Tuesday, September 30, 2014

that train don't stop here anymore

SEPTA, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (under its original name, Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, a misnomer if there ever was one) began operation of the Broad Street subway line in 1928. Stations were added southbound until its final destination, Snyder Avenue, opened in 1938. Thirty-five years later, a new final destination was tacked on to the end of the line. Pattison Avenue station, in South Philadelphia, served the budding sports complex area, offering convenient access to the home fields of the city's professional sports teams — the  Phillies, the Eagles, the Flyers and the 76ers,

The station formerly known as "Pattison"
After another thirty-five years, Pattison Avenue station, so named because it is located on (surprise!) Pattison Avenue, was rechristened "AT&T Station," under a naming rights deal between the financially-strapped SEPTA and the communications giant. The agreement netted SEPTA two-million dollars. In exchange, huge "AT&T"s would grace the station's facade for five years, confusing commuters unfamiliar with street names in South Philly and the order of stations on the subway route. There is no "AT&T" Street and there is no AT&T building or headquarters anywhere in the area. I don't think there's even an AT&T cell phone store nearby. And, whether SEPTA likes it or not, people still call it Pattison Station.

Well, the good folks at SEPTA are at it again. On September 4, 2014, Market East (which is located on Market Street), a major station on the heavily-traveled regional rail system, was renamed "Jefferson Station." Thomas Jefferson University Hospital paid an undisclosed amount for naming rights for an undisclosed period of time. At the big media event that was staged for the re-dedication, SEPTA general manager Joseph M. Casey said, with a forced smile upon his face, "Jefferson Station is a major transportation hub for Philadelphia area residents who are patients, employees and students of nearby Jefferson Health System facilities and Thomas Jefferson University, Because so many people use SEPTA to get to their Jefferson destination, renaming the station is a natural fit." That, of course, is corporate bullshit. I should know. I hear corporate bullshit everyday.

I ride the train to and from work everyday. On my commute home on September 4, the train's PA crackled with the uneasy voice of a conductor announcing, "This stop - Jefferson Station," quickly followed by "Um, formerly Market East. 'Jefferson Station' is the new name for Market East." The next morning, and every morning after that, a similarly awkward announcement was made by the conductor on duty. For nearly a month, the previously short "This stop - Market East" has now become a lengthy explanation that, at certain moments, borders on apology.

Yesterday, on my ride in to work, a particularly zealous conductor came on the loudspeaker and articulated the exact and unmistakable location of the train.
"Attention, passengers, this stop is Jefferson Station. Jefferson Station is the new name for Market East. This station is Jefferson Hospital Station. Jefferson Station, this stop. Market Street, The Gallery Shopping Mall, historic sites and links to the PATCO High-Speed Line to New Jersey. Market East is now called Jefferson Station. Jefferson Station is the new name for Market East. Once again, this stop is Jefferson Station."
The poor guy made his point and delivered his message using every possible combination of the words "Jefferson," "Station," "Market" and "East." I believe his announcement continued until we reached the next station, Surburban Station.

At least that's what it's called for the time being.

Friday, September 26, 2014

was that a parable, or a very subtle joke?

Once there was a group of people who loved the story of Sleeping Beauty. They loved the characters — the beautiful princess, the handsome prince, the thoughtful and protective fairies. They feared the bad fairy and were awed by the power of magic and healing power of love. Over the years, other versions of the story were told and some of the variations became part of the story, including the introduction of the evil Maleficent and the once-nameless princess now called Aurora. But the story was still beloved and revered by many and the number continued to grow.

At the same time, there was another group of people who felt very deeply about the story of Cinderella. They held the tale's characters in high regard — the poor, mistreated princess, her nasty step-sisters and her awful step-mother. They marveled at the transformation of pure, sweet Cinderella, through the magic of her fairy godmother. Again, the story was told and retold and embellished in a "whisper down the lane" effect, with many sources adding to and expanding the core story. 

