The End

Magnificent and valued readers, do not be alarmed by the title of this opus. It is not being published posthumously. Yours truly, a vaguely trustworthy septuagenarian, thankfully has not yet reached his expiration date, and hopefully that date won’t arrive for at least 20 years. But, as with pretty much everything in life, who the f*ck knows?

Almost inconsequentially though, the title does pertain to an opened box of pasta that had been sitting in one of my kitchen cabinets since 2006, give or take a year. My wife Sandy and I finally got around to tossing it a couple of weeks ago. Prior to that we hadn’t paid any attention to the box, which is what it deserved, as lousy-tasting as the pasta was the one and only time we prepared it back then.

We’d purchased the pasta, known as Barilla Plus, because Sandy was somewhat down on regular wheat products and was all for multi-this-and-that concoctions. Barilla Plus was the latter, what with lentils, chick peas, oats, spelt (what the hell is spelt?), barley and flaxseed comprising major parts of the dough. One night we cooked and ate the stuff, probably covering it with a good tomato sauce. It bit the big one, to resurrect a phrase that was popular on my Vermont college campus during the hippie era. Or, to put it another way, the pasta sucked, its flavor remarkably strange and unappealing.

As far as expiration dates are concerned, Barilla Plus’s was long ago. The box said the pasta would be best if used by September 2007. Being generous by adding two or three years to that, I estimate that the true expiration date (the date on which the product in effect died) took place no later than in 2010. Well, our box of Barilla Plus at last has been buried, with no mourners present, in wherever it is that my township dumps its residents’ garbage.

However, there is more to this essay than a frigging box of pasta. A lot more. Because when it comes to mourners, Sandy and I came close to tears when we bid goodbye last month to our 2012 Hyundai Elantra. The vehicle, cute and comfortable and totally to our liking, had only 45,000 or so miles on it when, in early August, it was rear-ended two miles from our home by a careless driver. I wasn’t in the car when the collision took place. Only Sandy was, and the extremely good news is that she was unhurt.

Hyundai on the repair shop’s grounds

Not so for the Hyundai, whose rear sections crumpled like tissue paper. Man, the car looked bad, but it was drivable. And fixable, we assumed. We drove it home, and there the victim sat for a day or two in our driveway till arrangements were made, via our insurance company, to have it towed to a collision repair shop.

Well, no point going into all the details. The bottom line is that the insurance company ultimately decided that the cost of repairs was more than the car was worth. We’d be sent a check, for the car’s value as if it were undamaged, said the claim handler. And that’s why, two weeks after the accident, Sandy and I went to the collision shop to clear out our belongings from the Elantra.

Pitiful baby . . . that car had been awfully good to us. I found it hard to believe that I’d never again sit behind its steering wheel while its motor was running. On the shop’s grounds, Sandy and I emptied the car and hung around for longer than we’d expected. We patted the car, looked at it longingly, and silently remembered the many good times we’d had in places to which our Hyundai had taken us. Shit, that big hunk of metals and plastics and fabrics was dear to our hearts. I hadn’t realized that before. But in saying goodbye, I did.

Our Toyota

We’ve replaced the Hyundai with a new car, a Toyota Corolla, whose fate, with luck, will be far better than its predecessor’s. And the Hyundai is now in its graveyard, having been towed, two days after Sandy and I paid our respects, to a facility whose mission was to take it apart, salvaging as much as possible. Graveyard I guess is the wrong word, seeing that much of the Hyundai will find new life in other man-made bodies. Which doesn’t change the reality of the Elantra being dead and gone. Obviously.

There is an uncountable number of things in life that are worse than losing a car. Still, I’m damn pissed at the person who whammed and bammed my former wheels. “Up yours, dear,” is what I’d say to her if I were to pay her an unannounced visit, a visit that is possible because her address is listed on the police report that the accident generated. “You have caused me and my wife a lot of problems and expense. Did I forget to say up yours? I didn’t forget? That’s okay. I’ll say it again anyway. Up yours!”

Hey, typing up yours three times, and now a fourth, has made me feel better. I knew that blogging would pay unexpected dividends one day! Didn’t think, though, that it would take over three years (I launched this website in April 2015) for a dividend to manifest itself.

On that note, boys and girls, I shall ease this essay into its conclusion. Please drive safely, as most of our roads are congested and crammed with potential dangers. And stay away from my new Toyota, or else!

(As I say at the end of nearly each and every one of my pieces, please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing. It’s good to share, or so we have been told.)

Advertisements

When Opportunity Knocks: A Book (Falconer), A Movie (Leave No Trace), And Me

Last month I read a good novel (Falconer, by John Cheever), and two weeks ago I saw a very good movie (Leave No Trace) at a local theater. Wanting to write about both I racked my brains for themes common to them. No doubt there are any number waiting to be discovered, but in the end I realized that I’d be better off limiting my focus, so as not to enter rooms that I wouldn’t explore properly and likely would never find my way out of. Therefore I’ll take a look at just one key point made in the book and in the flick: Some folks have the ability to recognize when a meaningful opportunity is at hand, and they act upon that knowledge.

