Thursday, September 1, 2011

cold is being

My wife’s grandmother turned 101 this past July. When I met her nearly thirty years ago, she was a feisty, strong-willed woman who called things as she saw them and took no shit from anyone. She came from humble beginnings in Russia and lived an even more humble existence upon her arrival in the United States. She single-handedly raised two children – and by “single-handedly”, I mean that she got absolutely no help from her perpetually out-of-work husband. Eventually, her husband, through some shrewd maneuvering, became prosperous and his latent financial success allowed her to enjoy the life she always longed for and certainly deserved. She doted on and cared deeply for her children, their ensuing spouses and subsequent children. She hosted elaborate Sunday dinners and made sure everyone was abundantly satisfied. She was generous to a fault, but she also enjoyed frequent gambling excursions to “the casinas”— as she called them — to win more money with which to be charitable.

My wife’s grandmother always held a special place in her heart for her grandchildren and that place grew larger as offspring multiplied with progeny of their own. With the birth of my son twenty-four years ago, the family welcomed the first great-grandchild of the generation. I began referring to my wife’s grandmother as “GG”, short for “great grandmother”. She approvingly responded to the nickname.

GG lived on her own until well into her 90s. She currently resides in a gracious assisted-living facility. Although her memory is failing with each passing day, her spunky spirit still regularly surfaces. She was lively and animated at her 100th birthday celebration last year, cracking wise in front of an audience of extended family and friends. More recently, she wandered into another resident’s room late one night and demanded that she “get the hell of my bed!” Lately, though, her pace has slowed, her recognition skills have diminished and her demeanor wavers between happy and terribly sad. After all, she is 101.

My wife’s cousin Cuz went to visit GG this past week, as she is his grandmother, too. He hadn’t seen her in a long while and arrived to find her in bed, quiet and melancholy. He brought her some ice cream — an all-time favorite — and it seemed to perk her up a bit, but GG was still despondent and detached. Cuz concluded his visit, kissed GG goodbye and went out to his car. On his way home to see his own family, he called his sister. Sis answered the phone in a harried manner, obviously preoccupied with plans and activities concerning her own two children. Cuz reported on GG’s status and suggested that Sis pay her a visit of her own. Sis hesitated, then said, “You mean now? Can’t it wait until Friday?

Cuz was silent for a moment, and then answered, “I don’t know, Sis. I’m not a doctor.”

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Riding that train

The morning began like every morning begins. My alarm went off at six and I smacked the snooze button every ten minutes until I kicked myself out of bed at 6:30. I showered, brushed my teeth and checked the mirror to see if I could get away without shaving for one more day. I exited the bathroom and headed downstairs. I flicked on our Keurig coffee maker and while the water was heating up I ran down the basement steps to grab a matching pair of socks out of the dryer. Back in the kitchen, I watched as hot water purged through my selection of K-Cup and emptied its brewed contents into a waiting mug. After adding a splash of half-and-half and one packet of Sweet 'n Low, I carried my coffee and my socks back upstairs to watch the first half-hour of The Today Show while I got dressed. As the clock came up on 7:40 am, I snapped off the TV and grabbed my cellphone and canvas messenger bag. Mrs. Pincus was asleep, still snuggled under several blankets, when I kissed her and whispered "goodbye". I crossed the hall to say "goodbye" to my son, curled up under his own blankets. Although they each uttered a closed-mouthed "hum", they may or may not have heard my actual farewell — as is the case most mornings. I scrambled down the stairs, grabbed my denim jacket and pulled it on as I hurried out the door. I ambled to the train station at the end of my block, less than a minute walk from my front door. Most mornings, I see my friend Randi and we ride the train together to our destination, as we both work in the same office building in center city Philadelphia. This particular morning, Randi was not on the platform. Too bad for me.

At 7:50, the train stops at Elkins Park and I get on. It then proceeds on to its scheduled station stops at Melrose Park, Fern Rock, Temple University and Market East until it reaches my journey's end, Suburban Station. My entire morning commute covers five stations and lasts approximately twenty-five minutes. When I ride with Randi, we are engaged in conversation that lasts the whole trip, usually continuing until we reach the elevators in our building's lobby. Since Randi was obviously relying on another route to work this morning, I turned to my dog-eared copy of Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter to pass the time. I boarded the train, selected a seat at the rear of a relatively empty car, pulled the book from my bag and began to read. I had been struggling through Miss McCullers' Southern Gothic debut, that it now had taken on the characteristics of a high-school reading assignment rather than a source of enjoyment. The train came to a stop at Melrose Park and, unable to focus, I returned the book to my bag and closed my eyes for a quick nap. Too bad for me.

