Wednesday, September 30, 2015

down in the tunnels, trying to make it pay

"Buscar" is a Spanish verb that means "to seek.*" It evolved into "busker," a term for street performance for gratuities. You know, those guys you see on the corner in high traffic areas, a well-worn acoustic guitar slung across their midsection, passionately singing on their cement stage. Sometimes they accompany themselves on a beat-up violin or even bang rhythmically on an inverted plastic bucket. But they are always sporting an overturned hat or similar receptacle with which to gather small monetary donations from passersby.

A lot of famous people launched their careers by busking. As a child, B.B. King (then known by his real name Riley) played the blues on his guitar on the streets of Mississippi. While busking in Spain in 1962, young Rod Stewart was arrested for vagrancy and deported back to his native England. Tracy Chapman was an active busker in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while she attended Tufts University. Folk-punk pioneers The Violent Femmes were busking outside a theater in Milwaukee when James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders asked them to come in and play a set before his band took the stage.

Since I commute to work by train, I pass through the massive Suburban Station in Philadelphia twice daily. I routinely see a familiar parade of buskers both on the busy center city streets and in the train station itself. Despite the early hour of my arrival, I see a smattering of violinists, cellists and flutist set up in remote corners of the station. They feverishly draw their bows across those taut catgut strings or delicately blow into their respective mouthpieces. Judging by the amount of money accumulated in their hats (or cigar box or whatever), they have been at it since before the sun rose that morning. I've seen solos, duos and trios of velvety voices doo-wopping their way though a classic tune to the delight of the small audiences gathered in a semicircle around them. I've heard the unlikely combination of banjo and trumpet or harmonica and accordion playing harmoniously together or discordantly fighting for attention just a few feet away from each other.

There are some genuinely talented individuals singing on the streets and in the train station. I've heard voices and musicianship that rival — or even surpass — some that I've paid to see on the stages of some of the city's bigger venues.

Then there's this guy.

I see him nearly every day, though not always in the same spot. Sometimes, he's in the narrow walkway, blocking the path of customers exiting the Au Bon Pain. Sometimes he's in the cold, urine-reeking vestibule that leads up to the street level. Sometimes, he's hidden in the dark, vacant, tiled corner that seems forgotten in some renovation plan. That's the spot he seems to like best, because it's there that he plies his typical — and typically strange — performance. Seemingly oblivious to any potential audience, he faces the wall and angrily strums his splintered acoustic guitar. His deep, throaty voice ricochets off of every single surface, creating a malevolent, unpleasant sound. It is not the least bit musical, just a sound. His eyes are obscured by dark glasses, giving him a frightening and unapproachable appearance. He paces erratically like a caged animal, spitting out familiar lyrics to classic rock songs, although he has chosen to realign them along nearly unrecognizable melodies. Hearing only bits of song phrases as I hurry to catch my train, I've wracked my brain trying to identify the song in question, only to have it hit me twenty minutes later — the garbled musical refrain throwing off the familiarity of the lyrics.

I have never seen a dime in his upended hat. I have never seen him acknowledge a single passerby. I have only seen him howl his unintelligible versions of Lennon and McCartney compositions (at least that's what I think they were) directly into the grimy marble tiles of the train station, in a manner reminiscent of a troubled man practicing primal scream therapy, not one attempting to entertain an audience.

If walls could talk...

*The word "buscar," in Spain, now refers to prostitutes.

Friday, September 25, 2015

don't speak

I work on the 36th floor of the 15th tallest building in Philadelphia. At 41 floors high, it takes three separate elevator banks of six cars each to service the building efficiently. The elevators are clearly designated as to which floors they travel. Giant signs sporting two-foot numerals clearly mark each elevator alcove. The far left group will take passengers to the mezzanine, all the way up to the 18th floor. The center group will skip the lower floors and make its first stop at 19. The last set of elevators — the ones I take to my office each weekday morning — rocket up to the 30th floor where it begins its ascent to 41.

My building houses many different tenants — real estate developers, investment firms and some competing law firms. There are the occasional non-profits, but typical corporate entities occupy most of the floors. They receive very business-like visitors on a daily basis.

Earlier this week, I swiped my pass card at the front-desk security and headed towards the elevators. There were already a few people waiting. Soon we were joined by several more people, including one young lady with a briefcase who was sticking a self-adhesive "VISITOR" pass on her expensive-looking blazer. She was a "dressed for success" type in an impeccably coordinated ensemble and every hair in place. She waited patiently with the gathering crowd for an elevator to arrive.