The two groups — The Beauties and The Cinders — each felt that their story was the definitive story, proclaiming it "the greatest story ever told." They tried to convince their adversaries of the importance of their story and the frivolity of the other. When each side grew tired of reasoning, they turned to insults and ridicule. Soon the ridicule turned to violence and violence, of course, brought loss of life.

Two groups of people — people similar in function, ability and biological formation — had a difference of opinion over which made-up story was better. This resulted in intolerance, hatred and, eventually, violence.

Aren't we better than that?

Monday, September 22, 2014

you can call me anything you like but my name is Veronica

This story started out as a different story on a different blog. Last week marked the one year anniversary of the death of actress Patricia Blair. In keeping with the ongoing theme of my illustration blog (joshpincusiscrying.com — you should visit sometime), I drew a picture of Miss Blair and began preliminary research on her life. I got sidetracked, as I often do, and the drawing sat, unposted, on my computer's desktop.

Regular readers of my blogs know about my affinity for nostalgia — all things related to TV shows from my youth and black and white movies from before I was born. On an irregular basis, I attend collector shows to peruse the wares of like-minded vendors who offer memorabilia from days gone by. These shows also feature a smattering of celebrities, most of whose careers are on the wane. For a nominal fee, a nostalgia enthusiast, like myself, is afforded a few intimate moments with a hero from the small or silver screen, culminating in an autographed photo as a memento of the encounter. A few years ago, I printed out a couple of drawings from my website and presented them to Jay North (of Dennis the Menace fame). Jay was delighted and offered me an autographed photo as an exchange. Jeannie Russell, his co-star on the 60s sitcom, did not share his appreciation of my talent. Since that time, I began bringing prints of some of my drawings to celebrities at collector shows in hopes I could score an other free pic. So far, it just worked the one time. But I'll keep trying.

This past weekend, Mrs. Pincus and I attended the annual Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Before we left I printed out a few drawings on glossy paper to present to Veronica Cartwright, who I knew would be one of this year's guests. Ms. Cartwright, who began her career as a nine-year-old extra in a World War II drama, has worked steadily for seven decades. She is best known as the female crew member of the Nostromo who wasn't Sigourney Weaver in the 1979 sci-fi thriller Alien. As a child, she was tormented by flocks of murderous birds (and possibly Alfred Hitchcock) in The Birds. She also played Beaver Cleaver's neighbor Violet Rutherford, (She even gave the Beave his first kiss.) She has appeared in scores of supporting roles in TV and movies, too numerous to detail. (Her IMDB page puts the number at 134.) In addition, she is the older sister of Angela Cartwright ("Penny" on Lost in Space and "Brigitta" in The Sound of Music).

When we arrived at the Hunt Valley hotel that was hosting the event, we made our way to the conference room, already bustling with conventioneers. Anxious vendors hawked their bits of pop culture and eager patrons queued up for a "brush with greatness." As I approached the table where Ms. Cartwright sat, I fished around in the manila envelope I was carrying. I withdrew my drawing and, with a flourish, presented it to Veronica, explaining how we loved watching her adventures on reruns of Daniel Boone. Veronica, who starred as Daniel's pre-teen daughter "Jemima" on nearly two seasons of the 1960s Western, looked down at the shiny colored print and sneered. 

"That looks like Pat Blair," she frowned, "Why would I want that?"

I was confused and I stated the obvious. "She played your mom on Daniel Boone."

Veronica laughed. "Oh, I know that! It was because of her that I was kicked off the show!" She jabbed a finger in the direction of Patricia's drawn nose. 

I gulped. Ooops! I hit a nerve! My wife and I exchanged awkward glances as Veronica elaborated.

"I was fifteen," the actress continued, "and they were developing story lines with love interests for my character. Pat had it written into her contract that I couldn't have romantic episodes. She felt it made her seem old. She gave an ultimatum - and my character disappeared without an explanation near the end of the second season." Veronica went on to tell about the time teen idol Fabian was a guest on the show and, during an on-screen kiss, he jammed his tongue down her throat. At the time, Fabian was 21 and Veronica was jail-bait. 

