Sunday, September 25, 2022

turning of the tide

I was much younger when I discovered the music of Richard Thompson. So was Richard Thompson.

In 1982, my future brother-in-law (no, not that one... the other one) introduced me to the newly-released Shoot Out the Lights by British folk-rock troubadours Richard & Linda Thompson. The album — comprised of eight heartfelt, sometimes gut-wrenching, songs — was a sonic chronicle of tension, specifically tension in a marriage and tension with colleagues. The married duo was without a record contract and had recently toured as a support act for Gerry Rafferty (of Baker Street fame). Rafferty offered financial assistance to the Thompsons, and expected control in the recording process. Richard and Rafferty butt heads often. At the same time, the Thompsons' marital union was crumbling. The album was released and was lavished with critical acclaim. However, it would be the Thompson's last effort together. Although they continued to tour, they would divorce by year's end. 

Shoot Out the Lights was, honestly, like nothing I had heard before. Granted, at the time, I was a rabid Queen fan and had recently latched on to the ubiquitous New Wave sounds emanating from every FM radio. Richard Thompson was a singer with roots in the English countryside, evoking visions of a guy in a colorful doublet and tights, strumming a lute and serenading the townspeople. He was pretty cool and his style stood out among the trendiness of Adam Ant and A Flock of Seagulls. My brother-in-law praised Richard Thompson's work, and in between Grateful Dead shows, managed to see him perform live quite a few times.

I, however, did not.

I've been to a lot of concerts over the past half century. I've seen big names and small names at big venues and small venues. I have missed the opportunity to see a few of my favorites over the years. Although a fan, I never got to see Billy Joel. Sure, he tours regularly now, but I want to see 1975 Billy Joel, not forty-seven years later Billy Joel. I missed seeing Pink Floyd on their Animals tour due to a miscommunication in my desire for tickets. (That's a long story for which I have since forgiven my brother.) Alas, Pink Floyd are no more, but I'll be goddamned if I'm going to give irrelevant loudmouth Roger Waters a dime of my hard-earned pay to see him croak out his racist, out-of-touch politics. I actually haven't listened to Animals in years.

But Richard Thompson is different. At 73, he's still got it. He still writes good songs. He still is pretty handy on the guitar and he still releases good albums. And I finally got the long-delayed opportunity to see him live.

And it was a somewhat rude awakening for Josh Pincus. 

Richard was scheduled to play at a small outdoor amphitheater in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, a typical "green-lawn and backyard-swing set" suburb, sitting just outside the city limits of notorious Camden. After a rain-out the previous week, Richard was kind enough to take the ninety-minute drive down to Haddon Heights from his Montclair, New Jersey home and perform seven days later.

I arrived nice and early and found a wide choice of seats among the permanent benches facing the small stage. I sat at the rear of an open lawn, using a stone wall as a little table to eat the salad I brought with me. As I ate, more folks began to file in. Some were carrying folding camp chairs. Others toted blankets. Most hefted some sort of paper bag emblazoned with the familiar "Whole Foods" logo. Just about everyone (except me) arrived in Subarus. Oh.... and everyone was old. I mean really old!

For reference only.
The men were bent over, a supporting hand offering comfort to an angled lumbar region. They wore ill-fitting clothes, the uniform of the day either being a Hawaiian shirt (to show they were here for a good time), a weathered concert T-Shirt proclaiming their love for The Grateful Dead, Bonnie Raitt, a recent tour of an ancient band or some annual blues festival dated 1980-someting in the year of Our Lord. A small smattering wore the same clothes they wore while seated all day behind their desk at the law firm which employs them. A lot of these guys looked like Peter Garrett from Midnight Oil. None of these guys had enough hair to drag a comb through, and those that did couldn't possibly complete the task, as it was gathered together in a ratty, gray ponytail. The women wore ensembles available on page 47 of the latest LL Bean catalog or some handmade peasant dress that they have worn to every concert since high school. Some wore that battered, floppy cowboy hat that is standard issue for concerts among this particular age group. You know the one I mean.

I was lucky enough to overhear snippets of conversations around me. "My kids are seeing Pearl Jam tonight. I can't even name a Pearl Jam song!" "I sat right over there last month to see Kathleen Edwards. Right over there. You see? Right there... in the middle. Right where I'm pointing. Right there! Right there!" "That Jenny Lewis is from that Rilo Kiley band." When I turned my head to see the source of each of these conversations, I felt as though I was sitting in the courtyard of a retirement community — you know, the ones that are advertised during afternoon reruns of Wagon Train and Perry Mason.

