Sunday, January 16, 2022

the impression that I get

I have told this story many times, so I'll tell it here...

Many years ago (probably in the middle 1980s), My wife and I were in Atlantic City with our friend Randi. (You remember Randi...) We were at Caesars Casino on the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk. Atlantic City, New Jersey is a little over an hour away from Philadelphia, so it was not unusual to drive to the famed shore resort for a day trip. We would often go for dinner, a stroll on "the boards" and then into one of the casinos to try our luck at instant riches. That third one never quite came out the way we had hoped, despite our most courageous efforts.

As the evening progressed and we felt it was time to start heading home, Mrs. P and Randi needed to make a quick stop at the closest ladies' room before we left on a lengthy car ride. The parking lot at Caesars was accessed via a long narrow hallway from the casino. It had an unusually low ceiling and the width of the corridor barely accommodated four people across. (Over the years, several building renovations have changed this.) Mrs. Pincus and Randi located the rest room and I stood alongside the doorway to wait for them. To entertain myself, I watched the interesting faces in the crowd as they passed by in relatively close proximity. There were old people, young people, short people and tall people. There were men in three-piece suits accompanied by women in sparkly gowns. These couples were followed closely by disheveled-looking fellows who looked as though the last place they should be was a casino. 

I smiled to myself as this cross-section of society paraded by me. Then, in the crowd, I spotted a familiar face, one I had seen on television numerous times. It was comedian Charlie Callas. He was a staple performer on television in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. He made 50 appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, as well as The Ed Sullivan Show, Merv Griffin's show and the full roster of variety shows that were so popular on the 1970s. Charlie was a regular on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, often showing up in military garb and doing as dead-on impression of show biz patriarch George Jessel. Charlie was known for his rubber-faced mug and the barrage of strange noises that he would inject into his stand-up routines. Folks like Jerry Lewis and Mel Brooks loved his act so much, he was cast in films like The Big Mouth and High Anxiety just to play upon the recognizability of his stage act. On television, he was seen in The Monkees, The Flip Wilson Show and singer Bobby Vinton's short-lived series, in addition to a Carpenters special. He even popped up on an episode of The Love Boat and also provided the voice for the animated Elliot the Dragon in the Walt Disney film Pete's Dragon. If you are of my generation, you knew who Charlie Callas was. 

Well, I certainly knew who Charlie Callas was. And there he was, walking past me wearing dark glasses and a terrycloth bucket hat pulled down to his brow. Evidently, he was trying to conceal his identity, but there was no mistaking that it was indeed Charlie Callas. Curiously, not a single person pointed or whispered or acknowledged him in any way. No one but me. I smiled to myself a little wider.

Soon, Mrs. Pincus and Randi emerged from the ladies room. As we continued to walk to the parking lot, I mentioned that I had just seen Charlie Callas walk past me in the crowd. They both stopped, and with jaws agape, simultaneously exclaimed, "NO, YOU DID NOT!," as though they had rehearsed it. Now, I stopped... and scratched my head. 

"Why would I make that up?," I asked. "Do you think I'm trying to impress you? It's not like I said 'Hey, I just saw Frank Sinatra!' It was Charlie fucking Callas! The guy who sticks out his tongue and makes funny noises. That's not impressing anyone."

They both kind of sheepishly smiled. We found ourselves at the building's exit. I opened the tinted glass doors and we stepped outside. At a taxi stand, about ten feet away from us, wait for a cab, was Charlie Callas. I pointed at him. "See?," I said to my companions. Again, we were the only ones looking in his direction.

We didn't say "Hello" to him or ask for a picture (actually, in the days before cellphones, who carried a camera?) or even request an autograph. We just looked at him. And he was still Charlie Callas.

And then we went to find our car.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

I left my wallet in el segundo

Ever since I had paper money of my own, I carried it in a wallet. I may have even had a wallet before I was trusted with paper currency. I may have owned one of those vinyl wallets that could be picked off a supermarket toy rack alongside a jacks set, a toy stethoscope or a bag of molded green plastic army men. Maybe my mom bought one of those wallets to pacify a particularly relentless episode of unruliness I was known to exhibit in my youth.

