Sunday, December 29, 2019

oh no, I said too much

Last week, we got a new laminating machine at work. Without going into too much unnecessary detail, a laminating machine laminates (duh!), that is applies a protective barrier to the 54" wide sheets of self-adhesive vinyl that is an integral component of my job. 

One morning, I arrived at work to find an unfamiliar man assembling the new laminating machine in the warehouse area. I greeted him with a friendly "good morning" and he nodded in my direction, paying more attention to the task at hand. I opened the door to the Graphics Department and made my way to my desk. An hour or so later, the man wheeled the new machine into the graphics workroom to the space previously occupied by our old laminating machine. My boss and I joined him in the workroom for a training session. The three of us gathered around the new apparatus like the townspeople of Anatevka marveling at Motel Kamzoil's new sewing machine. The man — who resembled Mike Judge as he appeared in Office Space — nervously tugged at his company-required tie, cleared his throat and began his overly-rehearsed training speech.

Actually, before Mike Judge started, he asked: "Which one of you will be taking notes and which one will be taking pictures?" My boss and I looked at each other. Neither one of us had any plans for note taking nor could we imagine what part of the training would need to be preserved with photographic evidence. I obligingly grabbed a legal pad and took my cellphone out of my pocket, clicking open the "camera" app in the process. I suppose this little display of interest satisfied Mike Judge, as he commenced.

I was told to take this picture.
The tone of his instruction was very stilted. He spoke to us as though we were bewildered elementary school students who had never laid eyes on a commercial laminator before. In reality, our old laminator — the one my boss had been using for the last fifteen years and had just trained me to use — was still just a few feet away. He pointed to the buttons and dials on the control panel — explaining in repetitive detail — the purpose of each one. Several times, Mike Judge told me to "write that down" without specifying exactly what he wanted me to write down. He hefted a roll of laminating material onto one of the aluminum receiving rollers and fit it into the proper position. Again, Mike Judge stopped and asked, "Did you get a picture of that?" "Of what?," I thought to myself, snapping a picture of nothing in particular.

Suddenly, in the middle of threading the laminate through the specified path in the machine, Mike Judge turned to tell my boss and me that he was awarded "Salesman of the Year" and honored with his photo on the cover of a trade publication. (Laminator Monthly, perhaps?) Then he quickly switched back to "training mode." My boss and I silently exchanged confused looks. 

After he passed the material under and around several rollers, Mike Judge stressed the importance of safety regarding the operation of the machine. He explained that most accidents on this machine happen to women, because they are not paying attention to what they're doing — always talking and distracted by something else. He emphasized "women" in this statement. Once more, I traded an uncomfortable glance with my boss.

At the end of our training, Mike Judge told us that his company's machines are designed to accommodate people with handicaps. "Y'know," he expounded, "there are people in wheelchairs and some with amputated or deformed hands and arms...." I blotted out the rest of his sentence. I wasn't interested in where he was headed with this.

Mike Judge asked which one of us would like to take a spin at a solo run on the machine, he gestured to my boss first, deeming him the less experienced member of the graphics department. Actually, my boss has been employed here for over twenty years and I just started this job a few months ago. But, since I have white hair and am older than my boss, Mike Judge just assumed..... Once the confusion was cleared up and we each got a chance to demonstrate our prowess on the new machine, Mike Judge packed up his belongings — his narrow-minded, antiquated, inappropriate, sexist way of thinking — and headed for the exit.

Once Mike Judge was gone, my boss asked me, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Then he added, "Sure you are."

Sunday, December 22, 2019

book I read

Recently, as part of a promotion at the radio station that employs my son, E. was asked to select a few special books from his youth to share with the listening audience. He was at our house, wherein his childhood bedroom remains a veritable shrine, practically undisturbed since that traumatic day he moved into his own house several years ago*. His bookshelf is still stacked with a large library that reflects the progression of reading material collected throughout his formative years. Okay, we sold his bureau, desk and lamp at a yard sale, but still....

When E. was little, bedtime always included a story. I loved to read to him and he loved being read to. The nightly ritual was always the same. After a bath, E. would get into his pajamas and choose a book. Then he'd climb up on his bed, where we were joined by our cat Scarlett — without any sort of prompt or enticement. The two of them would settle in as I read the evening's selection, be it an installment from the "Curious George" series or a dose of Dr. Seuss silliness or any number of off-kilter volumes that Mrs. Pincus and I thought would tickle E.'s developing sense of humor or trigger his budding imagination.