I sheepishly took the drawing back, tucking it into the envelope. As a peace offering, I offered a drawing of the cast of Alien. She liked that one better.

I'm thinking of sharing my anecdote with TMZ. Y'know, the old-timer's edition.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

talkin' baseball

Once and for all, baseball players should not be role models. They are spoiled, out-of-touch grown men who are overpaid for playing a game that any seven-year-old would happily play for free. They contribute almost nothing to society and, if baseball were deemed illegal tomorrow, wouldn't be qualified to do anything that could earn them anywhere close to the same income.

I love the historical aspect of baseball. I've visited the Baseball Hall of Fame several times. I enjoy the stories and lore surrounding the greats of the game — Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio. What I don't like is shit like this...

This fine example of good sportsmanship is Phillies relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon. He came into Sunday's game in the ninth inning with a 4-1 lead over the Miami Marlins. All he needed to do was get three outs and victory was his. He has done this simple task 37 times this season, so it seems he was up to the challenge. He is second on the Phillies all-time save leaders. Not bad for a guy who has only been on the team for three years. Considering that the Phillies' performance this year is one of the worst in recent years, Papelbon has been a bright spot in an otherwise dreary and pathetic 2014. Oh, did I mention that Papelbon will make $13 million this year. Thirteen million dollars! For throwing a baseball!

So, Mr. Papelbon came into the game in a situation that he had seen himself in before. He gave up a lead-off double and it was all downhill from there. When the Marlin's half of the inning was over, they had scored four runs off of Papelbon and taken the lead. The 30,000 fans remaining in the stands began to loudly express their anger and frustration. Papelbon was officially the fall guy for an entire season of disappointment. Obviously aware of the fans' collective rage, Papelbon expressed a little rage of his own. After Marlins centerfielder Marcell Ozuna grounded the final out to Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis, Papelbon stood high on the pitcher's mound and assessed the crowd. He raised his chin, reached his pitching hand down and grabbed his crotch with the firm grip usually reserved for a split-finger fastball. Second-base umpire Joe West ejected Papelbon from the game for the blatantly rude display. The enraged pitcher offered a foul-mouthed arguement but eventually left the field. In a post-game interview in the Phillies' locker room, Papelbon played innocent, claiming that he was merely adjusting his protective cup, something that every ball player does regularly in every game, sometimes several times a game. Papelbon and his explanation, in my opinion*, are full of shit. 

I have been to many baseball games and I have watched many more on television. I have seen an untold amount of players scratch, paw and grab at themselves in an attempt to realign protective padding and equipment to a more comfortable position. What Papelbon did was no adjustment. It was a silent statement that can only be interpreted one way. And the message came through loud and clear.

I work in the marketing department of a law firm. As part of my job, I create congratulatory ads. If I fuck up several ads in a row, I would expect my boss to bring those errors to my attention. Can you image what would happen if I responded to that admonition with an obscene gesture? I know where I wouldn't be working anymore. 

Mr. Papelbon, on the other hand, gets thirteen million dollars for his trouble. And he lies to the people who are paying that salary.

* an opinion I'm sure I share with anyone who saw the interview and is familiar with the "I'm innocent" protocol exhibited by professional athletes when they, themselves, know they are full of shit.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I am the pumpkin king

Summer is winding down to a close. The humidity is dissipating and the air has begun to take on a crisp coolness. Kids are returning to school. Green leaves are starting to change to hues of red and gold. It's a beautiful time of year. It's a time to cram pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg into every fucking thing we eat and drink.

For eight to ten weeks at the end of every year, every purveyor of food products (from huge conglomerates to small Mom and Pops) unleashes a pumpkin spice-fortified version of their particular commodity. Who decided that the one slice of pumpkin pie we eat at the conclusion of our Thanksgiving meal cannot possibly pacify our insatiable craving for pumpkin spice? Do we really require a full-on pumpkin-cinnamon-nutmeg (allspice, maybe?) experience at every meal and in every component of that meal? The marketing departments of the nation's top food and beverage suppliers think you do. And — face it — they know what is best for you.

