Saturday, September 29, 2012

the party's just begun, we'll let you in

Aunt Nancy is awesome! In the thirty years since I was introduced to her, I have known her to be devoted to her friends and family (even family-by-marriage). She is a hard worker, reliable and dedicated to her employer. She is quiet and reserved. And, she is one of the nicest, sweetest, even-tempered people I have ever met. I don't think I have ever witnessed Aunt Nancy raise her voice. She has always greeted me with a smile and always seems to be happy. On the rare occasion that she has uttered a cross word, it was in reference to a rude store clerk or a bad driver.

One by one, Aunt Nancy's three children grew up and moved out of the house, into lives of their own. Nancy's youngest daughter married and made her a first-time grandmother. Nancy's eldest daughter will marry this weekend. Sadly, Aunt Nancy's beloved husband of many years passed away in 2008. But despite that and a few health issues, Nancy has remained strong and determined and has maintained her cheerful demeanor. And I recently discovered the source of Aunt Nancy's strength. Aunt Nancy loves her some KISS.

Last year, at a family dinner at my in-law's house, Aunt Nancy revealed her affinity for the pop-metal masters of makeup and mayhem. She told us, with the bubbly giddiness of a teenager, of her experience at a KISS show that she attended. We were dumbfounded yet amused. My wife and I tried to imagine the usually-reserved Aunt Nancy thrashing about, arms extended above her head, fingers bent into rock and roll "devil horns," squealing with delight as bassist Gene Simmons — "The Demon" — exhaled fire and spewed blood over the frenzied rabid throng. Aunt Nancy! In that crowd! Unimaginable! Still, Aunt Nancy enthusiastically related every detail of the concert, from the dazzling pyrotechnics to the spectacular lasers to the special stage-side section reserved for Rascal scooters (the demographics of the KISS fan base have skewed considerably over the course of their five-decade career).

We have since learned that Aunt Nancy has notched another decidedly unNancy-like concert under her belt — Aerosmith. Although she dismissed the warm-up band as "a bunch of loud no talents I never heard of" (it was Cheap Trick), she was delighted by the geriatric version of Boston's one-time rock darlings. Aunt Nancy passionately described the stage antics of sinewy vocalist Steven Tyler, fresh off his stint as judge on.... whatever that show he was a judge on.

But, it's KISS that is the true apple of Aunt Nancy's eye and the best was yet to come for her.

Last Friday, the leather-clad painted purveyors of lightweight heavy metal brought their "The Tour" Tour to Camden's Susquehanna Bank Center (or whatever they're calling it this week). Susquehanna Bank Center (or SBC, as it wants to be known) is one of the most poorly laid-out concert venues I've ever seen. Built primarily for summer festivals and hosting big name draws in months when the weather is nice, SBC is comprised of a semi-circular building ("It looks like a big Bose radio.," observed my wife) that houses the large performance stage, which is easily viewed by those lucky enough to have purchased tickets for actual seats. Those opting for other viewing alternatives are relegated to the massive sloped lawn situated behind the building. The stage is (barely) visible through large square openings at the rear of the building and via dim images projected on off-white brick inlays just below the main building's roof (once the sun goes down, that is). Adding to the displeasure, the lawn is accessible by a network of steep, narrow, winding staircases, each landing lined with ridiculously overpriced concession stands. But, Aunt Nancy would have none of the "concert-going-for-the-masses" nonsense. No, no, no. An ecstatic Aunt Nancy had pre-purchased her exclusive "VIP Meet & Greet" experience tickets and arrived at the venue ready to meet up with her on-site VIP host. The VIP Super Deluxe Once-in-a-Lifetime Soundcheck and Meet & Greet Experience Package includes: One reserved ticket located in the first 10 rows of the stage, Exclusive Meet & Greet with KISS, Personal Photograph with KISS, Autograph Session with KISS, Exclusive access to KISS's preshow Soundcheck, Specially Designed KISS Tour Shirt, Custom Designed 18k gold plated KISS Ring, a set of Official KISS Guitar Picks (with custom case), Official Meet & Greet Laminate, Commemorative VIP Ticket, Crowd- free merchandise shopping and the aforementioned host— all at a cost of a mere $1250. No, I didn't forget a decimal point. I'll spell it out, so there's no mistake — one thousand two-hundred and fifty George Washington dollars. I think that was the amount of the last installment of my son's monthly college tuition payment. Maybe a little less. But, it was worth every last penny to Aunt Nancy and, Goddamnit!, she deserved it.

