Sunday, May 30, 2021

break of dawn: reprise

Two years ago, I posted a story about my friend Dawn, a girl I knew in my youth. Dawn and I were very close friends, but we drifted apart and eventually lost touch with each other around 1979. I encourage you to read that story (HERE'S the link) before continuing with this one. It'll only take a few minutes and it will give this story better understanding. Go ahead. I'll wait....

Wow. That was quick. Are you sure you read it? 'Cause you'll appreciate this post more if you did.

Well, the story of Dawn garnered 48 comments — from people I don't know — when I reposted it on a private Facebook group concerned with growing up in Northeast Philadelphia. I received many comments from people who had a similar experience and lost touch with a close friend — or, in some cases, a first love. Several folks asked for a follow-up report, in case I chose to further continue my on-again-off-again pursuit for Dawn. Interestingly, mixed in with the comments were a few leads on how I could track Dawn down after all these years. People my age on Facebook certainly have presented themselves as "yentas."  

Well, seeing as I had a lot of time on my hands — what with zero employment prospects and a worldwide pandemic. I decided to conduct a little bit more of my investigation. A couple of Google searches led me to LinkedIn, the business networking website. I had been semi-active on LinkedIn for years and I, very quickly, was able to locate Dawn under her married name. I sent a request to "Join Her Network" and sat back to wait. Actually, I had forgotten all about it, despite a few persistent members of the Facebook group contacting me to see if I heard anything.

Nearly a month after I sent my request, I got a LinkedIn notification of acceptance from a name that I didn't recognize. I jogged my memory and realized it was Dawn. I sent a simple reply through LinkedIn's messaging service, not too pushy and not overanxious. I merely said "Hi Dawn! How have you been?" Almost 15 minutes later, Dawn replied. Look... I understand that few people spend as much time online as I do, but I thought that 15 minutes was a lengthy period to get a response from someone I hadn't seen in 40 years. Especially someone with whom I was so close. I don't want to read anything into this... so I won't. Dawn said: "Hi Josh! Doing good... can't complain... how's about u?" 

You didn't think I'd really
post her photo, did you?
I thought this was sort of odd. I didn't detect a shred of excitement. It was as though we converse regularly and had been doing so for years. (Damn! There I go again! Looking for some hidden meaning.) We messaged for a bit - our respective replies at intervals of 30 to 40 minutes apart. I sent her the link to the story I wrote about her and our relationship. After a time where, I assume, she read the story, she made a comparison to a show she watches on Netflix. I dispensed with chit-chat and fired the first salvo. I asked if she was married and if she had children. She told me that she has been married for 22 years with no children. Now, we were getting somewhere! Without waiting to be asked, I told her that Mrs. Pincus and I just celebrated 36 years of marriage and our son just turned 33. Dawn's reaction was: "Holy cow!! That is awesome Josh! Wow...." I thought that was sweet and very reminiscent of the Dawn I remembered. I sent her a link to my illustration blog with a bit of background explanation. I didn't hear a reply until the next morning. That reply was simply: "Pretty cool." In a subsequent message, I explained to Dawn that I had some pressing personal matters that I had to address, but I want to catch up. I was so happy that we re-connected and I want to hear about what she's been doing and where her life has led her. 

Her reply was one I never expected. 

She said: "As you know each marriage has its own intricacies and complexities that perhaps outsiders wouldn't understand. While it would be fun to chat and catch up on the last 40 yrs, my husband and I have a marriage that neither one of us really has separate friends of the opposite sex. I just wouldn't feel comfortable catching up.. our marriage is based on respect and I wouldn't do what I wouldn't want done to me. It is nothing at all against you.. as I said, these 22 yrs are working well for each of us and I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize it. And again, it's nothing at all against you Josh. You are a good person and I have nothing but fond memories of our friendship." I read and reread this several times, just to make sure I understood it. And I understood it alright. I thought back and it hit me that maybe this was the reason that none of my friends went on a second date with Dawn. 

I shared my correspondence with Dawn with my wife every step of the way. That's because my wife and I have a marriage that is actually based on mutual respect and trust. What Dawn describes sounded like something very different from the definition of "trust" that is familiar to me. When I read the final sentiment from Dawn, the always reliable, always sharp Mrs. P smiled and said "Bye, Felicia!" 

I have a friend who is a singer-songwriter. He wrote a song called "The Notion." The song is about how the idea of someone is sometimes better that the actual someone. It's a pretty astute observation. I think my memories — as fond as they are — of Dawn have been skewed and clouded by time. Perhaps I wasn't really aware of the real reason we parted ways so many years ago. So, this tale has come to an ending, just maybe not the ending you expected. 

