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.) 

A Doors-Filled Story (Second Edition)

It’s easy and normal to take doors for granted, though they are, of course, super important. I mean, where the hell would we be without them? Climbing in and out of windows, thats where. And who would want to do that?

But doors do have major fans. For example, a fair number of WordPress scribes write about them, maybe in recognition of their crucial value. Or maybe because certain doors are true works of art. Whatever the reasons, it is de rigeur for those scribes to launch their doors-centric essays into cyberspace on Thursdays. Why Thursdays?  Because . . . well, I sure as shit don’t have a clue. It just became one of those things to do, I think.

The ringleader of Thursday doors articles was a guy named Norm (here’s the link to his blog), who began the project in 2014 but recently gave up his duties. A responsible and caring sort, he didn’t simply walk away. No, Norm nimbly passed the baton to Dan Antion, the mastermind behind the blog called No Facilities. Authors of doors-related pieces now are asked to post notices of their latest opuses on Dan’s site rather than on Norm’s. And that’s what I’ll be doing today, which is Thursday in my time zone, as this is a story about doors.

I published my first doors narrative in June 2020, taking a look at doors in Jenkintown, and decided to examine those in Ambler for my second effort. Both Jenkintown and Ambler are cute, traditional-looking villages in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and are pretty close to Willow Grove, the not-too-cute town that I call home.

A few weeks ago I spent about 70 minutes scouring many of Ambler’s streets. I was in search of doors that made a big impression on me, though I wasn’t sure which types those would be when I began the expedition. As you’d expect, the vast majority of doors that I passed were the kinds you’ve seen millions of times before. Standard wooden ones on houses, for instance, and standard glass/metal ones on commercial properties. Most of them were perfectly nice and well-maintained, for certain. But, vanilla.

So, how about doors that might be described as elegant or artistic? Surprisingly, Ambler seemed to be lacking in them, for I noticed but two. One belonged to a church, the other to a restaurant. Now, I could have placed their photos on this page and devoted a couple of hundred words to various aspects of their worthiness. However, I’ve chosen not to, as the five doors that resonated with me during my walk were way humbler. And weathered and disheveled too, to one degree or another. What’s more, the word dilapidated also applies to two of the five (the white door with a big empty space next to it, and the cardboard-stuffed black door upon which the sturdy lavender-hued door closes). I liked all of the outsiders aplenty when I spotted them and, in examining their portraits a short while ago, I like them no less now. They have tons of character. They’ve been through a lot and have stories to tell. And they probably go unnoticed by most everyone, but so what? They’ve entered my heart, which contains a warm spot for the underappreciated. Yeah, I’m a f*cking softie.

And which of the specimens do I choose as my favorite? Tough decision, but I’m going with the wooden swinging doors. Man, crude though they are, they exude down-to-earth charm and nonchalant confidence, characteristics I’d be proud to call my own. But I’ll never be as cool as those doors are, Shit, I’m well into my septuagenarian era. So, if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s not about to now. But an old guy can dream, can’t he? Damn right he can, and will.

Is any essay about doors truly complete without a nod to The Doors, the explosive, brooding and trippy rock band that burst into the big-time in 1967? The answer is no, at least when it comes to my offerings. Thus, I shall leave you with a recording by The Doors that has one big thing in common with the doors I’ve written about above. To wit, it is underappreciated. Wintertime Love, performed in a flexible waltz time, finds the band behaving all happy and tender, something they weren’t particularly known for doing. The song appears on their Waiting For The Sun album, which hit the marketplace in 1968. Here it is. Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. And please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Till next time!

Let There Be Colors!

As some readers of this publication know, I am a big fan of colors, both the natural and man-made varieties. Obviously, there’s nothing even remotely unique about me that way. But somehow I wasn’t particularly conscious of this leaning till it became a subject that I felt drawn to write about pretty soon after I gave birth to Yeah, Another Blogger in 2015.

For instance, I’ve written about excellent sunsets any number of times, especially sunsets that my wife Sandy and I have inhaled on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, one of our favorite locales. And pieces about illuminated residential Christmas decorations have graced these pages, maybe not all that gracefully, at least thrice that I can recall.

