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.)

Me? In The Biden Administration? We Shall See!

Will I be working for this gentleman?
(Photo copyright by Andrew Harnik, Associated Press)

I didn’t answer my cell phone when it rang yesterday, because the call was from a number not in my contacts list. But the caller left a voicemail message that any sensible person would respond to without haste. “Neil,” the message began, “this is Nick Oftime, an assistant director of President-elect Biden’s transition team. I got your phone number from your editor, Edgar Reewright. Please get back to me. I believe that you might be a good fit for a position in the Biden administration.”

Huh? Me? In Washington, DC? Man, I called Nick back faster than Usain Bolt got out of his starting blocks in the 2016 Olympics.

“Nick, this is Neil,” I said when Nick answered. “The President-elect wants little ol’ me to serve in DC? Why, this is a dream come true. I’m stunned. I’m excessively flattered. I accept the offer!”

“Neil, calm down. You don’t even know what the job is. What’s more, you’re not the only person we’re looking at. That’s why I said ‘you might be a good fit.’ Might, Neil. Might.”

“Okay,” I replied, “I understand. So, you know Edgar Reewright?”

“Yes. He’s my editor too, you see. He edited a book of mine that came out three years ago, one that I thought for sure would be a smash hit but bombed instead. It’s called Donald And His Teddy Bears: A President’s Obsession. It’s 100% factual, Neil. Though not many people know this, Trump has been collecting teddy bears since he was four years old. He owns hundreds of them, and every single one is in his White House bedroom. They take up so much space, he barely has any room for clothes, let alone Melania. That’s why he wears the same blue suit every damn day.”

“Nick, that sounds like a book that should have sold a million copies. What does Edgar have to say about that?”

“Oh, he always tells me to write another book, that the second one undoubtedly would do much better than the first. That’s what I was speaking about with him a few days ago. My plans are to delve into one of Trump’s other obsessions: his megalomania-fueled need to have powerful bowel movements four or more times every day. I’ll title the book Trump Takes A Dump (Many Dumps, Actually). This will reveal a side of Donald that he’s been hiding for years and years. But I have to put the President-elect above my writing career, so I’ll work on the book only in the occasional moments of spare time that come my way.”

“Nick, it can’t miss! I predict that your next effort will shoot to the top of every best seller list. Why, gastroenterologists alone will send sales through the roof. What’s Edgar’s opinion?”

“It’s hard to say. He didn’t seem overly enthusiastic, to tell you the truth. And that’s when he brought up your name. He said that, like mine, your ideas and writings are — and I’m going to quote him —  ‘pure drivel.’ Well, my ears picked up. ‘Give me Neil’s phone number, Edgar,’ I demanded. ‘He might be just the person I’m looking for.’ Edgar obliged.”

“And I’m glad that he did. Nick, I’m on pins and needles to hear about the job you’re considering me for.”

“Let me run it by you. Mr. Biden and his team are thinking about making you the public presence for the little guy. And not just any little guy, but the type that’s going nowhere, that’s got no particular talent of any sort to speak of, and that nonetheless keeps their nose to the grindstone while remaining in pretty good spirits. You seem to meet those qualifications, Neil, and I say so because I spent half of yesterday reading dozens of stories on your blog. Edgar was right, you know. They are, for the most part, pure drivel. But that doesn’t stop you from turning them out at a halfway decent rate, does it? That’s very admirable. Still, you’re not a shoo-in to be hired. If it’s okay with you, I’ll be calling some of your friends and relatives to try and learn if you meet our requirements in every respect.”

Naturally, I gave my consent.

“Neil,” Nick continued, “you’d help to boost the morale of many Americans if we decide to choose you for this job, because they would learn that the much-better-than average Joe who soon will occupy the White House is thinking about all Americans, that he is committed to making the USA a welcoming place for every one of its citizens, including inconsequential ones such as you. The person we tap will go out on speaking tours and will be all over the media. It’s the chance of a lifetime. How about it, Neil? Might the job interest you?”

“Would I have my own office, Nick? I’d have to have my own office.”

“Yes, of course you would. There’s a secret supply room in the White House basement. Trump stores his cache of toilet paper in there. Thousands of rolls, I’ve been told. I assume that he’ll be taking them with him when he leaves office. In any case, we’d turn that room into a fairly comfortable work place.”

Nick paused. Then he said, “Neil, I have to go. Not to the bathroom, but to the President-elect’s strategy room. There are a few things that he and the team want to discuss with me there. Plus, there are two other individuals I plan to interview today over the phone for the job. One of them is a presumed writer too. Her stuff is even worse than yours. Goodbye, Neil. We will speak again.”

That, then, is where the matter stands for now. Maybe my nation’s capital is in my future. Maybe not. As they say, we shall see.