Finally, a metallic DING announced the arrival of an elevator ready for the next load of passengers. Six or so of us filed in and dutifully pressed buttons for our various desired floors. The doors silently slid closed and we were off — whooshing past the lower floors. In my peripheral vision, I saw the young lady with the briefcase stare at the button panel. She squinted, raising and lowering her head, obviously in search of something that she was not finding. 

The car stopped at 30 and a man got out. Since its button was not pushed, the 31st floor was skipped, but two people exited when the car stopped at 32. The young lady with the briefcase turned and addressed the remaining passengers in the moving car.

"Um...," she began hesitantly, "don't all the elevators stop at all the floors?"

No one answered. Except, surprisingly, me.

"No, they don't. These," I pointed down, indicating the car we were in, "only stop at 30 through 41. Where are you going?"

She frowned and sort of stomped her high-heeled foot. "I'm going to 9." She kept on frowning.

"Well," I began my instruction, as the car paused briefly so several folks could disembark at 34, "you'll have to stay on until I get off at 36. Take the elevator all the way down to the lobby, get off and walk to the far grouping of elevators. They go to the lower floors." I smiled.

She grit her teeth and banged her briefcase against her thigh. "Ugh! You would think that someone at the front desk would have told me."

At this point, we were the only two people left in the elevator. She was fuming. I tried to show some sympathy to her frustration. "Yeah, they probably should have said something."

She was not through venting. As the doors opened at 36, the young lady with the briefcase, the tailored jacket and coiffed hair — a woman who I had seen for the first time just minutes before; a woman who didn't know me, didn't know my family, didn't know my background — just blurted out to a veritable stranger: "Those people at the desk are retarded." Then, she looked at me, lowered her voice and twisted her lips into a feeble smile. "Oh, excuse me," she said, "Have a nice day."

I stepped out of the elevator and the doors closed. I hope whoever she was visiting in the building was very clear with their instructions.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

god shuffled his feet

In my predominantly Jewish elementary school, classes were empty when Rosh Hashanah fell on a weekday. Every year, in the opening days of the new school year, the early momentum of lessons and activities would come to a grinding halt. The classrooms were populated by a few students — usually less than a dozen — as most were absent, allegedly observing the Jewish New Year. Some actually attended religious services. Most, like me, were just at home — watching game shows and cartoons and rejoicing in the fact that they were getting out of a day at school. 

My family did not belong to a synagogue. We were not what you would call "practicing" Jews. There was very little religion in my home. Sure, we had a box of matzo at Passover and I saw my mom eat gefilte fish every so often, but my dad worked on all Jewish holidays and we ate bacon with our eggs on Sunday mornings. I attended Rosh Hashanah services a couple of times with friends. I found them to be cold and unwelcoming, especially to those of us who did not speak Hebrew. So, in turn, I also found them tedious and boring. They were rambling, repetitive, hours-long affairs whose indeterminate message (if any) was lost on my wandering attention and faint beliefs.

When I met my wife, I was exposed to a whole new outlook on the stuffy world of Judaism. My wife and her family injected Judaism into nearly every aspect of their lives. Holiday meals were fun, warm family functions, rich with tradition and camaraderie. I dutifully requested days off from work to attend services with my wife and her family, marveling as my father-in-law chanted from the Torah before a joyous, packed and responsive congregation. This solemn feeling of honor continued when my son was born. Mrs Pincus and I proudly brought our boy to watch and participate in the continuation of a family tradition. And that tradition carried through with consistency in our home, with candle lighting every Friday evening and active celebrations in a calendar filled with Jewish holidays. Of course, every year, I would secure vacation days on my work schedule for observance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

As I grew older and my ever-present cynicism fermented, I began to analyze and reassess the whole "religion thing." I saw how religion was used by people as a threat, as a status and as a means of passing personal judgment. It became less and less about love and charity and worshiping a god of one's choice and more about one-upmanship and finger-pointing. I witnessed clergy treating their esteemed position as a "job," punching a virtual time clock like a worker in McDonald's, instead of one of an example-setting community leader. I came to see that religion was being used as a Teflon® shield to hide behind in the unjust, self-righteous violation of free speech and civil rights. In addition, people — plain, ordinary people — were twisting the doctrines of religion and taking it upon themselves to interpret the so-called "word of God" as justification for their own petty agendas. Suddenly, worship and respect for a higher being was no longer the main focus. Hell, it wasn't even in the top ten.

