Sunday, April 26, 2020

stand back stand back

As the days and weeks of quarantine bear down, people are trying to remain upbeat and optimistic, while coming to the realization that things will be different once the safety limitations are relaxed. Surrounded by the same four walls — day in and day out, thoughts turn to returning to the office, attending a concert or sporting event, even shopping in a store that's not a supermarket. These thoughts can sometimes do wonders to ease a cooped-up mind.

There is something I am looking forward to "on the other side," as they say. 

There are two people in the world — the entire world — that I feel comfortable hugging and kissing. Just two. Considering that the current population of the world is around seven and a half billion people, that is quite an exclusive club. Those two people are, of course, my wife and my son. I don't like to hug and kiss anyone who is not my wife and my son.

We know things will change and previously accepted behavior will be altered by what we are experiencing during our time of "social distancing." When health experts determined that maintaining a distance of at least six feet from another human was essential in keeping the coronavirus at bay, I was ecstatic. When the practice of wearing a face mask was introduced as an additional precaution, it was like a dream come true. I am secretly hoping it will become the new normal when this thing is over.

My wife is a friendly person when it comes to hugging and "cheek-kissing" family and friends and even friends of friends. However, I often find myself awkwardly shuffling my feet and averting my eyes when I know I am next in line after she has exchanged embraces with someone whom I obviously don't want to, which, as we now know, is pretty much everyone. I have hung back near a front door or in a parking lot next to our car, hoping desperately to be able to weasel out of a presumed obligatory hug with someone I don't want to hug. It has nothing to do with my level of like or dislike I have for a particular person. It just makes me uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. There! I said it! It's not a personal thing. It's a human thing.

So here we are. Still stuck in our homes. Still under quarantine while a heretofore unknown threat ravages our planet. I just remain hopeful that soon — very soon — I will be able to emerge from seclusion, mingle with people and not hug them.

Oh, things will be better.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

behind the mask

I am writing this in the middle of my fifth week of "working from home" as a result of precautions being taken to "flatten the curve"* of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, due to the hands-on nature of my job, there is not a lot of work for me to do at home. I have been on "stand-by" for five weeks. Two weeks ago, I did a reworking of a layout that took me all of an hour. Otherwise I have wandered around the confines of my home during most of this time, going downstairs to the kitchen. Upstairs to the den. Over to the bedroom. Back to the den. Back down to the kitchen. I'm starting to realize that my house isn't as big as I thought it was.

My only respite from "workday" boredom is an afternoon walk with my wife. Mrs. Pincus normally works from home, maintaining her eBay business from a home office on the third floor of our house. (Yeah, I go up there, too... sometimes.) Every afternoon, we set out for a stroll around the block for a little fresh air and exercise. We have been doing this for over a year. My previous job allowed me to be home by 4:30 in the afternoon, but circumstances of my current job — which is an hour's commute — leaves Mrs. P to traverse the sidewalks of Elkins Park alone. I have only been able to join her on weekends — until the majority of the nation's workforce was sent home in the middle of March. Now, I accompany her daily and will do so for as long as this home quarantine lasts.

Rules, suggestions, guidelines and mandates have changed regularly throughout the course of this decidedly uncertain situation. The governor of Pennsylvania, who, like a select number of other state governors, has assumed a position of reassuring authority and calm out of necessity. Regular briefings on current state policy are broadcast on local television and on the state's website offering pertinent information to help and guide the residents of my state through this mess. As would be expected, things change. What was once accepted policy could do a complete one-eighty a day later. Just last week, it was strongly recommended that face masks be worn by all Pennsylvania residents when leaving the house, after initially being told the contrary. Instructions on how to fashion a suitable face mask out of a bandanna are readily available all over the internet. My wife, who has been self-designated as the liaison to the outside world, does the shopping, prescription pick-ups, banking and running of small errands for me and her parents. She is the sole representative of the extended Pincus clan that leaves the house to venture further than the perimeter blocks. Before each trip, she puts a colorful bandanna in place, secured with elastic hair ties encircling each ear. When she returns home, she carefully removes the cloth and drops it in a laundry basket in the basement (yeah, I walk those steps sometimes, too) for later cleaning. Then she proceeds to thoroughly was her hands, humming "Happy Birthday" or what lyrics she can remember from the theme to "The Nanny" as presented in a recent YouTube video featuring Fran Drescher. When we go out walking, I wear one, too.

