Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I'm so tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for you

In light of a recent story regarding a customer that called to have his cable service disconnected, I had my own personal encounter with the omniscient media entity interchangeably known as Comcast Xfinity.

It seems as though Mrs. Pincus and I are only one of a handful of people that still maintain land line telephone service. We need one to work in conjunction with our home burglar alarm system (although I believe that will be changing). Several years ago, we signed up for Comcast's "Triple Play" package. For one ridiculously high monthly fee, we got high-speed internet, cable television (including a shitload of specialty channels no one could possibly be interested in watching) and telephone service. Within a few days of agreeing to our new deal, an independently contracted technician came to our home to install our new phone service. After two minutes in the basement, he cut every wire leading to our burglar alarm box. Of course, the "it's been tampered with" siren was immediately triggered. With our new phone not yet installed, a representative from the alarm monitoring department called on my wife's cellphone, asking if the police should be dispatched. Long story short, the tech didn't know what he was doing and Comcast bought us a new alarm system.

Two weeks ago, our home phone started acting up — static, no dial tone. So we called the infamous Comcast Customer Service. After "pressing 1" and "pressing 2" and listening carefully to all options because "our menu has changed," my wife finally got to speak to a real live human being — not necessarily a smart one — but a human just the same. After identifying himself by first name and badge number, confirming Mrs. P's identity and assuring us that his top priority was our satisfaction, he offered a number of obvious troubleshooting actions, most of which were tried long before we resigned ourselves to making this call. Several "please hold"s and "thank you for your patience"s later, our issue was elevated to the next tier of customer service. The new phone technician requested an entire recap of the problem, starting from the very beginning. My wife impatiently related each problem again — no dial tone, static in the line, intermittent service. An assessment deemed our call be queued to a further tier and a service call was scheduled.

At 7:15 the next morning, a Comcast truck pulled up and blocked our driveway. A technician knocked on the door and, after welcoming him in, the problem was explained (although I would assume that he had a detailed work order, but it's Comcast, so — who the fuck knows?!?) I headed out to the train station to go to work while my wife followed the guy into the basement. When I arrived at my desk a half-hour later, my wife called to tell me that the Comcast guy had left.

"Problem fixed?," I asked.

"No," she replied, "He says Comcast's equipment is working perfectly. It's the burglar alarm that's screwing things up."

"How long was he there?," I continued my line of questioning.

"Twenty minutes. He only checked where the phone line goes into the alarm control box."

"And, based on that, he was able to figure out that it was not a Comcast problem? Wow."

An appointment was made for a representative from ADT Home Security to come to our house the next day. When he arrived, he thoroughly checked all connections to the control box as well as Comcast's equipment, including modular phone jacks on each of three floors of our house (he found no dial tone in any of them). After an exhaustive inspection of wires and connections throughout our house, the ADT tech told us that it was definitely a Comcast problem. Angered and frustrated after being without phone service for nearly two weeks, Mrs. P called Comcast again, now demanding that a technician be dispatched immediately. She was told no one was available until later that evening, perhaps after 7 PM. When I arrived home from work, we sat out on our front porch and waited. And waited. And waited. The sun set. The street lights flickered on and we were still waiting. 7 PM became 7:30 and then became 8:30. The sky opened up and dumped torrents of fierce rain and crackling lightning lit up the clouds. And still we waited. At 9:30, Mrs. P punched Comcast's number into her cellphone and demanded to know when the serviceman was due. She was told that we were given wrong information and that no service calls are ever scheduled after 7 PM. She added, "You should have never been told that." The Comcast phone operator tried to calm my wife's rancor with a heartfelt (if not rehearsed) apology. Another service call was offered and the date was settled on Tuesday the 29th (today). For those of you keeping score, we have now passed the two-week mark without home phone service.

The same Comcast tech from last week arrived at twenty past seven as I was headed out to work. My wife and I briefly expressed our dissatisfaction with his lack of a comprehensive appraisal of the situation. Again, Mrs. P led him to the basement and I went to work. Three hours later (that's more like it!), we, once again, had home phone service. And the trouble....?

If you remember, way back in the bitter winter weather of February, a large branch, from a tree near our driveway, smashed through our living room window. It seems that on its way down, that branch violently yanked our phone wires from their connections at the side of our house. The Comcast guy never thought to check the state of the wiring leading into the house. As a matter of fact, he never thought to check anything other than the alarm box... which isn't even his company's equipment! Actually, this morning, he called another service technician for assistance and that guy found the shredded wires.

So, at the end of the day, our phone service has been restored and we will receive a minimal credit for our inconvenience.

