Sunday, March 17, 2019

taking care of business

For over 20 years, Mrs. Pincus has sold stuff on eBay, the popular online auction/marketplace. Before you ask... no, she will not sell your stuff for you. We have enough "merchandise" to sell that will last a lot longer than the time we have left on earth. However, if you like to see some of the items that are currently up for auction, please... stop reading now and click HERE. You can come back to this story anytime. But you may get outbid on that one elusive treasure to complete your collection.

Now, when most people hear that my wife sells stuff on eBay, they wrongly assume that she quickly lists thousands of items and then sits back while the money rolls in. Hardly. Listing items is a tedious, repetitious and time-consuming task. But, it doesn't end there. There are endless questions from prospective buyers. Questions that could very, very easily be answered if the buyer would only read more than the first three words of the auction title. Mrs. P is very careful to include pertinent information for each item (color, dimension in inches, sizes for clothing). Unlike some sellers on eBay, she no longer includes an extended, flowery description — opting instead to post pictures of the particular item, taken from several angles. (A picture is worth a thousand bids, as they say in the online auction game.) Nevertheless, no matter how long or short the description, Mrs. P regularly fields questions like "What color is this?" or "What size is this shirt?," despite the answer appearing in the title or the first sentence of the brief explanation of the item.

Then, there's the packing and shipping of the items once they sell. Mrs. Pincus maintains an office near our home that serves as a merchandise warehouse and packing center, stocked with boxes and padded envelopes and tape and bubble wrap. My wife is a regular face at our local post office, making trips there three times per week. So it's a job, my friend. A real live job. Just like the one you go to and complain about every day.

The other thing Mrs. P has to deal with — just like at your job — is assholes. Yep. They are everywhere. While the majority of eBay transactions come off smoothly, every so often, some jerk pops up and causes unnecessary trouble. (Just like at your job.) There are folks who make up elaborate stories about bidding on items by mistake. ("My two-year old bid on this when I wasn't looking." or "I was putting my phone in my pocket and I accidentally bid on and paid for this item.") Mrs. P treats them with courtesy and in the most professional manner, although they are all lying thorough their fucking teeth.

Then there is what is referred to as "buyer's remorse." This is when a purchased item arrives and it is not what the buyer envisioned (although each auction displays numerous pictures of the item). Or, the buyer has second thoughts about buying the item in the first place. Both of these usually evoke some sort of made-up tale of damaged packaging or a flat out lie about the item never arriving. Both of these scenarios are usually accompanied by a demand of a full refund of the purchase price. This is when "buyer's remorse" becomes "mail fraud." 

And then there are times when the unbelievable occurs.

Some time ago, Mrs. Pincus sold a small figurine of DC superhero Green Lantern to a buyer. The figure measures a few inches tall and is meant to stand on a shelf and be observed. It is not an action figure for play, as it is affixed to a base and is constructed from solid piece of molded plastic. 
A week of so after the Green Lantern was paid for and shipped, Mrs. Pincus received an email from the buyer, explaining that the figurine arrived broken. As per my wife's usual procedure for items allegedly damaged in postal transit, she politely asked for pictures of the afflicted figurine in question. At first, the buyer balked and offered the lame excuse that he did not have a camera — a situation that no longer exists in the free world. After a little email back-and-forth and a bit more coaxing, the buyer sent one picture. This picture, as a matter of fact...
Mrs. Pincus and I marveled at this photo. We felt like we were playing one of those "Spot The Differences" games from Highlights for Children magazine we loved as children. First off, this is a picture of an action figure with articulated arms and legs. The original figurine that my wife packed and shipped had non-moving appendages. The green color of the costume is different. The costume configuration is different. The sculpting of his little muscles is different. (If I may draw your attention the the figure's groin area [I beg your pardon!], you will seen the green color extends down to the figure's upper thigh. In the original figurine that my wife sold and shipped, everything from the waist down is black. The green ends at the abdomen. What I'm trying to illustrate is — this guy sent a picture of a broken Green Lantern figure he happened to have lying around. (Remember that thing about "mail fraud" I mentioned? Insert that here.) Mrs. Pincus immediately reported the entire episode to the good folks at eBay's fraud department. They took care of the rest.

We can only imagine that we ruined this guy's intricate international Green Lantern action figure Ponzi scheme, assuming he must have a stockpile of broken Green Lanterns and various disconnected arms and legs.... and my wife foiled his evil plan.... or something like that.

I guarantee this won't be the last eBay flim-flam story. It certainly wasn't the first.

***** UPDATE *****
Thanks to a head's up from a loyal reader of this blog, it appears that this motherfucker was scamming us worse than originally imagined.The picture that he sent to Mrs. Pincus to accompany his claim of the broken action figure wasn't even his picture! It was nabbed from an online article about repairing broken action figures, published a few years ago. See for yourself HERE.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

break of dawn

When I was in high school, I belonged to a local chapter of Aleph Zadik Aleph. a Jewish fraternal group that..... well, actually, I have no idea what their mission was. I only joined to meet girls. Our AZA chapter arranged weekly "socials," an informal gathering held on a weekend night at someone's house, with a local BBG  (B'nai Brith Girls) chapter. The social chairman of our chapter would contact the social chair of a BBG chapter to make plans. Our socials were rarely with chapters of girls we knew from school... which was good. With strangers, we wouldn't have to worry about bumping into a girl who was witness to our over-anxious, awkward teenage boy behavior. It was at one of these socials that I met Dawn, a girl who became one of my best and dearest friends.

There was absolutely, positively never any romantic feelings between Dawn and me. Never. However, from the instant I met her, in someone's darkened basement in Northeast Philadelphia, I felt like I was meeting a long-lost sister. We clicked immediately and remained close friends for years.