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!

In Search Of Yellows: A Walking Story

I’m nothing but amazed that I’ve sat myself down at a keyboard to begin the composition of this essay. It’s 11:31 AM on a weekday morn, a mere 27 minutes after I completed the walk around my neighborhood that I shortly will comment upon. I mean, I usually take forever to get enough thoughts together to write a story. What’s more, I usually take forever to come up with story ideas in the first place. So, I better keep pecking away before constipation sets in.

What, another walking story?” I hear a few of you crying in dismay. “Spare us, Neil! You’ve done dozens of them already. Can’t you think of anything else to write about?”

Believe me, I feel your pain, but what can I do? As I just indicated, I don’t exactly generate story ideas like Donald Trump generates lies. Anyway, I like to walk. Always have, because walking is the best way to see what’s going on around us. And the hodgepodge of ruminations and observations that I come up with after wandering around one locale or another is among this publication’s primary fuels.

But I can’t say that I especially love to walk in my suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. My neighborhood is none too fascinating, as is true for suburbs in general. Although I regularly pound its pavements, I do so mostly for health reasons, exercise presumably being beneficial to one’s bodily systems. Once in a while, however, I have an additional motive, and today I put such into play. “Yellows, Neil, yellows,” I said to myself at the start of the walk. “You’ve had it in the back of your mind to look for shades of yellow during a neighborhood walk, probably because yellow was your favorite color when you were a kid, and to turn the experience into an article. Today you shall do so!”

Yes, sir!” I responded silently. “I hear you loud and clear. Yellows it will be!”

To begin, I want to tell you that there ain’t a lot of yellows in my neighborhood. In fact, there’s a paucity of many colors. The greens of nature are what rule here, as they do in much of the world, at least when trees are in leaf. But your faithful and determined correspondent wasn’t deterred. My eyes in constant motion, I spotted enough examples of yellows to illustrate this piece decently. And I did so in a mere 34 minutes. I could have extended the walk beyond that time, but was pretty sure that I’d exhausted the yellow possibilities. And it’s a good thing that I came home when I did. You see, as I entered my house after completing my rounds I thought that the blazing Sun and moist air hadn’t gotten to me very much. Wrong! My sweat glands, in a delayed reaction, suddenly erupted, causing my tee shirt, mostly dry only seconds before, to cling to me amorously. Man, I was shvitzing like a frigging pig! I’m happy to report that the A/C system, and the cool water that I washed off with, quickly set me right.

Okay, it’s time to mention the highlights of today’s trek. The first involves sunflowers. A year ago, on a neighborhood walk, I was delighted to find that a family two blocks away from my residence was a lover of sunflowers. They’d planted a load of the gangly, happy plants on a long narrow strip of their property. And a week or two ago I  noticed that sunflowers were strutting their stuff anew there. Needless to say, I strode down that block this morning to snap the yellow beings’ portraits. Of the various yellow objects in my neighborhood, they are my favorites by far. Indeed, I am a total sucker for sunflowers, thanks to Vincent van Gogh, their greatest immortalizer.

As for the second highlight: On various walks over the last couple of months I’d seen a yellow truck shining proudly and vividly. It always was in the same spot, five blocks from my house. It was there again today. This truck adds needed pizazz to a sleepy block, and makes me wonder why more people don’t buy vehicles of eye-popping color. Like I’m one to talk, though. My wife and I own two cars that are conservative as shit, one of them dark grey and the other dark blue. Next time we’ll go for cars aflame in . . . what? Neon yellow, that’s what!

Well, the blogosphere’s overseers are whispering to me that this article has gone as far in a yellow direction as it needs to go. And I know better than to cross them. But, as usual, I’ll let the piece marinate for a few days, and do plenty of tweaking, before depressing the Publish button. Take care, everybody. And please don’t be shy about adding your comments!

Justice, Equality And Peace

It’s late morning on the third of June as I begin to type this essay. It’s not the essay that, up until June 2, I was planning on writing. That one will have to wait till next time. No, even though I’m not a particularly incisive observer of, nor commentator upon, societal and political matters, I feel compelled to lay down some thoughts about what’s been happening in my country (the USA), and in other parts of the globe as a result of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer, Derek Chauvin, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. George Floyd, who was unarmed and handcuffed during the incident, was black. Chauvin, who has been fired from his job and charged with murder, is white.

Did anyone predict or expect that, in the wake of Floyd’s killing, hordes of people would take to the streets to denounce systemic racism and police brutality against blacks? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing not. Once put in motion, though, the protests expanded to locations far from Minneapolis. That includes Philadelphia, where I lived for decades, and which is very near to the town that my wife and I now call home.

