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June 25, 2020

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

Isolation is starting to ease up here in NYC. Phase 2 of the restart began this past Monday and suddenly an air of festivity is seeping back into the culture. Parking spaces are being freed up to allow restaurant tables on the street, and though a slight fear of being hit by oncoming traffic while stretching out one’s arms is bound to become a bi-product of this new phenomenon, for the time being the change is entirely welcome. We New Yorkers, by and large, have behaved responsibly and diligently during this first wave. We’ve earned these positive developments.


Don’t get me wrong; we’re still not close to normal. All theaters on Broadway and elsewhere remain closed, movies continue to be an apartment-only event, indoor dining at bars and restaurants exists only in hazy memory, and I’m not sure what my favorite baseball team is currently up to, but they’re surely not taking batting practice at Yankee Stadium. But still - the scenery and general vibe of every Manhattan neighborhood have blossomed along with the summer sunshine. Taking outdoor walks (and bike rides!) has become, for many reasons, more of an integral “CITY” thing to do than ever before.


The rest of the country, however, is now experiencing some serious trouble. Every passing day in Texas, Florida and Arizona, for example, seems to provide media outlets with the same headline: “Another Record High in Coronavirus Cases!” There has been no federal leadership. There has been no national plan.


I’m tempted to spend the majority of this blog railing against our current president, who might well be the singularly worst-suited person to lead a nation - any nation! - under duress from a world-wide pandemic, racial unrest and economic uncertainty. But, well - I’ll likely have more to say about this dangerous clown as election day approaches, but for now let’s keep him as far away from michaelaba.com as possible. Suffice to say the horrific and growing number of deaths and cases in the US are in direct relation to an unbelievable level of botched management from the top. We could and should have done so much better.


As for me…


These past four months of unexpected free time have inspired a journey through a few projects I was almost unaware were staring at me right in the face. I’m sure we all have certain hidden items in our mental “to-do” list that could easily elude being checked-off for the entire ride. Nice, though, when at least a few of these resolutions can be met.


For example, I’ve had this box-load of old cassettes I’d been meaning to go through ever since converting seven albums-worth of original songs into website-friendly digital over three years ago. Hearing jam sessions with old bands, friends and family members was nostalgic, to say the least. Occasionally there were true hidden gems waiting to be discovered. And just as often, I found myself turning the volume down a notch or two. Eventually, I’m proud to announce, I was able to explore and index the entire batch.

There were also THOUSANDS of old photographs, digitized by my brothers Jeff and Tom after our mother passed in 2015, waiting to be given the once-over. When, I mused, would I EVER have more of an opportunity for such a time-consuming project than now? I’m so happy to have been able to give this tour-through-memory-lane such a completely focused effort. Jeff and Tom - thank you so much for what had to have been an enormously difficult task over five years ago!


Still haven’t begun watching the digitized family movies, though…


I was banging away on the piano a couple of weeks back when a brand new song seemed to come my way. The past couple of years I’d been content to simply record a “snippet” of whatever discovery (chord structure, hints of melody and word choice) led me to suspect I might be on to something, leaving the actual “work” of writing for “some other day”. But this time I took advantage of a totally free afternoon and completed the damn thing. The resulting song, called “Thought I Had You”, has inspired me to check out all those forgotten “snippets”. And now I have a new project: to turn the best of them into completed songs. The first five have already yielded positive (and completed!) results. Scrolling up from the music memos app on my iPhone reveals 17 (!!) potential songs remain.


I also, for whatever reason, began a streak of watching an entire movie, hopefully a classic of some kind, every night. I’d always been slightly embarrassed to have never seen “Psycho” or “The Birds”, or anything by Bette Davis, or the “Thin Man” movies of the 30s, or “A Streetcar Named Desire”, or “The Philadelphia Story”, or well - TONS of others. Well, my record has now grown to 87 straight evenings. Last night’s choice was Woody Allen’s “Sleeper”, which I’d seen so many times previously that almost every word came back to me a second or two before the audio arrived. Found myself laughing appreciatively anyway. A classic.


I’ve also been using and enjoying the NYC Citi Bike system for the first time ever, purchasing a one-year pass after my second escapade. The tenor saxophone has been taken out of its case only once so far, but I’m guessing there will be more attempts at sounding reasonably proficient in the days to come. Though efforts to write more fiction STILL have not gone past the conceptual stage, I remain hopeful my new collection of true stories will be available on michaelaba.com soon. I’ve been listening to lots of old records while waiting for this development to happen. And I’m happy to report now being caught up on the previously-unread pile of magazines resting on my living room table.


And oh, yeah - I’ve also been growing my hair…

If you had bet me this past New Year’s Eve that I’d be spending a good portion of 2020 sporting my first-ever mullet, I would have been highly inclined to wager a good amount of money rejecting that scenario. But how was I to know Luis, the man who has been my NYC “stylist” for the past decade, would be among the first to self-quarantine indefinitely? So while my isolation-inspired beard (photographically documented two blogs ago) lasted only a month or so, my hair has continued to grow unabated to this day. Funny to think how, at the relatively-elevated age I’m currently enjoying, my hair might be at its longest length ever.


Well, Phase 2 has Luis back at work and I’m finally scheduled to get that long-delayed haircut this coming Tuesday. So before I sign off on this month’s blog, I’ll leave you with more photographic evidence. Should I hear enough positive feedback from enough of you these next few days, I could possibly be persuaded to keep this particular project going.


Positive feedback in this instance feels unlikely, however…


OK - I’ll be back in touch next month!


Stay safe!

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