And while I’m at it, I’ll work myself into the discussion. As I noted once before on these pages: If I don’t write about myself, who the hell will? Hey, the answer is a six-letter word that begins with n and ends with y. And the middle letters are obod. Shit, I’m ordinary as hell, but that’s never stopped me from throwing a few details about my life into cyberspace!

In his day, John Cheever (1912-1982) was a celebrated and popular writer of fiction, an examiner of the American scene and psyche. Not sure how well-known he is anymore. Falconer, which hit bookstore shelves in 1977, was the fifth of his six novels. I’ve come across articles online that proclaim it a masterpiece. I wouldn’t go that far, as I found it to be a little too loose at some of the seams, but I enjoyed the heck out of the book.

Set in the 1970s, Falconer tells the tale of one Ezekiel Farragut, an upper middle-classer who, in a fit of anger, murdered his brother and, as a result, found himself deposited in New York State’s (imaginary) Falconer State Prison. Cheever plays flexibly with time in his book. It’s possible that I missed it, but I didn’t notice any mention of the length of Ezekiel’s sentence nor of how many months/years went by on the novel’s pages. This open-endedness clothes Falconer in gauzy mystery. You never can be sure what’s coming next, an approach that pulled me in.

Falconer struck me as an extended dream, a workaday one at times, transcendent at others. It contains many beautifully written, near-hallucinatory sequences. Cheever’s words often drift and float, meant I think to represent how difficult it is for constricted individuals — prisoners — to keep their heads on straight, what with their activities being limited and each day being not much different than any other for them. And even when his passages are direct, they sometimes are dreamy nonetheless. And often heartbreaking too, such as these lines from an inmate who opens his soul to Ezekiel.

In those days I was the kind of lonely man you see eating in Chinese restaurants. You know? Anywhere in this country and in some parts of Europe where I’ve been. The Chung Fu Dynasty. The One Hung Low. Paper lanterns with teakwood frames all over the place. Sometimes they keep the Christmas lights up all year round. Paper flowers, many paper flowers. Large family groups. Also oddballs. Fat women. Square pegs. Jews. Sometimes lovers and always this lonely man. Me.

Yes, Cheever could write.

Okay, then. What about answering opportunity’s call? Farragut is good at that, without even trying in most instances. His prison mates feel comfortable around him, due to his unthreatening demeanor, and unburden themselves to him, as the excerpt above shows. Farragut is open to the opportunity to allow his peers to find a bit of peace of mind.

And in the book’s ending pages, Farragut takes a plunge that he hadn’t been consciously contemplating. A window of opportunity, heavily camouflaged, opens for a few seconds. Farragut sees it, seizes it, and takes the steps that might lead to a better life for himself. We’ll never know how his actions ultimately pan out, as the book concludes only hours after Farragut’s entrance into the unknown. But, as they say, he did what he had to do. And that’s important.

Taking the plunge is a major component of Leave No Trace, one of the best movies I’ve seen in 2018. Directed and co-written by Debra Granik, it is a quiet, contemplative work.

The story begins in a heavily forested state park in Portland, Oregon, and eventually moves to even denser forest lands in Washington state. As far as I could tell, it’s a present-era tale. The movie’s main characters, war-veteran father Will (portrayed by Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter Tom (played by Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) have been off the grid, societally and electronically-speaking, for years. Will, wanting no part of regular life, has chosen to live by his wits in the woods, and Tom is just happy to be with her dad. The film provides very little back story. That’s not a problem. What matters are Will and Tom’s present circumstances.


In the film’s opening scenes, they cautiously are going about their business, doing their damndest to not be seen or heard in the state park. Theirs is a life of basics. Foraging, chopping wood, cooking, eating, sleeping in a small tent, playing chess and reading. They are content to different degrees, Tom much more so than Will, who is inflicted with emotional demons from his stint(s) in an unspecified war. Probably he served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Will and Tom are incredibly close, dependent and reliant on each other.

But their way of life always is in peril, what with park rangers and hikers and joggers rarely too far away. Eventually they are discovered and gently brought into the social service system. Life opens up, potentially anyway, when Will and Tom are relocated to normal housing. The second half of Leave No Trace depicts how they handle the possibilities, opportunities some would say, that subsequently present themselves. Is it better to be among people rather than not? To learn a trade and earn money rather than perpetually scrounging for food in the woods? To become more than what one has been?

Leave No Trace faces those questions. The answers might not surprise you, but the telling ways in which they are revealed will.

Now, getting back to me, let me say this: I wouldn’t be pecking out this essay at my writing perch, in a wood-paneled den on the ground floor of a cozy and comfortable suburban house, if I hadn’t grabbed an opportunity available to me back in 1977. Can’t imagine where I’d be if I’d let the chance pass. Very likely nowhere particularly good.