Aunt Nancy began making her way to the designated meeting area to be ushered in for her great KISS encounter. Due to recent surgery, Aunt Nancy uses a cane when walking. As she negotiated an uneven walkway, Aunt Nancy tripped on an errant rental chair and fell flat on her face. Her glasses were smashed and pushed into her forehead where they tore a large gash. Attentive medical staff arrived at the scene quickly. They began to wipe away debris and clean up the blood now flowing profusely from the wound. The EMTs insisted on taking Nancy to a facility better equipped to handle such a serious injury, but she would hear nothing of it.

"I have to meet my group for the Meet & Greet!," Aunt Nancy protested, "I am not going to miss it!"

The workers managed to clean and dress the injury, instructing Aunt Nancy to apply pressure with the wet cloth they supplied. After the briefest of recovery time, Nancy got back on her feet and the medical crew carefully led her to the Meet & Greet entrance.

"No!," Nancy asserted, "Not here! This is the Motley Crüe line! I paid to see KISS!"

The startled workers guided Aunt Nancy over to the correct entrance. By this time, the small exclusive group had filed in to the meeting area. Aunt Nancy took the one seat that was available, right next to the imposing Gene Simmons. Gene's attention was instantly drawn to poor Aunt Nancy, a coldpak pressed to her bandaged head.

"Oh my God!," the bassist gasped, "What happened to you?" His concern seemed genuine.

Aunt Nancy explained the details of her mishap, trying her best to remain serious, but was losing out to her excitement. She had dreamed of this moment, but not exactly in this way.

As part of the VIP experiences, attendees were permitted to bring two items to have personally autographed by the band. (The 2012 version of KISS includes original members Gene Simmons, rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley and two other guys who replaced founding members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley some time ago. But, under a thick layer of theatrical makeup, what difference does it make?) Aunt Nancy happily presented her aluminum cane to the band for an inscription. Gone are the glory days of nubile, young ladies pulling down the skimpy necklines of their tops for a signature scribbled across their breasts. A smiling 60-year-old with a piece of orthopedic equipment is the best the band can hope for at this point in their career. Aunt Nancy was reminded that she was entitled to another autograph. She rummaged through her purse and produced a blank letterhead from her current place of employment — a Jewish elementary school (where, years ago, she was the assistant in my son's classroom). The letterhead, emblazoned with a logo proudly proclaiming the school's Jewish heritage, was examined by Mr. Simmons, after which he turned to Aunt Nancy and, noting the appropriate time of year, wished her a solemn "L'Shana Tovah!," the traditional salutation for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. (Gene Simmons was born Chaim Weitz in Haifa, Israel. His mother, Florence, is a Holocaust survivor.) Gene turned to a KISS crew member and explained "I just wished her 'Happy Jewish New Year'", then whispered confidentially to Aunt Nancy, "They don't know! They're goyim." (A playfully derogatory term that Jews call non-Jews.) Then, Aunt Nancy posed for a picture with the band. The grin on her face is so wide, she looks as though she will burst!

Aunt Nancy dutifully reported to work on Monday. She stood at the front of the classroom of youngsters, as she had done thousands of Mondays before. To them, she is "Mrs. K.," but, how many of those kids know how cool Aunt Nancy really is?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

brother, can you spare a dime?

Today, on my way to the train station, I saw a homeless guy, sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against a newspaper box. He was eating something out of a Starbucks take-out bag.

While I consider myself a charitable person, as a rule, I don't give money to people on the street. I can't afford to support their Starbucks habit.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I don't care if I never get back

Mrs. Pincus and I have been Phillies season ticket owners for seventeen seasons. We love baseball. We have attended games at many ballparks across the country. We've marveled at the artifacts and memorabilia at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. We've even visited the graves of baseball greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, as well as beloved Phillies broadcasters Richie Ashburn and Harry Kalas.