And Comcast still sucks.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

afternoon delight

This morning, I was included on an email forward (that there is office jargon) from my boss regarding a seminar that would take place in the afternoon on a topic of interest — web design for the legal industry. There was also the added enticement of a pre-seminar free lunch — two of my favorite words, is that specific order. So, I signed up.

As the noon hour approached, a group of representatives from the marketing department (including me)  trekked a few blocks across center city Philadelphia to the building that houses the local CBS television affiliate where the seminar would be presented. In addition to television, the building is also the headquarters for several radio stations, including a very popular, all-news station.

As we approached the building, we saw other people arriving. Judging by their attire and how they carried themselves, they were marketers employed by various other law firms. (We legal marketers can spot each other a mile away. Like Masons.) We formed an approximate single file queue and slowly passed through the glass vestibule into the small lobby, all under the direction of a friendly, smiling woman who seemed to be pulling double duty as a security guard and receptionist. As they entered, everyone was instructed to sign a log sheet, then proceed a few steps to the elevator. The line moved at a snail's pace, as some visitors filled in their place of business, although it was neither requested nor required. I looked around and something struck me as odd. In these post-9/11 years of heightened security, fear and profiling, I was surprised to see that the building  — the home of two prominent entities of the Philadelphia media  — was not outfitted with a metal detector. Call me "cautious" (Okay! You're cautious!). Call me "suspicious" (Okay! You're suspicious!). But, face it  — we live in an time of regular school shootings, hostage situations, and people getting stabbed over a parking space. Bags are searched before entrance is granted to a theme park. For goodness sake, they just installed metal detectors at Citizens Bank Park this week to screen potentially violent Phillies fans. (I look forward to the full-body scans that should be implemented once the Eagles season starts.) Yet, here we are with the only obstacle keeping a revenge-seeking nutjob from a publicly-visible newscaster is the smiley lady at the front door  — and I could probably take her. The other thing that surprised me was, when I pointed out my concern to my colleagues, they seemed to be indifferent.

Maybe I'm being unrealistic. Maybe all those people you see on the news every night are being unrealistic, too.

Lunch was good, though.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

call me irresponsible

How would you like to be free of all responsibility? You could do anything you wish at any time you like with absolutely no consequences. Don't feel like going to work today? Don't go. It's okay. Don't want to carry that plate into the kitchen now that you have finished your meal? Then, don't. Just leave it on the rug. Someone will take care of it for you.

Would you like to do as much or as little of any task and suffer no repercussions if it is not completed properly or not completed at all? Don't want to take out the trash? Then, don't. Could you pick me up at 7 tonight? You can't? Oh, that's okay. Your report is gonna be late? Fine, fine. Please - don't rush. We'll manage.

Would you like to have someone else take the blame for all of your failures? Would you like it if you could just do whatever you'd like, with no regard for anyone else's feelings or how your actions might affect someone else besides yourself? Taking up two parking spaces? That's okay. No, of course you can have the last of the French fries. I'll eat later. Sure, you can talk in a regular speaking voice in the movies. You paid for your ticket.

Would you like everyone to cater to your every whim with no expected reciprocation? Sure, you can get in front of me in line. Of course you are entitled to one free, but, please, take six of them. Here's a gift for your birthday. When is my birthday? That's not important. You're the important one.

Wouldn't you like to have someone bail you out of every bad situation that directly resulted from your bad judgement? Of course, I'll buy you a new tire. It wasn't your fault.

Would you like to be praised despite your regular poor decisions while still maintaining a position of high esteem? No, no. It's alright. It's their loss. You'll do better next time.

Then, you, my friend, are looking for a fairy godmother. And they only exist in fairy tales for children.

Now, stop acting like a child.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I've got a bike, you can ride it if you like

For twenty-eight years, two 10-speed bikes stood motionless on my back porch. Previously, they resided in the bicycle storage room at my in-law's apartment building in Atlantic City. Before that, they took up an inconvenient hunk of floor space in my fiance's (now my wife of 30 years) living room. My bike got quite a workout in the early 1980s. I would often ride it late at night from my job on the edge of North Philadelphia, weaving dangerously in and out of traffic and across the cobblestone streets of Olde City to the Queen Village condo where I spent weekends with my future spouse. In the summer, after we were married, Mrs. P and I would wake early and ride our bikes on the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk, like we did when were were kids.

But then we bought a house and moved to the suburbs. Then we had a baby. Then the baby grew up and started school. And then leisure time slipped away, replaced by a bustling, busy life. And our bikes were soon ignored, relegated to the back porch, where they would lean on their extended kickstands undisturbed, dust gathering, tires deflating and dry-rotting, rust forming here and there.