I’d been floundering for much of the 1970s, a big-time non-success story following my college graduation in 1969. After a series of going-nowhere jobs, I moved to Philadelphia in 1974 to work as a caseworker for Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare (DPW). Idiotically, I quit the job after little more than one year. My hormones must have been totally out of whack for me to do that, along with my mind.

Anyway, during the aforementioned 1977, unhappily spinning my wheels, I applied for reinstatement with DPW, an option that I’d been resisting. They hauled me back aboard. Hallelujah! Mama Mia! Things began to work out swimmingly. My income improved dramatically, I made friends and in 1990 met my wife-to-be. And I stuck around DPW for 33 years . . . damn right I’d learned my lesson. All of which proved that it’s never too late to answer the door when opportunity is trying to get your attention. Do I hear an Amen?

(As I always say: Don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this article. Gracias.)

Missing David Bowie

On January 11, a Monday, I heard about David Bowie’s passing. He had shuffled off this mortal coil the prior day. I was shocked by the news, though I’d hardly have described myself as a devout Bowie fan. As that Monday morning segued into afternoon, I couldn’t get Bowie out of my mind. Neither could my wife Sandy, who is far less of a Bowie devotee than I am. We were drawn, as if by an invisible force, to WXPN, the Philadelphia area’s most astute music radio station. In tribute to the great man they were playing Bowie music exclusively for much of the day. We listened for two or three hours, and when XPN turned to other programming at 7 PM Sandy and I put on WPRB, the Princeton University station, to see if Bowie reigned there. He did, and we listened to his songs for several hours more. I can’t think of many artists who, following their deaths, would receive radio homages of this sort. And of course the Bowie outpourings weren’t limited to radio. Media coverage of his life and death has been enormous and heartfelt worldwide.

David Bowie fans left tributes to him outside his New York City apartment building. (Photo: Getty Images)
David Bowie fans left tributes to him outside his New York City apartment building. (Photo: Getty Images)

Naively I suppose, I’ve been amazed by the degree of attention that Bowie, in death, has attracted. I’ve been very glad to learn that countless journalists and media commentators held him in really high esteem, not to mention legions of fans. On January 11 Bowie was a top global story, probably the top story, in newspapers, on television and throughout cyberspace.

And I’m struck by the extent that Bowie’s death has touched me. My reaction took me by surprise, wasn’t something I’d have predicted. I don’t know the last time a celebrity’s demise hit me so strongly. Maybe it was in 1980, when John Lennon left us. Lennon was one of my heroes. Though Bowie wasn’t, I admired the heck out of him during a swath of the 1970s and always have considered him to be a cultural giant. That accounts for part of my sadness, but not for all. So, what else was it about Bowie’s death that got to me? I’ve thought about this for awhile and have come up with two main reasons.

David Bowie recorded 26 studio albums. His final work, Blackstar, entered the marketplace on his 69th birthday, two days before he died. I own six of his albums. All of them are from the 1970s except for 2002’s Heathen. I love my six from the 70s. Each I believe is great, and the greatest to me is 1976’s head-spinning and majestic Station To Station. I don’t know why I stopped buying Bowie’s releases after Station To Station. I read about them, heard some tunes on the radio, but didn’t lay down any dollars again till 26 years later. Nothing new, I was just plain stupid. Here was a guy with a brilliant track record, whose albums I once had spun over and over, and nonchalantly I had abandoned his singular musical journey. It wasn’t till a few nights ago that I realized what I had missed. WXPN and WPRB played tracks from Low, Lodger, The Next Day and other albums I barely, if at all, was familiar with. The music, as I might have guessed, was fantastic. And I played Heathen on my CD player. I hadn’t listened to it in so long I didn’t recall a single number. David, I only partly knew ya’. I should have kept up. Mea culpa.

Still, missing out on a lot of David Bowie’s music isn’t the end of the world. But it’s an example of not paying attention to life, of letting life pass on by without proper appreciation. And that’s a big deal. I try fairly hard to savor the moment and to do the right thing, but there’s mucho room for improvement. Bowie’s death somehow made me look at myself and my underachieving approach. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

And Bowie’s passing did more than that. In the recesses of my mind I discovered some connective tissues that bonded me with him. You see, David Bowie was only a smattering of months older than I, and because of that I subconsciously had felt a kinship with him. And so when he died an internal link to my younger self broke and I started to contemplate the big picture even more deeply. I mulled over the kinds of thoughts that aren’t reassuring. Such as: Even if I make it for another 25 years I’m a whole lot closer to the end than to the beginning. Man, that’s a bummer. My excellent friend Jeff recently asked me if I believe that human life goes on in a spirit mode after the flesh fails. He’s a believer. I’m not. My take is that each person’s trip is confined to Planet Earth and that the trip is one-and-done.