I’ve watched television coverage of the marches and demonstrations, and of the violent turns that some of those gatherings took. The looting and property destruction that have taken place sadden and sicken me. Ongoing behavior such as that can deeply damage society, and can make conditions far worse than they already are. Fortunately, for the moment anyway, looting and destruction have lessened greatly, and peaceful protests continue.

Where will the protests lead? What will they result in? Will they result in anything, for that matter, or simply peter out as the energy and indignation that fuel them slowly evaporate? I hope that such will not be the case, because it’s undeniable that racism in the United States is alive and well, that many folks in this country don’t want equality-for-all to become an absolute given. The existence of white supremacy groups, and the continuing efforts by more than a few members of the Republican party to suppress the vote of minorities and of the marginalized, are two examples of this. The USA has a long way to go.

And what of the possibility that the protests explode into mayhem, uncontrollable violence, even civil war? I don’t discount this idea at all. Anything might happen, a frightening thought.

Barack Obama, in a level-headed and insightful essay about the Floyd tragedy, states what he believes should be the responses to it. Click here to read the piece. He urges us to vote out of office those elected officials with stone-age mentalities. And he focuses his exhortations on the young, who he says are the ones that must lead the efforts to make the world a better place. Here are a few of his thoughts: “The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.”

We can only hope that Obama’s way forward will prove to be the chosen path. His commentary, of course, would be lost on Donald Trump, who doesn’t care about the whys behind the reactions to Floyd’s death. That’s only to be expected from he who is callous, narcissistic, vindictive, a pathological liar and a thug. If Trump deploys federal troops, all bets are off.

At about 8:30 PM on June 2, I slipped outside to the deck at the rear of our house. Very unsettled by George Floyd’s death and the violence that partly filled its aftermath, I needed to decompress. That’s what happened as I stared at the dense foliage, listened to the birds and scanned the heavens.

Much of the sky was heavy with clouds, so almost no color emerged from the sunset. Bummer. But I was in luck anyway, because twenty minutes after I took my place on the deck I looked to the east and saw a vivid Moon rising, It seemed to have come from out of nowhere. Possibly it had been hidden by now-dispersed clouds. The Moon, as bright as a powerful LED light, was stunning. It made me feel somewhat hopeful.

As did Peace, a song recorded by the Ornette Coleman quartet in 1959. It played over the radio as I brushed my teeth two hours after Moon-watching. It wasn’t coincidental that WRTI, Temple University’s radio station, played this composition. That evening, the station was attempting to offer comfort to its listeners.

None of us knows with any degree of certainty where we are headed, but may justice and equality for all, and peace (it goes without saying), be intrinsic parts of the destination. And of the journey that takes us there.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this essay)

Two New Movies That I Liked A Lot: “American Animals” And “RBG”

As I’ve mentioned a few times before on this publication’s pages, I go out pretty often to the movies. So far this year I’ve caught 20 of ’em. Maybe early in 2019 I’ll do a nice, big writeup on the flicks that passed before my eyes and ears during this, our current year. But for now I’m going to limit my focus and write briefly about only two. I saw both very recently and they agreed deliciously with my delicate system. Okay, away we go.

By the time you read this essay, American Animals may be gone from the theaters. If it remains in one near you, however, I urge you to drop whatever you’re doing and go to see it. Or do likewise in the comfort of your home whenever it materializes on Netflix or HBO or whatever. (But note the caveat several paragraphs below).

What we have here is an indie effort that struck me as near-perfect filmmaking. The movie is entertaining as hell. Its plot unravels tantalizingly. Its screenplay nails the way that people talk. The acting is excellent. And you’ll be sweating bullets when the going gets rough. Hey, you get the idea. I’m an American Animals fan!

American Animals tells the story of four college-age guys who, in 2004, attempted to steal rare and valuable books (including an early edition of John James Audubon’s The Birds Of America) from the special collections department of Transylvania University’s library. Believe it or not, there really is a Transylvania University. That institution is located in Lexington, Kentucky. And believe it or not once again, the story that plays out in American Animals really did happen. Writer and director Bart Layton constructed the movie by cutting between reenactments of the crazy story lines, using professional actors, and interviews with the real-life perpetrators. The latter offer fascinating commentaries on what was going through their minds at various points in the heist’s planning and execution.

It would be wrong, wrong, wrong for me to spill any more beans about American Animals. You’ll thank me, should you view the movie, for not being a spoiler kind of individual. And so I’ll end my discussion of Animals by noting that anyone who wilts and/or takes shelter from barrages of F-bombs should stay away. As for everyone else, I believe that this one’s for you.

