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.

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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.

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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 . . .

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Keeping It Short (A Story About Books)

Man, I don’t how they do it. They being the book bloggers I’ve come across who not only read an incredible number of books — three and up per week — but somehow also find the time, and have the brain power, to write sharp and detailed reviews about them. My little ol’ head spins madly just thinking about those folks’ accomplishments. Even in the days of yore when I read books aplenty I’d never have been able to follow them up quickly with well-plotted, good quality commentaries. Uh-uh. That kind of mental grandeur and endurance I do not possess, and never did. To put it a related way, my thoughts do not exactly flow in structured torrents along my neural pathways to my typing fingers. Hell, I’m lucky if a writing session produces 150 words that fit together in a useable manner. All I can say is that I stand in awe of those book bloggers. To repeat, I don’t know how they do it. (Lynne LeGrow, whose blog is called Fictionophile, is an example of what I’m talking about. Click here to find her blog.)

I bring up all of this partly because this is the first opus I’ve written that touches upon my book-reading activities. As I alluded to moments ago, I used to consume more than my share of books, especially in the 1970s and 80s. Leafing through a list that I’ve been keeping since 1970, I see that I knocked off 45 volumes in 1971, for instance, and 59 in 1983. The latter is my highest-ever yearly total.

Alas, my bookish endeavors came to a grinding halt in February 2015 when I reached the final page of Birds Of America, a collection of cool short stories by Lorrie Moore. That’s when the dark months set in, months marked by so much fretting about my place in the universe and in the kitchen, I became a cowering wreck. Books could wait. Oh well, it might have been worse. Like, if Trump had been elected president. What? You mean he is president? Holy crap! Let me outta here!

But the dark times didn’t last forever. Quite amazingly, quite unexpectedly, a few weeks ago I found myself picking up a book that had been hanging around the house for a pretty long while. I ran through it in five or six days. And one day after finishing it I headed to a local library and took out a work that I almost immediately set upon. Two days later I reached its end. Bravo, Neil, bravo! Back in the book-reading saddle I am, and probably will remain there for a decent spell.

Book number one, The Outermost House, by Henry Beston, was right up my alley. In fact, it is surprising that I hadn’t turned its pages ages ago, as it is set on Cape Cod, a locale I’ve gotten to know and crazily love over the last 20 years. The Outermost House describes the months (autumn 1926 till autumn 1927) that Beston spent living in semi-solitude, housing himself in a two room cabin in the dunes of Cape Cod’s raw and wild Atlantic Ocean coastline. Many times I’ve trod on the very sands and wetlands that grabbed hold of Beston’s heart and spirit.

Beston’s book has become one of the so-called classics, remaining in print since hitting the marketplace in 1928, and apparently still selling pretty nicely. I loved it. Beston writes gracefully and has an eye for subject matter that you don’t frequently cross paths with, such as his lengthy descriptions of the differing types of sounds made by the ocean waves and surf. Next time I’m on The Cape I’m going to have his book in hand as I investigate some of the observations that his keen senses and abstract mind came up with. I won’t be able to check out his cabin, though. A violent storm in 1978 destroyed it.

Now that I think about it, I believe I had the notion in the back of my head for a while to reacquaint myself with books, and that I knew I’d have book-reading success only by taking baby steps. By which I mean I wasn’t about to tackle monsters like Dickens’ David Copperfield or George Eliot’s Middlemarch, both of which ain’t that far from the 1,000 page mark. No, whatever I was to read would have to be short, and The Outermost House fit the bill just fine. Its 218 pages are endowed with a large typeface and spacious margins. Perfect. So, I seized the moment and gave the dark months a hardy wave goodbye.

As with The Outermost House, short also needed to apply to the next book I opened if I were to have any hope of establishing a bit of book-reading momentum. Which is why I bow to the memory of the late Penelope Fitzgerald, whose remarkably slim The Means Of Escape, an okay-but-could-be-better short story collection, became the second title I conquered this month. I tell you, a more ideal specimen for length-phobic and trepidatious book readers would be hard to find. You want short? Hey, The Means Of Escape numbers only 117 pages, and a bunch of them are blanks that separate one story from another. The pages that actually contain printed words total a very genial and genteel 96. My kind of book, for sure!

On the living room sofa I began to gloat about my accomplishments to my wife Sandy as the final pages of The Means Of Escape drew within sight. “Can you believe it?” I said. “I’m about to finish my second book in a nine or ten day period.”

