Sunday, January 26, 2020

tell me sweet little lies

Having spent most of my career in some aspect of the advertising business, I love and appreciate good and clever advertising, so I pay close attention to commercials during the inordinate amount of television that I watch.

"It's Dad.... and there's no Santa Claus."
About two years ago, Pepperidge Farm rolled out a new ad campaign to promote their line of Milano® cookies. The 30-second spot focuses on a woman alone in the bathroom. She is wrapped in a towel, lounging on the floor in front of a bathtub filled with children's toys. She is savoring each luxurious bite of a Milano® cookie with her eyes closed. Suddenly, she sees the locked doorknob begin to jiggle and a child's voice, from the other side of the door, questions: "Mom?" The woman bolts upright, furrows her brow, clears the cookie crumbs from her throat with a muffled cough and, with a put-on lower register in her voice, she replies: "It's Dad." Satisfied when she hears the pitter-patter of small feet retreating from the other side of the door, she resumes munching her cookies in serene privacy, while a voice-over states: "You gave them your bathtub. Don't give them your cookies. Pepperidge Farm Milano®. Save something for yourself." 

I hate this commercial.

No relation.
Wait. Wait. Wait! The commercial execution is fine, the actress is effective in the role and they certainly convey their message. What I hate is the message. Pepperidge Farm has always positioned their cookie category as being sophisticated and geared their advertising towards adults. I understand this and "positioning" is a key part of effective advertising. By not purposely going after market heavyweights like Nabisco and Keebler, Pepperidge Farm has essentially taken themselves out of the major brand cookie competition by creating the "Distinctive" line of cookies, thus creating a niche category the other brands don't have.

What they have also done is advocated lying. Specifically, lying to your children. Let's imagine, for a second, what happens after the tagline is read by the voice over and the commercial ends. The kid on the other side of the door wanders off looking for Mom — while Mom polishes off the remaining Milanos® in the bag. The kid strolls in to the living room and discovers Dad reading the paper. She is confused. "Dad?," she begins, "I thought you were in the bathroom." Dad looks up from the paper, himself confused. "What are you talking about?," he says, "Why would you think that?" The child explains that when she tried the locked bathroom door and questioned the occupant, a deep voice replied "It's Dad" and I'm sure I heard someone eating. I figured it was you, since you're the only one in this house disgusting enough to eat in the bathroom. Mom would never do that. And Mom would never lie or hide food from me." Dad frowns. He tosses the paper to the floor and stomps off to the bathroom to get to the bottom of this. He pounds on the door, demanding his wife let him in and explain this situation. The wife opens the door and, brushing cookie crumbs away from the corners of her mouth, exclaims that it is none of his goddamn business what she's doing in the bathroom. Then she goes on to explain that if she wants to eat a goddamn cookie in this God-forsaken house, she has to sneak them away from that fucking locust they have for a kid. The fight escalates. The kid cries. Soon the couple considers trust issues in their relationship and are now headed towards divorce. All because Pepperidge Farm forced Mom to tell a lie.

Is Pepperidge Farm happy with creating such familial turmoil is the name of selling a few more cookies? I am calling out Pepperidge Farm for the irresponsible message in their advertising. But, as far as the advertising world is concerned — mission accomplished! I remembered the name of the product.

Maybe I even gave them a new company tagline....

Sunday, January 19, 2020

that's what you get for being polite

I have a question. What is the correct amount of times one needs to say "excuse me, please" to get the person blocking you to move? One? Two? Six? Is it a trick question, because, oftentimes that person never moves.

Since my wife and I started eating salads for dinner — almost exclusively — about a year ago, I find myself in the supermarket several times a week. I go often to replenish basic fresh salad ingredients — tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots. You know, stuff that doesn't have a very long shelf life. My supermarket trips don't last very long, as I make a beeline to the produce section, pick up what I need and scoot. Sometimes, my "scooting" is not as quick as I'd prefer. Thanks to the arrogance of other shoppers.

This afternoon (Sunday) I left my house fairly early (for a Sunday) to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy. Then, I headed over to the supermarket to grab a few salad items that needed restocking in our refrigerator. In less than five minutes, I had everything I came for in my cart (except for scallions, which a clerk told me: "we are having a hard time ordering." I didn't believe him, as his explanation had that "I'm making this up 'cause I couldn't be bothered to find out" tone) and made my way to the self-checkout. I wasn't about to waste my precious time while a bored cashier examined and commented on every one of my purchases

One by one, I scanned each of my items, entering produce codes manually when requested. I bagged my purchases and then slid my credit card into the scanner, removing it when prompted. I loaded my bags back into my cart and prepared to make my exit from the store.