Suddenly, my eyes shot open. The train was in a tunnel and the car lights were flickering. I was groggy and disoriented. Through bleary and unadjusted eyes, I looked at my watch and I saw it was 8:10. However, since I was in a tunnel, I didn't know which 8:10 of the day it was. I couldn't remember how long I had been asleep. The train pulled into Market East, the first underground station on my regular morning journey. My foggy and sleep-addled mind surmised that I was actually on my way home and it was 8:10 in the evening. I convinced myself that I must have traveled all the way to the end of my homecoming train's line in Glenside — where no train staff had awakened me — and now I was on a return trip to center city. In a panic, I hopped off the train and frantically dialed my wife at home. As the phone rang, I was annoyed that she had not called, wondering why I had not arrived home at my usual 5:30. After four or five rings, my wife's hushed voice whispered "Hello" from my cellphone's speaker. I blurted out, "I'm okay! I'm on my way home. I must have fallen asleep on the train, came back from Glenside and now I'm at Market East. I'm getting on a train to Elkins Park and I'll be home soon." I rambled on so quickly, I didn't allow my bewildered wife to get an interrupting word in. I paused and followed my rant with, "I can't believe you didn't call me! Didn't you wonder where I was?"

She was silent, then she cleared her throat and said, "Well, I was asleep" and she trailed off.

"I'm three hours late coming home and you didn't think to call me?" I was starting to get angry. "Well, forget it! I'll be home soon."

"What are you talking about? Why are you coming home?" She sounded as confused as I felt.

"I'm coming home!", I said one last time and I pushed the "END" button on my phone as I approached the information desk at Market East to ask the time for the next train to Elkins Park.

My wife sat in our darkened bedroom and stared blankly at the phone. The first thought to cross he mind was "Well, a twenty-seven year marriage was a good run." Knowing full well that I had just left the house twenty minutes earlier, she began to cry, assuming I had had a stroke while riding the train.

I boarded the Elkins Park-bound train and called home again. I lowered my voice, so as not to attract the attention of my fellow passengers to my slightly embarrassing situation. Once again, I explained the "fell asleep on the train" scenario to my emotional wife. During my explanation, the train emerged from the tunnel — into the harsh sunlight of the morning. Suddenly, it hit me. I had been asleep for merely moments, on my way to work — not hours, on my way home. It also occurred to me that Mrs. Pincus must have thought I had a stroke. "Um, I'll call you right back." I said to her and ended the call. All that had just transpired became instantly clear to me. I looked at my watch again and up to the sky and concluded the correct time of day. I jumped off the train at Temple University and I waited for the next train to my proper terminus. And I called my wife. Again.

Mrs. Pincus answered on the first ring. She hit me with a battery of inquiry. "Are you okay? Where are you? Did you have a stroke?" I assured her I was now fully aware of the situation and I was now headed in the right direction and I did not have a stroke. It took several repeat affirmations but I finally convinced her that I was, indeed, fine.

At last, I reached Suburban Station, ten minutes later than usual arrival. I walked my usual route to my office and as I snapped my office light on, two of my co-workers noted, "You're later than usual."

Too bad for me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

police on my back

In 2004, after many visits to Walt Disney World in Florida, my family and I headed west to Walt's original theme park — Disneyland.

In the late afternoon, we found ourselves on Harbor Boulevard in Anaheim via Las Vegas after a four-hour drive through the Mojave Desert. Our hotel, a Holiday Inn on Harbor at the corner of Ball Road, overlooked the back of It's a Small World. Peeking out from just beyond the tops of some shielding trees was the ominous white spire of Space Mountain.

Since it was so late in the day, we decided to experience Disneyland beginning bright and early the next morning. We set out to briefly explore the neighborhood and to look for a store to purchase some snacks and drinks to sneak into the park the next day. We climbed into our rental car and drove north on Harbor Boulevard toward a huge knot of strip malls, open-air shopping centers and fast-food restaurants.