As I write this, the post-season fate of the Philadelphia Phillies hangs in the balance. Devoted Phillies fans have become spoiled over the past five seasons, as we have enjoyed watching "The Fightin's" repeatedly compete in the elusive playoff series. This year, however, is a different story. Plagued by injuries, lost opportunities and just poor performance, the final week of the regular season sees the Phils teetering on the edge between glory and being an also-ran. The team's on-field antics have been difficult to watch as they blew early leads and committed error after costly error. While a trip to the ballpark on a beautiful summer afternoon is refreshing and relaxing, witnessing shitty baseball is a real buzz-kill. Mrs. P's buzz-kill happened sometime in June.

Our seats are fifteen rows from the field, situated on the "foul side" of the foul pole that rises out of the left-field corner of beautiful Citizens Bank Park, in a section comprised mostly of other season ticket holders. We are in seat numbers 5 and 6. Seats 1 through 4, we have come to understand, belong to some corporate entity that offers the tickets to various people — employees, customers, employees' families, customer's families — throughout the season. I can't remember the same group occupying those seats for two consecutive weeks. For some games, they aren't occupied at all.

So, last Sunday, we found ourselves at our last home game of the 2012 season. It was a lovely pre-autumn day and we were prepared to see the Phillies take one last stab at the Atlanta Braves as they limped their way towards a potential victory that seemed much more than nine innings away. My wife had lost interest. She had already written this year off and looked to the clean slate of Opening Day 2013, when all teams are in first place. At this point, the 2012 season had become a social event for her. She eagerly awaited the conversation she shared with the wives in the two couples who sit in the row directly behind us — couples we have known since our seats were located in the now-demolished Veterans Stadium, the former home of the Phillies. The three ladies' conversation touches on issues about family, vacations, restaurants and other decidedly unbaseball topics. 

On this partciular day, Seats 3 and 4 in our row were taken by an older couple who we had never seen before. They were dressed as though they had just stepped off the set of The Philadelphia Story, a 1940s comedic romp through stuffy high society. I've seen a lot of unusual get-ups at baseball games (fright wigs, face painters, this guy), but argyle sweaters and Katherine Hepburn-style headwraps are more often seen on the campus of Swarthmore College than in the company of shin guards and rosin bags.

Cliff Lee took to the mound and, with the delivery of the first pitch, the game was on. And the conversation began. My wife rotated slightly in her seat and the three women chatted about baking, delving deeply and thoroughly into individual ingredients and their possible substitutions in various recipes. They discussed theories of royal icing and fondant, debated various refinements of confectioner's sugar and weighed the pros and cons of buttercream. The gentleman seated to my wife's immediate right was fuming. He glared repeatedly in her direction, silently expressing his annoyance with facial contortions. He was not pleased with this non-baseball discussion. Not one bit. Sporadically, he would clap his hands with exaggerated enthusiasm and whistle, then sit quietly and stew. He would try to break up the talk with yells of "Way to go, Jimmy!" or "Yeah, Cliff!", usually during field activity in which shortstop Jimmy Rollins and pitcher Cliff Lee were not involved. The conversation lasted until the fifth inning of an extremely lackluster game. It was then Mrs. P decided to check out the offerings at the temporary merchandise tent set up on the other side of the ballpark. (With the season winding down and the prospects of post-season slipping away, The Phillies were unloading logoed items at discount prices.) If there's one thing my spouse enjoys more than a boring baseball game, it's shopping. So, off she went — to the obvious delight of the occupant of Row 15, Seat 4.

In the eighth inning, my wife returned to our seats. She excused herself past the annoyed fan in our row and began to tell of the treasure trove of Phillies novelties that she purchased. As the reigning "nicest person on the face of the earth," she bought sparkly, official Phillies-emblazoned flip-flops for the two women behind us. They thanked her and the conversation picked up where it had left off. Agitated that his three innings of uninterrupted baseball enjoyment had ended, the argyled and bespectacled gentlemen grabbed his wife's arm and made a hurried and exasperated exit.

