Friday, December 27, 2013

Tra-di-tion! Tradition!

I'm Jewish. My wife is Jewish. For the most part, we observe Jewish tradition (Mrs. P more than me). We have a kosher kitchen. We search for chametz before Passover begins. We fast on Yom Kippur and we light real, wax candles on Chanukah, instead of the electrified version. So, after a lapse of many years, we once again participated in one of the most revered and time-honored of all Jewish traditions. On Christmas, we went to the movies and ate Chinese food.

Anticipating a large crowd, I visited the confusing Regal Cinemas website on Monday evening and purchased tickets for a 4:00 p.m. Christmas Day showing of Saving Mr. Banks at a nearby theater where the film was playing in one of the 22 auditoriums. I figured at 4, most gentiles would still be assembling new bicycles, figuring out which way to install batteries or mixing up their third batch of eggnog before the Christmas goose hits the tablecloth. (Having never celebrated Christmas, my only frame of reference is the Cratchit Family gathered eagerly around the Scrooge-provided meal in the final scene of A Christmas Carol.) I also figured that most Jews would venture out later in the evening, taking advantage of a day off from work. I printed out my "Print-At-Home" tickets, wondering what specific "convenience" was afforded me by the $2.50 convenience charge, and stuck them in a safe place until Christmas.

After a morning of Christmas episodes of vintage television (Mr. Ed, Hazel and The Patty Duke Show all shared similar "Down with Christmas Commercialism" plot lines.), Mrs. P and I headed out to the movies. As we drove the twenty-five minutes north on Route 611, I noticed that every strip center boasting a Chinese restaurant had a full parking lot. All other business were dark and locked up tight, but the familiar red and yellow sign in front of each Chinese restaurant burned brightly as a welcoming beacon. We passed six or seven such eating establishments and every one bore an overabundance of parked vehicles.

We pulled into the theater's parking lot and, it too, was jammed with cars. My wife located a space a good distance from the theater. We parked and hurried in. Luckily, we already had our admission tickets because the queue line snaked through the lobby and onto the cement walkway out front. At the risk of making a very, very racist statement, the overwhelming majority of patrons were Jews. Oh, it's okay — we can spot each other a mile away. We know our mannerisms, our traits, our demeanor, our speech patterns and our overall "look." Don't ask me to be specific, we just know. By the pained murmurs of "Oy vey! What a line!" and the over-dramatic exaggerated shrieks of recognition exchanged by women who just saw each other a day ago at the hairdresser, we knew we were among "my people." There were more Jews here than the last time I was at High Holiday services.

Our ticket was scanned by a disinterested young man who was wedged into a tight red Regal Cinemas vest. He directed us down the labyrinth-like corridor to Theater 13, where a line for seating was winding out of the darkness into the light of the hallway. We joined the line and shuffled slowly into the auditorium. My wife stopped to say "Hello" to a fellow she knew from synagogue (See?). Soon, we were able to view a selection of available seats. The place was packed and a low rumble of hushed conversation filled the dimly-lit room. I spotted two unoccupied seats in the middle of a row about halfway up. Excusing myself to the few seated patrons on the aisle end of the row, I led my wife to what would be our location for the next two hours.

The movie (once it started, as it was preceded by thirty minutes worth of trailers for a slew of films I have already decided I have no desire to see) was great. Well acted, well written and, save for a few anachronisms, very entertaining — but now I was hungry. 

We located our car (not before Mrs. P spotted and greeted another group of people she knew from synagogue) and headed back to Route 611. I found my cellphone and called a Chinese restaurant that's a few blocks from our house. Our plan was to place an order from the car and pick it up on the way home. I dialed the number. On the other end, I recognized the voice of the young lady at the restaurant that usually answers the phone, except this time she screamed "SZECHUANMANDARIN-CANYOUHOLDFORAMINUTE?" and I heard the receiver drop on something hard. She spewed  the salutation as one long, angry word. She sounded harried and frantic. Through the phone I could heard the clinking of plates and tinkling of silverware, but above it all, I could hear the agitated tones of the usually demure hostess. Although the words were indiscernible, they were obviously foreign and decidedly furious. I waited patiently. And I waited some more. I could still hear a great commotion through the phone, but no one was returning to accept my order. My wife called on her phone and I could hear the ring through my phone. Her call was answered by a man. She quickly passed the phone to me and I placed the order, only to be told that it would be ready in about fifty minutes, nearly five times the usual waiting period.