Last Saturday, our neighbors Rae and O. had a yard sale and invited us to supplement their cast-offs with anything we'd like to add. My wife surveyed our three-story, six bedroom vault of accumulation and selected a couple of seldom-used beach chairs and a few rattan pieces that had worn out their welcome. After a quick dusting to make them presentable (and saleable), I lugged them across the street, and deposited them on my neighbor's front lawn where they stayed for approximately two minutes when a woman bought all of our stuff. 

O. and my wife had previously discussed the sale of our bikes. O. told us that, through an ad he placed on craigslist, a man was coming to see a bike that he was offering. O. invited us to bring over our two bikes and maybe the customer would be interested in a package deal. I dragged our two bikes from our back porch and wheeled them unsteadily across the street on flattened tires. O. opened the fortified high wooden gate to his backyard and I parked our 10-speeds next to his in a secluded area next to his large recycling bin.

This afternoon, O. called my wife in a panic. "Did you take your bike back?," he asked.

"No. Of course not.," she replied, "Why?"

O. gulped. "Someone stole our bikes! I moved them from my yard to the front porch because it was raining and now they're gone!"

"What?!?," my wife exclaimed in disbelief.

"Actually," he continued, "they left one of yours. The silver one. They took my bike and the red one." (The silver one that the thieves deemed unworthy was mine.) O. was very upset. A native Israeli, he began ranting about his disappointment in America. Mrs. P suggested that the police be notified. O. seemed confused. 

"Why call the police?," he asked.

Mrs. P explained that the proper procedure in this case was to file a police report. Then, officers will be extra concerned with the possibility of another theft. Not fully convinced, O. reluctantly called the police. (Actually, Rae made the call.) A short time later, a police car pulled up in front of our house. An officer emerged and headed straight over to Rae and O.'s house. My wife watched as the officer returned to his cruiser. He sat behind the wheel busying himself with some paper work, when My wife approached and introduced herself.

"Hi," she said, "I wanted to tell you that one of the bikes that was taken is mine."

"Yeah," the policeman smiled, "your neighbor told me. As a matter of fact, we just got a red bike over in the evidence locker."

"Really?," my wife questioned.

"Yeah," he continued, " a man just up the street gave a report earlier." The officer looked down at his clipboard and, in his best "Sgt. Joe Friday," read "just the facts" straight from the scribbled form. "He said that around four o'clock today he saw four black teenagers* walk up the front path of your neighbor's house, up to the front porch and come back down with two bikes. They ditched the red one on someone's lawn halfway down the block."

My wife followed the officer over to the police station. She was led to the evidence locker to identify the bike. The officer unlocked the gate and, sure enough, there was Mrs. P's red bike in all its dusty, flat-tire glory. The officer ripped a big "EVIDENCE" sticker off of the frame and my spouse maneuvered the bike into the back of her SUV.

When I got home from an evening doctor's appointment, I wheeled our two bikes — my wife's newly-returned red one and my unwanted silver one — back to the safety of our back porch, where, perhaps, they will reside for the next twenty-eight years without another harrowing adventure.

* * * * * * U P D A T E * * * * * *
The mighty Cheltenham Township Police force set up a surveillance team specifically focused on nabbing the wave of bicycle crime sweeping the area. On Wednesday, July 30, a vicious trio of youngsters — ranging in age from 8 to 15 — were apprehended by authorities. The gang's M.O. was snatching unattended bikes from porches, driveways, yards and unlocked garages. The little bastards were caught in the act. Thanks to the fine work by the Cheltenham Police, the reign of terror is over.

the officer's actual words

Monday, July 14, 2014

the times they are a-telling and the changing isn't free

This week marks the thirtieth anniversary of the day Mrs. P and I tied the proverbial knot of matrimony before a three-ring circus of family and friends.

We were married in 1984, the year synonymous with George Orwell's ominous novel of a dystopian future. When written in 1948, Orwell envisioned a stark, oppressive society, but he also, unknowingly, predicted things that actually came to be, including two-way "telescreens," which can be compared to today's Skype and appearance-altering plastic surgery, in addition to tight governmental control of public information. But in the 30 years that have elapsed since 1984, many things that were once commonplace, have become extinct and are now regarded as "quaint," while other things that are currently used on a daily basis, didn't even exist. Thirty years is a longer period of time than you may realize.

For instance...

