Sunday, September 20, 2020

in the jailhouse now

Way back in 2008, I was at a concert at Philadelphia's grand old Trocadero, a beautiful former vaudeville theater that, over the years, served as a movie theater, strip club and concert venue. After the show, I ran into my friend Kasten, who I had not seen in a while. We started talking and she asked me if I was on Twitter. At first I thought it was some illicit drug with which I was unfamiliar. I answered, "I don't think so. What exactly is it?" She briefly explained the basic concept and encouraged me to join in. (Remember, this was twelve years ago. I was 47 years old and this "social media" thing was still kind of new to me.) So, I went home and signed up for Twitter. Kasten, my dear friend.... this is your doing!

By nature, I am a smart-ass. And my "smart-ass-ness" seems to find its way into all aspects of my life — my drawings, my writing, my conversation. Sometimes, I will admit, my being a smart-ass has gotten me into trouble. It appears that not everyone understands, identifies nor appreciates sarcasm. Of course, my sarcastic nature spilled over into my Twitter presence. Under the protective guise of "Josh Pincus," I got myself into heated exchanges with the likes of strangers, fans of my illustrations, co-workers, former co-workers, national companies, local religious fanatics, city transportation authorities and even Dick Van Dyke's wife. Sometimes, I just don't know when to shut up.

Recently, I have discovered the vast time-suck that is Facebook. I realize I am very late to the party, but Facebook has offered a new outlet for me. It's kind of like an added benefit of starting a new job — your new co-workers have never heard your jokes. Well, since I joined Facebook, Twitter has kind of taken a back seat... even behind Instagram. Even with over 72 thousand tweets, I have seriously cut back on my daily Twitter use. I will still post links to my illustrations and my daily celebrity death anniversaries.  But,, that pretty much sums up my recent Twitter activity. Instagram, which is definitely a more visual platform, allows automatic linking to Twitter. So, I can post to Instagram and Twitter simultaneously, with a single click. I try to stay away from political content, so that has cut down considerably on my Twitter usage. Sure, I still tweet here and there, but  not nearly as much as I once did. 

Yesterday, however, I was one of those times I should have stayed away from political tweeting, but sometimes, a knee-jerk reaction gets the best of me. While scrolling through my Twitter feed, perusing the nearly 400 accounts that I follow, I stumbled upon a video clip from a West Coast news broadcast that had been retweeted by someone I follow. The clip was brief — under two minutes — but it infuriated me. A group of protesters had assembled in a small community in (I think) Oregon. They were screaming about their God-given and/or Constitutional rights to not wear face masks. Now, I don't want to get into the controversy surrounding the wearing of a mask in this cautious time of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am unwavering on my position, so don't try to convince me otherwise (just like I won't try to convince you). Here's my belief: I will wear a face mask when I leave my house (which, these days, isn't often). I think everyone should wear a face mask when they leave there homes and come in contact with other human beings. I believe if you don't wear a face mask you are a narrow-minded misanthropic science-denier who doesn't care about anyone but his or herself. That's my stance. Let's move on. The news clip featured groups of people shaking their fists and screaming about God or the government or the Constitution as though they were well-versed experts in theology, political science and Constitutional law. All while coaxing their small children to scream "We shouldn't be told to wear masks!" and "COVID is a hoax!" (A few of the children tripped over the word "hoax.") When the clip was over, I was prompted to respond. I know. I know. I shouldn't have, but I did. I already admitted in Paragraph Two that I don't know when to shut up. Jeez! Ten years of this stupid blog is evidence of that!

I typed a single sentence comprised of just five words. But they were five carefully chosen words. Chosen for impact and conciseness. I tweeted: "I hope they all die."

Evidently, you can't say stuff like that on Twitter. I soon found that out.

Within seconds — seconds! — I received this message from the guardian angels at Twitter Headquarters, sitting behind a bank of monitors and racks of servers in a seven-story blond brick building at 1355 Market Street, San Francisco, California and keeping you safe.
So, there I was. Caught. Singled-out. Punished. Restricted. In "Twitter jail" for 12 hours, as a first-offender. ("Hey... whaddaya in for?" "I wished some assholes would die." "Ha! Lightweight!") I wasn't upset. I really didn't even care. I had two other social media outlets with which to ply my Josh Pincus brand of opinionated mischief. The first thing I did was to post a screenshot of the Twitter message on Facebook. My friend Robbie — who has been banned from Twitter so many times he's lost count — called me a rookie. I wore that like a badge of honor.

