Sunday, December 23, 2012

B-A bay, B-E bee, B-I bicky by, B-O bo

The Three Stooges started as an idea by vaudeville comedian Ted Healy. Healy stood onstage and told jokes while three "plants" in the audience would heckle him. These plants, or "stooges" as they were called, were eventually pulled up onstage and the act would continue, much to the delight of the real members of the audience. The group, now known as "Ted Healy and his Southern Gentlemen," was a popular stage hit but the team went their separate ways in the early 1930's over a film contract dispute. Now calling themselves "The Three Stooges," Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Moe's brother Jerry (known as "Curly") signed on with Columbia Pictures in 1934 after original member Shemp, the other Howard brother, left to pursue a solo career in films. Shemp eventually returned to the trio after the untimely death of Curly in 1952.

I am not a huge fan of The Three Stooges. Sure, I'm very familiar with the 190 short subjects they produced for Columbia, having seen them on television over a million times. I've seen them, but I wouldn't consider myself a fan. I am, however, a fan of the Golden Age of Hollywood and there is no denying The Stooges' impact on that era of entertainment history. The Stooges have held a larger audience for so many years — than, say The Marx Brothers — because not everyone can understand and appreciate the cleverness of Groucho's rapid-fire wordplay, but everyone laughs at a slap in the face or a kick in the pants (or the occasional wrench-twist of the nose).

In the tiny suburban Philadelphia town of Ambler is the one and only Stoogeum, the only (I repeat only!) museum in the world devoted entirely to the history and preservation of The Three Stooges. No, not in Hollywood, not in New York, but in a small industrial park next to a Ford dealership behind a Wawa. The Stoogeum has unusual operating hours. It is only open one day per month (although that will change in 2013). This past Saturday, I went for the final opening of 2012.

I never imagined what I would find.

I left my house early on Saturday and jumped on to Route 309 for the 20-minute drive to Ambler. Arriving a little early for the posted 10 o'clock opening, I stopped for a cup of coffee at the aforementioned Wawa. Back in my car and sipping from a steaming 20 ounce cup of hazelnut brew, I swung my vehicle around the driveway into the entrance to a small parking lot populated by a cluster of modern-looking buildings housing doctors' offices, small accounting firms and a few companies mysteriously identifying themselves by initials only. I can only imagine what illicit transactions were being conducted behind their darkened windows. A small sign directed me to the 904 building, according to my Mapquest directions, home of The Stoogeum. Turning the corner, I was surprised by the amount of filled parking spaces. I really expected to be the only one there. Instead, I observed a slew of multi-generational families exiting their cars and minivans. It being a few days before Christmas, I guess it was as good a diversion as any to keep the family entertained. Besides, what says "Happy Holidays" better than watching three guys give each other an eye poke? There were Dads in t-shirts emblazoned with one or more Stooge. There were disinterested kids, their faces buried in a hand-held video game, being directed towards the entrance by an equally-disinterested Mom. And there was Grandpa, the tips of his white crew cut rustling in the breeze, imparting his memories of the slapstick threesome aloud and to no one in particular.

I followed several families into the gray, nondescript building. I was directed by the young lady inside to start up the stairs, where I would be greeted by a volunteer with a brief introduction. I scaled the steps and took my place behind a crowd so large that it obscured the person delivering the orientation speech. When the speech ended with a Stooge-referential "Spread out and enjoy!," I shuffled through the entrance to the museum behind two leather jacketed guys who were overly cologned. The place was especially well-presented and beautifully decorated. The collection, assembled exclusively by one Gary Lassin, is positively astounding. On display, in sleek chrome & glass cases throughout three floors, are nearly 100,000 pieces of memorabilia. Everything from movie posters, props and costumes to signed contracts, drivers' licenses, wallets and pocket watch chains are lovingly exhibited. While the flow of chronology is a bit awkward (due to the configuration of the small building), the contents are nonetheless overwhelming. There's an entire room filled with promotional posters, both domestic and foreign, connected to another room stocked with a nearly-complete inventory of licensed merchandise spanning several decades — including trading cards, toys, Halloween costumes and even beer. The walls are covered with a massive collection of movie stills photos and personal shots of Fine and the Howard brothers cavorting and mugging at each other's homes. Most items are accompanied by a small placard explaining, in detail, its significance in the annals of Stooge history. Reading each placard takes a good deal of time. But, the combination of close quarters and the fact that Stooge fans obviously shun deodorant, made this task difficult. I was fascinated by the amount of individual pieces on display, but I couldn't take the stench for any length of time. A few more unwashed patrons walked past me and I took that as my cue to bring my visit to a conclusion.

Making my way back to the main entrance, I overheard a few guests offering vague reminisces and a smattering of wrong information to younger family members, who were actually more interested in playing the free Three Stooges pinball game. I took one last look at the life-size figures of Moe, Larry and Curly — in full bellboy regalia — and descended the stairs to the exit. I thanked the young lady that originally greeted me. She was now standing and talking with a Moe look-alike in a Santa Claus suit.

Considering I live in the city famous for housing a national symbol of freedom and liberty, I can't remember the last time I've seen it. In the past week, however, I have seen a hometown museum filled with medical oddities and one filled with Stooges. (Those are two different places.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

it's beginning to look a lot like christmas

Philadelphia's Suburban Station is not a nice place. It is a necessary evil. Because I regularly travel by train, I have to walk through it to get to work and I have to walk through it to get home. I try to spend as little time as possible in Suburban Station. In the mornings, I exit my train and hasten my step to get to street level as quickly as I can. When I leave work in the evenings, I hurry through the slow-moving crowds to board my train just as it pulls up to the platform.

Suburban Station is huge. At street level, there's a massive 21-story art-deco office building. Below is an underground network of winding walkways stretching for blocks. There are many businesses throughout the station, ranging from "Mom and Pop" variety stores to several outlets of national fast-food chains. Suburban Station is home to a handful of transient street musicians, diligently working their musical instrument of choice while a cup (or sometimes their instrument's open case) beckons a small donation. There's also an unwashed handful of just plain transients. On most days, the station is permeated by a mixture of smells: old cooking oil, sweat, piss, liquor, sewage and mold. It's an unpleasant odor, as you can imagine, and one you don't want to be subjected to for any length of time (hence my hastened gait). It the summer, it's worse as the heat adds to its potency. No, in the winter, it's worse, as the cold adds a sort of preservative aspect. It's just bad all year 'round.

Which is why I was surprised last Friday.