E. browsed the spines of each well-worn (and well-loved) and picked out three books. Three books, I assume, that had special meaning to him and stirred pleasant memories from his youth. The first book was Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, a familiar book, popular since its publication in 1963. The version that E. chose, however, is translated into Hebrew and reads from right to left. (Curiously, the illustrations are mirror images of the original.) The second book was It Happened in Pinsk by Arthur Yorinks. This quirky tale concerns shoe salesman Irv Irving, who wakes up one day without his head. The story unfolds with nary a sense of panic, as Irv's wife fashions a new head for her husband out of a pillowcase stuffed with socks. E. loved this story and the "matter-of-fact" way it was told. I provided different voices for the different characters that Irv met in his pursuit of his missing head — much to E.'s delight. The third book was The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway. This implausible yarn presented in rhyme — addressed a terrible wasp problem in the fictional town of Itching Down. The inhabitants of the town constructed the title assemblage as a way to trap the pesky insects.

Of course, we read a lot of books over the years. We read classics like The Wind in the Willows and A Wrinkle in Time (which I remember being a lot better in my youth). We read a number of Roald Dahl's twisted tales, as well as the first Harry Potter novel, just after its publication. (I found it to be a Roald Dahl rip-off.) And we read a lot of silly stories about pigs and bears and other amusing characters. We enjoyed reading together. I like to think that it had a positive and memorable impact on E.'s development into the adult he has become. 

On occasion, I have called E. — out of the blue — to ask if he looks back and has good memories of his childhood. Once he confirms that I am not dying, he answers "yes," and then realistically adds "for the most part." 

I'm okay with that.

*Don't bring this up to Mrs. Pincus

Sunday, December 15, 2019

sympathy for the devil

According to a recent news story, 49-year old Swati Goyal had just boarded a flight from Florida headed to Las Vegas. Just before take-off, a male flight attendant approached Ms. Goyal to explain that "the crew" had found the T-shirt that she was wearing offensive. He continued, expounding on her options — either cover the shirt up or leave the plane. At first, Ms. Goyal thought it was a joke. Ms. Goyal's husband thought it was a joke... until they spotted "a very angry-looking female flight attendant" standing nearby, glaring at the couple with her arms folded tightly across her chest. Ms. Goyal was dumbstruck. 

The male flight attendant then asked "Do you know what 'offensive' means?"

Ms. Goyal bristled. "Yes," she began curtly, "I’m a foreign-born minority woman. I know what my T-shirt means and my T-shirt is not offensive." The flight attendant reiterated. "If you do not remove or cover up your T-shirt, you will be asked to leave this airplane." Ms. Goyal eventually complied. Her husband was wearing several layered shirts, so she borrowed one and concealed the T-shirt-in-question behind some buttons and opaque cloth. Later, she commented that she had often worn the shirt and it usually evokes chuckles.

By the way, this is the shirt she was wearing....
Swati Goyal, it seems, is a proud atheist. She is a member of the Satanic Temple, which contrary to its name, does not advocate the worship of Satan. Actually, it does not even believe in a "Satan" figure. Instead, the Satanic Temple "encourages benevolence and empathy among all people, rejects tyrannical authority and advocates practical common sense and justice." The Satanic Temple sells these shirts as ironic commentary. However, it is an actual, recognized religion... just like yours.

Ms. Goyal clearly — and rightly — saw the demands of the staff of American Airlines as discrimination based on religion. After the flight landed, Ms. Goyal contacted American Airlines' corporate headquarters to complain about the treatment she received. The customer service representative listened quietly as Ms. Goyal spelled out her humiliation. Then, the corporate rep did not apologize, but referred to their policies for passenger conduct, citing the airline’s Conditions of Carriage position on “offensive” clothing. That position is: "not allowed," although American Airlines does not specifically explain what constitutes an offensive piece of clothing. I suppose they'll just know it when they see it.

This is a perfect example of everything I dislike about religion. I believe the basics of any and all religion is: "love each other" and "everybody get along with everybody" or some variation on those simple ideas. However, the followers of any given religion usually display vicious and condescending attitudes as they try to convince members of other religions that their made-up deity is better than your made-up deity. They readily dismiss beliefs that differ from their own, finding them "offensive" despite someone else having those "offensive" beliefs as the basis for their own religion. Considering that many religious groups are the object of so much prejudice, they practice an awful lot of it themselves.