As I was checking out my items, I spotted something in my peripheral vision. A man with a full shopping cart moved into position at the checkout station next to me — approaching from the wrong side — thereby avoiding the customer queue line. Since I only had ten or so items and I scanned them with efficiency and I finished long before my new colleague did. But, my fellow shopper had his cart positioned in such a way that it did not allow me access to leave.  I frowned.

I offered a friendly (well, friendly for me) "excuse me, please." I like to think that, although I am often accused of being a "curmudgeon," I am polite. I am not an instigator. I avoid conflict as much as I can. But, I will speak up if I believe I am right. And, in this case, I was right. This guy was blocking my exit with no regard for anyone but himself. His cart was crooked in the aisle and it was inconsiderate. My "excuse me" was met with absolutely no reaction. None. He made no attempt to move his cart an inch. I frowned again.

"Excuse me, please." I repeated myself, something I don't like to do, especially if I am being totally ignored. Again, this man continued adjust and survey the items in his cart, selecting and scanning. He was doing everything except changing the position of his cart. I thought for a moment. "How many more 'excuse me's will it take until this guy finally acknowledges another human being in his world?" (Unfortunately, I have run into this rude, self-absorbed behavior before. From adults, no less.)

So here we are at an impasse. He entered the self-checkout area from the exit side. He was blocking the aisle with his cart parked across the access lane. And my repeated pleas of "excuse me" were falling upon deaf ears. I repeated my "excuse me" again, this time sans "please." A customer at the terminal across from my rude shopping neighbor pulled his cart closer to afford me some room to slip by. I nodded to the other customer and sarcastically (and loudly) "thanked" the fellow next to me as I pushed my cart past him. He looked up with a scowl, as though I was disturbing him.

I suppose, in his world, I was.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

but these stories don't mean anything

 My dad was a character. He was a hard worker. He smoked a lot of cigarettes. He ate a lot of meat and potatoes. And he made up a lot of stories.

My dad passed away in 1993, long before a quick Google search could expose his stories for the lies that they were. I debunked his long-standing tale of witnessing a Phillies no-hitter in his youth, but the truth was revealed a few years after his death. My mother, however, confronted him regarding the incorrect and misleading information (okay.... lies) he'd given colleagues at his job about my mother's true line of work.

Lies or not, some of my father's stories were pretty entertaining... and funny. I was very young when I first heard them and they were often repeated, usually with more embellishment in each retelling. Here's one that he told often. It's a funny story, but I cannot vouch for its authenticity.

In 1944, my father signed up to join the US Navy. It was the midst of World War II and every red-blooded American boy was convinced that it was his patriotic duty to defend his country against the so-called "Axis" powers. So rather than waiting for his number to come up, my dad happily joined the Navy. (He later told my brother and me that in the Navy, you were guaranteed a bed to sleep in, as opposed to the Army where one's nightly accommodations may be in muddy foxhole with bullets whizzing over your head.)

The butter wouldn't melt,
so I put it in the pie.
My father often treated his family to anecdotes about his two-year stint in military service. He was assigned as a radar signal relayer aboard the USS South Dakota, a battleship that was deployed (for a time) in the South Pacific. A radar signal relayer, according to Seaman First Class Pincus, repeated directional coordinates — that were heard in his headset — to the guy who was aiming the giant turrets towards their determined targets. (This may or may not be true. I don't even know if there was such a position as "radar signal relayer.")

My father claimed that Admiral Halsey, Commander of the Navy's Third Fleet, was aboard his ship for several months, during which the high-ranking officer was spotted by my father only once from a great distance. I marveled at this information, being that my only knowledge of Admiral Halsey was, as per Paul McCartney, he "had to have a berth or he couldn't get to sea." Based on the accuracy of most of my father's stories, it is unlikely that Admiral Halsey was ever on the USS South Dakota. Paul McCartney's claim is also undetermined.

I never meant to cause
you any trouble...
Allegedly, the USS South Dakota was struck twice by enemy fire and my father was hit by shrapnel. The supposed source of the shrapnel was two kamikaze strikes twenty minutes apart. Often, my father would roll up his pant leg and display his bony shin to the delight of my brother and me, pointing out a small, raised length of reddish tissue that he insisted was a scar. There was definitely something on my father's leg. If it was the result of a kamikaze is unconfirmed... as is my dad's claim that the Purple Heart medal that he allegedly received was lost my by grandmother.

My father eventually received an honorable discharge from the US Navy at the end of his twenty-four month stretch. He alerted his parents that he would be returning to their West Philadelphia home soon. And soon he did.