Oh wait. There is another thing or two: I’d never heard of Bart Layton before, and knew but one member of Animal’s cast (Blake Jenner), but so what? The movie proved to me, as numerous others have, that the world is awash with very talented though hardly famous individuals. I’m totally down with that.

RBG, a hit documentary that entered a sizeable number of American cinemas in May, and is still in quite a few, was not on my to-be-seen list. I don’t know why, but I decided that I wasn’t all that interested in learning about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the oldest (age 85) of the nine justices who comprise the USA’s Supreme Court, the highest federal court in the land. But my wife Sandy badly wanted to see it and, peerless spouse that I am, I capitulated. Off we went on a miserably hot day to watch the film in downtown Philadelphia.

I’m here to report that I was wrong. RBG (directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West) is really good. Justice Ginsburg has led a remarkable life, one devoted to her family, to the advancement of human rights and to the intricacies and necessity of the law.

This movie might not be up the alley of those who, like The Donald, are narrow-minded, mean-spirited and eager to restrict and oppress. But if you believe in respect and equality, then I imagine you’ll become an admirer of Ruth. Hell, you probably already are. Unbeknownst to me, without trying in the least she became a cultural icon and a judicial rock star over the last 10 or so years. This was quite an unexpected phenomenon, since Ginsburg is a quiet, unassuming sort. But millions of Americans have become captivated by her steadfastness, by her support of abortion rights and of gender rights. And by the slight twinkle in her eye and shy smile on her face that she often wears. She’s endearing. No other justice on the high court has a devoted fan base like hers.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is smart as a whip. She graduated from law school in 1959 and began to make her name in the legal world in the 1970s, co-founding The Women’s Rights Project and ultimately arguing six gender-rights cases before the Supreme Court. Little did she know that she herself would become a member of that court in 1993, after Bill Clinton nominated her for the job.

Now, I’m anything but a jurisprudence expert, but I’m being more than decently accurate, I think, by describing Ginsburg’s philosophy on the high court as liberal but cautious, common-sensical and mindful of people’s needs. She has taken her job extremely seriously, as well she should, working enormous numbers of hours. And she has no plans to retire. As she says in the film, she won’t step down until she feels that she is unable to keep up her full-steam-ahead pace. She’s a source of hope and pride for many in these right-wing crazy, Trumpian times.

(As I always say: Don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this essay on good ol’ social media.)

One More Look At 2017 Before It’s Gone

It’s now 7:20 on a Wednesday morning as I sit my ass down to type this little opus. It will be my final post for the year during which Donnie Trump first sat his ass down behind the desk in the Oval Office. His ass, unlike mine, is fat. And he, unlike me, is nasty, intolerant and a pathological liar. Just sayin’.

“Hey, Neil,” my wife Sandy, who is staring over my shoulders at the computer screen as I peck away, said two seconds ago, “I thought you weren’t going to talk about Trump in this essay.”

Well, she’s right. He’s depressing. Maybe I’ll turn my attention to other topics, such as Yemen and Myanmar (the former Burma). Wait — am I nuts? The horrors going on in those regions are immense. Talk about depressing. I tell you, I’ll never understand what the story is with the human race. Actually, I do understand. Bottom line is that scads of people just don’t like scads of their fellow women and men. Never have. Never will.

“What are you doing, Neil?” Sandy just asked. “You told me 15 minutes ago that you were going to keep this story light. You know, like all the other disposable, puffy pieces that you’re known for churning out. Get back on track, boy! You’re out of your realm right now.”

Thank goodness I’m married. Okay, Sandy, let me see what I can do. Enough about Trump and hatred. Hmmm, an end-of-year story should offer some words of wisdom, shouldn’t it? Wouldn’t hurt. And though I’ve always been more than a bit low in the wisdom department, I did have a good thought or two in a recent article. Here’s what I said: “ . . . if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years it’s that being friendly to people right and left is the way to go. It won’t kill you. Or so I’m told.” Imagine that — me quoting me! There’s a first time for everything. Or so I’m told.

Moving right along, folks, I might do well to mention a whole lot of things that satisfactorily filled my well during 2017, excluding those I’ve previously oohed and aahed about on these pages. But to avoid being at my keyboard for the next three days I’m going to forget about a whole lot of things and limit myself to only two. Which two shall it be? Ah, yes . . .

Number one: If you want to dive into a better than average novel, may I suggest you glue your eyes to Perfume River, which came out in 2016. Robert Olen Butler, an acclaimed author whom I basically knew nothing about before almost randomly pulling Perfume River off a local library’s shelf a few weeks ago, penned the graceful volume. The book’s narrative floats easily between the near-present and the Vietnam War eras. That war impacted the lives of the Quinlan family in mega-blast ways. The book examines their plights, the decisions that brought them to where they are, and the secrets they hold from one another and, in truth, from themselves. What insights into their own makeups and into those of others are people able to gain as the years elapse? Perfume River is where to look to find a number of delicately-threaded answers to that question.

