hairlines are receding faster than Greenland’s glaciers and whose faces are peppered with weird f*cking growths that dermatologists probably don’t even have names for? It ain’t right, I tell you! Those in power are going to hear from me!

But before they hear from me, I will bring this narrative to a close. Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. And give a listen, if you’re in the mood, to mall-istic songs that I discovered recently. After all, it’s not every day that you encounter music inspired by shopping malls.

The first recording, Let’s Go To The Mall, is by Robin Sparkles, a stage name once used by Robin Scherbatsky, who is a character in the television series How I Met Your Mother (the series ended in 2014). Cobie Smulders, the actress who played Sparkles/Scherbatsky, provides the lead vocals on this pop music confection. Did you get all of that? Not sure if I did.

In the second tune, The Last Mall, Steely Dan uses a mall metaphorically to comment on humankind’s fate. Such headiness is only to be expected, of course, as the brains behind Steely Dan — Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker — were not your everyday song-writing team. The Last Mall, sardonic and clothed in the blues, paints an uneasy picture.

Beautiful Indeed

Well, I’ve been real tempted lately to pen an essay about the repressive, heads-up-their-asses people in my country who continue to believe in demagogic, riot-inciting Donald Trump and embrace his outrageous lies about the 2020 election having been stolen from him.

On the other hand, I haven’t been real tempted lately to have my blood pressure head into the stratosphere. So, I’ll stay calm by moving in my semi-natural direction. Towards the light, you dig. What follows, therefore, are a few words about beauty, a quality I found a couple of weeks ago in, among other things, a book, a song and some flowers. Away we go!

First up, the book: Local Girls is a collection of stories, by Alice Hoffman, about Gretel Samuelson and her small circle of relatives and friends. The stories are presented chronologically, and appeared in various publications before being gathered and published in one volume in 1999.

Not exactly a novel (some stories are narrated by Gretel, the others are in the third-person), but close enough, Local Girls follows Gretel from age 11 or 12 into her mid-20s. It’s set in suburban Long Island (which is near New York City), and is not the happiest of tales. Drug addiction and serious illness are among the book’s prime themes.

Nevertheless, drollness permeates the proceedings, partly by way of the sharp observations and bon mots of Gretel, her best friend Jill, Gretel’s mother Franny, and Gretel’s adult cousin Margot. Overall, Local Girls struck me as hard-as-nails realistic, despite the inclusion, unnecessary in my opinion, of some mystical occurrences. (Hoffman, I gather, is known for doing this in her works.) The book took me by the arm and then spoke intimately to me. It is damn well alive.

What got to me more than anything about Local Girls is the absolute beauty of much of its language. Time after time Hoffman took my breath away. Before ending this short discussion of Local Girls, I’ll leave you with three examples of Hoffman’s way with words.

It was a bad summer, and we all knew it. We liked to phrase it that way, as if what was happening was an aberrationa single season of pain and doubtinstead of all-out informing people that our lives were falling apart, plain and simple as pie.

She had been thinking about sorrow for so long she was amazed to hear the sound of love. What a foreign language it was. How odd to an ear unused to such things.

The streetlamps cast a heavy glow, the light of a dream you’re not quite finished waking from.

Yes, Hoffman has more than got the touch.

Now for the song: I’ve seen Brandi Carlile on a couple of TV shows and heard her music pretty often on the radio. I think she’s good but certainly not great. However, her recording Save A Part Of Yourself, is another matter. To me, it’s fab. The song, which Carlile co-wrote and sings lead on, was released in 2012.

Save Part Of Yourself concerns a love relationship that, though ended, has not been forgotten by one of its two parties. She hopes that her ex will not throw away memories of her. Such a lovely composition, so tender and imbued with longing. Yet, it also sparkles. That mandolin riff that enters five seconds into the tune, those handclaps, the joyful whoo-hoo-hoos. I for one cannot resist them.

Save Part Of Yourself’s main message, I think, is that remembrance can help us heal and make us better individuals. Who would argue with that? Here it is, following which we’ll turn our attention to flowers.

