Call Me “Mister Helpful”

My most recent monthly session with my psychiatrist was a most unusual one, because Dr. R. U. Forereel opened up to me rather than the other way around.

“Have a seat, Neil,” Dr. Forereel said quietly when I entered her office, a small room whose every aspect is as stylish and welcoming as can be. I obeyed, placing my bony ass on the comfortable patient’s chair. It faced its clone, occupied by the good doctor, from a distance of five feet.

“Neil,” she continued, an unmistakable tone of dejection in her voice, “I’m in the midst of an existential crisis, one so powerful I can’t escape its clutches. I want to be totally upfront with you right now. Here’s the bottom line: My condition is interfering with my ability to do my job. Which is why I suspect that you won’t make much progress at today’s session. Not that you’ve progressed very far at all during the many years you’ve been seeing me.”

“That’s not true, Dr. Forereel,” I replied. “You’ve enabled me to understand more accurately and fully who I am. Your insights have helped me come to grips with the fact that, basically, I’m just the most average of Joes, making my way haphazardly and erratically through this earthly realm. Why, without you I’d still be reaching for the stars, getting disappointed right and left when things didn’t work out. As a result, doctor, you’ve turned me into a fairly happy individual. I am in your debt!”

“That’s so kind of you to say, Neil. I wish I could share your opinion of my talents, but I’m afraid that my existential crisis won’t allow me to feel joy.”

“There, you’ve said it again. What the hell is an existential crisis, doctor?”

“Well, my problems are deep-rooted, Neil. You see, I’m ill-fitted to be a psychiatrist. Far too often I’m unsympathetic and, undoubtedly, prickly. If I were of the male gender, it wouldn’t be incorrect to describe me not only as prickly but as a prick too. In any case, my soul is roiling and troubled. Neil, I question the whys and wherefores of my existence.” She paused. “I hope I’ve answered your question adequately,” she then said.

“Yes, doctor, you have. Oy frigging vey! You’re in bad shape. But I’ll try to help, even though help isn’t exactly my middle name. The last time I provided assistance to anyone was 60 years ago, when, despite her vehement protests, I carried a little old lady across a small puddle in the middle of the road. I ended up in juvenile court for that attempt at doing a good deed. Lesson learned!”

“Well, in that case I won’t say that I’m in good hands, Neil. But I am interested in what actions you might be proposing.”

“Doctor, I have a website called Yeah, Another Blogger. That’s where I’ve published the various articles I’ve written over the last seven years. You know about this, I believe.”

Of course I do! You bring up this boring topic every damn time I see you.”

“My bad, doctor. But here’s what I’m getting at: My advice to you is to take up writing, just as I did. You should aim to go farther than me, however. In other words, you should write a book, a memoir of the journey that led you to become the wonderful psychiatrist that you are. If you do, I guarantee you’ll recognize and take comfort from the fact that you’ve guided countless people to better mental and emotional health.”

Dr. Forereel sat silently for many a second, mulling over my comments. Finally, and most energetically, she spoke.

“Neil, this is a genius idea! Yes, yes, yes! I will tell my story, and the world will listen and learn. And, just as important, I will learn too. Thank you so much. I’ll begin writing when I arrive home tonight. I’m sure I’ll need an editor, though. Is there anyone you might recommend?”

“Edgar Reewright is your man, doctor,” I replied without hesitation. “He has edited my pieces right from the start. Maybe we should call him and feel him out.”

Doctor Forereel nodded enthusiastically, so I dialed Edgar’s number and put the phone on speaker.

What the hell do you want, Neil?” Edgar shouted. “I’m in the middle of looking over the story you sent to me yesterday. Per usual, it blows.”

“Listen up, Edgar,” I said, ignoring his insult. “I’m with my psychiatrist, Dr. R. U. Forereel. She plans to write a memoir and wants to know if you’d edit the book for her.”

“Isn’t she the doctor whose office decor was voted best in the nation by the American Psychiatric Association this year?” Edgar asked.