That said, on with the party. I plan to buy a bunch of David Bowie albums soon, to catch up with someone, now-departed, whom I miss.

(If you enjoyed this article, don’t be shy about sharing it. Sharing buttons are below)

Running Free

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that driving in any inhabited area these days is a sure fire way to add kilos of stress to the body, to send the diastolic and systolic numbers moonward. For me, driving even on my typical suburban block can be a true pain. One recent morning, for instance, I stepped into my ancient Honda, which was parked directly in front of my home, and saw a young couple 100 feet in front of me. They were putzing around with their SUV, also parked on the street. Their rear driver’s side door was wide open, making passage past their car difficult. Worse, the female member of the twosome was standing in the middle of the street, la-dee-dahingly removing boxes from the back seat. “OK, no problem. I’ll simply make a K turn and head in the opposite direction,” I said to myself. As I gracefully maneuvered the Honda to my left and then backwards, needless to say another SUV headed towards me from the direction in which I now was planning to drive, putting pressure on me to complete the K pronto. Bottom line: Nearly everywhere you go there are just too many people and too many motor vehicles. “Hey, that’s modern life,” some would say. “Get with it.”

Oh yeah?  Arrgh . . . Let me outta here! I need to run free! At least some of the time.

I don’t like congestion, dig? But what’s a person to do? I’ve written a few times online about the sweet spot that Cape Cod occupies in at least two hearts, mine and my wife Sandy’s. Cape Cod is where we head when we want to get away from it all. Not that Cape Cod is free from congestion. Hardly. But if you know where on the Cape to go, and when, you’ll be far far far from the madding crowd and its cars and trucks. And you’ll have fun too.

Cape Cod is famed for the throngs that descend upon it between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. People and cars up the wazoo. That’s why Sandy and I never go there during that period. We were on the Cape last month though, when things were back to normal. We spent plenty of time among others of our species. But we also made sure on most days to bathe our souls in places where the human and vehicular factors would be minimal.

Parabolic sand dunes territory. Truro, Cape Cod.
Parabolic sand dunes territory. Truro, Cape Cod.

“You know,” I said to Sandy on this most recent trip as we stood atop a humungous sand dune. “If you plopped most people down here and asked them where they were, they’d never guess it’s Cape Cod.”  That was true. When the majority of folks think Cape Cod they envision seaside-ey villages and seafood-ey restaurants. But we were miles away from any of that. We were in parabolic sand dunes country, inland just a bit from the Atlantic Ocean in Truro. Truro is a sprawling area of the Outer Cape, and probably the most rural and desolate section that Cape Cod has to offer. The parabolic dunes are by far the Cape’s biggest, undulating 80-feet-and-taller monsters that extend for several miles, covering part of Truro and of Provincetown too. We’d been in this locale a bunch of times before, and as always were knocked out by the vistas. Several parallel chains of dunes ran long into the distance. Between each chain were deep valleys that, surprisingly to me, a low level naturalist, were loaded with small trees and shrubbery and all manner of other plants that I couldn’t give names to. This is a mind-blowing environment, a vegetated lunar-like landscape that, I’m sure, many Cape Cod residents and vacationers barely know about. It is open and wild. I feel alive there. And that’s why I like it.

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of hours scampering up, down and around the parabolic dunes, and even more among the slightly smaller and less dramatic dunes that take over in Provincetown when the parabolic big boys eventually peter out. At this point in my life I’m not going to be climbing any mountains in the Alps or bungee jumping into canyons in the American West. For me, the Outer Cape’s dunesville does just fine as a spot where I can indulge my sense of adventure and feel as though I’m pushing my puny limits. There’s no congestion out there. You might cross paths with a few other trekkers, but that’s okay. They are kindred spirits.

Dunesville is great. But what I like even better on Cape Cod is the Atlantic Ocean shoreline. Most of it is under government protection, meaning that mankind won’t be messing it up any time soon. It’s pure, it’s long — 40 or more miles — and it’s beautiful. What’s not to like? Sky, ocean,  and sand-cliff-backed endless beach.

Its presence of water is why I would choose, if I had to choose, this shoreline over the Outer Cape’s dunes territory. Though Sandy and I aren’t swimmers, we’re big time water admirers. We have hiked hundreds of miles over the years on the Cape’s ocean shore. There’s just something about being there. The power of the water, its changing face from day to day. The rigid coolness of those sand cliffs. The real low numbers of humankind in the off-season. And then there’s our kite, which enhances this scenario. Last year we bought the kite and flew it on beaches many times. We launched it frequently during our recent stay too.

Atlantic Ocean shoreline at Marconi Beach, Cape Cod.
Atlantic Ocean shoreline at Marconi Beach, Cape Cod.
Our kite at Marconi Beach, Cape Cod.
Our kite at Marconi Beach, Cape Cod.

