Tuesday, August 26, 2014

put the lime in the coconut

Coconut. Eeccccchhhh! Back in 1936, when exploitation film director Dwain Epser was putting the finishing touches on his cautionary epic Marihuana: Weed With Its Roots in Hell, he was wasting his time with some mildly addictive drug when he should have focused on that other plant. Who came up with this awful, awful... thing? This hirsute excuse for a fruit. I don't even know if it is a fruit or a berry or what! What I do know is that its outer shell is practically impenetrable (In CastAway, Tom Hanks had to use an ice skate to break it open). Once you get through the shell, it's filled with stringy flesh that you'll chew for days weeks. Then there's that thin liquid that looks like what's left in the bowl after you eat any other fruit. You don't get that with the friendly, soft, yielding banana. Coconut is regularly hidden in foods à la raisins. Y'know why? I think you do.

Hey, Ming, try that with a coconut.
When I took my son out on Hallowe'en for his first taste of door-to-door legal begging, I taught him to say two things at every house: "Trick or Treat" and "Nothing with coconut." He was too young for some of the more complex candy bars and, since I was going to commandeer the bulk of his All Hallows haul, I didn't want any coconut tainting my spoils. Now my son is 27 and I caught him ordering a slice of coconut cream pie in a restaurant. I don't know when that happened. I am alone. I am utterly alone.  

My wife and I were doing some grocery shopping. As we approached the checkout, an impulse buy, point-of-purchase display caught our collective eye. It was a multi-shelf offering of a product with a cute, tropical-looking logo called Vita Coco. Its appealing package featured an extreme close-up of a coconut crowned by a dew-kissed green block representing... um.... um ... a way to have the slogan "hydrate naturally" read legibly. "Hmmm," considered Mrs. P, "this looks.... interesting." She selected one of the eco-friendly cardboard boxes, this one sporting a golden pineapple alongside the coconut. "Coconut water with pineapple," she continued, "I think I'll try that." 
Don't be fooled.

"Eeccccchhhh!," I thought, "Way to ruin a perfectly good pineapple." Pineapple I like. It's sweet. It doesn't have that "came from nature - fruity" taste like most fruit. Plus, it's sweet. So, my wife tossed the Vita Coco coconut water with pineapple into our cart and, just as quickly, I placed it on the conveyor belt along with a loaf of bread, a half-gallon of milk, a squeeze bottle of jelly and other assorted foodstuffs. Mrs. P paid and I bagged our purchases. The Vita Coco was absentmindedly stuck in a bag with a couple of boxes of pasta and a bottle of flavored seltzer. When we got home, it was shoved in the refrigerator behind the milk and forgotten.

The Vita Coco was discovered today as we prepared for dinner. "Hey!," Mrs. P exclaimed, "I almost forgot about this!" She unscrewed the plastic top and poured a sampling of the contents into a waiting glass. It was a cloudy pale yellow. She swirled it around in the glass, holding it up to the light as though inspecting the properties of an expensive wine. Then she took a sip. A tiny sip. Slowly, the corners of her lips curved downward and she made an "Ewww! This is icky!" face. 

"Ugh!," Mrs. P cried, "That is awful! It started off with a nice, pineapple flavor, then — eccchhhh! — it has a salt water aftertaste... like it was left in the ocean." She poured a little more into the glass and, despite my dislike of coconut and full expectation of what was to come, I took a sip. My wife was right. She was beyond right. It had a sweaty pineapple sort of taste. Mrs. P poured the remaining contents down the drain and quickly rinsed out the glass with hot water. I hope the pipes are okay.

As for coconut... I'm back where I started. No, thank you. In any form.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

what you need

Marketing is a fascinating field and I am happy to be a part of it. You, as a consumer, are the prey (and victim) of marketing practically every single second of the day... and you don't even realize it. In the morning, when you choose Starbucks over Dunkin' Donuts (or vice-versa), it's because, through careful, strategic marketing, you have unconsciously been forced to make that choice. And depending on how effectively the marketing message touches you, your selection is either the "Average Joe's coffee and donuts" of Dunkin' Donuts or the higher echelon, exclusive clique of Starbucks. Whatever your choice — it was made as a result of marketing.