But have I ever placed the colors of a sunset and those of Christmas displays into the same story? Uh-uh. Not until now, that is. And I had such a nice time doing the legwork for this narrative, I just might make the theme a tradition.

There I was, then, on the 13th of December, standing on my house’s deck and admiring the oranges and yellows and pinks that filled the western sky. It was 4:21 PM, fourteen minutes before the Sun would disappear below the horizon. I’d watched sunsets from my house, which occupies space in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, loads of times before. But as far as I can recall, I’d never left my abode to admire a sunset from elsewhere in the neighborhood. Why? Because I’m a dumb shit. For, as I discovered moments later, the views from other spots on the surrounding blocks were terrific, far better than from my deck, where trees get in the way of the festivities a whole lot.

The view 200 feet from my house

Following an impulse to do some exploring, I made my way from the deck to the house’s front door, exited, walked down my front path and made a left onto the sidewalk. At the first intersection I came to, a mere 200 feet from my house, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a pretty open view of the sunset at that corner, about as open as you’d hope to find in houses-and-trees-heavy suburbia. Very unexpectedly to me, someone else was gazing at the sunset too. “I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one here,” that someone, a lady in my advanced age range, said to me. “This is the best place in the neighborhood to watch a winter sunset from.”

She was correct, as far as looking in a westerly direction goes. But, as sunset aficionados know, colors float enticingly almost everywhere in the sky when the conditions are right. And that’s precisely what colors were doing that late afternoon. As I walked along many blocks in my neighborhood, I made frequent stops to admire the displays taking place in all directions above me. About 20 minutes into the walk, a guy pushing a baby carriage along a sidewalk succinctly summed things up when  he saw me snapping a sunset photo.  “There’s a lot of color in the sky tonight,” he said to me. “The sky’s beautiful,” I answered. It was.

A few minutes after my brief conversation with the carriage-pusher, as dusk entered its final stage, I started examining front lawn Christmas displays, of which there were many. They varied in composition, ranging from the tastefully traditional to the merrily over-the-top. Strings and clusters of blue, red, white and green lights, and of other colors, abounded. Inflatable Santas, snowmen and additional creatures were coming out of the neighborhood’s proverbial ass. Man, individually and collectively the displays wowed me. They created a giddy, phantasmagorical aura that I wouldn’t mind being around throughout much of the year. I took in the sights for a nice long while and then headed back home under a seriously dark sky.

The recap of my colorful adventure now is nearing its conclusion. Christmas-display-wise, I was glad to have learned that my neighbors’ talents had not waned even slightly in 2020. I’ve greedily enjoyed their splendid decorating efforts during each of the 16 Christmas seasons that I’ve spent in this neighborhood. As for the sunset, it showed me that I need to get out of my house more than I do, for, just outside my doorstep, there might be sweet experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t know were awaiting.

And, speaking of a sweet experience, and of a colorful display to boot, there’s one that I will be missing on New Year’s Eve. For years, Sandy and I have taken in NYE fireworks in Philadelphia’s historic section, near the Delaware River. But, due to the good ol’ pandemic, the fireworks have been nixed this year. Shit! Those displays always are great, and are an invigorating way to usher in a fresh set of days. I suppose that Sandy and I will spend the eve at home instead.

Still, there is this: Vaccines have arrived and Trump has been voted out of office. Therefore, there is every reason to think that 2021 will be far better than 2020, a f*cking shit show, has been.

Happy New Year one and all!

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

Autumn Colors; Biden And Trump; Three Songs By Joes

I wasn’t expecting to write about autumn for a second time this year, seeing that I pretty well summed up my feelings about this, my favorite season, in an essay that hit cyberspace only last month (click here to read it). But I couldn’t resist. How could I, when colors on many of my neighborhood’s trees finally came alive on the 9th of November? How did that even happen? It was kind of a miracle really, because the leaves had been nowhere near as vivid even the day before. And, soon after the 9th, the colors diminished greatly in effect and stature, as our woody friends were having a contest to see which ones could de-leaf themselves the fastest. Yes, I was in the right place at the right time when I took an early afternoon walk through my community on the peak day.