At that, Dr. Forereel jumped right in. “Hello, Edgar! Dr. Forereel here. I’m impressed that you’re aware of the prestigious award I won from the APA. I’d be honored if you’d edit my book. I have so much to say and to reveal. Millions of people will take heart from my inspirational tale. Oh my, I’m feeling confident and purposeful once again. Please be my editor, Edgar!”

Edgar, undoubtedly envisioning a handsome commission, wasted no time in agreeing to the proposal. He chitchatted with Dr. Forereel for a while and then ended the call, promising to contact her soon to work out all the details. A few minutes later, my session having reached its conclusion, I rose from the patient’s chair.

“You are a lifesaver, a gift from above,” said Dr. Forereel as she ushered me to the door. “Thank you, Neil, thank you! To show my gratitude, your next five years of therapy, starting today, will be cost-free.”

“Doctor, I hope that I won’t need anything close to five more years of therapy. I’m doing so well, after all.”

“That’s what you think,” my doctor said. “But, alas, you’re wrong. Very, very wrong. I promise that I’ll continue doing my utmost to try and help you see things more clearly.”

Shit!

A Colorful Self-Discovery Story

When, via Yeah, Another Blogger, I began launching stories into cyberspace back in April 2015, I didn’t realize that, over time, the writing process would increase my knowledge about who the hell I am. I’ve found this to be kind of neat, an unexpected bonus. After all, I’m an old f*ck who, since his teens, has been a champ at moving unsteadily through life. So, you better believe I happily embrace any aha moments that arrive. It’s good when the lights turn on.

For example, while penning an essay (Hippieish Notes From The Information Desk) a few years ago, it became clear to me that the values of the hippie era — those heady days of my youth when freedom, open-mindedness, peace, love and understanding were put into practice by millions upon millions of young folks around the world — shaped many of my basic outlooks. Somehow this truth had eluded me consciously and, were it not for writing, probably would still be lost in the extensive foggy regions of my mind.

Which brings us to colors, a subject I’ll now present as a second example of my increased self-awareness. I’ve written about colors numerous times, having devoted pieces to red, orange and the beauty of flowering trees, to cite several instances. While knocking out the first few of my color-centric opuses, I came to appreciate more fully than before that colors are really important to me. They get to me emotionally, some color schemes relaxing me, some exciting me, some causing me to stare in wonder as the words oh, wow slip from my lips.

But my relationships with colors go farther than that, for, while writing, it also dawned on me that I encourage colors to affect me, by seeking them out pretty damn often. I’d feel a bit less alive if I didn’t. “Pursuer of colors” is an occupational title that I’m proud to have on my resumé.

Well, one morning a couple of weeks ago, as my bony ass sank deeper and deeper into my living room sofa, I decided that rising to my feet might not be a bad idea. Nor would a pursuit of vibrant hues to brighten up the day. That’s why I promptly stood up, exited the house and drove a few miles to Glenside, Pennsylvania, a fine town whose commercial corridors are studded with every type of small business you can imagine. I arrived there at 9:00 AM, under soothing blue skies.

Now, in my neck of the woods, which includes Glenside, neutral colors rule: the tans, browns, greys and blacks that, in one combination or another, fill buildings, paved roads and sidewalks. And greens are dominant too, the deep greens of foliage, specifically. As much as I like those tones, they never have, and never will, send me over the moon exactly.

Of course, plenty of happier hues, the ones I was on a mission to locate, also exist in Glenside. After pounding the pavement for an hour, I found a dozen or more scenes bright enough to put a nice big smile on my face. Five of the scenes illustrate this story.

There was no denying the power of the Sunoco gas station, for certain. Its signage, an in-your-face rainbow of colors, all bursting with life, won me over from the second it came into view.

As did a subtler composition, one that centers around avocado green umbrellas. The umbrellas, belonging to a café at the Glenside railroad station, added a ton of juice to a setting that otherwise would have been described as drab, man, drab. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.

All in all, though, I felt that there was one clear winner, a striking combination of Beauty (a dreamy mural) and the Beast (a mottled, pale-orange-tinged trestle, emboldened with wide black and gold stripes to lessen the chances that motorists will plow into it). When I saw the mural peeking out from behind the trestle, which supports overhead railroad tracks, I was taken by the incongruity of the overall display. An incongruity that totally works, however. The mural and the decorated trestle are partners. They feed off each other’s energy. The music they make together might be on the dissonant side, but despite that, it’s a composition that hits all the right notes.