Oh, and the Phillies lost 2-1.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

goin' down the road, feelin' bad

My wife and I were headed down 42 South in New Jersey, on our way to Atlantic City. We had just picked up our son, who had just wrapped up his Saturday afternoon radio show, and we were treating him to dinner. We drove across the Walt Whitman Bridge, conveniently whizzing through the E-Z Pass lane. We were making our way to the entrance to the Atlantic City Expressway when, just ahead, we spotted an increasing number of brake lights. My wife decelerated with each new light popping up before us. I fumbled with the radio dial, searching for a local traffic report, usually a rarity on a weekend. I tuned in to a New Jersey station just in time to hear a reporter deliver the details of an overturned vehicle snarling four lanes of traffic on 42 South. The report was interrupted by the sound of emergency vehicles speeding past us, along the highway shoulder, in the direction of the calamity. Traffic around us had slowed to a standstill, with cars rolling up and filling in all available space, the drivers anticipating that those few additional inches would bring them that much closer to their destinations. I looked out the window to my right to see a troubled young lady behind the wheel of a tiny car. She chewed her fingernails and nervously craned her neck in all directions, hoping to spot an unseen opening among the immobile knot of automobiles. Unfortunately, she was boxed in on all four sides.

We resigned ourselves to the notion that we were gonna be here for a while. My wife eased the gear shift into "PARK", following the lead of our fellow frustrated commuters. Suddenly, the ominous silver stretch limousine in front of us burst to life. One by one, what seemed like a hundred doors flew open and the highway was immediately deluged by a flood of douchebags. The first to emerge was an mid-20s prep in a light-colored polo shirt with the collar popped. That's right, 2012 - the collar was popped! His feet were unencumbered by socks and wedged comfortably into a pair of colorfully pretentious pair of top brand-name running shoes. He gripped a large blue plastic "party cup" in his right hand. In his left was — of course — an iPhone into which he barked voice-activated commands. This guy was followed by a balding man in his forties, an untucked, misshapen and faded polo shirt flapping in the breeze above his khaki, many-pocketed cargo shorts. He, too, clutched an iPhone and was already engaged in conversation when he came forth into the sunlight. These two characters preceded several more clones — many sporting backward baseball caps and more popped collars — each surfacing from the cavernous confines of their "good time chariot". One after another, they milled about the long perimeter of the limo, shuffling their feet absentmindedly, reporting on their iPhones, turning in the direction of the roadway disaster, shielding their eyes from sunlight in hopes of a better view. But, mostly, they smacked each other on the back and laughed and hooted way too loud. It was like a douchebag clown car. One man (brave or stupid - the jury's still out) climbed up on a twisted guardrail and balanced precariously on tiptoes, until he noted that his position was on the overpass of a highway twenty feet below. He dismounted his perch rather quickly. His amused colleagues pointed at him, as they laughed and hooted and smacked each others backs some more. He didn't notice. He was already yammering into his iPhone and readjusting his popped collar.

After twenty or so minutes, the brake lights in the distance disappeared and traffic began to flow once again. The leader of the douchebag patrol gave the official signal, twirling his index finger in a circular motion above his head like a baseball umpire indicating a home run. The rest of his group climbed back into their "sweet ride" and the headed off for their pre-planned evening of par-TAY! 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It's only words, and words are all I have

Words with Friends, an online game similar in concept to the old parlor game Scrabble, was introduced in 2009. It has gained popularity in an incredibly short amount of time and is available for play on many portable electronic devices. The game is played around the world and boasts a number of celebrity enthusiasts, including Today Show weather guy Al Roker, actors Rainn Wilson and Jon Hamm and musician John Mayer. Actor Alec Baldwin was famously kicked off an American Airlines flight for refusing to end a game while the plane prepared for take-off. 