With the thought of a romance between us being the furthest thing from our minds, Dawn and I regularly confided in each other about each other's relationships... or, more precisely, the lack of. Over the course of several years, Dawn dated every single one of my friends and acquaintances. She never went out with any of them more than once or twice. I never understood why. I got along great with her. She was sweet and funny and we shared many common interests. But, for some unknown reason, most guys didn't like her. While we bided our time between boyfriends (her) and girlfriends (me), Dawn and I went to concerts and movies or just hung out together. Then, I'd have a date or she'd have a date, it wouldn't work out and we'd find ourselves back in each other's company to compare notes and commiserate. Dawn and I frequently bemoaned our respective love lives — cursing those single dates and offering words of encouragement to one another.

After I graduated from high school, I lost touch with Dawn. Nothing specific happened to drive us apart. We just drifted out of each other's lives and into different ones.

I worked for a year after high school then began art school. In 1982, I met the future Mrs. Pincus. We got married in 1984 and our son was born three years later. We bought a house. I had a dozen different jobs. We went on numerous vacations and experienced a life of fun and excitement, ups and downs, happiness and sorrow. It's a life that could not have been better if I had actually plotted it out.

About thirty years ago, a guy I knew from high school called me up to ask if I was interested in hearing his pitch to purchase life insurance. I reluctantly agreed and he came to my home one evening. At the time, I had no plans to buy life insurance. He recited his little spiel and I politely declined. Instead of making a second attempt at a sale, he caught me off-guard with his next question.

He asked if I still kept in touch with Dawn. I suddenly remembered that he briefly dated Dawn in high school (but, then again, who didn't?) At the time, I had not heard her name nor thought of her in years. I told him I did not. Before I could finish my sentence, he was heading towards my front door,

I don't often think of Dawn. It's been years since I casually searched for her on Google. (And those searches yielded nothing.) It's as though she just vanished from the earth. It's a shame, because I'd like for Dawn to meet my wife and my son and show her — after all those times of wallowing in self-pity about never finding anyone for me — that I did.

I hope Dawn is happy, too. Where ever she is.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

for crying out loud

In 2014, my favorite radio station, a member-supported public radio affiliate, presented a countdown of the worst songs of all time. They set aside a Saturday afternoon and played — in ascending or descending order (depending on your personal preferences) — a collection of some of the most horrible songs from the past forty years. While a few of the selections, like Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and  ABBA's "Dancing Queen," had some listeners scratching their heads over their inclusion on this list, others, like Starship's "We Built This City" were understandable in their ranking. 

Coming in at numbers 12 and 29 respectively (or disrespectively) were two songs from the catalog of heavyweight rocker Meat Loaf. Number 29 was Mr. Loaf's comeback epic "I'd Do Anything for Love" and over a dozen spaces later was "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," the Wagnerian suite of teen sexual frustration.

The latter had me outraged.

In early 1978, I stumbled upon an album at a Sam Goody record store, a place I frequented often to peruse the latest musical trends and to find that elusive release to beat my friends to the punch. The cover caught my eye first. It was a hellish depiction by Heavy Metal Magazine artist Richard Corben, featuring a muscular guy on a motorcycle emerging from the ground of a cemetery in a hail of white energy. At the top, in a Gothic looking font were the words "Meat Loaf." Below that, in thin caps, it read "Bat Out of Hell." At the very bottom was this unusual credit: "Songs by Jim Steinman." I didn't know what to make of this. I had never heard of this singer (or band, for all I knew) "Meat Loaf." I never before saw a songwriter receive credit on the front cover of an album — especially one I never heard of. 

So..... I bought it. And, after just a few plays, it quickly became one of my favorites. I spun it on my family's turntable over and over. Each song was a lush magnificent symphony — thanks to equal parts of Todd Rundgren's Utopia and contract players from Bruce Springsteen's legendary E Street Band. The lyrics formed modern-day librettos that rivaled La bohème and Carmen. Each lengthy composition was delivered with tongue planted firmly in cheek — by the multi-octave vocals of Meat Loaf, the mysterious moniker adopted by one-time high-school football star, Marvin Aday. As the album unfolded, Meat Loaf spun otherworldly tales of demonic messengers from Hell, angst-filled adolescent ultimatums and unflinching declarations of unrequited love — all against a multi-layered musical backdrop running the gamut from soaring guitars to sad piano. There were even sounds of grinding gears and a cameo by former Yankee Scooter Rizzuto to round things out. Needless to say, it was unlike any album I owned. And my parents hated when I played it — so, I loved it even more. The album took off nationwide and high-tailed it up the charts, eventually landing at Number 1 and staying there for seven weeks. (40 years after its release, "Bat Out of Hell" still sells an estimated 200,000 copies per year.)

Then, while preparing to record the follow-up, Meat Loaf lost his voice. A panicked Jim Steinman decided to record the album himself. In 1981, Steinman released "Bad for Good," a near clone of "Bat Out of Hell." The songs and production were stellar, but Steinman's thin, uneasy vocals paled in comparison to Meat Loaf's robust vocals. While it yielded a hit ("Rock & Roll Dreams Come Through," rerecorded by Meat Loaf years later), "Bad for Good" was no "Bat Out of Hell." By the time Meat Loaf was able to release a proper follow-up, the fickle public had waited long enough and had moved on, leaving only die-hard fans (like me) to support the once mighty Mr. Loaf. I even bought a few more, lesser-received Meat Loaf albums, including the UK-only release "Bad Attitude."

I saw Meat Loaf in 1982, when he brought his "Midnight at the Lost and Found" tour to Philadelphia. Meat Loaf and his band played the Ripley Music Hallon South Street. My friend Sam and I were kept from a front row seat by a guy who spent the entire show silently mouthing every single word to every single single song, all with his head bowed and his eye tightly closed. We thought for sure that he would produce a gun during the encore and shoot Meat Loaf point blank. (He didn't.) However, the place was relatively empty, revealing a definite wane in Meat Loaf's popularity. 