On Friday, I got off the train and rushed up the platform stairs to the main station. SEPTA, the overseeing body that operates Philadelphia public transportation, has decorated the station for the winter holidays. Garland is draped from support columns. Small areas between benches are sectioned off with plastic fencing surrounding a blanket of fake snow and a couple of sparsely-decorated artificial trees. It's a nice attempt at "festive," but it's still Suburban Station and it still smells like shit. Making my way to the nearest exit and the promise of fresher air, I passed a typical family — Mom, Dad and little Billy and Suzy. They were happy, dressed in brightly colored winter wear and clutching paper shopping bags stuffed with a morning's worth of Christmas purchases. They were posing, as a family, in front of one of SEPTA's holiday displays, carefully positioning themselves midway between a fake white tree decorated with purple glass balls and a fake blue tree with similar decor, except green instead of purple. Little Billy and Little Suzy grinned and mugged as Mom and Dad hugged and leaned in close. A woman adjusting a camera stood a few feet in front of them. The family beamed as the camera's flash fired and the memory of their magical Suburban Station Christmas was instantly preserved forever in 16.0 megapixels. They continued to smile and laugh as they gathered together and peered at the camera to preview the photo.

And it seemed as though they didn't even notice the smell.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

little shop, little shop of horrors

As I have mentioned before, I don't particularly like shopping. I can tolerate some stores, like Target and my local supermarket. Multi-level malls, however, make me cringe. I admit that I have found myself, on occasion, in a Walmart, but I don't like to linger. I like to get my incredibly low-priced merchandise and get the hell out of there (mostly, for fear that someone I know will see me in a Walmart... but, wait! That means they're in a Walmart, too!). Walmart's cheap prices cannot be denied. The drawback is that you have to go to Walmart to get them. But, judging by the amount of customers in a Walmart on any given day, you would never imagine that the economy is suffering.

Target has shrewdly positioned itself above Walmart, while avoiding the pretentiousness of department stores. Target's combination of kitschy chic and sensible discounts is brilliant marketing. In spite of the fact that Target sells peanut butter and winter coats and power drills, it remains cool. (Walmart also sells peanut butter and winter coats and power drills, yet it remains not cool.)

Then there's K-Mart.

On a recent Saturday, my wife had a few last-minute gifts to purchase and since Chanukah blindsided us with an early arrival this year, we decided to get our collective asses in gear. Mrs. P received an emailed plea from K-Mart, based on a purchase she made nearly eight months ago. The offer, phrased in an almost pathetic beg, promised seven whole dollars off any purchase in the store. Closer inspection revealed that the item must be selected from the toy department. Well, better than nothing! We'll just get something for seven bucks and split. (But, I've known my wife for thirty years and there's no such thing as "hit and run" when it comes to her and shopping.... even at K-Mart.)

The closest K-Mart to our house requires driving past several malls, shopping complexes and strip centers. With the big gift-giving holidays approaching at a threatening pace, the parking lots of these commerce establishments were packed. Anxious shoppers maneuvered their cars in and around lengthy rows of vehicles, hoping to spot that one elusive space and get on with their shopping. Lot after lot was a sea of chrome and tires... until we came to K-Mart. Poor K-Mart. In K-Mart's parking lot, we had our pick of prime parking accommodations. I could have made a blindfolded U-turn with a cruise ship and not hit anything.

We entered the store. It was sad. A single display of generic boxed Christmas cards stood just inside the automatic doors. It was tilting a bit to left. A few confused shoppers pushed nearly-empty carts aimlessly about. I whispered to my wife, "See these people? Obviously, there was an incident and they've been banned from Walmart. Now, they have to come here instead. Why else would anyone shop here?"

Continuing deeper into the store, it just got sadder. A few popcorn tins, dented and emblazoned with several out-of-favor cartoon characters, were stacked haphazardly in one aisle. Another aisle offered varied gift sets ranging from hot chocolate kits to shaving outfits. Next to that was cardboard shelving stocked with Ben Gay. Tinny, unrecognizable Christmas music trickled out of the ceiling speakers.

We found the shabby toy department and proceeded up and down each aisle — several times — scanning the shelves for something — anything — we could grab for seven bucks. We settled on a Hello Kitty lunchbox and headed for the checkout area. As we expected, the lines were light. When it was our turn, I placed our selections (yeah, yeah... we got other stuff, too. I told you!) up on the counter and my wife presented the print out of her special K-Mart offer. The cashier looked at the paper as though it were the twentieth question in the math section of the SATs. She pressed a series of keys on her cash resister and reported that "the system is down," praying we would just pay cash and leave her brain alone. Mrs. P explained the origins of the offer to the cashier, an explanation that would have received the same reaction had it been delivered in that South American tribal clicky language. A manager was summoned. She was cordial, businesslike and swift in her actions. Gently shoving the cashier aside, the manager mashed some buttons, swiped some access cards and whisked the printed paper out of the cashier's hand. "I'll have to hold on to this.," she said as she started back to the customer service area. We gathered up our bagged items and started for our car. Seven dollars had been deducted from our receipt.

While we loaded the bags into the back of my wife's SUV, I said, "Take a good look at this place, because next year, I predict, there won't be such a thing as K-Mart. There's just no room in the world for it."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

that's my daughter in the water

- - -   ACT I   - - -

It is a celebration dinner. A birthday party for a ten-year old. Gaily colored paper plates and napkins are laid out at each place-setting. A small representation of the family is there. Everyone has taken their place at the table. The BIRTHDAY GIRL has requested the seat at the head of the table. Her little sister PEALY sits three spaces away, separated by GRANDFATHER and GRANDMOTHER. FATHER and MOTHER are both seated at the far end of the table.

Has everyone seen my cake?
Isn't it beautiful?

(loudly to BIRTHDAY GIRL and PEALY)
Y'know, everyday your mother and I have to convince ourselves not to kill you.
And every day, it gets more and more difficult to contain ourselves.

stares silently.

stares silently.

- - -   END SCENE   - - -

Friday, December 14, 2012

twice on the pipes

Last Friday, my wife went into that mysterious cabinet under the sink to get... whatever it is that we keep in there. To make a long story short, one persistent musty smell and a pile of wet dishtowels later, we had a call in to a plumber.

Now, like any homeowner, we've had our share of unexpected plumbing adventures — some routine, some emergencies. The reliable plumber that we have used for years was an old-school pipe tightener who would happily crawl under or crawl behind any sort of dark confining space in order to fix a leak or replace some sort of threaded and caulked apparatus. Unfortunately, I believe he is now retired (or possibly deceased), so another plumber was called based purely on his proximity to my house.

My wife made the call to the phone number advertised as "24-hour service". An answering service asked if the predicament was an emergency. Unlike most people who see a few drops of water and panic, we assessed that the leak as more of an inconvenience and, since it was late and nearly the weekend, the service call could wait until Monday.

