Sunday, September 19, 2021

teacher, teacher

My third grade teacher died last year. The news came to me via a Facebook group — of which I am a member — that concerns itself with memories about the elementary school I attended. According to the announcement, my third grade teacher was 93 years old. I found this to be particularly thought-provoking. When she was my teacher in 1970, I was pretty sure that she was 93 years old then. I made quick use of a calculator and my rudimentary math skills revealed that she was actually 43 at the time — just a few years younger than my mother. 

I remember when I was assigned to her class — as determined by my final report card of second grade — my heart sank. Rumors ran rampant within the school about my third grade teacher's disposition, especially towards the male students in her class. She was a "miss," and tales were told of how she hated men. The boys in her class often felt the wrath of her misandristic leanings. I worried all summer about what third grade would be like and if I would survive.

I distinctly remember beginning third grade. I remember my teacher as a towering, imposing fearsome, figure. She rarely smiled, usually sporting a scowl. She wore old-fashioned looking dresses and big, clunky, black shoes like my grandmother wore. She wore her silver gray hair in a no-nonsense, easy-to-maintain bowl cut. She was a firm (borderline cruel) disciplinarian with zero tolerance for passing notes or whispering between students. Every Hallowe'en, she greeted students at the door of her classroom wearing a huge woven wicker mask that completely obscured her face. She wielded a large straw broom which he used to whack each student on the ass as they passed across the classroom threshold. Every St. Partick's Day, you had better be goddamned sure you were wearing something green, lest you succumb to the ire of my third grade teacher, who was of proud Irish ancestry. I don't remember any particular lesson from my third grade class. No piece of information that stuck with me for the rest of my life. No special bit of knowledge that could guarantee me the grand prize in a round of cruise ship trivia. (I learned state capitals in fourth grade. I still know those.) I only remember not liking the class or the teacher.

The announcement posted to my elementary school's Facebook group was just this week, My teacher had passed away in April 2020, but, due to the social limitations imposed by the global COVID-19 pandemic, a proper funeral service was not held. The post noted a date in September 2021 when family and friends could safely gather to honor the memory of their beloved sister, stepmother, grandmother, aunt, great-aunt and — yes — teacher. 

She taught at the elementary school for 45 years, so, of course, the post was overflowing with positive, sometimes gushy, comments from former students expressing their fond memories of this teacher. 

Until they weren't.

After scrolling through a dozen or so glowing sentiments, I stopped at one comment that was posted by a name I recognized as one of my classmates. 
"Unfortunately I had a very different experience with her. She had a mean streak, she put me in the corner and told me save my hot air for the clarinet."

This was followed by several more comments elaborating on more less-than-stellar behavior form my third grade teacher. Memories that were more in line with my own memories of her class. One student even told of an evidently traumatic experience when my third grade teacher confiscated one of his Matchbox cars and held on to it until the last day of school. These folks are now sixty years old, but these incidents have stuck with them their entire lives.

I find it interesting that so many people can have so many varying memories of the same person in relatively the same situation. Or perhaps a lot of these people have skewed memories, altered by the fact that they are talking about someone who is now dead. There's a old expression — "Don't speak ill of the dead." A lot of people subscribe to that conviction. Eulogies become very sweet and flowery for someone who was a total jerk when they walked the earth. What is it about death that washes away , the bad behavior and awful temperament someone exhibited in life. I have been to many funerals where I heard final words delivered by someone who either never met the deceased or was fed a bunch of bullshit by family members trying to grab at one last effort to cast heir loved one in a positive light. 

A few brave souls on Facebook, under the guise of anonymity, voiced their true feelings about someone's beloved teacher. Feelings I also share. Was it the correct forum to do so? Maybe.... or maybe not. Nevertheless, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. Especially an impression that lasts fifty years.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

picture book

In 2007, I started working at my first real office job. This was at a mid-size, East coast law firm. Sure, I had worked in "offices" before, but this time I had my very own office. It wasn't much bigger than a closet, with just enough space to snugly fit a desk, a chair and a couple of narrow bookshelves, which — over the course of the dozen years I worked there — I managed to fill with hundreds of little knick-knacks, action figures, wind-ups and all sorts of odds & ends to give the appearance of the workspace of a six-year old.

When I arrived at my new job, I found a corkboard on the wall of my office that had belonged to the previous occupant. There were a few business cards and outdated memos tacked up in the corners, along with a pin-back button proudly proclaiming a participant in the "Philly READS" program. With a little investigation, I discovered that "Philly READS" was a partnership with area businesses to promote reading among elementary school students. Once per week, participating students were brought in to area offices where volunteer readers (i.e. office rank & file) read appropriate age-level books to said students. It's a mutually beneficial experience in that workers do something for the community and the students hopefully develop a love for reading. In a very un-Josh Pincus-like action, I signed myself up for the upcoming Philly READS session that was scheduled to begin in a week or so. Some of my new co-workers, who had already discovered my cynical, sardonic and sarcastic side, were quite surprised by my initiative. I can honestly say, I was surprised, as well.

On the first day of the Philly READS session, my fellow reading volunteers made their way into the law firm's large library that was housed on the 38th floor of a Philadelphia office building. Soon, a single-file line of the tiniest humans were led in by their teacher, a cheerful vivacious young woman who didn't resemble any teacher I had in elementary school. She read from an official-looking sheet of paper and called out each student's name, followed by the name of one of my fellow office workers. These would be the permanent pairings for reading for as long as the multi-week session lasted. The teacher called out my name and I raised my hand. She smiled at me and guided a little girl in my direction. 

"This is Melody.," she said.

I smiled and said "Hi there, Melody." As I offered a little wave of my hand. Melody shyly shuffled her little feet as she stood behind the teacher. She didn't look at me.

The teacher said, "This is Josh." Melody didn't care. 

I pointed to a nearby table where several other student-worker pairs had already taken seats and began reading their chosen books in hushed tones. 

Yeah! Look at 'em go!
"Over here, Melody." I said. Melody took off her puffy coat, revealing an outfit of mismatched colors. She climbed up on a chair and produced a book from her backpack. She slid it across the table in my direction. So far, she had not spoken a word. I looked at the title and immediately recognized it  Curious George Visits the Zoo. It was one of my son's favorites and I read it to him often when he was a child.  I hadn't read it in years though, as my son — at this time — was in his sophomore year at college. I opened the book and began to read. Melody finally looked at me as I read, but still didn't utter a word.

