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 fa├žades, 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?