Let's start with breakfast. Pumpkin spice has infiltrated waffles, pancakes (and the accompanying syrup), doughnuts, bagels (and their recently-introduced cousins, the bagel thin). Need a spread for your pumpkin spice bagel? You have your choice of pumpkin spice margarine or pumpkin spice cream cheese. Not enough cinnamon in your cinnamon roll? How about adding more... along with its friends pumpkin and nutmeg! In a hurry? Just grab a convenient container of pumpkin spice yogurt and off you go!

What breakfast would be complete with out a hot beverage? There's a wide variety of pumpkin spice coffee and tea, some already prepared and some you can make at home. There's even pumpkin spice coffee-flavored ice cream that's sure to thoroughly confuse your taste buds.

You can't have pumpkin spice coffee without a splash of pumpkin spice flavored cream, right? Well, here's a choice of two different brands. And for the non-coffee drinkers, there are at least seven different brands of pumpkin spice milk, including some for the lactose intolerant. Milk not your style? Don't fret. Pumpkin spice has made it into egg nog. There's even a bottled version of pumpkin spice latte, for those early mornings or late nights when Starbucks is closed.

Snack time is pumpkin spice time, too. None of your favorite between meal noshes can escape the pumpkin spice assault! Cookies, in pre-packaged and mix form, are available in everyone's favorite autumnal flavor. M&Ms®, Hershey Kisses®, not even candy corn is exempt! You can add pumpkin spice almonds (pick your favorite brand!) to a pumpkin spice cupcake mix and decorate the end result with pumpkin spice marshmallows. (If the mix requires baking emulsion, a pumpkin spice version is readily available. Lucky you!) While the cupcakes are baking, you can munch on some pumpkin spice potato chips. Or, if you're looking for a healthier option, you may choose a pumpkin spice flax seed granola bar. And if cupcakes aren't to your liking, there's always room for Jell-O® — especially if it's  — you guessed it! — pumpkin spice flavored.

Let's see. What have I left out? A lot, actually. There's peanut butter. There's gum. There's even dietary supplement! According to the label, it's a blend of organic protein, greens, fruits and veggies. I suppose that nutmeg is covered somewhere in that list. And it looks like pumpkin spice has not limited itself to food. It has found its way into candles and bubble bath, too. Now, your home and your skin can radiate the musky sweet scent of goodies from Grandma's oven.

Is all this enough to drive you to drink? Well, you're not safe there, either. Beer, Kahlua® and three kinds of vodka – they've all been poisoned suitably garnished.

In the years to come, I suspect it will only get worse. The "powers that be" (the test kitchens of Starbucks, Kraft, Procter & Gamble and Unilever) will experiment and concoct ways of introducing pumpkin spice to products you never knew needed pumpkin spice. Just take comfort in knowing that it only lasts a few weeks.

After that, everything will be peppermint flavored until January.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

the party's over

Atlantic City's history is not unlike the roller coasters that once rose up along its sandy shore. Once renowned as "The World's Playground," the seaside town experienced a construction boom in the early 20th century, with the small rooming houses being replaced by more regal accommodations and anxious visitors eager to take in shows, amusements and the other curiosities of the world-famous Boardwalk. Men were required to wear suit jackets when taking an evening stroll. The majestic hotels offered beach-goers special, hidden access, as decorum prohibited bathing suits on the Boardwalk.

After World War II, the area slumped into poverty. Hotels were vacant, as cheap airfare made places like Miami Beach more appealing. Crime rose and political corruption increased and came to an ugly head when the press showed the city in a negative (albeit truthful) light during the 1964 Democratic Convention.

In 1976, in an effort to reinvent itself, New Jersey passed a referendum allowing casino gambling in Atlantic City. In May 1978, the former Chalfont-Haddon Hall Hotel emerged as Resorts International, the first legal casino on the East coast. It was the "shot in the arm" that Atlantic City's economy needed. Queue lines were steady as patrons waited for hours to gamble. Trying to maintain an aura of class and sophistication, the casinos enforced a dress code. No shorts, no t-shirts, no sneakers, and especially no bathing suits. Men were required to wear a jacket. Atlantic City was once again on the rise.