We went the entire weekend without turning on the kitchen faucet. We ordered Chinese food for dinner so Mrs. P wouldn't have to cook. My wife also loaded the dishwasher with any stray dishes, mugs and flatware so it would be ready to run once the plumbing issue was resolved. So, bright and early on Monday, she called to remind our potential new plumber of our under-the-sink leak, repeating the details once again. We were told that a representative would be arriving within the half hour. I was home on Monday, using one of my few remaining vacation days of 2012. So, Mrs. P and I waited. And waited. And waited. She fiddled with her phone, playing online games. I shifted in a chair at the dining room table, asking the significance of the "boops" and "beeps" emanating from her handheld device. Finally, there was a knock at our front door. I opened the door and greeted a leathery, white-haired man who stunk of tobacco. In one hand, he gripped a bucket filled with a collection of fearsome implements — darkly patinaed, toothy and glistening with recently-acquired moisture. In the other hand, he held a snake-like spotlight.

"Well," I thought to myself, "he certainly looks like he knows what he's doing."

I led him to the kitchen and pointed to the gaping maw that the open doors of the cabinet presented. He poked his spotlight around, bumping the plastic container we had shoved under the pipe to catch any residual water. He craned his weathered neck this way and that and finally stood up and said, "I don't have the right pipe with me. I gotta go back to the shop."

Now, I don't live in some sort of crazy, futuristic prototype home that uses experimental still-under-development plumbing technology. Nor do I live in a 14th century thatched roof dwelling where my water is supplied by a network of sap-lined hollowed-out tree trunks and paraffin-covered leather buckets rotating on a series of pulleys and hemp rope. I live in a house. A regular house. With pipes. You know, regular house pipes. And this guy knew for three fucking days that he was coming to fix a leak under a regular sink in a regular house. It's like calling a guy to cut your grass and, when he shows up, he says, "I'll be back in a little while with the lawn mower." Or having a carpenter tell you he has to return to his workshop to get the nails.

Guess who'll be looking for another plumber.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"M" is for the million things she gave me

As I exited the train station, I got a text message from my son that he was waiting outside of our predetermined destination — the Mütter Museum. I walked through a light drizzle to an ornate, yet unassuming collegiate-style building, nestled among the high-rises and offices on North 22nd Street. My son was pacing, hands jammed in his coat pockets, but he smiled when he recognized me approaching. Hundreds of people pass by this building daily, but how many know that just on the other side of those heavy wooden doors is a vast collection of human horrors that are capable of making one's head spin.

We entered the marble foyer that proudly displayed and acknowledged the names of those whose generosity had made the Mütter Museum an ongoing reality. Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter, a 19th century pioneer in plastic surgery, donated his collection to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia in hopes that it would be used for research and education. And, oh, the things Dr. Mütter collected. (My son, a past visitor, noted that the museum bears the good doctor's name for several reasons: it was his collection, he had a bit of an ego and, most importantly, if they called it "The Museum of Totally Fucked-Up Shit," no one would come.)

Once through the dignified reception area, past a formal sitting area replete with period furnishings, the adventure began. The subdued lighting shone down on a room lined with dark polished wood and glass showcases that stretched from floor to ceiling. Within the confines of glass and wood were examples of medical wonder ranging from the tiniest bone fragment to complete torsos, their contents splayed in preserved grisly Technicolor. The mind-dizzying accumulation includes wax replicas and actual specimens of appendages, limbs, organs and bones — some twisted and misshapen, some sprouting one or two angry red eruptions, some covered with ghastly amorphic growths rendering the specific body part unrecognizable. There is an entire wall of skulls garnered from every nook and cranny on earth, all in varying degrees of completeness and integrity, some sporting the results of poorly healed gunshot wounds. Down a flight of stairs, the exhibit continues (as my son stated in a tone of delighted caution, "Now, shit gets real!") with slices of brain, dissected spinal columns, bloated fetuses jarred and preserved in murky formaldehyde, sundry severed hands and feet, shiny with preservative lacquer, a detailed study of every conceivable eye disorder and drawers filled with various items that one doctor removed from patients over the course of his career — all numbered and cataloged. (The drawer marked "PINS" is particularly unnerving.) One wall features a graphic, yet lovingly presented overview of birth defects and adjacent to that is the pickled conjoined liver of celebrated 19th century Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker. Oh, and there's a forty-foot colon impossibly gorged with fecal matter.

My boy and I viewed the assorted oddities in awe, interjecting smart-ass commentary when we felt it necessary. (My son repeatedly approached the showcases and muttered authoritatively, "Now... what seems to be the trouble?") Nearly two hours later, our medical journey had drawn to a close and we were browsing the gift shop, but not before we waved "adieu" to a woman whose corpse had mysteriously turned to soap. That's right. Soap.

Philadelphia is renowned for the Liberty Bell and .... soft pretzels and cheese steaks I guess. However, if you ever get the chance to visit The City of Brotherly Love, skip that old cracked bell. Instead, I encourage you to visit the Mütter Museum and marvel at what could happen if one day, without warning, your body just turns on you. It truly is an enlightening experience.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

almost cut my hair

After a huge Italian meal, we did the next logical thing. We went to get doughnuts. So, we waved goodbye to my brother and sister-in-law as we exited the restaurant and drove to a Krispy Kreme not too far from our house.

It was around 9 o'clock in the evening and Oxford Avenue was dark and quiet. We parked in the nearly-empty Krispy Kreme lot and walked in. One young lady was shuffling trays into the glass displays behind the service counter and a man in a hairnet silently presided over the winding conveyor belt, surveying the contingency of plump, holed pastries passing under the viscous waterfall of sugary glaze. A booth in the far corner was occupied by two men who looked as though they were nursing the same cup of coffee for several weeks. Aside from that, the place was deserted.

We studied the various baked choices and considered several of the holiday-themed offerings (two-tiered doughnuts frosted like snowmen and glazed gingerbread crullers). Suddenly, Mrs. P's hair got yanked. Immediately, she suspected me — but, in the thirty years I've known her, I have never felt the need nor desire to yank her long locks. Then, she thought it may have been an acquaintance who entered through another door and recognized her from afar.

Nope. It was none of those.

It was a short woman in a dirty sweater, lipstick smeared haphazardly across her mouth, a knit cap stretched and pulled too far down on her head.. The woman was pulling her splayed fingers through my wife's hair.

"When was the last time you cut your hair?," she squawked, her overly red lips curled in a leer. 

My wife recoiled in horror. "I'm thinking of cutting it right now!," she gagged out her reply, "Or washing it, at the very least!"