The basic philosophy of marketing anything is this: You have a product. At least five other companies make a similar product. Some are better than yours, some are worse, some are the same. The task of marketing is to convince the potential customer that your product is the greatest thing ever and that the other, similar products will kill you.

There are some products that are so popular and so ubiquitous, one wonders why they even bother to continue to advertise. If you are on top, with an overwhelming market share and no one even close to being a viable competitor, why not just ditch all of your advertising budget, distribute that money among your manufacturing staff as giant bonus and call it a day? Why? Because being "Number One" is never enough. Maintaining that superior position is a full time job. And a complicated one, at that.

Let me offer an example...

In the beginning, there was Oreo (cue the angelic chorus). Actually, in the beginning, there was Hydrox. Yep, Oreo came along in 1912, four years after The Sunshine Baking Company introduced its popular chocolate sandwich cookie. Originally conceived by the National Biscuit Company as a blatant imitation of Hydrox, Oreos soon knocked Sunshine's crunchy treat on its creme-filled ass on its way to becoming (and remaining) the best-selling cookie in the United States for the next hundred years. Nabisco (as National Biscuit was later known) grew into an unstoppable cookie-producing powerhouse. With major brands like Fig Newtons, Chips Ahoy, Ritz Crackers and Premium Saltines, they left their so-called competition in the dust... or crumbs, as it were. So, there they were, sitting pretty at the top of the heap, bestowed the moniker "America's Favorite Cookie." So, now what? Now what indeed.

The masterminds in Product Development looked long and hard at the Oreo. They considered every aspect of it — its size, shape, texture, filling, structure — everything. They took the straightforward concept of two simple chocolate wafer cookies separated by a small dollop of sweet creme filling and they began to mess with it.

First, they added more filling. They made the cookie vanilla. They made the cookie vanilla and the filling chocolate. They made the cookie and the filling chocolate. They made one cookie chocolate and one cookie vanilla. They added more filling to the vanilla sandwiches. They added even more filling to the chocolate sandwiches. They made the filling blue, then red, then orange, then yellow. They stamped holiday designs into the cookie. They even made football-shaped cookies! Then, they tried different flavors of filling — mint, peanut butter, strawberry, birthday cake, coffee, gingerbread, watermelon, candy corn. It was getting out of control!

Then, they started playing with the size. They made Mini Oreos. Then, Mini Oreos in a Big Bag. Then, they made mini versions of the vanilla Oreos. Then, they took the mini Oreos out of a bag and put them in a cup. Then they just said, "Ahhh, screw it! Let's make 'em big!"

Not content with experimenting within the brand, Oreos entered other products. They showed up in ice cream, snack cakes (including regular cakes and then a version with double the amount of filling!), Jello and even pizza! That's right — not even pizza was safe from the whims of Oreos! 

Oreos were still not satisfied! They needed more! Like Sherman storming relentlessly through Atlanta, Oreos infiltrated other cookies! Not appeased by just wild variations on its own theme, Oreos shoved themselves it the middle of the helpless Chips Ahoy!

Oreos' domestic "reign of terror" shows absolutely no signs of subsiding. More "limited edition" cookies are waiting in the wings, strategically poised to be unleashed on the public. Double Stuf ® was a fine diversion from the original, but "Fruit Punch" flavored cookies? Really? Is that something we have been missing in our lives? And now, it looks like Oreos have set their sights on foreign shores as well. Now, tell me, why would a company that produces something as innocuous as a cookie ever feel the need to become so pervasive, so domineering, ... so...so... malevolent.

I'll answer that question with a question: "When was the last time you saw a package of Hydrox cookies?"