At dusk, Richard Thompson took the stage. Bathed in lavender lights, he tore through song after song, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. His between-song banter was brief, though, at times, humorous, displaying the same sardonic wit featured throughout his compositions. Culling from his vast career, his song choice included a few cuts from his time as guitarist with Fairport Convention, a couple of tracks from the "Richard & Linda Thompson" years and, of course his prolific solo output. I was familiar with a handful of tunes. The ones I didn't know sounded like typical Richard Thompson songs, so.... 

About three-quarters into the show, as it neared to its palpable conclusion, I spotted a guy — in my peripheral vison — making his way down the aisle to my right. Dressed head to toe in tie-dye and sporting a birds'-nest-like beard, he looked like he just wandered over from wallowing in the mud on Max Yasgur's rain-soaked farm. While Mr. Thompson was introducing his next selection, "Mr. Woodstock" began to yell at a young man seated at a long table a few feet in front of me. The fellow — in his early 20s — was checking over a few open laptop screens that were arranged across the table's surface. He wore headphones and one hand was resting on a computer mouse. He was — obviously — an integral part of the technical crew. "Woodstock" raised his voice and screamed "Hey! Sound Guy! Sound Guy!" The young man's gaze never waivered from the screens. "Sound Guy! Hey! Sound Guy!," he continued, "Turn it up, man! The people across the street can't hear, man! Turn it up, man! Hey! Sound Guy!" (The venue was so packed, that some overflow of fans  had taken to parking their blankets across a street that bisects the park. A distance away from the stage, but still within reasonable proximity to enjoy the performance.) "Woodstock" was relentless. "SOUND GUY!," he blared. Finally, the young man removed his headset and calmly addressed the angry hippie. He spoke just four words. He said, "I'm the 'lights' guy" and turned his attention back to his work. 

A look of confusion spread across "Woodstock's" face. It was as though he had just been answered in the dead language of Aramaic. He was speechless for a moment, his head cocked to one side like a dog trying to figure out where in the backyard he hid that bone. Then, he continued right where he left off. "Hey! Sound Guy! Sound Guy! Turn it up!" By this point, the 'lights' guy didn't care.

Mrs. Pincus was out of town on this day. When I got home, I called to tell her about the show. I related the anecdotes I just told you, driving home my point about the advanced age of my fellow concert-goers. "Are we that old?," I asked.

"Well, you are.," she replied.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

end of the line

I work for a commercial printer that produces advertising circulars for retail stores — mostly supermarkets — across the country. In addition to guys that run the actual printing presses and folks who design and layout the ads (like me), my employer also employs a team of salespeople to acquire more business. It appears to work. In the short time I have worked there, we have picked up several new clients. Just this past February, we began producing circulars for a small chain of gourmet supermarkets whose locations spread across northern New Jersey and into Long Island, New York. Without mentioning them by name, they operate on a similar level as the famed D'Agostino's, the popular chain that has served Manhattan since the 1930s. I have done advertising work for a lot of retail customers over the past 40 years. While I can't make a fair comparison to D'Agostino's (because I have never done work for them), in comparison to other retail chains, our newest customer is unorganized, scatterbrained and chaotic. In other words.. typical.

In an effort to conceal any identifying 
characteristics of the company in question,
here is a picture of a duck.
When we began our business relationship, my boss and I got on a Zoom call with members of their marketing team. Through the magic of the internet, we "met" the inhouse design staff at the chain's headquarters. There were two guys — a talkative fellow named Michael and a quieter guy named Kevin. Michael explained that information, comments, instruction and the electronic delivery of specific artwork would be made via an online tool called Ziflow.. Through this ingenious tool, we were sent fully-designed pieces of art and copy that could just be dropped in to the ad we were working on. These little images were created by either Michael or Kevin. They could be a banner offering a sale on deli meats or a larger image announcing a special in their seafood department. Bottom line, the more pre-composed art we were supplied with, the less composition work I had to do.

We received comments regarding placement of ad elements, product substitutions and other pertinent information from someone named Emily in their Marketing department. Until we didn't....and we were informed that Emily was no longer with the company.

After a month or so (that's six weeks of ads), we stopped receiving art or any type of correspondence from Michael. Everything came exclusively through Kevin. One afternoon, we learned that Michael had been fired. "Oh well," I thought, "Things happen." 

Kevin stepped up his game and supplied us with art, required product photos and other information. After two weeks of Kevin flying solo, another Zoom meeting was scheduled so we could "meet" Will, who would be Kevin's assistant. Our virtual meeting lasted just a few minutes. We greeted Will and offered a friendly "Looking forward to working with you" to our new contact.