My admiration for Meat Loaf began to stray as well. I stopped buying his albums and stopped keeping up on his career. 

In 1993, sixteen years after "Bat Out of Hell," Meat Loaf came back with "Bat Out of Hell II," an over-ambitious sequel to the original, sporting the unimaginative subtitle "Back Into Hell." Once again, it featured songs by Jim Steinman, reunited with his collaborative partner after a few years of legal battles. He even filched a few tunes from his own solo effort. The new album — which was purchased by everyone my age with nostalgic longing for their awkward high-school days — was properly overblown and perfectly bombastic. It was everything you'd expect from a Meat Loaf album. But perhaps that only had appeal to a younger audience.... in the late 70s. I played it exactly once and then continued on in my sans Meat Loaf life.

Some time after the "Worst Song" countdown, Dan Reed, the afternoon drive-time disk jockey on my favorite radio station introduced a mid-week segment on his show called "Worst Song in the World." Every Wednesday afternoon around 4:30, Dan selects a terrible song from those suggested by listeners and spins it for the campy displeasure of the listening audience. He recently told the story of how he was inspired to create this weekly feature. He explained that a song came across his desk from a new Meat Loaf album. When he listened to it, he was prompted to deem it the "worst song in the world, " thus creating a new feature on his afternoon program. The song in question was "Speaking in Tongues," from his most recent release "Braver Than We Are" ... and it was, indeed, pretty bad — the songwriting, the arrangement and, sadly, the vocals. Meat Loaf sounded as though he was straining to get the words out. Though, judging by such phrases as "There are things we learn by science/There are things we learn by art/There are things we learn from the fires of love/An erection of the heart," perhaps he was embarrassed to sing these "phoned-in" lyrics from the once clever pen of Mr. Steinman. (I know I would be.) 

Meat Loaf still tours. Jim Steinman still writes. I'm just not interested anymore.

* The Ripley was a small venue on South Street. When The Ripley closed, it became a Tower Records and then a Walgreen's. I believe it's a sneaker store now.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

thinking about things I don't understand

I have been at my new job (since I unceremoniously lost my last job) for almost a year now. Without going into too much detail about what my new job entails, let's just say that it requires me to remain extremely focused, as I must keep track of many things that occur simultaneously. I don't have any issue with being focused. However, there are certain extraneous factors that serve as regular distractions in an attempt to break my necessary concentration.

My workplace is arranged as an open work space. That means no individual offices. My desk is pushed against a wall. Other employees desks are pushed against other walls. Since the entire place is so small, we are all in very, very close proximity to one another. This is not helpful in maintaining the attention to detail required for me to do my job. I do my best to tune out the superfluous conversation from my co-workers (and I use the term "co-workers" very, very loosely), until is it just a bunch of indiscernible white noise. but sometimes I cannot help but hear the inane exchanges.

A mere six or so feet away from me is a bank of half cubicles. Seated at these mini-desks are four salesmen whose sole job is to make cold calls and sell product. I have been a productive part of the working world for 35 years and, in that time, I have never met four dumber human beings. I mean seriously dumb. Stupid. Moronic. Sure, we have all called someone "dumb" at one point in our lives and meant it as a quick insult, not really as its true definition. But, my saying that these guys are dumb couldn't be a more suitable description. No exaggeration. I swear. I honestly can't understand how these guys function. I find it difficult to believe that they don't ask for directions to work every day and then ask for directions back to their homes at the end of the day... if they even have homes. For guys whose job is to talk on the phone, they speak as though they have never addressed another person in their lives and as though they didn't just deliver the exact same sales pitch two minutes earlier.

But it's the between-sales-calls conversation that I find most maddening and most puzzling.

The amount of "down-time" these guys seem to have is astounding, considering they work purely on commission. And that "down-time" is filled with some of the most nonsensical drivel I have ever heard. During football season, the conversation was a riveting, in-depth discussion and analyzation of every single play of every single game that transpired over the past day. However, to hear the conversation, you would suspect that none of these guys had ever watched a football game before. I am not a football fan — hell, I have only watched one football game in my life — but knew more about what they were confused by. Every week, from August thru the first week of February, I heard the same thing. I heard more speculation and repeated cliches about Nick Foles and Carson Wentz (two Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks) than I heard on the evening news. Once football season ended, I assumed the football talk would end, too. It didn't. Old conversations were rehashed with the same uninformed tone as previous.

Sometimes, non-football talk takes over the conversation. Just this week, there was a heated debate about The Three Stooges, including a sub-discussion about which Stooge was which. They actually went on for ten minutes trying to recall the member of the slapstick trio with "the curly red hair and the bald spot on top."

They have discussed music, movies and television, stores that are no longer in business, stores that may go out of business, current events and things they "sort of" remember from their childhoods — all with the intellectual grasp of a small, overripe turnip. They get names wrong. They get titles wrong. They get simple details wrong. Anything that can be gotten wrong, they get wrong. They are collectively uninformed and collectively misinformed.

At first it was entertaining. But now it is infuriating. It impedes on my work and that is not acceptable. Granted, I have a shitty job and I work for a shitty company, but I still take pride in my work output. I always have and I always will until I am scraped off the floor at my final place of employment.

I just hope the floor of this snake pit isn't the one from which I am scraped.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

I know what I like

When I was a kid, going out to a restaurant was not that big of a deal because my family did it a lot. I'm not talking about an extravagant, fancy place that required my dad to wear a tie and my mom to call ahead and make a reservation. My family most frequently ate at the Heritage Diner, an unassuming establishment just outside the confines of my Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood. My father — a staunch traditionalist, very set in his ways — ate breakfast there most mornings and it was always the same. So much so, that the waitresses knew what to bring without even taking an order. Two scrambled eggs, toast and coffee. Never — I repeat never! — would his breakfast platter ever include "home fries," as the sight of potatoes in the morning made my father nauseous. Fifteen cigarettes before 7 AM were just fine, but potatoes.....