A huge red and white Target sign beckoned to us like a familiar friend. We knew Target and we love Target. They're sure to have everything we needed. My wife navigated the car through the crowded parking lot towards the entrance which faced away from the busy street. We scouted the area for an open parking space when we spotted a rather large section noticeably absent of cars. As we drew closer, we saw seven or eight Anaheim police vehicles parked in a semi-circle in the open area. We pulled around the last cruiser and were greeted by the sight of a dozen or so uniformed officers, some with their guns drawn. Sitting on the ground, cross-legged, was a young man. His arms were up and bent at the elbows. His hands were resting on the crown of his head, the fingers laced. He looked up at the policemen, some of whom had a revolver pointed at him. He looked worried.

We quickly found a parking space at the other end of the lot. As we entered the store, my son noted that just a few blocks from the dire scene playing out before our eyes was The Happiest Place on Earth. We laughed.

I'm sure that young man did not.

you ain't nothing but a hound dog

What is it with you dog owners? I understand that you love your dog. You feed it and walk it and play with it and allow it to live in your house. That does not mean that everyone loves your dog. Believe it or not, there are some people in this world that do not like dogs, not just your dog, but all dogs. Not everyone wants those big paws all over them. Not everyone enjoys a huge, slobbery canine tongue all over their face. Not everyone wants a wet-nosed snout burrowing into their crotch when they come for a visit. Why do dog owners get so offended if you do not express the same enthusiastic love for their dog that they do? Why must everyone love their dog?

Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I were headed out. We exited our front door and walked out on the porch. On the sidewalk, a woman in sunglasses and spandex was walking her giant, salivating pooch. As my wife approached her car in the driveway, I stood motionless and waited patiently until the woman and the mutt were a safe distance from my property. When the human/animal pair were directly in front of my house, the dog stopped and looked right at me. I was a good ten feet away — at the other end of the cement walkway that connects my porch to the public sidewalk  — and that dog fixed his eyes dead on me. I stood still. I could have stood there all day. The woman gave a few gentle tugs on the animal's leash but it did no good. She looked up and saw me not moving.

"He's friendly.", she offered. I really didn't care to be friends with her dog nor was I interested in what sort of a friend her dog could be. Then, she asked, "Don't you like dogs?" as though it was the most nonsensical question anyone could ever ask.

I answered, "No." plainly, unwavering and with no inflection whatsoever.

She replied, "That's a shame." Then added, "For you." It was as if I just told her I did not like America, freedom, The Constitution, motherhood, Jesus, The Fourth of July and human rights and topped it off by giving her "the finger". She stormed off, obviously insulted.

I thought about following her to see where she lived. Then, parading past her house later with a Nazi and questioning her likes and dislikes.

Dog owners. Jeez.

(This is another take on a previous post. - JPiC)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

had to make due with a worn out rock 'n' roll scene

Last weekend, Mrs. Pincus and I took a three-hour drive to Gaithersburg, Maryland, a sleepy burg situated about 50 miles southwest of Baltimore. Our destination was an antique show being held in one of the buildings at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, a facility which, in warmer months, plays host to livestock and farming expositions. We had been to previous shows at this venue in years past, but with the increased popularity of eBay and other online outlets for purchasing collectibles, the recent incarnations have shrunk in size considerably. What was once a sprawling cornucopia of varied objects and curios has been reduced to a smattering of dealers sadly displaying their wares to their equally computer-challenged prospective buyers.

My wife and I started out at 8 AM on Sunday morning and mingled with the few cars that comprised the traffic on southbound I-95. It was early, so we talked to keep my wife from falling asleep at the wheel. Our car was filled with the sounds of WXPN and its regular Sunday morning eclectic mix of quiet songs to ease its listeners into a lazy day of relaxation. This was hardly the soundtrack my wife needed to accompany her navigation through the increasing number of cars that now joined us on the highway. As we left the Philadelphia area and the broadcast realm of its radio stations, we began to scan the dial for the regional offerings of Delaware and Maryland's sonic transmissions. Although our twenty-seven year marriage has sustained on a host of common interests, Mrs. Pincus and I usually divide when it comes to musical preference. For the most part, my tastes run from 30's era swing to current alternative bands and everything in between. With very few exceptions, my wife dislikes any band that isn't The Grateful Dead. I will listen to pretty much anything. My wife is a little more particular. So, settling on a radio station we both can agree upon can be a tall order. As on most lengthy car trips, my wife drove with one hand on the steering wheel while the other hand danced around the radio dial as though the preset buttons were on fire.