Two Hours In Philly: Art On Wheels, Part Nine

Writing is a mysterious enterprise, to be sure. Story ideas, characters, themes and other writerly considerations often emerge unexpectedly from neighborhoods of the mind that you barely know about. I find that to be enchanting, to tell you the truth, because the unanticipated, if of the right sort, is nothing but a good thing, no?

Along those lines, little has surprised me more, blog-wise, than the birth of Art On Wheels. Intrepid soul that I occasionally am, I said yes to the proposition when one fateful day in 2017 a from-out-of-the-blue idea — to scour my region for attractively-decorated vehicles and to report on them — came to me. It’s an oddball activity alright, but, as it turns out, has suited me just fine, as I’m into art and also into wandering around while looking at things. So, here we are at edition number nine of the series. Who’d have thunk it? Live and f*cking learn!

For the first seven Art On Wheels stories I did 90% of the wandering via my car and 10% via my feet. I located my victims in the suburbs of Philadelphia, for the most part in loading docks, strip malls and large parking areas. But for part eight of the series, and for this ninth story, I changed my approach: I explored strictly on foot, which is my preferred mode of travel, and, ditching the burbs, opted to see what I would see on the congested streets of Philadelphia.

Not being one who enjoys freezing his ass off or getting soaked to the frigging bone, I selected a sunny and mild day, the 11th of April, for my expedition. Off I went that morning, boarding a choo-choo that transported me from my little town to The City Of Brotherly Love, where I spent two hours pounding the pavement in the Old City section and two neighborhoods to its north — Northern Liberties and Olde Kensington. All three areas indeed are pretty old: Some of the buildings went up during the 1700s and loads date from the 1800s. The 20th and 21st centuries are well-represented too, including present-day creations . . . these neighborhoods have been undergoing a new-housing boom.

But I wasn’t in Philly to concentrate on the structures that cover its soil. As focused as a hungry tiger, and moving briskly along the blocks, I scanned my surroundings carefully for wheeled constructions whose bright colors and/or stylish designs couldn’t be dismissed. I found about a dozen, fewer than I was hoping for, but enough to make my day. The portraits of six of them illustrate this page. Almost needless to say, though, more than one of the fine specimens frustrated the photographer inside of me, as they were in motion when I spotted them. “Stop, you bastard!” I nearly yelled at each of those. But they wouldn’t have obeyed even if I had opened my mouth. Alas, by the time I got my phone’s camera in position to try and immortalize them, they were too damn far away. That’s the way it goes in the big city.

I’ve examined carefully not only the photos I took on the 11th, but my opinions about them too. Initially I’d have said that the Sweetwater Brewing Company truck (above) is untoppable. You don’t run across such attention to detail and such a majestic array of colors too often, do you?

Driver’s side of graffiti truck.
Passenger side of graffiti truck.

However, since then I’ve revised my evaluation. Maybe it’s because I’m in a free-wheeling mood. Maybe it’s because I have the late artists Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler, abstractionists of a high order, on my mind. Whatever the reasons, I now am awarding the gold medal to the truck, painted deliciously with graffiti, that sat on a narrow Olde Kensington street. Its driver’s side is a testament to the power of black on white. The passenger side of the canvas, partially obscured by hand trucks and wood pallets, keeps the black on white motif going, and also explodes with controlled bursts of gold and burgundy. Does this truck belong to one of the construction workers who was hammering away very nearby? Whatever the case, its owner should be proud.

That’s it for now, boys and girls. I’d be glad to hear your thoughts about the works of art on display in this story. Till next time!

My Lips Are Sealed!

Like all good citizens, I believe in heaping praise on those who deserve it. That’s why I’m giving a real big shout-out right now to my perceptive editor, the one and only Edgar Reewright. When it comes to the writing game, I’d be lost without him. Edgar watches out for me and tries to keep me on course. Thank you, Edgar!