The new Mrs. P and I set out for our honeymoon on the day that the Philadelphia Stars, the hometown representatives in the fledgling USFL summertime football league, celebrated their only championship before relocating to Baltimore. The ill-fated league folded after just one more season. Our honeymoon destination was the Walt Disney World resort and its newly-added, separately-gated theme park, EPCOT (then called EPCOT Center). Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, as well as seventeen hotels, two water parks and the Disney Vacation Club, were all mere twinkles on the drawing board. We drove to central Florida without the aid of a cellphone. Our in-car entertainment was provided by the trusty in-dash cassette tape deck and a bunch of custom-recorded "mix tapes." This was years before a CD player was purchased for our home and nearly two decades before I owned an iPod. Our route was plotted by 1984's version of a GPS. The "TripTic," as it was called, was a multi-page, intricately-folded document, that included custom maps and highlighted places of interest. It needed to be ordered from "Triple A" (the American Automobile Association) and preparation took several weeks. It arrived accompanied by a collection of thick booklets filled with hotel listings for each state through which the designated route passed. Vacation memories were captured on film that had to be developed. Postcards were mailed to loved ones at home, as email and texting were concepts straight from The Jetsons.

Those two crazy kids.
Upon our return from Florida, our top priority in home entertainment was the purchase of a VCR. (DVD players? No such thing existed.) Our state-of-the-art Mitsubishi model set us back $800, but it did include the capability of setting a timer to record shows automatically, provided the device's clock was properly set. We, of course, were limited to the offerings on broadcast television, as cable TV would not be available within the Philadelphia city limits for another decade.

Words like "modem," "wifi" and even "internet" didn't exist. We wouldn't purchase a home computer until the early 90s. There was no concern with posting a status on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg wasn't born until several months after our wedding reception. There was no Candy Crush. No Google. No Wikipedia. An upstart company called Microsoft had just partnered with IBM to develop a graphical computer operating system called "Windows," but that couldn't possibly be of any concern to us. eBay, the online auction/marketplace that provides my wife with her livelihood, would not go live for another dozen years. Jeez, fax machines, a piece of fascinating technology that fizzled out almost as soon as it appeared, were still a ways off. And, in a funny bit of irony, there was no such thing as a blog.

But the most confounding thing is that someone was able to put up with me for thirty years.

Monday, July 7, 2014

the millionaire waltz

In 1970, a young art student with a flamboyant stage presence and four-octave vocal range teamed up with the guitarist and drummer from the remnants of blues-rock band Smile. Over the course of the next year, the trio auditioned a number of bass players until they signed on an electronics student from Chelsea College who "struck a chord." Musical history was about to be written.

I discovered Queen late one evening in 1974. I was listening to storied Philadelphia radio station WFIL ("Famous 56") when they played a brand-new song called "Killer Queen." It was unlike anything else on the airwaves and cut like a "laser beam" through the mire of standard-issue bubble-gum pop. I was hooked. I cranked the volume up every time "Killer Queen" came on (which, based on the meticulously compiled playlists of 70s Top 40-format stations, was at least once an hour). I saved my money and eventually purchased the full album Sheer Heart Attack. Besides the hit single, it was chock-full of a wide variety of musical styles and genres, from heavy-metal to acoustic ballads to vaudeville ditties. It was incredible. It occupied a prized position in my blossoming record collection*, standing proud and majestic above The Archies and America.

With the 1975 release of the seminal A Night at the Opera, bolstered by its unlikely international hit "Bohemian Rhapsody," Queen received worldwide recognition and praise. They rocketed to superstar status and couldn't be stopped. Their fame increased with each album release, as did the magnitude of their tours and the size of the venues in which they played. Meanwhile, their sound constantly evolved, incorporating an array of influences from a number of diverse styles. They sold upwards of 300 million records. They filled stadiums, including a memorable set before 72,000 delighted fans at Wembley Stadium (and 1.9 billion worldwide) at Live Aid in 1985. (An industry poll in 2005 called it the single greatest rock performance of all time.) The band went on to become the second biggest-selling act in the United Kingdom after The Beatles.

In 1991, Freddie Mercury — the driving force and exuberant personality of Queen — publicly acknowledged that he had contracted AIDS. Within 24 hours of his announcement, he was dead.

While other popular acts from the "classic rock" era (The Who comes to mind) limped through several tired tours, rolling out beleaguered versions of chest-thumping anthems, the surviving members of Queen laid low. Save for a tribute concert to the late Mr. Mercury within six months of his passing (which raised 33.9 million dollars for AIDS research and the Guinness Book of Records lists as "The largest rock star benefit concert"), guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon practically disappeared from the once bright and ubiquitous spotlight. Deacon announced his official retirement from the music business in 1997, but every so often May and Taylor would pop up and play at a charity event or awards ceremony.