The once festive holiday dinners at my in-law's saw the guest list shrink and the geniality dwindle. Whether they chose to acknowledge it or not, the elaborate meal preparation took a toll on my in-law's advancing age. That, coupled with tense emotions, waning affection and personality clashes among family members made for less-than-enjoyable gatherings. Dinnertime discussions became heated and sometimes bitter, not at all reflective of an assembly for a happy occasion.

I stopped going to synagogue several years ago. I was appalled by recent disrespectful treatment of my father-in-law — a learned student of Jewish protocol — by the reigning, mortal "powers-that-be" that dictated the "clique-y" synagogue policy. My son, a product of 12 years of intense study at Jewish day school, had grown up and reassessed his life priorities — and religion was one of the first casualties. I had become disillusioned with the whole bastardized, contradictory mish-mash into which organized religion had evolved. Or maybe it was like that all along and I just opened my eyes to it.

This year, something strange happened. By "strange," I might actually mean "liberating." I discovered that I had used all of the vacation days allotted to me by my employer for this calendar year. I was unable to take off from work for Rosh Hashanah. So, I went to work. Guess what happened? I worked. And life went on. Same as the day before. As a matter of fact, exactly as it had the day before. The earth did not swallow me whole. I was not struck by a bolt of lightning thrown by a vengeful God from his lofty abode in the heavens. I just went to work. Elsewhere, some people went to services, where they stood with their prayer books opened to the wrong page, chanting the wrong tune to a passage written in a language they don't understand, all the while judging the woman in the fifth row for wearing a skirt and blouse that do not match. 

Happy New Year everybody. You'll probably still be writing "5775" on your checks for the next two months.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

so eat your beans at every meal

I will be the first to admit that I am a pretty picky eater. I always have been. When I was a kid, I rarely ate vegetables. I rarely ate fruit. When the rest of my family was eating roast beef, I would beg my mother to make me hot dogs. If I was unsuccessful in my pleas, I would make myself a Swanson's frozen dinner. When I got older and was left to fend for myself by my constantly-working parents, I survived on pizza and hamburgers. 

When I got married, I made the decision to keep kosher, based on my wife's influence. It was not nearly the imposition I had imagined and I adjusted to certain foods — bacon, shrimp and the Philadelphia staple cheesesteaks — being eliminated from my diet. In all actuality, I was not a big fan of seafood. Despite my Philadelphia roots, I didn't eat a whole lot of cheesesteaks. And, in 1984, bacon was not touted as the be-all-end-all, omnipresent, food-of-the-gods ambrosia that is today. Bacon was just another food that I stopped eating. 

Eventually, I gave up eating meat altogether. I started to try and soon enjoy vegetables. I have expanded the ingredients in my salads from iceberg lettuce and croutons to artichokes, red cabbage, endive and radicchio. I have developed a taste for tofu, tempeh and, superfood-of-the-moment, kale. I have become more adventurous and curious with other (non-meat) foods, as well.

Only recently, however, have I begun to bring myself to eat baked beans. When I was a kid and my mom would serve hot dogs, I was very happy. But, when that big bowl of baked beans would hit the table, I would gag. I'd pull my plate away and fill any remaining space on it with potato chips. "No thanks!," I'd protest, "No beans for me." Meanwhile, I'd be thinking, "Ecccchhhh!"

Just after high school, a couple of my friends moved to the main campus of Penn State University. One long weekend, my friend Scott and I took the three-hour drive to Happy Valley for a visit and three days of drinking, drinking and more drinking. Sobering up for the ride home, we stopped on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for a quick bite. I didn't know how I could keep anything in my stomach after the 72 hours of abuse to which I had subjected my body. Scott, however, eagerly ordered a big dish of franks 'n' beans, a specialty of Howard Johnson's, our chosen stop. I don't remember what my menu selection was (I probably didn't remember then, minutes after I had ordered) and I'm sure I didn't eat a bite. All I remember is that giant plate of beans with two fat frankfurters glistening lazily in the center. There must have been five gallons of 'em. I'm surprised I didn't throw up the meager contents of my guts all over the table.