Edgar demonstrated his concern very recently. Last week, in fact, when I sent him, via email, a book review I’d just written that I was convinced would be a worthy addition to Yeah, Another Blogger. Twenty seconds later he called me.

“Neil, you’re out of your f*cking mind!” he said before I could say hello. “You can’t publish this piece. A few glances at it showed me that you’d be making a huge mistake if you did. You know why? It’s because you’re taking on a subject that’s totally uncharacteristic of and inappropriate for your publication.”

“Listen,” he continued, “you have a cultured, discerning audience. None of your readers would want to read your review of Nomore Limpdikk’s book Getting Hard The Aztec Way. Sure, this might be Limpdikk’s masterwork, like I think you remarked in the review, and undoubtedly it is a valuable addition to the scientific literature about erectile dysfunction. But you should stick with your flimsy pieces about the walks you take, the music you listen to, blah, blah, blah. Your readers seem to enjoy that sort of stuff, so give them what they’re used to, for crying out loud! Why is erectile dysfunction on your mind, anyway? Do you have a problem?”

“Who, me? Edgar, I’m as powerful as a bull, I’ll have you know. Or maybe not, but none of that is any of your damn business! On the other hand, you should be aware that your business is all over town. I’ve heard it through more than one grapevine that your bedroom performances, are, shall we say, lacking.”

There was a long pause before Edgar responded. He broke the silence by calling to his wife, Loretta, asking her to come upstairs and join him in his home office. I heard her footsteps growing nearer.

“Yes, dear?” she asked.

“Sweetie pie,” Edgar said to her, “I have it on good authority that the situation involving my once-mighty sword has become the talk of the town. Who have you been blabbing to? Your mother? Your loose-lipped girlfriends? Loretta, I can’t believe that you’d do this to me.”

“What are you saying, Edgar?” Loretta answered. “I never talk to anyone about our sex life. You know as well as I do, though, that you can’t keep your mouth shut when you have your goofy friends over to play pinochle. So, one of those guys must have spread the word. Maybe more than one of them.” Receding footsteps then told me that she was leaving the room.

“Edgar, are you there?” I asked ten seconds later.

“I’m here. I’m here,” he said. “But I don’t know what to do. Neil, I think I need your help.”

“Edgar, help is my middle name. It’s a good thing that I read Getting Hard The Aztec Way, because it contains information that will solve your problem. Nomore Limpdikk is a brilliant man, a researcher non pareil. If you’d done more than glance at my review, you would understand that. How is it that nobody over the last 500 years, before Nomore investigated the subject, knew that performance-challenged male Aztecs ate the leaves of the bonerium cactus in order to remedy their sexual deficiencies? The leaves contain chemicals that take effect almost instantly, and the results are startlingly good. Why, Nomore Limpdikk proves that today’s ED pills, such as Viagra, are pitiful compared to the wondrous bonerium.”

“Neil, I’m flabbergasted. And I’m relieved to learn that better days for myself are a real possibility. I’ve tried Viagra, you see, but I’m the one-in-a-million male that it has absolutely no effect upon. Bonerium cactus leaves are what I need! Where do I get them?”

“Edgar, they are hard to come by, because nobody is cultivating them commercially. Not yet. But they can be found here and there in the Mexican deserts that the Aztecs once occupied, Nomore says. And, as luck would have it, I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy. Well, you get the picture. Within a week a shipment of the magic leaves will arrive at your doorstep.”

“I can’t thank you enough, Neil. This is the greatest favor that anyone has done for me since my third ex-wife, as part of our divorce settlement, agreed to let me keep our collection of pet rocks. I’m going to repay you by waiving my editor’s fee for the next two years. Thank you again. And please promise me two things. First, that you won’t publish an article about erectile dysfunction.”

“I promise,” I said.

“Good. And second, that you won’t mention our conversation to anybody.”

“Edgar, my lips are sealed!”

Cold Fingers, Cold Beer

Holy shit, being a writer can be numbing! That’s what I discovered a week and a half ago when I strolled around my neighborhood as darkness was settling in. Earlier that day my region had received its first snowfall of the winter (I live in a town near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Dedicated journalist that I occasionally am, I decided to see how the powdery white stuff looked in moonlight, and to document my walk in words and with photos.