The day in which I am described as a knowledgeable identifier of flora isn’t about to arrive any time soon. Yeah, on a good day I’m able to look at a tulip and say, “Yup, that’s a tulip.” Ditto for a pine tree and a maple tree. But my scope doesn’t extend all too far beyond that. Still, that doesn’t stop me from going out to admire nature’s wonders. Hell, I’d be heartbroken if I couldn’t.

And I’m glad when my botanical expertise expands. Such as when I learned last month that a flowering plant I was gazing at during a visit to New Hope, Pennsylvania, a funky, former artists colony to which visitors often throng, was an example of a hydrangea bush. The plant impressed me. Thus, while walking and driving around my town a few days later I kept my eyes open for hydrangeas. And I found some, photographing two of them. Hydrangeas, I believe, were at the height of their flowering powers in my region (greater Philadelphia) at the time that I took these portraits. The flowers are sincerely beautiful.

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

Bruce Springsteen’s Bringing Me To Broadway!

What can you say about Bruce Springsteen that hasn’t already been said? Not much, that’s for damn sure. The guy, after all, is an icon. An idol. And for good reasons: he’s talented as hell, smart as a whip, down to earth, and has been working his tail off in the music biz for over 50 years. Shit, his work ethic is unparalleled. And it hasn’t waned. He’s 71 years old, for crying out loud, yet has more energy than just about any teenager.

A scene from Springsteen On Broadway (photo by Rob DeMartin)

His latest project? He’s about to revive Springsteen On Broadway. An intimate one-man performance in which Bruce sings some of his songs and tells stories about his life, the show originally ran from October 2017 to December 2018 and was a huge success. When it reopens on June 26 at the St. James Theater, it will be the first Broadway production to be staged since COVID shut down New York’s theaters 15 months ago. Bruce is leading the charge to help the city return to its glory days!

Dig this: I personally know Springsteen a little bit. That’s because, unbelievably and from out of the f*cking blue, he showed up at my door in mid-2017, offering to make me — a nonentity in possession of zero musical talent — a member of his mighty E Street Band. “You’re shitting us, right, Neil?” I hear a chorus of doubters ask. Yo, ye of little faith, would I lie? You can read all about it by clicking here.

Alas, a band member I never became. I would have if the group had gone on tour, but tour it didn’t. Springsteen On Broadway and coronavirus saw to that. As a result, I was certain that Bruce had forgotten all about me.

Wrong! When my phone rang one evening early this month, none other than The Boss was on the other end.

“My man! Bruce here. It’s been a long, long while since we talked.”

“Bruce? Hey, it’s great to hear from you. How have you been?”

“Good, man. Real good. I’m always busy, you know. Wrote four songs this morning, for instance. They flowed out of me like a sweet mountain stream. Then I practiced the guitar for an hour. After that I was on the phone all afternoon with the director and stage crew of the Broadway show I’m bringing back in a few weeks. How about you? What have you done today?”

My throat seized up for a second. What had I, a stumbler through life, done? Well, as is often the case, taking a superb dump was the only thing that had invigorated me at all. Some might be afraid to reveal such an intimate detail to others, but I count myself as one of the brave. Bruce wasn’t the least bit fazed by what I told him.

“Neil, I know where you’re coming from. Once in a while I go through uninspired spells too. Listen, I feel bad that you haven’t gotten a chance to perform with my band. I want to make it up to you. What I have to offer would get you off your unmotivated ass, other than when you’re taking dumps, of course, and put you smack in the middle of the spotlight.”

“Does this have something to do with Springsteen On Broadway?” I asked.

“Indeed it does. Neil, I want to tweak the show a bit. Mostly it’ll remain the same — heartfelt, quietly powerful — but I’m going to add an interlude where I tell a couple of drummer jokes. The audience will love the change of pace. Here’s the deal: You’ll wander onto the stage right after I finish singing Thunder Road. I’ll introduce you and announce that you’re my straight man. Then I’ll say, ‘Neil, what do you call a drummer who breaks up with his girlfriend?’ You’ll shrug your shoulders to indicate that you don’t know. ‘Homeless!’ I’ll yell. Next I’ll ask you, ‘What’s the difference between a drummer and a savings bond?’ You’ll shrug again. I’ll bellow, ‘Only one of them matures and earns money!'”

