Tuesday, November 30, 2010

there's the wind up and there's the pitch

I spent a long weekend at Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City with my family. This is not another account of my wife's affection for gambling. This is a story of racism, once again, rearing its ubiquitous head.

After breakfast, my son and I headed back to our hotel room while my wife spent some time in the casino. (I don't know... maybe she was checking out the carpeting or lighting fixtures for an upcoming home improvement project.) We stood at the bank of six elevators waiting for one to whisk us up to our room on the thirty-second floor. A chime split the air announcing the arrival of an elevator. My son and I filed in. We were followed by a man and woman in their thirties and another couple, I would venture to guess, pushing seventy. The doors shut.

The older man — a short, bent-over fellow — was giving the younger man the "once-over", until he finally cleared his throat and addressed him. "You look like C.C. Sabathia.", he croaked. His thin lips curled back, revealing an obviously false set of equine-like choppers. The object of this observation was a very tall (about six foot-five) black man sporting a New York Yankees baseball cap. He was preoccupied with his cellphone, unaware that the old man's comment was directed at him. So, the elderly gentleman repeated his assertion, this time a little louder — "You look like C.C. Sabathia".

C. C. Sabathia is a Cy Young Award winning, four-time All Star pitcher for the New York Yankees, whose seven-year, $161 million contract is the largest in Major League Baseball history. He is six feet-seven inches tall and weighs 250 pounds. The only thing that our fellow elevator passenger had in common with Mr. Sabathia was he was tall, he was black and he wore a Yankees hat. He was approximately half the girth of the Yankee hurler and didn't remotely resemble him.

The young man smiled uncomfortably and mumbled apologetically to the old man, "Heh, heh... I wish I had his money." Just then, the doors opened and the younger couple exited the car. The older man and his silent wife remained for one more floor, ultimately leaving the elevator occupied by just my son and me. Once we were alone, my son turned to me and, noting my short stature and pointing to my red hair and glasses, said, "Y'know, if that guy in the Yankees hat wasn't here, the old man would have told you that you look like Woody Allen."

Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia

Another story of racism can be found HERE on the josh pincus is crying blog.

we're s-h-o-p-p-i-n-g

Several hours after a full Thanksgiving meal of lentil soup, mashed potatoes, green beans and a huge slice of Tofurky as the crowning jewel, my wife and I set out for a traditional Thanksgiving evening ritual.

At midnight on Thanksgiving, we found ourselves in a queue line for The Disney Store at the Hamilton Mall, just outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Two Disney Store employees were monitoring the flow of customers into the store and pacifying the anxious by passing out printed fliers highlighting special limited-time offers. From behind a cloth-tension line barrier, we observed a mall alive with bustling bodies, each laden with many bagged purchases. In front of us were two women busily discussing  their buying strategy and listing the potential recipients of their discounted scores. They also commiserated about the wretched children they left at home and how they toyed with the idea of sleeping in their cars to avoid returning to the afore-mentioned, child-packed abode. Behind us, we overheard several more women having almost the identical conversation. Yet, they were in line, at midnight, on a family holiday, at a store that stocks items targeted to the 2 to 9 year old demographic.

I turned to my wife, a lifelong passionate shopper, and said, "It's midnight. Our son is 23. And we don't even celebrate Christmas. What the fuck are we doing here?"

"Social experiment.", she answered.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Just hangin' round a roadblock

On Thursday, I was sitting in my office and I was distracted. I knew somewhere, 39 floors below me, was a Philadelphia soft pretzel calling my name. I jumped from my desk, hastily put on my gray Phillies hoodie and my denim jacket, darted down the hall and made a determined bee line for the elevator.

Philadelphia soft pretzels are my Kryptonite and the pretzels of my dreams are sold at the Philly Pretzel Factory location just inside Suburban Station, a sprawling network of tiled walkways snaking underneath downtown Philadelphia. Besides offering access to various routes of public transportation, Suburban Station boasts an array of shops and services and fast-food establishments.

In the lobby of my employer's building is a long, steep escalator that deposits riders at an exit, one level below the bustling street. This exit leads to a tributary corridor of the train station. Once though a set of revolving doors, I am just a Dunkin Donuts, two short stairways and a water ice stand away from pretzel pay dirt.

I hurried to the pretzel vendor. From the size of the queue line inside, I was not alone in my cravings of a mid-afternoon pretzel. I spotted a few familiar faces in line. Faces I regularly pass as I make my way from my morning train to my office. Some were permanent residents of the train station, who had managed to scrape together a few coins to trade for a snack (or in the case of some, a long-awaited meal).

I took my place in line behind a man wearing a dirty and frayed jacket. He gripped a loaded plastic bag from Shirt Corner, a mens' clothing store that is thirteen blocks away. From the size and heft of the bag, it obviously did not contain shirts. I inched closer to the counter as each customer's order was filled. The man in front of me placed and received his order. He meticulous traced the surface of his pretzel with complementary mustard squeezed from a plastic bottle. When his doughy baked knot was properly anointed, he exited the store. I gave the counter girl my order, got my pretzels (three and an accompanying Coke Zero — the Number Three Combo) and headed back to work.