Well, it took me only a minute to realize that I wasn’t in a winter wonderland. Yeah, there were several inches of snow on the ground, but the effect was much less charming than I’d thought it would be. And what I’d been hoping especially to see — softly glowing snow clinging to tree branches — was virtually nowhere to be found. The day’s steady breezes had emptied the trees.

There were some worthy scenes, however. For instance, a number of households had not yet taken down their Christmas lights, so I stopped to admire those displays. And, 20 minutes into my walk, I watched a few kids sledding down the hilly front lawn of an apartment building. They were having fun. But you know what? I wasn’t! And that’s because my f*cking fingers were freezing!

Sure, I wore gloves during most of the walk. But I had to take them off every time I decided to snap a photo. Otherwise, there was no way I could have aimed my phone’s camera properly and pressed its button. Thus, my hands were exposed intermittently to 25°F (-4°C) air.

That shouldn’t have been enough to cause my fingers to become comatose. But somehow it damn well was. So, after being on the streets for almost half an hour, I knew I needed to get inside. Picking up my pace, I strode to my block. In front of my next-door neighbor’s home though, I chose, like a fool, to torture myself a little more by photographing the Moon, which was peeking through a tangle of tree branches. Then I walked the remaining 50 feet to my house, where I struggled to muster enough finger coordination to insert the front door key into its designated opening. Ten seconds later, finally, success! In I went.

Yup, having cold fingers sucks. Big time. On the other hand, having cold beers is a pleasure. In fact, it’s one of my greatest pleasures. I’d be in mourning if beer disappeared from the face of the Earth.

Though I’d enjoyed beer for many years (mainly mainstream lagers, such as Budweiser), my appreciation of the beverage rose to a higher level when, in my late 40s, I discovered that there were far more styles of beer on the market than I’d realized, and that the quality of many of them was steps above what I’d been used to. I have the craft beer revolution to thank for all of that. It began in the 1980s and really took off during the following decade, which is when I fell under its spell. Today, the revolution is at a high point. I mean, so many breweries worldwide produce primo beers.

Some of my pals.

Stouts, porters, pilsners, India pale ales (IPAs), and on and on . . . I pretty much like ’em all. And I look forward to downing one of them with dinner most evenings. I’m salivating right now, thinking about which brew I’ll have tonight. A quick look into the frig tells me my choice likely will be the Dogfish Head brewery’s 60 Minute IPA, an aromatic and seriously bitter quaff that’s refreshing as hell. I tell you, in these times of climate change, COVID, authoritarianism and racism, to name but a few problems bedeviling humankind, it’s wonderful to have something to look forward to.

The time has come to wrap things up. I’ll do so with songs that mesh, title-wise anyway, with this narrative. First up is Cold Fingers, by the late great Tony Joe White. Much of his music, Cold Fingers included, sounds primordial, as though it was born in our planet’s bowels. Tony Joe was something else. And then there’s Blake Shelton, a country music star and a pretty talented cat. Generally I’m not a big fan of today’s country music, overblown as much of it is. Though Blake’s Straight Outta Cold Beer leans in that direction, it tells a realistic story and packs a wallop. I like it.

Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Feel free to comment. Here are the songs:

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.

Some Of This Year’s Pix: A Photography Story

Ah, the wonders and the ease of digital photography. I mean, you’ve got to love it. No mess and no fuss, which is precisely the way that little ol’ me, who is lazy as shit, likes things to be.

What’s more, digital photography can be quite addictive, as half or more of the world’s population is fully aware. I’m definitely addicted. In spurts, anyway. I don’t take pictures of every damn thing I do or of every place I go, but, ever since obtaining my first smart phone in 2015, I’ve snapped more than enough. And a fair number of those shots have found their way onto the pages of the publication that you now are reading. Man, writing stories for this site usually drains the hell out of me. But snapping pix for it with my phone? That’s a gas, gas, gas!