Besides my father's solo, potato-less breakfasts, my family would often have our dinner at the Heritage Diner. The Heritage had standard diner fare — a menu the size of a small novel and a two-sided, typewritten page of "Daily Dinner Specials" that included soup or salad, choice two vegetables, bread and butter, a beverage and a limited selection of desserts — all for one low price. (Or so I imagined. The price of dinner didn't matter to me. I was a kid, after all. My dad was picking up the check.)

Eating at The Heritage during the week, the unspoken rule was to order a hamburger or a tuna sandwich or maybe an omelette. The "Daily Dinner Specials" were reserved for weekends, specifically Sunday. We had Sunday dinners at The Heritage probably twice a month. Those were the times when we were permitted to order off the "Daily Dinner Specials" menu. I would scan the two sides of that poorly typed sheet, reading each and every entry — even the ones I had no intention of ever ordering... which was most of them. I was always intrigued when my mom — after reading those enticing offerings — would tell the waitress that she would like liver. In my little mind, I would think to myself: You can have anything you want! Why would you order liver in a restaurant? That's like punishment! Once, I actually asked my mom why she always gets liver. She smiled and explained that she loves liver, but no one else in the family does (not even my dad — who was a butcher by trade). So restaurants presented the only opportunity she had to get liver. And she didn't have to cook it! Made perfect sense — even if the end result was a plate of liver.

I, however, usually ordered one of two entrees — alternating on alternate Sundays. Sometimes I would get roasted turkey because it reminded me of Thanksgiving. It came with a salad, which I would automatically slide over to my mom just as the waitress set the plate in front of me. It also included a baked potato, which I would eat (except for the skin) and (at my mother's insistence) string beans, which I would stare at. Alongside the mound of sliced turkey drenched in that unnaturally-yellow gravy, was a small souffle cup containing a dollop of cranberry sauce, which I also never ate. My other "go to" dinner was fried flounder, which was essentially a giant fish stick. It, too, came with a second salad for my mother, a serving of French fries and a liquidy bowl of cole slaw which I stared at like it was a bowl of string beans. One time, I think I may have asked for, as my two side orders, French fries and a baked potato.

For me?
The choices of available vegetables that the Heritage offered to accompany their "Daily Dinner Specials" read like "Nixon's Hit List," if it was compiled by an eight-year old. String beans, broccoli, a mixture of broccoli and cauliflower, peas, carrots, a mixture of peas and carrots, a mixture of peas, carrots and string beans, apple sauce, creamed spinach, French fries or a baked potato. This was food for old people. I suppose that was the target audience for the "Daily Dinner Specials." I guess whoever decided what would go on the "Daily Dinner Specials" each day presumed that any children along for the ride would order from the special children's menu (with its entrees whimsically-named in honor of cartoon characters and storybook heroes, presented along with a 6-pack of crayons and a ready-to-be-colored place mat). They knew darn well that no kid was asking Mom if it was okay to order creamed spinach.

But a funny thing happened. I grew up. And I grew up to surprise myself.

Lately, I found myself actually ordering broccoli in a restaurant. Broccoli! Me! Little Josh Pincus! Imagine! I have done this more than once, too. I have ordered peas and carrots. I have ordered cole slaw. I have even ordered string beans and eaten them. I honestly can't believe that so many foods I shunned as a child have become some of my favorites. I don't even pick the lettuce off of my (veggie) burger! Me! And I'll eat the skin from a baked potato. My mom was right! It is the best part.

I became a vegetarian in 2006. (Not a vegan, a vegetarian. If I was a vegan, you'd know it. Every blog post would be about me being a vegan.) Since then, I have eaten more vegetables than I ever had in my entire life. I've even become more adventurous, venturing out into the world of succotash, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, Harvard beets, artichokes.... and enjoying every one of them. Okay, maybe not Brussels sprouts so much. Because I am a vegetarian, I won't order liver in a restaurant, but, I no longer pass the salad off to someone else.

My mom would be proud.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

mary, mary

In December, with a house full of out-of-town guests, Mrs. Pincus and I were unable to fulfill our Christmas tradition of going to the movies followed by a dinner of Chinese food. We did, however, make it down to our son's house to feed his cat while he and his girlfriend celebrated the holiday with her family. But, alas, we missed our chance to see the highly-touted and highly-anticipated sequel to Walt Disney's 1964 Oscar-winning film Mary Poppins.

Until last night.

Nearly two months after its release, and with most of the excitement passed, my wife and I ventured out on a weeknight to see the film. We were enticed by an offer of five dollar admission — something we just couldn't turn down. When we arrived at the theater, it seemed that a lot of folks are not swayed by admission prices knocked down to below half off. The place was empty. That's not a compliant. Actually, that's a preference.

In 1964, my Aunt Clara took me to my first movie in a theater... and that movie was Mary Poppins. I loved it. It was bright and colorful, filled with cheerful songs and funny characters. Although I  was 3 years old, I actually remember standing up in my seat and clapping. In subsequent years, I watched Mary Poppins on television and later on a video tape that I purchased. I knew every scene and every song. My wife and I watched it with our son, who came to love it as much as we loved it. It was a bonafide, multi-generational family favorite.

So, when I first heard about the proposal of a sequel to Mary Poppins, I was very, very skeptical. Over fifty years had passed since the beloved original film. Many of the original cast members were too old to reprise their roles. Others were retired from acting while others were deceased. Of course, the new film would be recast. A new story would have to be written. And, with one of the celebrated Sherman brothers — the original's prolific composers — gone, recreating those infectious tunes would be a tall order.