There’s no doubt, however, that I’d have much preferred to wander among gorgeous trees in a forest, or in a substantial wood. You can truly commune with nature in those landscapes, unlike in most of my suburban Philadelphia region, where nature has been paved-over  and tamed significantly. But forests and woods are anything but around the corner from my house. A car not being at my disposal on the 9th, a visit to anywhere not within walking distance was off the table.

I wasn’t complaining, though, because my neighborhood looked so damn good. Golds, ambers, coppers, russets and burgundies abounded, and I was pleased as punch to roam for 45 minutes, soaking up their beauty, basking in their glory, etc. In other words, I dug the shit out of the color explosions! What’s more, the temperature was perfect (72°F, 22°C) and the skies were as soothing a shade of blue as you could hope for. Days such as that one don’t come around often enough, and are rarities in my part of the globe in normally pretty-chilly November.

I almost always listen to music during the walks that, for exercise, I take each week in one locale or another. But not this time. That gave me the opportunity to do a bit more thinking than usually happens during my treks. And what popped into my head and stayed there for a while? Why, thoughts about Joe Biden, a good guy, and Donald Trump, a f*cking jerk. That’s what!

Yup, I don’t like Trump even a teensy weensy bit, he who shamelessly has been trying to steal a decided presidential election. What is there to like about someone who is a force for chaos and darkness; who sneers at democracy’s principles and structure; who emboldens white supremacists; who can’t go more than thirty seconds without lying; who is callous, vindictive, narcissistic, uncivil, unhinged and a bully? Nothing, in my opinion. Yet, roughly 74,000,000 American voters gave him the OK in the recent election. That’s a highly unsettling and sobering truth for anyone who believes in equality and progress, and is concerned about American democracy’s stability and strength. Fortuitously, for the USA and for the rest of the world, about 80,000,000 voters, and a majority of electoral college votes, went for Biden. As a result, better days, saner days, lie ahead. And, by the way, those who agree with my assessment of Trump owe a huge debt of gratitude to Biden for entering the race last year, because I’m certain that no other Democratic Party candidate for president would have beaten The Despicable One.

As I inch closer and closer to this story’s exit door, I feel compelled to conclude the proceedings with hot, steamy recordings by three guys named Joe, all of whom, sadly, are no longer with us. I’m doing this in honor of Joe Biden, who is strongly with us and poised to undo much of the damage that Trump has inflicted at home and abroad during the last four years. Yo, Joe! — you and Kamala could do a whole lot worse than to boogie down to these tunes at your inaugural balls on Inauguration Day (January 20). They’ll fill both of you with loads of energy and get the two of you even more psyched than you already are to do your new jobs.

As for Donald Trump, these songs are appropriate for him too. They would make a fine soundtrack for him to angrily shake his oversized booty to as he leaves the White House, on the just-mentioned January date, for the final time ever.

Here, then, are recordings by Joe Tex (Show Me), Joe Cocker (High Time We Went) and Big Joe Turner (Shake, Rattle And Roll). Enjoy ’em!

A Tuneful Time At The Mall (A Pandemic-Era Story)

Although I’m not much of a shopper, in at least a few respects I’m lucky to live near Willow Grove Park, a huge three-level shopping mall in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For instance, I like to go there now and then to gaze at its clean yet kaleidoscopic interior design and to marvel at the massive quantities of goods that its stores contain. I don’t think that the USA is anywhere close to being an idyllic land of milk and honey, but, as the mall demonstrates, there is no shortage of products in this country.

As things have turned out though, probably the main reason that I enjoy having Willow Grove Park close at hand is that it occasionally becomes story fodder for my blog. When I began this publication in 2015, never would have I expected that such would be the case. But I sure as shit am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. The story that you now are reading is the result of my latest visit to the mall. That visit took place on a recent, dreary, rain-dominated Thursday.

The mall was on my mind that day mainly because I wanted to take a walk. For the past eleven months, you see, I’ve been walking regularly for health-related reasons, four or five times per week and almost always outdoors. But an outdoors trek would have been unwise, as the rains were descending not in trickles but in f*cking buckets. Striding purposefully through the mall, an enclosed structure, though? Yes!