A little over a year later, Resorts International faced its first bit of competition. In June 1979, Las Vegas heavyweight Caesars opened a casino on the Boardwalk. In addition to cutting into Resorts' monopoly, Caesars offered a relaxed dress code. Jackets were only required after 6 PM. At the risk of losing potential customers (and revenue), Resorts adopted the policy as well. Then, as more casinos opened, regulations regarding attire took a back seat. Dress on the casino floor became "come as you are." At one point, Atlantic City boasted over a dozen casinos. My wife and I played (sometimes winning, sometimes losing) in almost all of them. And we wore whatever we wanted.

The casinos were supposed to reinvigorate the area. They were supposed to create jobs and benefit the surrounding community. They were supposed to. Most casinos were offered tax breaks and special incentives as reward for building in Atlantic City. In reality, the casinos lined their own pockets and regarded the residents with a tall middle finger. Sometimes they even gave that same finger to their own customers. The prevailing attitude was: "We are the only game in town. You wanna gamble somewhere else? The next closest place is Las Vegas and that's 2500 miles away!" Prices were high, service was adequate at best, but attitude was plentiful.

My family visited Las Vegas for the first time in 2003. I was expecting Atlantic City in the desert. Boy, was I wrong! It was more like Disneyland for adults. Each massive hotel was embellished with over-the-top, impeccable theming. There was the Luxor with its frighteningly realistic Egyptian motif. The medieval charm of Excalibur, looking like it popped out of a fairy tale. The incredible authentic detail of New York New York. We were totally captivated and didn't know where to look first. In addition to casinos, there were ridiculously inexpensive all-you-can-eat buffets, nightly outdoor light shows, endless unique shopping areas and extreme thrill rides. While waiting in line at a restaurant, a couple asked where we were from. "Philadelphia," we replied. Puzzled, they asked why would we come to Vegas if we live so close to Atlantic City? My wife and I exchanged knowing glances and answered, "That's a question coming from someone who has never been to Atlantic City." There was no comparison. Atlantic City is no Las Vegas. Not by a long shot. Although it thinks it is.

Closed.  Closed. Closed. Closed. Closed. 
Soon, the states surrounding New Jersey — Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland — all passed casino gambling laws and wasted no time in jumping into the gambling pool. Suddenly, Atlantic City had some serious competition. Although the Atlantic City casinos were obviously feeling the drop in attendance and revenue, they did virtually nothing to help their cause. They still kept their elitist attitude, despite there being less people to wield it upon. 

At nine months into 2014, four Atlantic City casinos have permanently shut their doors, including the 2.4 billion dollar Revel that lasted a mere 29 months. Just this afternoon, it was announced that a fifth would close in November. Yet, Atlantic City turns a blind eye to its own situation and that blind eye refuses to acknowledge the handwriting on the wall.

Atlantic City is like that one pretty girl in sixth grade. All the boys follow her around, giving her their full attention and she is well aware of all of the attention she's getting. But a few years into high school, there are other pretty girls wearing cool clothes and current hair styles. The pretty sixth-grader has now faded into the background. She's still wearing those silly jumpers and that wide white headband to keep her hair in place. She's not as popular as she used to be, but she still has the snobby attitude.

She's all alone on Prom Night and no one feels sorry for her.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

he took one look at me and he began to squeal

Last night, my worlds collided.