Approximately three weeks after "meeting" Will, my boss got a strange email from Kevin. It originated from a domain that was not the supermarket company's. Kevin explained that he no longer had login credentials to the Ziflow account and that he would be sending all correspondence through this email. Later that very same day, my boss was informed that Kevin had been fired and we should cease all interaction with him.

Will was now supplying graphic that had once come from Kevin and Michael before him. Will's work suitably mimicked the company's branding, however, Will's spelling was atrocious. We regularly received replacement art for graphics downloaded only minutes earlier because of a spelling error. Sometimes the same graphics would be replaced three or four times because of typos. Will also was very lax in his response time. Often several hours would pass before he would answer a simple question. Other times, his answers were incoherent and didn't apply to the question being posed. 

A week of "Will on his own" passed when we were told about Jake. Jake would be assisting Will. Efforts to schedule a virtual introduction with Jake never came to be, and although Jake was CC'd on all correspondence and  emails, he never responded to anything. We couldn't actually be sure that there was a Jake. We continued to work with Will — struggling with direction, frustrated by lengthy response time and replacing and re-replacing mistake-ridden artwork.

On Friday morning before the long Labor Day weekend, I was finishing up a list of corrections I received for the supermarket ad before its scheduled print date on the Tuesday we would return to work. Will sent me a requested photo of a pumpkin pie for the "Bakery" section, as well as a few price changes to items already appearing in in the ad.  Somewhere around 2 PM on Friday, as my workday was drawing to a close, my boss informed me that Will was no longer with the company. I had just sent a proof to the Director of Marketing hoping to get an "approval to print" before the day ended. Instead, the director told me (via email) that he would spend the weekend studying the ad and offer his approval on Tuesday.

He never mentioned Will. Or Jake.

If there even is a Jake.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

everything is awesome

I went to a concert. It was amazing! It was the greatest performance I have ever seen! All the songs were incredible! The band is the greatest band that was ever formed. The original members were the most amazing musicians until the ones that left the band were replaced by even more amazing performers. Of course, I don't play an instrument myself and I have absolutely no qualifications to make such a definitive statement, but they are the most amazing guitarists, bassists, keyboardists and drummers that have ever graced a stage or recorded a song. They make the most amazing music and all of their songs are perfect. This show was the most amazing show I have ever seen since the last amazing show I saw which, coincidentally, was the actual last show I saw.

I ate in a restaurant. The meal I had was life-changing. Upon the first bite I took, my life actually changed. I believe that just after my salad arrived and that first mouthful of lettuce and dressing was going around in my head, my life was changing. When the main course was brought to our table, I couldn't imagine that my life could change anymore, but, surprisingly, it did. And it was amazing. And my life changed again while I savored.... whatever it was I ordered. I think it was salmon. Yeah! That's it! It was life-changing salmon! And it, indeed, changed my life. The peas that were served with the salmon were life-changing as well. As I consumed each individual pea, my life continued to change. It was the greatest, most amazing meal I ever had... since the last life-changing meal I had.... which, I believe, was on Wednesday. You should go to this restaurant, because I said you should and it will change your life.

I went on a trip to a place that was amazing. Everything we saw was amazing. Everything we did was amazing. Everything we ate was amazing. And life-changing. And incredible. And awesome. And the greatest experience. We will never forget it and remember it forever. Just like that time we went to.... to... well, where ever it was, I will remember it forever. Because it changed my life and it was amazing.

Once I saw a thing that was amazing. After that I did something that was life-changing. These things were awesome and perfect and you should do them because — trust me — your life needs changing. Oh, and it's incredible... and amazing. I saw more things that were amazing and I did more things that were also amazing. That's just amazing. 

Wasn't this post amazing? It changed your life, didn't it? Although I don't know you very well and I don't really know what you like and dislike, I think you should read this post again because I like it and everyone likes what I like. Isn't that amazing? 

Sunday, September 4, 2022

overture! curtain! lights!

Remember that song? If you're around my age, you probably still know all the words. I know I do. When I heard those magical opening lines, I knew the Bugs Bunny show was starting. And, boy, did I love Bugs Bunny.

Yeah, you probably have heard me gush and profess my love and admiration for all things Disney. But, my infatuation with The Walt Disney Company and its all of its offshoots didn't come into being until I was nearly out of my teens. When I was a kid, I loved to watch Bugs Bunny and his animated pals. Even though the cartoons I was watching were from my parents' era, they were timeless... except, of course, when they made topical references to World War II. But, Bugs Bunny was clever and sassy. He was a schemer and a loveable jerk. He was sort-of the "anti-Mickey Mouse"... and that aspect of his rascally (or "wascally" as Elmer Fudd would put it) personality was purposely exploited in his cameo appearance alongside Mickey Mouse in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit? 