Put another nickel in...
There was a chain of restaurants in the Philadelphia area called Horn & Hardart. Horn & Hardart was unique in its format, introducing the "automat" concept to the United States in the early years of the 20th century. An automat offered simple, "home cooked" fare to hungry customers for a nickel or multiples thereof. Once the correct amount of nickels was deposited in the slot, a glass door could be opened through which food was delivered from the kitchen on other side. (The Horn & Hardart automat is featured prominently in the Doris Day/Cary Grant comedy That Touch of Mink.) It was a novel way to eat and it proved to be very popular. At the height of its popularity, Horn & Hardart was serving an estimated 500,000 customers per day across 157 outlets in Philadelphia and New York. My father numbered himself among those customers. He made sure it was his first stop after arriving home from the Navy.

As my father told it, he went to the Horn & Hardart automat windows with a pocketful of nickels. He made his selections, opening each little window, removing each item and placing them on his tray — meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and a slice of pie. (Sometimes, with each telling and retelling, the meal components changed.) My dad looked around the crowded dining room for an available seat. He found one and placed his laden tray on the table. He realized he had forgotten to get a cup of Horn & Hardart's famous coffee, so headed over to the wall of coffee urns, sifting through his pocket change for another nickel. He drew himself a cup of coffee and returned to his waiting civilian meal. However, when he returned to his table, there was a disheveled woman in ragged clothing busily munching away at my father's dinner. My father was dumbfounded. He stood — frozen — watching this woman shovel forkfuls of meatloaf and potatoes — his meatloaf and potatoes — into her maw. His mind scrambled. What could he do? If he chased her away, he certainly wasn't going to eat the picked-over scraps that was now his dinner. So, he did the only thing he could do. He went back to the automat windows and repurchased a duplicate meal. This time, he stopped to get coffee before finding a table.

My father loved this story and he told it a lot. It is a funny story. I just don't know if it really happened.

But, honestly.....who cares? That was my dad.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

sit down, you're rocking the boat

In the summer of 2012, Mrs. Pincus went on a cruise with her extended family. It was made very clear, by my brother-in-law, that I was not included in this trip. Just as well. The thought of going on a cruise, despite being an avid fan of The Love Boat, did not have the least bit of appeal for me. Upon my wife's return, however, I heard all about the endless food, planned activities and kitschy entertainment. I have to admit, I was slightly intrigued. So, based on Mrs. P's casino "activity" (at the time), the good folks at Harrah's Atlantic City offered us a free cruise. With a little bit of convincing, we took the offer. (The "free" part was the clincher.)

Flash forward to today, I am the veteran of eight cruises. I never imagined that we would become the people that I made fun of on our first cruise... and in such a short period of time! I still maintain that all of the cruises have basically been identical. Sure, they have been on different ships with different people and at different times of the year, the overall experience has been the same. They've all featured buffets with endless amounts of food, planned activities (like trivia contents, where on our most recent cruise, we were accused of cheating) and hokey entertainment presented by troupes of fresh-faced performers giving their all as though they were on a Broadway stage, not one rocking back and forth in the middle of the ocean.

Mrs. Pincus and I have had conversations with a number of crew members, something — believe it or not — not many passengers do. A lot cruisers treat the crew like servants, foisting angry demands upon them with a tone of of contempt. Others ignore the crew, except for waiters and bartenders. But my wife and I have had really interesting interaction with crew members while we were waiting for a trivia game to start. Most cruise ship staff hail from outside of the United States, so we have heard fascinating tales of sneaking stealthily through farmland in the Philippines to steal watermelons. We were told about tiny villages in the Middle East, where a crew member's family is the recipient of wired funds and get to see their loved one in person every six months. We learned how employment on cruise ships works (six month "contracts" with the option to renew). These stories have all brought me to the conclusion that most cruise ship staff are akin to carnies. Some of them — not all of them, but a lot of them — lean towards the transient and unseemly side of society. I can only imagine what goes on below the "passenger" decks and I imagine that it's not unlike the "steerage party" scene from Titanic. I picture crew members crammed into tiny, closet-sized rooms — drunk, dirty and sleeping with each other. Just my opinion.

On our third or fourth cruise (I honestly forget which), Mrs. P and I encountered a particular member of the entertainment staff. He stood out from the rest of the young men and women, in that he was wild and rambunctious and overly animated. On our first evening aboard, we met him in the showroom, prior to showtime. He was dancing wildly to the piped-in music. He was hugging guests and acting silly. He came over to where we were seated and made exaggerated "flirty eyes" at Mrs. P. (All in fun, of course.) He introduced himself as "Oston," explaining it was like "Boston" without the "B." Then, he turned his head as an attractive young lady walked by. He loudly remarked: "There goes my future ex-wife." (We would hear that joke countless more times thoroughout the week.) Oston was a native of Turkey and regularly reminded everyone of that fact. When hosting activities,  he would regularly mock his difficultly with non-Turkish phrasing by announcing: "Press 1 for English." We ran into Oston nearly everywhere we went on the ship — hosting trivia games, wandering around near the pool, at the buffet, in the showroom, everywhere. He walked a thin line between fun and annoying. 