But, just a few years ago, my wife was making hot dogs for dinner — beef for her and the vegetarian version for me. Mrs. P cannot eat hot dogs without an accompaniment of baked beans.It would be like peanut butter without jelly, pancakes without syrup or (for my Philadelphia homies) soft pretzels without mustard. As she assembled the various components of our evening meal — rolls, condiments, a big bag of potato chips to share — she placed a large bowl of baked beans closer to her place setting. Past experience taught her that I wanted nothing to do with that particular side dish. However, as I watched her spoon a helping of beans across the top of one of her hot dogs (a long-time ritual of hers), I made a surprise request.

"Could I try some of those?," I asked.

Mrs. P was taken aback. She pointed to the bowl filled to the brim with orange-sauced beans. "These? You want to try these?," she questioned and then reminded me, "These are baked beans. You hate baked beans!"

"Lemme give 'em another chance.," I said.

I gingerly scooped a small amount of beans onto my plate. I maneuvered one into the bowl of my spoon and popped it into my mouth. It wasn't horrible. I repeated the move, this time tripling the number of beans. I wasn't gagging. I actually enjoyed the taste. It was a culinary revelation! Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a little.

Recently, at an informal dinner party at a friend's house, a concoction identified as "doctored baked beans" were served. Oh man! When pressed, the hostess revealed that, in addition to a base of canned baked beans, the ingredients included caramelized onions, maple syrup, mango salsa and alcoholic root beer*. A true comestible treat for even the most die-hard baked bean hater.

Until recently, that was me.

*Did I miss any ingredients, Kathy?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

einstein on the beach

Did you ever see one of those guys? You know the type I mean. You don't know them, but you instantly dislike them. Well, I saw one on the beach on Sunday. 

Late on Saturday, Mrs. P remarked that, if it was nice weather on Sunday, she'd like to take a drive to Atlantic City and sit on the beach for a few hours. I reluctantly agreed, as I hate the beach but I love my wife. So, Sunday morning arrived and the sun was shining. We gathered a couple of towels, a couple of chairs and a couple of snacks and pointed our car towards the familiar Jersey shore.

We found a parking spot two blocks from the beach in a 3-hour limit zone. I gathered our belongings, flinging the folded chairs and small cooler on my back like a Bedouin's camel. We selected a sandy patch of beach (ha ha) and parked ourselves for the afternoon.

That's when he arrived.

About eight or so feet away from our little encampment was a small group of senior citizens engaging in a similar exercise in sun-worshiping. I watched as he swaggered up to the group — puffed chest boasting a chunky piece of twisted gold right out of 1974, swim trunks slung low on his hips, arms bowed out from his sides as though he was stalking down the center of an Old West street about to draw his six-shooter and gun down Black Bart. And, of course, he had a smirk upon his tanned face.

"HEY!," he screamed in a volume too loud for his proximity to the old folks, but loud enough to let everyone relaxing nearby know that he had arrived and was about to honor us with some profound words. He grinned, continuing his opening statement, "It's the guy that makes the Phillies win every time you see him!" (At this point, it should be noted that the Philadelphia Phillies currently hold the worst record in Major League Baseball. While they have played surprisingly well over the last dozen or so games, overall their performance this season has been embarrassingly horrendous. Philadelphia fans, however, possess notoriously short memories and attention spans. They view a brief and uncharacteristic winning streak as the "major turnaround" we've been waiting for, entirely forgetting everything that preceded this victorious run. Then, when the team falls back into their losing ways, these same fans return to scratching their collective heads in disbelief.... Now, where was I....?) After attributing the Phillies' recent good luck solely to himself, he went off on an inane monologue in which he repeatedly professed his love for boiled peanuts. "I love 'em, I love 'em. I love 'em.," he reiterated over and over again. He made his point, meticulously describing the Southern delicacy as being "delicious and soft like peas," then fell back into the "I love 'em" catchphrase. He loudly extolled the virtues of boiled peanuts for — no exaggeration — five minutes. I didn't know this guy, but — boy! — did I hate him!

I had enough. I turned to my wife and offered to get us lunch at a nearby falafel* shop that had recently opened in a location that has been unable to sustain a thriving business for nearly thirty years. Mrs. P happily agreed and I had my escape from that yammering moron,

I entered the falafel joint. I hadn't yet allowed my left leg to cross the threshold when a cheerful fellow behind the counter yelled "Welcome" in my direction. I smiled. "Here's a menu," he announced and jammed a colorful folded paper menu at me. I opened it up and, despite already knowing what I wished to order, I politely scanned the many offerings.