As we crossed the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge and my wife negotiated the potentially dangerous crosswinds, her fingers tuned in a local Classic Rock station playing the opening bars of Queen's 1975 stalwart "Bohemian Rhapsody". My wife simultaneously shot me a sidelong glance and a bemused smile. With her affinity for the meandering psychedelic blues-rock of Jerry Garcia and company, Mrs. Pincus is decidedly not a Queen fan. I, however, was an ardent fan of Freddie Mercury and his cohorts in my youth... and Mrs. Pincus knew this all too well. (That story is related HERE on the josh pincus is crying blog.)

With the four-octave range of Mr. Mercury's vocals wailing from the speakers, Mrs. Pincus asked, "When a song like this comes on the radio, is it like an old friend has returned and taken you back to a simpler time — a time of youth and innocence and no responsibility?" She explained that's how she feels when she hears certain songs. I thought for a bit about her question before answering. Finally, I replied, "Not this song. Other Queen songs, sure, but not this one." When the first section of the song ended, Mrs. Pincus hurriedly changed the station before the "dreadful operatic part" (as she put it) began.

Several days later, I found myself placing Queen's 1973 debut album into my CD player and cranking the volume to a window-rattling level. Despite having not listened to these songs for nearly thirty years, I knew the guitar riffs, the drum beats and the words to every tune — and I sang those words out strong and loud (much to the chagrin of my son, the only other person at home at the time). My wife was right. Old songs can be like old friends. And it's the good ones  — the ones you miss the most  — that bring you the most comfort.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

pardon me boy

Taking the train to work for nearly four years has been a wonderful experience for someone like me. By that, I mean someone who continually marvels at the inherent stupidity of humans. I am astonished by the utter lack of intelligence displayed by people and my daily commute on the train offers me an insightful glimpse at a cross-section of society where stupidity plays a major role. From businessmen with briefcases to students with book bags to women with environmentally-friendly, reusable shopping bags they overpaid for at pretentious Trader Joe's, stupidity is rampant. The world has evolved into a bunch of self-centered, oblivious, inconsiderate sacks of blood, bones, organs and nerves — but sadly — no brains. They come fully equipped with a cellphone and an iPod and a Sudoku book and a Kindle and a Starbucks Venti (and now Trenta, for those morons who wish to feel more superior in their feeble grasp of bastardized corporate Italian) and any other trendy doo-dad that some marketing focus group told them they needed. When the train pulls into the station, the doltish masses shuffle in front of one another, vying to be the first one aboard. Grown men step unchivalrously ahead of women. (I grew up in the heyday of the Women's Lib movement, but for Christ's sake, this is a matter of courtesy!) Once on the train, the idiotic cretins territorialize more than their share of seat allotment and become visibly irritated when asked to relinquish space to accommodate another paying passenger. Then, for the duration of their journey, they stare in wonder at their electronic device du jour and mentally play out the workday ahead  — a day that will no doubt be filled with banging into office walls and bumping mindlessly into co-workers until five o'clock, because these imbeciles are not capable of accomplishing anything more.

The train that I take every morning makes four stops before arriving at my destination in downtown Philadelphia. The third stop is Temple University. Founded 127 years ago, Temple is the 26th largest university in the United States. It is a respected institute of higher learning, shaping the minds of future leaders and boasting a vast array of distinguished alumni* including former Philadelphia mayor John Street, award winning screenwriter Richard Brooks, comedians Bill Cosby and Bob Saget and political activist Noam Chomsky. This morning, I saw one of the future shining stars on my train. He was scrunched in a corner seat which he shared with a woman struggling over a Seek and Find puzzle book. His eyes were heavy-lidded, but he was not asleep. He was more in a state of bewilderment, as though he had just magically materialized on the train. His lower jaw was at a loose hang and his tongue lolled just inside his mouth.

This morning's train was unusually crowded and the main aisle was lined with unhappy standing passengers. The public address speakers crackled with static as a disembodied voice announced Temple University as the next stop. The sleepy young man slowly attempted to stand, but was weighed down by his huge backpack, apparently stuffed with enough provisions for a two week visit to the campus. He strained to maintain balance, but his academic baggage pulled him awkwardly backwards. He swiped at and finally grabbed the overhead luggage rack and steadied himself. His female seatmate had already stood and cleared a path to the aisle for the young man. The train stopped, the doors opened and several young men and women sporting Temple IDs on Temple-emblazoned lanyards exited the train. Through the dirty windows, I could see them make their way across the platform to the stairs. The backpack boy remained motionless behind a standing woman reading a newspaper in the aisle. She looked at him and asked, "Are you getting out here at Temple?"