Recently, my wife has joined the fun, with several simultaneous games going with friends and relatives. A few days ago, she introduced my nine-year-old niece — the proud owner of an iPad knock-off — to the game. My niece, a new fourth grader, is rambunctious, a voracious reader and pretty articulate for a girl her age. Over the phone, my wife explained the process of downloading and installing the app on her hand-held device and they were ready to begin their first game (after homework was finished, of course).

Just as in Scrabble, each player is able to view the playing broad but individual tiles are hidden from your opponents view. My wife began, clicking and dragging her electronic tiles to their "double-word-score" destination. Her turn completed, it was now up to my nine-year-old niece to continue the game, to scan her selection of letters, size them up against the available spaces on the board and use as many as she could to form a word, crossword-style. After a few minutes, an electronic chime sounded to alert my wife that her young opponent had played her turn.

The nine-year-old played "SEX".

My wife was mildly flustered. She thought that was an unusual word for a nine-year-old to play. She considered girl's reading ability and expanded vocabulary and just as quickly as Mrs. Pincus was momentarily disturbed, the feeling disappeared. Mrs. P scrutinized the letters in her electronic tray and finally dragged tiles onto the board to form another word connecting vertically off of a letter from her initiating round.

The beauty of Words with Friends lies in its convenience. A game can pause or continue at a participating player's whim. Play a word and, four days later, you can come back to a game in which your opponent has completed his turn a day or so ago. You can just pick up again at any time. 

My wife took full advantage of this particular benefit of the game. After her last turn, she went off to tend to more important things than an online game. When she returned the next day, she was prepared to take her next turn. She noticed that over the last twenty-four hours, my niece had also taken a turn. She had merely expanded upon her first-played word by adding two letters.

The nine-year-old played "SEXED".

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

dinner in a diner, nothing could be finer

I went out this evening to pick up some sandwiches for dinner for my wife and me. I hopped into my car and set off to the nearest Wawa. Wawa for those not blessed by its convenience, is a chain of quick-service markets that put 7-11s to shame without breaking a sweat. From its humble 1964 beginnings just outside of Philadelphia, Wawa has encroached the borders of six states with over 600 locations (some mere yards from each other in southern New Jersey). Originally a retail outlet for its namesake dairy, Wawa has become the first daily stop for coffee for thousands of commuters. Over the years, Wawa has expanded their food menu and refined their ordering system, focusing on quality, speed and simplicity. Wawa does a booming sandwich business, much to the chagrin of some long-time popular local shops. Most recently, Wawa has introduced a touch-screen menu that features actual photos of each possible ingredient available for your customized sandwich. Selecting a sandwich with a personality that reflects your own tastes has never been easier.

Unless you're old.

Old people and technology are as volatile a mix as nitro and glycerin. They long for the days of pre-television, pre-radio, pre-automobile, pre-refrigeration and pre-cave paintings — a time they refer to, with misty eyes, as "the good old days". As new technology becomes obsolete with every passing day, old people get madder and madder at.... at.... hell, I'm not sure who they're getting mad at. In defense of those members of society of an advanced age, there certainly has been an intimidating abundance of scientific achievements and improvements to everyday objects and they've come at such a pace that it's almost impossible to keep up. But instead of embracing these changes-for-the-better with an eagerness to understand, they are rejected with a sneer and a dismissive "In my day...".

I parked and entered the Wawa, making my way the to busy deli counter and sandwich preparation area. Several young men and women hurriedly assembled sandwiches, carefully checking and rechecking the ingredient lists from a master computer terminal. Shredded lettuce flew, mayonnaise slopped across bread, lunch meat was meticulously measured to quality-control standards  —  all under choreographed precision . I tapped the  first touch-screen terminal and began selecting the components of my first sandwich. An older man — bald, liver-spotted, wearing a misshapen and mis-buttoned cardigan — stood before a similar terminal at the far end of the counter. He looked baffled.

"Are you serving grilled cheese tonight?," he asked apron-clad Chelsea, as she busily applied mustard to the inside of a long roll.

Her concentration momentarily broken, Chelsea looked up. "Um, we call it a 'toasted cheese sandwich', sir. You can order it from the touch-screen."