I was taught to carry a wallet by my father, who held the unofficial title of "King of the Wallets." He was never without that solid hunk of worn leather creating a tumor-like bulge in the posterior of his pants. When he withdrew it to pay a check or file some sort of appointment card, it looked as though he had pulled a melting piece of chocolate layer cake from his pocket. The edges of dollar bill were visible along the top, along with some unidentified pieces of paper that could either be a recently-acquired business card or a coupon from a store that he would never set foot in again. Other assorted and unidentifiable bits and pieces sprouted from its knurled, browned edges. My father's wallet was like the Eagles' Hotel California — once something entered, it could never leave. When I met my father-in-law, I saw that his overstuffed wallet was secured with a thick rubber band. I had to tell my father about that! He'd love it. 

When my father passed away in 1993, we were tasked with cleaning out his house in preparation of putting it up for sale. My wife discovered a dresser drawer packed with a dozen or so wallets, unused and still in their packages, waiting for their turn to serve my father in all of his money, credit card and assorted important papers needs. My father bought wallets like some people buy Kleenex.

My first wallets were probably purchased for me at Sears, Klein's, Korvette's or one of the other stores that my parents frequented. They were faux leather and accessorized with a little folio in which to insert photographs. (Yes, kids, before we had cellphones that could hold the equivalent of a lifetime of vacation photos, we had to choose eight pictures to carry around of those people who meant to the most to us.) I filled my wallet with a couple of one dollar bills, my very own, real live social security card (that I still carry to this day, still sporting the childlike scrawled signature of ten-year old Josh Pincus), as well as my membership card in the Archie Andrews' Fan Club and a school photograph of yours truly. 

As I got older, of course, my driver's license took the first, most prominent position in the folio, or the separate little window to keep the most important item sequestered from the rest of the wallet's contents. I remember the 80s trend towards cool and colorful nylon wallets, available in bright colors. I jumped on that bandwagon, proudly toting my cash and identification in a neon pink and lime green rip-stop number with an awesome Velcro closure. I think that was followed by a Mickey Mouse/Pirates of the Caribbean wallet that I bought in Walt Disney World. As an adult, I wasn't the least bit embarrassed to wield that cartoon-emblazoned billfold in a public situation.

Switching wallets was always quite the undertaking. When I determined that my threadbare wallet was ready for replacement. I would empty its contents completely and weed through what was really important enough to warrant a transfer to a new leather home. receipts from out-of-business stores were the first to go. Followed closely by phone numbers with no notation as to who they would reach when dialed and business cards of people I don't' remember even meeting. My new wallet would be slightly — just slightly — thinner and lighter than the one that was just retired. However, it would soon be indistinguishable from its predecessor.

Just recently, I noticed it was time for a new wallet. The stitching along the edge of my current wallet was beginning to show the results of years of being sat on, dropped, opened and closed and opened and closed, as well as the stress of never-used credit cards and supermarket discount club cards pushing against its ancient seams. I searched online and was intrigued by several slim-line wallets I saw at one particular website. The money compartment was flanked on both sides by a few cantilever slots for cards. It was touted as being a mere .45" thick when filled. Plus, it features RFID blocking technology. I don't know what that is and I don't know how it will benefit me, but I'm pretty sure that all of my previous wallets would let RFID run rampant through my precious belongings. So, after a few clicks on this website, a brand new "Buffway Slim Minimalist Front Pocket RFID Blocking Leather Wallets for Men and Women" was on its way to me. 

In a few days, I found myself emptying another wallet and assessing the importance of its contents. While I have several credit cards, I use just one almost exclusively. I still have a twenty dollar bill and three singles that have been in my wallet for almost three years. I have two insurance identification cards and.... well.... that's about it. All my pictures are on my phone, along with any important phone numbers and other contact information. So, my new "Buffway Slim Minimalist Front Pocket RFID Blocking Leather Wallets for Men and Women" is considerably smaller, thinner and lighter than any wallet I have ever owned. Although I am pleased for taking the brave step towards severing any beholdeness to a wallet, I find myself constantly checking to see if my wallet is still in my pocket.