“The crowd, I’m positive, will be roaring with laughter,” he continued, “and as they do you’ll bow and make your exit. Sound good?”

What? That’s it? Bruce, how about giving me at least a couple of lines of dialogue? I mean, I’ve never been on stage before, but I know I could handle that.”

“Baby steps, brother. Baby steps. For now, this is the best I can do,” Bruce replied. “And it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. You never know where this kind of exposure might take you. Are you on board?”

Only a fool would have answered no.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. By the way, in 2018 a performance of Springsteen On Broadway was filmed for Netflix. If you have Netflix, do yourself a favor and watch the show if you haven’t yet. Springsteen thinks and feels deeply. He’s something else.)

A Doors-Filled Story (Third Edition)

Well, here I am, dispensing thoughts about doors for the third time. Huh, doors? Damn straight! I mean, doors are cool. Or can be, anyway. And I’m hardly alone in holding this opinion. Various WordPress writers, for instance, launch doors-centric articles into cyberspace every Thursday. And they publicize the pieces by placing links to them on the No Facilities blog, of which a fine gent named Dan Antion is the heart, soul and brains. I’m part of that Thursday club today.

Okay, then. On a clear and comfortable morning in late May I visited the sprawling town of Glenside, a community in the Philadelphia suburbs about five miles from my home. Leafy, handsome residential blocks abound in Glenside. And there also are business sections that include Main Street-like corridors. Now, I wasn’t about to stroll up the front paths of homes to check out their doors closely (I wasn’t eager to hear something on the order of  Yo, asshole! What are you doing on my property? directed at me), so I confined most of my investigating and picture-snapping to commercial blocks. In the end, though, I also got pix of a couple of residential doors that were not set back from their respective sidewalks.

While I didn’t cross paths with any doors that might take your breath away during the hour I spent in Glenside, I became fascinated by the varieties of doors on public display. They ran the gamut from the solid and stolid to the utilitarian to the well-worn to the neglected. I passed at least two hundred doors, possibly many more than that, and a dozen or so of them grabbed me almost instantly. I’ve chosen images of seven of them to grace this page.

Could I possibly have resisted a sky-blue door, endearingly shop-worn a bit, whose street address (number 12) beams proudly above it? No way! I tell you, if that door were a human being I’d have smiled at it generously and then given it a great big hug. Yup, the blue door is the one I felt most in tune with in Glenside. In a low-key manner it exudes warmth and wisdom. It’s my kind of door.

Unexpectedly, the four garage doors belonging to Santilli’s auto repair shop connected with me. They’re ordinary, right? We’ve seen doors such as these a million times. Yet, as I stared at them I thought to myself they are worthy of admiration. Non-complaining and tireless, they enable important work to get done. In the doors-ian realm, these four are among the salt of the earth.

And what can you say about the rust-stained shed door that probably hasn’t been opened in years? The healthy green plant a few feet away, doing all it can to brighten the scene, knows that the door has been ignored. It’s the norm to pass by a door such as this without a thought. But I’m a softie at heart, and so my old ticker went out to it. Its life has been anything but easy.

By the way, I had no intention of having my spectral double show up in five of the photos, but that’s what happened. Yeah, I saw the f*cker aiming his phone’s camera at me from a door beneath the NAPA sign as I snapped that picture. But not till I was examining all of the Glenside pix a day or two later did I realize that he also was present in other doors, the sky-blue door and the ones belonging to Elcy’s, the antique store, and Santilli’s. “It figures, Neil,” my wife Sandy just mentioned to me, shaking her head in disapproval as she looked over this article before I hit the Publish button. “It’s bad enough that you write about yourself incessantly in your stories. Now your readers are likely to overdose on your sort-of-spitting image too. Give ’em a break, for crying out loud!”