When our opportunity to see Mary Poppins Returns at Christmas did not arise, I wasn't really that disappointed. I really didn't want to see it. I feared that it would tarnish the sparkling memories of the stellar original. But, when a five dollar admission to the movies presents itself, you don't think twice.

At the theater, Mrs. P and I sat through a number of trailers for forgettable films we decided we have no intention of seeing... not even when they are available on Netflix. Then the sparsely-occupied auditorium darkened and the familiar Disney Studio "castle" insignia filled the giant screen. 

I am happy to report that Mrs. P and I were held spellbound for the next 130 minutes. I wanted to dislike Mary Poppins Returns. I really did. But I couldn't. It was irresistible. It was a love letter to the original, loaded with nods and winks and subtle references. It was perfectly cast with the unflappable Emily Blunt capably filling the poised shoes of Oscar winner Dame Julie Andrews. Fresh from Broadway and settling nicely into his role as cheeky "Jack the Lamp Lighter" was the positively magical Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose put-on British accent wasn't nearly as distracting as Dick Van Dyke's attempt 54 years earlier. The supporting cast was spit-spot on. The sets were beautiful. The direction was snappy. The choreography was inspired (well, inspired by the original). The songs were jubilant when they had to be and sad when that was a requirement. Even the animation sequences were artistic homages to the style and characters of a Disney that wasn't out to sell you a time-share.

I seem to be gushing and you seem to waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sorry to disappoint, but not this time. I genuinely loved this movie. No snide remarks. No sarcastic asides.

No spoonful of sugar needed.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

leave those kids alone

My ten-year old nephew loves, lives and breathes basketball. He talks about when he goes pro, not if, as though it is already decided. He plays on a traveling basketball team with other ten-year olds, some of whom exhibit moves on the court that belie their years.

A few weeks ago, I got to see my nephew's team play against another team of ten-year olds. The kids took to the court and each one played their little hearts out. They looked to be having a great time passing and dribbling and shooting and blocking and scoring. The excitement was infectious and the fun was palpable. As the youngsters ran up and down the court, their teammates on the bench cheered them on and their coaches sporadically shouted out direction and words of encouragement.

But, from the bleachers side of the game, it was a different story.

I sat with my wife and my nephew's parents. Nearby were a few gentlemen that behaved as though this was the crucial series-deciding game of the NBA finals. Their entire existence hinged on this game. I don't know who's parents they were, because these few fathers were calling out strategy to everyone on the team, not necessarily just their kid. There were determined yells of "Block that!" and "On your left!" and "Behind you!" Some of the call-outs were louder than the coach's instructions, distracting the young players' focus from the game. These same fathers grumbled and stamped their feet against the wooden slat seats when a referee blew his whistle against the home team. Some even vocalized their displeasure with the rulings. At the end of the game, with a lopsided score, one second left to play and no chance of a comeback, I heard a few of the parents giving audible snickers.

It was embarrassing. I never played sports as a child, (Who am I kidding? I never played sports as an adult, either!) but, I always heard stories of frustrated "stage parents" living their failed sports dreams vicariously through their children, however witnessing it made my blood run cold. Their self-serving actions undermined the fun and sportsmanship that these games are supposed to nurture. After the game, some fathers didn't even congratulate their budding athlete. 

Can't these kids just have a little fun without your shortcomings entering into it?  Come on... they're only kids once. You had your chance.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

keep telling that same dumb joke 'til we both think it's funny

I have always loved watching stand-up comics. I remember how cool it was staying up late to see Don Rickles or Buddy Hackett of The Tonight Show. Watching them deliver a few minutes of anecdotal shtick and spotting Johnny Carson in the shadows, bent over his desk in hysterics, always made me laugh. I enjoyed The Ed Sullivan Show and his knack for mixing up-and-coming comedians with the respected names of the field. George Burns and Jack Benny shared a stage with George Carlin and Richard Pryor. Even though the humor was from opposite ends of the spectrum, it was all funny.

When I got older, I was able to go to see comedians in local clubs. My favorite was "The Comedy Works," a cramped, narrow room two flights above a Middle Eastern restaurant (aptly name "The Middle East") in the historic district of Philadelphia. For under ten bucks, you could see an emcee, three warm-up comics and a headliner of some note. At different times over several years, I saw Bob Saget, Jackie "The Joke Man" Martling and Tom Wilson (a year or two before he went on to play "Biff" in the the Back to the Future trilogy). One night in the early 80s, the billed headliner was Richard Jeni, fresh from a few appearances on The Tonight Show. Before Richard took the stage, a young man performed... and he had the entire place rolling in the aisles with laughter. He was so funny that everyone missed parts of his routine because they were unable to be heard over the laughter. When poor Richard Jeni began his act, no one was paying attention. Everyone was still laughing and talking about the young man who had preceded Mr. Jeni. The young man was named Eddie Murphy.

The Comedy Works also featured an "Open Mic" Night. At these mid-week, marathon shows, patrons paid just a few dollars to sit and watch a combination of club regulars trying out new material and amateurs taking a stab at a possible career path. I went to "Open Mic" nights often with my friends. Most nights were pretty uneven with average Joes delivering poorly written, unfunny material. Their few minutes in the spotlight seemed like hours and their embarrassment was palpable. Then a pro would take to the stage and bring the meager audience back to life before the next human anchor would drag the waning crowd down again. After attending a few "Open Mic" Nights, I was persuaded by my friends (my drunk friends) to make an onstage attempt at stand-up comedy with words of encouragement like, "You're funnier than these assholes!" Not one to balk at a challenge..... who am I kidding? I balk at a lot of challenges. But, in this case, I answered the call. Over the course of five months, I observed everything that went on around me and wrote down everything, hoping something would be funny. When the big night came, I stocked the audience with friends and family. The show started at 9. I went on at midnight. By this point, the audience was hammered. I could have read the Yellow Pages aloud and got laughs. Honestly, I did not bomb, but I never made a return engagement, labeling my one-and-only foray into the world of stand-up as "Mission Accomplished" (and not in the George W. Bush sense).