Due to the pandemic, the businesses in Willow Grove Park (excepting its two restaurants, which were allowed to sell take-out orders), along with almost countless other businesses state-wide, were ordered by Pennsylvania’s governor to close in mid-March. The lockdown eventually was partly lifted, the mall reopening on June 26. Arriving there at 11:25 AM on the wet Thursday in question, I was curious about the mall’s state of affairs four months post-reopening. How much damage had the pandemic inflicted?

Well, while spending 45 minutes walking the mall’s every avenue and byway, I saw a fairly decent number of people shopping and wandering, possibly about the same number that you’d find on a similar off-day during normal times. As for store vacancies, there were five or six, not the many more that I was half-expecting. However, several stores hadn’t opened for the day, which was not a good sign. Possibly they were on the verge of throwing in the towel altogether.

A truly bad scene, and probably indicative of the mall’s overall financial health, was the food court. There were not many customers at all, even though it was lunch time when I walked past that busy-in-normal-times area. It was sad to see the court’s businesses doing poorly. And, of course, millions of businesses worldwide are in the same boat, due to coronavirus. On any number of occasions I’ve said the obvious on these pages, and I’ll say it again: We need an effective vaccine pronto. It’s time for the suffering to diminish significantly.

But I’m not going to end this essay on a down note. How could I, seeing that I listened to an episode of The Many Moods Of Ben Vaughn, a terrific music podcast, as I walked through the mall? It put a whole lot of pep in my step and prevented me from getting anywhere near bummed out.

In that episode, which is from September 27, 2020, Vaughn spins the original versions of songs subsequently made famous by other artists. A large bunch of them jumped out at me. But let’s limit that bunch to three. Otherwise I’ll be here all day, and nobody, including me, would be in favor of that. The three songs are Louie Louie, Boys, and Do Wah Diddy.

Here are some facts: The infamous Louie Louie, an enormous hit for The Kingsmen in 1963, was originally recorded by Richard Berry And The Pharaohs way before that, in 1957 to be precise. Berry also penned the composition. The Beatles included Boys (written by Luther Dixon and Wes Farrell) on their first album in 1963, and popularized the tune, but the initial recording was in 1960 by The Shirelles. It was the B-side of their single whose A-side was wildly popular — Will You Love Me Tomorrow? And although Manfred Mann’s 1964 version of Do Wah Diddy (a composition by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich) conquered the world, the song’s first appearance was a recording by The Exciters one year earlier.

The tracks by Berry, The Shirelles and The Exciters rock, roll and rouse. Day-brighteners, they appear below. I think you’ll like ’em. Okay, boys and girls, that’s a wrap. As I almost always mention, please don’t be shy about adding any comments that you might have. Goodbye till next time!

The Missus Kicked Me Out! (A Guest Post By Santa Claus)

Holy crap, I can’t believe that it’s come to this. Here I am, flying high in the sky with my reindeer during late October, when I should be back home at the North Pole keeping an eye on my crew of elves. Those pointy-eared creatures are becoming lazier and grumpier every year. I tell you, without a demanding boss like me around, last year they’d never have built all the toys that needed to be built. Many kids would have gone giftless on Christmas.

Elves! Shit, one of these days I’m going to replace those weirdos with robots. And what the hell are elves, anyway? I’ve been working with them for almost forever and I still can’t figure that out. One day, eons ago, dozens of them just showed up from out of frigging nowhere. “Hello, Santa,” they said in unison. “It’s colder than a witch’s you-know-what here, but since you apparently don’t mind freezing your ass off, we won’t mind either. Where’s your workshop? We heard you need a hand.”

Actually, they got that wrong. I hate the cold! But that’s enough about elves. I’ve got a bigger problem than them, and it has to do with the inimitable Mrs. Claus. She’s the love of my life. She’s the yin to my yang, or whatever the expression is. And — I can’t believe it — she kicked me out, in the middle of the night, a few hours ago.