This particular entry in the Curious George canon is fairly short. I evidentially plowed though the entire story at pretty speedy clip, leaving a lot of time until the session was over. I looked at Melody. Melody looked around the library, seeming to consciously not want to make eye contact with me. An idea popped into my head. I grabbed a blank piece of paper from the tray of a nearby copier and started drawing little doodles that I thought might amuse Melody. I drew a close approximation of Spongebob Squarepants from memory. At the time, Spongebob was a pretty popular cartoon character among children Melody's age... I supposed. Melody studied my pen strokes as the character began to take shape. As I drew his spindly legs and protruding teeth, Melody spoke her first word to me.

"Squidward!," she said.

We're ALL Squidward.
Hmmm..... maybe I'm not as good as I thought
, I wondered to myself. I didn't exactly correct her. I just said, "That's Spongebob." She looked at me as though I was speaking a foreign language. I continued to draw, this time, attempted to capture Spongebob's pal Patrick. When I finished, Melody identified Patrick as "Squidward." I frowned. I tried again, now actually taking a crack at Squidward, seeing as his likeness had been sort-of requested. Melody correctly guessed "Squidward" this time, although technically I was baiting her. By this time, Melody's teacher announced for the students to line up for their return trip to school. I helped Melody on with her coat and waved "goodbye" to her. She beelined to the gathering group of students. She did not return my wave.

The next week — and for every subsequent week — Melody brought Curious George Visits the Zoo for me to read to her. I never questioned. I just read the book, Over the course of the Philly READS session, Melody slowly, slowly, opened up. She began to smile and react to the silly I voices I supplied for the different characters in the book. She began to talk a little. She would get a piece of paper for me to draw pictures for her. She still called everything I drew "Squidward," but I didn't care. Or maybe everything I drew just looked like Spongebob's tentacled pal to her.

One day, after I had finished reading Curious George Visits the Zoo and began drawing pictures, Melody — out of nowhere and totally unprompted — said "My dad shot my mom."

SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! was all I heard in my head.

"What?" I asked. Melody repeated the same five words in the same, matter-of-fact tone. She continued to look down, paying close attention to a little drawing that she was doing on her own. She didn't elaborate on her jarring statement and I sure as hell wasn't going to press for details. I just drew my little pictures and Melody just tagged each one "Squidward" — same as always. I didn't question her teacher or other students or anyone. I just let it go.

Soon summer approached and the school year was coming to an end. As an end-of-program special treat, the readers were invited to visit the student's school for reading, pizza and a little surprise entertainment. We were bussed to the school which was not too far from our office. In the classroom, each reader took a seat next to their student partner's desk. We read our books. (Guess which one we read?) Afterwards, the students, as a group, sang a little song and then we all ate pizza. When the final session was over. I said "goodbye" to Melody, telling her it was a pleasure to read to her for the past few months.

Melody hugged me.

I never participated in Philly READS for the remaining decade-plus that I worked at the law firm. Nothing could have topped that.

(Just a quick footnote, Melody is probably 21 by now.)

Sunday, September 5, 2021

our love's in jeopardy (finale)

I usually don't weigh in on topical subjects until the subject is no longer topical. Today, I will make an exception.

I love watching Jeopardy!, the game show with a twist, where contestants offer the questions to match up with provided answers. Jeopardy! appears in syndication in most television markets paired with Wheel of Fortune. This is an interesting coupling. These two shows appeal to two entirely different audiences. Most people who watch Wheel of Fortune dislike Jeopardy! — mostly because they can't answer a single question. Wheel of Fortune doesn't require the intellect that most Jeopardy! contestants posses. All you really need to do is be able to identify letters and read, something that 90% of Wheel of Fortune contestants are capable of doing. Jeopardy! requires a vast knowledge of many subjects and the ability of quick recall. As a long-time trivia fanatic, I find I can answer a decent amount of questions on any given episode of Jeopardy! The ones I can't answer, I take as a learning experience.

I remember watching Jeopardy! in its first incarnation in the 1960s. This initial version was hosted by Art Fleming, a typical game show host in the mold of contemporaries like Wink Martindale, Bill Cullen and Dennis James. My mom — a whiz at trivia herself — would take time out of her morning of laundry and vacuuming to add to her knowledge of "World Geography" and "Potent Potables." On days when I was home from school with the sniffles (either real or imagined), my mom and I would watch Jeopardy! together over a cup of healing tea and plate of dry toast. The ever-cheerful Art Fleming would smile, introduce the contestants, read the "answers," recap the scores, congratulate the champion and console the losers and bid the television-viewing audience a fond "Good Day" at the end of 22 minutes, not including commercials. Jeopardy! ran from 1964 until 1975. It was brought back in 1978 as All-New Jeopardy! but was canceled after five months due to unpopular (and downright confusing) changes in format. The unnecessary tinkering with the game play prompted Art Fleming to turn down the offer to host when the show was revived in 1984. Scrambling for a new host, show creator Merv Griffin (yes, that Merv Griffin) took the advice of his friend Lucille Ball (yes, that Lucille Ball) and hired up-and-coming game show host Alex Trebek.

On September 10, 1984, a bright and colorful Jeopardy! premiered in syndication with host Alex Trebek. Trebek expressed in interviews that he insisted on being introduced as the host of Jeopardy!, not the star. He humbly explained that the game was the star and he was merely there to keep things moving. However, after three decades, Trebek seemed to have changed his mind, often injecting personal opinions into contestant interviews and overly berating contestants on wrong answers. One could say he earned that right after so long. I would not and I often found Trebek's behavior distracting in a "steal the spotlight" sort of way. His eye-rolling, snide remarks and sometimes mean retorts were very unbecoming. But it certainly wasn't enough to get me to stop watching Jeopardy! 

In 2019, Alex Trebek announced that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (coincidentally, the same type of cancer that claimed the life of Art Fleming in 1995). While fans of the show were sent reeling at the inevitable loss of the beloved Alex Trebek, the "elephant in the room" needed to be addressed — "Who would be Alex Trebek's successor?" When he passed away in November 2020, enough episodes had already been filmed to take the show into the new year. From January until the summer of 2021, Jeopardy! was hosted by a long parade of guests from all sorts of backgrounds. There were actors and newscasters and reporters and former Jeopardy! contestants, even a sports figure and a sportscaster were among the mix. Their "auditions" lasted one or two weeks and, thanks to the power of social media, there was a daily consensus on how each one fared. I watched each guest host and, with one exception, found them to be — well... completely unremarkable. And that's a good thing. I don't watch Jeopardy! for the host. I watch for the show. The show is the star of the show, just like Alex Trebek originally asserted. Each guest host had their quirks, their strengths and weaknesses. I remember that Today Show co-host Savannah Guthrie behaved as though Jeopardy! was a brand-new show that no one in the country had ever seen before, prompting her to over-explain every single move that was made by everyone. (In her defense, perhaps she herself had never seen Jeopardy! because of the early hour in which she has to get to bed in order to wake up to host an early morning news program.) 