Mbongwana Star at Abington Art Center

Number two: Do you enjoy exuberant, scarily good music? Then go to see Mbongwana Star, the band from the Democratic Republic Of The Congo that melds African melodies and rhythms with blazing rock and roll. Your chances of ever catching them, though, aren’t large. The band does tour, but not all that much. That I was in their presence over the summer is, to me, rather miraculous. And their performance was, by a reeeeally wide margin, the best I took in during this expiring year.

I’d never have been at their concert were it not for Later . . . With Jools Holland, probably the best music show on television. In the early months of 2017 I caught a repeat episode (from 2015) of Later, which is taped in Great Britain, and was floored by one of the bands appearing on it. Mbongwana Star, needless to say. Their name stayed with me as the months passed. And that is why I nearly fell off my living room sofa when, in June, I saw on Abington Art Center’s website that Star was scheduled to perform on the center’s lush, rolling lawn the following month. How was this possible? How had the center even known about this band? Whatever, I wasn’t complaining. I was exalting. Abington Art Center, in the Philadelphia suburbs, is only three miles from my house.

This show was to be among Star’s final on foreign shores for 2017. Sandy and I arrived early, grabbed a good spot on the lawn for our folding chairs, and waited for the group to come on.

Well, unstoppable, roaring power blasted from the stage from the opening notes. No ballads for Mbongwana Star. Rarely do I rise from my chair at concerts to boogie, but boogie I did, heading down to within 15 feet of the stage and kicking out the jams in my inimitably nerdy, old-guy manner. It was fun of the highest order. Here’s a video of the band playing in Europe in 2015:

Besides Star’s incredible musicianship, the astounding thing to me was that two of the performers, both of whom are vocalists, are in wheelchairs, victims of childhood polio. And yet these gentlemen, dealing with profound problems, are able to celebrate magnificently through their music. Some remarkable people are on our planet, and Theo Nzonza and Coco Ngambali are among them.

Like I said, I’m limiting myself to only two items. And (sometimes) I’m a man of my word. Thankfully, this article has manifested itself fairly fluidly, rather than in the fits and starts that are common for most of the pieces that I write. I take that as a good sign. And so, I now shall conclude the proceedings by wishing one and all a safe, happy and healthy 2018. A relative smattering of hours after I hit the Publish button for this story, Sandy and I possibly will be at Penn’s Landing, part of Philadelphia’s waterfront. If we’re there, we’ll gape at the fireworks being launched in the middle of the Delaware River. We’ve ushered in many previous New Years precisely like that. Let there be light.

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

I Didn’t Expect To See THAT!

One of the things I like about writing stories for this here website is that the process sometimes leads me to examine the way I live my life, to notice my tendencies and to become more aware of my likes and dislikes. In other words, I’ve come to get a better, more organized sense of who I am since I began pecking away at my computer’s keyboard two and a half years ago, launching this blog into heavenly cyberspace.

And who am I, you ask? Holy crap, you think I’m nuts enough to lay myself bare in this article? Well, maybe I am that nuts, but I’m going to restrain myself. Instead, I plan to leave all of the juicy details for the blockbuster memoir that I’ve just now decided to begin work on soon. Do, Re, Mi Mi Mi Mi Mi will be its title. In it you will learn all there is to know about mi . . . I mean, me.

Gentle readers, I apologize for the detour. Where was I heading? Ah yes . . .

Surprises. Pulling my thoughts together while writing stories has made me fully realize that I like surprises. The good ones, that is. Not the bad, an example of which would be having Donnie Trump knock on my door on Halloween night and yell BOO! at me at the top of his lungs. That miserable motherf**ker wouldn’t even need to wear a devilish costume. In civilian garb he’s more than frightening enough.

Good surprises came my way quite a few times during the Cape Cod vacation that my wife Sandy and I indulged in last month. They weren’t of the knock-your-socks-off variety, but I found them hip in a modest sort of way. And here’s the thing: Sandy and I have explored Cape Cod’s territory so relentlessly over the 20 years that we’ve been vacationing there, I no longer expect to come upon something that I deem to be cool and that I also haven’t seen or experienced in ages, if ever. But as they say, you never know. Let’s take a look at the two incidents that startled my eyes the most.

Sandy and I were in Provincetown in mid-afternoon on the twelfth day of October, ambling along Commercial Street, one of the town’s two main drags. The air was warm and the Sun, though fairly low in the sky, was ridiculously bright. I must have been lost in a daydream, for it was only at the last minute that I became aware of a very large orange and black object, a school bus, taking up all kinds of space in fairly narrow Commercial Street and also in Law Street, the really narrow side street from which the vehicle’s driver was attempting to make a right turn.