"Two falafel sandwiches, please.," I requested A longtime favorite of my wife, it is only recently that I began to eat falafel, so it was odd hearing my own voice place that order, know one of those was for me. 

"Can I get your name?," the friendly fellow inquired.

"Josh." I replied and he scribbled it at the top of the guest check, under which he wrote my order. I handed over my credit card and the fellow swiped it in the terminal and told me I looked familiar. Then he glanced as the receipt printed out, looking back at me to give me the once-over.

"Pincus," he said as he examined the receipt, "Any relation to Michael Pincus?"

"Nope." I answered with a smile that I hoped would end the conversation. I was still curious as to why he needed my name. Aside from several employees, I was the only customer in the place. Another guy was busily assembling my order, hand-forming the chickpea mixture into balls and dropping them into the deep fryer. The friendly fellow came around to my side of the counter making half-hearted attempts at cleaning the tabletops.

My sandwiches were taking an awfully long time to prepare. 

"Where did you say you were from?," the friendly fellow said, re-initiating his line of questioning.

"I didn't," I responded, "But, I'm from Philadelphia."

"Oh!," he said, dragging the word out to several syllables, "Where abouts?"

"Elkins Park, just outside of the city.," I clarified.

"Oh!," he repeated his multi-syllabic exclamation, "I was just there! Do you know Frank Schwartz?"

"I do not.," I smiled a little less, hoping this one would end the conversation.

Suddenly, the counter guy passed a white paper bag stuffed with my sandwiches over to the friendly fellow. "Here's you order!," he reported. I took the bag, thanked him and left.

I joined my wife on the beach. I unpacked the bag. The pitas were still warm from the insulating aluminum foil wrapping. As we ate, I offered comment about the falafel place. 

"Boy, what a dirty little shop.," I began, "Good falafel, though." I bit off another mouthful of sandwich.

By this time, the "boiled peanut" guy was gone. We enjoyed our sandwiches without further distraction.

*Falafel, for the uninformed or non-Israeli, are deep-fried balls or patties made from ground chickpeas. The sandwich is traditionally served in warmed pita bread with lettuce, cucumber, tomato, hummus (for that extra kick of chickpeas) and tahini sauce (made from ground sesame seeds, for when you've had enough of chickpeas). 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

amazing grace

In this post, I revisit a previous rant, because it keeps coming up. Thank you for your indulgence. — JPiC
We made plans to meet my brother-in-law* and his family for dinner. The chosen restaurant was a small independent Italian place not too far from their home. Mrs. P and I arrived a good fifteen minutes before I saw their car pull into the tiny parking lot. (That, in itself, was a rarity.) While we waited, we perused the surroundings, taking in the atmosphere, as it was our first time there.

The small, boxy building was obviously something else before it was re-purposed as a restaurant. A row of tables lined the front of the building whose wall was a large, multi-pane, picture window. On the other side of a narrow aisle was a diner-like, low counter sporting old-fashioned swivel stools, with wait service from the open kitchen across the sparkling white Formica. In the corner, situated near the cashier, was an imposing coal-fired oven, its glowing embers visible through the brick-lined, semi-circular opening. A stocky fellow, with a bandanna knotted around his perspiring head, shoveled pizza after hand-prepared pizza into the fiery depths of the oven, carefully monitoring the quick cooking time and withdrawing perfectly-browned pies for eager (and hungry) customers. A glass-sided case displayed the many exotic, gourmet pizza offerings. 

Mrs. P and I marveled at the wide array of selections — both the meat and meat-free varieties — all made from various combinations of over two dozen available toppings. They were colorful specimens, decked out in brightly-hued peppers, onions, tomatoes and other assorted vegetables. Others were chock full of huge hunks of sausage, large disks of pepperoni and big globs of ricotta cheese. Each one was an edible work of art, beautifully presented and each more appetizing than the last.

Soon, we were joined by our familial dinner companions, who were equally as surprised that we beat them to our destination. (Obviously, we have gained ourselves a reputation in the "tardy" department.) While we waited for a recently-vacated table to be cleared and cleaned, my brother-in-law began to extol the virtues of this establishment, as he and his family are frequent patrons. 

"The pizza here is amazing." he avowed.

