Tuesday, August 20, 2013

take a letter, Maria

My wife has been selling on eBay, the top online auction website, for years. Many years, as a matter of fact. In addition to regular auctions, she maintains an eBay "store" with an inventory of several thousand items. She makes trips to our local post office several times a week. Basically, she sells a lot of stuff.

For the most part, Mrs. P specializes in pop culture collectibles. That's a fairly broad term for a category that encompasses advertising memorabilia, sports team logo items, rock and roll merchandise and TV and movie related items. Various items emblazoned with logos representing Coca-Cola, McDonald's, M&Ms and other internationally-recognized companies are especially popular and particularly consistent sellers. A lot of these items in her eBay store and those offered for auction, had limited availability in their original distribution. Most were only available to company employees for a short time, either through brief distribution or from an employee-only store or catalog. Small promotional items — such as pens, t-shirts, mugs or figural likenesses of a company mascot — are highly sought-after by collectors of a particular company's memorabilia.

Last week, she sold and closed a sale for a promotional notepad from the headquarters of Pep Boys, the national chain of auto parts stores. Pep Boys, with their familiar mascots of Manny, Moe and Jack, produces a lot of promotional tchotchkes for their employees. Their aim is to boost employee morale and to maintain the company's branding. They have created and circulated key rings in the shape of cars and various automotive tools. Employees were treated to coffee mugs promoting a variety of company goodwill policies. Logoed pens and notepads were a staple throughout the company's Philadelphia-based main operations facility. (I should note that I worked in the Marketing Department of Pep Boys for four years and I managed to acquire more than my fair share of promo items.) The notepad that Mrs. P sold for $4.99 plus shipping was used to promote a specific employee initiative in the late 1990s. The top of each page displayed the smiling visages of Manny and his pals along with some sort of cheerful motivational slogan. The rest of each page was left blank to allow for the quick jot of a phone number as it sat by your desk phone at the ready. The very fact that most of these note pads were completely used or most likely trashed over the course of nearly twenty years, makes the one my wife sold a pretty rare commodity and a great find for a collector.

A few days after Mrs. P sent the Pep Boys notepad to the buyer (in a batch of a hundred or so other packaged shipments that went out that day), she received an email of a decidedly disappointed nature. The notepad had arrived and the buyer was not at all pleased. My wife prides herself on customer satisfaction and does her very best to ensure that her customers are content and that all wrongs are righted quickly. The email, angry and accusing in tone, proclaimed this as "the worst transaction in her history with eBay." The buyer dismissed her purchase as "not worth 49 cents let alone four-ninety-nine!" She demanded a refund. Calmly, my wife composed her standard "I'm sorry you are not happy with your purchase" email and inquired about her dismay. Mrs. P explained that this notepad was a limited-run, company-only item, out-of-print for nearly twenty years and then available only to employees in the main office.

A day or so later came the reply. The buyer said that she didn't really care what was printed on the individual pages, she merely needed a notepad.

My wife and I scratched our heads and tried to fully understand the "fucked-up-ness" of the situation.

This particular buyer lives in Sweetwater, Texas, the county seat of Nolan County. It boasts a population of a little over 11,000 people and sits approximately 35 miles west of Abilene, the 25th most populous city in the United States. Sweetwater is home to many independent drug stores, as well as outlets of national chains like CVS. I've been to a fair amount of drug stores in my life and I believe that most have a small section devoted to household items like light bulbs, adhesive tape and, um, notepads. In addition, right there on Interstate 20 (locally known as Georgia Avenue), there is a K-Mart (with convenient hours of operation; most evenings until 9 PM) and, less than a mile away, is a WalMart SuperCenter that is open TWENTY-FOUR-FUCKING-HOURS-A-FUCKING-DAY! You're telling me that this numbskull, in search of any ol' notepad to write a goddamn message to whatever other inbred moron to whom she needs to impart precious documented information, can't get up off her lazy, cheap beer-swillin', barbecue-munchin' ass and get on down t' th' WalMart to purchase a notepad for half-a-buck? No! Her first thought to obtain a notepad was to turn to eBay, search "notepads," and click "Buy It Now" on a listing for a notepad for four dollars and ninety-nine cents plus the cost of shipping it to her double-wide trailer. (By the way, in case she is doing some travelling, there are two more WalMart SuperCenters just up the road a piece in Abilene, as well as a Staples and an Office Depot. I'm fairly certain that they sell a variety of notepads. Many priced well below $4.99 with no collectible value whatsoever.)

Texas leads the nation in state-sanctioned executions, but obviously they are not working fast enough.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

old man, look at my life, I'm a lot like you were

I had lunch with my friend Steve this week.

I met Steve when we were both employed in the Marketing Department of a national aftermarket auto parts distributor whose corporate mascots are three Jewish guys with out-of-proportion heads, one of whom smoked a cigar until it was unceremoniously removed in 1990. But I ain't naming names. Steve is a copywriter and I am a graphic designer. ( I used to be an "artist," until the corporate world reassigned me.)

Steve and I have commiserated about the trials and tribulations (and assholes) we have encountered during our collective years in the intriguing, yet utterly ridiculous, industry known as "marketing." While neither of us are in the employ of those unnamed retailers any longer and have moved on to other jobs, we still manage to get together, though not as often as we'd like. A few years ago, after a lengthy stretch in the freelance world, Steve began working at an ad agency just three blocks from my office. We meet for lunch frequently, but still, not frequently enough.