The driver was in a tough situation. If he had continued to bear right he’d have delivered a mighty blow to the building occupied by kmoe, a high-class wares establishment. How would the driver, who had only inches of wriggle room, get out of his predicament? Would he get out of it? I was fascinated by the spectacle. It struck me as not only comical but bordering on the surreal, giddily out of place in quaint, artsy, cute-as-a-button Provincetown.

Well, if it had been me behind the wheel, I shudder to think what might have ensued. No doubt Provincetown soon would have been saying a eulogy for the picket fence across Commercial Street from kmoe and/or for the shrubbery a breath away from the bus’s rear. And kmoe itself would have had to close for extensive renovations.

In the end, thankfully, all was happily resolved. With assistance from a good Samaritan who took up position in the middle of Commercial Street and provided verbal and hand-gesture guidance, the bus eventually was freed. Hallelujah!

Why in the world, though, had the bus been on Law Street? Provincetown has more skinny streets than Imelda Marcos has pairs of shoes, and they ain’t welcoming to anything bigger than a pickup truck. The bus driver must have been zoning out or simply in the mood to add some dollops of excitement to an otherwise placid day. I’ll never know.

Sixteen days later I decided to go for a fairly long hike along some Atlantic Ocean sands. The rented house that Sandy and I called home, in the town of Orleans, is oh so close to the ocean, so I stuck my feet into a pair of sneakers and headed out the door.

By way of an ocean inlet I reached Nauset Beach in a handful of minutes. It was a lovely day, on the warm side, and the ocean waters, in the midst of low tide, were pretty calm. I strode southward with little in mind except to enjoy the views and to nod and smile like a good neighbor at whomever I crossed paths with. And I had my eyes open for seals, as they commonly cruise in the ocean on their way to the sand islets, just offshore Cape Cod’s southeastern coast, that serve as safe havens for them. I didn’t notice any of those creatures though. I did, however, dig the sight of a small group of seagulls that were in shallow water, a pebble’s throw beyond the mud flats left behind by the low tide. They seemed very cool, calm and collected.

After 30 or 40 minutes of all of this I made the command decision to reverse direction and find my way home.

It was during this return journey that I noticed a couple of folks sloshing around in the mud flats. Throwing aside all concerns about dirtying my bright white sneakers — hey, I’m nothing if not a manly man! — I began to slosh around too, enjoying the heck out of the day. I moseyed northward in the flats, and with each step my admiration for their soppy, primitive beauty grew. They needed to be documented, so I pulled out my iPhone and got its camera ready. I positioned myself just so, the Sun to my back, and was about to press the button. But what was that dark image that had entered the scene? I blinked twice before realizing that it was my shadow, a shadow of someone readying to snap a photograph.

Was it possible that I’d never noticed my own shadow on a beach before? If I had, I didn’t recall the prior occasion(s), which isn’t too unbelievable considering the sieve-like consistency of my cranium’s contents. In any case, I recognized the fact that the design, a most unexpected addition, enhanced the loveliness of the mud flats. I pressed the iPhone camera’s button. And it is with the resultant photograph that I now take my leave of you.

Till next time, amigos.

(Don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this story. Thanks,)

(If you click on the photos, larger images will open in separate windows)

A Monumental Provincetown Story

Let no one declare that I don’t follow up on my threats, for here I am at my writing desk penning another story about Cape Cod, just as I intimated I might do in my previous essay (click here). For those of you who have read more than enough about the Cape on these pages over the last two years, now’s a good time to turn your attention to a different sort of activity, such as sending one of Hallmark’s What The Hell Is Wrong With You? cards to Donnie Trump. But please promise to return to check out what I have to say next time around . . . unless it too turns out to be a Cape opus. In which case I give you my permission to send one of those cards to me.

Provincetown’s village section (as opposed to Provincetown’s enormous and mostly uninhabited areas of beaches, woods, marshes, sand dunes and sand valleys that separate the village from the Atlantic Ocean) — that’s what I had in mind to write about after strolling along many of its streets for several hours a couple of weeks ago. I was in P-Town, as those in the know call it, during my wife Sandy’s and my annual Cape Cod vacation. Our home base was Orleans, about 25 miles away.

I meandered very contentedly, snapping a bushel or two of photos and figuring I probably would have little problem turning the excursion into a blog-worthy piece. But as one and then two and then three days following the jaunt went by, no satisfactory story slant entered my mind.