Sandy gave me one of those looks. And then she gave Penelope Fitzgerald’s micro-tome one of those looks. “That’s not a book,” she said. “That doesn’t count as a book.”

Oh yeah? I beg to differ. Was it sitting on a library shelf? You bet it was. Does it have a front and a back cover? Damn straight.

It counts!

 

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Donnie Trump Doesn’t Like Me

Ah, it’s a comfortable day. Inside my house, that is. Outside, the temperature is an ass-nipping 23° F, too frigging cold for my refined tastes, as I begin to type yet another woozy sort of essay. Tight and controlled, not woozy, would be preferable, seeing that my membership status in The American Association Of Pseudo Writers has been on very shaky ground for awhile now, courtesy of Donnie Trump. If TAAOPW boots me out I’ll be required, per the organization’s guidelines, to put my blog in the deep freeze. And then what will I do with all of the time and energy I devote to blogging? Plea over and over with Cheez-Its’ parent company (Kellogg’s) to hire me as national spokesperson for the crispy, orange wonders that are my fave snack food? Go after the world record for consecutive minutes spent compulsively cleaning a clothes dryer’s lint filter (the current record is 368 minutes)? Well, I’d come up with something. No doubt about that. But I’d rather continue blogging.

AP photo/Nam Y. Huh
AP photo/Nam Y. Huh

As I mentioned, Donnie Trump, another orange wonder, is the cause of my current worries. Talk about a thin-skinned guy. I mean, did I say anything all that bad about him in the story I wrote in November (click here to read it)? How’d he even find out about that piece in the first place, considering that mine is one of the least-read publications on our globe? It must have been his private intelligence network that uncovered me. Man, they’re good. After all, it took them only — what? — six years to determine that Obama’s American birth certificate is legit? Impressive. Donnie sure knows how to surround himself with the best of the best.

Donnie’s discovering my November story is one thing. But his going after its virtually unknown author is another. How’d you like your incoming president throwing lightning bolts at you? No more than I do, I guarantee you. Totally predictably he complained about me on Twitter (“Neil Scheinin lies. And when he’s done lying he lies some more. Not fair. Unworthy of an American journalist.”). He forced my alma mater, The University of South Hoboken, to reduce my grade point average by 25 percent retroactively, nearly five decades after my graduation. And, worst of all, he put the heavy shoulder to TAAOPW, ordering them, if they know what’s good for them, to monitor my every blog story meticulously. I haven’t fared too well in that review process, TAAOPW so informed me. Where, then, will my second Trump opus land me?

That question is a heavy one. In hopes of lightening its answers I have decided to reach out to Donnie Trump, whom, as my November article explains, I knew many moons ago on a high school debate team for which he starred and for which I sat in the wings as the fifth alternate. I spoke with Donnie in writing that piece, our first conversation in eons. Bear with me as I look up his phone number and try to reach him again. Dum dum duh dum dum . . .  the phone is ringing. And still ringing. And, yes! I have him on the line.

“This is Donald. Make this fast, whoever you are. The toilet in the master bedroom is leaking. I’m expecting a plumber to get here any minute now.”

“It’s Neil Scheinin, Donnie. The fifth alternate. The guy whose life you’re wrecking. What’s the deal, dude? Where’s your heart, man?”

“What, you again? Don’t you have lawyers? If you’ve got a gripe with me, they should be the ones handling the situation. Not a loser like you.”

“Donnie, I’m here to appeal to your better side, the one you show to Putin. Listen, I can handle your delusional tweet. And I don’t care about my GPA. It was embarrassingly low to begin with. But trying to kick me out of blogging? That’s going too far, man. I dig writing, Donnie, and my blog is where I deposit the written word, where I express myself creatively. Without my blog my life will be an even emptier shell than it already is.”

Photo by Mike Licht/Flickr
Photo by Mike Licht/Flickr

“Fifth alternate, I could care less about your happiness or your sense of fulfillment. You wronged me, fifth alternate. You wronged me. Maybe you forgot that I’m a firm believer in retribution. That’s why Sergio Leone and Quentin Tarantino are my favorite directors. Fifth alternate, one of my administration’s goals is to take down your blog within the first 100 days that I’m in office. Without a doubt I can do it. Those nitwits who run The Pseudo Writers Association, or whatever they call it, are playing ball. Once the plumber fixes the toilet and leaves I’m going to get in touch with them again and hammer the nail home. Loser, your blog is history. What’s that rat-a-tat-a-tatting that I hear in the background, by the way?”