And that, my friend, concludes your first lesson in marketing.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

out here in the fields

Sunday mornings are sacred for me. No, no — not in the religious, church-going way, but in the sense that I don't like to do a goddamn thing. I wake up, make myself a cup of coffee, flip on the TV, plop myself down on the sofa and prepare myself for a full day of Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch and a compellingly hokey episode of The Love Boat. Yessir! Sundays don't get much better than that!

Late Saturday evening, our neighbor Rae called to ask if Mrs. P and I would like to accompany her family on a "pick your own produce" adventure at an orchard in the suburbs just south of Philadelphia. My wife, who loves adventures and loves the concept of "the more the merrier," jumped at the invitation. Rae optimistically asked, "Josh is a 'hayride' kind of guy, isn't he?" My wife laughed. "Yeah, sure he is.," she responded. Hanging up the phone, my spouse asked if I'd like to go on the proposed outing. I smiled and answered the same way I have answered many, many times over the past thirty years, "I will be happy to do anything you'd like."

Sunday morning we arrived and piled into a hay-filled, flatbed trailer that was hitched to a tractor — a real live farm tractor. We were informed by the wizened and weather-beaten farmer that we'd be driven out to the area of the farm where we could pick peaches and corn, two produce commodities that I wasn't aware even knew each other. I reluctantly sat down in the dry hay bedding and the tractor rumbled off along a tree-lined, bumpy dirt path. I checked the time. Yep, right about now Peter was probably breaking Mom's favorite lamp, despite repeated warnings to not play ball in the house. Soon, Captain Stubing and crew would be departing for locales "exciting and new" and here I was in the back of a farm vehicle, covered in what was, essentially, horse feed.

Rotten peaches, rottin' in the sun
The tractor shuddered to a halt and, armed with the cardboard box equivalent of a bushel, we headed down a wide aisle shaded by leafy peach trees. Now, I don't eat a lot of fruit. I was a bit disappointed that we wouldn't have the opportunity to select our own pineapples and bananas. I had swarthy visions of hacking the mighty stems with a machete, until it was explained to me that those tropical fruits only grow in the tropics (hence the name) and that Delaware County, Pennsylvania did not fall into the realm of a tropical clime. Still, I followed my group as they strolled among the trees choosing large peaches, their skin blushing and inviting (the peaches, I mean). Some (like the ones pictured) weren't so lucky to be among the picked. We set forth with the harvest, and satisfied with our haul in the peach department, we crossed a ruddy, dirt path to where a series of corn stalks were compacted into cramped rows. Now, I like corn. It is tops on my "Vegetables I Will Eat" list, followed closely by French fries and more corn. (I know, I profess to being a vegetarian, but that doesn't mean I exclusively eat vegetables. It means I don't eat meat. As a matter of fact, I don't really care for vegetables. But, being a vegetarian does not prohibit me from eating pie and Oreos. And I take full advantage of that.) I uncharacteristically dove headlong into the glut of the corn crop, examining the husk-covered ears clinging to the thick stalks. With an audible crack!, I snapped off some of the larger ears and tossed them into my cardboard carry box where they unnaturally mingled with the peaches. O., Rae's husband, approached me holding an ear of corn, freshly stripped of its protective husk. O. was chomping on a raw piece and offered me a section which he had broken off. "No thank you," I said, as I waved him off, "I prefer mine cooked. I don't want to eat raw corn out here like I'm an escaped prisoner hiding from the warden's guards in a cornfield and foraging for food."

The hay wagon pulled up, ready to drive us back to the parking lot. Our little group boarded, along with a dozen or so others, like migrant farm workers returning from a hard day in the fields, all carrying their spoils of the earth's bounty. As we chugged to a stop at our destination, I turned and announced to my fellow "You Pick"ers that all of this stuff is readily available at a place called a 'supermarket' and little to no effort need be exerted to yield the exact same result.

He Who Walks Behind The Rows
During our little exercise in "let's pretend to be a farmhand," Mrs. P snapped this photo of me and sent it off to our son via text. She included the message, "Look what I got your Dad to do."