Remarkably, panic-prone me didn’t panic. Instead I took a few deep breaths, dropped to my knees and prayed to the blogging gods for assistance. “Get up, you schmuck, before you hurt yourself! Did you forget that you’re about as flexible as a baseball bat?” they immediately shouted at me. I rose slowly, creaking like an ancient wooden chair. “Okay, that’s better. Listen, you definitely should write about your Provincetown amble. But put the Pilgrim Monument near the center of the story, because you’ve always loved the Monument more than anything else in Provincetown. That’s the best advice we can give you.”

Hey, they were right. The Pilgrim Monument, located just two blocks from Provincetown village’s central area, is a stunner. And when I’m Cape-side it’s in my thoughts or pleasing my eyes a fair amount of time. That’s because I admire its enormous size and equally enormous aura. I mean, it’s got presence up the wazoo and seems almost supernatural to me, so unlikely is it in appearance compared to all that surrounds it. The Pilgrim Monument is the stolid, solid and protective alien creature that Provincetown and the rest of Cape Cod didn’t know they needed until it was erected in the early 1900s.

Provincetown village is charm personified. And it was made for strolling. Lovely, sea-sidey houses abound. As do more-polished abodes with beautiful gardens, and art galleries and food venues ranging from grab-a-bite to haute-cuisine. Not to mention funky stores of one kind or another that, with the galleries and eateries, run along Commercial Street, P-Town’s main shopping drag, and to a lesser extent along the village’s other lengthy artery, Bradford Street. And you’d have to possess a heart made of granite not to be beguiled by Provincetown Harbor, whose waters are fed by gargantuan Cape Cod Bay. The harbor is but a stone’s throw from Commercial Street.

The small and smaller streets in Provincetown, which occupies the far tip of Cape Cod, never cease to amaze me. Some are half-hidden, some little more than cubby holes — good luck ever finding those again if you fail to jot down exactly where they’re located. All of that suits me just fine, as I’m a fan of the whimsical. I’m also a fan of  peace and quiet, and things were real tranquil during the day in question. Artsy, open-minded and gay-friendly Provincetown, population around 3,000, is overrun with visitors and vacationers during the summer, but not so in autumn, which is when Sandy and I plant our temporary roots on the Cape.

Fifty minutes into my exploratory venture, I caught a glimpse of that which the blogging gods suggested I focus on. Despite its being 252 feet from toe to head (it’s by far the tallest structure on vertically-challenged Cape Cod), and perched on a hill to boot, you can’t see the Monument from everywhere in town. Trees and buildings, though nowhere near as tall as the Monument, commonly obscure the view. But as I got closer to the old soul, I sought out perspectives that partly or fully brought it into my field of vision. I especially liked the way the Monument, three or four blocks away at that point, stretched its torso above a Gulf gas station’s sign on Bradford Street.

Funny thing about the Pilgrim Monument. It was created to honor the Pilgrims who voyaged in 1620 from England aboard the good ship Mayflower and helped colonize these here United States. They made their first landfall in what would later be known as Provincetown, before moving on soon after to a permanent home, across Cape Cod Bay, in Plymouth.

You’d think, then, that the Monument’s basic design or at least its adornments would acknowledge the Pilgrims or the Mayflower or the European settlement of the States. A plaque near the Monument takes care of those matters, but not the Monument itself. The decision was made to pattern the Monument after a bell tower that was built in the 1300s in the hilly, landlocked Italian town of Siena. Huh? Wha? An Italian tower in a bohemian New England fishing village? But as it turns out, for me anyway, the Monument’s fish-out-of-water aspect, not to overlook its stateliness, makes it the brightest star in town.

There are other reasons why I enjoy the Monument as much as I do. I find it more than cool that the tower is visible from miles away along certain sections of Cape Cod Bay. Though it’s only twig-sized from those vantage points, I feel good knowing that it’s there. And more than once I was gassed to see the big guy poking up its head while I was scampering in the aforementioned Provincetown sands just outside the village.

But more than anything, I get kind of weak in the knees when I’m near the Monument at night. When the Sun goes down, lights illuminate the giant. I don’t know, I guess I’d have to say that the nighttime Monument is one of the finest sights I know of, not only beautiful but curiously otherworldly. As my afternoon in Provincetown segued into night, I stared more than once at the Monument. And took a couple of pictures. One of them is the money shot.

(Don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this story)

(If you click on any photo, a larger image will open in a separate window)

Before, During And After Lunch: Slices Of Life And Of Pizza

I’ve been thinking recently about the nature of this blog. Not a whole lot, but enough to see that my stories — when you look at their sometimes straight, sometimes wavering and sometimes loopy as hell strokes — paint a pretty good picture of what I’m about. I’m not one to reveal all. I’ll never write a word, for instance, about the time, 40 years ago, when I went undercover in Nepal to help bring down the notorious Himalayan gang of bank robbers that dressed themselves in highly-convincing yeti costumes. Or about my space-boot shopping spree with Neil Armstrong a few days before he blasted off for the Moon. But I reveal plenty, I think.