Cooking hot dogs with napalm
In 1982, I was a student at Philadelphia's Hussian School of Art, a small, but respected vocational institute. In order to earn tuition funds, I was employed scooping ice cream at a place on the hip and trendy South Street (where, apparently, "all the hippies meet," as the popular Orlons' song so eloquently states). One day, as I made my way to my after-school employ, I spotted a hand-drawn flyer tacked to a wall that was resplendent with colorful concert announcements. This one, however, was small and plain and attention-grabbing in its simplicity. It charmingly touted a band intriguingly named The Dead Milkmen. A close approximation of a smiling cow adorned the handbill, rendered in the shaky, unsure strokes of a novice illustrator. I ripped the leaflet down and jammed it in the large, faux leather portfolio I carried to transport my own artwork and supplies. Later, during a break from piling whipped cream high on sundaes and creating double-decker cones, I examined the Dead Milkmen's ad more closely. There was an offer at the bottom, to obtain a homemade cassette of songs by the band. The next day, I got my Mom to write a check and sent it off to the Philadelphia address at the bottom of the flyer. Soon, the tape — Death Rides A Pale Cow — arrived. Upon first listen, I was floored. I played that tape over and over and over, until its magnetic particles were stretched thin. The songs were infectious, funny and instantly endearing. The lyrics reflected a sardonic, skewed assessment of the world, with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek.The music was hooky and poppy and irresistible. Within a day or two, I knew every word, every chord change and every drum beat. I was soon turning my art school colleagues onto my secret discovery. I even took to corresponding (via actual written letters in the days predating the Internet) with the fledgling band. It was an uncomplicated period in my life. It was a veritable lifetime before my first corporate job, before my mortgage, before I passed a kidney stone and before I began my daily dose of high-blood pressure pills and Lipitor®. However, despite being a veteran of hundreds of concerts and musical performances, I have never had the opportunity to see The Dead Milkmen live.

I got married within two months of my graduation from art school. Soon my wife and I bought a house and not long after that, our son was born. Then there was work and vacations and taking out the trash and parent-teacher conferences and funerals and family get-togethers and... you know... life. I continued to listen to music, both old favorites and keeping up with new releases. I also continued to go to concerts, first with my wife and then with my son, as our tastes in music began to parallel. But still, Dead Milkmen shows were never on the bill. Then, the band broke up in 1995.

Readers of my blogs (this one and my illustration blog) know about my unusual hobby. Not one to collect stamps or participate in strenuous sports, I latched onto visiting cemeteries. Creepiness aside, it is a pretty cool diversion. Cemeteries are quiet, peaceful sanctuaries, with some of the older, historical ones boasting magnificent landscaping and breathtaking sculpture. To date, I have spanned the country and visited over two dozen graveyards, sometimes accompanied (not always willingly) by my wife, sometimes going solo.

At the end of August, the reassembled Dead Milkmen announced an outdoor show at — of all places — historically-certified and recognized Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. I chuckled to myself at the combination of performance and venue and how it smacked of the typical absurdity for which the Dead Milkmen were famous. Surprisingly, my wife suggested that we go. "Jeez!," I responded to the invitation, "I didn't know that would be something you'd be interested in." For thirty years, that woman has kept me on my toes! Next thing I knew, I was purchasing tickets. It was going to be two great things that go great together — like a punk rock/funereal Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

When I arrived home from work, I was greeted by a cooler that my wife had prepared and packed with bottled water, sandwiches and snacks. I quickly changed my shirt and we headed out for the show. Mrs. P, a tie-dyed-in-the-wool Dead Head, seemed genuinely excited. We picked up our tickets at a make-shift "Will Call" table and started off, along with other patrons, on the winding path through the grand burial ground to the predetermined stage area set up just outside the ominously named "receiving vault." We chose a suitable piece of grass, just a few feet in front of a headstone inscribed with the birth and death dates of Ralph and Mildred Young, who, sadly, would be missing the show by 30 years. I began the task of setting up our chairs, as the stage crew made last minute adjustments to lighting and other rigging.