"What?, " the old man barked, a scowl spreading across his wizened face. He tried to peer over the glass counter, deliriously expecting to catch a glimpse of a paper-hatted short order cook, greased spatula in his fist, speeding to fill orders of "Adam and Eve on a raft" and "Shit on a shingle", as spat out by a teased-hair and doily-adorned waitress named Bubbles. Sorry, Methuselah. In your 1940 dreams.  There ain't no grill in a Wawa, just an oven generating enough heat to toast bread.

Chelsea continued. "On the order screen," she said, "Under 'sandwiches.'"

The old man incredibly produced a cellphone and began yelling at the party on the other end. "You want a grilled cheese? A GRILLED CHEESE? CHEESE! CHEEEEEEESE!!!! Yeah. Yeah. Okay." He slid the phone into a pocket of his ill-fitting trousers and turned back to the order screen. "Where do I find grilled cheese again?," he yelled out, still believing that he had Chelsea's undivided attention.

"Under the sandwich heading, sir.," Chelsea politely replied. Now, she was distributing thinly-sliced turkey to surfaces of wheat bread in the manner of a Las Vegas blackjack dealer.

Completing my order, I went off to another part of the store to gather drinks, chips and perhaps, ice cream (okay, I knew I was getting ice cream). When I returned, one of Chelsea's comrades had Sandwich One of my order perched on the customer-accessible, glass-top counter while he worked on Sandwich Two. (Wawa has a system in place in which each order is assigned a unique number. That number, which corresponds to one printed on the customer's receipt, is announced when your order is complete.) The old man grabbed my sandwich and angrily asked the young counterman, "Is this mine?"

"You have a tuna salad?, " the counter guy asked.

The old man dropped my sandwich back onto the glass, not acknowledging nor replying to the question. Chelsea, now beginning the old man's order, checked his selections and, as she layered sliced cheese onto twin slices of bread, asked "Did you want the whole sandwich toasted, because you just checked 'Toast Bread Only'?"

"Yeah." the man answered, "Grilled."

I collected my order and hastily headed out the doors with my stuffed grocery bags. I knew how this scenario was going to play out and I didn't want to bear witness to the wrath of the elderly.

Old people — they want what they want, but they have no idea what it is.

Monday, September 3, 2012

gimme that old time religion

I see a lot of women strolling throughout the city, completely covered by an ominous black abaya, their heads contained in a matching niqab, only the tiniest of slits in the garment revealing a pair of dark eyes. I figure that these women are members of an extremely traditional Muslim sect, a counterpart in observance level to, say, Orthodox Jews. Although I am not a certified theologian, I can still surmise that the overwhelming majority of the world's religions teach some sort of message of "peace, understanding, forgiveness, love and compassion for your fellow human". Ergo, the more observant you are in your chosen faith, the more you abide by the message. (I think that is a reasonable assumption.)

Recently, I was walking up Market Street, just past the weary-looking Gallery Mall. The sidewalk was bustling with people carrying stuffed shopping bags, homeless prone on the cement with outstretched hands and unruly children dancing about and defying the orders of their frustrated parents. It was a familiar scene, one that plays out regularly in urban Philadelphia. My destination was the train station and eventually, my home. Just ahead of me were two young girls — the elder around eleven, her companion several years younger. They were each wearing shorts and solid color, though dingy, t-shirts. Both of their heads were swathed in a hijab, a traditional Muslim garment worn by women to preserve their modesty in the presence of non-related adult males (though not as concealing as the niqad, as the hijab allows the face to be uncovered). I can only assume, based on my narrow-minded, media-directed American way of thinking — accelerated in the days following September 11, 2001 — that if you're wearing a religious article of clothing out in the world, you take your religion pretty seriously. The fact that these girls were sporting hijabs led me to believe that they come from a fairly observant Muslim family. (I have become acquainted with several Muslims over the years, none of whom ever wore visible religious accoutrements.)