So, no, I didn't sit for twelve hours and watch the clock tick down as I atoned for my transgressions. I went about my daily business — I watched TV. I drew some pictures. I posted to Facebook and Instagram. I actually forgot about Twitter. Until I remembered. And then little Josh Smartass reared his ugly red head. This found its way to my Facebook page in the form of another screenshot:
...along with this sentiment: "I have an hour and 25 minutes left on my sentence. Brace yourself, fuckers!" That is what we smart-asses call "poking the bear."

As my reprieve loomed closer, my wife and I watched that evening's DVRed episode of Jeopardy! and leisurely ate our dinner. Finally, the virtual warden rattled his virtual keys and unlocked my virtual cell (not that I had any plans for a poster of Rita Hayworth in my future). I was given the "all clear," but I still felt any tweets in my post-punishment era would be closely scrutinized by the good folks at Twitter.
No matter. According to the latest message, I was once again free to tweet to my hearts content. Y'know... within reason. Ahh... who am I kidding? I know what I'm capable of. Next time, it probably won't take twelve years.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

your racist friend

A few days ago, Mrs. Pincus had to make a drop-off at a local UPS Store, something she has done countless times as a part of her eBay business. (I said 'NO!' She will not sell your stuff for you! Please stop asking!)

The closest UPS Store to our suburban Philadelphia home is just a short drive away, but it is situated as the end store in a strangely-configurated strip center. After delivering the bulk of her thrice-weekly shipments to the post office, my wife will drive to the UPS Store and enter the parking lot through the more convenient back lot entrance. You see, the front parking lot — the one accessible from busy Old York Road — employs a one-way cattle chute, allowing cars to only enter from the busy four-lane highway. The narrow entrance is flanked by high cement retaining curbs and sort-of lazily snakes into the parking lot to insure that drivers maintain a single-digit speed limit. There is a small parking up in the front and a larger one behind the building. Once patrons are ready to leave the lot, the only exit is in the back. It is still a bit tricky, as all exiting vehicles must turn left (onto Wyncote Road)  and towards Old York Road. 

Here's a map so you can follow along....
The exit to the street labeled "Wyncote Road" is sometimes blocked by a trailer truck  (as the red circle indicates) unloading new automobiles for the car dealership across the street. So, navigating your way out of a routine stop at the UPS Store can become an ordeal. The day that Mrs. Pincus was there most recently was an ordeal, all right... but not for logistical reasons.

As she was coming up Wyncote Road, she spotted  a car attempting to exit via the cattle chute roadway at the front of the building. Sometimes, drivers try to buck the rules and sneak out this way, if there are no other cars around. It's wrong, but people do the wrong thing all the time. In this case, however, another car was coming in to the parking lot, correctly using the cattle chute. Since the road was constructed to purposely allow just one car to use it, a problem was occurring. Mrs. Pincus pulled into the parking lot at the rear, grabbed her shipment from the cargo area of her car and approached the building. She could hear some horns honking and the sound of arguing, though no actual words were discernible.

In these current days of social distancing, Mrs. P took her place in a queue line that had formed outside the rear door of the UPS Store. Soon, she was joined by a man who fell into formation six feet behind her. The man began to speak out loud, to no one in particular. He was complaining about the drivers in the small parking lot. Soon, it was revealed that he was one of the two drivers involved in the standoff in the cattle chute at the front of the building. ("Standoff in the Cattle Chute" sounds like the title of a 1940s Western from the John Ford canon.) The man exhibited his frustration at the driver going the wrong way and his difficulty in getting the fellow to understand he was going the wrong way. My wife nodded her head in approval, adding something like "Yeah, I know..."

Suddenly, the man ended his angry rant with "Y'know, Black Lives Matter and all that crap..." before trailing off.

SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!

WHAT?!?

My wife blinked and, if her mouth wasn't covered by a cotton mask stretched between two elastic bands secured around her ears, her jaw probably would have fallen to the ground.

"What does someone's poor driving habits have to do with the 'Black Lives Matter' movement?," she asked the man.

He readily answered. "Well, y'know, they all want their rights now and they all do what ever they want. The whole 'civil rights' thing has been blown way out of proportion. Once they got their rights in the 60s, things have been going downhill. And now this whole 'Black Lives Matter' thing.... awful. Just terrible."