"Me?", he asked back.

"Yes, you.", she answered, her voice getting more agitated, "Is Temple your stop?"

"Uh-huh", he replied, still making no advancement in the direction of the exit door.

"Then you should probably get off the train now.", the woman prompted, tipping her head and motioning with her hands toward the door.

Without another word, the dazed young man shambled down the aisle with no sense of urgency whatsoever. He barely made it to the station platform before the doors shut. As the train pulled away, I watched as he aimlessly dawdled about and a frightening thought about the bleakness of the future crossed my mind.

* and my son.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

my baby loves the western movies

I get my hair cut at local location of the Ulta beauty supply chain, so needless to say, being male, I am among the minority in their customer base. The young lady who cuts my hair also cuts my wife's and my son's hair (though not at the same time), so we are on the "family plan". Kind of like Blue Cross.

Yesterday, I went for my regularly scheduled haircutting appointment. I remained relatively motionless as my ...stylist? ...barber? ...haircutting girl? was putting the finishing touches on the few wispy strands on the top of my head —  now drenched in bright orange dye and clinging to dear life.  I listened to this riveting conversation just a few stations over from where I sat:

Other Haircutting Girl: "Y'know what movie I just saw?"
Average Customer: "What movie?"
OHG: "Well it was a scary move. It shoulda come out at Halloween. It was scary. I think it just came out, but it coulda come out a few weeks ago."
AC: "On Blu-Ray?"
OHG: "No, at the movies. It was called Season of the Witch and it had Nicolas Cage in it. It was really good and it was scary."
AC: "I didn't see it."
OHG: "We also saw that other movie... um... True... um...True Grit, I think it was called."
AC: "Is that the cowboy-ish one?"
OHG: "Yeah. I wanted to see it 'cause it was directed by the same guy that directed No Country for Old Men. Did you see that? It was good. I loved that movie."
AC: "I didn't get that movie. I didn't get it at all."
OHG: "Well, I really liked it."
AC: "I wanna see that movie The Rite with Anthony Hopkins. I saw a commercial for it and it looks like The Exorcist or something. I don't know if it's out or when it comes out."
OHG: "I'll wait for it to come out on DVD."
AC: "Do you have Blu-Ray? We have a Blu-Ray player and it's hooked up to the Internet and we watch movies on Blu-Ray. We just get them from Amazon dot com and watch them on Blu-Ray."
OHG: " Do you get to keep them?"
AC: "I guess you could, but we just rent them for a few days for, like, five bucks. We don't go to the movies anymore because when a movie comes out in the movies it comes out to Blu-Ray in, like, three weeks. Then, we just watch it on Blu-Ray."
OHG: "Oh."

Society is in big trouble. Natural selection doesn't work anymore.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

will the circle be unbroken

2010 came to a close last week, but it began almost 35 years ago, when I was in high school. After getting tossed out of the majority of my academic classes, I gravitated towards the art department. There, among those paint-splattered desks and rolls of brown kraft paper, I felt comfortable and had as much a sense of purpose as a 16 year-old could. It was in one of those art classrooms I met Eric Dorfman. My relationship with Eric could best be described as a cordial, but distrustful, rivalry. We weren’t so much friends as we “got along”— always aware of the underlying atmosphere of competition between us. Eric was a grade behind me, but freshmen through seniors were lumped together in art classes to make up for the lack of full enrollment. Of course, the first thing anyone noticed about Eric Dorfman was his huge shocking red “Jew-fro”. He was short of stature with broad shoulders and a perpetual look of “don’t fuck with me” on his freckled face. He had a fast and determined gait and maneuvered through the hallways with his head down, like a bull on a mission. We passionately discussed movies and music with teenage fervor, sometimes even sharing a few favorites, but more often we disagreed. We did, however, have a similar drawing style, although I remember his being more advanced and refined and not nearly as crude and sketchy as mine. (I like to think I got better.)

Eric and I were also rivals for Lisa Holtsberg. I dated a lot of girls in high school and, although she was sweet and I liked her, my main reason for dating Lisa was that Eric Dorfman pursued her, too. Over an undetermined period of time (read:  I can’t remember), Lisa seemed attracted to each of us equally, unless she was just secretly enjoying being a witness to our animosity and the battle for her affection. Soon, I graduated from high school and I moved on, leaving Eric and Lisa (and many others) behind. Or so I thought.