The Bugs Bunny Show (with its catchy theme song) premiered in primetime in October 1960. The show served as an anthology of theatrical Looney Tunes shorts, originally produced in the 1940s. Under the supervision of veteran animators Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng, the cartoons were trimmed for time and fitted with new title cards better suited for television. A brand-new introduction was created featuring Bugs Bunny and his long-time adversary Daffy Duck along with that memorable theme composed by the prolific team of Mack David and Jerry Livingston. (Gosh! Even Jerry Seinfeld knows it!) The Bugs Bunny Show ran on Tuesday evenings for three years until it was moved to its familiar spot on Saturday mornings where it stayed (in one form or another on one network or another) for four decades. 

It was in the middle 1960s that I became an avid viewer. Plopped in front of the Pincus family black & white TV set, with a big bowl of sugar frosted somethings on my pajama-clad lap, I was hypnotized by the animated antics of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester & Tweety, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote and even the one-joke premise of Pepe LePew. And when the opening fanfare of that infectious theme song started and Bugs and Daffy (in their vaudeville finest) took the stage, I was right there... singing along.

.... but, about that opening sequence.

If you recall, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck kicked off each episode in yellow jackets, red bow ties, straw hats and canes (curiously, no pants). After the first verse of the song, a parade of familiar and beloved Warner Brothers characters would enter silently from the wings and march across the stage. 
There was Tweety and Speedy Gonzales and... wait..... just wait a second.... who the fuck is that kangaroo?

Yes, even as a child, this didn't sit right with me. There was Yosemite Sam and Sylvester the Cat and Elmer Fudd — all getting the ass-end of this buttinsky marsupial. How on earth did this Outback refugee get third placement? He even has the nerve to take the stage before Wile E. Coyote and Foghorn Leghorn make it into the shot! (Foghorn Leghorn, is last... I say, I say last!!) This was an outrage! Where was Porky Pig or the Tasmanian Devil or Road Runner or even Granny? What was this nondescript kangaroo doing rubbing elbows with these...these... stars! I never saw this kangaroo in any cartoon. I had no idea who he is or what he does. And I was especially irked that he was being treated like cartoon royalty among this actual cartoon royalty.

This has bugged the shit out of me for fifty years. Half a fucking century!

Retro TV network Me-TV has started showing cartoons on weekday mornings and I watch a good portion of the program before I leave for work. Bookended with corny schtick by the host and a puppet, an assortment of Warner Brothers cartoons are presented along with a smattering of background trivia. I don't pay very close attention to the show, as I have seen these cartoons countless times in my life. However, every so often, they slip one curiosity in that makes me take notice. Once they showed Horton Hatches the Egg, a 1942 cartoon that was the very first animated adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book. Around Christmastime, they showed a particularly gruesome take on The Little Match Girl from Columbia Studios in 1937. But, just recently, I saw a cartoon entitled Hop, Look and Listen from 1948. It was a vehicle for Sylvester the cat and featured one Hippety Hopper, a kangaroo that escaped from the zoo. My kangaroo. I sat up and paid close attention. It was the usual fare of "mistaken identity." Sylvester thinks the kangaroo is an overgrown mouse and attempts to catch and eventually eat it. Of course, if cartoons have taught us anything, we understand that all kangaroos are expert boxers and poor Sylvester has the shit kicked out of him several times over the course of seven minutes. But now, I had a starting point — a name.

A quick "google" search resulted in enough information to satisfy me. Hippety Hopper appeared in 14 Warner Brothers shorts between his debut in 1948 until 1964, when Warner Brothers gave up trying to endear him to its audience. Also, as fate would have it, Warner Brothers pulled the plug on its animation studio in 1964 with the decline in demand for theatrical cartoons. The plot of Hippety Hopper cartoons did not vary from the "escaped from a zoo/circus/pet shop and is mistaken for a giant mouse" premise. I guess Pepe LePew pulled the "one trick pony" act off better.

Still, I cannot understand how this minor, almost forgotten character from the annals of Warner Brothers' storied history, pushed himself between the "Fastest Mouse in all of Mexico" and the "Rootin'est Tootin'est Orneriest Cowpoke this side of the Pecos" on a show that ran for four decades and no one seemed to notice or care.

Just me.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

at last

Several years ago....