“That’s my fingers typing away, Donnie. I’m transcribing this conversation as we speak. Anything else you’d like to add?”

“Shove it, you piece of  sh . . . ”

Readers, before he could finish that thought I hung up on our president-elect. For the second time in recent months I might add. My fingers continue to type. This story, I’d say, is now complete. In seconds I will hit the Publish button. After you have read the article, I ask you to petition TAAOPW on my behalf. In the end your efforts might outweigh Donnie’s influence, allowing this humble, woozy blog to continue its run. It’s never too late to try and stop Trump. Thank you very much.

I Was There For Santa Claus When He Needed My Help

“Yo! I mean, ho! As in ho-ho-ho. Can’t you see that I’m stuck, you idiot? Give a guy a hand.”

santa_claus_png9972Indeed he was, he being Santa Claus. The one and only. To say I was surprised to find the jolly gent dangling head-downward from within my living room fireplace would have been the understatement of 2016 were it not for Donald Trump. Needless to say, the understatement of 2016 is that Trump is way bad news. Hell, he’s way bad news times fifty! But, I digress.

It was 9:00 PM on the eve of Christmas Eve when the rotund one unexpectedly appeared. I was sitting on the sofa, ruminating about this and that, as usual arriving at no satisfactory conclusions. Also as usual, the sofa cushions were profusely dotted with Cheez-It cracker crumbs. I already had put away 500 or more Its and, prior to Mr. Claus’ arrival, had no plans to stop the ingestion process.

“Santa, is this a joke? What are you doing here? Your delivery rounds don’t start for another 24 hours. And you’re in the wrong household, anyway. I mean, me and my wife are Jewish!”

I put aside the Its, reluctantly, and walked to the fireplace where, with only a bit of exertion, I helped Santa out of his predicament. Standing upright, he brushed himself off.

“Yo, brother. I know that you and your wife are Jews. And I also know your name. Neil, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He extended his pudgy right hand, which I clasped warmly, and smiled at me in the friendliest of manners. Santa gave off such good vibes. I liked him a lot. Immediately.

“Santa, likewise, I’m sure. Are you hungry? Can I get you something to eat? To drink?”

“A toasted sesame seed bagel with a schmear would be nice,” Santa said. “And some schnapps to wash it all down would be outstanding. You don’t happen to have those around, do you?”

“Santa, this is more than your lucky day. My household overflows with bagels. And with schnapps in its many varieties. Come on, sit down at the dining room table and I’ll fix you up.” I assembled the simple meal and watched Santa happily eat and drink.

“Ah, this is delicious,” Santa said, alternating between bites and sips. Then, when his plate and glass were empty he got down to business. “I’ve had my eyes on you for awhile, Neil, and I’m certain I made the correct choice in visiting you. You see, I like Jews very much. Just like me, they know about good food and drink, and they rock the color red. Well, maybe I’m wrong about the second half of that statement. Anyway, speaking selfishly, what’s very important to me is that they boost my spirits. And once a year, believe me, I need that boost. You think it’s easy bringing toys to billions of children each year? Sure, if you only had to do it once or twice it wouldn’t be hard.  But year after year after year? Come on . . . talk about job burnout.”

“Many years ago I was schmoozing with a Jewish friend of mine, Morty Finkelstein, about this very problem,” Santa continued. “Morty listened carefully and let me pour my heart out. Then he proved himself to be a real mensch, saying all the right things to sooth my malaise. Since then, each year I seek out a Jew to help get me back on track. You were recommended to me a few months ago by the League Of Jewish Bloggers. That’s when I started reading your blog stories. I have to tell you that they give off the weird and optimistic sorts off auras that I’m partial to. Which is why I’m confident that you’re the person I need. Neil, tomorrow is my big day. I’m feeling down and tired, and I’m asking you to turn me around. I know you can do it.”

Holy man-o-Manischewitz. Was this really happening? Was I dreaming? I pinched myself on the right forearm real hard. Yikes, that hurt like crazy! No doubt, Santa truly was in the house. “Sir, I’m at your service,” I said. “And I think I know just what to do.” I motioned to Santa to rise.