But it sure beats sitting on a misshapen petrified blob for eight hours.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

we can be heroes

Let me preface this by saying "I am not a comic book guy." I didn't read comic books when I was a kid. With very few exceptions, I don't like movies or TV shows based on comic books. I have seen only a handful of movies from the Marvel and DC franchises and, again with few exceptions, I didn't care for any of them. It's funny. I've had friends, family members and other acquaintances recommend a particular comic book movie, touting "This one is different! You'll like this one!" Against my better judgment, I watch and — sure enough — it is not different. It's a comic book movie. And I am once again reminded that I don't like comic book movies.

As a matter of fact, I can only identify a few of the colorful characters depicted in the image at the top of this blog post. So, what gives me the qualifications to write a piece about comic book characters. What gives me the qualifications to write about anything I don't know about?

My wife and I were out in the neighborhood on our regular after-dinner, early evening walk. We strolled past a newly-opened store that, by the stock visible thorough their large front window, is an art gallery of sorts. (Actually, this place hasn't actually had its doors open to welcome customers in weeks. Even during the days leading up to Christmas, the place is dark and a large metal grate is pulled down across the entrance and secured with an imposing and impenetrable padlock.) The window is cluttered with all sizes of prints, paintings and colorized photographs of celebrities, along with out-of-place framed Philles and Eagles logos.

As we walked past the store, I spotted this print in a corner of the window.

I just glanced at it at first, but then, I stopped and went back for a closer inspection. Apparently, these superheroes have taken a quick break from their busy agenda of philan.... philan.... uh... good deed doing to.... um.... relieve themselves against a wall, à la Who's Next. I pondered this print for way to long. I stopped Mrs. P, who had already proceeded on her walk, nearly making it past the newly-reopened (but currently closed) neighborhood ice cream store. I summoned her back to answer some of the questions now forming in my head, brought on by this stupid print in the window of a closed (and not long for this world) art gallery. Mrs. Pincus is more of a comic book fan than I am. If you get right down to it, almost everyone is a bigger comic book fan than I am. Mrs. P is partial to Superman and the Fantastic Four. I know this because we have seen cinematic entries in the canons of the both properties, both in first-run theaters and on television. I remember trying to stay awake during one of the Fantastic Four films and thinking how Brandon Routh was a poor replacement for the late Christopher Reeve in DC's attempt to revive interest in the Superman saga. (To his credit, Routh was serviceable in the recent Hallmark Christmas movies featuring the one and only Ambrose the cat... the real star!)

I pointed to the picture and asked: "Do superheroes need to go to the bathroom?" This sparked quite a debate. One that took up way too much of our time, but considering that we have had lengthy discussions regarding the use of Jeannie's powers versus the use of Samantha Stephens', this was not anything unusual. (Welcome to the world of the Pincuses!) I began to think, despite my admittedly limited knowledge of all things superheroes. The one thing I do know is: one so-called "super" hero that has no actual super powers at all. Technically, he's just a guy in a costume with a bunch of highly-advanced gizmos. That guy's name is Batman. Obviously, Batman has to pee sometime. Because I am not now nor have I ever been a reader of Batman comics, I can only assume that the Caped Crusader has not been depicted using the porcelain facilities in the colorful pages of a printed book. I know that was never shown or even alluded to in the campy 60s TV series (which, as a five year-old, I watched religiously). However, I cannot speak for the current trend of grittier, more adult-oriented stories and subject matter that apparently pervades today's comic publications. So, because Batman is human and was not subjected to gamma rays or a spider bite nor is he a strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men — he pees. It's the other ones I'm not so sure about.

Superman, for instance. Since he is an alien, there is no way of knowing if he eliminates bodily waste in the same way as humans. Sure he eats and walks and does other humanesque things, but how are we to know if the Kyptonians were so evolved that the simple process of urinating was replaced with something more sophisticated and less.... primal.