Ugh! There's that word again. "Amazing!" Oh, how I have come to loathe that word. Well, not so much the word itself, but the over-usage and application to everyday, decidedly non-amazing things. I don't know when it started, but "amazing" has become the go-to standard description for anything that is not horrible. And I mean anything. And it has gotten out of hand. Listen for it everyday. People describe everything from their children to a movie to a piece of fish as "amazing." Merriam-Webster defines "amazing" as "causing amazement, great wonder, or surprise." Now, is that an accurate description of a lump of ground beef on a bun? Or your kid bringing home a gold star on a third-grade math test that thirty other kids in the class and hundred other kids in the school took? Does that really evoke "great wonder or surprise?" Amazing? Really? Y'know, if everything is amazing, then nothing is amazing.

I grimaced at my brother-in-law's assessment of the pizza. I told him that I rarely find that any situation begs for the word "amazing" as a suitable description and I have never ever used it in reference to food. I like food. I like food a lot, but I have never had any food that I would classify as "amazing." You can add "life-changing" and "to die for," as well. Food is "good." Sometimes it's "very good," even "excellent," but never — and I mean never — amazing.

"You know what's 'amazing'?," I told him, "The story of Zion Harvey. That's amazing!" I related the story of Zion Harvey, an 8-year-old boy whose hands and feet were amputated after he contracted a life-threatening infection as a toddler. Little Zion underwent a grueling 10-hour operation in which doctors grafted an operational hand onto each of his wrists. He is now receiving intense daily sessions of physical therapy to strengthen his new hands and to enhance his coordination and dexterity. He is admirably brave and, at the same time, blasé about his situation. He stoically stated that he looks forward to one day holding his baby sister. That is, in every sense of the word — amazing. Does a slab of dough decorated with cheese, sauce and a few tomatoes rate in the same category as doctors guaranteeing that a courageous child receives a second chance at a normal life? I don't think so.

Not amazing.
The pizza was pretty good. Very good actually. But amazing? It was just pizza.

*not that one, the other one.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

let me please introduce myself

I left my house this morning pretty much like I do every morning. I descended the two steps that lead off my front porch and walked along the paved path that bisects my tiny front lawn. I stepped down two more cement steps and I was on the public sidewalk. I strolled down to the train station that is just at the end of my block. As I walked, I checked (like I do every morning) to make sure I had my phone (I did) and my monthly train pass (I did). I could sense that there was another pedestrian several feet behind me. This was not unusual. At this early hour of the day, my street is fairly active with commuters making their way to the train station. I turned my direction into the train station parking lot and continued up the slightly inclined blacktop towards the train platform. As I walked, I could hear the "thump-thump-thump" of a wheeled suitcase being pulled along the uneven sidewalk behind me.

I continued on to the platform. A small contingency of people had already gathered and more were joining them from cars parked in the lot and other routes from the network of sidewalks that terminate at the station. I walked to the far end of the platform and took the regular spot in which I stand to wait for my train. I pulled my phone from my pocket and tapped the icon of the SEPTA app. (SEPTA is the South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, who supplies a regularly-late train each and every morning). As I scrolled through the various pages of the app, checking on the status of my train, I could again sense the approach of someone.

"Hey since we live on the same street and I see you every morning, I thought it was about time I introduce myself." A short, gray-haired man stood just inches from me. He thrust his open hand in my direction, in anticipation of a consensual shake.

"I'm Matthew." he added. 

I couldn't clearly make out his face, as the bright morning sun was filling my line of vision with blinding light. I was also caught off-guard and I did something, given ample time to consider my actions, I would never ever have done.

I shook a stranger's hand.

"I'm Josh.," I heard myself say and, again, I was surprised to hear my own voice saying those words to a stranger.

"Pleasure to meet you, Josh.," Matthew replied. Then he walked off to reunite with his wheeled suitcase, the one he had been dragging on the sidewalk minutes earlier.

I will gladly admit that I am not the friendliest person that ever lived. Well, once I know you, I am friendly. Actually, I am a pretty good friend to people I know. But, getting to know me... ah there's the rub. I am cynical, sarcastic, suspicious and, yes, misanthropic. I don't like to talk to strangers. And, in a million years, I would never blindly introduce myself to a total stranger at a train station — just because I see them every morning on my street. I have seen a lot of people every single day for the past eight years of daily commutes on the train. I don't know any of their names, where they live, where they work... nor do I want to.

But, this guy... this Matthew.... does this mean he's my friend now?

I should have taken a later train today. Or stayed home.