One day last month, on the ocean shoreline named Marconi Beach, the conditions for flight were perfect. A strong but not overpowering steady wind meant the kite would stay aloft sans problem. What we discovered at Marconi was that the kite was insatiable. It kept pulling on the string, begging us to let out more and more length. This hadn’t happened to us before. And so we did. The kite went higher and higher. The amount of string on the reel grew less and less. I hardly could believe it when there was no more string to release. The kite was way up there. How far away I didn’t know.

After an hour or so we decided it was time to move on, to say goodbye to Marconi Beach for the day. It took a long time to reel in the kite. Later I checked out the kite manufacturer’s website where I learned that our polyester friend came equipped with 300 feet of string. I was impressed. At Marconi Beach we had overseen a long-distance journey.

Congestion . . . bad. Running free . . . good. End of story.

(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)

(If you enjoyed this article, then please don’t be shy about sharing it)

You Gotta Like These People: A Review Of Meet The Patels

A few nights ago my wife Sandy and I went for the umpteenth time to the Ambler Theater, an art house cinema in the Philadelphia suburbs that I’ve praised often on this website. We were accompanied by our excellent pals, Cindy and Gene. They are Philadelphians understandably loathe to drive to the burbs, or anywhere, for fear of the nightmare that sometimes awaits them hours later when they return to their congested neighborhood and attempt to find a parking space. I hope they are not still circling their surrounding blocks these several days later. If they are . . . well, that’ll learn ’em.

We saw Meet The Patels at the Ambler Theater.
We saw Meet The Patels at the Ambler Theater.

The movie we went to see was Meet The Patels. It is a delightful concoction, a documentary so breezy and cheerily assembled that I urge all of good spirit to take it in. For those not of good spirit, watching it maybe will help them find a better path in life.

 

 

Nonetheless, I left the Ambler Theater not at all sure if I would comment online about Meet The Patels. Sure, I enjoyed the documentary very much. Sure, it’s worth writing about. But: 1) Hundreds of reviews of this movie already have been penned. 2) I didn’t seem to have any wondrous insights to disseminate. 3) Etc.

On the other hand, my blog is a voracious master, compelling me to keep it fed.

Words of wisdom attached to a wall at Randazzo's Pizzeria.
Words of wisdom attached to a wall at Randazzo’s Pizzeria.

Fresh out of ideas and inspiration, I sauntered into Randazzo’s Pizzeria the day after watching Meet The Patels. It’s a decent joint a mile or two from my abode. As I waited for my pizza slices to heat in the oven I took a look at one of the walls. It was covered with knick-knacks and photographs. One of the knick-knacks caught my attention and got me thinking. It was a depiction of an Italian chef standing next to a chalkboard on which were written very sage and pithy statements: “A pinch of patience; a dash of kindness; a spoonful of laughter; and a heap of love.”

Those are words not to be taken lightly. They truly are meaningful. They are a good recipe for life. And they illuminate what, to me, Meet The Patels is all about.

And thus a pizzeria inspired me to sit down and type this report. Meet The Patels concerns a family of four, the Patels. Natch. Husband and wife, India-born Vasant and Champa, moved to the States decades ago for better opportunities than they saw available at home. They became accustomed to the American Way, but hung on strongly to their native customs and values. Stateside they produced two children, Geeta and then Ravi. Now young adults, the siblings are highly Americanized, yet cognizant and appreciative of the Asian culture that undeniably runs through their veins.

All four Patels, as best I could tell, reside in California. Mr. and Mrs. P occupy a roomy home. Geeta and Ravi, touchingly, share a comfortable apartment. How many adult siblings live together? Few, by my experience. In this documentary, Geeta and Ravi seem to pull it off easily.

On to the plot. Meet The Patels spins the tale of Ravi’s search for a wife. Having recently broken up, after a two year romance, with a white girl named Audrey, 29-year-old Ravi somewhat reluctantly agrees to allow his parents to try and find a suitable match for him. Only thing is that Mom and Dad never knew about Audrey. Ravi was too embarrassed ever to tell them that he had dated a female of the non-Indian-American persuasion. Mom and Dad, successful products of an arranged marriage — arranged being the norm in India — were under the impression that their 29-year-old son was kind of a relationship tyro. And that his unstated goal was to settle down with someone who shared his ethnic background. Coolly they convince Ravi to allow them to employ slightly updated versions of traditional Indian matchmaking methods to identify and locate a mate for him. Said mate is to come from the large pool of well-educated and fine-tempered Indian-American and Indian females that Ravi’s parents are confident exists. Let the games begin.

