Sunday, February 25, 2018

you load sixteen tons and what do you get

Just after my father served a two-year stretch in the United States Navy, assisting the Allied Forces in defeating Emperor Hirohito's army, he returned to Philadelphia to search for employment. For reasons only known to him, my father entered a Penn Fruit supermarket and inquired about filling the available position of apprentice meat cutter. He was hired and soon began to be taught the ins and outs of slicing up stripped cow and pig carcasses into consumer-tempting cuts of meat. He worked long and dedicated hours, honing his craft, as well as honing his knives. As time moved on, he became extremely adept in his ability, deftly gliding that blade through the marbled flesh, with the result being a beautifully-appealing roast or chop that would become some lucky family's dinner.

With his apprenticeship behind him, my father was promoted to full-fledged meat cutter. Working alongside others in his profession, my father churned out stacks of cut beef, pork and poultry at an astounding rate. He rarely moved from his position in the "cold room," working like a machine, only stopping every so often to grab a quick cigarette or a cup of coffee in the alley behind the the store. He would return to his work as quickly as he could, adjust his bloodied apron and continue stacking cuts of meat on pressed paperboard trays with expert precision. 

This went on for years and years until he was once again promoted, this time to meat manager. In his new position, he would still perform the physical act of cutting and packaging meat for sale, but he was also responsible for ordering product, dealing with suppliers for the best prices, scheduling staff, preparing weekly specials for inclusion in the store's advertising, as well as any number of incidental tasks that would pop up along the way. He liked being in charge, but he loved working at cutting meat. My father was transferred to different stores around the Penn Fruit chain, quickly adapting to a new commute and a new store configuration. A new location, however, never impacted his work ethic or his allegiance to the company that paid him at the end of each week. He did what his company asked him to do and he never questioned their decisions.

Mr. Dedication.
Another promotion came for my father. This time, he was made store manager. Although it was a gesture of trust on the part of Penn Fruit, my father accepted the new title with reluctance. As manager for the entire store, he would no longer be able to ply his meat-cutting ability on a daily basis. His new job would keep him busy with figures and reports and scheduling and customer service. He would still venture into the meat department regularly, even picking up a knife to separate a steak from a strip of errant fat spotted during a routine inspection. During his time as store manager, my father was also transferred more often. His competence as a manager meant his skills were needed to increase business at more stores. His stints at stores would be for shorter periods of time, sometimes even under a year, until he was sent to another location to bring up sales. My father was happy to be wanted and his dedication seemed to appreciated, though it was never overtly stated.

But Penn Fruit's overall sales began to slip. They made some poor investments and bad business ventures into previously-untried territory failed miserably. Then, Acme, a rival supermarket chain, waged a vicious price war against Penn Fruit, sending the once-dominant chain into a financial tailspin. They scrambled, quickly selling off non-grocery holdings and even resorting to closing some lesser-producing markets. But it was the way they closed stores that was so... so... devastating, callous and thoughtless. The modus operandi of the corporate representatives was to drive up to a store as it was closing and demand the keys from the store manager. The corporate rep would lower his car door window and bluntly state to the unwitting manager, "Hand over your keys. This store isn't opening tomorrow."

This is how my father was relived of his employ after twenty-five years of blind loyalty.

Conrad Van Orten, Sean Penn's character in David Fincher's 1997 thriller The Game, put it so eloquently when he explained the nature of corporations and the business mindset: "They just fuck you and they fuck you and they fuck you, and then just when you think it's all over, that's when the real fucking starts."

Don't forget that.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

over under sideways down

Just the other day, a question popped into my head. I don't know what prompted it, but sometimes my mind works in mysterious ways. I brought the query up to my wife and a short discussion ensued, because that's how things go in the Pincus house. The question concerned the orientation of the toilet paper roll in our home's three bathrooms.

In my house, growing up, the unspoken rule was that the roll of toilet paper be placed with the available length coming over the top of the roll, cascading like a waterfall. This was determined by — gosh, I would assume — my mother, since my mother determined how pretty much everything was done in our house. She did the grocery shopping, despite the fact that my father was the manager of a single location of a local supermarket chain. That's right, my dad worked all day in a supermarket and never — and I mean never ever — did he bring anything home from his store. My mother did the shopping at a different location from the one he worked or sometimes even at a rival market. She never got a discount and never questioned that situation. She selected which brands of everything were purchased, so I can only assume that, once she got everything home, she determined which way the rolls of toilet paper were placed in the holder. When I went to friends' homes, I thought it was odd if I discovered that their family placed the toilet paper the other way in the roll.

When I got married, I soon found out that my bride came from a home that positioned their toilet paper in the "come from underneath" orientation. Not wishing to make trouble in our new marriage, I said nothing. After a while, I got used to it, although I was probably corrected  a few times, followed by silent reorientation if I happened to have been caught backsliding into my old ways. Soon, placing the toilet paper in the correct direction became second nature.