Mrs. Pincus was speechless. This is 2020. In the United States of America. She finally said, "I didn't see if the other driver was a man of color, but it doesn't matter."

The man, who was Caucasian, replied, "Well, he was and they think they can do whatever they want now." This guy wasn't letting up.

Mrs. P announced, "This conversation is over." It was her turn to move up in line. She dropped off her package and headed to her car. The man called out to her, "Stay safe!"

I have no conclusion to this story, except that our society still has a long way to go. Sadly, it's a very long way.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

favorite waste of time

Oh Jesus! Not another blog about television!

Very recently, I saw a post on Twitter asking "what's your favorite episode of a television program?" Not necessarily of your favorite television series, but one episode that stands out among every single television program you have watched in your life. For me, that's a wide open field from which to make my selection. I watch a lot of television. Way more than the average person. Way more than the average avid TV watcher. Way more than anyone should be watching.

While I don't have a single favorite show, there are several shows that I hold dear. I really can't pinpoint why I like them. I just do. There's The Andy Griffith Show, a show I can turn on any episode at any point and begin watching... even the later color episodes which are often cited as subpar by even the most ardent Mayberry fan. The characters on The Andy Griffith Show actually evolved as the series made its way through eight seasons. Town sheriff Andy Taylor started off as a conniving, stereotypical Southern "good ol' boy" until his character was transitioned to "the voice of reason" among a town filled with nuts. Eventually, the show took on a very surrealistic Green Acres vibe as it moved into later seasons, with townsfolk residing on one level — one of unpredictable absurdity — and Andy residing on a more level-headed reality. Andy's relationship with his son Opie was responsible for some of the series most tender moments, whereas Andy's interactions with Barney were often maddening. I'm not as fond of Don Knotts as most Andy Griffith fans are. I am pretty sure that Andy doesn't carry a gun because, if he did, he'd probably shoot Barney.

I enjoy The Donna Reed Show as much as I dislike Father Knows Best. These are essentially the same show. They debuted within a few years of each other and each ran for eight seasons. But the kids on Father Knows Best were annoying and the kids on The Donna Reed Show were sweet and endearing. Plus, Donna Reed herself was adorable and, for some reason, given the role of "All-American Mom" after winning an Oscar for playing a prostitute. Robert Young appeared to be constantly befuddled. And Jane Wyatt's put-on voice affectation was like nails on a blackboard.

I like Leave It to Beaver (which I have written about) and Family Affair (which I have also written about), two shows that could be classified as "guilty pleasures," if I felt any shred of guilt for liking these shows. I don't like that label because if I like something, I don't feel the least bit guilty about it. There are shows that I do not like, although I do watch them — like Hazel and I Love Lucy (I love the entire cast of I Love Lucy - except Lucy). I suppose I'm a glutton for punishment.

We want something else!
So... what is my favorite television episode? Well, it's the Season 3 Episode 11 of the long-running Korean War comedy M*A*S*H entitled "Adam's Ribs." I love this episode and I have seen it so many times, I can recite the dialog along with the actors. It's a treat for me to see the scenes unfold, each one a priceless gem in storytelling. This is perfect situation comedy execution — a preposterous premise, an implausible scheme, improbable stumbling blocks and a surprise conclusion. It's filled with classic lines that my family and I have been quoting for years. Plus, it features Wayne Rogers as "Trapper John McIntyre" in a rare co-starring role alongside and equal to the scenery-chewing Alan Alda. Curiously, it does not feature "Frank Burns" or "Margaret Houlihan" and their absence is never explained nor referenced. I could watch this episode over and over again. As a matter of fact, I have. I never tire of it.

It's funny because, although I have seen every episode of M*A*S*H, I don't consider the series one of my favorites. There are a lot of episodes that I do not like. The show, because it ran for 11 seasons, changed and evolved and explored new ground as the years went on... and not always for the better. Some cast changes were good, some were not so good. I like the first three seasons with Wayne Rogers and McLean Stevenson. I liked Harry Morgan as Stevenson's replacement, but I find Mike Farrell's "B.J. Hunnicut" insufferable. I also didn't like the abrupt personality change in Klinger, going from cross-dressing psycho who wants out of the Army to confident, wheeling-dealing company clerk. 