"Oh no, no, no.," the woman continued, her mouth bent in a crooked half-smile, "Your hair is so long and beautiful. How long has it been since you cut it?" She reached out in an attempt to grab another mittfull of my spouse's lengthy tresses. My wife cringed and stepped further back, nearly pressing her back against the glass display cases.

Finally, the woman gave up her barrage of questions, released Mrs. P's hair and started towards the exit — still muttering about long hair and haircuts. My wife was visibly distressed, pacing about and shaking her head, trying the rid herself of any residual filth this woman may have left in her free-form manual combing of my wife's mane.

"Who does that?," Mrs. P exclaimed, "Who touches another person's hair? Who feels it's their right to touch another person? Who grabs and pulls a stranger's hair?" She was simultaneously angry and nauseous. She hurried me along in my baked goods selection, saying she was anxious to get home and scrub the memory of that creep out of her scalp. I paid for our purchase and we sped home to a waiting and healing bottle of shampoo.

Friday, December 7, 2012

how much is that doggie in the window

Once and for all, I don't know your fucking dog, I don't love your fucking dog and I don't want your fucking dog to come near me. Are we clear?

A few nights ago, my wife and I stopped by Wawa (an East coast chain of convenience stores that 7-11 lays awake at night and dreams of being) for sandwiches. After picking up and paying for our order, we entered the small vestibule that separates the store from the parking lot. I could see through the large plate glass windows that a small, rusting green car had pulled up too close to our car in the parking lot. A window was lowered in the car's back seat door on the side that faced my wife's 4 Runner. Sticking out of the space once occupied by the window was the enormous hairy head of a very fierce-looking dog. (In the animal's defense, based on my dislike for all things canine, I think that all dogs are "fierce-looking.") A giant, thick strap of tongue hung lazily from its lower jaw, its dark pink underside hugging the contours of the huge incisors that lined the dog's mandible. Long syrupy drips of saliva fell from the tongue's slightly curled tip as the dog's cold, dark eyes scanned the store for his owner. The mutt's head was roughly the size of a buffalo's and it extended well into the no-man's land between my wife's car and the dented green heap.

The beast was not at all restrained and the window was fully retracted into the door. Without provocation, that dog could easily leap from the vehicle in a split second, prompted only by the slightest enticement of, say, a guy holding a bag of sandwiches.

I didn't move. I stood there, holding two bags of delicious sandwiches, chips and commercially-baked individual dessert cakes (one for me, one for the missus — if we cleaned our plates), and didn't move. I stared at the dog. The dog stared at me. Mrs. Pincus walked to her driver's side door. I spoke up.

"Could you back the car up?," I asked my wife, "There's a big dog sticking its head out the window and it's a little too close to our car.

She smiled and happily obliged, as she slid in behind the wheel and turned the ignition key. Once she maneuvered the car a comfortable distance from the fearsome hound, I scooted out into the parking lot and hopped in to the passenger's side of our front seat. As Mrs. P backed up a bit more to achieve a better alignment with the lot's exit, the dog's master emerged from the store and lit up a cigarette. He assessed the scenario before him and concluded that I just dissed his dog.

"He wouldn't have done nuthin' t' you.," he called out to us. When I didn't acknowledge, he shook his head, frowned and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture of disgust.

Listen, dog owners, no matter what you think — your dog can't talk. Your dog cannot communicate to a human being, in clear, understandable terms, that he promises to be on his best behavior and will not, under any circumstances, jump up and smear your shirt with muddy paws, shove his nose into your crotch at a level usually reserved for members of the medical profession or tear your facial flesh from your skull. Dogs are animals, just like lions or sharks or scorpions — and just as unpredictable. I don't know what your dog is capable of and I don't want to find out. I don't need to hear reassurance from a biased dog owner about how harmless his pet is. I will most likely never ever see you or your dog again. Yeah, yeah. I know. Your dog is your baby. Well, my baby never tore up a pile of unattended mail or shit on my neighbor's lawn. And I'm sure your dog didn't learn the lyrics to Grateful Dead songs at two years-old or make the Dean's List for eight consecutive college semesters.

I know it's hard to believe, but, your dog is just a dog to the rest of the world.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

a little bit of soap

The holiday shopping season is upon us. I'm sure your email is jammed daily with offers and specials from online retailers that you have done business with throughout the year. Maybe even some from whom you have never made a purchase. I have received solicitations from Amazon, Zappos, Accessory Geeks (from whom I returned both of the only purchases I made), Utrecht (an art supply store) and countless others.

Sometime during this past summer, I. bought a box of Keurig K-cups from Bed Bath and Beyond's online store. Since then, I have received a 20% online coupon from Triple B in my email every week. Every week! When summer became fall, the emails from BB&B came every day, gearing me up for my holiday shopping. I was getting ads and offers every single day! EVERY SINGLE DAY! But yesterday's email topped them all.

Yesterday morning, I received this email from The BedBathers (click on the photo for a larger version):

 The subject line reads: "A simple approach to hand washing." I stared at the subject line for a moment or two and I thought to myself, "When I open this email, it better be a picture of a fucking bar of soap." So, I gave it a single mouse-click and the Bed Bath and Beyond email popped open to reveal this contraption (click on the photo for a larger version):

Not quite a bar of soap, is it? So, already, the claim of "a simple approach to hand washing" has become a misnomer. Instead, I am looking at what appears to be a Keurig coffee brewer for your hands. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that this thing is a liquid soap dispenser. Now, I have seen liquid soap dispensers in the supermarket and at the drug store. They are squat plastic bottles with a spring-loaded pump screwed on to the top and they run about four bucks. Some of the more elaborate ones, featuring mystery cleansing ingredients like jojoba, aloe and antibacterial benzhyrdotriglyceride emollients, are priced slightly higher. But, this sleek chrome baby that Bed Bath and Beyond is offering me as an exclusive member of their elite email-only group will only set me back $44.99. Oh, and refills for this piece of sanitizing equipment are a mere $6.99 each. 

The "simple approach" seems to be in the fact that it is "motion activated" thus making hand washing "easy and fun." (as stated in the accompanying description). I wash my hands regularly. Not in an obsessive/compulsive sort-of way, but I do wash my hands. The thought of how much fun I was having while doing so never entered my mind. And the ease?  Well, the act never really lasted that long to have considered what a tedious or hectic chore it may have been. 

Guess what, Bed Bath and Beyond? A formula for soap was discovered written on a Babylonian clay tablet dating from around 2200 BC. I can buy ten bath-size bars of Ivory Soap for five bucks. And, squishing that 99.44% pure white cake through my fingers is as much fun as I need when I'm sprucing up my dirty hands.

