Monday, December 22, 2014

hush, hush, keep it down now

This has been a pretty adventurous year for Mrs. Pincus. A die-hard driver, she agreed to take the train into Center City Philadelphia a whopping three times this year! I, of course, have been a daily train commuter for nearly eight years (as chronicled regularly on this blog). But there is still something both cute and quaint in Mrs. P's fascination with "how the other half lives." I love watching her scan the train car in the same wondrous manner as when she boards a ride at Disneyland. I smile when she earnestly thanks the conductor when we exit at our destination — something no regular, monthly pass-carrying train passenger would ever consider doing. After all, those bastards make us late for work most mornings.

"Meet me at the Eagle"
Our latest adventure on the train took us to the annual Wanamaker's (now Macy's) Christmas Light Show. The display, a multimedia presentation comprised of blinking lights synchronized to a soundtrack of familiar Christmas songs, has been a Philadelphia staple since its introduction in 1956. Every two hours, crowds pack the famous first-floor Grand Court, surround the famous bronze eagle sculpture (a central meeting place for Philadelphians for decades with the universally understood direction: "meet me at the Eagle") and marvel at the animated lights that stretch several stories high. The highlight of the spectacle is the musical accompaniment by the world's largest, still-playable* pipe organ.

Mrs. P had not seen the show for years. I, coincidentally, just saw it this past Monday, taking advantage of a day off from work and meeting my Center City-dwelling son. The two of us stood among the throng of shoppers who ceased their bustling long enough to enjoy a bit of free holiday entertainment — a rarity in these times. It was hokey and endearing and very cool.

Afterwards, we strolled the store like tourists in our own city (or at least former residents who had been relegated to the suburbs thirty years ago). The once-majestic store, featured in several motion pictures like Blow Out, Mannequin and Twelve Monkeys, has lost some of its unique grandeur and now looks closer to its cookie-cutter mall counterparts. My spouse, never one to pass up an opportunity to buy something, made a couple of small purchases before we headed out to nearby Chinatown for dinner. It was like an old-fashioned "Date Night."

"No meat! None!"
We walked five or so blocks through a blustery December evening to New Harmony, a small, nondescript restaurant, one of the few in Chinatown offering an exclusive vegetarian and – gasp! – vegan menu. And the place has Kosher certification, to boot! We entered the restaurant and were shown to a table in the nearly empty dining room. As we studied the menus, a group was seated at the table next to us, a mere foot or two away. It was two young ladies and a fellow approximately of early college age. We tried to disregard them and concentrate on our dinner selection, but that was difficult.

They were loud. Very loud.

And their conversation was inane. Distractingly inane.

On my daily commute to and from work, my train makes a stop at Temple University. I am both intrigued and appalled by the conversations I have involuntarily overheard between students boarding at that station. Considering they are (allegedly) furthering and honing their education, they can passionately discuss, at great length, such riveting topics as the pros and cons of various protective coverings available for earbuds. I've heard interactions that were fraught with incorrect information, mispronounced names and locations and improbable accounts of events... all punctuated with nervous twitches and insecure giggles. This is the future of our society, dammit. An awkward, uninformed, ill-mannered, unwashed faction, poised to keep things running smoothly when you and I are sucking our meals through a straw.

So, the small representative group who were nearly our dining-mates loudly perused the menus, reading selected entrees to each other, as though none of the others had menus themselves. Every so often, they'd stop and loudly question if the "meat" that was listed for each entree was indeed a vegetarian substitute... despite the large, bold headings noting "IMITATION MEAT" on every single page. When the waiter came to take their order, the fellow (the loudest, and obviously dimmest, of the bunch) again asked, "It's not real meat, right?" The waiter assured them several times. 

My wife and I tried to ignore them. However, at times, conversation between us (just inches apart) was overpowered by the loud, atonal squawks emanating from our young co-diners. A few times during their meal, I still heard the guy's grating cackle ask, "This isn't real meat, right? I keep forgetting." Nervous laugh.

We finished our dinner (it was really good, in spite of the company). After paying the check, we stood and began gathering our scarves, gloves and coats for our trek back to the train station. As I was threading my arm into my jacket sleeve, I glanced in the direction of the nearby diners, now finishing up their meal. The fellow — his big, gawky head cocked to one side atop his elongated, Adam's-Appley neck — was shoveling spoonfuls of rice into his mouth... straight from the serving bowl. I bit my lip to stop my gut-reaction of screaming, "You moron! That's for the whole table!!" I covertly gestured to my wife. She rolled her eyes. He continued to feed from the community bowl, to the slight chagrin of his female companions.

We left. We left a future generation of decision-makers stumped by the ponderous choice of fortune cookies.

The future looks bleak. I hope they have good Chinese food.

* The world's largest pipe organ is in Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Like most things in Atlantic City, it is in a state of decline and no longer fully operational.

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