At the end of the week, we thanked Oston for enhancing our vacation. However, Mrs. P and I secretly agreed that he would most likely be fired at the end of this trip. He just didn't fit in with the "Norwegian Cruises" persona. We couldn't put our finger on what exactly was the problem, but it was something.

My wife and I went on another cruise this past October. This time, we sailed on the Carnival Pride, out of the Port of Baltimore, just a two-hour drive from our suburban Philadelphia home. The Pride is a smaller ship than any of the others on which we previously sailed, and it made for a more intimate and enjoyable trip. On our first evening aboard, we spotted a familiar figure dancing wildly in the aisles of the Pride's main showroom. It was Oston and he was up to his old unmistakable tricks. We got his attention (which was tough, considering his short attention span) and he came over to us. We jogged his memory until he "sort-of" remembered us from that Norwegian cruise several years earlier. Mrs. P asked him how long he has been with Carnival. He smiled a crooked smile and proudly told us that this was his first cruise with the line. He also told us that he had briefly been employed by Royal Caribbean after leaving Norwegian.

On this same cruise, we met a quiet woman who was traveling with Flossie, her eight-year-old daughter. Flossie revealed herself to be a natural performer, as we saw her participating in a number of karaoke sessions as well as showing off her dancing skills in other audience-participation activities. And during the course of the week aboard the Pride, Flossie became enamored with Oston. She followed him from activity to activity, silently observing him with big, puppy-dog eyes. Flossie even bought a plush teddy bear, which she named "Oston," in homage to her favorite crew member. Oston seemed flattered by the youngster's extra attention, but it was hard to tell since his behavior could only be described as "off the rails." At the end of the cruise, Flossie was in tears and parting with Oston was borderline traumatic.

My wife connected on Facebook with Flossie's mother. She told Mrs. P that the ride back home (they drove back to Toronto from Baltimore) was rough, as poor Flossie cried most of the time. When she wasn't crying, she was talking about Oston. Mrs. P remained in regular contact with Flossie's mom and one day, just a week or so after our cruise, she told my wife that they booked another cruise aboard the Pride for November — just so Flossie could see Oston again.

Just prior to their November sailing, Oston emailed Flossie's mom, asking her to pick up some personal items for him. (He knew that they would be sailing.) He asked for toiletries, as well as socks, underwear and sneakers. Flossie's mother complied with all of his requests. When the date of the cruise arrived, she met up with Oston and handed over the items he asked for. He expressed his gratitude. Flossie was ecstatic at seeing Oston. The week aboard the Pride was magical for her. Oston (and all of the entertainment staff) paid special attention to the girl, sometimes affording her "co-hosting" duties at certain activities. Flossie's mom sent Mrs. P photos and videos of little Flossie dancing and singing with Oston. Her smile was huge in every shot. At the end of the week, Flossie and her mom had another tearful departure and headed back to Canada.

Then things got..... strange. 

Flossie's mom received a barrage of texts from Oston saying that he quit his job with Carnival. He was at the airport with Turkey as his destination. A lot of what Oston was saying was incoherent, either due to a language barrier or his erratic behavior. He told Flossie's mom that he has misplaced his passport and left his bags at the airport. He was staying with friends in Maryland... or Pennsylvania. He kept changing his story. In one text, he sounded "desperate" (as Flossie's mom described it) and said he felt "worthless."

Then he asked Flossie's mom for money.

Flossie's mom had, evidently, made connections with other crew aboard the Pride. They warned her to steer clear of Oston. They pegged him as a conman. They explained that he had a pattern of this behavior and he should be avoided. One of his former coworkers told Flossie's mom it would be best to end all contact with Oston right now.

Flossie's mom was confused. She saw no signs of any deceit from Oston... on either of their cruise encounters. He was enthusiastic and appeared sincere with Flossie. Sure he was a bit wild, but he interacted with Flossie like a protective older brother. But these accusations of being a con man sure seemed to be feasible. Flossie's mom was diplomatic and, most importantly, realistic. She explained to Oston that, while she would like to help, she was in no position to offer the financial support he requested.

Flossie's mom hasn't received a text from Oston since.