 The older of the girls was yakking non-stop on a cellphone pressed to her ear. In the other hand, she held a large, waxed paper cup emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo. The younger girl walked attentively by her side, swinging a bag full of purchases alongside her leg. Suddenly, the older girl cocked her arm and tossed the cup high in the air. It sailed in a lazy arc, its lid becoming loosened and its paltry remaining liquid contents spewing in the direction of its trajectory... until it landed with a smash on the sidewalk, yards from the nearest trash receptacle. The girl continued her electronic conversation, not turning at all toward the direction of her spent-beverage missile.

A man seated on a large cement planter, a foot or so from the cup's "ground zero" called out, "Hey! Come back here and pick that up!"

Without turning around, the young girl — this apparent student of the prophet Muhammad, who has studied hadith and pronounced the sacred words of the Shahada — screamed back at her accuser, "Fuck you, you fucking pussy!"

I wondered which part of the Qur'an includes that passage?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclopedia

Personally, I don't have any tattoos. When I was a kid, the only people who had tattoos were bikers and old men who had served in the Navy, like Popeye and pirates. My father came this close to getting a tattoo during his stretch in World War II. I went to art school in the early 80s and I only knew two students with tattoos. One guy sported a primitive drawing of a dagger on his wrist, which he did himself one evening when he was bored, jabbing a match-sterilized sewing needle loaded with Bic pen ink under his skin. I don't know the circumstances surrounding the other guy's tattoo, 'cause he was an asshole and I didn't speak to him.

These days, you can't swing a roll of anti-bacterial-treated gauze without hitting someone who has been artfully inked. Now, I'm not going to climb atop a soapbox and expound upon my views on tattoos. I realize that it is a personal decision made to express one's individuality. I choose to exhibit my uniqueness in other ways, so if you can respect my methods then I will respect yours.


I do question the placement of some folk's expression of individuality. Mostly, I have seen tattoos peeking out from under a short-sleeve shirt. I have discreetly observed the occasional piece of a floral pattern poking above the dipping waistband of a young lady bent over to adjust a loose shoe strap (although that one seems to be gaining popularity). I have even caught the most conservatively-dressed executive-types with a few dark, swirly lines permanently etched into the backs of their necks. The ones that make me scratch my head are those members of society with tattoos on their faces. I've seen a few of these guys fiddling with their cellphones on the subway while I stared, trying to figure out the thought process behind insisting on three-inch, Old English letters across one's forehead. Also, noting the fact that once this decision is made, you have seriously limited your employment options.

Recently, I was descending the steep staircase at the Girard stop of the Market-Frankford elevated train line. As I reached the sidewalk on Front Street, I turned the corner and walked with the exiting crowd towards Girard Avenue. About six or seven feet ahead of me, a young lady was dragging a wheeled suitcase behind her as she navigated the uneven sidewalk in front of a 7-11. I tend to walk at a quicker pace than most people, so I narrowed the gap between me and the suitcase girl. From behind, she seemed to be in her early 20s, based on the youthful garments she wore - a pink, flowery top and a pair of ridiculously-short jean shorts. Keeping a comfortable distance, I followed her on the sidewalk, when something caught my attention. What, at first, appeared to be shadows soon revealed themselves to be tattoos. She had a pair of tattoos at the very, very tops of the back of her thighs. As high as you could possibly go without falling into the "buttocks" category. On her left thigh was the word "Yours" in dark, serpentine script. On her right thigh, was "Truly" in a matching, equally twisting cursive font.

My first thought, and one that remained with me long after she disappeared from my view as she strode West on Frankford Avenue and I headed East, was "When and how was the decision made?". Did she wake up one morning and decide "I want a tattoo"? As the day went on, did she consider the sentiment that she wanted emblazoned forever in her flesh? Did she weigh each candidate and their sacred meaning in her life? Did she narrow the choices down to several contenders until "Yours Truly" was the obvious victor. Did she stand naked before a full-length mirror, scanning her person for the perfect place -  the definitive parcel of dermis - on which this inscription would dwell, where its personal significance would be a constant reminder of the deep-rooted emotion it holds in her existence?

Or did she just plop down a hundred bucks and tell a guy with an electric needle, "Hey, put 'Yours Truly' on my legs right under my ass, okay."?