Santa,” she yelled at me, her right index finger pointing to the door, “open it and go!”

“But, dear,” I said, “I haven’t . . . ”

She cut me off. “Don’t dear me. I warned you that I wasn’t going to put up any longer with these beautiful Nordic girls showing up at our doorstep. The occasional female visitor is okay. But ever since the pandemic began in March, they’ve been arriving in droves. That’s a strange aspect of the pandemic that nobody could have predicted. ‘Where’s Santa, the adorable, cuddly hunk?’ they all ask me. And then they search the grounds and find you in the reindeer stables or out on the snow fields. I don’t even want to think about how many of these temptresses have had their way with you. Santa, I’ve had enough! Go, and don’t come back until you’re prepared to mend your ways.”

I turned the door handle and headed out, adding these words: “I’ve explained to you a million times that all I’ve ever done is talk with these girls, give them my autograph, and allow them to snap selfies with me. I swear to you that nothing further has ever happened. How could it, anyway? I mean, considering that my nuts are perpetually frozen solid in this icebox of a land, it’s amazing that I’ve been able to satisfy even one person occasionally, carnally-speaking. And that person, of course, is you.”

Where am I? I must be getting close. Ah yes, I see Willow Grove, Pennsylvania just a few miles away. I’m going to land the sleigh there in the backyard of my friends Sandy and Neil and ask them to take me in for the night (you can read part of our backstory by clicking here). Maybe it will turn out to be for many nights. Let me pull on the reins just so, and maneuver the reindeer downward. Success! We’ve landed silently. Sandy and Neil will be surprised to see me.

It’s 7:15 PM, and fully dark. I ring the doorbell. I hear footsteps. “Who’s there?” two voices ask.

“It’s Santa,” I say. “I need your help.”

The door opens, revealing Neil and Sandy. Both of them, like me, are masked. Neil, his eyes smiling, gives me a big hug. “Santa, what’s happened? By the way, you’re the first person, other than Sandy, that I’ve hugged since the pandemic started. You are virus-free, right?”

“Neil, I get tested every day. I’m as fit as a f*cking fiddle.”

“That’s what I love about you, Santa. You’re jolly and foul-mouthed, a hard combination to beat. Let’s all of us ditch our masks,” Neil says. We do.

“Foul-mouthed, yes. Not feeling too jolly right now though, Neil.” In a few brief sentences I explain the sorry situation that I’ve found myself in. “Sandy, Neil,” I then say, “I didn’t know who else to turn to. I can stay for a while, can’t I?”

“Indeed you can, Santa,” Sandy answers, planting kisses on my cheeks. “And maybe we will be able to resolve your big problem. First, though, how about taking a stroll with us around the neighborhood? Halloween is almost here, you know, and a lot of households in this town have gone whole hog in decorating their properties with Halloween displays. That’s become a thing, Santa. The decorations are almost as beautiful as the ones at Christmastime. You are sorely in need of some cheering up, and the displays will do that for you.”

Off we go. And my friends are right. I’m amazed by the colors, the lights, the ghosts and pumpkins. Ooh la la! My mood, which has been stuck on sour and troubled, is heading a bit north.

Back at the house, Sandy and Neil lead me to the ground-level guest bedroom. “You’ll be comfortable here, Santa,” Sandy says. “The bed is reinforced, so there’s no chance that you’ll collapse the springs. But perhaps you won’t need to stay. Santa, what’s Mrs. Claus’s phone number?” I tell her. She goes upstairs, out of ear range, and Neil and I wait for her return.

Five minutes later, she’s back. Smiling. “Guess what, Santa?” she asks.

“I don’t know. Mrs. Claus won the Powerball jackpot? She found my favorite pair of boxer shorts that’s been missing since 1907?”

“No, better. The elves, it seems, have been watching your every move for months. A half hour after you left the North Pole they went to talk with your wife. And they corroborated your statements. Santa, Mrs. Claus wants you to return home. Now!”

Well, needless to say, I guess that I’ve misjudged and undervalued the f*cking weirdos that work for me.

Elves!

(Santa suggests that you not be shy about adding your comments.)