And so, the other day I decided to have a look at the hundreds of photos from 2020 that sit quietly and patiently in my phone’s storage room. I did so with the idea in mind to put a small bunch of them on public display for the first time. Fortunately, there were enough that struck me as worthy. Thus, this essay became a go. That brought a nice big sigh of relief because, as I’ve noted semi-regularly over the last few years, story ideas don’t exactly spew from me with the force of volcanic eruptions.

Miles Table (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). January 15, 2020
Abington, Pennsylvania. March 21, 2020
Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. May 29, 2020

Are there any connective tissues holding these photos together? I suppose so, since they portray scenes that appealed to me sufficiently to try and capture them. For instance, I’m into color juxtapositions, arrays of angular shapes, and unexpected elements. And all of those are to be found in some of the pictures, such as the one taken in front of Miles Table, the Philadelphia café where my pal Gene and I ate lunch one January day.  The reflections in Miles Table’s windows intermesh giddily with the interior of the shop. Dig that crazy tree cozying up to a prim and proper table! You don’t see that every day.

Photo taken in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania on June 2, 2020
Georgian Bakery And Café (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). January 10, 2020
Photo taken in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania on June 22, 2020

On the other hand, I also enjoy simplicity, and there was a sweet simplicity to the early-evening cottony sky that I photographed from my house’s deck. We’ve all seen skies like this one mucho times before. But we never grow tired of them, because they are both calm and majestic. They give us pause.

My house (Willow Grove, Pennsylvania). May 24, 2020

And, speaking of my house, how could I resist the photo of the rhododendron bush that sits in my front yard? I tell you, that plant preened exuberantly this spring, something that it never had done before during the 15 years that my wife Sandy and I have lived here. To my mind, this was proof that flora can be unpredictable in their moods and actions, sometimes behaving wonderfully and sometimes not. Humans, take heart in that! Every entity on Planet Earth is complicated as hell, not just us.

I’ll leave you with some thoughts related to the selfie that I took a few weeks ago at the Michener Art Museum, a medium-sized and excellent museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It is named after the famous author James Michener, who, in the 1980s, donated tons of money to help establish the institution.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the museum closed its doors in March of this year. But the pandemic situation improved in Pennsylvania over time, allowing some cultural facilities to re-open. The Michener did so on July 20.

Sandy and I, who are museum lovers, were as happy as two masked people could hope to be, because we last had been at a museum in January. Being able to visit the Michener helped to create the illusion that the world was spinning towards normality. Anyway, we spent an hour looking over the exhibits. One of them, which displayed works that various artists created in recent years in reaction to climate change, kept us rapt.

But, as much as anything that day, I liked looking at oil paintings by Fern Coppedge (1883-1951), who lived much of her life not far from Doylestown. A number of her works are in the museum’s collections. Sandy and I have visited the Michener pretty frequently this century, and both of us have come to admire Coppedge’s art very much. Bold, tastefully-arranged colors. Strong brushstrokes. Depictions of scenic old towns and beautiful natural landscapes. I mean, what’s not to like?

Photo taken in Michener Art Museum (Doylestown, Pennsylvania). August 25, 2020

So, natch, it was in front of a Coppedge oil painting that Sandy and I positioned ourselves to grab the selfie, an art form whose mechanics I haven’t come close to mastering. Yeah, the painting appears to be drunkenly crooked in the photo, but that’s kind of charming, don’t you think?  Coppedge, who wasn’t a stickler for perfect balance, probably wouldn’t have minded a bit. And I bet that she’d have dug the contrasts and connections that our masks and tilted heads established with her painting. This photo will remain a fine reminder to Sandy and me of a very good day during the Pandemic Era.

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

This Is My 250th Story! (Thank You, Dr. R. U. Forereel, For Making It Happen)

As usual, you’re late!” my psychiatrist, Dr. R. U. Forereel, correctly and forcefully noted. “Neil, your chronic tardiness is a sign of, of, of . . . of what? Oh, who knows, who cares? Have a seat, Neil. Let’s get started. I’m waiting with baited breath to hear what comes out of your mouth during this session. Or not.”