We arrived at the restaurant and I hopped out of the car. As I approached the entrance to the restaurant, it looked as though all of my fellow movie-goers had beat me here. I was told my order was not yet ready, so I waited some more. The place looked like a typical morning at the Wailing Wall. I expected a Torah to pass by carried by a t'fillin-swathed gentleman. Men and women I recognized from our predominantly Jewish neighborhood were pacing and talking and complaining.

"Oy! It's so busy!"

"This is crazy meshuganeh!"

"So many people here — kine hora!"

I spied the regular hostess scurrying between the kitchen and the reception area, her spindly arms over-laden with take-out orders. A young man, pad and pencil in hand, was scribbling the names of entrees being screamed at him by fur-wrapped, jewelry-encrusted, white-haired women in condescending mock-Asian accents. I stood by a coat rack, waiting for my order number to be announced. Finally, my vegetarian feast, labeled "Number 25," appeared. I paid and maneuvered my way through the crowd. I weaved around a few more arriving families — annoyed Dads, distressed Moms, unruly children and bewildered, slothy grandparents — and made it to my wife's waiting car.

I will make a note to remember these events next Christmas. And we will be breaking tradition.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

signed, sealed, delivered... I'm yours

Once again, Mrs. Pincus and I found ourselves shopping. This time, we were in Sam's Club, the bulk goods/members-only arm of the Walmart conglomerate. We shop there infrequently and usually end up purchasing more than we came for. This trip was no different.

With a large cart full of foil baking pans and antibacterial wipes (don't ask!), Mrs. P maneuvered down the bakery aisle. She parallel parked the cart alongside a large display of prepackaged, bakery-style cookies. You know, those desert-dry, powdered-sugar and sprinkle-dusted pastries that are served after dinner at your grandmother's house. These are not remotely in the same "cookie" category as Oreos. They are somewhat palatable with a cup of coffee or a big glass of milk. And I mean a really big glass of milk.

And my wife loves them.

Approved for your convenience.
Because we observe the age-old laws of kashrut (keeping kosher), we only purchase food that has been certified by one of any number of overseeing bodies whose job it is to enforce the precautions and restrictions of the ancient Jewish mandates. Products are conveniently marked with a symbol identifying the item as "kosher," as well as the organization offering the certification. These symbols, which can be found on countless products on every supermarket shelf, are as meaningless as a production code number or UPC symbol to the average consumer. But to the discerning kosher-keeping shopper, these symbols are a big "a-okay" and an assurance that the particular fare has been prepared under the auspices of a respected mashgiach (kosher supervisor). For those who keep kosher, it's a pretty big deal.

Mrs. P. picked up a plastic, hinged-lid container of cookies and began examining the label for a sign of kosher certification. The symbol isn't always front-and-center and it isn't always in the most conspicuous spot. She lifted the container high above her head to read the label on its underside and not upset or break the cookies within. After a minute or so of keen perusal, Mrs. P. turned to me and said, "Hmm.... they're not certified." a phrase I have heard for years, usually referring to some marshmallow-fortified cereal or an off-brand of ice cream*.

Just as my wife said this to me, another shopper walked past us. She seemed to be very interested in our conversation, despite the fact that we weren't talking to her and it did not concern her in the least.

"What do you mean 'they're not certified'," she asked, totally butting into our exchange.

My wife smiled and, in her best deadpan sarcastic tone, replied, "They have to be certified as 'cookies', otherwise you can't be sure what they are."

The woman returned a confused expression as Mrs. P continued.

"If they're aren't 'certified cookies', you don't know what you're getting. They could be...," she paused dramatically and gulped, "... brownies!"

The woman cocked her head to one side and shuffled slowly away from us, pushing her cart on down the aisle. We, however, snickered like five-year olds.

*These products usually contain some form of gelatin, a solidifying agent made from boiling animal bones. Since kosher observance forbids the mixing of meat and dairy products, plus the origin of said bones being undetermined, these items could not receive kosher certification... and that's only the beginning.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

turning japanese

I was in the supermarket a few nights ago. I think I was picking up a quart of half & half ...or something like that. I made my selection and got into a checkout line. There were two women in front of me, finishing up their fairly large grocery order. One of the women was filling up bags with items while the other fumbled in her purse for cash or a credit card. I waited patiently.