Basically I’m a simple guy who does simple things. Well, simple cum lopsided things often might be a more accurate description. And for the last two and a half years I’ve been writing about them. My articles peer at, for the most part, typical days for yours truly, show what my interests are and have been, and show who has accompanied me (and whom I’ve accompanied) on this journey through what we affectionately call life.

Slices of life. Yeah, that’s what I usually find myself describing. And now that I’ve expended nearly 200 words in trying to establish a degree of context for this current opus, I’ll turn my attention in that direction. “Yo, you better, pal,” I hear a few voices saying. “Our time is limited. We’re this close to closing out your article and checking out some YouTube videos of skateboarding kangaroos.”

Right, right, ye whose attention span is shorter than Donnie Trump’s fuse (but not shorter than his dick). Here we go.

Last Friday I found myself heading north from my suburban Philadelphia abode. My car, having a mind of its own, drove itself two and a half miles to an establishment that ranks high on my ladder of places where I like to grab a bite for lunch. In fact, it probably is my favorite lunchtime eatery in my neck of the woods. And that’s because, speaking of slices, I believe that the slices of pie that one purchases at Nino’s Pizzarama are damn good. A card-carrying fool for pizza, I down them there two or three times a month (and I go to other pizza joints throughout each month too).

I ordered a slice of regular pie and one of Sicilian. They hit the spot regally, though I was slightly disappointed in the regular’s crust. Too chewy. The pie needed to have been left in the oven for another 20 or 30 seconds to become as crispy as it itself was hoping to become. Such is the life of pie.

While munching away, I couldn’t get out of my head a song I’d heard on the radio during my northward trek. It’s a very beautiful recording, one that I instantly became attached to soon after its release in 1968: Hickory Wind, by The Byrds. As always, it sounded wonderful.

Hickory Wind comes from Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, a magnificent country-rock album. The Byrds, famed for earlier numbers such as the psychedelic nugget Eight Miles High and the folk-rock staple Turn, Turn, Turn, had undergone some significant stylistic and personnel shifts by the time it was waxed. Three of the five original members were gone and new guys, most notably the space cowboy Gram Parsons, who helped push the band partly into country-music territory, were on board. Parsons is one of rock and roll’s legendary names, not only for his big musical talents, but for his wild and wooly and troubled life. He died of a drug overdose in 1973.

Gram Parsons is credited with having written Hickory Wind in 1968 with his musical compadre Bob Buchanan. (There is a dispute over the song’s authorship, by the way. Some claim that a little-known folksinger named Sylvia Sammons composed it, and that Parsons stole it from her. The truth never will be known, it seems.) It has been recorded by many since then, but The Byrds put it out first.

What a song. Wistful and melancholy, it stands you up straight and makes you think about the times when loneliness and an aching heart might have ruled your days. That’s Gram singing lead. In the car I melted as I listened to his yearning voice and to the sad, sad notes coming from Lloyd Green’s pedal steel guitar. Man, you want to be in a happy mood when you’re eating pizza. But me, I sat at one of Nino’s tables in a contemplative frame of mind, not fully able to concentrate on the powers of sweet tomato sauce, excellent melted cheese and could-be-better crust.

There’s much to be said for contemplative, though. It’s a state that can be good for the inner being, helping us to put things in perspective and, if we’re lucky, softening our defenses. On the way home from Nino’s I turned on the radio and found myself on the receiving end of another helping of such as Horace Silver‘s Lonely Woman filled the car. Silver, whose rich 60-year career in the jazz world ended with his passing in 2014, composed and recorded Lonely Woman in 1963. It came out in 1965 on his most famous album, Song For My Father.

There’s little I need to say about the song. It is subdued and righteous and should be better known than it is. A trio (Horace on piano, Roy Brooks on drums, and Gene Taylor on bass) perform Lonely Woman, Horace having decided that the tune would benefit if saxophone and trumpet, which appear on the majority of his recordings, sat this one out. Less sometimes is more. What’s more, Horace plays straight through Lonely Woman’s seven-minute length, having further decided that neither a bass solo nor drum solo were appropriate. Hats off to that.

Slices of life. Slices of pizza. I’m sure a spot-on connection could be drawn between them, and that slice-y metaphors are out there ripe for the picking. Those with bulbs brighter than mine would have no trouble drawing and picking. Which is why I now shall quietly exit the stage, before long to return with another tale of the sublimely simple. Till then, amigos . . .

(Don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this story. Thanks.)