I was actually unimpressed by the majority of the guest hosts. Any one of them would have been fine with me, with the exception of "Doctor" (and I use the term very,
very loosely) Mehmet Oz. He was unbearable. He was cocky, condescending and thoroughly annoying. He commented on nearly every response (right or wrong) and made the contestant interviews all about him. "Doctor" (and again, I use the term very, very loosely) Oz and his outrageous claims regarding various medical issues specifically the COVID-19 pandemic, was (in my opinion) a poor choice by the Jeopardy! producers. The show serves as a 30-minute escape from the daily grind. Controversy has no place in a game show, especially a popular one.

After all of the prospective hosts had their time in the spotlight, the announcement came that the Jeopardy! baton had been passed to Mike Richards, the show's executive producer. Almost immediately, the internet lit up with disapproval. Complaints flooded all social media outlets, voicing dismay — and disgust — with the decision. Folks campaigned for reconsideration of their favorites among the passed-over candidates. Others vowed never to watch the show again if Mike Richards is the host. Within a day or so, however, Mike's past unsavory behind-the-scenes antics came back to — as they say — bite him in the ass. It seems that "Who is a creepy asshole?" would be the correct question to the answer "Mike Richards." Richards stepped down while filming episodes for the new season and second runner-up, actress Mayim Bialik, took over as "interim guest host." Oh yes, Jeopardy! fans, the search continues.

Personally, I don't care who hosts Jeopardy! I really don't. And honestly, you probably don't either. Did you really tune in every evening to see Alex Trebek? Did you wonder what pithy words of wisdom he would offer? No, of course not. You tuned in to see how smart you are by answering some questions. Or perhaps you'd learn something about the Galapagos Islands or Marie Curie that you didn't know before. You watched to wind down after a day at work or dealing with your neighbors or a particularly trying hour in the dentist's chair. In the big scheme of things, does it really matter who reads those questions or recaps the scores or bids you "Good day until tomorrow"? 

No. It really doesn't.

Unless it's Dr. Oz.

www.joshpincusiscrying.com

Sunday, August 29, 2021

I don't remember, I can't recall

For around a thousand years, my wife's family owned and operated a stand in a once-thriving farmers market just outside of Philadelphia. Its humble beginnings were actually rooted in another man's business. My father-in-law was reeling from a devastating fire that wiped out his own hardware business that he ran in a building across the street. In an effort to generate some income while he rebuilt his business, my father-in-law bought out an older man who owned a little hardware store in Zern's Farmers Market. In addition to the man's unusual and mismatched inventory, my father-in-law brought in newer merchandise as well as a few items that were able to be salvaged from the fire.

Over the years, more merchandise was brought in and more space was secured to accommodate the expanding inventory. We busted through to the next stand and, with the addition of some second-hand shelving and creative merchandising, turned "Larry's Hardware" into everyone's first stop upon arrival at Zern's.

In reality, Mrs. Pincus was responsible for Larry's Hardware's popularity. Working at the store (sometimes unwillingly) from a very young age, Mrs. P began to bring in unusual items. Specifically, she sought out pop culture kitsch and collectibles that appealed to our fellow collectors — and other folks with disposable income. With our own Disney collection as a jumping off point, Mrs. P created eye-catching displays of Coca-Cola memorabilia (both new and antique), sought -after metal lunchboxes, superhero and rock & roll items, ephemera related to long-forgotten TV shows and movies and hundreds of corporate promo items. There was something for everyone, no matter what sort of collection you had... or wanted to start.

Word began to spread and each weekend (the market was only open on Fridays and Saturdays), the aisles were jammed with curious shoppers out to marvel at the childhood memories that dotted our shelves, as well as hardcore collectors seeking out that one elusive piece that'll complete their collection. Mrs. P, our son and I would offer assistance to several customers simultaneously — giving advice, explanations, prices — hoping that each bit of information we gave would result in a sale. We had regular customers and we would regularly supply their collections. After a while, Mrs. P would look for items for specific collectors. She knew what they liked and she knew what they would pay for things. Her uncanny sense of shrewd business acumen was unmatched. The best salespeople make it appear as though they aren't selling. And Mrs. P was one of the best. She could sell a drippy popsicle to a man in a white suit.

Of course, the typical Zern's customer wasn't typical. They were extremely discerning, very suspicious and not always willing to part with their hard-earned money. Mrs. P became their friend... and your friend wouldn't steer you wrong. She developed a trusting bond with a lot of her regular customers and they kept coming back for more. Some of them, however, weren't even sure what exactly it was that they collected.

Dough Kid
One older woman would come in almost every weekend and ask if we had anything with the Dough Kid. It took us a little while to understand that this woman collected items related to The Pillsbury Doughboy. She never referred to the character by his correct name. She'd point to things in our glass-front showcase and say "There's the Dough Kid!" When corrected, she wave us off dismissively and say "Well, I call him the Dough Kid." We, of course, got used to her pet name for a nationally-known and recognizable advertising mascot. I wonder if other dealers were as accommodating Eh... what am I thinking...? This woman didn't shop anywhere else.

Is that Elvis?
Another man would come in a lot, though not as often as the "Dough Kid" lady. This man was usually dressed in nothing more formal that a threadbare athletic shirt and torn, paint-splattered work pants. His hair was combed into a slicked-back close approximation of a pompadour and ducktail. Fittingly, this guy collected Elvis memorabilia. Y'know... Elvis. Presley. Elvis Presley. The King of Rock & Roll. Just making sure we know who we are talking about, because I'm not too sure this guy did. When he would make an appearance in the store, he'd start things off by asking, "Got anything Elvis?" One of us would lead him to a showcase and begin point out and extracting items emblazoned with Mr. Presley's familiar visage. Paperweights, serving trays, wristwatches, salt & pepper shakers  — all indelibly branded with some sort of Elvis logo, guitar, profile or silhouette. The man would squint at the particular item, lean back, stare down his nose and mumble, "Is that Elvis?" That was his lead-off question. Even after a brief explanation  — "This metal ashtray features graphics from the movie poster for Harum Scarum" — he'd stare in bewilderment and ask, "Is that Elvis?" Sometimes, it took all the willpower I could muster to keep myself from shouting "Do you even know who the fuck Elvis is???"