When our son was born (and eventual toilet training achieved), he, of course, was schooled on the proper way in which to install a new roll of toilet paper, as he had now joined the ranks of those responsible for refilling a depleted roll.

A few years ago, my son, now thirty, moved into his own home with his girlfriend. Their house — a narrow, two story home in South Philadelphia — is a cute and cozy little dwelling and they have made it a true home for the two of them. But, as I mentioned at the beginning, the question of toilet paper placement popped into my head and I needed my boy's take on the situation. We went to a concert recently and, over dinner, I asked him the burning question. 

"You came from a house that puts the toilet paper in the holder so it unrolls from the bottom." I began my opening statement. He nodded and cocked his head to one side in anticipation of where I was going with this.  

"Yes?," he listened suspiciously.

"So how do you put the toilet paper in the holder, now that you have your own house?," I continued my query, "and how does it jibe with Pandora's (his girlfriend) habits and upbringing?" I don't remember his answer. It was either "over the top" or "from underneath." I forget.

In reality, the important thing is that someone refills the roll. That's the polite thing to do and it's something we can all agree on.

Now, on to more important issues.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

get it right the first time

An historical event took place last Sunday, February 4, 2018. Sure, the Philadelphia Eagles — those scrappy, but determined, "underdogs" of the National Football League — defeated the mighty (and mighty arrogant) New England Patriots in a gripping Super Bowl LII, loosening the Pats' "New York Yankees"-like stronghold on football championships. It was a terrific game (I'm told) that shattered all sorts of league records (I'm told), in both regular and post-season play (I am also told).

You see, the Super Bowl is not the historical event which I referenced in the opening sentence, although it is closely related. Sunday — Super Bowl Sunday —  marked the first time I ever watched a complete football game. Ever.

The OG Pincus
I grew up in a house with two die-hard sports fans. First, there was my dad. He was the typical fair-weather fan. My dad was born in West Philadelphia (42 years before the Fresh Prince was shootin' some b-ball on the playground of Overbrook High) and loved the Phillies as a kid. As an adult, he loved to tell a tale of how he cut school to see his beloved Phils play in the days before illuminated night games. He claimed to have seen a rare no-hitter and couldn't tell anyone because he would have gotten in trouble for blowing off classes. It was a great story, but a little research revealed that my dad made the whole thing up... 'cause that's what my dad did. My dad loved watching, reading about and talking sports — baseball, football, basketball and even wrestling, if that is considered a sport. (But not hockey, because, as he often explained, "it moves too goddamn fast for me.") His attitude towards all Philadelphia teams was "Love 'em when they're winning; hate 'em when they're losing." He would often holler "You lousy bums!" at a television broadcast of an Eagles or a Phillies game, only to change his tune when the score turned in the home team's favor.

The other sports fan I shared my house with was my brother. Four years older and way more athletic than I (in fairness, there is furniture that is way more athletic than I), my brother lived and breathed sports — all sports — hockey and wrestling included. My brother was more of a student of the game. Not to say that he couldn't give his peers a run for their money in his playing prowess, but he loved stats and comparisons and probabilities and theory and speculation, in addition to savoring each moment of each game he watched. My brother analyzed and reanalyzed plays and suggested alternative moves that could have been attempted, while my dad just sucked down the nicotine of one Viceroy after another and cursed.

Needless to say, my dad and my brother butted heads and did so quite often. I overhead many of their heated game day disagreements from the safety of my upstairs bedroom, where I busied myself with drawing, consciously avoiding their confrontation and their sports. I wanted nothing to do with their arguments and I especially wanted nothing to do with their stupid sports. I didn't understand it. I didn't see the entertainment in it. I just didn't get it. Games were always on in my house. And I never watched any of them. Even when cartoons were snapped off (without asking) by my father in favor of some sporting event, I just left the room with no interest in the ensuing contest. Yeah, I went to a few baseball games with my family, but I didn't pay attention to the game. Instead, I watched the guys selling pennants and popcorn and marveled at the size of Veterans Stadium. I went to one hockey game and one basketball game when I was in high school and neither event made an impression on me (I remember the hockey game was cold.)

I did, however, number myself among the crowds at two parades honoring back-to-back Stanley Cup wins by the 1974 and 1975 Philadelphia Flyers — the infamous "Broad Street Bullies." I went to the parades, but I didn't watch a second of any game — regular season or playoffs. Five years later, I blew off a day at art school while the rest of the city was celebrating the Philadelphia Philles' 1980 World Series Championship. I had worked as a soda vendor at Phillies games in '77, but most of the time, I had no idea who they were playing. When the Phillies came up victorious at the end of the 2008 World Series, I watched from the middle of a cheering crowd, as the celebratory parade passed by my office building — then went back to work when the last parade vehicle was a dot in the distance.