Gingerly I settled into the large chair that, from a distance of ten feet, faced its twin, upon which Dr. Forereel sat. This being the Age Of Coronavirus, we both were masked. “Doctor, I’m sorry,” I said. “I try my hardest to arrive at your office on time, but something always seems to come up. Today it was a freak accident. Here’s what happened: When I got into my car to drive over here I very forcefully attempted to push the seatbelt buckle into place. But somehow I misjudged what I was doing and ended up stabbing my private parts real good. Holy crap, Doctor, that hurt! I managed to stagger out of the car and back into my house, holding the damaged goods as discreetly as I could. I hope none of the neighbors saw me. Anyway, the boys and the mighty sword are all bandaged up nicely now. I’m good to go! Actually, I lie. If I have sex before the year is out, it’ll be a miracle. In any event, it’s truly amazing that I’m only 20 minutes late.”

“Your privates will be in my prayers tonight,” said my psychiatrist almost sympathetically. “They deserve better, I’m sure. Now Neil, tell me what has been weighing on your mind since our last monthly session. Don’t tell me everything, of course. My eyes will have no trouble doing their glazing-over thing if you do. So, let’s stick to a highlight or two.”

You see? That’s why I like Dr. Forereel so much: she doesn’t feed me bullshit, she’s more or less honest with her feelings, and she cuts to the chase.

“Okay, Doctor. Yes, something has been bothering me quite a lot. It has to do with my blog. You know about my blog, right?”

She shook her head in disbelief. “Of course I know about your blog. You bring it up in one context or another at almost every session! Neil, listen to me. Even though your blog is dear to your heart, I’ve tried to show you that you actually are in conflict with your writerly side. Writing puts tremendous strains upon you, and they are without a doubt unhealthy. I’m talking about the anxiety that you feel in trying to develop story ideas, and the mental and emotional exhaustion that leave you as limp as your once-mighty sword after you complete each article.”

“Neil, in my professional opinion you should change direction and not look back! Take up some other activities in writing’s place. Knitting would suit you just fine, for instance. It’s comforting, it’s creative, it’s a form of meditation, you know. And maybe it will improve your manual dexterity, so that you don’t stab yourself in your genitals ever again. What’s more, nobody in a million years would miss the trifling essays and attempts at humor that you fill your website with. Cyberspace is overflowing unmercifully with content. You should do your civic duty and help to declutter it. Stop writing, in other words!”

“Doctor, I tend to agree with you. I’m pretty well spent, but I can’t halt just yet,” I said. “You see, my next story will be my 250th. Shit, Doctor, I can’t not publish number 250. Pardon my French, by the way. Two hundred and fifty articles is a big milestone. I’d be tremendously disappointed in myself if I stopped at 249.”

“You’re kidding, Neil, right?” she asked. “There would be nothing for you to to be ashamed of were you to hang up your spurs right now. If you did, you would be demonstrating excellent sense and judgment. And 249 strikes me as such an ideally oddball number. In that sense it suits you perfectly!”

“Points taken, Doctor. But getting back to what’s been bothering me: I’ve been racking my brain to try and come up with a story idea for my 250th piece, but no luck. My mind has gone desert-like. What should I do, Doctor Forereel? Can you help?”

She looked at me long and hard, and took a few seconds before responding. Then she said this: “Neil, I doubt that I’m equipped to help you discover story ideas, unless you’re interested in writing about the deep underpinnings of your psyche that we’ve uncovered at our sessions. But they’re awfully boring, truthfully speaking, aren’t they? Nobody would want to read about them, I’m sure. Let me say, though, that part of your problem, without question, has to do with aging. Let’s face it, Neil, you’re an old f*ck — pardon my French — and writing doesn’t become easier as one’s hourglass empties and empties. That’s true for just about everything, right? Knitting excepted, of course.”

Those final comments brought me up short. Though I didn’t want to be, I was reminded that life is fleeting, no matter how long you live. My jaw sank. My eyes dropped. But my mind awakened. “Dr. Forereel,” I said, “believe it or not, you’ve just presented a fine idea to me. My 250th story will be about the preciousness of life, about how we should appreciate what we have, and that we should do our best to live joyfully. Thank you, Doctor, thank you.”