Ooger Booger
When Disney released Tim Burton's holiday-clashing animated film The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mrs. Pincus brought in loads and loads of related merchandise to cash in on the sudden interest and budding collections of a certain faction of our customer base. In its initial run, Disney didn't do much merchandising for the film, but as the cult audience grew, more and more items were produced, even though it was years after it had vacated theaters. The most popular character from the film was tall, lanky Jack Skellington. His love interest, the demure rag doll Sally, was very popular among the female goth teens. The villainous Oogie Boogie, not surprisingly, had his share of fans, too. One such customer had a certain affinity for the bug-stuffed burlap sack bad guy — we think. The fellow who come in and ask if we had anything depicting "Ooger Booger." At first, we all just stared blankly at the customer while our brains made internal "clickity-clack" sounds as our collective memory databanks scanned for a close match. "Y'know... from the Nightmare movie." "Ooooooohhhhhh! Ooogie Boogie!," none of us said, so as not to embarrass this idiot. He came in fairly often and still never got the name right.

My father-in-law closed up his store in Zern's in 2007, but Mrs. Pincus kept the collectibles business going online — to this day. An online business presents a whole new set of frustrations, but, at least mispronunciations aren't among them.

However, some people still don't know what they want.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

stop! in the name of love

If you do a lot of driving... or walking... or going outside, you have probably seen hundreds of stop signs in your lifetime. Maybe even thousands. They are everywhere. They stand silently, doing their job of regulating traffic. Sometimes they are used for non-traffic applications, like keeping you from entering an exit door or making sure you don't proceed to the next page of a test before given the "go ahead" signal by the teacher. But no one really takes an interest in stop signs. They are just there, like trash cans or utility poles or that thing that holds the roll of toilet paper in your bathroom.

Well, stop right there.

My wife belongs to a Facebook group that concerns itself with events and happenings around our small community of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. I don't belong to the group because anything I need to know about my neighborhood, I can find out by going outside and looking as far as my field of vision will allow. Or by not paying my property taxes. I'm sure I will find out exactly what's going on if I fail to do that just once. If, by chance, I really want to know how my neighbors feel about people who don't pick up after their dog or whether the nearby ice cream store is really gonna close for good this time or if I need a solid recommendation for a reliable electrician, I'll just ask Mrs. Pincus for the latest dope on the Elkins Park Facebook page. (and from what I have seen on a few "over the shoulder" scans of the page, the word "dope" truly applies.) In all honesty, none of those scenarios have come up yet, so I can see no need to actually join. Mrs. P will remain my liaison until I think things have gotten desperate.

At your service!
Between heated discussions 
concerning dog shit protocol and speculation about a proposed business opening in a neighborhood five-and-a-half miles away, a frequent topic on the Elkins Park Facebook page is the regular damage inflicted upon a single stop sign that stands at an intersection on a street that isn't even a real street. For a couple of years now, posts about this stop sign have been showing up on the Facebook page with some regularity. The stop sign's jurisdiction is a non-municipal thruway that serves as an access to a shopping center, as well as to a bigger highway on the other side of the parking lot of said center. Sure, there are other, less convenient routes to the highway, but this little thoroughfare is a shortcut and has become so well-traveled that it actually shows up in Waze directions when plotting out a route to the Pennsylvania Turnpike from our house. The street — imaginatively named "Shoppers Lane" — is policed at one point near the rear receiving dock of a Target — by this stop sign. By the looks of posted photos and gut-wrenching descriptions, it is a dangerous area for the likes of one little stop sign. It seems that the massive 18-wheeler delivery truck drivers have some difficulty backing their rigs up to the docks in the narrow space as determined by the poor placement of the Target building. After a futile series of forward-reverse-forward-reverse maneuvers, drivers wishing to maintain a schedule throw caution to the wind and, mostly likely accompanied by an inaudible "fuck it!," proceed to plow backwards into the stop sign in an effort to align with the dock and keep to a company-enforced delivery timetable. Poor "Stoppy" has been banged and dented and jolted and bumped more times than a demolition derby jalopy.

Oh yeah.... the members of the Facebook group have taken to call this scrappy little stop sign "Stoppy."

And ol' Stoppy has since garnered a fan base that rivals professional sports teams or the latest K-Pop darlings. Suddenly, information about when the next scheduled trash pick-up (interrupted by a Monday holiday) or where a dependable plumber can be had has taken a backseat to concern for the well-being of a three-foot metal sign. On any given day, there can be up to a dozen photos of Stoppy along with a few lines of sentiment for the now-beloved traffic fixture. Once, someone posted a picture of Stoppy with a necktie knotted nattily around its... its... um, well it isn't exactly a neck. Let's say stanchion, because that's what it is. But to Stoppy's followers and supporters, it's his neck.

Poor, poor pitiful me.
Stoppy has been photographed in various states of injury. He's been bent. He's been scraped. He's had half of his face torn off. His bright red paint has been scratched and pitted and dinged. His post, despite being wrapped in some thick protective padding, has been pulled down to a 45
° angle, making poor Stoppy look like he's on his last legs... well, maybe not legs..... oh, you know what I mean.

During the throes of the pandemic, Stoppy was made into a symbol of hope and endurance for a number of members of the 
Elkins Park Facebook page. Their one-time informational and documentational posts had now taken on a spiritual tone. Stoppy was a symbol of faith, of redemption filled with promise... promise of a life pulled from the ashes of despair and rising up to restore us to a life we once knew.... or some such bullshit. Some folks were serious about this. Really serious. But, not everyone...

Mrs. Pincus is one of the nicest people I know — if not the nicest. However in the nearly 40 years we have known each other, a bit of the cynicism that is "Josh Pincus" has, unfortunately, tarnished her otherwise sunny disposition. She is still very sweet and kind, but this underlying acerbity that I so readily exhibit, has crept in to her personality like a weed — a sarcastic little weed (which, by the way, was my nickname in high school). Mrs. Pincus has posted her own photos of Stoppy, along with snarky captions right out of the Josh Pincus playbook. Although she gets her fair share of "likes" and "thumbs ups," there are those who don't find her comments the least bit humorous. Of course, in the world of comedy, that's when something funny becomes even funnier.

Just this past week, Mrs. Pincus was contacted by a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, the once-mighty daily newspaper serving the once-fourth largest city in the country. The reporter explained to my wife hat she was doing a story on Stoppy and, in her research, Mrs. P's name came up. A lot. (Doing a story on Stoppy? Jeez, no wonder no one reads newspapers anymore!) Mrs. Pincus was, of course, flattered when the reporter started asking a barrage of questions, but soon turned leery when the inquiries leaned towards Stoppy's place as a spiritual representative for the Elkins Park community.