This year, I was dimly aware of the buzz the current Philadelphia Eagles team was creating. I read the news. I keep abreast of current events. Living in Philadelphia, it was kind of tough to avoid. As the 2017-2018 season went on, the focus on the Eagles moved out of the "sports" portion of nightly newscasts into the "top story" slot. One Sunday evening, I was quite surprised when my wife, who I thought was just working in the third-floor office in our house, came downstairs to tell me she just watched the end of the Eagles-Vikings game and now she was looking forward to watching the Super Bowl. "What? Football? In our house?," I questioned, as I looked up from an Andy Griffith Show rerun flashing across the 43-inch television screen in our den. But, just two weeks later, there we were, with folding snack tables set up in front of the TV and big bowls of homemade chili steaming before us — I was about to watch my very first football game.

And watch it I did. Every minute. Every time-out. Every kick-off. Every pass. Every field goal (and the missed ones, too). Every tackle. Even that dreadful half-time show. I watched. Aside from the basics, like a guy carrying the ball into the area painted with a team's logo means a six-point touchdown and a kicked ball sailing through the goalposts means... um... some points, but not as many as a touchdown, I had no idea what was going on. I don't know what an "offsides" is... or are. I don't know what any of the penalties mean. I don't know where "the pocket" is. (I know it's not on any of those tight pants the players wear. Maybe it's near "the crease" in hockey.) Despite my lack of knowledge of the fundamentals of this game, almost immediately, I was able to assess that the Eagles (in green uniforms) were definitely outplaying the Patriots (not in green uniforms). And in the end, I was right. I even found myself getting a little excited and emotional towards the riveting final moments. When the game was over and elated Eagles players climbed all over each other in celebration of winning their first Super Bowl (an accomplishment made sweeter by their besting the five-time champion Patriots), I could hear firecrackers exploding right outside of my suburban window. As I write this piece, the live broadcast of the Eagles parade is on a television screen just a few feet away from me. Every so often, I glance up from my keyboard to see a sea of (an estimated two million) joyful fans flooding the streets of my hometown and to hear a beefy player (that I cannot name) screaming about bringing the Lombardi Trophy to Philly. I love this city and I am happy for the Eagles' success. Unfairly derided, these guys rose to the challenge and delivered for their fans. Looking back, I really enjoyed watching that game. It was stirring and its aftermath was even a bit inspiring.

Last Sunday — February 4, 2018 — was historical in one more respect. It also marks the day I watched my last complete football game.


Sunday, February 4, 2018

you look so small, you've gone so quiet


My wife and I spent a good amount of this past summer at the beach. While I am not a fan of the beach, my wife loves it, so I go. I will admit that it was not totally unpleasant. I got to spend time with Mrs. P. I got to sit and do practically nothing for several hours. I was actually able to take a quick, undisturbed nap every so often, too. So, there was a little sand in my shoes and my hair was flattened to my head from the protective baseball cap I wore. It wasn't horrible.

I remember sitting on the beach, looking around at the surroundings — the ocean, the umbrellas, kids running through the sand. I remember hearing the sounds — seagulls, the low roar of the waves, parents screaming at the aforementioned children. Yes, several times during the summer, I was jolted awake by some of the foulest language I've ever heard, being projected at full volume. The words were fraught with vicious anger and the object of this tirade was usually a youngster of five or six.

I was dumbfounded. Here was a child  — happy, carefree, busying himself with the task of constructing the world's greatest castle of sand. This young architect  — dragging an overfilled bucket of ocean water from the shore's edge in order to formulate the proper consistency of the sand to create a sturdy foundation for his structure... only to have a belligerent adult (a father? an uncle? Mom's new boyfriend?) harangue this young charge for doing, at the beach, what kids do at the beach.

"Get that fucking shit away from me!," I witnessed one bathing suit-clad gentleman yell at a young fellow who couldn't have been more than five. He gripped the handle of a brightly-colored plastic pail in his tiny fists and silently took his abuse with wide, sorrowful eyes.

This morning, a friend was telling me that she witnessed a woman pushing a small child in a stroller through the downtown Philadelphia train station, the same one I commute to every morning. She watched as this woman pushed until she stopped the stroller at a set of steps that led up to street level. The woman tilted the stroller forward, bared her clenched teeth and growled at the child, "Get out!" The child scrambled dutifully to his feet and carefully, though awkwardly, ascended the stairs.

I have one thing to say to these people: If you don't like your kids, and you never should have had kids... for goodness sake... don't take your anger and frustration and poor decision making out on your kids. Just resign yourself to the fact that these children are your responsibility. You were "adult enough" to create a child. Now, be "adult enough" to be an adult.

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