A Not-Socially-Distanced Story

It’s funny, or maybe not, how my wife Sandy and I have changed our ways of thinking and acting during the it-better-end-soon pandemic era. Scared quite shitless when the era began in the USA in mid-March, we hunkered down, staying home nearly all of the time. We ventured out only to take walks, to buy provisions at supermarkets and to take out meals from restaurants. Right from the start, mask-wearing and social distancing were parts of our regimen. We wore disposable gloves when shopping, washed our hands regularly and used hand sanitizer profusely. None of this was unique to us, obviously. Most people were scared quite shitless, and took the same safety precautions that we did.

Thankfully, Sandy’s and my anxiety levels have subsided since then, mostly due to the easing of the lockdown in Pennsylvania, the state that we call home. As a result, we’re getting out of the house a lot more than we did a few months ago (we dine outdoors at restaurants frequently, for example), and are feeling better about things because of that. But the f*cking coronavirus, which ain’t going away any time soon, is still very much on our minds. Yes, we’ve ditched disposable gloves (hand-sanitizing and hand-washing make them superfluous, I think). But, in general we continue to follow safety guidelines.

“In general?” I hear a few voices ask. Right, 99% of the time we haven’t deviated from the guidelines. But the remaining 1% of the time we have, and that’s because we have pals named Cindy and Gene. When we’ve been with them recently, social distancing among the four of us has gone out the window.

It all began on an innocent day: the fourth of September. Sandy, myself, Cindy and Gene met up at the Philadelphia Museum Of Art, which only two days before had reopened after almost six months of coronavirus-precipitated closure. Masked, we began to wander the galleries together. Before we knew it, Sandy and I were practically shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends instead of the recommended six feet apart. If masks weren’t required in the museum, the four of us probably would have yanked ours off within minutes. Never fear, the yankings took place a couple of hours later when we all settled around a small table on the patio of a café near the museum. There we sat, ate and talked, a foot or two away from one another.

Now, none of us four ever will be mistaken for a wild and crazy type. What, then, caused the two couples to say goodbye to social distancing and mask-wearing when in each other’s company? In my case, I think it was because it somehow just felt like the natural thing to do. Subconsciously, I apparently had been as ready as could be to have normal interactions with these two close friends. And I knew that Cindy and Gene routinely follow the coronavirus guidelines, and trusted that they had determined, as best they could, that they were virus-free.

Let the good times roll! That’s what they continued to do in Cape May, a sweet, seaside, beachy town at New Jersey’s southern tip, about 110 miles from my suburban Philadelphia abode. There, Cindy had rented a condo for the Saturday-to-Saturday week that straddled late September and early October. At Cindy’s invitation, Sandy and I came down to stay with her for the final three of those days. Gene, who was needed at his and Cindy’s Philadelphia home for most of the week, arrived one day after Sandy and myself.

Yeah, we all had a great time together. We social-distanced from other people, but not among ourselves. We wore masks in Cape May’s stores and when walking on visitor-crowded streets, but otherwise not. Our time together passed quickly. Sandy and I were delighted to be on a mini-vacation in a popular area that we’d been to only once before, halfway to forever ago.

Cape May is a lovely place. It is filled, primarily, with old, well-maintained houses, hotels and other structures, all exuding strong character. And Cape May’s public beach, beside the Atlantic Ocean, is wide and lengthy. I, who hadn’t strode on a beach or seen ocean waters since a vacation last year on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, was damn well thrilled to do so once again. And I also was damn well thrilled to walk through the woods and around the marshlands of Cape May Point State Park. They were a sight for sore eyes.

Well, hopefully Cindy and Gene and Sandy and I will be able to continue our undistanced get-togethers. I’m already looking forward to our next one, whenever that might be. And by the way, I’m sure that what the four of us have done is anything but rare. Worldwide, undoubtedly, plenty of people, who otherwise adhere to coronavirus-related safety guidelines, at times are meeting up with trusted relatives and friends in a normal, pre-pandemic manner. I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts about this and/or related topic(s).

Okay, that’s about it, girls and boys. Be well. Adios till next time.