A lot of superheroes started out as humans, but were subjected to an overexposure of laboratory chemicals and/or rays, either accidental or intentional. Sure, we got to see the results of such a mishap in Dr. Bruce Banner's anger or Barry Allen's speed. But, how can we assume that normal bodily functions weren't also affected by the same chemicals or rays. We can't. Has the Hulk ever stopped for a bathroom break during a heated session of smashing? Has the Flash every paused to tinkle in the middle of a high-velocity pursuit? I don't really know. As far as Captain America, Steve Rogers was definitely human. He was injected with a laboratory controlled regimen of "super soldier serum" to make him the ultimate human specimen. While he may have suffered from a back full of "steroid acne" like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, he certainly was capable more than just hitting a lot of home runs. I'm fairly sure that Bonds and McGwire still continued to urinate during their record-breaking seasons, but I cannot confirm or deny Captain America's bathroom visits.

By the same token, did the radioactive spider bite that gave poor Peter Parker his arachnidical abilities affect his urinary system? I read that spiders don't produce urine like humans, but do produce uric acid in solid form (hence to be known as "spider poop.") So, if "A + B = C," then Spiderman shits but does not piss. (Actually, I felt a glimmer of hope when I misunderstood Peter Parker's inner dialogue as "My spider sense is tinkling." I was disappointed all over again when I was corrected.)

Other heroes, like Martian Manhunter, Silver Surfer and Hawkman, fall under the same category as Superman. They are aliens. Since the creators of these characters were free to make up any sort of lifestyle functions they wished, bathroom requirements were, most likely, either not taken into consideration or ignored entirely. Wonder Woman, being an Amazon, can also be given "non-human, so human qualities do not apply" status.

As I have explained, I am by no means an expert on superheroes. I'm not even a novice. Perhaps someone can come forward and clear up this controversy once and for all. But, please... I beg you.... don't tell me how much I would enjoy Avengers: Endgame. Unless it ends with everyone excusing themselves to go to the bathroom.... I won't.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

mystery train

I took the train to work for ten years. Remember all those blog posts I made about my adventures — good and bad (mostly bad) — on the train? Well, they kind of stopped in 2017, when I no longer had a job that required me to take the train on a daily basis.

I am back among the "drive yourself to work" set and I rarely have the opportunity to take the train. And then there was the worldwide pandemic that brought nearly everything to a halt. Now, as things begin to reopen, readjust and get back to some sort of "normality" (whatever that means), my wife and I ventured into center city Philadelphia to see the iconic Christmas Light Show held annually at the former John Wanamaker department store, now operating under the "Macy's" name. Instead of driving, fighting traffic, paying an exorbitant amount for a few short hours of parking, Mrs. P and I decided to take the train.

It's comforting to see that SEPTA (the acronymed organization that operates the public transportation system in southeastern Pennsylvania) has remained its same, old, dysfunctional self.

Early on Saturday morning, Mrs. Pincus and I took the familiar stroll to the Elkins Park train station, located just down the street from our house. (It's so close, we actually use it as a landmark locator when directing people to our house.) Upon our arrival on the platform, I checked the SEPTA app on my phone and was not one bit surprised when I saw that our 8:29 train was already listed as 15 minutes late. Mrs. Pincus realized she should have dressed more warmly for the unpredictable weather that Philadelphia had been experiencing. She made a quick run home to grab a hoodie. I watched, in her absence, as the SEPTA app added more time to our already-late train. SEPTA was already meeting and exceeding my expectations for getting back to "how things used to be." Mrs. P returned, bundled in her newly-retrieved hoodie, to find me in the exact same spot — with no train in sight.

Eventually, our train arrived to take us on the short, twenty-minute journey to center city Philadelphia. Now, the Elkins Park ticket office is only open for limited hours during the week and never on weekends. Passengers without a pre-purchased monthly pass (the traveling category in which we now fall) can purchase tickets on the train from one of the hopefully friendly conductors. As the train pulled away from the platform, one of the aforementioned conductors (this one uncharacteristically friendly) made his way down the center aisle. He stopped at the folks seated right in front of us. They were also headed to see the holiday light show, so our fare would be the same as theirs. After paying, the conductor presented them with two cardboard "swipe cards" that, he explained, should be used to open the electronic gates to exit the station. As he took a step in our direction, the train slowed to a stop at the Melrose Park station. He raised a finger to us and informed us that he'd be back.