When I got to the first small stairway I had to scale, there was the pretzel guy who was in front of me in line — just standing and eating his pretzel. He had not made it very far from the front door of the pretzel store. He was standing equidistant from either wall and dead-center before the stairs, blocking anyone who might be walking in a straight line. Among the "straight-line walkers" who were prohibited from pursuing a direct route were me and hundreds of other people. He was oblivious to the world around him, aware only of the mustard-covered yeasty ambrosia he was apparently enjoying. And he apparently chose the perfect place in which to experience his enjoyment to the fullest. I jockeyed my way around his girth and was followed by a parade of similarly inconvenienced walkers. I glanced back and pretzel guy was still transfixed in his moment of zen, as hunks of pretzel tumbled around in his head.

Monday, November 8, 2010

it's happy hour again

Last week, my place of employment invited everyone in the Philadelphia office to a "happy hour" as a show of appreciation. Since most "social" programs have been cut as a result of the recent downturn of the economy, a small gathering like this was welcomed by the employees.

At four o'clock last Wednesday, a full-coverage email went out encouraging everyone to take some time out of their day to congregate in the office library for light fare and alcoholic and non-alcoholic refreshment. I joined some of my department co-workers and queued up for the free eats.

The company was kind enough to recruit a caterer to furnish an array of hot and cold appetizers, some displayed in large metal chafing dishes. I am a vegetarian, so I am constantly scrutinizing all edible offerings placed before me. Since the serving vessels were not labeled, I stuck with the things I recognized, although some of the mystery foods did look good. So, I scooped up a couple of  slices of bruschetta and went over to some of my co-workers.

As we made small talk and happily munched from our individual plates, I directed my friend Kym's attention to the buffet table, specifically to a plate piled high with small pie crusts stuffed with a thick and creamy, green-flecked filling. Just past the pies was a mutli-tiered plate laden with thinly-sliced celery and carrot sticks and ceramic crock of dip. Pointing to the pies, I asked Kym if she knew what they were. She raised her eyes, extended her finger, and, with a deadpan expression across her face, she confirmed, "That? Right there? Those are carrots."

I looked at Kym. "Do you really think I can't identify a carrot?"

I ate the bruschetta until it was time to go home.

come in here dear boy

This past Friday, my wife and I indulged in one of my favorite double-features. Based on her (rampant? excessive? extravagant? .... let's say "passionate") gambling, we were awarded free buffet and free tickets to bad-boy magicians Penn and Teller at Harrah's Casino in Atlantic City. After stuffing ourselves like Thanksgiving turkeys, we enjoyed a stellar performance by the celebrated illusionist duo. Upon exiting the showroom, my wife headed to the casino for a few hours of pressing a button on a slot machine while it eats dollar after precious dollar of our hard-earned income. I dislike gambling. Not because of any sort of moral issue. I just find it boring. My wife, however loves it. And since I enjoy spending time with my wife, I feed an inordinate amount of cash into one of those machines, too.

Saturday evening brought us to our second casino in as many days. Even though Philadelphia legalized casino gambling in 2004, after much debate and protest, Sugar House Casino opened its doors just this past May, making it the first casino within the city limits. My son was attending a concert at a venue two blocks from Sugar House Casino. He asked for a ride home after the show, and since he does not drive, my wife and I obliged his request, knowing that we could kill some time at the casino. Fishtown, as you may imagine, isn't an upscale Philadelphia neighborhood, as, say Society Hill or Rittenhouse Square. The name being the first indication. The building that houses the casino is big and bright and flashy and totally out-of-place in the dingy, blue-collar community.

We parked and walked through the parking lot (past a sign warning against leaving your children in your car — a chronic problem in Philadelphia area casinos, thank you) to the main building. Upon entering we were surrounded by flashing lights and the mechanized "cha-ching" of coins (coins no longer fall from slot machines, only bar-coded paper vouchers). My wife settled at one of her favorite themed machines while I wandered for a bit. I sat down in front of a slot machine in the large No Smoking area. After a few minutes, I caught a whiff of the unmistakable and nauseating smell of cigar. I looked around and spotted the source of the stench. Over at a nearby craps table stood a man with slick helmet of coiffed black hair. He was wearing a classic tuxedo and, in his hand, he held a fat, long, black salami-like cigar — it's far end smoldering and erupting in thick, gray smoke. He rolled the stogie lovingly between his stubby fingers and, with his other hand,  cradled the waist of a trampy-looking trollop, who was over-dressed in a sequined mini.

I marvelled at this prick as I reminded myself that I was in Fishtown — fucking Fishtown —  and not on the set of a Martin Scorsese film. "Who the fuck dresses like that?", I thought. This guy reinforced my belief that anyone under the age of sixty that smokes cigars is a douchebag. Cigars are things our grandfathers smoked. Old men on a park bench, with no pleasure left in their life, smoke cigars. Bookies and gangsters in 1940s movies with Edward G. Robinson and George Raft smoke cigars. Forty-year old guys do not smoke cigars unless they are in a casino in Fishtown trying to impress themselves and the bimbo they're trying to charm into the sack.

He may as well have had a neon sign over his head that flashed "Asshole" in glowing red letters.

...and my wife does not have a gambling problem, goddammit!