(I love to start stories with "several years ago" because I know, as I get older and my perception of time becomes more distorted, that the actual time period that I am imagining is — in reality — much further in the past that I remember. That's why I favor the adjective "several." It's non-specific and I don't spend a lot of time wracking my failing memory over how long ago it really was. That's why I feel pretty safe in using it. My concept of the time period may differ from yours, but we both understand that this incident did not begin yesterday. Now.... if you are still with me.... I'll continue...)

Several years ago, my wife and I accompanied my in-laws to a restaurant in Northeast Philadelphia. This seems pretty insignificant, so let me explain why this was a rare event. My in-laws and my wife (and to a far lesser and more lenient extent — me) keep kosher. Philadelphia is notorious for its lack of certified kosher restaurants considering the size of its Jewish population. It ranks seventh in the United States and boasts 214,600 folks who identify as Jewish. (For goodness sakes, Philadelphia ranks 14th in the world!) Granted a very small faction of those actually adhere to the laws of kashrut. With this in mind, Philadelphia has seen kosher-certified restaurants come and go like flights at an airport. Most have closed for different reasons, but the biggest reason is lack of support. The Jewish community (at least within my community) bitches and complains about the "slim pickins" as far as kosher eateries go, yet, when one opens up, they will rarely patronize the establishment and it will invariably fail....only to lead to more complaints. The other reason for failure is these places are not run by business-minded people. They only exist to fill a void and are opened by folks who have never run a business before, specifically a restaurant... and running a restaurant is particularly difficult. So, these places end up being a mixed-up, unorganized mess. They are usually filthy, overpriced and staffed by rude people. Or as I like to say — "The Triple Threat." So, finding a nearby kosher restaurant that meets my in-law's finnicky standards is difficult. Almost as difficult as getting them to leave their house.

But, we found one.... several years ago. 

No explanation.
I have no qualms about eating in any restaurant. I have been a vegetarian for nearly twenty years, but I would never ask anyone to make special accommodations for me. It will not be the last meal I will ever eat. I'm sure there is something on every restaurant's menu that I can eat (even a Brazilian steakhouse, although I've never had the opportunity to try). My in-laws are a little more discerning. Not only does a restaurant have to have posted kosher certification, but that certification has to come from a mashgiach (certified kosher certifier) whom they respect and with whose practices they agree. (There's an old saying "Five Jews. Six synagogues.") Well, this particular restaurant checked all the correct boxes. It was not an especially appetizing place. It was short on d├ęcor and any sort of ambience. However, based on the price range of their menu, you'd think the owners perceived their establishment among the most elite in the city. As I perused the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern-influenced menu, which was heavy on meat-centric offerings, I spotted something with which I was not familiar. Aside from the consumption of meat, I consider myself a pretty adventurous eater. I'll try anything once (except if it contains coconut). This item of intrigue was listed at the bottom of the "Appetizers" section and it sported a pretty hefty fifteen dollar price tag for an appetizer. It was merely identified as "shakshuka." Unlike some of the other items on the menu that included a brief subheading that described what would be expected when the plate arrived at your place setting should you choose this item, shakshuka sat there unexplained. Boldly undefined. Defiantly enigmatic. You ordering shakshuka? You better damn well know what you're getting, 'cause we ain't fucking telling you.

I continued to read over the menu, scrutinizing everything, including descriptions of chicken shawarma and a plethora of burgers and a whole bunch of other things that I had no intentions of eating. Among the vegetarian options were concoctions of tomatoes and cucumbers and other vegetables of which I am not a fan. There was falafel 
— traditional deep-fried chickpea balls which I have grown to like after initially turning my nose up... so that was an option. But I found myself going back and staring at that one word — shakshuka. Shakshuka. Shakshuka. Suddenly, I found myself absent-mindedly humming the chorus of the 1980 Kate Bush song "Babooshka" under my breath. The cadence fit perfectly and I realized I had just infected myself with an earworm I would carry for hours. (And now, you have been infected, too. You're welcome.) Still performing Kate Bush karaoke to myself, I looked up at a large, hand-written "Specials" board hanging on a wall and decided to order salmon skewers with two vegetables which was listed among the limited-time offerings.  (Yeah, I eat fish. Not all fish. I don't eat fishy fish, like trout, or shellfish, but I'll eat salmon, tuna, mahi mahi, tilapia and other "mild" fish. So, I guess I'm sort of a pescatarian, but that is really none of your business. I'm sure you don't eat some food just because you don't like it.) We all placed our orders and I caught one last glimpse of shakshuka as I closed my menu and handed it to the waitress.