He never returned.

Instead, he stood and gabbed with a group at the front of our train car — laughing and gesturing — as the train stopped at the three subsequent stations before our Jefferson Station destination. I gripped a ten dollar bill, ready to pay since we boarded. Mrs. P and I shuffled down the aisle towards the exit doors. I sidled up to our conductor and whispered: "We haven't paid our fare yet." He smiled and tipped his head in the direction of the doors. Extending his open palm, he said: "Happy holidays!" implying that our trip was gratis. Except we were now without that special swipe card that would free us from the confines of the station, once we climbed the exit stairs from the subterranean platform.

Once in the bustling station, I observed a newly-installed (well, "new" since my last trip on the train over two years ago) bank of electronic turnstiles occupying the once-unobstructed exit passage. I, along with my wife and a small group of similarly bewildered commuters, examined the steel and glass barriers that separated us from the outside world. And he we were without a way to make them open and grant our freedom. Mrs. Pincus spotted a disheveled-looking fellow, his SEPTA-emblazoned shirt untucked from his wrinkled, ill-fitting pants, puttering around an Information Booth. 

"Excuse me," she began. The fellow looked up with a confused expression, as though no one had spoken to him in weeks. Mrs. P continued, "How do we get out? We were not given swipe cards by the conductor on our train." The man scratched his head and offered two options. "Well," he said, you can buy an exit card from that machine over there." He gestured to a large, refrigerator-looking vending machine with a very complicated-looking glowing blue screen. Our little group collectively cringed. We all turned back to the fellow, hoping that Option Two would be more appealing. "Or you can just push open the glass door at the ADA exit." (The ADA, of course is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 that required all public area to be equipped with easy access for those folks in wheelchairs or other disabilities requiring special provisions.) Although we felt bad, we all silently acknowledged that we liked Option Two much better and would take full advantage of it. Like a mini parade, a dozen people walked single file through the easily-opened ADA exit... and no one said a word.

Our return trip home was equally as "typical SEPTA" as our morning adventure. Upon exiting the station earlier in the morning, I purchased tickets for our trip home and safely tucked them in my wallet. After a full, fun day of holiday lights, lunch with our son and his girlfriend, a stroll through the temporary Christmas shopping village set up around Philadelphia's City Hall, Mrs. Pincus and I walked back to the station to board a homebound train.

Our train arrived and we selected a seat. We talked in quiet voices as we rode. In my peripheral vision, I noticed a young man in a seat across the aisle slightly turning his head to listen to our conversation. We weren't discussing any sensitive or controversial topics. We were probably talking about our plans for dinner or what we were doing on Sunday. Nevertheless, this guy was hanging on to our every word. He even turned around further and chuckled to himself, as though he was an active an welcome member of our conversation. I recalled experiencing this on a daily basis when I took the train more often. My conversation, it seemed, was infinitely more interesting, informative and entertaining than those of my fellow passengers — and they weren't shy or discreet about hearing the full dissertation.

Ah, SEPTA. You appear to be adjusting to the post-pandemic world just fine. God bless you. Keep up the good work.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

sign, sign, everywhere a sign

I was out shopping with my wife at one of those discount stores that I always assume will be closed and out of business the next time we visit. When she decided that our cart was sufficiently filled, we made our way to the check-out counters. Mrs. P methodically emptied the contents of our cart on to the counter, reexamining each item to confirm that she was making a wise purchase. While she did this, I gazed dreamily at the windows which were shielded from the afternoon sunlight by a large number of badly hand-written signs taped to each glass pane. Looking at the signs – the childlike scrawls forming crookedly-placed, unsure capital letters – I was instantly transported back 40 years... to an incident I remember as if it happened yesterday.