He instantly replied, "What? Go outside?"

Sunday, August 17, 2014

do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?

I am a rule follower. Actually, I am a fanatical and militant rule follower. If a policy is explained and implemented, I'll adhere to it. I wait in lines. I follow procedure. I come to a full stop at stop signs. I may not agree with a particular rule, but if it is posted or communicated in a clear and obvious fashion, I will honor it. And I expect everyone else to do the same. If someone decides to ignore a rule and do what they wish, it really pisses me off. (Well, to be honest, a lot of things piss me off, but breaking rules is high on the list.)

I am particularly annoyed by people who feel that rules do not apply to them. You know who I mean. Those who go into a building through a door marked "DO NOT ENTER." Those who park where it is clearly posted "NO PARKING" or where there is obviously not enough room for a car (like the curb next to my driveway). Those who skirt a long line and walk right up to the counter, even if someone is in mid-conversation with a service representative. "Oh, I just want to ask a quick question," they'll say and that "quick question" turns into six or seven questions and a full inquiry of a store's inventory. These are people who think: "Rules? The rules don't apply to me! Rules are for you assholes." 

I used to work for a guy who was very wealthy and drove a Porsche. He was a nice, generous guy, but no rule applied to him. One day, he took me out to lunch. We drove around a congested neighborhood with particularly narrow streets looking for a place to park. Suddenly, he noticed a spot in which his car would fit perfectly. As he spun the wheel in the direction of the cross street, I pointed out that he was headed the wrong way down a one-way street. "That's okay." he said, waving off my warning and not making an attempt to touch the brake pedal. He defiantly turned down the street, did a three-point turnaround and backed into the parking space. Why is there never a cop around when you need one?

The gallery of offenders.
I regularly ride the train to and from work. I carry a messenger bag daily. When I board the train, I choose a seat, remove the book I am currently reading from my bag and place my bag on my lap. I often see other passengers place their various briefcases, purses, backpacks, suitcases and other assorted parcels on the empty seat next to them. There are others that purposely spread their belongings — file folders, notebooks, iPads, laptops, clipboards — across an entire seat meant to accommodate three commuters. When the train is crowded, and seating is scare, some passengers still insist on using the seat as their own personal mobile workstation or an extension of their home. One rainy morning, when seats were at a premium, I saw an aisle seat that appeared empty from my vantage point. As I approached, I saw that the occupant — a sharply-dressed, executive-type woman — had a large, expanding file folder stretched across the seat as she made extensive notes on a legal pad balanced on her knee. I stopped alongside the seat, cleared my throat, and in the most polite tone I could muster, said, "May I please sit here?" She frowned and let out a long, exaggerated, annoyed sigh. Then, she slowly — I mean at a goddamn snail's pace — began gathering her belongings. She even stopped to do some filing and rearranging of documents, making sure they were in the proper order within her portable filing system. I stood by the seat, as patient as I could be, and the train already made it to the next scheduled stop before she had cleared a space to allow me to sit. Angered, I spoke up. "Sorry," I began, "I didn't realize I was riding on your train!" I moved on and took a seat next to a gentleman who respectfully had his briefcase stowed on the rack above his seat and his jacket folded neatly in his lap. I actually got some snickers and a small smattering of applause from my fellow, exasperated passengers.

SEPTA (the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, the company that provides public transportation to Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs) often makes announcements for bags to be put on the overhead luggage racks or on the floor under the seat. They have even taken to social media, repeatedly reinforcing the "Dude, it's Rude" campaign, with "tweets" making riders aware of the "bags off the seats" rule. Just last week, the campaign became more aggressive, as blunt signage began popping up at various places on train platforms and trains themselves. The two-color placards are unapologetic in their message. "Unless YOUR BAG Paid - MOVE IT!" the signs proclaim. There's no time for "please." You were warned. You had your chance. The gauntlet has been thrown down.