Whoa! Whoa! And whoa!

Mrs. Pincus politely interrupted to say that she didn't feel that way at all. The whole "Stoppy" thing was just a fun little distraction. If the reporter was looking for a divine awakening from a metal traffic governor, she should look elsewhere. The reporter continued along with her prepared questions, all answered with a palpable sardonic attitude by my wife. She pressed her angle, but Mrs. Pincus stood firm on her position, refusing to be swayed. The reporter thanked my wife for her participation and told her she'd let her know when the article was to scheduled to appear in both print and online.

When I left for work on Friday, I found a torn page from the newspaper laying on our front porch. I picked it up and immediately recocognzed a color photograph of good old Stoppy. I skimmed the article as I went back into the house to wake my wife and alert her of her pending fame. I noticed that she was only quoted once and her statement is more informational fact than her opinion of the whole "Stoppy" phenomena. It was fun to see her name in print — even for something as silly as a lengthy story about the metaphysical properties of a stop sign. Throughout the day, Mrs. P received plenty of accolades from friends and acquaintances regarding her fifteen minutes of fame. And then the day went on with attention rightfully directed towards more important matters. And that would be pretty much anything.

But, this shows no signs of stopping.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

shout it out loud

Mrs. Pincus and I were driving back to Philadelphia after a weekend getaway on the southern coast of Connecticut. Although it's just a little over three hours away and Mrs. P loves to drive, we found that a quick pull-over at one of the many rest stops that dot I-95 would be just the revitalizing respite our little journey needed.

He did not live here.
This particular one was named in honor of noted inventor (and sometime asshole) Thomas Edison and sits at mile marker 92.9 on the New Jersey Turnpike. Once my excitement subsided when I realized that this was not Thomas Edison's boyhood home but just a collection of fast food joints, over-priced New Jersey souvenirs and much-appreciated public bathrooms, I happily welcomed a fresh cup of coffee from a pretentious little counter service foodery called Pret-A-Manger. 

Away in a...
We made our way past the unwashed masses gathered in the queue at the Burger King as we headed towards the unfamiliar Pret-A-Manger, whose offerings, according to the signs outside the building, included "organic coffee." Wow! That sounded pretty good/exotic/expensive. It turns out, it was just one of those. The latter, to be exact. It was burning hot and no amount of cream and sweetener could mask the overpowering bitterness of its taste. Now, my wife and I drink a lot of coffee, but we are, by no means connoisseurs. We like Wawa's coffee (a local legend among the ranks of convenience stores) and we have come around on the coffee from Dunkin Donuts (or "Dunkin" as they now wish to be called). We don't like the stuff that is peddled by java powerhouse Starbuck's. Their coffee always tastes burnt and for six bucks a pop — coffee should not taste burnt. I know we are in the minority on this opinion, but aren't we all entitled to that? (I'll answer for you. "Yes." The answer is "Yes.")

We took our lousy coffee back out to our car. For a Sunday afternoon in the middle of North Jersey, the parking lot was packed! And I do mean packed! There were barely any spaces available for weary travelers to stop, park, stretch their legs and enjoy a terrible cup of coffee. The always-prepared Mrs. P (she was a Girl Scout after all)  had packed a small cooler with yogurt, cut up vegetables and hummus and fruit to serve as a quick mid-day snack before getting back on the road for the home stretch of our trip. 

Little did we know, there would be entertainment as we ate.

Can you hear me now?
Just across from where our car was parked, a man was pacing feverishly while shouting into his cellphone. He was filled with purpose, gesturing wildly with his free hand, as he circled the confines of a rare empty parking space. Several hopeful cars slowly approached his domain only to sheepishly drive off when they saw the threat of confrontation. This guy was pissed about something! And whoever was on the receiving end of his electronic wrath was getting a good chunk of this guy's mind. Or, maybe he wasn't angry. To tell the truth, he was too far away for us to make out any actual words. He could have been happily giving praise and hearty congratulations to whoever was listening on the other end. What we did know is that he was strutting and prancing around that space like a cross between 1970s-era Mick Jagger and Al Pacino in front of the bank in Dog Day Afternoon. And he was yelling at the top of his lungs.

I can top that.
The silver car parked in the space adjacent to his territory, we realized, belonged to him. And the woman who was leaning on the open passenger-side door was his wife — or at least his traveling companion. Guess what she was doing? She was screaming into her cellphone rivaling her male counterpart. Her body language was equally as animated — flailing arms, pacing like a cornered lioness. Watching the two of them was like watching a meticulously choreographed performance. Each participant providing an individual display, yet together, their similar movements in perfect synchronization.

By this time, the man had completed all he needed to say to the party to whom he was speaking/shouting. He walked towards his car and grabbed the door handle... but suddenly let it go to return to its normal position. He then turned in the direction of the rear of his car. Fumbling momentarily with his keys, he pressed a button on a key fob and the car's truck popped open. He leaned into the trunk, obviously searching through whatever was in there to find something specific. And boy! did he. He extracted a large liquor bottle filled with dark brown liquid. He uncapped the bottle and took a healthy gulp  — not a taste or a swig — a big, chugging gulp! He looked around a bit as he replaced the bottle. I don't know who or what he was checking for, because his little afternoon nip was in full view of everyone who was parked nearby, walking to or from their cars or sitting in their vehicles (like us). Satisfied with his little "booster shot," the man got behind the steering wheel and, after a very brief verbal exchange with the woman — who had also finished her phone conversation — sped off at a speed a bit too fast for a busy parking lot filled with weary families anxious for a little rest before the last leg of vacation.

People sure can be entertaining. Especially when they don't know they're the entertainment.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

the bleeding hearts and artists

Oops! I am away again this weekend! Please enjoy this entry that appeared on my illustration blog in 2014. It's a story about the beginnings of my formal art career. — JPiC
When I graduated from high school, I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do with my life. I was working as a cashier at the women’s clothing store that my mother managed. I was planning on a career in the retail business, perhaps one day working my way up to manager myself. But, I hated the retail business and, after a year, I was ready for something else. 

I had been drawing since I was a little kid, doodling little cartoons on any spare piece of paper I could get my hands on. I decided to look into enrolling in art school, to hone and refine my natural ability and possibly make a career of it… much to the consternation of my father. My father was a butcher. He had no concept of making a living with something as intangible as — gulp! — art! So, it was understood that if I wished to embark on this frivolous notion of making a living at being an artist, I would have to finance the education portion myself. 