Stick to selling sheets and towels. Unless the "beyond" refers to your thought patterns.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I am a patient boy, I wait, I wait, I wait

I follow rules. I abide by policy. I don't cut in line. I don't try to pass expired coupons. I don't ask to have exceptions made for me. And I believe I am in the minority.

I went to pick up a prescription at Walgreen's yesterday evening after work. I wandered to the back of the store towards the pharmacy. When I arrived at the pharmacy, the young pharmacist (he looked like a very recent graduate from pharmaceutical school... very recent) was helping a young lady with several prescriptions. I waited at a comfortable distance as to afford them their privacy. Their discussion lasted quite a while, including at least four trips to the stockroom by the pharmacist. There was one available pick-up window and they were obviously short-handed. But, I waited for my turn.

Suddenly, a man in his 70s marched right up to an unmanned portion of the counter and leaned forward, craning his neck around to get the attention of an employee busily filling prescriptions out of customer view.

"Hey!," he croaked, "You got that Mucinex? The one with Sudafed in it?"

From behind the frosted glass, I could see the auxiliary pharmacist look up. Startled, he asked, "Excuse me?"

The old man repeated, this time a bit more agitated, "Mucinex with Suafed in it! Where do you keep that?"

The second pharmacist walked over to a set of shelves displaying all sorts of Mucinex and generic equivalents behind the pharmacy counter — in full, illuminated sight of any customer in a ten-foot radius. "Right here, sir.," he said, exercising terrific restraint, "What size package would you like? 12 doses? 24? 36?"

"Give me the big one.," the old man barked as he fumbled for his wallet. At this point, another customer had queued up behind me. The young lady was still getting the lowdown on her potential purchases. The pharmacist removed a 36-dose package of Mucinex-D from the shelf and informed the old man that he had to pay for it at this counter.

"Why can I pay for it up at the front register?," he argued and he turned to me for a little fraternal concordance, "What difference does it make where I pay for it?"

"They must have their reasons, sir.," I said, still looking straight ahead. (By law, products containing pseudoephedrine must now be sold behind the pharmacy counter since The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2006 was passed to eliminate the use of pseudoephedrine in the illegal production of meth.)

Instead of taking his proper place in the queue line, the old man stood next to me, impatiently shifting his weight from one leg to the other and exhaling in an overly dramatic manner. He was still muttering about the obligation to pay at one specific cash register. Especially one with a long line.

"Hey, can I just pay for that Mucinex?, " he yelled, interrupting the lengthy consultation between Pharmacist Number One and "I Never Got A Prescription For Anything In My Life" Girl. Finally, the young lady paid for her many bags of medication and the old man pushed right ahead of me.

"Sir," began the young pharmacist, "I need to see your ID."

"My ID? What for?," and he handed over his driver's license before he got his answer. However, he refused to loosen his grip on the laminated card to allow the young pharmacist to examine it more closely.

As he wrestled unsuccessfully to free the license from the old man's clenched fingers, he announced "I need to scan it, sir."

"Scan it?," the old man protested, "No you don't! You're not scanning anything!"

I couldn't take this old man's shit anymore. First, he pushed his way forward to ask a question. Then, he butt in front of me in line. Now, he feels that federal law does not apply to him. "It's required by law, sir!, " I yelled from behind him, "You can't buy it unless they scan your license."

"Huh?," he said, "Oh. Okay."

The young pharmacist scanned the old man's license, explained five or six times where to put his electronic signature on the credit card terminal and the transaction was complete. He gathered up his purchase and stomped past me. He didn't even apologize for pushing ahead of me.

As I said earlier, this man was at least 70. Fifty years ago, he was in his 20s, a pretty vibrant time in anyone's life. That would mean he was in the prime of his life, the most vital time of his existence in the early 1960s — a time when technology was on the verge of exploding with space travel and organ transplants. It was the age of well-behaved and respectful suburban families (like the Cleavers and The Douglases on My Three Sons ). It was the era of civil rights and the ideals of freedom...and the airwaves were filled with the silly sounds of The Archies, the poppy sounds of The Beatles, and the psychedelic sounds of Vanilla Fudge.

So, where on earth did this guy pick up this behavior?

Friday, November 23, 2012

how can you mend a broken heart?

My 25 year-old son is — in his own words — a minor local celebrity. After graduating from college two years ago, he landed a dream job. He is a disc jockey on a popular Philadelphia radio station. In addition to behind-the-scenes production duties, he is on the air six days a week, including a listener request show on Saturday afternoons. The station boasts an eclectic mix of music, shunning Top 40 and pre-fab voices like Katy Perry and Nick Minaj. Instead, they opt to play up-and-coming and established singers, sometimes falling into an unclassifiable genre. It's a welcome and refreshing option from the usual junk that has become local radio. And, as a public radio station, they are commercial-free.

A few nights ago, we had a houseful of people for whom my wife baked a kitchenful of desserts. The guest list included family, friends, neighbors and co-workers — both current and former. My friend and co-worker Kym brought her 6 year-old daughter Elle. Elle, while still infatuated with current boy bands like One Direction and Lemonade Mouth, likes to listen to my boy's show on the radio. She thinks it's cool and, during his broadcast, asks her mom, "We know him, right?," already happy that she knows the answer.

When guests began to arrive, Elle eyed the table filled with baked goods and then scanned the crowd for my son. I reintroduced him to Elle and she shyly smiled as he greeted her.

As you can imagine, I live in an unusual house. It is chock-full of an interesting conglomeration of antiques, vintage toys, advertising memorabilia, pop culture collectibles — all displayed throughout three stories and a basement (which includes a working full-size Q*Bert arcade game and a Back to the Future pinball machine). Plus, there's the room filled with a thirty-year collection of Disney souvenirs, but that's another story. Our home, while the contents are pleasingly arranged, looks like it is owned by two ten year-olds.

So, my son was happily showing Elle around the house, pointing out all the cool stuff and answering all of Elle's questions. As she looked at all the shelves jammed with old toys, obsolete implements and tons of neat-o stuff, a starry-eyed Elle finally asked my son, "Why did you ever move out of here?"

He answered, "Well, I got a job and I moved into a house with my girlfriend."

GIRLFRIEND???? At the mention of the word, Elle's face sunk.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

there's no place like home for the holidays

I'm not a big "holiday" person. I don't hate the holidays, I just don't get caught up in the harried, plan-making and obligatory get-togethering that normally comes with end-of-year festivities. My wife — who loves that kind of stuff — usually makes the arrangements and I just accompany her (sort of like an attentive puppy or a clothing accessory).