So, this morning, I boarded the train and sat in a seat next to a guy's bag. He was seated next to the window, headphones jammed into his ears, his head tilted down with full attention on his phone. I took the available aisle seat. We were separated by his leather overnight bag, upon which was draped his necktie. It being a Friday in summer, the train was relatively empty and there were many unoccupied seats. However, because I am a rule follower, my bag rested on my lap, as usual. I could feel the fellow's bag just scant centimeters from my elbow as I turned the pages of my book. As the train pulled into my destination stop, my expanded seatmate readied himself to exit as well. In my peripheral vision, I could see him remove his earbuds and stuff them into a pocket in his bag. Then, he lifted a travel coffee mug and swirled it a bit, in an effort to check its contents. He popped the lid of the mug and — I shit you not! — poured the remaining few drops on the floor. Yes! Right on the floor! I leaned forward a little to check if there was a concealed sink or even a drain that I hadn't previously noticed — knowing full well that there wasn't. Satisfied that his cup was empty, he packed it away in another pocket of the bag. He carefully folded his tie and, as the train slowed to a hissing halt, stood up, grabbed his bag and followed me down the aisle and out to the platform, even passing me on his way to the exit stairs.

I had found another one to whom the rules did not apply. As a mater of fact, this guy was making up his own rules.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I don't know why I go to extremes

It's pretty clear that there is very little that I will turn down if it's free. So, when my wife won a pair of tickets and told my friend Steve that he should use them with me, I certainly couldn't turn it down.

Not just regular midget wrestling,
The event? Why, Extreme Midget Wrestling! You heard me right. Extreme Midget Wrestling. (Steve was curious as to which thing the "extreme" referred. Were the midgets extreme? If they are already midgets, would extreme midgets be even smaller? Or was the wrestling the extreme part? Questions, questions. So many questions.)

Let's break down the phrase itself, for just a moment. You have "Extreme," meaning over-the-top, exaggerated and severe. Next, there's "Midget," a cringeworthy word that brings to mind other vile epithets like "kike," "mick" and the unmentionable "N-word." I believe the proper, politically-acceptable term is "little person." But not in the sordid world of wrestling. Here, they thump their diminutive chests and proudly proclaim themselves "Midgets." And that's with a capital "M," motherfucker!  And, of course, the anchor is "Wrestling." We all know wrestling in some form. Depending on your age, the word evokes memories of Bruno Sammartino and Andre the Giant. Or perhaps you grew up cheering the antics of Hulk Hogan. Well, what I witnessed tonight made those guys look like the Bolshoi Ballet.

Two factors made the evening even more surreal than it already was. First, during the day, Steve let me know that he wasn't feeling well and wouldn't be able to endure several hours of midgets beating the shit out of each other. So, it looked like I'd be going solo. (When I told Mrs. P of Steve's sudden illness, she panicked. "You're not going to ask me to go, are you?," she asked nervously. After thirty years of marriage, I wouldn't dare.) Second, it was my 53rd birthday, so birthday celebrations can only go up from here.

I entered the darkened TLA (a one-time movie theater where I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show over one hundred times when I was in high school). Now devoid of seats, The TLA serves as a popular concert venue and, on this night, a showcase for short-of-stature wrestlers. The ring was situated in the center of the floor surrounded by metal barricades to allow a walkway around the ring and to keep the rabid fans a safe distance from the.... the.... um, athletes. 

And what a crowd this event drew! It was a strange amalgamation of die-hard wrestling fanatics, mohawked pseudo-punks and the just plain curious (like me). And girls. Yep! There were actually girls in the crowd. It was pretty embarrassing. I was beginning to envy Steve's sinus infection.