But, watching "Adam's Ribs" is pure pleasure, like a visit from an old friend (well, an old friend that I like). Sure, there are some nit-picky inconsistencies, but there are flaws in every television show. (Jeez! In the Brady Bunch, another of my stalwart favorites, actors are called by their real names instead of their character names, but I hold no grudge.) It's a good, well-written, well-performed 22 minutes of classic television. And it's my favorite TV episode. 

Want to see what I'm talking about? You can watch the episode right here.

What's your favorite? 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

crawling from the wreckage

Well, here we go again.

Way back in 2016, I wrote this story about a co-op that opened in my neighborhood and how I predicted its imminent demise. And sadly, two years later, I wrote this story about the closing of the co-op, just as I had predicted. Before you start calling me names, let me make it clear that I sincerely hoped that the co-op would succeed. I really did. But the folks that ran the co-op and made its business decisions were the main obstacle that kept the co-op from being a success.

Well for nearly two years, the building that housed to co-op sat vacant. My wife and I would stroll past the locked building on our daily walks. We'd sometimes stop and peer into the darkened windows, only to see the same empty store fixtures in the same positions as the last time we stopped for a curious look. Early in 2020, well into the throes of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, we noticed a flurry of activity within the walls of the former co-op building. We spotted a man carrying a toolbox walking in through the usually-locked automatic sliding doors. One time, we saw a couple of guys toting some wooden planks — possibly a disassembled shelving unit — to the waiting bed of a pickup truck. It appeared that something was happening in the co-op building, but there were no physical signs announcing a new business. My wife monitors a neighborhood Facebook page, but only posts of speculation offered any clue. And there was plenty of speculation mixed with suggestions and wish lists concerning the next inhabitants of the co-op's former site. Some hoped for something akin to a mall food court, offering a variety of international and eclectic cuisines. Others requested a marijuana dispensary (You know who you are!) Still others proposed — in all earnest — odd combinations of brewpub/dry cleaner or music store/concert venue/Mexican restaurant. My neighbors are obviously nuts... and the last thing some of them need is a marijuana dispensary.

As the weeks moved on, the activity behind the closed doors of the co-op building increased. A light would glow late at night and we could see the shadows of busy workers doing something constructive. Then, one day, we noticed that the large sign above the door read differently. It looked the same, but upon closer inspection, it was, indeed, a different sign. The large "Creekside" logo remained the same, but underneath, the words "co-op" now read "Market and Tap." Ah ha! A clue!

As July became August, Creekside Market and Tap opened for business with little to no fanfare. It was the most unspectacular opening of a new business that I had ever witnessed... or not witnessed. A few times, in the final week of July, as Mrs. Pincus and I passed by the usually-locked front doors, they swung open — unleashing a shock of air-conditioned breath that took us by surprise. But they closed just as quickly, leading us to believe that the controlling mechanism was mistakenly left in the ON position. On the first of August, however, when the doors again opened, a man with a face mask stretched under his chin greeted us with a minimally friendly "Come on in! We're open!" My wife and I, our face masks properly protecting our noses and mouths, stepped back from the man and his offer and waved him off. We politely answered, "No thank you." from behind our cloth barriers. The man, by this time, had wandered away. During the pandemic, my wife and I have put limits on unnecessary visits to businesses. We don't "browse" like we did in the "pre-COVID" days. However, the man didn't seem to care if we entered the business or didn't.

There is a small, plain banner that reads "NOW OPEN" that is suspended from the far end of the front overhang about twenty feet from the main entrance. There are no other indications that the place is open for business, let alone a grand opening. Aside from tiny signs printed from a home computer that are taped to the inside of the dark tinted glass windows, Creekside Market and Tap looks about the same as it did when Creekside Co-op closed for good. There is one neon sign that glows in a side window and advertises a local brand of deli meats, but that's it. Also, the former raised outdoor seating area appears to have been converted to an "employees only" cigarette break area, as betrayed by the apron-clad folks congregating at two tables and the prevailing cloud of secondhand smoke floating heavily above them. Not the most welcoming of sights.

Proudly closed!
A little internet investigation revealed that the Creekside Market and Tap is home to four individual businesses — all with different operating hours. They are: Dave’s Backyard Farms, Creekside Restaurant & Deli, Cheshire Brewing Company and Herrcastle farms — all fine business, I'm sure. As a resident of Elkins Park for nearly forty years, I have seen business come and go. One thing I have observed is that when someone opens a new business in Elkins Park, the first thing they decide — immediately upon signing the lease on the space — is what days they will be closed. It is a consistent bone of contention I have with every single business I have seen open and close within the confines of the tiny business district that occupies the one-block stretch opposite the train station. The co-op followed this pattern and the new occupants of the co-op building appear to be carrying on the tradition. Just a mere three weeks after proclaiming their "Grand Opening," they have struck Mondays off of their list of days they will be welcoming customers. And they made the announcement with an odd posting to their Facebook page. "In order to serve the community better?" How is closing a method of serving the customer better?