I love watching comedians on TV, but lately I have been disappointed by the recent crop of comics. It seems to me that a great many are just not funny. Or ones that were funny are no longer funny. My biggest complaint is the way comedians are presented. There's an audience filled with people sitting and waiting for a funny person to come on stage and be funny. It is implied "This is a comedian, therefore, he is funny and you must laugh because that is what you do when you see a comedian." Then, they proceed to go on for an hour and offer five, non-consecutive minutes of funny material. But, if you watch the reaction shots, the audience is hysterical for the duration.

In the last few years, I've been to comedy clubs in Philadelphia, where I saw one funny headliner and a gang of lame warm-up acts. Ben Bailey, the host of the TV game show "Cash Cab," was very funny, but the supporting acts elicited crickets from the audience. Emo Phillips (admittedly an acquired taste) was great, but the opening comics were awful.

I have seen recent stand-up specials by Jim Gaffigan, a comedian I once thought was really original and very funny. He is no longer funny and his "I'm fat" shtick is repetitive and not amusing. I have seen Patton Oswalt, whose last special started and ended with a bang but the forty-minutes in the middle were totally forgettable. I watched Demetri Martin, who I thought was very funny — but not for as long as his special's entire running time. I saw Norm MacDonald, who I thought was surprisingly good, but I can't remember any part of his act. I saw T.J. Miller, who I loved on HBO's "Silicon Valley," but I couldn't make it past the first five minutes of his painfully manic and unfunny performance. Recently, Mrs. Pincus and I watched Ellen DeGeneres's new Netflix special — her first in sixteen years. I always liked Ellen's irreverent routines on Johnny Carson's show and previous specials, but this one was disappointing. It was very uneven and her overarching premise of "now I'm rich" wore thin after a while.
Other comedian's specials have been recommended to me, but I have to admit, I am a little gun-shy. I don't want to invest an hour of my time watching a comedian who is not funny. They have one job —to make me laugh. Instead, many have become preachy and introspective and unnecessarily philosophical. You wouldn't go to a dentist and sit in the chair to have your shoes shined, would you? (Wait, the way some people fear dentists, perhaps that is a poor analogy.) I guess I'll have to scroll endlessly through the selections on Netflix, HBO and other entertainment offerings to find that elusive comic that will just simply make me laugh.

Or maybe I'll just watch the old-timers on YouTube. Although, they're sometimes not even as funny as I remember.

Hmmm.... maybe it's me. 

Now that's funny!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

rude boy

After work, I stopped at Walmart to pick up a few things in their grocery department. I have a love/hate relationship with Walmart. I love their prices on groceries. However, I hate going to Walmart. Nearly every Walmart I have visited is exactly the same. Scummy, dirty, inconsistently stocked and filled with the absolute dregs of society — both shoppers and employees. I've been to a lot of different Walmarts and it's uncanny how you see the same people in all of them. (The first Walmart I was ever in was in St. Catherines in Ontario. Who knew there were scummy Canadians?) Everyone in Walmart looks as though they'd rather be somewhere else ...and I can't say I blame them. But their prices on groceries are so unbelievably low that I feel silly shopping anywhere else. (Last week, I bought a package of eight hamburger roils for 67 cents. Now, come on!)

There's a Walmart just a few blocks from my job and I stop there often on my way home from work. I usually prepare a list of items I need before I enter the store to make sure I am in and out in ten minutes or less....and I usually am. Today, my list consisted of just three items — milk, a loaf of bread, and butter. This should take under five minutes. 

Today's selections
I pulled into the parking lot and drove up towards the building to find a parking space. I saw a prime spot right next to the row of reserved handicapped spaces. As I flicked my turn signal and began to swing my car into the space, I saw a man pushing a shopping cart in my direction. He was a tall thin man, probably in his mid-seventies. He was one of those guys that has a permanent scowl on his face, as though he is coming to the end of a life that done him wrong time and time again. His mouth was curved into a frown that betrayed years of disdain and contempt. He tightly gripped the handle of the cart with thin bony fingers, but he also may have been using it for support under the weight of that enormous chip on his shoulder. As I slowly guided my car into the space, he frowned harder, made a sweeping gesture with his arm towards the front of my car and mouthed some words that I could not make out. I threw the shift lever into "PARK," pulled up my parking brake, unlatched my seat belt and slowly opened my door... just enough to get out but not so wide as to bump the adjacent car.... which I would soon understand to be the older man's vehicle.

The man stopped briefly right in front of my car, right by the pylons holding the "handicapped" designation signs, and then he pushed his cart to the passenger side of my car and grumbled something under his breath. I managed to get "didn't leave me no room" before he trailed off. He was about a foot away from me and the situation was becoming crystal clear. I dared park next to his car in his parking lot. My selfish act of parking was now forcing him to put his two small bags of purchases in his car by way of the door on the other side. He was tense and fuming.
I looked at my parked car. I was well within the yellow guide lines painted on the asphalt. I was not crooked nor did I overshoot the front of the designated space. I may not have stopped my car equidistant from either side of the space, but I was absolutely within the boundaries. Absolutely.

I spoke up — something I don't normally do. "I can move my car.," I offered, but I followed that proposal with a stern, "You don't have to be rude." 

The old man frowned even harder. "You're the one being rude!," he spat and he pointed in the direction of my car, "Parking like that!"

I raised my voice a bit."I said I'd move my car. All you had to do was ask!" I climbed back into my car, started the engine and backed up into a space on the other side of the parking aisle. This took all of two seconds. I repeated the standard series of "parking the car" formalities and headed to the store. The old man watched me park and exit my car. As I passed him, he managed to choke out a strained "Thank you," but I wasn't convinced. 