Down for the count.
The show (for lack of a better word) started late. But soon, amid deafening, rhythmic chants of "Mid-GETS! Mid-GETS! Mid-GETS!" (I kid you not), the first round was announced. It was a grueling match-up between a musclebound miniature calling himself "Little Steve-o" (no, it was not my pal Steve in disguise because he stands well above the requisite three feet tall) and his challenger, a small fellow named "King Midget." I knew this was his name because it was tattooed in large script across his bare chest. The tiny referee clapped his hands to signify the contest's start. And the "extreme" began immediately! These two wee warriors pounded and kicked and body-slammed each other to the frenzied delight of the fans. Then, they broke out the obligatory "foreign objects" — two-by-fours, metal serving trays, even a standard-sized aluminum trash can —using each to inflict the most extreme damage upon their respective opponent. More smashing, beating, pummeling ensued. No wrestling match, no matter what size the participants are, would be complete without a spectacular flying leap from the top rope. And these pint-sized adversaries didn't disappoint. Finally, after several false finishes, King Midget pinned Little Steve-o in a surprise attack. 

"Nobody calls me 'chicken'!"
The next match started almost immediately. An arrogant, yet slight, representative of Canada ("Boo! Booooo!," jeered the crowd upon his introduction, because, evidently, we hate Canada now.) battled a teensy guy in a chicken mask. Nosiree!, you can't make this shit up. A minute or two into this bout, somewhere around the time the Canadian bounded off the ropes with momentum enough to flatten the Chicken Man, I had had enough. I weaved through the maniacal crowd toward the exit. A security guard informed he that, if I leave, there would be no re-admittance. I told her she needn't worry. The whole experience couldn't have been worse if I had been at a slave auction.

I have done a lot of exciting, interesting and unusual things in my life. All I have to do now is skydive and climb Mt. Everest, then I will have done everything.

Now, please excuse me while I wash my eyeballs with bleach.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

Twenty-eight years ago, we moved into our home in the small suburban community of Elkins Park, just outside of Philadelphia, not far from where my wife grew up. We live on a quiet block, though most blocks in this neighborhood are pretty quiet. The only real noise comes from the infrequent blasts from the nearby fire house siren and the clatter of the regional railroad that runs twenty feet behind my house. (Having the train so close is actually a plus, as I can practically roll out of bed and make it to the station at the end of my street in a matter of seconds. Literally, seconds!) Aside from those two sonic sources, there are few disturbances... except for my neighbors on either side of my house.

I have chronicled the unneighborly exploits of one neighbor (here and here and especially here), but the other next-door neighbors are giving that nut a run for her money.

Our house is colloquially known as a twin. In other parts of the country, this type of house is known as a two-family dwelling, semi-detached or a duplex (although a duplex means something different in the Philadelphia area). A "twin" (or whatever you choose to call it), is simply a single building, with a separate entrance to each dwelling and there is a shared center wall. The lot line runs down the middle of the house. You own the half of the lot your home is on. You are responsible for the maintenance and insurance on your half of the house/lot. You can paint your house a different color than the other side, different roof color, whatever you'd like. Clear? When we moved in, the house connected by that aforementioned center wall was the residence of two women who kept to themselves. We would see them when snow needed to be shoveled or grass needed cutting, but we never socialized. After they moved, a succession of nondescript occupants moved in for short periods. Then, Len, a young, hip accountant with no apparent accounting skills, overpaid for the place and turned it into a fucking frat house. He threw regular, loud parties that raged into the wee hours of the night, frequently spilling out onto his front porch and lawn. The limited available street parking was hogged by visitors who would repeatedly block my driveway. After several years, Len's employer transferred him to sunny southern California. Unable to unload his investment outright, he offered the house as a rental. A slew of college students moved in for an 18-month "par-TAY" that picked up where Len's inconsiderate celebrations left off. The parking situation grew worse, as the four tenants each owned a car (as did their numerous guests) and soon our block began to resemble the long-term parking lot at the airport. At the end of a year-and-a-half, the students vacated and, thankfully, a normal, respectful family moved in - Rae and O. O., a general contractor, had his sights set on the slowly-crumbling, long-unoccupied single home directly across the street. Not long after he moved his family in to the home adjacent to ours, he packed up the whole shebang and moved ninety feet away, single-handedly rebuilding the place around his patient family's daily life.

Then, Fan's family moved in.