Shit, she’s right. She almost always is. On the other hand, has a ghoul ever before rocked a Cape Cod-emblazoned cap so magnificently? I think not!

The time has arrived to bring this essay to a close. On a musical note, of course, as that’s what I did with my first two doors pieces. With each of those, I included a tune by the hippie era band The Doors. This time around I’ve decided to forego one of their blasts from the past. Instead I’ve selected a blast from the present. It’s called, appropriately, Leave The Door Open, and it’s by Silk Sonic, a new band led by pop superstars Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. The song is a throwback to the sweet soul/R&B music, lovingly orchestrated, that The Stylistics, The Delfonics and other groups filled the air with during the 1970s. I dig Leave The Door Open a lot.

I’m done! Goodbye till next time, boys and girls. Please don’t be shy about adding your comments.

Words From A Philly Fan

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bud Powell, Gay Paree, And TV Recommendations

One evening not long ago, as my wife Sandy and I were polishing off dinner while listening to SiriusXM’s jazz channel, a marvelous piece of music graced our ears. It was Parisian Thoroughfare, a tune written by the late pianist Bud Powell. A key creator during the 1940s of the complex and quick-as-a-cat style of jazz known as bebop, Powell recorded a solo rendition of Parisian Thoroughfare in 1951. And it was this version (he subsequently recorded the composition two more times, once in a trio setting) that caused me to stop shoving food in my mouth for a few seconds so that I could listen closely. The song dazzled me, so jaunty is Powell’s approach to the keyboard, so beautiful are his cascades of notes. The performance delightfully captures Paris’s vibrancy. Before I go any further, let me introduce you to PT, courtesy of YouTube.

Over the next few days I guess it wasn’t too surprising that I couldn’t get Parisian Thoroughfare out of my mind. Not only did it make me think about the great times that I’ve had in Paris, a city I’ve been lucky enough to visit on four occasions, I also came to realize that it relates to a Netflix series that Sandy and I have been watching and enjoying the heck out of recently: Call My Agent! The show is set and was filmed in Paris, for one thing. And the banter and antics of Agent’s main characters sometimes are dizzying, rivalling the giddy speed at which Powell unleashes Parisian Thoroughfare.

I would describe Call My Agent!, whose French title is Dix Pour Cent, as a screwball comedy with depth. It follows the professional and personal affairs of four talent agents, their office staff and clients, and does so with charm, wit and poignancy. Sandy and I can find no flaws in the show, other than an occasional over-the-top moment. The dialogue is strong, the plot lines well-structured. And the acting? Ooh la la!

Now, here’s the thing: We never would have watched Call My Agent! were it not for our close friends Alan and Martine, who live in . . . shit yeah, they live in Paris! No lie. In March we were Facetiming with them, discussing this, that and whatever. Somewhere along the line the conversation turned to television, and Martine told us about Call My Agent!, which, in addition to streaming on Netflix, has aired on a French TV channel. Merci beaucoup, Martine, for the recommendation! We are in your debt.

That’s how a good bit of life unfolds, isn’t it? We often do what we do, go where we go, watch what we watch, based on recommendations. And, as a devoted viewer of television series (most evenings I spend an hour and a half or so in their presence), one of my aims in composing this essay is to learn about the shows that you enjoy. Between network television, premium channels and streaming services, there are more good ones out there than ever before. Your input will help me on my mission to remain highly entertained at night.

OK, so what other programs do I think a lot of? I’d be remiss not to mention The Investigation, a Danish production that dramatizes, soberly, the meticulous police investigation of a real-life murder that took place four years ago in waters separating Denmark from Sweden. The victim was journalist Kim Wall. Her final hours alive were spent aboard, of all things, a homemade submarine.

And then there’s Chernobyl. A retelling of the horrific accident at a Soviet nuclear reactor in 1986, and its aftermath, the show reinforced my belief that the human species, though highly intelligent in many ways, vastly overestimates its abilities to control that which it creates. Chernobyl is a limited series carried by HBO, as is The Investigation. In my opinion, they are well worth your viewership.