Penn's Woods.... sort of.
Speaking of hours.... When they are open, the hours vary greatly among the four vendors. Only the deli is open every day that the building is open. The two produce vendors operate towards the end opf the week with Herrcastle offering an additional day over Dave’s Backyard Farms. The Cheshire Brewing Company is open Thursday through Sunday with nearly different hours on each of those days. My wife's parents operated a business within the confines of a huge, multi-vendor farmers market for over thirty years. The rule of the market was: if the building is open, your business is open. Period. No exceptions. It is both confusing for and off-putting to your potential customer when they see a business that is "roped off," denying access for purchases for shoppers who are there right now, as well as being an embarrassment to those vendors that are open. Customers don't know who owns what and they don't care. It really isn't the customer's concern. It is up to the business owners to make their wares as accessible as possible to the customer. That's just plain good business sense. Also, try to spell the name of the state you're in correctly on your website.

Not so fast there...
So, Creekside Market and Tap is not yet open a full month. They have four vendors with erratic hours and they have altered their overall hours of operation to eliminate a day of business. Not off to a winning start. Though, based on comments on a community Facebook page, a smattering of customers were very disappointed by some of the business practices. There were issues of attention and friendliness by employees. As recent as five days ago, a customer stated they were told that the deli stops slicing meat an hour before the posted closing time. There were comments regarding product selection. Most distressing were the comments about employees failure to wear proper face protection while working around food. These comments are met with little to no response. Although, those that were acknowledged, received a response that was downright defensive and confrontational.

Look, I understand that opening a business is a stressful thing. Sure, there is added stress with the cloud of a pandemic hanging above. I know that all new businesses suffer from "growing pains" at the beginning while they work out the kinks. I have seen a few strides Creekside Market and Tap have taken towards enhancements. The beautiful natural wood picnic tables out front are a nice, welcoming touch. I think it might be a good idea to clean up the spotted lantern fly carcasses that are strewn about the sidewalk surrounding those beautiful tables.

Again, I wish Creekside Market and Tap all the luck in the world as their business begins. I hope it grows and expands to include additional vendors and I sincerely hope it is successful. I just hope they don't fall into the same downward pattern that befell the previous tenants.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look good.

www.joshpincusiscrying.com

Sunday, August 23, 2020

shotgun

Yesterday, my wife and I went on our (almost) daily afternoon walk. We take nearly the same route everyday, circumnavigating the same streets that surround our suburban Philadelphia home. Our neighborhood is comprised of a diverse mix of housing. There are twin homes (like ours, called "duplexes" in some parts of the country, although a "duplex" means something else in our area). There are apartment buildings and townhouses and there are huge, sprawling, multi-floor structures situated on expansive plots of land and featuring additional out buildings like guest houses and multi-car garages. Around the corner from our house is one such property. It is a corner lot, surrounded by a low concrete wall and a connected ornate wrought-iron fence. We have only seen the family that lives there on rare occasions. In summer months, we can hear them splashing in their hidden pool. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of them closing the front door after retrieving a package from the cobblestone walkway that runs parallel to the main entrance.

Yesterday, as we walked alongside the property's outer wall, we could hear a loud, repeating "clicking" sound emanating from their yard behind a cluster of trees. I mentioned to my wife that it sounded like a giant stapler, perhaps the industrial hammer-type used to apply roofing shingles. As we grew nearer and the the trees no longer impaired our sight lines, we discovered the actual source of the sound.

And it was chilling.

The family, as revealed by the distinctive way they dress, are Orthodox Jews. We have seen small children playing in the large yard. The boys sporting kippot (head coverings) securely attached to the crown of their skulls, their tzitzit (fringes on their prayer shawls) flopping at their hips. The girls clad in plain, nearly shapeless dresses. Sometimes we spot a woman watching the children. She is dressed in a similar, fashionless frock, an awkward sheitel (wig) perched upon her head.