I sensed something off about them from the moment I met them. They struck me as out-of-place hippies — in a Manson Family sort of way. The dad, (who I'll call "Cool"), gave the impression of one of those survivalist guys who stockpile canned food, drinking water and high-powered weapons in his basement, knowing that government agents are gonna come pounding at his door after they shut off the electricity. Mrs. P and I attempted to be friendly (well, Mrs. P anyway), even inviting them to our yearly "Night Before Thanksgiving" get-together. They came, stayed a very short time and left. And slowly withdrew. They turned down subsequent invitations, or just plain didn't show up. No more neighborly "Hellos." No more acknowledging nods as we simultaneously dragged our trash cans down to the curb on Tuesday evenings for the next day's collection. We didn't push it. If they wished to be left alone, I would happily grant that wish. I've been doing it to my other neighbors for nearly 30 years, so I'm pretty good at it.

One evening, Mrs. P and I were sitting down to dinner. With no effort, I have a clear view of my attached neighbor's backyard from my kitchen window. I looked up from my veggie burger to see Cool skip off the wooden deck at the back of his house. He was carrying a plastic food storage container in his hand. He walked toward the fence that separates his yard from the train tracks just on the other side. He stretched up on tip-toes, removed the container's lid and dumped its contents over the fence. He then returned to his house. Over the next few weeks, I saw this ritual repeated almost daily.

In 28 years, I have never seen nor smelled the noxious odor of a skunk in our neighborhood. Since I witnessed Cool's "dumping procedure," the stench of skunk fumes has been a weekly occurrence. It's odd and bit coincidental that they started at the same time. Soon, the skunk smell was accompanied by this:
A groundhog! A fucking groundhog was brazenly sitting in my neighbor's yard, munching on some delicious, discarded morsel, thanks to Cool's Wildlife Smorgasbord. Whatever shit he's been dumping over the fence (a violation of township regulations), is now attracting all sorts of property-damaging critters. My neighbor is a renter, so having no real financial interest in the property, aside from a possible security deposit, he obviously doesn't give a shit. And, with a landlord living two-thousand miles away, even less of a shit is given.

In the past, I have called the local police for various reasons (a stolen bike, an on-going annoyance lawsuit, a bat that got into our house) and they have always been attentive, helpful and courteous. I called the Township Municipal Services to report this woodland creature incident and I am still waiting for a return phone call. In the meantime, the skunk smell is overpowering, strong enough to bring tears. And I spotted the groundhog in the yard again this morning. I think he gave me "the finger."

I wonder when the next round of neighbors are due, because this one (and his four-legged, furry pals) has over-stayed his welcome.

Monday, August 4, 2014

you got that special kind of sadness

The tiny New York village of Cooperstown is renowned as the Home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. It is a proverbial Mecca for enthusiasts of the "national pastime." On any given day, thousands of families — with a proud Dad at the helm — visit the history-packed museum. As each memorabilia-filled display is encountered, a misty-eyed Dad imparts the historical significance of each and every ball, bat and glove to a group of his offspring who just plain don't give a shit. Or, in the rare case that they do have an interest in baseball, they don't care about a bunch of handlebar-mustachioed ghosts who played a zillion years ago. They wanna know where the Mike Trout stuff is. And if they can get a milkshake later.

Cooperstown offers other diversions. For those whom baseball is of no consequence, there's alcohol. A lot of alcohol. For a place with just under 2,000 permanent residents, the town boasts seven — count 'em — breweries and wineries. I guess there's just so much baseball the population can take.

"Wanna go get a beer?"
Just off the beaten path of an already off-beaten path, nestled in the green, wooded mountains, is the award-winning, well-known (among beer connoisseurs, that is) Brewery Ommegang. Situated on a 136-acre site of a hop farm (how perfect!), Brewery Ommegang has grown exponentially since its founding in 1997. The brewery offers tours, tastings, a beer-respired restaurant, the annual "Belgium Comes to Cooperstown" beer event (another excuse to drink, I suppose) and, recently, an outdoor summer concert series. Cooperstown is two hours from Albany and two-and-a-half hours from Manhattan. We can't understand from where the audience draws. If the town only has a population of 1,800, it would've been the perfect time to rob Cooperstown blind, because everyone was seeing a concert.