Time to move on to Family Guy, an animated series that is in its 19th season. In the USA, which is where I reside, new episodes are carried by Fox. And older episodes are on several networks here, including Fox. If anything is for sure in our little ol’ world, it’s that Family Guy ain’t your usual show. It’s as irreverent as anything I’ve ever seen. Family Guy ridicules religion and pop culture, for instance, and just about everything else. Yes, this program, which follows the whacko adventures and predicaments of the dysfunctional Griffin family, is not for everyone. Judging by its lengthy run, however, there are loads and loads of folks who dig it. And why is that so? Because, more than anything, Family Guy is hilarious.

Well, it’s time for this old f*cker to go and get his beauty rest. Not that I have any beauty left to preserve. Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Goodbye till next time!

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!

Going To Pot?

A recent Tuesday found me hauling my wizened ass around my hilly neighborhood for half an hour, something that I do on a lot more days than I care to. By which I mean that the frequent treks usually are not particularly exciting. However, brisk walking, and the huffing and puffing induced by climbing hills, supposedly are good for you. Thus, I’ll continue to haul said ass diligently, in the hopes that the pace at which the sands in my hourglass fall to the bottom will be nice and slow as a result.

As it turned out, though, the neighborhood walk had several things going for it that made it a good deal better than tolerable. I’m referring to three songs that came my way via The Many Moods Of Ben Vaughn, a podcast, as I pounded the hood’s blocks. I’d heard these recordings, all of them great golden oldies, many times before. But, quite unexpectedly, I was hearing them with fresh ears.

Specifically: How was it possible that I’d never fully noticed the gleeful whooping that saturates Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love), by the Swingin’ Medallions? Or the fact that the instrumentation on Peggy Lee’s delicious rendition of Fever comprises nothing more than an upright bass, finger snaps, spare drumming and, of course, Peggy’s voice? Or that there is wispy vocal harmonizing, seemingly from a galaxy far, far away, on T. Rex’s Mambo Sun?

The answer, I think, is that I was in a state of heightened awareness, allowing me to pick up on the above. And I’m glad that I did, as I’m a sucker for beauty and wonder, and seek them out religiously. Yup, that’s who I am and what I do.

As strong as my orientation and inclinations are, though, there was a time when beauty and wonder struck me with even more force than they do now. I’m referring to a lengthy stretch of years that began during the heart of the hippie era. Back then, a major key to my finding enhanced enchantment in the world was — and I’d be surprised as hell if any readers guess incorrectly — marijuana, a product beloved by millions upon millions over the centuries. I wasn’t anything resembling an around-the-clock stoner. I picked my moments. But in toto I spent a goodly number of enjoyable hours in the arms of cannabis-created highs.

Not recently though. Nope, pot hasn’t been part of my life for many years. (I gave up cigarettes in 1985 and, though I can’t pinpoint the year, probably nixed cannabis around the same time, not wanting to have smoke of any kind enter my lungs.) But I’m reconsidering that position. Maybe it’s time for me once again to become a pot man. That’s what I started thinking about soon after hearing the songs mentioned above. I realized that if I had been agreeably stoned that Tuesday, not only would the previously-unnoticed aspects of the recordings have jumped out at me, I’d have been easing myself into the flow and taking in just about everything around me. Ah, how great it would have been!

I’ll absolutely be judicious in cannabis’s use, however, should I once again indulge. As there’s no denying that I’m an old guy with a sometimes-erratic system, there’s a real chance that strong strains of cannabis would wallop me upside (or should I say inside?) my head, rather than mellow me out. Hence, my game plan would be to take only one or two tokes of a mild variety of pot, and be satisfied with wherever they lead me, even if it’s not to the heights of yore. I’d do this once or twice per week at first, and see where it goes from there. Well, we shall see if this scenario some day comes to pass. I’m betting that it will.

In a moment I’m going to roll into a metaphorical joint the thoughts I’ve enclosed on this page and mentally puff away on them with gusto. But before I do, let me leave you with YouTube offerings of the three songs that inspired the reverie you’ve been reading. They have the power to improve your day. Oh wow, man . . . they’re outta sight!