Meet The Patels is a movie that originally wasn’t meant to be a movie. As a lark, Geeta began filming Ravi’s wife-seeking adventures. After a while she and Ravi realized that fun and wisdom were to be found in the raw footage. Light bulbs went off in their heads and a project was born. They are credited as Meet the Patels’ directors, and along with two others as the writers. The movie doesn’t mention this, but it turns out that the story and filming took place about seven years ago, after which various snags held things up big time. Last year, finally, the movie was completed and became a darling of the film festival circuit. It’s playing now in a modest number of theaters. Ravi was an actor landing a handful of movie and TV roles while Meet The Patels was filming. These days he is a pretty big presence on the small screen. He’s currently in two series, Grandfathered and Master Of None

Meet The Patels moves fast and furious, Geeta handling most of the camerawork in an engagingly amateurish home movie mode (she claims she never learned how to operate her camera, or frame scenes, properly). The film intersperses animated sequences, scripted and nimble, to explain and give oomph to the plot. The plot doesn’t require more elucidation from me. No spoiler alerts here. What really matters are the lessons about human behavior and relationships to be gained from the flick (and from the Italian chef’s chalkboard). To wit, the four principles in Meet the Patels are endearing, warm and loving. They respect each other and get along famously. They are open (excepting Ravi’s concealment from Mom and Dad of Audrey’s place in his life, but we’ll forgive him that) and open to change. They smile a lot, laugh a lot. These are folks you’d want to be friends with.

Sandy, Cindy, Gene and I all left the theater feeling good. Amen.

(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)

(If you enjoyed this article, then please don’t be shy about sharing it)

The End Of My Long Affair (With Turner Classic Movies)

When I moved to Philadelphia in 1974 I became a film buff of sorts. It all happened very naturally and wasn’t anything I thought about. There were fewer options for movie lovers back then in Philadelphia than there are today, but there were enough. In addition to first-run theaters, Philadelphia had various venues that specialized in lesser-known flicks — some were foreign, some not. I had never before seen many foreign or cult movies and found myself liking them. My cinematic diet, consisting of the mainstream, the obscure, the subtitled, has remained consistent ever since.

My wife Sandy, whom I met in 1990, is a big movie fan too. Each year she and I leave the house 40 or more times to take in movies. Chez us, together we catch an additional 25 or so flicks on the tube. We like doing things together. For a span of eight years in my married life though, I also viewed hundreds of films on my own. I watched them on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel. I became addicted to TCM, but I’m not anymore. Here’s the story:

In 2006 my thoughts and activities were less-focused than they should have been. My father had died the previous year and I think my restlessness was partly connected to his passing. He had lived with Sandy and me, and we spent a lot of time caring for him. With him gone I had trouble finding ways to fill up my days fully.

I began watching TCM movies on this TV in 2006. This is a recent photo of the TV.
I began watching TCM movies on this TV in 2006. This is a recent photo of the TV.

Sandy had been suggesting I might do well to add some prime time television viewing to my regimen as one way to get my mind off of things. But I couldn’t decide what to watch, didn’t think I’d  be happy devoting a bunch of hours to the small screen. Somehow though, I heard the call of TCM. Our meeting must have been preordained. And so a few months into 2006 I began descending the stairs on many evenings from our kitchen to finished basement, a place I hadn’t visited all that much since moving into our house the year before. In the basement’s den area sat an old bulky TV that had traveled from our previous home.

The Letter was the first movie I watched on TCM in 2006. I took this photo recently.
The Letter was the first movie I watched on TCM in 2006. This is a recent photo.

I began the affair gingerly. The first TCM movie I watched in 2006 was The Letter, a Bette Davis melodrama. It was pretty good. “OK, let’s try another,” I thought, and not too many days later Tender Mercies passed before my eyes. I had seen it when it came out in 1983 but didn’t recall it too clearly. I gave it two thumbs up in 2006.

Turner Classic Movies is quite the amazing broadcaster. Movies in their unedited versions 24 hours a day with no commercial interruptions. TCM’s core is English-speaking productions from the 1930s through 70s. Once in awhile the station throws in a foreign movie or a silent or a post-1970s film such as Tender Mercies. Despite the station’s name, however, hardly every TCM movie is a classic. There are plenty of clunkers. On many occasions I turned off a movie within its first 30 minutes and made the long climb upstairs.

And yet, duds or not, I became very comfortable sitting in a recliner in front of the basement TV. By 2006’s end I had watched 61 movies on TCM. The next year’s number was 103, and the year after that I reached the 87 mark,  my two highest totals. Since then the counts have descended, from 64 in 2009 to seven in 2014. I’ve managed merely one movie so far in 2015, The Great Santini, a good one that seemed a tad better to me when it made its initial rounds in 1983.

Why the dramatic falloff? Well, after cutting a slew of notches into my movie-watching belt I discovered that my TCM motor was running out of gas. Eventually, many of the movies I contemplated watching didn’t seem, upon investigation, good enough to spend time with. And the slim pickings of films from 1980 onward began to bother me a little.