I got myself an interview at the Hussian School of Art, a respected establishment known throughout the small, commercial art trade in Philadelphia. I was given a brief tour of the facility — a small, cramped, loft-like area occupying three non-consecutive floors of a dilapidated building in one of the seedier sections of center city Philadelphia, situated between a multi-level adult bookstore and a homeless shelter. Afterwards, I presented my thrown-together portfolio to Ron Dove, the president of the school. Although Mr. Dove perused my offerings (comprised mostly of projects from high school art classes) with nary a change in expression, I was accepted and welcomed to be a part of the freshman class beginning in the Fall of 1980. 

The summer preceding my entrance into art school, I spent a week in Florida with some high school friends in one last fling of youth. I was about to enter the next stage of my life, a path towards responsibility and career goals and adulthood… as I tried to convince my parents and myself. 

My first class of my first day of art school was “Graphics,” a sort of catch-all that would introduce printmaking through linoleum and woodcuts, metal etchings, silk-screening and other skills I would never, ever use. I sat at a long table, listening to a long-winded speech from the teacher, matronly Mrs. Spiro, when a guy (later I would know to be “John”) seated across from me asked if I knew the time. I glanced at my watch and answered. That was the first of many friendships I would make at Hussian, kindred spirits all with the same eventual goal. 

My next class was “Drawing.” Now, we were talking. I could draw like nobody’s business. I placed my required newsprint pad on one of the many easels strewn haphazardly along the perimeter of the open studio. I selected a few slender sticks of charcoal from a box I had purchased as part of a list of mandatory supplies (including a forty dollar box of pastels that I don’t think I ever cracked the cellophane on). The teacher, a fierce little martinet named Mrs. Clement, arranged a bowl with fruit and flowers on a lacy tablecloth at the center of the room. The class collectively began to interpret the setting in charcoal. Mrs. Clement offered the harshest of criticism as she paraded around the room, weaving in and out of easels, careful not to leave any budding artist without at least one insult and proper discouragement. “Holy shit,” I thought, as Mrs. C. gleefully pointed out my artistic shortcomings, “is this what I signed up for?” 

As the semester progressed and we began to fully understand the nature and actual encouraging powers of critique, the drawing class was introduced to the next phase of subject matter. On this day, we arrived for class as usual, setting out our materials and securing a place with a good view of the small riser at the room’s center. Only this time, there was no table, no bowl, no fruit and no lacy tablecloth. Mrs. Clement, instead, silently escorted a tall woman in a bathrobe to the riser. The woman was about the same age as the majority of my classmates. She wore her mousy brown hair pulled up in a loose bun at the top of her head, tied with a small piece of ribbon. With no warning, she dropped her robe and we saw that the ribbon was the only thing on her body she wasn’t born with. A few stifled coughs split the otherwise silent studio. The woman, expressionless, raised her arms above her head and intertwined her hands with her palms to the ceiling. She arched her back and extended one long leg behind her, elegantly pointing her toes. The class stood motionless. This was quite unexpected and quite a change from a bowl of fruit. 

“She’ll be changing poses every three minutes,” Mrs. Clement barked, “so get drawing!” 

Drawing? Oh, right! That’s why I was here. 

We tried to remain as mature and adult as we possibly could, but for goodness sakes!, this woman was standing before us in all her nipples-and-pubic-hair glory, without blushing or batting an eye. Needless to say, there was a reasonable amount of squirming. True to our teacher’s word, she did, indeed, change poses every three minutes to the point where there wasn’t a square inch of that young lady’s body that we didn’t see and, eventually, draw. At one point, she seated herself in a ratty old chair and posed in some of the most immodest positions imaginable. (Didn’t your mother ever tell you “A lady crosses her legs at the ankles when seated.” Obviously, this woman had skipped finishing school.) Finally, we broke for lunch. The model put on her robe and walked to a small dressing (undressing?) room at the rear of the studio. Sue, one of my classmates, turned to me as she gathered up some of her supplies and said “She’s very graceful, isn’t she?” I replied with a nervous, cockeyed smile… as though I had just been caught with a naked woman. 

But, guess what? The naked female body is very difficult to draw, especially for someone like me, who is more comfortable doodling silly cartoon characters. As the time went on, naked women or not, I dreaded that class. Mrs. Clement was a tough and demanding instructor and the realistic drawing style that was expected of me proved very challenging. I equated it with another scenario in my life. 

During the time I attended art school, I worked in the buffet room of a dinner theater. Prior to the evening’s performance, patrons would line up to fill their plates and stuff their faces with a wide array of food. Salads, vegetables, casseroles and roast beef — which was carved by yours truly. When dinner time concluded, we closed off the buffet room and my co-workers and I began the task of cleaning up. Workers in the buffet were permitted to take as much of the leftover food before returning it to the kitchen. When I first got the job, it was a benefit to end all benefits! I piled a plate to overflowing capacity, as though I was a condemned man offered his last meal. And I did this every night. For a week. Until the novelty wore off and I never wanted to see or eat that shit again. 

That’s how I came to feel about the nude models. What started out as “Oh my God!” soon became “Ugh! Not again!?”

Sunday, August 1, 2021

put out the fire

This story was written nearly two years ago, prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic.— JPiC
Mrs. Pincus and I just returned from a cruise that departed from Port Canaveral, Florida. We opted to drive to the Sunshine State from our suburban Philadelphia home. We covered the approximate 16-hour drive over the course of two days, leaving on a Thursday before the sun came up and taking the second leg at a more leisurely pace. We arrived at our destination — a somewhat seedy Best Western motel in Titusville that offered a shuttle and parking for the length of our trip — in the late afternoon on Friday. At the conclusion of our cruise, we hopped into our waiting car for the return trip. We got a late start, but pressed on through the south until Mrs Pincus had had it for the day. I secured a room at a Hampton Inn in Lumberton, North Carolina and we headed across the street to a shopping center to grab a quick take-out dinner to enjoy in our room.

Mrs. P had noticed a sign for "Firehouse Subs," a chain for which I had seen commercials but never had the opportunity to patronize. Actually, we are kind of partial to a few Philadelphia sandwich shops, regularly steering clear of the Subway chain after several "less-than-favorable" experiences over the years. Honestly, I don't even know if there are Firehouse Subs in our area. (A quick Google search shows me that the closest one to my house is 13.1 miles away..... pass.) Curiously, the commercials for Firehouse Subs stuck with me, as I found it unusual that they focused primarily on the fact that each purchase benefited community firefighters. There were numerous shots of firefighters in full gear, along with scenes of fire stations, fire fighting equipment and fire engines. There was little mention of the food or even if it was good.