For the past several years, we have been invited to Thanksgiving dinner at my wife's brother's house. He lives just outside of Atlantic City, so given Mrs. P's affinity for casino games, it was like a bonus. My brother-in-law would go all out, proudly reigning over his kitchen, preparing and checking and orchestrating a lavish vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. Soup, salad, rolls, fresh vegetables were served, as well as the crowning glory of any traditional vegetarian Thanksgiving meal - the tofurky (a softball-sized pre-fabricated mass of tofu, spices and seasoning stuffed with a savory, rice-y mixture). It is way better than it looks, though hardly a substitute for real poultry. My wife (not a vegetarian) would happily forgo actual turkey flesh and join the rest of the herbivores, because my brother-in-law's feast was just that good.

Sometime in October of this year, my mother-in-law told my wife that she received an invitation for Thanksgiving from Crissy, my brother-in-law's spouse. While very nice, Crissy is a wee bit on the — shall we say — "quirky" side. My mother-in-law had to decline the invite. She and my father-in-law planned to spend time with GG (my wife's 102-year-old grandmother) at the assisted-living facility where she resides. Afterwards, they would return home and have a quiet turkey dinner for two.

My wife speaks with Crissy regularly, talking about work and life and our children (their 4 year-old and our 25 year-old)  — but no mention of Thanksgiving ever crept into recent conversation.

Three days before Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law called and my wife answered the phone.

"Hey!," he began, "Are we going to see you on Thanksgiving?"

"Thanksgiving?," she replied, "No, we weren't invited."

He laughed. "No, really. Are you guys coming?"

Again, my wife repeated, "We weren't invited. I'm not angry or anything. We just didn't get an invitation."

Suddenly the sound from the phone became muffled. My brother-in-law had slid a hand over the mouthpiece. Mrs. P heard the garbled noises of a barely audible side conversation. She was, however, able to make out a few words — "invite" "sister" and "dinner" were some of them. The audio returned to normal and my brother-in-law said, "Well, okay, happy Thanksgiving." and he hung up.

We're having Thanksgiving dinner this year with my wife's parents.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

tan shoes and pink shoe laces

We went to Target this afternoon. I like Target. I don't like K-Mart or Walmart (or shopping in particular), but Target I like. In addition to picking up some things for an upcoming pre-holiday get-together at our house, we were in search of a cool, limited edition Target gift card. Not just a run-of-the-mill, three-inch-by-two-inch piece of plastic with a magnetic strip and a bar code. This gift card is a real toy car with the iconic Target dog sitting behind the wheel. It comes with a little map of the United States and, once unfolded, the Target dog tools around the US in his car ... looking for other Target stores, I guess. (Go ahead. Tell me that's not the coolest thing you've ever seen. Okay... one of the coolest things.)
We walked up and down every aisle of the store, hunting down end caps displaying their selection of gift cards. Since the giving of cards instead of gifts has gained popularity, these displays are just about everywhere in the store. And, of course, each display exhibited an empty hook where our desired gift cards should have been hanging. We moved from aisle to aisle, display to display — all with the same result.

Finally, my wife approached a young man who was taking books out of a shopping cart and placing them on a shelf. Obviously, he was an employee. She asked him if he knew where the elusive gift card could be found. He replied hesitantly, pointing in several directions and gesturing with his head in several more. Mrs. P thanked him and she walked back towards me, shrugging her shoulders.

A little further down the same aisle, Mrs. P asked another employee the same question. She even gave a more detailed description of the card in question. The fellow said, "I'll ask Mike. He knows everything about everything in this store."

"I think I already asked him," my wife interrupted  "Is he putting out books right over there?" She pointed to our previous location.

"Uh, yeah," he concurred, "He's wearing a red shirt and khaki pants, right?"

My wife stared expressionless for a moment. "You're all wearing red shirts and khaki pants."

"Oh," he chuckled, and with a half-cocked grin, "I guess we are."


Monday, November 12, 2012

ave maria

My wife got a call from one of her closest friends. She called to say that her mother had passed away and the funeral was scheduled for Monday. Her mother had been ill for quite a while and her time had come.

My wife arrived at the funeral chapel and stood quietly just inside a doorway as the service commenced. The proceedings were filled with praying and psalms and organ music and singing and Jesus — all of the things a textbook Catholic funeral should include. After the service, my wife greeted and consoled her friend Lisa. Lisa reintroduced her father to my wife. They had met once before, but it was the polite thing to do. Lisa's dad Vince was visibly distraught. He managed to display a brief smile and he embraced Mrs. Pincus and thanked her for coming. Soon, the attendees dispersed, some returning to their regular day's business while others queued up in their cars to continue on to the cemetery. My wife decided to accompany the small contingency to witness the burial.

The praying and psalms continued, followed by each member of the assembly placing a flower atop the casket. Afterwards, as few attendees lingered with family, Lisa's dad threw a burly arm around my wife's shoulders. Teary-eyed, he thanked my wife again for coming and for her support for Lisa.

Mrs. Pincus said, "It was a lovely service and a beautiful tribute to your lives together."

Vince, steeped in the ancestry of Old World Italians, recounted, "I saw her every day. In her sickness, some would have walked away, but I believe that marriage is a commitment... a commitment you make forever. I told her, just before she passed, that I would marry her again if I was given the chance. I said if there is marriage in Heaven, please wait for me. Don't get married in Heaven. Wait for me because I will marry you again in Heaven when my time comes."

He shook my wife's hand, lightly squeezed his daughter's shoulder and started off toward the cars parked on the cemetery grounds.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

go and fetch the captain's log and tear the pages out

William Shatner is the greatest actor that ever took the stage or stood before a camera. If you don't believe me, you can ask him.

In 1966, Gene Roddenberry was asked to recast the pilot of a science fiction series he proposed to NBC. Dumping the poorly-received Jeffrey Hunter, Roddenberry recruited a young actor named William Shatner to play the charismatic leader Captain James T. Kirk. Shatner, the veteran of many small stage productions, a handful of anthology TV series and the former "Ranger Bob" on the Canadian version of The Howdy Doody Show, jumped at the role. NBC approved of the recast and Star Trek, as a series, went into production. After 79 episodes with disappointingly low ratings, Star Trek was canceled, despite a rabid letter-writing campaign by fans. NBC issued this announcement: "You Star Trek fans have fought the 'good fight,' but the show has been canceled and there's nothing to be done now." The regular cast went their separate ways.