I have seen a number of T-shirts that offend me, but I would never impede on anyone's right to express their beliefs, even if they don't gel with mine. On a recent cruise, I saw a guy wearing this shirt...
I find this shirt offensive, mostly because, as many military veterans have opined, the sentiment is misplaced.... and, contrary to popular belief, not everyone is a Christian.
I find this shirt offensive, as well...
Religion is a very personal thing. I would prefer if everyone kept it on a more personal level. Good for you that you love Jesus and all he has done for you, but isn't this display of gratitude best kept between you and your "higher being?" C'mon.... a little discretion goes a long way.

The shirt I find most offensive, is this one...
Ugh! I can't stand his voice.

Read more here:

Sunday, December 8, 2019

I wanna be a boss

Between my current job and the one that I thought would be the last job of my career, I worked at one of the shittiest jobs I ever had. It was a job that I took because, at the time, no one was exactly breaking down my door to hire me. I was 57 years old and, after being out of the job market loop for over a decade, I ran into a phenomenon that I never considered even existed — ageism. I was very discouraged and began to worry that I was, for lack of better word, "un-hire-able." 

Then, I got a call in response one of the hundreds of jobs to which I applied. I scheduled an interview and accepted a supervisory position at a small printing company that produced take-out menus. My official title was "design coordinator." I oversaw the design department, working closely with three graphic designers. One was a very talented, yet decidedly quirky, guy who sat in a darkened office just across the hall from me. The other two lived and worked in Ukraine and all of my communication with them was via Skype. The owner of the company was a slimy, deceitful man with no background in the printing business whatsoever. Within just a few days, it became apparent that his main business goal was to deceive and lie to his customers as much and as often as he could. Right before my eyes, I watched as he committed fraud on a daily basis. But, his business practice didn't really affect me. I got paid and I continued to do my job, adhering to the same work ethic that I maintained for thirty-plus years.

There was a staff of salespeople at this job. A bunch of commission-based morons who spoke to potential customers as though they had never used a telephone in their lives. This motley crew was guided by a sales director named Slick. Slick was a young man in his early 30s. He had a large ego and very little intelligence. He was what the kids call "a douchebag." He was obsessed with designer clothing, designer watches and designer cologne. He knew the best places to eat, the best places to shop and the best places to go on vacation. He spoke like an expert on all topics, although it was very obvious that he only had a feeble grasp of his subject and was just a spewing fountain of misinformation. Kind of like Wikipedia.

Do you know us?
Slick was convinced that he knew everything there was to know about everything. When he discovered new information (like something he just read on the internet), he proudly announced it, as though he was the first one to find out. One day, I heard him, in his office, listening to a number of Beatles songs in succession. After A few minutes, he popped into my office and asked me if I ever heard of the Beatles. I stopped what I was doing and looked up at him. I couldn't tell if he was joking or if he actually thought I had never heard of the Beatles. "Yes." I replied, "They're the band that Paul McCartney was in before Wings." My sarcasm flew right over his head. I realized that he had no idea who Paul McCartney was or what "Wings" was. He cocked his head and said, "Well, they got some pretty good songs." Then, he returned to his office.

Slick would often tell me that he regularly turns down job offers because he feels bad for the owner of the company for whom we worked. Slick was afraid if he left, the company would fold without him and he didn't want his coworkers to lose their jobs. He told me that he was planning to start a rival menu-printing company and would hire me to run his design department. I would do my work and let him talk, rarely interacting and just nodding my head every so often until he left my office.

The company was eventually bought out by a large printing company. Suddenly, my shitty job became a pretty good job. Our offices moved to a larger location at the new company. My boss was rarely in the office and Slick and his staff were moved to another part of the building where I was out of earshot of his inane observations. Alas, after a mere four months, the new company wasn't making the profit that they had hoped for and they had to make some staff cuts. My boss was tasked with laying me off. On a Tuesday.

This time around, the job search was much more encouraging. In just a few weeks, I secured a position at a very large company with a great group of coworkers. Just before I started my new job, I received a text message from Slick. He said that he believed it was a mistake to have let me go. He went on to say that he is fighting to get me back as soon as possible. Slick was in absolutely no position to "get me back." He had absolutely no connection to the hiring of any employee. I read over the text a few more times and replied that I had taken a job elsewhere.

And then I blocked Slick's number.

