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.)

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.)

Looking Up Is Where It’s At: A Springtime Story

When my phone rang at 10 AM on April 27, I knew that I would be in for a scolding. That’s because the name displayed on the phone was none other than Dooitt Orr Else, the no-nonsense CEO of the blogosphere. I’d never had the pleasure of speaking with Mrs. Else, but I knew all about her. Bottom line: she does not suffer fools gladly.

I answered the call. “Hello, can I help you?” I asked, my voice trembling.

“Help me? I doubt it, fool. But you can help yourself. Listen, mister — and, by the way, this is Dooitt Orr Else speaking — it has come to my attention that you have yet to publish an article that centers around spring 2021. What is the matter with you? You’ve written about past springs, have you not? The answer is yes. Therefore it will be unacceptable if you allow the present season to vanish into your rearview mirror without comment.”

“Sir, you have fallen short of the contractual obligations that you entered into with WordPress. Get to work on a spring-related article or I shall be forced to revoke your writing privileges. Not that anyone would mind if I did. Over and out!”

Holy shit, that conversation, if you can call it that, left me worried. I mean, what the hell would I do with my freed-up time if I no longer were allowed to hurl my words of quasi-wisdom into cyberspace? Man, I don’t want to learn how to do yoga. And I don’t want to learn how to bake. Hence, the next day I took to the streets to see what spin I might put on spring 2021.

A lovely day it was when I began the adventure soon after breakfast. On the hazy side, yes, but there’s a charm to haziness. And the temperature was very comfortable, so I knew that I wouldn’t start sweating like a pig as I pounded the sidewalks. My plan was to admire and investigate the flora on some of the blocks in my neighborhood and also on some in a nearby area, as nature had begun to come alive gloriously several weeks earlier. Most deciduous trees were fully in leaf. And many of their flowering varieties were strutting their stuff. But what would be my focus? I wasn’t sure when I left the house, but two minutes later I knew.

I knew, because I decided to photograph a pine tree on a home’s front lawn, but not from a distance. Instead, I got real close to the densely-needled beauty and looked up. What a view! No pavement, no houses, no electrical wires were part of the scene. Nothing but the tree and the sky. The template for the walk, and for the story that you now are reading, immediately fell into place. I would look upward frequently and see what was to be found.

The natural world, needless to say, is infinitely complicated in terms of design, structure, materials, color, and in terms of every other aspect that one might think of. We reside on a planet that is an absolute wonderland. These facts are what hit me the hardest as I wandered along, stopping here and there to peer heavenward through tree branches. The branches, the leaves and needles, the blossoms on those trees so adorned, interplayed at wild angles, combining to form intricate canvases, canvases that shape-shifted whenever I changed position even slightly. Add to this the play of sunlight and the calmness of the sky . . .  the sights were truly stunning.

What’s more, most of the canvases looked like works of modern art to me, swaths of colors and in-your-face immediacy being major parts of their hearts and souls. But I also enjoyed the more delicate constructions, especially the unassuming manner in which one tree, with a smattering of white petals on its thin branches, met the sky.

For the past 18 months I’ve been walking my ass off in my and other neighborhoods, most of them in the Philadelphia burbs, doing so for health reasons and also to get off the living room sofa often enough so as not to take root on it. I’m a lazy guy at the core, though, not one who is thrilled about engaging in regular exercise sessions. But I plan to maintain the routine for as long as I am able. And looking up will help. As the title of this opus says, that’s where it’s at. Sometimes, anyway.

Okay, Mrs. Else. I’ve met your demand. Don’t call me again anytime soon!

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

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!

Art On Wheels, Part Seven: And The Winner Is . . .

My editor, Edgar Reewright, couldn’t restrain himself when I told him last week that my next opus would be another entry in the Art On Wheels series.

“Neil, you’re straining my patience, not to mention your readers’ patience, with your ridiculous Art On Wheels stories!” Edgar shouted into his phone. “Good lord, one episode would have been enough, and yet number seven is in the works. What’s the matter with you? Can’t you think of something else to write about right now instead of trucks and vans that catch your attention? Sorry, fella, but I’m not going to edit this one. You’re on your own with it.”

Edgar paused for a couple of seconds before continuing. “Listen, Neil, I have to end this conversation. I’m about to head out to an appointment with my psychotherapist who, unbelievably and thankfully, is also a proctologist. He’s trying to help me understand why I deal with writers who turn out so much shit, such as you.” Without another word, he hung up.

Eh, screw Edgar! He’s a philistine. As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing wrong with spending some time now and then in search of snazzily-adorned motor vehicles. It gets me out of the house. It helps me pay attention to what’s going on around me. And it pleases my artsy-fartsy side. I’d rather look at works of art in museums, true. But I’m decently content to gaze at those that rest above axles and wheels.

I used to try to track down in a single day or two all of the good-looking vehicles that I would need for a story. And, by dumb luck or who knows what, I met the goal several times. But I missed the goal for episodes five and six (click here to read number six). And was even farther from it this time around, as I needed four days in January and February 2021 to encounter enough attractive vehicles for this story. What’s more, there were a few more days during those months when, on the prowl, I didn’t find any examples of vehicular art that met my standards or were capturable.

Now, capturable is a key point. Generally I locate my victims in the parking areas of supermarkets, strip malls and other businesses. And occasionally I run across them on residential streets. Usually they are making deliveries or service calls, so getting close to them and taking their portraits at those times is a relative snap.

However, sometimes things don’t work out. On more than one recent occasion, for example, I spotted fine specimens in parking lots that I was walking or driving around in, but they were pulling out and too far away for me to photograph. And, needless to say, I often see beauties on the road while I’m on the road. No way, though, that this ol’ boy is going to try and grab their pictures when he’s behind the wheel. If I were dumb enough to give that a go, I’d pretty much guarantee myself an ambulance ride to the nearest hospital emergency room or, even worse, a journey in a hearse!

I like the designs on all of the vehicles that illustrate this essay, some more than others. Big-Lil Heads is cooler than cool. Have green, orange, white and black ever looked better together than they do on that bus? And the Target truck’s design, so goofily minimalistic, is irresistible to me. I’ve never owned a dog, but if the Target dog should become available for adoption, I’ll be first in line to fill out the required papers.

Still, as much as those two ring my chimes, neither is my favorite. I have to give the nod to the W.B. Mason vehicle. The Mason design is, to me, perfection. Bright, solid and beautifully balanced, it is impossible to ignore and easy to love. W. B. Mason, as is noted on the truck, was founded in 1898. Based in Brockton, Massachusetts for its entire life, the company distributes office and janitorial supplies, and numerous other products, throughout the USA. Whenever I see a Mason truck I find myself attracted to it like a magnet. But I normally spot them when they are in motion, not when I can have a good long look at them. February 24, 2021, then, was my lucky day, because on that date a W. B. Mason truck was sitting quietly in the parking lot that surrounds the Wawa food market in my suburban Philadelphia town.

Yes, the W. B. Mason truck is number one in my book, followed, respectively, by the Big-Lil Heads and Target vehicles. I’d be happy to learn which of the artworks on this page you think are the best. Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Goodbye till next time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showing Red Some Love

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

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

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

Cape May, New Jersey. October 2020

 

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. May 2020

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

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. January 2020

 

Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. May 2020

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

Ambler, Pennsylvania. December 2020

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

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

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

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. December 2020

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

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

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