A woman got in line behind me. She had several items in one of those plastic hand baskets. She began putting her items up on the conveyor belt. I held onto my single carton of half & half.

The two women ahead of me were taking an unnecessarily long amount of time. Another woman, pushing a shopping cart, got in line behind the woman with the hand basket. She was about my age (early 50s), wearing a blue winter coat with white faux fur trim around the hood. And she happened to be Asian. She asked the "hand basket woman" if she knew the location of an specific item in the store. The "hand basket woman" smiled and cheerfully directed her to the first aisle of the store and told her she'd find the item about halfway down on the left. The Asian woman thanked her, left her cart, and hurried up to the first aisle.

After a minute or two, another woman walked to the line, behind the temporarily abandoned cart. She was in her mid-30s, dressed in a dark red sweater. Her hair was pulled back into a knot at the top of her head. And, coincidentally, she was Asian.

The "hand basket woman" turned around and addressed the new addition to our check-out line.

"Did you find what you were looking for?," she asked.

The woman in the red sweater rightfully appeared confused. "Excuse me?," she questioned.

"The item I sent you for?," the "hand basket woman" continued, "Did you find it?"

The woman in the red sweater cocked her head to one side.

It suddenly occurred to the "hand basket woman" that she was talking to a different Asian woman. "Oh... never mind.," she said and turned back around to face front.

By this time, I was paying for my half & half and happy to be leaving the store.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

wish I could be part of your world

Despite not having young children nor participating in the celebration of Christmas, Mrs. P and I found ourselves in the thick of the holiday shopping frenzy. Killing time before a snowstorm predicted for our area, we ventured into a nearby Barnes & Noble Booksellers. My wife had a printout of an emailed offer from the book retailer and I came along to peruse the books and novelty sections. Although our son is 26 and moved out of our house over a year ago, I still purchase toys — to accessorize my home office and work office, as well. The shelves of my office are jammed with figurines depicting cartoon pals from my youth and more recent film characters (Quick Draw McGraw and Jonny Quest stand cheek-by-jowl with Norman Bates and Cherry Darling, Rose McGowan's machine gun-legged seductress from Robert Rodriguez's schlockfest tribute Planet Terror.) Earlier in the day, I picked up a small figure of Fred Flintstone, complete with Royal Order of Water Buffalo hat, which will occupy a prime piece of shelf space this coming week.

Barnes & Noble was bustling. Parents were selecting educational gifts for their youngsters, along with the obligatory frivolous toy... and B&N is not short on frivolous toys. A few years ago, the fine folks at Funko - the West Coast toy manufacturer noted for their character bobbleheads - introduced a new line to their roster of pop culture icons called Pop! Vinyls. Like the bobbleheads before them, Pop! Vinyls are 3.75" tall representations of your favorite superhero, TV character or other iconic member of the fictional world. At Barnes & Noble, the colorful boxes were piled high on shelves and on the floor. Customers, young and old, scanned the window-fronted display boxes looking for their favorites. My wife and I hung back behind the small crowd that had gathered by the figures — children in bulky winter coats upfront, Moms and Dads on cellphones at the back. I, however, wanted to look at the stock. Perhaps there was one that would feel at home on display next to the small plastic Mr. Flintstone.

My wife commented on how cute she found the figures. The man standing next to her - cellphone wedged under his chin, his arms trying to wrangle the many boxed figures he was precariously balancing - agreed with her aloud. Then he elaborated.

"I got my kids The Little Mermaid and Cinderella ones. We gave them to friends who were going to Disney World and they got The Little Mermaid and Cinderella to autograph them. They signed 'em right across the heads!" He was quite proud of his ingenious accomplishment.

My wife asked, in a whisper, "Do your kids still belive in Santa Claus?"

"Oh no!," he laughed heartily, "They're way too old for that!"