Anxious to eat after a long drive, we decided to give Firehouse Subs a try. How bad could it be? Besides, it certainly wasn't going to be our last meal ever.

The brightly-light store was nearly deserted. One table was occupied by a burly man clad in the uniform of local law enforcement. He stared off into space as he shoved the final bit of a drippy sub into his maw. We turned our attention to the massive and way-too-confusing menu board that covered the entire wall behind the food prep area. The overly-wordy menu was dotted with impossibly delicious-looking subs, piled high with succulent meats and colorful vegetables glistening with fresh-washed goodness. Now, Mrs. Pincus and I don't eat meat. Actually, I never eat meat and Mrs P follows a strictly kosher diet, so when we eat outside of our home, we both eat as vegetarians. Firehouse Subs doesn't seem to accommodate the vegetarian diet, offering a single "Veggie" sub among its numerous animal-flesh options. We asked the young lady at the cash register about a custom sandwich containing just cheese and vegetables. She stared back at us, as though we had addressed her in an African Khoisan language that employs a series of "clicks." It took several attempts at an explanation until she simply stated that we could just order a meat sub without the meat. (For a second, I felt like Jack Nicholson ordering wheat toast in Five Easy Pieces.) Mrs. P specified that she did not want deli mustard, but would prefer cucumbers on her sandwich. I asked that my sandwich did not include tomatoes. The young lady seemed to understand our request and set off to begin preparing our order. We paid and our receipt was handed down the assembly line to another disinterested young lady who would be tasked with assembling our sandwiches. The unusually high counter prevented us from watching our order being made, making it impossible to see that deli mustard was liberally applied on the roll that would contain Mrs. Pincus' sub (without the requested cucumbers) and that my sandwich was topped with two thick slices of tomato.

During the way-too-long preparation process (the place was empty of customers), two more young ladies, dressed in Firehouse Subs uniforms, bounded through the front door, carrying a cardboard tray laden with an assortment of hot and cold drinks from the Starbucks next door. They squealed with delight as they distributed the various liquid concoctions to the other Firehouse Subs employees. The distribution was accompanied by a detailed play-by-play recap of the entire ordering process at Starbucks. Suddenly, the fulfilling of our sandwich order took a back seat as full attention was given to the frothy and condensation-covered cups from Starbucks, along with additional analyzation of each individual beverage order. Finally, our sandwiches were wrapped in Firehouse Subs branded paper and placed in Firehouse Subs branded hinged trays, then into a large Firehouse Subs branded bag with a wad of Firehouse Subs napkins.
Nothing at Firehouse Subs looks like this.

We returned to our hotel room. I emptied the bag and Mrs. P ripped the bag in two, creating improvised place mats. We each opened our trays and unwrapped our subs. In no way did they come close to resembling those beautiful photos on the  menu board. They were misshapen, sloppy, drippy assemblages, flattened by the too-small containers and fairly unappetizing. But, it was 9:30 and we had been stuck in the car all day. So we suffered. And I picked the tomatoes off my sub before I ate it.

Mrs. Pincus fired off an email to the folks at Firehouse Subs, recounting the dissatisfaction with our experience. Surprisingly, they responded pretty quickly with a very apologetic reply. They told us that the issue would be addressed at a staff meeting and subsequent training would be implemented. They reiterated that everything we experienced goes against company policy and they hoped the offer of a gift card would entice us to return for a second chance. My wife thanked them for the offer. She said we would be happy to give it another try, but a little closer to home. Lumberton, North Carolina is a little far to go for a disappointing sandwich.


Sunday, July 25, 2021

down by the riverside

After a year and a half of confinement, Mrs. Pincus and I sprang from our quarantine central for a weekend jaunt to Jamestown, New York. Sure, Jamestown is not first on anyone's list as a "must-see vacation destination." It did, however, meet certain criteria. First, Jamestown is a six-hour drive from our home. My wife loves to drive and hates to fly, so this trip seemed a good fit. Second, it is the home of the National Comedy Center, a museum that houses a comprehensive collection of all things geared towards evoking laughter, from the slapstick to the cerebral and every silly thing in between. Jamestown is also the home of the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Museum. It is no coincidence that Jamestown is the birthplace of Lucy and also the location of a museum that chronicles her life, both personal and professional. Personally, I am not a fan of the famous redhead, but Mrs. P and I are drawn to Hollywood kitsch, so this was right up our alley. We imagined taking the tour with the same attitude as when we toured Graceland. We found ourselves in the overwhelming minority among a reverent flock of Elvis disciples on a pilgrimage to their own version of Mecca. The Lucy-Desi experience wasn't nearly as intense, but seeing Lucy's shoes from Season 4, Episode 11 didn't give me the same thrill as it did other guests.

The museums aren't the only "Lucy-centric" attractions in the Jamestown area. Just outside of Jamestown, in the tiny hamlet of Celoron, is Lucille Ball Memorial Park. This lovely little expanse of land sits on the banks of Chautauqua Lake. Dotted with benches, a playground with modern jungle gyms, swings and a few picnic pavilions, the park sports not one but two statues of its hometown hero and namesake. The star attraction is a beautiful sculpture depicting the so-called "Queen of Comedy" wistfully posing in a polka-dot dress, a wide smile across her instantly recognizable face. It rests atop a marble base, still accessible to the adoring public but lifting the figure just high enough to reinforce its sense of importance. The truth is, this sculpture is the second one to be displayed in Lucille Ball Memorial Park. The first one, installed in 2009, is frightening. The stoop-shouldered figure with its ghastly expression, clutches a realistic-looking bottle of Vitameatavegamin from a memorable 1952 episode of I Love Lucy, but bares absolutely no likeness to the late comedian. After much complaint and controversy, a new statue was commissioned and installed in 2016. The "Scary Lucy," as it became known locally, was moved about 75 feet away. During its seven years in a spot of prominence, it garnered its own legion of fans. Sadly, the artist who produced the original has since announced that he has abandoned his sculpting efforts.

A short drive from the park is the childhood home of Lucille Ball. A simple looking dwelling, distinctive from its neighbors by the blue-and-white polka-dotted garage in the backyard, sits in the middle of, what is obviously newly-named, Lucy Lane (No relation to Lois. That's in Metropolis.). Lucy only lived in this house for a short time in her early life. A lawsuit and subsequent settlement over an accidental shooting in the the family's backyard, forced Lucy's beloved grandfather into debt. He lost this home, sending Lucy, her mother, brother, stepfather and cousin to find living accommodations elsewhere. However, Lucy maintained a connection to Jamestown, and often visited her childhood home once she became a popular movie and TV star.