As soon as I got home, I "googled" shakshuka. I discovered that it is a centuries-old Northern African dish, popular among Arab cultures. While there are noted variances among ingredients, in its most basic form, shakshuka is eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, olive oil, peppers, onion and garlic, most often spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper. This sounded really good. (Oh, yeah, I eat eggs, too. I am not a vegan. If I was, you would have known by the first sentence of this post.) I told Mrs. Pincus about it and lamented about not ordering it earlier. I promised I would order it the next time we went to this restaurant. Well, we don't go to this restaurant often — or ever — so I would have to look elsewhere for my first sampling of shakshuka

It was briefly mentioned to my neighbor, who is Israeli, and unashamedly proclaimed to be the best producer of shakshuka in the world. Unfortunately, this promise led nowhere, as I was never invited to taste his shakshuka, not that I would have anything to compare it to. After bringing it up enough, my dear, ever accommodating spouse conceded to the following: if I could find a suitable simple recipe for the egg dish in question, she would agree to buy the proper ingredients and attempt to make shakshuka — just for me. So, we bought eggs and tomato sauce and peppers and onions and all the other stuff. I read and re-read the process for making the dish. Plans to prepare shakshuka were made and forgotten and made and forgotten again. And here we are, with a couple of ignored cans of tomato paste in our pantry and peppers that have long been chopped up and tossed in our evening salad and eggs that have since been consumed as part of a celebratory cake. And still I have not tasted shakshuka.

Surprisingly, two-plus years after the world was locked down by a global pandemic, the kosher restaurant in Northeast Philadelphia was still open for business. After so many years, my in-laws have become less mobile and less anxious to venture out into the big bad world. But, they do have to eat. Another relative offered to treat my in-laws to dinner at a restaurant of their choice in honor of their 67th wedding anniversary. With the choices slight, they selected (or perhaps "settled for" is more apropos) the kosher restaurant in Northeast Philadelphia. The plan was my wife would place the order, pick it up and bring it to her parent's house. As long as were were going, we'd place a dinner order for ourselves. And — goddammit! — I was getting shakshuka. All fifteen bucks worth! Still wary of its inclusion in the "Appetizers" section, I ordered some "assemble it yourself" falafel to split with my wife, in case one fifteen dollar order of shakshuka wasn't enough to satisfy my appetite.

Well, the moment of truth arrived. A moment I have played and replayed in my mind for years.... probably more years than I realize. Arriving home, I unpacked a number of nondescript white Styrofoam containers, popping the lid on each to identify the contents. The last one I extracted from the bag, by process of elimination, was my shakshuka.

Holy shit! LOOK AT IT! LOOK AT IT!!!!! Sure, this picture doesn't it do it justice. But you are lucky to get a picture at all! It sure didn't last long! There were four little poached eggs enveloped in a delicious mixture of sweet tomato sauce, spiked with spicy peppers and a blend of piquant spices bringing an amount of zesty heat that I savored. It was delicious! I mean really delicious and well worth the wait! I could have eaten twice... maybe three times... the amount I was given. Was it worth the fifteen bucks? Um... well it was well worth the wait. Isn't that enough?

Will I order it again? Maybe I'll try again to convince Mrs. P to make another attempt. We still have those cans of tomato paste and the expiration date is still a few years away.

Hit it, Kate....

Sunday, August 21, 2022

pardon the interruption

My dad was a quirky guy. He liked things to be a certain way. He liked to sit in one particular chair in our house when he watched television. He fumed if he saw anyone sitting in his chair and, in a move reminiscent of his hero Archie Bunker, he had no qualms about telling the offending keister to vacate his chair immediately. He'd sit in that chair from the time he finished his dinner until the 11 o'clock news concluded, smoking approximately eleven thousand cigarettes.

My day liked — no, make that expected! — to have his dinner ready and served within minutes of arriving home from — as he often phrased it — "a hard day at work." As much as he complained about it, my father liked to work. In his mind, it showed his family (and the world) that he was responsible for their luxurious [insert sarcastic eyeroll here] way of life (again, from his POV). My dad would wake up at the crack of dawn to go to work, no matter what the job. He was a butcher, by trade, but over the years he worked his way up through the ranks to department manager, then supermarket manager and later, corporate office executive... and eventually back down the employment ladder to working butcher near the end of his life. Still, he never seemed to have two nickels to rub together and always struggled to pay bills. My dad did not live an extravagant life. We rarely took family vacations aside from the occasional overnight trip to Atlantic City (which he hated). One weekend every March, my mom and dad would go to a resort in the Catskills, where my father would actually display the characteristics of someone experiencing a good time. They'd return on Monday morning and things went right back to normal — work, home, dinner, TV, cigarettes, bed.