(All of the photos were taken in Cape May, New Jersey, USA)

Autumnal Thoughts, Autumnal Tunes

Planet Earth, which we humans increasingly have been making a mess of since the Industrial Revolution began in the late 1700s, nonetheless has remained reliable in various ways. It keeps on spinning, for one thing, and traveling around the Sun, for another. Good thing that it does, no? If those movements were thrown out of whack, we, along with every entity taking up earthly space, would be goners in a couple of blinks of an eye.

Well, as we know, on the 22nd of September those good ol’ reliable movements brought about the autumnal equinox and the vernal equinox in, respectively, the northern and southern hemispheres. This was due to the Sun being directly above the equator, by the way. For me, a resident of the north, this event officially marked the beginning of my favorite time of year — fall — and prompted me to gather some thoughts about that season. Here they are, along with a few recordings that capture fall’s cozy, mellow essence. Damn straight, I’m in an autumnal mood!

This is the main reason why I like autumn as much as I do: I was born in late October, smack in the heart of fall. And my birthday has been lovingly acknowledged and celebrated, by one combination of people or another, every year of my life. Over time it became only natural for me to associate autumn with my birth anniversary. How could I not, seeing that autumn never fails to whisper frequent reminders in my ear about the approaching big day? And when that day arrives, autumn, behind the scenes, is one of the celebrants. Yeah, autumn loves me, and I therefore love autumn back, you dig?

Hatboro, Pennsylvania

To meld with autumn righteously and timely, on its first day this year I took a long walk through Hatboro, a cute town a few miles from where I live in the Philadelphia suburbs. I headed there with the newly-hatched season fully on my mind. The mid-day temperature was lovely, about 73° F (23° C), the skies were as blue as you could hope for, and a light breeze ruffled the few strands of hair that remain on the crown of my head. In other words, the day was pretty damn well ideal. How sweet it was not to be sweating like a pig, which I had done numerous times during walks in the just-departed summer. Autumn weather suits me just fine.

Produce Junction (Hatboro, Pennsylvania)

Hints of gold in a tree in Hatboro, Pennsylvania

Hatboro was starting to get its autumnal mode in order. For instance, I saw scarecrows on a couple of porches and in a couple of store windows, and I gazed with admiration at the arrays of pumpkins in Produce Junction, a store on Hatboro’s main drag. But there was little evidence of fall in the billions of leaves within Hatboro’s boundaries. Only in a smattering of trees did I notice a changing of the color guard, such as in a tree outside of Produce Junction. Hints of gold decorated that specimen, harbingers of full-blown color transformations yet to come. I’m eagerly awaiting mid-to-late autumn’s golds, russets, burgundies and ambers. That palette grabs me powerfully each year, yet tenderly. Yes, autumn is a period of beauty that goes down as satisfyingly as comfort food.

As I walked through Hatboro, I pulled some autumn tunes out of my memory bank and let passages of them play silently in my head. I’ve always loved Autumn Almanac, by The Kinks, and Van Morrison’s Autumn Song. They provided part of my stroll’s soundtrack. As did Harvest Moon, a Neil Young composition that quite a number of musicians have covered. Young’s version is special. It makes me go limp with wonder, so beautiful do I find it. In Hatboro, those songs, and a few others, kept me company excellently.

Back home later that day I did some research into fall-themed songs, discovering Eva Cassidy’s live rendition of Autumn Leaves (music by Joseph Kosma, English lyrics by Johnny Mercer). With vocals emanating from Cassidy’s most-private chambers, this performance would break the hearts of all but the stoniest. And I reconnected with Autumn Serenade (music by Peter DeRose, lyrics by Sammy Gallop), off the album that the famous saxophonist John Coltrane recorded in 1963 with the not-so-famous vocalist Johnny Hartman. A bit more research would have revealed many others, so deep a hold has autumn maintained on songwriters past and present.

Rather than overload this essay with YouTube presentations, I’ve decided to limit the recordings to three. I think you’ll enjoy the following Young, Cassidy and Coltrane/Hartman works. Be well, boys and girls. And, as I usually mention, please don’t be shy about adding your comments.