“C’mon, guy. Follow me. I’m going to give you a powerful dose of lights. Christmas lights. Beautiful ones are all over this neighborhood, and some of the best are only two blocks away from here. I’m bummed out a little, too, right now. So, let’s take a walk, Santa. The lights will do both of us a lot of good.” I grabbed Santa by the arm and off we went. Thirty seconds later we hit pay dirt.

“Look at that house, Santa. Great, no? What artwork!”

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“And look at over there!” I yelled in his ear. “I ask you, who needs lavish, over-the-top Christmas light displays? Modest lights on cute, small houses often are where it’s at.”

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I could tell that Santa was impressed, even though for a while he didn’t say anything. But then he did. “You know, Neil, when I’m flying over houses all over the world on Christmas Eve and early Christmas morning, I never get a true head-on view of the decorations. I haven’t seen Christmas lights from this perspective in ages. I’d forgotten how sweet and heartwarming they can be. Why, that house right there is magnificent.” He pointed across the street.

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“And here’s another lovely one,” he said, as we continued a short distance down the block.

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I certainly couldn’t disagree. My suburban region, not known for its esthetic charms, becomes grand this time of year. And only at night.

I felt a powerful pinch on my right forearm, directly on the spot where I’d pinched myself only 10 minutes earlier. As if I required proof a second time that Santa was real. “Ouch, Santa! What’s the deal, dude?”

“Sorry, mate. But let’s turn back. I’m all energized once again, so I got to go. Mrs. Claus will start worrying if I don’t get back to the North Pole soon. It’s a miracle that nobody spotted me on the street, or I’d be here signing autographs till who knows when. I’ll need to borrow your cell phone, by the way. I’ll return it tomorrow night when I’m back this way. Mine broke into pieces when I was sliding down your frigging chimney. Once I’m in the air heading home tonight the missus will expect me to call her every half hour. She might want me to stop to pick up a quart of milk somewhere. Or maybe some Slim Jims,. My old lady, you never know what she’ll want.”

Santa embraced me in a thank-you hug. Minutes later I watched him nimbly scale the front of my house, its low side, and climb into his sleigh which, complete with reindeer and unnoticed by me, had been sitting atop the roof. “Bye, Santa,” I shouted. “Till next time. And keep those calls to the Pole short. International phone rates are a bitch.”

 

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My 100th Post: Donald Trump And Joyce Carol Oates Chime In

1001I was giddy with joy last week when I began designing the story that is now before your eyes. Why wouldn’t I have been? Incredibly to me, it is the 100th opus that I’ve published on this blog, though its finalized shape differs substantially from my original conception. Despite that, I am of the opinion that 100 stories is a true milestone for someone whose life has been light on milestones. Very light. The last time I did anything noteworthy was decades ago, in 1985, the year in which I set the Guinness World Record for the most Cheez-It crackers consumed in one sitting. The 8,271 Its that tumbled down my gullet on June 17 of that year remain a number yet to be topped. You can look it up.

One hundred stories. Wow, indeed, considering that when I started this blog 20 months ago I was uncertain as to its future. I began strongly, banging out articles every four or five days. And even though my pace soon slowed slightly, I held the old nose to the old grindstone and efficiently kept the stories rolling off the assembly line. So, I feel comfortable in saying that my blog isn’t going away anytime soon. Hey, I’ve discovered that I like to write. Who’d have thunk it? At last, something to hold on to!

Still, by nature less than wonderfully confident, I was in need last week of some reinforcement, some pats on the back that would keep my elevated mood elevated and provide uplifting quotes to incorporate into story #100. With that in mind, a few days ago I picked up the phone and made a series of calls to a variety of intermediaries, eventually directly reaching the persons I wanted to chat with. Persons whose votes of confidence I was hoping to win. Things didn’t end up the way I had envisioned, but WTF. I tried. And I did snare conversations with two individuals from my past whose thoughts, I’d venture to say, haven’t been included in the same story ever before. Namely, Donald Trump, “Donnie” to me, and the brilliant and incomprehensibly prolific novelist, essayist and memoirist Joyce Carol Oates.

Donnie Trump was the first of the two I was able to get on the line.

“Who’s this?” he said after I offered my greeting. “Hurry up, whoever you are. I’m busy. It’s not as easy as you’d think to unravel and unnerve a country.”

“Donnie, it’s Neil Scheinin. Remember me? We were not quite friends but were more than acquaintances during the one year we spent together at Mister Gruel’s High School For Future Winners. You were 15 and I was 14. We were on the debate team together. You were its star, natch. I was the fifth alternate. Remember?”