 

A Case Of The Winter Blues

Man, not only did I wake up feeling kind of blue on the 15th of February, several hours later my funk was still hanging around. Knowing that I needed to take some action I picked up the phone to call my psychiatrist, Dr. R. U. Forereel. But a second later I thought better of it, because, after all the many years that I’ve been spilling out my guts to her, I knew what she would say.

“Are you for real, Neil?” Dr. Forereel would have replied to my explanation of the situation. “Why are you wasting my time over such a trivial matter? Everybody gets the blues now and then. Get off your scrawny rump, Neil, and go for a walk. That’s all you need to do to start feeling better.” And then she’d have hung up abruptly. And, hopefully, would not have sent me a bill for the brief phone session.

Yeah, the first half of February, blessing my part of the globe (I live near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) with lots of snow, ice and cold temperatures, was a big pain. Having lived with those kinds of conditions for most winters of my life, I’m used to them. And, normally, I grin and bear them.

This year, though, slowly but surely winter’s assaults got to me, and I became symptomatic on the 15th. Seeing that my usual morning activities (drinking coffee, doing sudoku puzzles and scratching my balls) weren’t dissipating the blues at all, I decided to take the advice that Dr. Forereel would have offered. Thus, at around 10:30 I bundled up real good. Then I fired up an episode of The Many Moods Of Ben Vaughn, an excellent music podcast, on my phone, stuck earbuds in my ears and headed out the door to stroll around my suburban winter wonderland.

Wonderland? Nah, anything but. Sure, everything looked nice and idyllic right after the first of several snowstorms in early February. But, by February 15th, examples of beauty in my neighborhood were few and far between. That was only to be expected, of course, as snow plows had done their thing two or three times, piling ungainly mounds of snow and ice along the sides of every street. And sidewalk and driveway shoveling had added to the mess. An exception was the Willow Grove Bible Church, which was a pretty charming sight. Overall, though, I gave a rating of anywhere from meh to crap to just about every scene that met my eyes.

Plus, the grey skies weren’t doing anything to lift my spirits either. Ben Vaughn, on the other hand, was. I’ve written about Ben before. Each episode of The Many Moods contains an impressive mixture of musical genres. As I strode along my neighborhood’s blocks on the 15th, the tunes that poured through my earbuds improved my mood. Especially, by far, the hard-rocking ones. In fact, when I’d left the house I instinctively knew that in-your-face drumming was what I was in need of. Fortuitously, during the first 20 minutes of Ben’s show I heard three songs that featured such. They put pep and purpose into my steps. They got my juices flowing. No doubt it would be a good idea now for me to present them. Here then, via YouTube, are rad rockers by Mott The Hoople (“All The Way From Memphis”), Chuck Berry (“Almost Grown”), and Nick Lowe (“Half A Boy And Half A Man”). My humble story continues below them.

But you know what? The uplifting effects of my 45-minute walk didn’t have staying power. When I arrived back home I was feeling no more than 30% better than I did when I began the trek. Shit, it was just one of those days. I suppose that the pandemic was feeding my blues too. My wife and I, like just about everybody, have been limited in our activities since coronavirus reared its ugly head last year. But at least we were able to eat outdoors at restaurants and entertain friends outdoors at our home when the weather was decent.

We can’t do the same when it’s cold outside. And, because we are cautious when it comes to the virus, indoor dining and indoor entertaining definitely are off our schedules. What a drag, drag, drag.

Anyway, I’m a sucker for happy endings. They sure as hell make life seem better. And I’m going to present one to you. Yes, for reasons unclear to me, my skies began to brighten around 5:30 PM on February 15th. And by 7:00 PM I was back to being my normal self. You know, a grumpy, head-halfway-up-his-scrawny-ass septuagenarian. I haven’t always been a septuagenarian, but grumpy and head-halfway-up-his-scrawny-ass have been pretty accurate descriptions of me for years. Yo, nobody’s perfect!

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

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!