After a full day of touristy activities, Mrs. Pincus and I made our way to a restaurant just a stone's throw from Lucille Ball Memorial Park. The park is actually adjacent to a large and active marina. The restaurant is hidden, obscured from the view of any travelers on Boulevard Avenue by several enormous dry dock buildings offering shelter to various boats in various stages of repair. The nondescript building of The Main Landing is haphazardly decorated in a vaguely nautical theme, with weathered pylons, stained rope fishing nets and a few sea-related sculptures that looked like they came straight from the garden department at Home Depot. In the planning of our little trip, Mrs. Pincus secured an online discount for this particular restaurant. Based on the menu we reviewed on their Facebook page, we figured "Eh... how bad could it be?" Not exactly a glowing expectation, but we were only in town for one night and it would not be our last meal before being strapped into the electric chair, so — as they say — what the heck!

We pulled up and parked our car on a plot of wet grass in front of The Main Landing's elevated porch. There were two other cars already parked when we arrived. On the front door was a poorly worded, computer printed sign warning those who enter to be prepared for a possible lengthy wait for service, as they are short staffed. The sign's sentiment was very blunt and not the least bit apologetic in tone. Guests enter The Main Landing to a small bar area. Here, we were "greeted" (if you can call it a "greeting") by a harried woman behind the bar, a scowl on her face. Another woman in an apron, smiling and much friendlier, asked if it would be just the two of us for dinner. The woman at the bar, with a hoarse voice tinged from too many years of tobacco abuse, suddenly barked, "Do you have a reservation?"

My wife spoke up. "I didn't know we needed one." I glanced around the small, but very empty dining room. There was a couple with a baby at a table in one corner. Another table afforded seating for a family that appeared to be celebrating something, as betrayed by a cake at the center of their dinner spread. The rest of the tables remained empty, set and silent, waiting for those many, many reservations to be fulfilled. The time was approximately 6 PM. The restaurant closed at 7:30 — another curiosity for a dining establishment in a summer tourist area near a marina. And one with a bar.

The aproned woman quickly ran interference. "We'll be fine. We can seat you without a reservation." The woman at the bar interrupted, delivering an angry ultimatum, "Okay, we can seat just you two, but after that — no more!" We were dumbfounded. Apparently, we looked as though we were running a separate service for customers wishing immediate seating and skirting the reservations requirement. The woman in the apron grabbed a couple of laminated menus and led us to one of the many empty tables. As we took our seats, she whispered an apology. "I am so sorry. She had no right to speak to you that way. You don't need a reservation. She's the owner, but she should know better." Then she added, "I'm the owner now. I'll take care of you." It was very reminiscent of the chilling line from Captain Phillips and had somewhat of the same effect.

My wife and I perused the menu, looking for some sort of seafood that would fit into our limited seafood diet. (Although I am a vegetarian, I do eat some fish. I suppose that makes me a pescatarian. My wife and I also observe kashrut [keeping kosher], so any shell-wearing, bottom-feeding, shit-eating denizen from the deep is not up for inclusion on our dinner plate.) I selected baked haddock, prepared in an Italian style with peppers and tomatoes. My spouse chose grilled salmon prepared in a... grilled style. We decided to split a baked brie appetizer. Actually, we were trying to build up the total, as our discount was half off a final bill of $50 or more. The aproned woman took our order and disappeared. Nearly fifteen minutes later, a different young lady filled our water glasses and asked if we'd like something from the bar. Mrs. P ordered a glass of sangria. Not a regular imbiber of alcoholic beverages, she likes sangria. Plus, at nine bucks a glass, it was guaranteed to further drive up our final bill.

We waited for our dinner to arrive. We watched as the dining room remained empty and the clock ticked closer to closing time. The couple with the baby left. The celebrating family lingered. Only two additional tables welcomed occupants, none of whom I heard being questioned as to their efforts to secure a reservation. After a long wait — well, we were warned by the sign on the door — our dinner was served. In all honesty, it was pretty good. I admit, that came as a surprise. I really expected it to bland and forgettable. But, I enjoyed it. The fish and accompanying broccoli were both delicious. The tomato and pepper garnish was delicious as well. My Pincus was just as satisfied by her salmon. There was something missing, however. While I cannot speak for the dining practices and customs in Western New York, where I come from, appetizers are usually served before the main course. If they are served once the main course is completed, they go by a different name. They call it "dessert." Our appetizer was on the path to meet a similar fate.

It took some time, but we finally got the attention of the woman in the apron. She came to our table to ask how everything was going and to apologize again for the owner's behavior. Waiting for a break in her conversation, Mrs. Pincus pointed out that we never got our baked brie. By this time, we were both nearly finished our meal. (Oh, and those multitudes of reservation holders were all no-shows.) The aproned woman launched into a new set of apologies and offered to bring out our appetizer immediately. In half the time it took for our dinners to show, the brie was placed on our table with a tray of assorted crackers. A small wheel of brie was drenched in candied pecans and maple syrup. Despite being listed on the "Appetizer" section of the menu, it was sweet enough to be called "dessert." But, since we were on vacation, we ordered another dessert anyway. Our choice was something touted as "Chocolate Lasagna." While its name was indeed cute, this frozen concoction was not remotely like lasagna. It was an ice cream sandwich covered in caramel and crushed chocolate toffee. It was pretty good, too.

During the course of our meal, the woman from the bar strolled the dining to and stopped to chit-chat with the folks at the tables near us. From the tone of their conversation, they were obviously regular customers. She laughed and joked and their exchange had a lively air. She walked silently past us on her way to an outdoor deck at the rear of the building where she continued her jolly banter with a couple of shirtless young men donning life jackets and heading down a narrow, wood-planked dock towards a waiting boat. She leaned against a wooden post and gazed dreamily as they boarded and tooled out of the marina area. She waved.

When it came time to pay, the online discount encountered some trouble. We have experienced similar difficulty with this same website at several different restaurants. The gist of the situation was that, according to the website, our discount had already been used. After a bit of discussion and possible solutions to our dilemma, the woman at the bar changed her previous attitude. She became concerned and accommodating and offered to give us the discount no matter if the website told otherwise. Her complete "one-eighty" personality metamorphosis was unexpected. Welcome, yes — but decidedly unexpected.

A little closer to home, I would absolutely be inclined to never return to this restaurant again. Considering that we saw all we intended or needed to see in Jamestown, New York — our experience with The Main Landing yielded the same result. The food was good. The attitude was strange. And it's six hours away.

We can eat good food and get treated like crap right here at home.