But I tip my hat to Turner Classic Movies without hesitation. You see, to Sandy’s amazement somehow I’d made it into my late 50s and early 60s without having witnessed On The Waterfront, West Side Story, Singin’ In The Rain, From Here To Eternity and others that the general populace would deem to be true classic films. TCM rectified that situation. Contrarian that I sometimes am though, Singin’ was the only one of those that I felt was completely worthy of wearing a crown. And, besides Singin’, at least 15 more offerings that I first caught on TCM are now on my list of elite movies: In A Lonely Place, Odd Man Out, The Misfits, Darling, Sweet Smell Of Success, Hud . . .

Hey TCM. you’re a great station and I thank you for all the entertaining hours that you bestowed on me. Add some movies from the current century and maybe once again you and I will become pals.

(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)

(If you enjoyed this article, then please don’t be shy about sharing it)

A Cape Cod Sunset Story

My wife Sandy and I have a love affair going with Cape Cod, which is where we are vacationing as I type this missive. We live in suburban Philadelphia, but in most ways prefer the Cape. Boo hoo . . . we’ll be back home tomorrow.

In 1998 we visited the Cape for the first time, expecting it to be a locale we’d enjoy. Well, we did. And decided to come back the next year for some more good times. I think it was on that second trip that I realized I liked Cape Cod much more than I ever thought I would, that it really suited my soul, that I was starting to become smitten. Sandy and I have returned every year since then, excepting one. Before Cape Cod entered the picture, in my adult life it had never occurred to me that there might be an Eden of sorts waiting for me, someplace beautiful and in which I truly felt at home. A favorite place.

Sandy and I have had only great vacations on Cape Cod. We’ve been there in all seasons except summer, which is the one time of year when the Cape is overrun. With humans. We fill our days with a variety of activities: nature walks on sand or through forests; poking around in country-imbued villages; art gallery and museum hopping; attending movies, plays and concerts; lots of tasty eating in restaurants humble and above; the list continues. No doubt, this is the good life. I feel almost guilty that such fine fortune has come my way. But I’ll take it.

Atlantic Ocean shoreline. Eastham, Cape Cod.
Atlantic Ocean shoreline. Eastham, Cape Cod.

If I had to select one reason above all that puts Cape Cod at the top of my list, I’d point to the expansive areas of natural beauty. Such as the 40 or more mile-long Atlantic Ocean shoreline, much of it government-protected and thus little disturbed or altered by the hands of man. The vistas there are pretty elemental and always knock my socks off. Ocean, sky and beaches backed by dunes-topped sand cliffs. My psychological and emotional makeups, whatever the heck they might be, vibrate in a calm, contented and awestruck manner when I’m in the midst of such.

And there are other reasons. To name one: When vacationing on Cape Cod sometimes an unexpected present drops into your lap, just as with life in general. One day last week an example came my and Sandy’s way. I’m talking about a sunset. Right, right, I know that over the centuries untold thousands of scribes have oohed and aahed in print about sunsets. And millions of sunset photos have been published, more in the last 15 or so years than ever before thanks to the Web. But hey, I’m not embarrassed to add a few hundred sunset words, and a handful of photographs, to the Everest-high piles already out there. Don’t bail out on me. Keep reading.

And so on the aforementioned day at 5:15 PM, Sandy and I were in Chatham, a needless-to-say charming Cape Cod town. We had just watched Steven Spielberg’s latest oeuvre, Bridge Of Spies, in the Chatham Orpheum Theater. Our next planned destination was 20 miles away, Harvest Gallery Wine Bar. There we meant to dine and listen to a tough as nails rock trio, The Catbirds. But there was no need to arrive before 7 PM. We had time to kill. We scratched our heads, coming up empty. Then “sunset” popped into my mind. Sandy checked with her phone, which is much smarter than me, and learned that the Sun would dip below the horizon at 5:57. I steered our car westward and then turned south onto a road I’d never heard of, hoping that we eventually would find our way to a Chatham beach on Nantucket Sound. The sand gods must have been with us, for Hardings Beach Road soon materialized. And moments later Hardings Beach itself emerged.

We parked. The spot was gorgeous. Lovely sands, magnificent Nantucket Sound waters gently rippling beneath a sky puffy here and there with clouds. The clouds made my heart leap, or something like that, because a scattering of clouds, as I’ve come to realize from years of sunset-gazing on the Cape, is key to a good sunset. Their water droplets and other particles refract light beams and reflect colors. Their movements and changing forms turn sunsets into active canvases. And that’s what happened as Sandy and I watched our fiery faraway friend say goodnight.

Sunset at Hardings Beach. 5:56 PM.
Sunset at Hardings Beach. 5:56 PM.
Sunset at Hardings Beach. 6:05 PM.
Sunset at Hardings Beach. 6:05 PM.
Sunset with the Moon at Hardings Beach. 6:07 PM.
Sunset. The Moon. Hardings Beach. 6:07 PM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lot of people claim to dislike colorful abstract art, certain paintings by, say, Vasily Kandinsky or Jackson Pollock. I don’t get that, because everybody loves sunsets, which to me can be among the ultimate in eye-popping abstractions. I’ve never read that sunsets inspired any brush wielders to go wild and free in their approach or vision, but it wouldn’t surprise me if in fact this were the case. Sandy and I watched the sky for 20 minutes. The pinks and oranges darkened as the big event rolled on. The clouds worked their wonders. And in a little while Sandy pointed up and said, “There’s the Moon.” It was a graceful sliver of white balancing above swashes of pastel hues.