On Monday morning, an electronic whistle from my cellphone alerted me of an incoming text message. I unlocked the screen and read:
("Liberty" refers to the food court at Liberty One, a 61-story high rise building that houses offices, retail stores and the aforementioned food court. Liberty One holds the distinction of being the first skyscraper to break the decades-old agreement that no building can be higher than the statue of William Penn that sits atop Philadelphia's City Hall.)
Having no plans for lunch (actually, I never have plans for lunch), I rode the elevator down to street level. Steve greeted me at the corner of 16th and Market, just across from where the Preacher was delivering his daily midday message. We immediately began catching up as we made our way to the street entrance of Liberty One. Inside, Steve queued up for a big, Styrofoam plate of Japanese-prepared tan meat and cabbage. I opted for pizza, but when I discovered a darkened and stripped-bare location that — until recently — served that beloved Italian quick-bite staple, I settled for an overpriced egg salad sandwich. We reconvened at one of the many small, metal tables that populate the seating area and began eating and conversing.

Steve had been travelling for work non-stop since the beginning of June. As he related the whirlwind itinerary that included such exotic foreign locales as Paris and Lyon and such mundane domestic territory as Pittsburgh and Morgantown, West Virginia, he reminded me that it was strictly business. He was not there to leisurely stroll the romantic banks of the Seine. He was there to supervise the grueling production of a television commercial and put up with non-productive producers.

A subsequent leg of Steve's work tour took him to Austin, Texas... and that's where the real fun* began. Steve woke up in his hotel in the worst, excruciating pain. Soon, he found himself a stranger in the emergency room of a strange Austin hospital, just one buffer seat from a Mom and Dad trying to comfort their gunshot-wounded son — and trying to keep his obviously-disliked boyfriend at bay. Eventually, Steve was diagnosed with a kidney stone.

"I've been there.," I said, knowingly.

With that, we commenced on a tangent, trading tales of kidney stone episodes for the next twenty-five minutes. We consoled and sympathized over vivid memories of not being able to sit comfortably and fearing an addiction to Percocet. We nodded solemnly and re-experienced the pain. We began a lot of sentences with "Well, when it happened to me..." When, suddenly....

"Listen to us!," I said, "We sound like we're 80 years old! Is this what it has come to? This is what our conversations have been reduced to?"

We stared blankly at each other for a second.

We quickly changed the subject.

To something younger.

Originally published 8/15/13. 

* and by real fun, I mean no fun.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

It's only words and words are all I have

I was twenty-four the first time I said "fuck" in front of my parents. I suppose it was a "respect" thing, but something must have pissed me off so much that the heretofore unspoken "F" word finally breached our dialogue. However, I was already married for two years and I no longer had to abide by the unwritten rules of my parents' house — so saying "fuck" was fair game. I mean, they couldn't very well spank me or ground me or send me to my room! My room was at my house and I lived in it with my wife! So, with no fear of repercussions, I allowed "fuck" to enter the conversation.

Which brings me to a question that has been the topic of many a discussion at the Pincus house: "How well do you have know someone before "fuck" is introduced into the verbal exchange?"

Now, I am not prudish by any means. I acknowledge the fact that my speech tends to be "colorful" and is peppered with an overabundance of salty language — especially during baseball season, when, in the course of a Phillies game, it can get particularly vulgar. My wife and I made a conscious decision to watch our phraseology around our son as he grew up. For years, we never uttered anything more crude than "darn" within range of his young and impressionable ears. But, somewhere around his sixteenth birthday, all heck broke loose. The gloves were off and the "fucks" were flying. I don't know what specifically triggered the transformation, but almost overnight, our house went from a convent to a day of working down on the docks. Despite the freedom of expression I employ in my vocabulary, I am still taken aback when a total stranger speaks that word I so liberally use myself.

Last year, my wife and I were at an invitation-only dinner hosted by several celebrity chefs from The Food Network. We were seated at a large round table with four other couples — none of whom we had met before. To my immediate right was a couple who were close to our age. (In reality, the other couples were closer to our parents' age!) We struck up a very benign conversation with them, when suddenly — on sentence number three to be exact — the gentleman allowed "fuck" to compromise the conversation's security. My wife and I were briefly startled, but after several more "fucks" were sprinkled throughout the next few sentences, we were becoming desensitized and eventually more comfortable. I may have even spoken a couple-a "fucks" myself — just to let him know we were on his side. Hey! What the fuck!

This past Sunday, Mrs. P and I attended a particularly tedious Phillies game. Our hometown boys were getting their sorry butts kicked by the pathetic Miami Marlins and the game grew more painful as the innings ticked away. To bide the time, my spouse amused herself by playing a few distracting rounds of the addictive, online game Candy Crush Saga on her smartphone. The unmistakable digital sound effects from the game caught the attention of the couple sitting in the row directly in front of us. We have been Phillies season ticket holders for eighteen years, but we have never seen this couple before. The woman turned around and asked my wife the updated version of the mid-70's standby "What's your Sign," and that's: "What level are you on?" And those were the last words we understood her to say — except for "fuck." She slurred her words and talked fast and guttural, but "fuck" came through like an obscene beacon, loud and fucking clear. My wife nodded and smiled as the woman's speech just became a barrage of sentences of "fuck" after "fuck" after "fuck." The fellow she was with was totally unintelligible — even his "fucks," if he was indeed using the nasty word.

So, have I reached a definitive answer to my question?

How the fuck should I know?