I did my shopping (five minutes worth, like I figured) and returned to my car. Considering how slowly the old man moved, I was surprised that he was gone from the lot. But as I approached my car, I saw something under my wiper blade. I gulped and thought the old man left me some kind of nasty note. As I drew closer, I saw every car around mine had the same thing shoved under their windshield wipers. It was an announcement for a restaurant opening in the area. I was relieved.

A lot a people have misunderstood me. I have been pegged as angry and sullen — even a curmudgeon. I am not. I am actually a pretty nice guy. I hold doors open for people. I gladly allow people to enter traffic from a parking lot or an adjacent lane. I say "please" and "thank you" and I do my best to be courteous and polite. I am not aggressive... until crossed. I am a reactor, not an instigator.

But, I'll be damned if being nice doesn't get tougher and tougher every day.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

i don't want to die in the hospital

Well, it happened to me again.

I spent last weekend in a hospital after, once again, experiencing what has been identified as a "vasovagal syncope." Since I missed that course in art school, I had to read up on and familiarize myself with vasovagal syncope. It means that I have a tendency to pass out unexpectedly and at the most inopportune times (as though there is the perfect time for losing consciousness). Saturday evening marked my fourth episode in twenty years – all occurring under vastly different circumstances and all ending with me in the hospital.... actually four different hospitals.

This time, I was enjoying dinner with my wife and her brother's family in the Waterfront Buffet at Harrah's Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. Mrs. Pincus and I had frequented this particular buffet quite often when my wife was on the good side of Harrah's marketing department. Lately, however, they must have switched how player algorithms are interpreted and she was unceremoniously cut off from all benefits the casino previously offered. There was a brief flurry of promotion offered in the summer of 2017, but it was fleeting and, by Labor Day, the short-lived party was over. But as 2018 wound to a conclusion, a booklet from Harrah's arrived in the mail and a month's worth of (minimal) "free slot play" and four weekly gifts were offered to Mrs. P for the month of January. Plus one free buffet.  

We redeemed the buffet voucher on Saturday, never expecting to end our meal with me being escorted out of the place on a gurney, surrounded by EMTs and a half dozen electronic leads taped to my chest.

Comedian Rich Hall once observed that he never saw more broken glass anywhere else in the world than in Atlantic City. In the spaces between the glitzy casinos, Atlantic City is a sad little town. It's like an old hooker – once glamorous and appealing, but now doleful and broken after years of use, its beauty now faded. (I have used the same analogy for Fremont Street in Las Vegas.) So, you can only imagine what a hospital in the heart of the Atlantic City casino district is like. That's where I was taken. I didn't have to imagine.

After being prodded and poked for a few hours in the emergency room of Atlantic Care Hospital (on the world famous Boardwalk, next to Caesars Casino), my second gurney of the evening was wheeled up to the fourth floor of the Heritage wing at 2:30 in the morning. The room was dark and I wasn't wearing my glasses, but I could make out that there was someone in the first bed in the room. The nurse drew the curtain between the beds and divided the room in half. Feeling much better, I lifted myself into the bed. The nurse adjusted a pillow behind my head – and then jabbed a needle into my left arm to attach me to an IV drip. She left and returned with my wife, who had been told to stay at a nearby waiting area until I got "settled." (I think that means "until I had another needle jabbed into me.") With our car back in Harrah's parking garage, Mrs. Pincus would be staying the night with me. The nurse asked the man in the first bed if it was okay and he grunted his approval through his slumber. Mrs. Pincus sat in a recliner that was already in the room and tried (unsuccessfully) to get comfortable. I, too tried to get comfortable, but was awakened several times to have my blood pressure checked and to dispense a vial or two of blood for the lab.

When the Sunday morning sun shone through the window, the real fun began. My "roommate" was visited by a parade of medical staff. With every new technician, doctor, nurse, therapist, food service worker and nurse practitioner, he became more agitated, annoyed and, eventually, combative. He dismissed every single suggestion, recommendation and diagnosis that was offered. He argued with every one and demanded to be discharged. Between visits from medical staff, he engaged in venomous conversations on his cell phone. I tried not to listen, but he was just a foot or two away, behind a thin cloth curtain, so I heard nearly every word. He spat phases like "They don't know what the hell they're talking about!" and "I'm getting the hell out of here!" The volume on his cellphone was turned up high and he had some sort of "speech-to-action"  function turned on, so, every so often, we heard an electronic female voice intone "HOME SCREEN" and "CALLING DAUGHTER." And it also phonetically recited each letter as he punched out a text message. After a while, my "roommate" got dressed, argued with the attending nurse, who repeated to the patient that he would be leaving "AMA" (against medical advice). My soon-to-be-ex "roommate" waved the nurse's pleas off and stormed out of the room. The nurse sighed and came over to my side of the room to take my blood pressure. As he wrapped the cuff around my upper arm, he informed my wife and me that the guy is a regular visitor and he would return within this week.

The bed was empty for a few hours until another man was brought in. This man also argued with treatment, dismissed diagnosis and complained about those who were there to help. There was also a lengthy discussion about the color of his urine, which I could have done without.

I suppose hospital visits are a by-product of getting older. I went for almost fifty years between stays, but recently, they are coming closer together. One doctor – a cardiologist who told me I could save money by purchasing henna hair dye in a Indian grocery store – offered some words of encouragement, though. He said if, Heaven forbid, I do pass out again, a call to 911 is not really necessary. Especially if the episode only lasts under thirty seconds and I rebound very quickly.

Hopefully, I have had my last trip to a hospital. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

what are you doing new year's eve?

Mrs. Pincus and I welcomed 2019 at the venerable Trocadero Theatre, a majestic (if just a bit seedy) venue in Philadelphia's Chinatown. The evening's performance was a triple bill featuring local hip hop duo & More, Nalani & Sarina, a five-piece band fronted by multi-instrumentalist twin sisters and, the icing on the cake, Philly darlings Low Cut Connie. The show kicked off at 9 PM and would burgeon on into the wee hours of the new year.