On Cape Cod I’ve been a lucky son of a gun many times. That evening on Hardings Beach was one of them.

(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on any photo, a larger image will open)

(If you enjoyed this article, then please don’t be shy about sharing it)

Stuff And More Stuff (Part Two)

So here I am, about to attempt a Part Two rumination on the time that my wife Sandy and I spent recently with our friends from France, Alan and Martine (click here to read the first installment). Part Two? Man, it’s hard enough for me to write about any topic, let alone something that requires follow-up thought and analysis. In the future I’m going to stick strictly to Part Ones.

As I’ve previously mentioned, the weather was ungodly hot while Alan and Martine stayed with us in the Philly burbs. We all decided to take outdoor activities off the table. On the first full day of the visit, we beat the Sun by looking at 150-year-old American artifacts inside the Mercer Museum, in Doylestown, PA. Where to on the second full day? Hey, we’d had enough history and culture at the Mercer. Why not aim lower and head to a locale whose charms are undeniable and, for some, irresistible? Namely, Willow Grove Park Mall, a gigantic and enclosed shopping mecca a mere half mile from Sandy’s and my abode. Alan and Martine, non-fussy sorts, readily agreed.

At the mall, we split up into pairs, females banding together, ditto for the lesser gender. Alan and I said goodbye to our wives within Macy’s, the establishment we all first had entered from the parking lot. “Call us when you’re done,” he and I said, and off we went. As Alan and I made our way past Macy’s cosmetics counters, heading towards an exit that would bring many of the rest of the mall’s retailers into view, I mentioned something I’ve thought about over the years. “This place,” I said, referring to Macy’s, “is like a museum.” The same could be said for the mall in toto.

Partial view of the Mercer Museum's central court.
Partial view of the Mercer Museum’s central court.
Partial view of the Willow Grove Mall's central court.
Partial view of the Willow Grove Mall’s central court.

The Mercer Museum displays 30,000 or more everyday implements and goods from America’s olden days. It’s a fascinating place. The Willow Grove Mall is no less fascinating, when you think about it. You want artifacts? The mall has 1,500,000 of them, I bet, putting the Mercer’s count to shame. Not only are the Mercer and the mall both repositories, they’re laid out kind of the same too, with large open courts (really large at the mall) ringed by several levels of rooms. At the Mercer the rooms (i.e. galleries) are small, each displaying tools and wares from a specific occupation or other category. At the mall the rooms (i.e. shops) may be bigger, but, excepting the department stores, each is narrow in its focus, just like at the Mercer. Shoe stores display only shoes. Electronics stores display only electronics. See, what’d I tell you? . . .  The Mercer Museum and the Willow Grove Mall are pretty similar. Except, of course, that the stuff inside the Mercer Museum ain’t going anywhere. At the mall, a museum in constant flux, the faster the stuff makes its way out the doors, the better the store owners and managers like it.

Hats at the Mercer Museum.
Hats at the Mercer Museum.
Lids, a hat store in the Willow Grove Mall.
Lids, a hat store in the Willow Grove Mall.

Department stores aside, the variety of items at the Mercer is, I think, a lot greater than at the mall. But there is definitely some overlap. No, you won’t find smart phones at the Mercer, or a whaling boat at the mall. But how about hats, for one example? Mercer has a room devoted to them and their manufacture. And Willow Grove Mall contains Lids, a sharp little shop stocked from floor to ceiling with caps, mostly of the baseball type.

While Sandy and Martine (as Alan and I later learned) happily wandered through Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Uniqlo and other wondrous spots, Alan and I strolled around the second and third level walkways overlooking the great court. We passed one emporium after another, but entered not a one. Neither of us were in need of any new duds (I mean, we’re talking here about two of the already-sharpest-dressed guys on the planet!), nor of much anything else. And thus to the food court we finally headed, where we sat and chatted about this and that, coming close to solving a couple of the world’s problems, though not quite close enough.

Eventually, Sandy and Martine rang us up. And came to join us at the food area. They’d had a grand time. So had Alan and I, in our own way. Sandy and Martine had made a few small purchases. And, before heading back to the Scheinin hacienda, Martine dropped a few dollars more, taking away some old timey candies and roasted nuts from a colorful and alluring sweets stand at the food court. These were gifts for relatives whom she and Alan would be visiting in Massachusetts in a couple of days.

Thank you, Willow Grove Mall, provider of fun, enlightenment and relief from the Sun’s punishing rays. I bow in praise.

(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on any photo, a larger image will open)

(If you enjoyed this article, then please don’t be shy about sharing it)