Since this most recent mandate regarding the wearing of face masks, I am surprised by the amount of people we pass on our walks — from a socially acceptable distance of six feet — that are not wearing them. In reality, I see more people not wearing a mask or some sort of facial covering than those who are. I also see a lot of people not practicing "social distancing" (another of those phrases*), stopping to talk to a neighbor and standing close enough to grab an arm or touch a shoulder. We see folks walking dogs, passing other folks walking dogs, stopping to converse while their pets sniff each others asses — yep! their owners are that close. What is wrong with these people? Oh wait.... I know! We live in a time of "The rules don't apply to me." I know we all hear the same warnings, it's just some people think those warnings are for everyone else. Other people have to follow those rules. They can't possibly mean me! After all, I'm me! My wife tells me she sees the same thing in the supermarket. She has witnessed people closing up the temporary, but clearly-marked, six-foot delineations put on the floor. She has had people reach right across the bridge of her nose to get an item on a shelf. A guy even picked up a pair of sunglasses my wife had dropped, despite her loud pleas of "Please don't touch them," his ungloved hand continuing to wrap around the lenses. Oh, right!  Sorry! You can touch them! I didn't realize it was you!

Look, I don't know how long this pandemic will last and how long we will have to maintain this cautious existence. No one does. I just keep envisioning a post-apocalyptic world as depicted in so many movies. Sinewy hollow-faced men and women roaming the streets in ragged clothes with an appropriated rifle strapped to their backs, collecting scavenged scraps of survival from steaming, picked-over spoils, strewn across the decimated landscape. It's a worrisome image that I hope I never see.

But — goddammit! — those men and women better be wearing masks and keeping their distance.

* If I may stray from my point for just a second (as I often do), there are certain words and phrases that I have come to loathe as specific hot-button topics trend in the news. Media outlets tend to stick these words and phrases into every report, no matter how applicable it is to the current hot story. Over the years, the constant repetition of words like "Iraqi" during the days of Operation: Desert Storm and "Lewinsky" during the infamous Clinton scandal drove me crazy! More recently, "quid pro quo" was quickly replaced by the current "flatten the curve" — a phrase that is slowly losing its meaning as it is repeated over and over again on a daily basis and repeated by people who just heard it repeated on a news broadcast. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

and I'm never going back to my old school

High school was not a pleasant experience for me. I hated every minute of it and anxiously awaited graduation, knowing I would never have to see those godforsaken hallways and classrooms again.

I got married five years after I graduated from high school, the first of my friends to do so. (Incidentally, I was pegged to be the last of my friends to get married.) A few months after my wedding, I received an invitation (at my parent's address) to my five-year high school reunion. Instead of tossing the invite to the trash, I — surprisingly — held on to it, actually considering attending. This was totally out of character. I hardly kept in touch with any of the few classmates that I considered "friends." But, the more I thought about it, the more I really wanted to go to this reunion. So, I replied in the affirmative and enclosed payment to cover my new bride and myself.

I should have skipped the reunion. I saw a bunch of people that — for four years — I hoped I would never have to see again. The ones who bragged about their accomplishments in high school now bragged (and likely exaggerated) about their accomplishments as members of the working world. C'mon now! Not everyone could possibly be an executive vice-president in charge of something-or-other, could they? My wife, who did not attend my high school, sat for most of the evening and talked to my friend Scott. Scott was an usher at my wedding and Mrs. Pincus had just seen him a few months earlier. I believe they talked about the wedding. At the end of the night, I swore — swore! — I would never go to another high school reunion again.

Around 2005 or so, I received an email from a high-school friend, one whom had been to my wedding, but with whom I didn't stay in regular contact. She told me about this "thing" on the internet called "Facebook." She explained that it was sort of a social interaction website that allowed the exchange of messages and pictures among connections. This was at a time when MySpace was thriving and I was pretty active on MySpace. I didn't see the need to join another social website. I do recall briefly perusing some photos and names from my past and immediately thinking: "This is not for me." But, I must have been curious enough, because I signed up for a Facebook page, although absolutely do not remember doing so. I have a "fan page" on Facebook, to which I contribute regularly. Recently, I must have changed some hidden setting on my personal Facebook page, because I receive friend suggestions on a daily basis. I see names that I haven't thought about in years... decades! Just this week, I received a suggestion to join a Facebook group from my high school graduation class. Like a common stalker, I clicked on the link.