There was a pause. Then he spoke. “Neil, I have a vague memory of you. You’re the guy, I think, who couldn’t string two sentences together coherently. Am I right?”

“Yeah, Donnie. As always, you’re right. Here’s why I’m calling. You weren’t very nice to me all those years ago, mocking me, belittling my meager talents. That’s why I wanted to let you know that these many moons later I’ve gained success. I’ve become a blogger, a writer if you will, and I take the job seriously. I’m about to publish my 100th story soon, which to me is a momentous event, and I’d like the piece to include your comments about my achievement.”

“So you’re a writer, are you, Neil? I don’t like writers. They tend to be thinkers, and I don’t like thinkers either. What I like are doers, men who bulldoze their way through life. Men who bulldoze their way through nature, for that matter. Look at me. I’m a bulldozer, and everyone admires me. I’m so popular it’s ridiculous.”

All of a sudden I felt something weird starting to happen inside my mouth. My tongue, normally held well in place, was itching to flap wildly. I couldn’t control it. I’d come seeking a few words of support from the USA’s next leader, selfishly hoping to boost my blog’s readership as a result. But what I said next was guaranteed not to elicit kind responses.

I think he'd look better as a brunette. (Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
I think he’d look better as a brunette. (Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

“Donnie,” I said, “I guess you heard that Hillary is more popular than you, didn’t you? She won the popular vote, n’est pas? By a lot. You know, two months ago you were proclaiming that the election process was rigged in her favor. Seems like just the opposite was true. I mean, if it wasn’t for our demented Electoral College system you’d be spending your time right now deciding whether or not to change the color of your hair. Instead, you’re doing your best, like you have for months, to energize the haters who keep crawling out of the woodwork because of you.”

Donnie didn’t enjoy that. “Listen up, fifth alternate. You’re a loser. Did you hear me? I said loser. Me, I’m a winner.” He stopped talking. Someone was calling to him. “Stay right where you are, loser,” Donnie said a moment later. “I’ll be right back — ‘What’d you say, Rudy? That it’ll be a snap to obstruct poor peoples’ right to vote? And a snap to cancel environmental protection regulations? Keep it coming, Rudy. You’re the man!'”

Holy crap. The phone call wasn’t going well. It was bringing me down, not up. I decided to hang up on a future president. Which is what I did.

If kudos for my solid achievement weren’t to be found with Donnie, I was certain that they would be with Professor Oates, who for many years has taught at Princeton University, merely an hour’s drive from my suburban Philadelphia home. Three hours of trying to reach her via phone calls to university staff the other day finally paid off.

My phone rang. “Hello, this is Joyce Carol Oates. What may I do for you?”

“Professor, this is Neil Scheinin. Possibly you recall me from the marvelous class you taught six years ago, Faulkner, Bellow And Fitzgerald: As Novelists, Were They Really Any Good? I always sat in the first row in the seat nearest the exit, a bag of popcorn on my lap.”

“Ah yes, Mr. Scheinin. How could I forget? You are the gentleman who audited the course and managed never to add a perceptive or entertaining comment to the classroom discussions. What, sir, are you calling about?”

“Professor, as unexpected as this might be to you, believe it or not I have taken to writing like a duck to . . . well, maybe not to water, but to something. You see, last year I started blogging, and since then I’ve written up a storm. Right now I’m excited to be working on my 100th story. One hundred, Professor! A number that amazes me. Have you any comments about this?”

Joyce Carol Oates. (Photo: Thos Robinson/Getty Images)
Joyce Carol Oates. (Photo: Thos Robinson/Getty Images)

I almost could hear Professor Oates’ mind revving. It didn’t take long for her to respond. “Neil,” she said, “what you have done amounts to little. You say you’re about to complete your 100th story? And it took you months and months to do this? Why, I could write that many in a week. Possibly in four days if need be. But forget about stories . . . Do you have any idea how many books I’ve written, most of them long and detailed books? Over a hundred, Neil. Over a hundred. Call me back whenever your blog expands in size fiftyfold. Maybe then we’ll be able to have a satisfying and meaningful discussion.”

Well, here I am then with little more to say. I thought that this story might have had a chance to go viral had Donnie and Professor been more congenial interviewees. But such is life. Thanks for reading number 100. It’ll take some time for me to bounce back to my normal self, but I assure you that when that happens I’ll get to work on 101.

 

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