Now let me get this straight. They are past the age of believing that a man in a red suit delivers toys to every child in the world in one night in a reindeer-powered sleigh, BUT they are perfectly fine with believing that a pretty teenaged girl who is working her way through college by wearing a red wig and fish fins on a float in a theme park parade is the actual Ariel from her namesake cartoon from a quarter-century ago... and her glass-slipper wearing BFF, too.
"Please let me in."

My wife replied, "Y'know, you could have just signed it yourself." with an uncharacteristically sarcastic tone in her voice.

The man smiled and said, "Yeah, well, our friends were going to Disney World anyway."

Mrs. P awkwardly smiled, wished him a "Happy Hoiliday" and slunk away. I joined her... right after I picked out Russell.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

the snow is really piling up outside

I hate snow. I mean I really hate it. I love the summer, the hot weather, the unencumbered feeling of not wearing a heavy coat. Then, winter comes along, dumps snow all over everything and fucks things up until April. Ugh!

Well, on Sunday, we were subjected to the first snowfall of the season. What the weather forecasters originally dismissed as "just a dusting," turned into a full-on, cold slushy mess. When it was all finished, it left several surprise inches in its wake, along with the looming threat of more frozen precipitation to follow. The local meteorologists blew the first storm of the year and we already logged in half the total of last year's snowfall in one day. This is not looking good.

After spending a good portion of the day staring out the window and expressing my disdain for the white-blanketed scenery, Mrs. P and I dressed in some warm clothes, pulled on our boots and gloves and set out to the task of clearing the thirty-seven-and-a-half feet of sidewalk that fronts our property. The snow had finally stopped and the sun had gone down as well, leaving us with the oranged-tinged glow from the street light to illuminate our chore.

We quickly finished. I headed up the front walkway towards the porch, stomping the remnants of clinging snow off my boots and dragging my shovel behind me. I turned to make sure Mrs. P was following me. She was not. Instead, she was crossing the slush-covered macadam of the street, heading towards our neighbors directly across from our house.

"Where are you going?," I asked.

"I'm going to shovel their sidewalk.," she answered.

In the 28 years we have lived on this block, I have spoken to nearly none of our neighbors. It's not that I'm not friendly, it's.... well, maybe it is that I'm not friendly. The family that moved into the house across the street are... dare I say it?... really nice. The husband is a general contractor who has done lots of work in our house, painting, repairing and plumbing (including this property-saving job at the beginning of the year). His wife has taken an instant liking to my wife (who can blame her!) and their three kids are sweet, funny and well-behaved (three prime qualities that I immediately look for in other people's children).

I mulled over all that they have done for us and that "neighborly thing to do" guilt gnawed at my conscience (yes, I have a conscience!). I trudged across the street to join Mrs. P. I muttered a few curses under my breath.

Their property is enormous compared to ours, including a long sidewalk and a very long front walkway leading to their porch. We shoveled as a team, starting at opposite ends of the sidewalk and meeting in the middle. Mrs. P tackled the front walk while I gave the sidewalk a sprucing-up once-over. We finished and, y'know, we felt pretty good. The old cliché was right - it's nice to be nice. We crossed back to our house and called it a night.

This evening when I returned from work, Mrs. P and I went out to run an errand and do some shopping. Before we left, we went across the street so my wife could deliver a gift to the youngest member of our neighbor's household. She bought him a snowball maker, a very cool invention that we all could have used when we were kids. With the snow currently covering the ground and the promise of more in twenty-four hours, it seemed like the perfect time to give an eight-year-old such a useful implement. He was thrilled and he ran outside to test it out (coatless and in his slippers, much to his dad's chagrin).

Dad began telling us that a friend borrowed his snow shovel to dig out her property and when she brought it back, she shoveled his property — the long sidewalk and the very long front walkway leading to their porch — before she left.

Mrs. P and I looked at each other. "Who shoveled?," we asked in unison.

"Karen." he replied, "She said she shoveled the front and all the way to the porch, then put the snow shovel where she found it and went back home."

 Mrs. P and I looked at each other. Again.

Our neighbor sensed something and finally urged a general "what?"

"We shoveled your sidewalk!" we exclaimed, "US!" I added, "I don't know who this Karen is, but I know who she isn't. She isn't someone who shoveled your sidewalk!"

He produced his cellphone and showed us a text message exchange with this Karen character, in which she takes full credit for our hard work. We were dumbfounded and we ratted her out. Happily.