Today, we saw a father in a plain white shirt and black tie with his pre-teen son — both wearing a customary kippot atop their respective heads. The "clicking," we discovered, was made by the pump action of two pretty imposing looking rifles — the kind I've seen countless gangsters in countless movies use to carve out an escape path from a precarious crime scene. Father and son were, apparently, cleaning their weapons outside in the cool evening temperatures.

My wife and I watched in disbelief, as every stereotype we ever had forced upon us shattered as though the victim of a well-aimed shotgun blast.

Don't be fooled by throngs of tattooed, shaved-head, camouflage-clad "rednecks," waving their Confederate flags, screaming about their God-given rights and the Second Amendment. Am I stereotyping? 

Maybe... 

Maybe I'm stereotyping a couple of times.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

sea change

Before everything went to shit due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Mrs. Pincus and I had a cruise booked for the final week of October 2020. I had scheduled for the time off from work (a new job I had started full-time in February). At the end of the work day on March 13, my employer informed everyone to take home their desk computers and instructions on how to log on to the company network were distributed via email. After six weeks of "working for home," my entire department (as well as others) was dissolved and every employee — save for a skeleton crew — was let go. 

Industries across the country were shutting down, having employees work from home where applicable. Businesses that operated with patrons in close proximity — amusement parks, movie theaters, concert and sports venues — were shuttered. And all cruise lines discontinued all scheduled cruises for a few months. Our October cruise was nearly paid-in-full. With no regular income — except for my meager unemployment insurance payment — the price of a cruise is money that we could use for other, more essential needs. The problem is, if we canceled the trip, we would be penalized. We would stand to lose a portion of our deposit that we could not afford to lose. So, we would have to wait.... patiently. When you are stuck in your house for eleventy thousand weeks with no job, patience is not very easy to come by.

As the weeks of quarantine turned into months of quarantine, cruise lines were regularly assessing the safety and logistics of re-starting business. Mrs. Pincus and I closely followed the proposed scenarios and alternate procedures being suggested by cruise lines. We weren't too pleased with the solutions and how temporary or permanent they'd need to be.

Well, in a cavalcade of mixed feelings, our October cruise was canceled by Carnival. We, of course, were disappointed that we would not be going on a cruise. We were relieved, however, that we would not have to make what could possibly be a life-or-death decision about taking a cruise. Carnival made that decision for us. And we were offered a full refund of everything we had paid to date... which was, indeed, everything.

My wife and I began to assess the future of cruising. Since our first cruise seven years ago, my wife and I have become very enthusiastic about going on cruises. We like what we like about cruising. I assume that everyone who takes a cruise likes it for specific activities, even if they are different from the ones we like. We have a great time, which, based on my feelings before my first cruise, is very surprising to me. Sure, nearly every cruise we have taken was identical, but that's the experience we enjoy. We like to play trivia games. We like to go to the buffet. (I really like to go to the buffet!) We like the kitschy entertainment. We like meeting new people that we probably will never see again — but, thanks to the magic of the internet, can maintain a friendship as though they lived right next door. But, under the current circumstances as defined by the malevolent coronavirus, all the things we love about cruising will have to change. And that's the part we are wrestling with. Do we really want to take a cruise that is a completely different experience than our previous cruises? 

Well, the buffets would have to be eliminated to cut down on so many different people handling plates and serving utensils... not to mention those travelers who just handle the actual food with their hands.

Showrooms would have to reconfigure seating to allow for social distancing. Heck, the entire ship would have difficulty maintaining social distancing, from the narrow corridors, to the cramped, but mandatory muster drills, to the closeness of seating in the main dining rooms, sometimes with total strangers.

Our beloved trivia games would need to keep participants six feet apart, leading to players taking up huge areas of lounges and forcing the activity's host to speak even louder, repeating questions and stretching play time way past the time allotted for the event. Multiply that by every on-board activity for the entire week and I see a lot of disappointed passengers. Plus, there is the intimacy of bars and discos and swimming and water slides and sports.... ecchhh! it's a mess. Then there's the issue of other people not following the rules. And people on cruises love to not follow the rules. I don't think I want to spend the money for a cruise and not get the cruise I am used to. Until I am sure the cruise industry will go back to the way it was — the way I'm used to — Mrs. Pincus and I will have to pass, albeit reluctantly.