When the crypt goes creak
As the sky grew dark and a bright moon shone through foreboding clouds (how apropos!), the crowd — a mixed bag of aging punks and their younger counterparts — moved in and surrounded the stage. With no announcement or fanfare of any kind, the Dead Milkmen, now in their early 50s, looking a little gray around the temples and presumably not as spry as they once were — took the stage and launched into a fitting cover of the Bauhaus classic "Bela Lugosi's Dead." Within seconds, they had the crowd eating out of their hands. When they reached the final few notes of the tune, the recognizable opening beats of their hit "Punk Rock Girl" drove the faithful over the edge. I felt an involuntary smile stretch across my face. I was immediately transported back to 1982. I knew every lyric to every song, even though I hadn't heard most of these tunes since my hair was its natural color. "Tiny Town" "V.F.W," "Beach Party Viet Nam," — all of 'em rang out like they did from the headphones of my Walkman (when the aforementioned Mr. and Mrs. Young still walked the earth). Plus frontman Rodney Anonymous prowled the stage with the energy and fervor of a man half his age. He engaged the crowd with a series of quips and banter that evoked laughter, even if some of the references went over the heads of the younger audience members. The crowd was great. The music was great. The setting was great. It was an experience like no other and it was killing two birds with one stone.

Even if it took thirty years.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

woman with the strength of ten thousand men

For thirty years, my wife's parents owned and operated a general merchandise business in a weekend-only farmers market that, itself, opened in the early years of the 20th century. The market, founded by William Zern, in 1922, has served as a one-stop shop for curios and collectibles, as well as fresh produce and the odd cut of meat, with a decidedly rural appeal (One stand boastfully advertised "pig stomachs — cleaned and ready to stuff." Mmm-mmm!) The sprawling maze of a building is located a one-hour's drive outside of Philadelphia, in the tiny country hamlet of Gilbertsville. Despite its proximity to the fifth largest city in the country, when the folks of Gilbertsville refer to "the city, " they mean Reading, Pennsylvania, the county seat of Berks County, with a population of 88,000. No one would dare venture to Philadelphia, because of the regularly-reported murders and the blacks and homosexuals that live there. The other intriguing aspect of the area I collectively — and dismissively — call "Gilbertsville," was Confederate flags were a constant best-seller in the store. My father-in-law could barely keep up with the demand and the inventory would routinely sell out.

The Walt Disney of Zern's
When I got married, I joined my wife and new in-laws in the family business on Saturdays. My young family needed the extra income and I found the quirky and quaint customer base somewhat amusing. When my son E. was born, he occupied a small playpen behind the cash register counter and, as he got older, he was put to work as well. Begrudgingly, but he worked just the same.

Over the course of thirty years, many different businesses came and went in the contracted stalls surrounding my family's concession. Some stayed for a few weeks before throwing in the retail towel, others were steadfast and remained for decades, sometimes being passed to the next generation. In the waning years of our tenure, a custom framing store opened just across the main aisle from my in-law's business. In addition to picture framing services, they offered a variety of pre-framed prints and posters, ranging from scenic depictions of lakes and mountains to reproductions of famous works of art to novelty pieces suitable for a dorm or kid's bedroom. It was here that we met Adeline. She worked as a salesgirl for at the framing place and she became instant friends with my son. They bonded on the commonality of music, movies and their closeness of age (Addie was one year older than E).

One Saturday, as Addie's high school graduation approached, she came to Mrs. P and me with a look of dead seriousness. 

"Can I ask you guys a question?," she began. We smiled and assured her she could ask anything.

"Do you think three-hundred dollars is enough to move to California?," Addie asked in all earnest.

My wife and I looked at each other, first wondering why we were being asked and not her parents. Then, simultaneously, we felt flattered.

I answered first. "Sure," I said, "if you only plan on staying for an hour and a half," adding that last part in typical smart-ass fashion. Mrs. P offered more motherly advice.

"Why do you want to know?," Mrs P asked.

Addie proudly replied, "I think I'm gonna move to California after graduation. Y'know, to see what it's like." She didn't have a trace of fear or apprehension in her voice.

Sure enough, within the next week or so, Addie gave her employer the customary two weeks notice. She told us she found an apartment online in the affluent La Jolla section of San Diego. She would be sharing space with several students at the city branch of the University of California. Although we were a bit wary, we expressed our congratulations. We told her that we were planning a late summer vacation to Disneyland, a mere 90 minutes from San Diego. We exchanged cellphone numbers and promised her we'd take her to a San Diego Padres game if we could meet up. Addie said her goodbyes and headed off to California. We were convinced that someone was sure to murder her within the first week.