“Neil, I am delighted to have been of service. And a quick glance at the clock on the wall tells me that our time is up once again. Don’t bump your accessories into anything on your way out. They’ve suffered enough for one day. I’ll see you a month from now. And don’t be late next time!”

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Dr. Forereel and I would appreciate it.)

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!

Looking For Signs While Walking Around On A Sunny Morning

It will come as no surprise to some of you when I mention that for several years I have been turning out shitloads of written product that revolve around my taking walks in one locale or another. The present opus is yet another example of same. When, moaning and groaning and writhing, I birthed this website five years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed that essays along that line eventually would become my go-to form of expression. But that’s what has occurred, and I’m down with it. I mean, I like walking around while examining my surroundings. Always have. But I didn’t consciously realize it all too much until this publication began finding its comfort level. And so, I tip my hat to the writing process, because it has helped to give me a halfway-decent sense of who I actually am. And who is that, you ask? Don’t ask!

There I was, then, on Thursday the 9th of April, sauntering along the long stretch of blocks that comprises most of Hatboro’s business district. (Hatboro, an old-fashioned-looking town, of which there are way too few in my region, is two miles from Willow Grove, the non-descript burg that I call home. Both Hatboro and Willow Grove are in the suburbs near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.)

I arrived in Hatboro at about 10:30 AM and departed 45 minutes later. The skies were as blue as blue can be, the temperature was mild, and a sweet breeze caressed my cheeks and those of the people that I saw. Due to the coronavirus situation, those people were few in number, and all stores in Hatboro (and throughout much of Pennsylvania) were shuttered, except for those of the sorts deemed essential by Pennsylvania’s governor. Thus, a hardware store, a pharmacy, ten or so food purveyors, and a handful of others were open for business. As for that sweet breeze, even though everyone was keeping plenty of distance between one another, hopefully it wasn’t blowing any coronavirus microbes into anyone’s eyes or mouths. But hey, I’m not here today to dwell upon coronavirus. No further mention of that demon shall I make herein.

On my person was my trusty iPhone. What, like I’d go anywhere without it? (Well, maybe to take a crap, but that’s about it.) For one thing, the phone’s camera is essential to my journalistic endeavors. And what I had in mind to do with the camera was to point it at store, street and traffic signs, and at whatever other signs caught my eye. I enjoy signs, you see. Even though I’d been in Hatboro many dozens of times over the years, I wasn’t sure what the outcome of my plan would be, as I hadn’t paid extensive attention before to the state of affairs of the town’s signage.

I needn’t have worried. From the get-go I found sign after sign that interested me. Some for their colors. Some for their designs. Some for their whimsicality. Some for the jaunty ways in which they interacted with other signs in their vicinity.

In other words, I damn well dug the time that I spent wandering Hatboro’s streets.

Unexpectedly, little was playing in my mind as I kept placing one foot in front of the other, so focused was I on the mission. I wasn’t contemplating the meaning of life. I wasn’t thinking about what other activities I’d fill up the rest of the day with. And I wasn’t analyzing the importance of signs. But, as I realized when I began to gather my thoughts for this essay, signs are important as hell. They provide all sorts of information, and succinctly. We’d be lost without them, would have little clue about what’s going on. Man, signs are essential to human society, don’t you think? Yup, that’s why there are so many signs in Hatboro, just as there are in every town and city. We’re builders, creators, doers. And the oceans of signs in the world prove, reflect and add to that.

Okay, I’m just about signed-out. It’s time for me to have a nice big glass of milk and some warm chocolate chip cookies, and take my afternoon nap. I can hear my sofa calling me. “Lie down, you creaky geezer, lie down,” it’s cooing. “You need your beauty rest. Only problem is, you ain’t got any beauty left. Tough crap. Such is life!”

Thanks for joining me on my passage through Hatboro, girls and boys, and for gazing at a selection of the photos that I took there. By the way, seeing that I usually mention several things at the ends of my stories, I might as well mention them again. Namely, please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this article. And if you click on any photo, a larger image will open in a separate window. Till next time!