Years later, Star Trek was recognized as a ground-breaking series, in spite of its low-budget production and sub-par acting. The cast of the original series went on, in true Bob Denver/Gilligan's Island fashion, to milk those characters for all they were worth. And leading the pack was William Shatner. Shatner was given roles based on the novelty of William Shatner. It was a joke. A goof, with everyone in on it but Shatner. Instead, Shatner  — perceiving himself as the revered thespian, stumbled through a post-Star Trek career of B-grade movies (remember Kingdom of the Spiders or Incubus, a full-length movie with dialogue entirely in Esperanto?), TV guest appearances usually including a "Captain Kirk wink-wink" reference, and the occasional (embarrassing) musical foray. Sure, he was successful at all of his various endeavors, but so was Ted Bundy. His subsequent long-running series were strong, but they were no doubt conceived as "Let's see Captain Kirk as a cop!" and "Let's see Captain Kirk as a lawyer!"

Last night, my wife and I subjected ourselves to went to see the local stop on Shatner's current one-man career retrospective Shatner's World: We Just Live in It on its multi-city tour. The performance, at the main showroom at Harrah's Casino in Atlantic City, came one week after the New Jersey community suffered heavy loss and damage as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Shatner was scheduled for two performances at Harrah's, but the Friday evening show was canceled. Not because of the hurricane, but due to lack of ticket sales. (Luckily, our tickets were complimentary and yes, that's a $75.00 face value per seat.)

After dinner, we arrived as the doors opened one hour prior to curtain. The place was empty and as it grew nearer to showtime, the theater was not filling up too quickly. Soon, the lights dimmed and Shatner's voice announced himself as he bounded out to the stage to the strains of the Star Trek theme (what else?). The set was sparse. A large screen showed a starry sky and two tables and chairs stood at either end of the stage. We sat back and witnessed two hours of self-indulgence that could have just as easily been presented in an empty venue with the same results from the performer. Shatner, who is by no means a comedian, stumbled and stammered through a mish-mash of meandering soliloquies, most culminating in a payoff not worth the wait. He lost his train of thought several times during each anecdote and several times tripped over the punchlines. Many of his tales were pointless nonsequiters, told purely for his own amusement. He related a story of purchasing a horse, punctuating it with loud bursts of bravado acting. I don't even remember the point of the story. Next, touching on the humble beginnings of his acting career, he told of a famous incident in which he shared the stage with actor Lon Chaney Jr. During a performance on live television, a drunken Chaney — thinking it was still a rehearsal — muttered to himself about not breaking props and saving them for the live show. The panicked director couldn't convey the fact that this was the live show, and the result was unintentionally hilarious. (This exhibition is recounted here and is available to watch here.) Curiously, the teleplay does not include Shatner. The 1952 anthology series Tales of Tomorrow, during which the incident took place, never featured Shatner. His inclusion in the story happened in his imagination.

Shatner's World also featured many film clips including an interview with Patrick Stewart, star of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Stewart, a classically trained and respected actor said, "If I were to die tomorrow, I'd be happy and honored to only be remembered as Captain Picard." The statement was delivered in a truly heartfelt and humbled manner. Stewart is a better actor than Shatner, so his comment was either convincingly scripted or genuine. Shatner put on his hack-actor face and replied, "I feel the same way." His reply dripped with ostentatious bullshit.

Over the course of any show, I have never seen more patrons get up and walk out. At one point, I counted ten people at one time making a mass exodus.

Bottom line: Shatner is a blowhard. He is full of himself and way more impressed by his accomplishments that anyone else. He is an overacting ham with very limited range who lucked into an iconic show nearly six decades ago. Over the years, his co-stars have voiced their dislike for Shatner, including actor George Takei who, on a Comedy Central roast of Shatner, screamed, "Fuck you and the horse you rode in on!"

You said it, Sulu.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

my baby takes the morning train

On my short commute to and from work, my regular train makes a stop at Temple University. Temple is the alma mater of several prominent members of the local and national media, as well as many respected individuals who have contributed to the fields of literature, art and entertainment. Oh, and Bill Cosby.

Usually, I occupy my time on the train by reading, being one of only a handful of commuters reading from a book that has actual pages and a cover. However, when I am between books or if I had a particularly trying day at work, I doze - careful not to allow myself to fall into a deep slumber, as my trip home lasts a mere 25 minutes.

Yesterday was one of my "in between books" days, so once securing a seat after boarding at Suburban Station, I closed my eyes. I remained aware enough to count the four stops until we arrived at the station in my neighborhood. More passengers boarded at Market East Station and the train lumbered out of a tunnel towards Temple.

Without opening my eyes, I could tell when the train entered Temple Station. Considering that Temple is a renowned institute of higher learning, handing out countless undergraduate and graduate degrees, I would be hard pressed to find a single student — over the course of its 128 years of existence — to have earned credits in personal hygiene. I draw my conclusion from the unmistakable aroma that instantly fills the train car when the backpack and book-toting students file in. One does not need to raise an eyelid to know you've reached Temple, you need only to inhale the fermented mingling of sweat, tobacco and hormones wafting throughout the vehicle. As one young adult body pushes up against another as the train fills, the air is heavy with the stench of unwashed laundry and stale breath. It makes for a lovely and memorable ride home.

So, I'm already uncomfortable as I wedged the knuckles of my right hand under my nose in a futile effort to block my already violated nostrils. The doors slide shut and, as the train pulls away from the platform, a young couple take up temporary standing residence just inches from my seat. As they began to converse, I noticed something odd. They were in such close proximity, that I had no choice but to overhear their verbal exchange, but something was not right. I thought maybe a glob of earwax had dislodged and was preventing me from hearing clearly. I quickly and discreetly jiggled my pinky inside my ear canal. Nope. No help. The voice still sounded weird — flat and alien, with no discernible words.

Then I realized it wasn't me, it was actually the way the young lady was speaking. Her voice was a tone, not a voice at all. It was a single, unwavering monotone. She was just making noise. White noise — the echo-y sound a radio makes when it's not tuned correctly to a station. She sounded like the unseen adults in the old Charlie Brown holiday cartoons... that "wahwahwahwah" that made us laugh as children. I stared. I was dumbfounded. I could not believe my eyes... I mean my ears. She was forming no intelligible language, yet her traveling companion hung on to everything that came from her mouth, as though she were imparting the wisdom of the ages. Then again, he didn't look like he was in any great rush to split the atom.

How could she carry on a conversation? How could her professors understand her? How could she tell a story or ask for directions or be interviewed for a job or..... or.... or.......

The train pulled up at my stop. I got off and walked home.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

C'mon and step right up

I've been to a lot of tourist destinations: Niagara Falls, Graceland, Cooperstown, both American Disney theme parks, Hollywood, Atlantic City. All of these places, as expected, have their share of kitschy attractions and kitschier souvenir shops. There is a reason that they stock their shelves with snow globes and giant pencils and magnets to adorn your refrigerator. Because people buy them. I don't know why, but tourists seem to love useless plastic tchotchkes that remind them of happier times. I'm okay with that, because these places aren't forcing you to buy.