While attending art school, I met the future Mrs. Pincus. When I first met her, as I related in a story told elsewhere on this blog, Mrs. P. was accompanied by her friend Ricci (pronounced “Ricky”, not like actress Christina’s last name). I became friends with Ricci and she would often be invited (or just join in) when Mrs. P. and I went out… and, honestly, I had no problem with that. I soon found out that Ricci had a long time, on-again off-again, somewhat tumultuous, relationship with none other than Eric Dorfman. Ricci talked about Eric constantly, although they seldom went out on dates. She hung out at his place a lot and she went out with us a lot, but rarely would those two activities merge. (In the nearly thirty years I have known my wife, I believe I saw Eric show his face in public with Ricci twice.) When Mrs. P. and I married, Ricci was Maid of Honor. When our son was born, we named Ricci his godmother. Eric eventually married someone who was not Ricci. Despite that, there remained a constant, though illicit, connection between the two of them.

During one of the “off-again” phases of the Ricci-Eric relationship, Ricci developed an unrequited crush on a local radio personality named Mark the Shark. Mark was the amiable half of the wacky 80s era Morning Zoo franchise in Philadelphia. The celebrated show was hosted by perennial pompous asshole John DeBella, a man whose talent and popularity I have yet to understand. In addition to the hourly news updates, the soft-spoken, easy-going Mark the Shark provided a modicum of civility in contrast to DeBella’s annoying antics and forced laughter. Ricci was enamored with Mark. During a live broadcast of the Zoo before an audience of which we were a part, Ricci gazed longingly at Mark for a marathon four hours. Ultimately, John DeBella was humiliated on the air by rival Howard Stern in his early days of syndication and the Morning Zoo fell out of fashion. Mark the Shark, now using his real name Mark Drucker, quietly became the unassuming entertainment reporter for an all-news radio station in Philadelphia. He also married Lisa Holtsberg.

One morning in 1997 at the ungodly hour of 3 AM, a ring from my bedside telephone shattered an otherwise deep sleep. A phone call at 3 AM is rarely a good thing and this one was no different. It was Ricci and she was hysterically crying. Through shrieking and gasps for breath, I was able to decipher her words — Eric Dorfman had committed suicide. He had been depressed over his separation from his wife and young daughter. His excessive self-medication was no longer effective and he shot himself. My wife and I were shocked. Ricci was devastated. A funeral followed shortly. I believe this marked the beginning of the end of my wife’s friendship with Ricci. As I had witnessed and correctly predicted, my wife’s lengthy and strong friendship with Ricci came to a bitter end. Ricci had evolved into a different person — a person far removed from the fun-loving, spontaneous and occasionally happy Ricci we once knew. All in all, Ricci and Mrs. Pincus just grew apart and into different lives.

Early last year, my friend Sam passed away. I encountered several friends from my life a thousand years ago at his memorial service. Now older and somewhat wiser, we seemed to approach each other with warm familiarity and, under the circumstances, sad sentimentality. The cross conversations were peppered with promises of get-togethers and lunch dates and the obligatory exchange of email addresses and cell phone numbers. And as long as the cell phones were out, the display of digitally-captured photographs of absent children soon followed.

Over the course of the next several months, I had rekindled paused friendships from my younger days, culminating in an informal gathering at my friend (and Florida traveling companion) Alan’s home. On that July evening, we were joined by Scott Sadel (now an anesthesiologist) and Jon Wassermann (now a very huggy chiropractor) and our wives for a session of reminiscing among old friends and introduction, as our wives had not previously met. As the sky outside grew darker and several pizzas were reduced to gnawed crusts, the conversation bounced from recounting embarrassing episodes of youth to commiserating about our current employment to updates on our children and extended families. Of course, the inevitable round of “Jewish Geography” reared its yenta  head and soon previously unknown connections through summer camp and Jewish youth groups were revealed. Alan even broke out his slide projector for a pale and scratchy trip down Memory Lane. During the “who have you seen/who have you talked to” portion of the night, various forgotten names were bandied about — names that had not crossed our collective minds in decades. We briefly discussed the untimely 2005 death of Mark Drucker when Lisa Holtsberg’s name surfaced, and just as quickly moved on to the next old girlfriend or English teacher.