That chapter of my life is now behind me.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

if I'm not feeling any less sour

(Note: This post was written in July 2019. - JPiC)

From the moment I heard that Gilbert O'Sullivan was making a stop in Philadelphia on his current concert tour, I had to secure tickets. I don't know why. I certainly wasn't a huge Gilbert O'Sullivan fan.

Wait. Did I hear you ask "who?" If you did, then you must be under 50 years old.

Gilbert O'Sullivan was a British singer-songwriter in a long line of British singer-songwriters. Heavily influenced by his fellow countrymen, The Beatles, Gilbert O'Sullivan enjoyed much success in his native United Kingdom and a fraction of that success here in the United States. His biggest hit, "Alone Again (Naturally)," an ode to depression, spent six non-consecutive weeks at Number One in America in 1972. The follow-up, "Clair," a lovely yet borderline creepy ditty about Gilbert's young niece, peaked at Number 2 in 1973. A few months later, the upbeat "Get Down" hit Number 3. His next two singles charted in the low twenties and interest in all things Gilbert O'Sullivan sort of tanked by 1975. I had two of those singles and they occupied a proud place in may vast collection of 45s. But so did a lot of others.

So why was I so excited at the thought of seeing Gilbert O'Sullivan live in concert? I honestly don't know. A few of my Twitter pals – some of whom share the same nostalgic love for music from our youth – insisted I go see Gilbert O'Sullivan, touting his songwriting efforts as on par with Paul McCartney. (Full disclosure: National Lampoon, the great humor magazine, once asked in a faux Beatles trivia quiz: "When did Paul McCartney write Silly Love Songs?" The answer, of course, was "Between 1962 and 1985.") I obtained a pair of tickets and, to be honest, my wife was far less excited than I was. Far far less. "I know like two songs by him." she protested. "It'll be fun." I said with only the slightest hint of enticement in my voice. 

Last night was the show. And we went.

The venue, the beautiful World Cafe Live, my favorite venue in the city, was not packed. There were a number of folks in attendance, but I once saw The Pretenders in this same room and that show was packed! Jam packed! This night.... not so much. But I did notice that everyone there was easily 50 years of age and above. The stage was bare save for an electric keyboard, three guitars in racks and two chairs. As showtime approached more people filed in, including singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding (who now goes by his real name Wesley Stace and is currently a Philadelphia resident). 

Soon the house lights began to dim, a man walked across the stage from the backstage area. He sat down, picked up one of the guitars and began to strum. He was soon followed by a tall, lanky fellow with a huge mane of frizzy hair that would have been more suited to a much younger man. This was Gilbert O'Sullivan, looking considerably older that the boyish chap on the cover of his first few album releases. He took a seat at the keyboard and began to tap out a little tune tune that sounded like "Alone Again (Naturally)." As a matter of fact, for the next two hours over two sets and a twenty-minute intermission, every song sounded like "Alone Again (Naturally)." Was it good? Well, it wasn't bad. Was is boring? You bet. He capped off the first set with "Clair," but not before introducing every song with "This next song is interesting..." Gilbert sat on the stage and addressed the audience as though every song was a beloved masterpiece, loved the world over. In reality, I never heard of most of the songs that were played that evening. I have been to many concerts where I was not familiar with the bulk of a band's catalog, but these songs all sounded identical. There were either mid-tempo tunes like "Alone Again (Naturally)" or they were upbeat, pseudo-rockers like "Get Down." And, it appears that Gilbert O'Sullivan's body of work doesn't stray far from those two categories. 


My wife and I were in the overwhelming minority (once again). I have noted for some time that every band is someone's favorite band. And we were surrounded by Gilbert's entire Philadelphia fan base. There were loud sing-alongs coming from all sides. There were numerous folks mouthing the lyrics to each and every song that was played. Some even erupted in jubilant applause at the opening bars of songs that sounded to me like the opening bars of the previous ten songs. He told stories that evoked sporadic laughter and then played a familiar-sounding song. He ended the night with his signature song and then encored with "Get Down." Coincidentally, Mrs. P and I just heard "Get Down" on the Sirius XM "70s" channel and we simultaneously said "Oh, now I know three songs by Gilbert O'Sullivan."

In 2008, I saw Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. I was not familiar with most of the band's songs, but it was one of the best concerts I ever experienced even as a veteran of many, many concerts. I still (11 years later) talk about that show. Will I be talking about the Gilbert O'Sullivan show 11 years from now? Hmmm.... probably not even 11 hours from now.