Without a scowl 
My father's dinnertime ritual was just as regimented and predictable as the other things in his life. When he sat down to eat, there better be some kind of red beefy meat that was once part of a cow, a vegetable of some sort, potatoes prepared either mashed or baked and bread somewhere on the table. And, most importantly, the avocado green telephone that hung on our kitchen wall just above the clothes dryer better not ring. My father hated when the phone rang in our house. Hated it! He hated anytime it rang, but especially during dinner. When the phone would ring outside of the Pincus dinner hour, my father would grumble: "Who the hell is that?" If it was answered by my mom, my brother or me, he would glare at the answerer for a few seconds before returning to his cigarettes and television. If — God forbid! — he had to get up and answer it himself — holy shit! — you'd think he had just been asked to help his kids with homework, mow the lawn and fold laundry (three things he did not do). He'd angrily extract himself from his chair, shuffle to the phone and snatch the receiver from its cradle. "HELLO!," he would bellow. If it was anyone but his mother on the calling end, he'd bark out the person's name and slam the receiver down on top of the dryer. Pick it up yourself, he'd think, I'm not your goddamn secretary, too! If, by chance, it was my grandmother, he'd change his tune. He'd offer a rundown of the day's events to her and believe me — she didn't give a rat's ass about his day. 

However, if that phone rang during our precious dinnertime.... Oh boy! Watch out! My dad would furrow his brow, turn an infuriated shade of scarlet and seethe through gritted teeth: "Who is calling NOW? Doesn't anyone eat their goddamn dinner?" My designated chair at the dinner table was closest to the phone, so, invariably, it was my responsibility to field and screen dinnertime phone calls. The rule was if it wasn't a close family member gasping for their final breath or calling from a burning building, it could wait. I was instructed to take a message and the call would be returned when we finished our evening meal. No exceptions! And this little exchange was to be kept as brief as possible.("Close family member" was the defining criteria, as determined by my father. If, for example, it was my Aunt Clara — my mom's sister — well, she could wait... from my father's perspective. She could for-fucking-ever!) Conversely, it was drilled into our heads, by my father, that no outgoing phone calls were to be made from the Pincus household between 5 PM and 7 PM... got it? Good! He was respectful of other families dinnertime.  And as long as we are making rule about telephone usage, positively no phone calls — incoming or outgoing — after 10 PM. Period!

I got married in 1984 and my wife and I, like most households, had our own set of rules. No longer were we required to follow the same rules laid down by our parents. None of that "as long as you live under my roof" bullshit. No sir! We would make and receive phone calls when ever we darned pleased. Hell, we could talk on the phone during dinner, if we so chose.

As I grow closer to the age that my father passed way, I find myself growing less patient and more "rule aware".... just like the Mr. Pincus senior. And, to tell you the truth, its pretty unnerving. I find myself silently stewing when one of our cellphones (something my father never had to deal with) rings during the time my wife and I are eating dinner. (Honestly, it's rarely my phone. I don't get a lot of phone calls... and that's just the way I like it. Ooooh.... did my father just write that sentence?) My wife will happily engage with anyone who calls her on the phone, sometimes putting her dinner "on pause" until her conversation has concluded. Me? I will rudely continue eating, trying to chase my father's voice out of my head. Who the hell is calling NOW?

When did this happen? Am I slowly taking on my father's undesirable traits? I get an uneasy feeling when I catch myself channeling my father's decidedly weird behavior. I try to make a conscious effort to combat any of my father's quirks when I see them appear in my speech or actions. I should probably talk to someone about it.

Just not during dinner.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

the heat is on

For the past 40+ years that I have worked in some sort of office, my co-workers — for some unknown reason — have been positively fascinated by what I eat.... or, in actuality, what I don't eat.

I was never much of a regularly-scheduled eater. For years, I skipped breakfast at home, in favor of stopping somewhere for a cup of coffee and a doughnut on my way in to work. I am admittedly, a very hard and dedicated worker, so putting the brakes on my typical workday momentum was something I just did not do. While the majority of my co-workers began to prepare for their lunch around 11:00 AM, I continued to work, with the intention of stopping at 5. Sometimes I would have a soda or a cup of coffee from the office community coffee pot. In my younger days, I would have a bag of M & Ms, a Snickers bar or something equally as "no-good for you" to tide me over in the afternoon. But a full meal? No, thank you. Not for me.