Later that summer, when we arrived in Anaheim, my wife called Addie. We expected her to answer the phone in tears, spinning a tale of how she is confused and destitute and how she should have never made this trip. Instead, a chipper Addie was excited to hear from us, explaining that she cleared her work schedule — as a sales clerk at Nordstrom's — and was looking forward to the ball game. She gave us directions to her apartment.

Addie & E. keeping mum at Petco Park
The next day, we headed down Interstate 5 in our rental car. We carefully followed the directions, knowing that some ramshackle shit-hole would be waiting for us at the end. As we pulled into the neighborhood and got closer to the address, we were pleased, impressed and a little dumbfounded. The area was gorgeous! Soaring palm trees surrounded beautiful, modern architecture and meticulously landscaped grounds. We located the gated complex and, after identifying ourselves at the front entrance intercom, Addie buzzed us in. Addie met us outside of her unit, looking healthy, happy and — with a pair of rubber dish-washing gloves encasing her hands — domestic. She grabbed her purse, said goodbye to a roommate and we left for Petco Park. We had a great time reminiscing, talking about Zern's and asking about her summer and future plans. After the game we took Addie back to her place. Mrs. P and I, feeling like surrogate parents, bid her "goodbye." However, we lost touch with Addie for a while.

A few years later, I left work for the day and was walking through the train station, when I heard someone call out: "Hey! Josh!" I whipped my head around and there, climbing a set of steps, was Addie. She clutched a stack of books in her arms. She told me she had spotted me a few days earlier, but couldn't get my attention. I asked her what she was doing and she informed me that she moved back to the area and was taking classes at Temple University. I told her that E. attended Temple. I gave her his phone number. I told her how nice it was to see her and we parted in opposite directions. When I got home, E. quizzed me.

"Guess who I'm having lunch with tomorrow!," my son asked, and — not waiting for a response — answered the query himself, "Addie!"

"Cool!," I said. I told him I ran into her in the train station. She sure wasted no time getting back in touch. E. met Addie several times for lunch and bumped into her often in-between classes. Then, we lost touch with Addie for a while. Again.

Every summer, my family attends a three-day outdoor music festival sponsored by the radio station that now employs my son. My wife and I spread out a big blanket on the grass near the top rim of the natural amphitheater where the show is held. Our "spot"  becomes sort-of a congregating place for E.'s friends and other people that we have met at past year's shows. Two years ago, to our surprise, Addie just showed up on our blanket. After greetings (and a maternal hug from Mrs. P), Addie told us that she hears E. on the radio all the time, proudly telling everyone that she actually knows him. We all chatted more, getting up-to-date on each other's general activities, until I finally asked her, in my most parental way, what sort of plans she had for the future. Addie, absentmindedly twirling a piece of grass between her fingers, answered that she'd like to work with people and also be able to work outdoors. Instantly, I suggested that she look into becoming a park ranger for the National Park Service. Addie lit up as I told her that a friend of mine worked as a park ranger and loved it. Addie sat with us for most of the day until she had to leave early. She was working the night shift at an O-ring factory near her childhood home (Gilbertsville!, as far as I was concerned). We explained that we'd be in the same place tomorrow and she said she would see us then. The next day, she called E. to say that she was going to a party with some members of a band that had performed the previous day. Oh, Addie! What a character!

"Look, Ma! No fear!"
When last year's festival rolled around, I emailed Addie to asked if we'd see her at the show. She replied saying she would be unable to attend. But she had an awesome excuse. She was in Colorado training to become a park ranger. Through the miracle of the Internet, Facebook and Instagram, we followed Addie's progress as she chronicled her journey and diligently worked her way to fulfilling a dream. 

Addie missed this year's music festival, but, again, she had a legitimate excuse. She was busy spending time outside — communing with nature and meeting new people in her new job. Addie is a park ranger. And Addie is pretty proud of herself, as she should be.

Mrs. P and I couldn't be more proud if she was our own daughter.