When this is all over (when ever that is), will we define our life timeline as BC (Before COVID-19) and AC (After COVID-19)? 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

the anniversary waltz


There once was a boy
named Pierre
eBay, the famed internet auction, is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2020. It's hard to believe 28 year-old computer programmer Pierre Omidyar sat in his apartment on Labor Day Weekend 1995 and wrote the code for an online auction, just so he could sell off a few duplicate Pez dispensers he had in his little collection. Or so he says in the company's press release. Actually, that story about eBay's humble beginnings that Pierre has been telling for a quarter-century is total bullshit. But it sure makes the internet auction powerhouse sound... um..... human?

My wife has been selling on eBay for nearly as long as there has been an eBay to sell on. (No, she won't sell your stuff.) Starting off as a supplement to running her parents' general merchandise store, Mrs. P has built her eBay business into just that — a business. She buys, lists, packs and ships merchandise in a regular routine and does it all herself. (I said 'No!,' she will not sell your stuff. Let it go!)

Way back in 2003, when my in-law's store was still operating, Mrs. P was maintaining her eBay business just a few days per week. Still, she was selling a good amount of merchandise. One day, while going through her email, answering questions from potential buyers and sending "end-of-auction" messages to customers, she received an announcement from eBay's headquarters — or so it appeared. She often received bogus emails claiming to be eBay and alerting her to some discrepancy in her account or a similar issue which needed immediate attention. This particular email congratulated her as the winner of a trip to the annual eBay Live! convention being held in Orlando, Florida. She perceived this email as no different from a number of scam offers and announcements she received on a daily basis — so she deleted it. A few days later, she received the same email again. And, again, she deleted it. A third email arrived. This one she read to me and we were treated to a good laugh before this email met the same fate as the previous two.

Then, a week or so later, instead of an email allegedly from eBay, Mrs. P received a phone call from eBay. The nice man on the phone asked my wife why she had not responded to the email about winning the trip to eBay Live! Mrs Pincus laughed and questioned his claim of truly being a representative of eBay. The man on the phone chuckled and said, "Well, I can end all of your auctions, if that'll convince you." She was convinced from the statement alone. He re-sent the email and we read it more carefully this time.

Apparently, because of Mrs. P's stellar selling record, she was awarded "Power Seller" status. All "Power Sellers" would be treated to a two-night stay at the ritzy Peabody Orlando Resort and full admission to the eBay Live! event at the Orlando Convention Center, a three-day celebration of all things eBay, including workshops, seminars and slew of other informative programs we weren't the least bit interested in. The convention also featured a trade show-like presentation floor, where hundreds of eBay associated businesses would be giving away all the logo-emblazoned tchotchkes we could carry. In addition, eBay would pick up the cost of airfare for the two of us. It sounded great, but we really weren't certain this was legit.

We received an official-looking information packet in the mail — allegedly from eBay — including several different release forms — all of which needed to be notarized. We took these forms to a local notary and then sent them back via registered mail. I said, "If this is a scam, at least we're only out the cost of a notary seal and postage."

In a few weeks, we received a bigger packet from eBay that included airline tickets, a hotel voucher and admission credentials for the convention itself. We still weren't convinced. As our departure date drew closer, we packed as though we were actually going on this trip. On the actual day printed on the so-called airplane boarding passes, we drove to the airport, proceeded to the proper gate and, eventually, boarded an Orlando-bound plane. The plane taxied and achieved an airborne state. Mrs P and I looked at each other and decided that we would finally be convinced once we checked in to the hotel.

Well, we landed in Orlando and were shuttled to the beautiful Peabody Hotel. We checked in without a hitch and soon found ourselves smack in the middle of the eBay Live! marketplace. We met and spoke with dozens of eBay representatives and collected free enamel pins to commemorate the event. We were invited to watch then-eBay CEO Meg Whitman deliver her keynote speech — a rousing motivational address that seemed to only be missing a cheerleading squad. When Ms. Whitman completed her oration, the stage was overtaken by the one-and-only Weird Al Yankovic who serenaded the faithful with an eBay parody set to the timely tune of the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way."

The final day of the convention was capped off with an old-fashioned block party, where the inside of the Orlando Convention Center was transformed into a picket-fenced and green-lawned locale of Anytown USA. Grilled hot dogs, fresh popcorn and big, ice-filled tubs of soda were available for all conventioneers. As we strolled about the faux twilight-flecked neighborhood that the good folks at eBay meticulously created, Mrs. Pincus and I were finally convinced that this was on the level.

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