When my father was discharged from service in the US Navy at the end of World War II, he was hired as an apprentice meat cutter with Penn Fruit, a once-prominent, now-defunct supermarket chain in the Philadelphia area. He learned a viable trade as young man, but he longed to, one day, own his own store. A store he could preside over as "the boss" – calling the shots, offering wisdom from years of experience in the retail food purveying business and keeping his beloved meat case fully stocked with ribs and chops, roasts and steaks. As adept as he was at slicing up a side of beef, he was a poor businessman. He was bad at monetary affairs both at home and at work. He made bad choices, had bad instincts and learned nothing from his mistakes. He could cut meat like nobody's business, but when it came to being "in charge"... well, my dad wasn't an "in charge" kind of guy.

Nevertheless, when I was a senior in high school, my father negotiated to purchase a small food market in a working-class neighborhood of Philadelphia. It was a miniature version of a supermarket and my father had big plans to compete with the three actual (and busier) supermarkets that were in walking distance. The current owner was a man with a checkered background. He was well-known to have a very close association with Philadelphia organized crime. He also owned a popular cheese manufacturing company, that was most definitely a front for his other shadier dealings. Despite warnings from a hired business attorney (his actual words were "you are crazy if you do business with this guy"), my father was blinded by his own business fantasy. He ventured into a "trial period" and brought his family along for the ride. My dad made my brother and me quit our little after-school-and-weekend part-time jobs. He asked my mother to do the same thing, but she refused. Based on my dad's track record, she saw this venture going South real fast. My mom was a cashier and assistant manager at a women's clothing store. She merely cut back her hours there, informing them that she'd be back full-time when her husband's pipe dreams fell apart... and surely they would. 

So, the Pincus family went to work with the current staff – a collection of the motliest of crews this side of a prison work-release program. Some of the staff would not show up for their shifts. Just plain not show up. Then come in a few days later and work as though nothing happened, not the least bit concerned about the possibility of losing their job. My father was only concerned with making his new "fresh cut meat" department look good. He also didn't have the guts to fire some delinquent kid who may or may not pull a knife on him.

My mom was made Head Cashier. My brother was Assistant Manager and worked the deli counter. I was relegated to whatever job was needed. I stocked shelves. I unloaded trucks. I ran a cash register. And, once a week, I hung the giant-size sale signs in the windows. That was quite an undertaking. I climbed up on shelving, sometimes teetering on a narrow ledge as I braced myself against the window frame, positioning the unfurled signs as straight and square as possible, then securing them with a pre-torn strip of adhesive tape. I performed this task every Thursday for the entire time I worked at my father's little retail venture. 

Every Thursday but one.

On Wednesday, June 20, 1979, I graduated from high school. After the ceremony, which was held on the school's football field, a group of family and friends gathered at my house for a celebration. For the special occasion, my parents allowed my friends and me to imbibe in alcoholic refreshment in the form of a case of Genesee Cream Ale, my then "drink of choice". Although we lived in Pennsylvania, New Jersey was regarded as a suburb of Philadelphia and, at the time, the legal drinking age in New Jersey was 18 years of age. Sure, I was a few months shy of 18, but I had been sneaking into bars in Jersey for a while, never once getting asked for ID. Good thing, too, because I did not have a fake identification. If they wouldn't let me in, I'd just go to another bar that would. Forgoing the legalities of serving minors, my parents happily let us drink. And drink we did. And did. And did.

My friend Alan and I drank well into the wee hours of the morning, eventually passing out in my room – me across my bed, Alan barely making to my brother's bed. (My brother was living elsewhere by the time I finished high school.) We slept like we were dead. We slept like we drank more than we should have the night before. I could have slept all day. But the sharp ring of our house phone woke me up.

It was my father.