We finally excused ourselves, explaining that we had to get to an appointment before closing time. As we crossed the street, I commented to my wife, "The one goddamn time I do something nice for someone, someone else takes the glory." My wife smiled. Doing nice things comes as second nature to her. It may never come to me again.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey

"Oh, for chrissakes!"

It's official. We, as a society, have failed. We have tried to rise up and better ourselves as productive members of civilization, contributing to the continuing evolution of our species and our planet. But, it turns out, we are just a bunch of self-righteous morons who can't distinguish our collective asses from any number of holes in the ground.

This week, a friend showed me an article about something called The Nonhuman Rights Project, a campaign led by an animal rights group. They have filed a writ of habeas corpus (that there's lawyer talk for a petition to release a prisoner or captive, based on lack of evidence) essentially demanding that chimpanzees held in zoos be recognized with "personhood." You heard me, Dr. Zaius — personhood. The wish for chimpanzees to be granted rights usually reserved for beings who can hold a job, operate heavy machinery, cure diseases and wear pants for reasons other than "it looks cute when you're riding a unicycle." We have a winner, ladies and gentlemen. Good night and drive safely.

Steven Wise:
"Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle."
The suit has been reported in such respected news outlets as TIME, The New York Times and CNN (okay, maybe CNN shouldn't be listed under the "respected" category). The basic story centers around Tommy, a 26-year-old chimpanzee who lives in a cage in trailer park. Tommy has his own television for company. May I reiterate that Tommy is a chimpanzee. He most likely has thrown his own shit at something that annoyed him during a point in his life. May I also reiterate that a chimpanzee is not a person. I'm not a lawyer or a zoologist, but I can tell you that with some amount of confidence. However one ironically-named Steven Wise will tell you differently.

Mr. Wise is the founder of The Nonhuman Rights Project and the initiator of the legal debate. He is a legal scholar who teaches animal rights law at Harvard Law School, Vermont Law School, John Marshall Law School, Lewis & Clark Law School, and Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. I just lost respect for the prestige of Harvard. The Yale Law Journal called him "one of the pistons of the animal rights." Oh, for fuck's sake — not Yale, too!

Look, I don't want to come off as a cold-hearted animal-hater. (In reality, I'm a cold-hearted human hater, but that's another blog post.) I get choked up when Sarah McLachlan shows me pictures of sad-eyed doggies and abused kittens in-between acts of cable TV reruns, her voice cracking in gut-wrenching helplessness. I had cats growing up. My wife and I had cats for many years. I smiled when my son recently sent us a video of a cat relentlessly licking his beard for a little under a minute. I also know that, when there were cats living in my house, there was a box of shit in my house, too. I have seen animals at the zoo and I have seen people at the zoo and — for the most part — I can tell the difference.

I wonder... while the "personhood for chimpanzees" issue is being hotly debated, are the residents of the Primate House at the zoo listening intently, their large ears cocked towards the radios, anticipating a positive verdict? If results are found in their favor, will they erupt in jubilation, much like members of the LGBT community when the deliberation over same-sex marriage is at hand? I doubt those scenarios will remotely mirror each other, since the LGBT populace includes intelligent, educated individuals (human individuals) and the Primate House is made up of a bunch of monkeys who scratch their assholes while they eat.

Personhood, Mr. Wise? Why don't you ask Charla Nash how she feels about "personhood for chimpanzees?" Of course, Ms. Nash won't be able to see you while you question her because her eyes were savagely ripped out in an unprovoked attack by her friend's chimpanzee, along with both of her hands and most of her face.

Don't waste the time of the already-overburdened courts, Mr. Wise. And don't you dare insult the concept of "personhood." 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

give a man free food and he'll figure out a way to steal more than he can eat 'cause he doesn't have to pay

Mrs. Pincus is, by far, the nicest person I've ever known (and — I swear — that is not a biased opinion). She is kind and helpful, always willing to offer a ride or run an errand. She expresses genuine concern for her fellow human. She is hospitable and really enjoys doing nice things for people. She is a direct contrast to her husband (yours truly), who distrusts and has contempt for nearly every person on the planet. 