There they were. A collection of names and faces from my past. Representatives of a dark, cringe-inducing time, suddenly released as though I cracked the lid of Pandora's box. The familiar names were accompanied by photos of older, grayer versions of those snotty, loathsome members of my graduation class. The messages all began with: "Remember when we...." and "There was that one time..." There were recent comments about a reunion (the 40th!) that was held in November 2019. Most were shallow sentiments from people whose greatest lifetime experiences occurred between 1975 and 1979. There was even someone suggesting a reunion of those who attended my elementary school. The thought made my skin crawl. I closed that window on my web browser as quickly as I could. 

Look, I know that I am in the overwhelming minority. I know that most people love high school reunions and long to reminisce with classmates about the carefree times of long ago — a time when corporate deadlines and family obligations were non-existent. I know that a lot of people kept life-long friendships and feel very comfortable "living in the past" and lying about their present.

I don't.

I have moved on and don't like looking back. With few exceptions, those that I currently consider friends are folks I have met long after I was handed my high school diploma. High school is not a fond memory and I would rather not associate with a bunch of people who sing its praises with dewy eyes and secretly wish for a time machine.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

hold that tiger

I gave in. I usually don't, but this time I did. Eh... who am I kidding? I've given in before and I'll probably do it again.

A few years ago, the Netflix series Stranger Things had everyone buzzing. I heard about it from my co-workers, my son and, of course, it was all over the internet (where I seem to spend a lot of time). So, against my better judgement, I watched the first season. I watched it in one weekend, cramming the eight hour-long episodes into two days. When the dust cleared and I snapped off the television after the final episode, I decided I didn't like it. I knew I was in the overwhelming minority, but I just didn't like it. I didn't like the story or the characters or the overall tone of the series. I thought about it more, going over it in my mind, trying to see something that I may have missed. Nope. Nothing.

When Seasons Two and Three were released — yes! — I watched them, too. I don't know why, but I did. Surprise! I didn't like them either. I was hoping that something would click — some subtle something that I previously missed, but no. I was in the same place I was before, except now, I had watched seventeen additional episodes to get to the same conclusion.

So, once again, the internet is a-flurry with excitement and obsession over a new Netflix series. This one is a documentary about the seedy — heretofore unknown — world of big cat breeding. The show, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, centers on one Joseph Schreibvogel Maldonado-Passage who goes by the name "Joe Exotic." Joe owned the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma, which was home to over two hundred big cats, including lions, tigers, pumas and ligers (the cross-bred feline that hasn't had this much publicity since the fleeting popularity of Napoleon Dynamite). Joe, however, is currently serving a 22-year sentence in a federal prison.

The limited series also features an assortment of colorful, albeit shady, characters that are involved and interconnected through the big cat trade. The story spans seven 45-or-so minute episodes. I watched the whole series in the period of two days.

And I didn't like a single minute of it.

I remember seeing Joe Exotic on an October 2016 segment on HBO's Last Week Tonight, a humorous look at the news hosted by comedian John Oliver. (A clip of Oliver's commentary is featured in episode 5 of Tiger King.) Although I found the short segment and Oliver's jokes funny, I found Tiger King tedious to watch.

The series seemed very "thrown together" and not fully thought out. It focused on parallel plot lines in a very disjointed fashion, introducing irrelevant characters only because they had some connection to the big cat trade. It couldn't decide what story it wanted to tell. Was it the story of big cat breeding? Was it the story of how different breeders handle the same situations differently? Was it a story of blackmail and intrigue and treachery? Was it just a venal look at the underbelly of a particular faction of society? Who knows, because each of these were only briefly touched on before jumping to another, unrelated story line. It was poorly edited, poorly written and poorly executed. Unless this was done purposely, there ain't a single likable character in the entire seven episodes. Tiger King blatantly exploits its misfit cast with the same malevolent goal as a circus sideshow. Its production and mood is very reminiscent of The Anna Nicole Smith Show that ran on for a year on the E Network.

I really wanted to like it, just like I really wanted to like Stranger Things. But, alas, when it was over, I was relived that I didn't have to watch any more episodes. I have no desire to re-watch any episodes, hoping for a new perspective. I don't care what happens to any of the major and minor characters. I found them all repulsive, repugnant, unsavory and any one of a number of other synonyms. I think I have made my point.

But, I probably haven't learned my lesson.