I fumbled with the receiver, looking at it through squinty eyes. I croaked out a weak "Hello" and had to pull the phone away from my ear when my father's reply sounded like an air-raid siren through the pounding of a full-blown hangover. His words registered in my brain on a delay, but – as I understood – he was asking me to come down to the store and hang the signs in the window. I was pretty sure I had asked for the day off and I was also pretty sure that my father assured me that he would ask one of his other employees to cover for me, including the honor of hanging his precious signs. This wasn't brain surgery, fer Chrissakes! It was taping some paper to windows. The hardest thing about it was making sure the words on the signs faced outward. The problem was, every single employee in that store – before the Pincus family arrived – was an absolute moron with a capital MOR. I protested, explaining to my father that I was in no condition to climb shelving and hang signs, let alone drive to the store. He insisted, assuring me I could leave as soon as the last sign was re-hung.

Re-hung? What? "You mean the signs are already up?," I questioned. "What do you need me for?" My father answered: "You'll see when you get here." And he hung up. I had to go.

I pulled on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. I tied my sneakers and informed Alan that I had to go to work for an hour or so. Alan grumbled something that I don't think were actual words. I went out to my car.

When I arrived at the store, I couldn't believe what I saw. Not only was every sign crooked, but every one was upside down. Several were hung upside down and backwards, with the flipped type facing the inside of the store. Not one or two. Not a few. Every. Single. Sign. Every one!

I came into the store and met my father. We didn't exchange any words. We just slowly shook our heads and rolled our eyes. I silently grabbed a roll of tape and got to work – taking down each sign, turning it around, flipping it, if necessary, and taping it – correctly – back into place. When the whole job was re-done, I handed the roll of tape back to my father and said: "See you at home." And I left.

My father never did buy that store. His lawyer finally convinced him just how bad an idea it was. The Pincuses all left the venture and we all got jobs in other places, except my mom. She went back to the clothing store full time. My father took his meat cutting skills to another chain supermarket. He never attempted to purchase his own store again.

I still laugh when I see signs in supermarket windows.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

box set

A few doors up the block is a house where an older woman lived. Recently, due to her advanced age and declining health, the woman was relocated to an assisted living facility. After the woman was settled into her new home, her daughter and her son-in-law moved into the house.

Apparently, the woman's daughter began emptying out the house. Perhaps in an effort to working towards selling it. Or possibly to unclutter a lifetime's worth of accumulation and make the house more livable. Whatever the reason, day after day, a large cardboard box would appear at the curb. It was filled with an unusual assortment of household items, glassware, dishes in once-trendy patterns, magazines and books. Way at the bottom, there was usually some sort of costume jewelry (we presumed) or some gold-leaf appointed oddity that could only be classified as "bric-a-brac." One of the open flaps of the box presented the single word invitation "FREE" scrawled in black marker, as though a box filled with someone's obvious castoffs wasn't enough of an enticement. The clarification that this stuff was being offered gratis was — in my opinion — overkill.

Mrs. Pincus is not one to shy away from a bargain. She loves yard sales and estate sales and sales sales of any kind (Soupy Sales notwithstanding). Many a road trip has been detoured by an alluring display on some local's driveway or the promise of great deals as proclaimed by signage in the window of a store. But, a boxful of stuff barely fifty feet from our front door is the veritable motherlode. As we embark on our daily walks, Mrs. P regularly checks the contents of "the box," often finding something that could be put up for auction on eBay or, at the very least, put out on a table at our own annual yard sale.

Understand that "the box" is not just a collection of random crap that someone never, ever wants to see again. Well... a lot of it is. But, more than once, my wife has nabbed a little tchotchke that has sparked a surprising bidding war on eBay. Mrs. P has begun to look forward to checking out "the box," sometimes twice, at the beginning and end of our walk.

Just the other day, we saw a fresh sampling of items placed at the curb for the taking. Situated among a stack of instructional sports books, a small wooden cabinet, an unidentified plastic fellow with big inquisitive eyes and a bulky pair of ski boots was an unopened, still-intact six pack of Boost®, which according to the product's official website is: "a nutrient-rich drink that's great as a mini-meal or an in-between meal snack, designed to produce a lower blood sugar response in people with diabetes."

Why the occupants of the house didn't want it is beyond me.