When autumn rolled around, a varied group of guests gathered at my house for a pre-Thanksgiving soiree. My new old friends Scott and Alan were unavailable to attend, but Jon and his missus excitedly joined us. With a houseful of people from various categories of my acquaintance, extended conversations are difficult. My wife is much more adept at mingling and spending time with all her guests, no matter how brief. I pick who I want to talk to and I pick who I want to avoid. While Jon was simultaneously devouring a cookie and admiring the unusual d├ęcor in our dining room, he offhandedly mentioned that Lisa Holtsberg had passed away in September. My eyes widened and I cocked my head in disbelief as I asked Jon to repeat what he just said, in case an errant chocolate chip had ricocheted off a vocal cord and impacted his words. Jon’s wife Marjie confirmed that I had not heard wrong. Mrs. Pincus was carrying a stack of paper plates laden with crumbs and I grabbed her arm as she walked by. I told her what Jon had told me, and although she had never met Lisa, I could tell she was saddened. Not just at the loss of someone so young, but because of the unusual reoccurring role Lisa played in our lives.

For most of our relationship, my wife has been intrigued by the fact that I avoid my past like the plague. Often, we would go to a mall or to a restaurant and I would single out a man noting that I had attended high school with him. “Are you going to say ‘Hello’ and ask how he’s been?”, she’d innocently inquire. I would always answer in the negative, adding that if I gave a shit about “how he’s been”, I would have kept in touch. My dear, dear wife — sweet, warm and friend to all — still finds this perplexing. Year after year, I have expressed no interest in the festivities of a high school reunion. The thought of reliving the dreadful memories (the ones I can remember) of my teen years turns my stomach. Catching up with ancient acquaintances I expect would be lying about post-high school accomplishments turns my stomach even more. Sure, I had friends in school — close ones — but it seemed as though that portion of my life happened to another person. However, 2010 seemed to have brought that person back.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Oh, Dem Golden Slippers

Philadelphia is famous for a lot of things — The Liberty Bell, soft pretzels and cheesteaks... um.... did I already say "The Liberty Bell"? Okay, Philadelphia is famous for a few things.

Like most cities, Philadelphia has traditions that are not well-known to non-residents. One of the "locals only" customs in the City of Brotherly Love is the annual Mummers Parade. The Mummers parade, which has raged on every New Years Day for the past one hundred and ten years, is difficult to explain.

As a long-time non-fan of the Mummers, I will give it my best assessment. Obviously, it is a celebration of the brand new year. The Mummers Parade participants hail mostly from the close-knit, blue-collar neighborhoods of South Philadelphia. Various "New Years Associations", as they are called, each make their own costumes, arrange their own music and choreograph their own performances in a process that begins just days after the New Year's Day march up Second Street — "Two Street", as true Mummers call it. Like its West Coast counterpart, The Rose Parade, the Mummers Parade is hand-made. Each float is assembled and decorated by "guys in the neighborhood". The difference, though, is the Mummers parade looks homemade. Very homemade.

Each group's themes are kept a closely-guarded secret, as though they were matters of national security. Ironically, the themes duplicate each other from year to year and even from group to group. Face it, there is only so much that can be done with feathers and sequins and glitter when placed in the hands of a bunch of carpenters and pipe-fitters and truck drivers and tavern owners. So, any given year will see a presentation of "Fantasy of the Clowns" followed by an eerily similar "Clown Fantasy". A production of "Mardi Gras On Two Street" will often give way to a competing group's "Two Street Mardi Gras".

The parade is comprised of the unfunny Comics Groups, the not-so-fancy Fancies Brigades and, the most popular part of the parade, the string bands. Here, a simply-choreographed band of plumbers, welders and retired policemen, gaily festooned in fake plumage and rhinestone-encrusted satin, plunk out a barely-recognizable tune on banjo, accompanied by the din of flat saxophones and clinky glockenspiels. The band is led by a smiling and strutting group captain wearing a color-variant version of the band's chosen costume and caked with more make-up than a Times Square hooker.

Once the parade officially ends, the celebration continues well into New Year's night with the streets of South Philadelphia overflowing with music and alcohol and vomit, despite the adamant claim of a "No Drinking" policy among parade participants.

The most intriguing aspect of the Mummers Parade is that one day out of the year, it is perfectly fine for these guys to prance down Broad Street dressed in feathers, glitter, lipstick and gold-painted shoes, but, if these guys saw anyone dancing down Broad Street dressed in a similar fashion on the other 364 days of the year, they would beat the ever-loving shit out out them.