Anticipating the dreadful parking situation in center city Philadelphia – especially on New Year's Eve – we opted to take public transportation to the show. A branch of the regional rail that serves Philadelphia has a station just a few doors from our suburban home. Although I took the train to work daily for 12 years, I haven't been on the train in quite some time. Especially at night, when a whole 'nother group of people ride. Because of the New Year's Eve holiday and expected increase in ridership, SEPTA (the overseeing body that operates public transportation in the city and surrounding area) extended the usual service to accommodate late-night travelers. The ticket window at the train station near our house, however, keeps highly-unusual and very limited hours. They are never open on weekends and during the week, the doors are locked tight before the clock strikes noon. It being a holiday (well, a holiday eve, anyway), I didn't expect to see anyone selling fares until at least mid-week into the new year. We bought our tickets on the train when it arrived and settled into an empty seat.

The commute downtown is a short one, just under twenty-five minutes and then it's just a one block walk to the Trocadero. It couldn't have been more convenient. No fighting traffic, although Mrs. Pincus loves to drive. No worrying about the possibility of drunk drivers and no concerns about finding that elusive parking spot. (Actually, we passed several parking spaces on our short walk, including one that opened up just steps from the Troc's front door.)

The show was great, as expected. Adam Weiner and company even paused around midnight to lead the crowd in a countdown and treat them to a tinkling impromptu rendition of Auld Lang Syne before breaking into Suzanne from their latest release Dirty Pictures (Part 2). When the show was over, Mrs. P and I said our "goodbyes" to our son (who was there with his girlfriend and a few friends) and made our way back to the train station for the ride home. Despite the relentless drizzle that plagued the evening, the drunks were out in full force, reeling all over the sidewalks. We quickly made it to the train station and descended the steep stairs to the underground entrance.

It was a few minutes before 2019 was officially one hour old. I was surprised to see an alert SEPTA employee monitoring the turnstiles at such a late hour. I was even more surprised when he directed us to the open ticket windows to purchase fares prior to boarding the train. This policy is usually reserved for rush hour. But here we were, queuing up along with several other surprised late-night commuters.

Just ahead of us in line was a young lady and a young man both in their middle 20s and dressed as though they were at some sort of festive event for the evening. The woman was in a dark colored dress and she clutched a small purse in her hand. The man was in a light-toned suit which probably started the night crisp and pressed, but was now showing evidence of some heavy partying. His collar was undone. The knot in his tie was loosened and cocked to one side. His jacket was rumpled and not hanging comfortably on his torso. And he was alternately leaning to the left and right, as though he was straddling a teeter-totter. When the next ticket window was available, the woman walked forward. The fellow zig-zagged slowly behind her and then propped his shoulder against the glass, his head hanging down loosely on his neck. She requested two tickets to Hatboro (a suburb many stops past our house) and the ticket salesman obliged. Money was clearly exchanged. She grabbed the tickets and marched off, leaving her disheveled companion to stagger in her wake. She appeared very pissed off. Mrs. P and I purchased our tickets next and then proceeded to the train platform, which is even further below street level, accessed by more flights of steps. I spotted the couple stop by the SEPTA employee to have their tickets validated with a special hole punch prior to heading to the train platform. A few seconds later, we did the same.

On our way down the stairs, we encountered the ticket-buying couple again. He was having difficulty climbing back up – and then back down – the stairs. She was standing in the bottom stairwell with her arms folded sternly across her chest and an unpleasant scowl on her face. My wife and I quickly and precariously scooted past them and found a seat on the fairly crowded train platform.

After a short wait, our train arrived at a little after 1 AM and we boarded. We selected a seat and I placed our tickets in the little slot on the seat so the conductor would know we paid our fares. More folks filed in, including a gentleman in a Philadelphia Eagles jacket who was carrying on a very animated conversation with himself. Soon, we were joined in our train car by the inebriated fellow and his ticked-off better half. He lurched into a double seat by a window and she seated herself in the unoccupied portion, slightly turned away him.

When the train began to move, a conductor slowly ambled down the center aisle to check passes and collect tickets. He passed Mrs. Pincus and me, concentrating, at first, on those folks seated on the other side on the aisle. The man reciting the soliloquy flashed a monthly pass at the conductor and continued speaking something about what song was playing. (There was no song playing.) The conductor then stopped at the couple's seat and examined their tickets. He handed them back and asked them for the normal fare to Hatboro. Without a word or an argument of any kind, the young lady opened her purse and handed over several bills to the conductor. He handed back change and a long receipt into which he had punched a number of holes. Mrs. P and I exchanged silent glances. Not fifteen minutes earlier, we watched this couple buy tickets just a few feet away from us. We were thoroughly puzzled.

The conductor turned and was now addressing our side of the aisle. He smiled as he removed and inspected our tickets.

"These tickets are punched." he observed, pointing to the little holes in the tickets to make his point clearer..

My wife and I answered in unrehearsed unison. "Yes." we explained, "They were purchased up in the station and punched by an employee who wouldn't let us down to the platform otherwise."

The conductor frowned. "Well, no one told me that!," he announced to no one in particular.

He replaced our tickets, turned on his heels and headed back to the couple by the window. He startled them when he said, "You already paid upstairs, right? I owe you money." He peeled of a number of bills from a fat wad in his gloved hand and handed them to the young lady. Not a word was spoken. She just accepted the refund as though it was standard operation procedure. When the conductor moved on to the next car, there was no further discussion between the couple. He was fast asleep with his forehead flat against the window's thick glass. She was hunched over with her back to him, seemingly plotting an escape once the train doors opened in Hatboro.

The train pulled into Elkins Park and we exited. 2019 was off to an entertaining start.