On Friday, Mrs. P and I took the long, boring, four-and-a-half hour drive to Cooperstown to see one of those concerts at Brewery Ommegang. The show, an indie rock trifecta featuring supergroup The Baseball Project, rockers Dawes and modern troubadour Conor Oberst (late of Bright Eyes), was the draw, but not the only source of entertainment, as we would soon witness.

We arrived early, with our folding chairs and blanket in tow, and picked up our tickets at the Will Call tent. We secured ourselves a small plot of real estate a comfortable distance from the crowd forming at the base of the cloth-draped, metal skeletal stage. After spreading out our blanket and popping open our chairs, Mrs. P and I sauntered across the expanse of lawn, circumventing the nuevo-hippies sprawled on the lush grass, towards several food trucks to assess our dinner options. A funky-looking, modified walk-in truck staffed by an even funkier-looking crew of misplaced flower children offered suitable vegetarian fare. I got a black bean taco-looking assemblage and my spouse settled on a falafel wrap. Making our way back to our little land claim, we saw the woman who was sitting on a blanket behind us when we left, now gathering up her belongings. With an armful of blanket, cooler and chairs, she, along with some half-hearted help from her two young boys, moved their stuff in front of us, just a bit too close to another couple in chairs enjoying one of Ommegang's many hand-crafted specialties. They looked none too happy, now that their personal space was being breached. They silently grumbled, shook their heads in disbelief and looked around to see if anyone had witness this injustice. They caught Mrs. P and me chuckling and chuckled back in agreement.

For here or to go?
In addition to Mom and the two young boys, the nomadic family also included teenage twin boys and Dad. The older boys were standing near the stage, at a distance that screamed "I am sooo embarrassed by my family!" The two younger boys were obviously bored and would have been happier in a Guantanamo Bay torture cell than here listening to live music with their family. They took turns pushing each other off the blanket. They kicked off their expensive sneakers and tramped around in the damp grass in their stocking feet. All the time with their backs to the stage. Mom looked exasperated. First, she over apologized for relocating her clan in front of our blanket, then she calmed herself with several chain-smoked cigarettes. And then there was Dad. Upon first glance, one would say Dad was a dick. Upon further examination, one's first impression would prove correct. He was impeccably groomed with the look of a man who spends an unnaturally long time in front of a mirror. He wore his cellphone clipped proudly to his hip, as though he was the only one who owned this new piece of technology. He shied away from his children, and after a quick, inconspicuous grab of Mom's ass, he disappeared into the crowd for a very long period of time. He surfaced for a few moments to kick one of his kids out of a folding chair, only to retreat back into the camouflage of the crowd. At one point, one of the young boys began to cry. Dad, looking stern and inconvenienced, appeared with a stuffed burrito and chips and deposited the platter on the grass near the boy's prone body. The plate — food and all — sat untouched for the entire show. The boys ran wildly around the grass, barely missing the plate. Until, finally, a sock-enrobed foot landed square in the middle of the rolled tortilla, squirting its contents onto the grass.

As night fell and a pink light-bathed Conor Oberst took the stage, Dad returned and whispered something into Mom's ear.

"What do think he's saying?," I asked Mrs. P.

"'Why did you make me have these kids? I was okay with the twins, but the little ones?'," Mrs. P answered. We laughed to ourselves.

"I wonder where he keeps wandering off to?," I continued my line of questioning.

My wife, with an answer for everything, surmised that he must be banging some hippie chick behind the line of Port-a-Potties. "And," she added, "Mom is never gonna get the grass stains out of those socks!"

Dad slipped away again. Mom lit another soothing cigarette and we packed up our stuff and headed out to our car — satisfied with the extra bit of unadvertised entertainment.