My wife and I just returned from Las Vegas. As a tourist attraction, Las Vegas is a weird city. As a city, Las Vegas is a weird city. Sure, there are casinos and shows and buffets and lights and fountains and everything over the top. Of course, Las Vegas Boulevard — The Strip, as it is more popularly known — is lined with an array of the flashiest of souvenir stores offering more T-shirts, key rings and other "must-haves" emblazoned with the famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" in every conceivable configuration.

But, Las Vegas is also home to a phenomena that is unique among tourist spots. I have never seen more people shoving shit in your face anywhere in my life. You can't take two steps onto The Strip without being accosted by a horde of hands waving everything from CDs and ticket vouchers to coupons and perfume just inches from your nose. The already crowded sidewalks are unnecessarily jammed with loitering men and women cajoling travelers with promises of "free this" and "discounted that" and waving some tangible representation of that promise. The air is polluted by the cacaphonic calls of "Hey, where you from?" and "How long you folks in town?" and bunches of hands sticking every which way, each offering some guarantee of a better time than you are having now.

One evening, Mrs. Pincus and I set out on a one block trek for dinner at the Planet Hollywood resort. Within seconds, we were confronted by a thicket of hands brandishing tickets and flyers with offers to clean our glasses, shine our shoes and tour the Grand Canyon.

Most noticeable by first-time and veteran tourists alike is the overabundance of thumb-snapping distributors of "adult entertainment" cards. These ubiquitous staples of The Strip, whose vaguely described but obvious services are listed on colorful cards, are most likely the originators of the "in your face" practice of marketing that has become as well-known in Sin City as the casinos themselves. The current crop of Vegas street hustler owes quite a debt to these innovators.

I suppose that's an honor. I suppose.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

clink, clink, another drink

I've been to many restaurants and I'm sure you have, too. I am pretty familiar with the procedure. You enter. You are greeted by a host or hostess, who asks the number in your party and pretty soon, you are led to a table. You receive menus, or in the case of a buffet, you just head off in the direction of the food. A member of the wait staff will come to your table and introduce themselves, inquiring about your beverage order. The reason they are called "waiters" is that they wait on you. And conversely, you wait for them to come to you.

Or so I thought.

Last week, my wife and I found ourselves in yet another casino. This time, it was Paris in Las Vegas. We wandered the faux cobblestone that wound around the rear of the casino floor, passing a bakery and convenience store, each with meticulously themed façades, until we arrived at The Village Buffet. The buffet at Paris is not that different from other buffets we have visited, so the securing of a table followed roughly the same procedure. After being shown to a table, Mrs. P and I started off at the salad area, as per our usual routine. Upon returning to our table, a young man clad in the dark, formal uniform of the staff, introduced himself as "Melvin" and began pouring water into our glasses. He was asking for our proper drink order when a man appeared behind him. Melvin was startled, even more so when this man draped a lazy arm around Melvin's shoulders. The man, now using poor Melvin as a crutch, was dressed in dingy gray sweatpants and a threadbare t-shirt tucked haphazardly into his waistband. He leaned in close to Melvin's ear and began to speak. Melvin recoiled, obviously affected by the man's alcohol-tinged breath.

"Can I get two Pepsis over at my table?," he slurred, pointing off in the distance, "Two Pepsis."

Dutifully, Melvin nodded and eked out a crookedly uncomfortable smile. The man took a more than adequate amount of time to remove his arm from Melvin's person and then staggered off in the direction of his point. Melvin resumed filling our water glasses and muttered something under his breath. He looked up and smiled at us.

"Two iced teas for you, right?," he said, "Be right back." He proceeded toward the beverage station, shaking his head.

The double Pepsi-craving man — inexplicably — left the restaurant and stumbled towards the casino.

josh pincus is crying is on Facebook now. You like him, right?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

right down Santa Claus Lane

In 1823, Clement Clarke Moore wrote the epic holiday poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, better known as Twas the Night Before Christmas. For nearly 200 years, this holiday favorite, describing Santa's clandestine visit to the narrator's home, has been a central part of many families' traditions. Many a father or grandfather has gathered the kids around for a spirited recitation of the multi-stanza rhyme.

For coming holiday season, Canadian publisher Pamela McColl has decided to issue a new, slightly altered version of the beloved classic - minus two lines that refer to Santa Claus' use of tobacco. The lines "The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth/And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath" have been excised by Ms. McColl, an outspoken anti-smoking advocate. Fearing that children may be influenced and take a cue from Santa's smoking habits, Ms. McColl said, "I just really don’t think Santa should be smoking in the 21st century."

Now, I don't smoke and I don't like being around smoke. But, come on!,  isn't this taking political correctness a bit too far? Someone has decided, in 2012 — after 189 years since its first publication — that Santa Claus, a fictional character in a poem, should not smoke because it presents a negative influence on an impressionable child. Yet, in ten or so years, this person will have to deal with explaining to the same child that they've been lying to that child about the existence of Santa.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

walk this way

As the day was winding down, a co-worker friend called me to shoot the breeze until it was time to clock out for another Wednesday. She talked. I joked. She asked about my upcoming vacation. We commiserated about similar work and extended family issues. Y'know, usual "killing time until it's time to leave work for the day" talk.

I checked my watch and began shutting down several programs still glowing on my computer monitor. Suddenly, the conversation turned to her young daughter, Elle. She began to explain, in clinical precision and statistical terms, Elle's growth pattern and where she ranked in comparison to national averages for girls her own age in both height and weight.

Now, I went to art school for a reason — and that was to never have to deal with percentages and charts and statistics and all things number-y. Also, as a Dad for over twenty-five years and a qualified spokesman for Dads everywhere, I told my friend that, frankly, Dads don't care about shit like that. She seemed surprised.

"You mean you didn't know these things about your son?," she inquired, somewhat shocked by my cavalier attitude.

"No.," I replied, "Dads don't care about that."

Trying to trap me, she countered with, "I'll bet Mrs. Pincus knew all about this. All the growth information, national percentiles and such."

"I'll bet she did.," I said, praising my spouse's motherly concern,"I'll bet she knew all  that stuff. I'm sure she asked our son's pediatrician all the pertinent questions that a doting parent should be asking. But Dads.... Dads just don't care. She may have told me about our son's progress in that stuff,  but I either forgot or wasn't listening at the time... 'cause that's what Dads do."

Then, as an example, I told her that my niece — a new mother — recently informed my wife that her ten-month-old son just began taking his first steps.

I asked, "Didn't our son begin walking around the same age?"

My wife stared back at me and said, "No, he was much later than that."

I thought for a second, then stated, "Well, he can walk now."