Getting a jump on the upcoming gift-giving holidays (another of her many virtues), Mrs. P was on her way home from a day filled with shopping. She stopped at a Wawa Market (a chain of local convenience stores, some of which feature gas stations) to fill up and pick up sandwiches for dinner. She stood by her car and busied herself with her cellphone as the gas pump administered gallon after gallon of fuel into the car's tank. A car pulled up alongside Mrs. P's car and the driver's window slid down into the door.

"Excuse me.," a woman's voice said.

My wife didn't look up, continuing her mobile post to Facebook.

"Excuse me, ma'm.," the woman repeated.

Realizing that the woman was trying to get her attention, my wife answered. She expected to soon be delivering directions to a nearby address or, at the very least, a secluded street.


The woman hesitated slightly, but then summoned her courage and made her plea. "I'm so sorry to ask this. This is very difficult to ask. I am on Welfare and I'm waiting for my check and I don't have any money for groceries for my family... for my children. Do you think you could spare some money so I can buy something for my children to eat?"

My wife was touched, however, she explained that she had no cash at all. (She really didn't.) But, she offered to go into Wawa and purchase sandwiches for the children.

The woman was stunned at my wife's generosity. "Really?," she asked, "You'd do that?"

"Sure. I sure will."

The woman cautioned, "I have four children. There are four of them."

My wife stepped closer to the car as the woman waved her open palm over the tops of her children's heads like a model on The Price is Right gesturing towards a washing machine. Mrs. P. saw four children in the car — three in the backseat, one in the front passenger — ranging in age from teen down to eight or nine. None of them looked up, as they were all thoroughly engrossed in the activity playing across the screens of their iPhones.

That's right. iPhones.

"You have got to be kidding me!," my wife exclaimed, "They have iPhones?!? I don't even have an iPhone!"

The woman countered. "Their father bought them. I have no control over what he buys for them."

"Yeah," Mrs. P replied, "but someone is paying the monthly bill for them... and it sure isn't gonna be me!" With that, she returned the gas nozzle to the pump, got into her car and drove away.

My wife is nice, but even "nice" has its limits.

Monday, December 2, 2013

it's a little bit of everything

When Sarah Hale took up her letter-writing campaign to five presidents over a period of seventeen years, I don't think this was the type of Thanksgiving she was fighting for.

- - -   ACT ONE   - - -

It is Thanksgiving. DOC is seated silently at the table. He is picking at a plate with a minimal amount of traditional Thanksgiving fare. To his right is his five-year-old son TISH, who is crying. TISH also has a plate before him. It looks relatively untouched. GRANDFATHER sits at the head of the table. He is silent, as well.

(with teeth clenched)
Eat your broccoli! Eat. Your. Broccoli!

I want my Mommy!

CRISSY, TISH's mother, enters the room, stomping her feet in exaggerated steps. She is in her early 40s, but behaves like a teenager. She seems harried and annoyed.

(yelling at TISH)
I have to get my work done! I need to finish my report! If I don't finish, I will lose my tenure and I will lose my job!

DOC does not look up from his plate. TISH begins to cry harder. A door slams. DOC gets up from the table and leaves the room. A door slams again. TISH gets up, but is called back to the table by GRANDFATHER. DOC returns to the dining room.

C'mon. We are leaving.

DOC, CRISSY and TISH exit.

- - -   END SCENE   - - -

- - -   ACT TWO   - - -

It is minutes after DOC, CRISSY and TISH have exited. WARD (DOC's younger brother) and his daughters BG and PEALY enter the dining room. The telephone rings. BG answers. It is SIMONE, WARD's wife. WARD has explained that SIMONE is "not feeling well." She is at home and has chosen not to join her family because she is currently angry with GRANDFATHER. However, she has called to make sure that WARD brings a sampling of food from GRANDFATHER's house for her.

(speaking into the telephone)
Yes, he is making a platter for you.

(through the telephone)
* * * indiscernible chatter * * *

(speaking into the telephone)

BG and PEALY seat themselves at the dining room table. Everyone eats silently. Dinner is rushed. WARD finishes and gathers his children, escorting them towards the door. He is holding a covered plate with dinner for SIMONE. WARD, BG and PEALY exit. GRANDMOTHER and GRANDFATHER begin clearing the dining room table.

- - -   CURTAIN   - - -