In 2004, an obviously restless May and Taylor teamed up with former Free and Bad Company frontman Paul Rogers for a world tour, during which they would play songs from all of their respective bands. In 2009, May and Taylor appeared on American Idol (the popular bane of the modern music industry) and performed the Queen hit "We Are the Champions," with runner-up Adam Lambert filling in for the sorely-missed Freddie Mercury. In 2012, May and Taylor, along with new-found friend Lambert were scheduled to play the legendary Knebworth House in England, one-time host to such renowned acts as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. (The show was eventually canceled.) Prior to its cancellation, Brian May commented, "It's a worthy challenge for us, and I'm sure Adam would meet with Freddie's approval." That remark made me cringe. I cringed the same way when I heard the Mercury-penned "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" featured prominently in a Lays potato chip commercial.

Look, I have nothing against someone trying to make a buck. I'm all for live music. But, I don't care for deception. Bands like Electric Light Orchestra touring with the only original members being the drummer and the second violinist are being deceptive. Even the marketing genius of Gene Simmons feels it's perfectly okay to present one half of original KISS combined with one half "some guys in makeup" and still command $159 a ticket. If you're planning to see Journey, please be advised that you'll only be seeing original guitarist Neal Schon accompanied by, essentially, a Journey cover band. Conversely, Paul McCartney tours and plays Beatles songs backed by band members that weren't yet born when The Beatles were in their heyday. But, he doesn't call them "The Beatles."

I just don't understand why these fractions (and factions) of bands have to present themselves as "the band" when they know they are not. I take that back. I fully understand why. I just don't understand how they can do it with a clear conscience. If Brian May and Roger Taylor, two guys in their mid-60s, feel they are not ready to hang up their instruments, fine. Good for them. God bless 'em. Just don't call yourselves "Queen," 'cause you're not. You never will be again.

No matter what you think Freddie Mercury approves of.


*This, of course, was years before I eventually discovered other 1974 releases like Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Sparks' Propaganda.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

it's a family affair

I watched The Godfather last night. It was the first time that I have seen the film, in its entirety, since I read the novel a few years ago. It was only the second time I have ever seen the film.

Released in 1972, amid a flurry of controversy, Francis Ford Coppola received international accolades for his 175 minute epic depicting the inner workings of a notorious organized crime family. The acting is superb and the storytelling is top-notch, sucking the viewer into a forbidden world of conspiracy, double-crosses, alliances and loyalty. It is a true-to-life, gritty, violent portrayal - beautifully shot, realistically rendered and totally unforgettable. The Godfather was highly influential and became the barometer by which all subsequent "gangster" films would be measured. 

Marlon Brando, in an unnervingly understated yet commanding performance, was no less than brilliant. His 1973 Best Actor Oscar, despite being infamously rejected on Brando's behalf by one Sacheen Littlefeather, was certainly well-deserved. Holding his own against the iconic Brando was a young Al Pacino, hurriedly acquired in a switch with Robert DeNiro from the set of The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. The sad-eyed Pacino evolved before our eyes from the reluctant war hero eager to distance himself from the family business to the ruthless leader ready to lead his family into the future of organized crime. The supporting cast, including Academy Award nominees James Caan and Robert Duvall, were all perfectly suited for their roles, each adding to the film's aura of authenticity. Tom Hanks' "Joe Fox" in You've Got Mail put it into universal perspective when he said "The Godfather is the answer to any question."

While I watched the film unfold, I thought back to the first and only other time I had seen it. It was March 1972 and I was ten years old.

My parents had both read Mario Puzo's novel upon its initial publication in 1969. Jeez, everyone was reading that book. It was the talk of the nation, spending an astounding 69 weeks at the top of the New York Times Best Seller List. When it was announced that the literary Corleone Family would be brought to the big screen, my parents got caught up in the excitement and anticipation that the rest of the country was exhibiting. So, on a Friday evening early Spring, Mr. and Mrs. Pincus loaded ten-year old Josh into the back seat of their turquoise Dodge Dart and headed out to see The Godfather

Last night, as I watched arrogant Hollywood producer Jack Woltz wake up to a severed horse head in his bed, as hitman Luca Brasi was garroted, as a corrupt New York police captain and his gangster associate were shot point-blank, as Sonny Corleone was shot to death in a hail of machine-gun fire and torrents of blood, as stubborn Moe Green took one square in his bespectacled eye, as poor turncoat Paulie Gatto was executed while Clemenza peed by the side of the road, I thought to myself: "What on earth were my parents thinking? Who brings a ten-year old to see a movie like this?"

I remember sitting in that darkened theater, horrified. Terrified. Even then — as a child — I knew this was not the kind of film that you take a child to see. My parents, however, thought otherwise. Or perhaps my father was just following the advice dispensed by Don Corleone:

"A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."