I began to think. Sure, Mrs. P has taken stuff from "the box." and, obviously other people have taken stuff from "the box," as we have seen folks milling about the container in much the same way we have - bent over, gingerly rearranging the contents and then scurrying away with some treasure. I wondered, though, did someone wander along, spot a six-pack of Boost® and think: "Just what I needed!" I can imaging the poor sap downing bottle after bottle of the drink, eventually feeling ill and consulting a doctor after experiencing stomach cramps, cold chills and all sorts of discomfort. The doctor would ask a list of routine questions, trying to pinpoint the source of his patient's illness. "Did you eat or drink anything unusual?," he'd ask. The patient would explain that he consumed several bottles of the nutritious Boost® drink, a ritual he's done for some time. The baffled doctor, continuing his probe, would ask: "Was the product past its 'Good Till' date? Which store did he purchase the drink from?" "Oh no," the patient would scoff dismissively, "I didn't get it at a store! I picked it out of a box by the curb next to a pair of ski boots." The doctor would then quickly make a few notations on the patient's file before kicking him the fuck out of his office.

See.... "the box" is more than just a source of merchandise.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

party all the time

My current resume reflects seven jobs - my current employment and six previous. However, I have trimmed and edited my resume considerably over the past forty years, so the actual number is more like a dozen. My attitude towards my job du jour has also changed over time.

If you have kept up with this blog for any length of time (and why wouldn't you?), you know that I just started a job this past Spring after being among those who lost their jobs when COVID-19 brought the entire world to its knees. In my new position, I spend a good portion of my day alone in an office with little to no interaction with anyone. That is not a complaint. That is a fact... and I like it just fine. The days go by quickly and Spring became Summer and Fall became Winter in the wink of an eye. As November wound its way towards December, I received an email similar to emails I have received at past jobs once the phenomena of "email" came into existence. The subject line made me cringe the way all the similar subject lines all those years ago.

Subject: H O L I D A Y   P A R T Y

At many of my past jobs, I was always expected to attend some sort of holiday gathering for folks that I really didn't consider my friends. One day in late December, actual work would taper off around noon and co-workers would gather around a tray of cookies and a platter of bland sandwiches forcing themselves to smile and talk about non-work stuff. It was awkward, non-productive and... just plain weird. Some of these gatherings were small because the office (at the time) only employed three or four people. Others were lavish catered affairs at a rented hotel ballroom, resplendent in shimmering decorations, live music, flowing buffets, overstocked bars.... and the same feeling of awkwardness. More recently, holiday work parties were dispensed with in favor of the the idea of going home early, an idea which was way better received by employees.

Based on past experiences, I had hoped that "office holiday parties" were something I would never have to be subjected to again. And, considering my current job, I really don't know any of my co-workers and — honestly — I don't really want to. But, there it was. In my "IN" box of my email. An unopened email with the dreaded subject line that I wish could remain unopened. But, alas, it could not.

As I read the contents of this inter-office correspondence, I became filled with a growing angst. The email revealed plans for an off-site gathering on a Saturday evening. Ugh! Not only don't I want to go to this thing, I will have to go on my day off. At night on a day off. Ugh! This was not looking good. I read the email and ignored it for the rest of the day.... hoping it would go away.

Just this past Monday, a woman who I only know as Angela approached my desk with a menu from the proposed nearby bar that would be the hosting venue of the pending holiday party. She pointed out several vegetarian options on the listed of available entrees. I must have told someone that I was a vegetarian, because she seems to push that as a selling point. Then she said "I really hope you can come."

"Really?" I thought. "Do you really hope I can come? Does the fate of your 'happy holiday' hinge on whether or not an employee of less that a year — someone you know nothing about — comes to your little party?"

In a few minutes, Angela emailed the entire menu to all members in my nine-person department. Along with the menu, there was a proposed price-per-person for those attending. This is the first of these dreadful events that required attendees to pay their own way. However, it is also the first one where spouses and significant others are welcome. Over these past years, my wife was always a bit annoyed that she was not included in any of my work holiday parties, despite getting specific requests from my co-workers for specific baked goods to be served at a party to which she was not invited.

Well, dear Mrs. P, your wish has been answered. You will absolutely be joining me at this year's work holiday party.

As a matter of fact, you can go in my place.