So, job after job (and there have been many), a "lunch break" was something very different for me. It was a time that I had a communal office to myself. And it was great, My work output increased in that hour because I was uninterrupted by meaningless, un-work-related office chit-chat. However, sometime in the 90s, I entered the real live corporate world when I began working for a legal publisher. This was a larger company with offices across several states. There were rules and decorum and multi-level management and an actual room that was dedicated to eating lunch.... the likes of which I had not seen since high school. There was a large commercial refrigerator where employees could store their lunches until the time came to eat. There was a microwave and a couple of vending machines and it looked just like the office lunch rooms I saw on TV. After I made friends with a few co-workers, I began the heretofore foreign practice of joining them for lunch. I, of course, would not eat lunch, but I would sit at a table while other people ate their lunches. Some would bring elaborate concoctions wrapped in foil or Tupperware. Some would bring a typical bagged affair with a sandwich and other accompaniments, just like they were in elementary school. I was always questioned about my lack of lunch, with someone usually offering to share. I would always decline. I don't like eating a full meal during the day. It makes me sleepy and unproductive. However, it makes other people very uncomfortable. One day, at this particular job, I saw a Post-it note stuck to the refrigerator door. It read: "To whoever ate my turkey sandwich: It wasn't yours and you know it! How could you just eat someone else's sandwich? That was a pretty rotten thing to do!" I read the note. I smiled to myself, Then I extracted a pen from my pocket and wrote at the bottom: "Needed more mayo." Just because I don't eat lunch, doesn't stop me from being a smart-ass.

At another job — at an even bigger company — there was a huge cafeteria for the employees. This was a full-service restaurant with a quick-serve area and another section that served a selection full-course platters. In the middle of the workday, there were people eating giant grilled steaks with baked potatoes and green beans. I still joined my co-workers, marveling at their midday fare and still being questioned by my lack of eating.

As I got older, I developed hypertension, better known as high blood pressure. I also began a propensity to pass out, in an occurrence known as "vasovagal syncope." Under a doctor's recommendation, I was told to begin a regular eating regimen. So, now I eat breakfast every morning and I began eating lunch on a daily basis. Prior to this diagnosis, I had adopted a vegetarian diet. So, while my co-workers were chowing down on hamburgers and meat-filled hoagies, I was purchasing a grilled tofu sandwich on seven-grain bread. Trying to remain inconspicuous among my carnivorous co-workers proved difficult. "What's that?," they'd inquire, pointing an accusatory finger just inches from my sandwich — sometimes as it was going into my mouth. When I explained what I was eating, I was usually met with "Oh, what's it taste like?" or, more frequently, "EWWWWWWW!" I'm not sure who taught these people manners. It was instilled in me, by my mother, to be polite and never ever make derogatory comments about food that someone was about to eat. We all have different preferences. These particular co-workers had never met my mom.

After a while, once I got my blood pressure under control, I reverted back to my old habits. While I still eat a bowl of cereal every morning, I, once again, have given up on lunch. My co-workers, of course, have not. And — boy! — do they bring weird shit with them to work to eat later in the day... with no regard to how it may smell, either in the refrigerator, while it is being reheated or in their office while it's being consumed. One co-worker would regularly bring in leftover fresh fish and stick it in the community microwave, befouling the air on the entire 36th floor and rendering the microwave useless for anyone innocently heating a Lean Cuisine following her. Once, the same co-worker cut open a durian on her desk. The durian, a Southeast Asian fruit, emits the overpowering scent of death when cut. Decidedly not the ideal food to eat when proper ventilation is not readily available.

At my current job, one I am happy to have in the wake of the recent worldwide pandemic, my work desk is in a large room that also serves as the department "food prep" area. about six or so feet away from my desk is a table with a toaster oven, a small microwave and a wire rack with napkins, paper towel, plastic utensils and a collection of condiment packets absconded from various area fast food outlets. Every morning, my current co-workers file in — one at a time — and pop something in the microwave. Every afternoon, the same folks come in and pop something (something different, I assume) into the microwave. However, no matter what time of day it is, everything that cooks in that microwave smells like old, over-seasoned soup. I can distinctly smell rendered fat and spices heating rapidly. The aroma hangs in the poor ventilation for sometime after the offending food is removed from the oven. Once, some asked me: "Don't you get hungry from everybody heating up their food in here?" "No," I answered, "No I don't." 

Every so often, some supplier or client will buy a bunch of pizzas for the employees at work. My boss, a nice guy around my son's age, informs me of the availability of "free pizza." I politely thank him, yet I do not move from my desk. After a few times that pizzas were supplied for lunch, he stopped informing me. Aside from the fact that I don't eat during the day, the thought of my co-workers fingering and poking and prodding every pizza sounds so unappetizing, it turns my stomach. I wouldn't eat it anyway.

I know I am in the overwhelming minority. I don't like to eat at work during the day I just don't understand why anybody cares?