Well.... that makes two of us.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

and we'll all float on okay

This story was written prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic, when going to a store and interacting with other humans at close range was a normal occurrence. — JPiC
I am — by no means — handy. Anything outside of changing a light bulb leaves me baffled. Sometimes even that simple task is a bit overwhelming.  If something in my house needs repair, I am very quick to call and pay someone to fix it. Someone who isn't me. 

Three years ago, I changed the flapper ball at the bottom of the toilet tank in my thrid-floor bathroom. This was quite an undertaking. Really. First, I had to figure out how to turn off the water supply to the toilet tank. Then I had to empty the tank and remove the old, broken flapper ball. I took the spent piece to Home Depot to compare it to the shiny new ones on display, making certain I was buying an exact duplicate that would fit snugly (and correctly) in the hole at the bottom of the tank. I checked and rechecked, holding the gummy, black hunk of rubber up against the pristine packaged specimens. When I got home, the actual replacing was surprisingly simple. The whole job took just a minute or two and the toilet was back flushing the way it was the day before. I was quite proud of myself and I secretly hoped that I would never have to attempt another repair in my house again.

Last Sunday, I heard the water running in the toilet in our second-floor bathroom. I went in, jiggled the flush handle and waited until the mechanism in the tank properly seated itself and stopped the last few trickles of water. It didn't. I jiggled it again. Still, I heard the annoying sound of running water.

"That sounds like it is coming from upstairs." my wife informed me. I climbed the stairs to the third floor and was greeted by the loud sound of running water. I removed the lid to the toilet tank — the one I so expertly repaired two years ago — and saw, to my horror, that the plastic float ball was bobbing in the nearly-filled tank. It was unnaturally perpendicular to the thin brass rod to which it was attached. The little threaded plastic collar had snapped and was hanging on to the rod by a tiny shred of plastic. Even to the uninitiated, this did not look right. I knew the float ball would have to be replaced. From past experience, I turned off the water supply to the tank and made a mental note to stop at Home Depot on my way home from work. We have three bathrooms in our house, so this would not be too much of an inconvenience.

On my way home from work the next day, I did indeed stop at Home Depot. I don't go to Home Depot too often. Aside from the light bulb aisle and that one time I bought a new flapper ball for my toilet, I don't have much use for a lot of the stuff they sell. I located the "toilet repair" aisle and began my quest for a toilet float ball. Now, I worked in my father-in-law's hardware store for twenty-five years and I just saw a broken one in my toilet tank at home, so I knew what they looked like. I looked up and down the aisle. I saw flush handles and wax rings (for attaching the toilet bowl to the floor) and all sorts of nuts and bolts... but no float balls. I saw an awful lot of packaged toilet fill valves in various configurations.... but no float balls. I saw every possible component that would allow me to construct an entire toilet from scratch.... except there were no float balls. I looked at shelves that I had looked at three and four times half-expecting a huge box of toilet float balls to magically appear.

All during the time I was carefully scanning the shelves, there was a Home Depot employee ignoring me as he opened cartons and placed a few more display trays of toilet fill valves from different manufacturers. I cleared my throat and reluctantly asked where I could find a toilet float ball. I hate to ask employees where things are in their stores. I have come to understand that they don't know where anything is and they don't care if you ever find it. They hate their jobs and just want the evening to end.

The Home Depot employee looked up from his work and replied, "We don't carry them. That's for an old toilet. No one uses them. They use these now." He pointed to the shiny packages of toilet fill valves that took up most of the shelf space in the aisle. He picked up one of the packages and pointed to a small plastic cylinder that was wrapped around a larger plastic cylinder. "This replaces the float ball.," he explained. I frowned as he continued. "They sell them in this kit, but you gotta buy the whole kit." He showed me a sealed plastic bag that contained a few plastic pieces including a toilet float ball. The shelf tag proclaimed a retail price of just over thirteen dollars. I frowned again and announced "I'll pass." I quickly left Home Depot.

When I got home, I did a quick Google search to see if a toilet float ball was still "a thing." The search results told me that it was. Amazon had them. Walmart had them. And, according to their website, Home Depot had them, too... just not one near me. 

My next day's commute home was interrupted by a hopeful stop at Lowes and Walmart, conveniently located next to each other. Lowes' toilet repair aisle was nearly identical to the one at Home Depot, except all of the orange decorative trim was blue. Their shelves sported the same items including a wide assortment of newfangled toilet valve kits which had — allegedly — caused the extinction of the toilet float ball. I left Lowes, not even considering asking any employee for assistance. I went over to Walmart and found their plumbing department even less stocked, but featuring the same goddamned toilet valve kits.

This was getting ridiculous. How could a piece of such simple technology just become wiped clean from existence? Did someone actually build a better mousetrap that replaced a tried-and-true mousetrap so quickly and completely? In addition, I was now three days without an auxiliary toilet in my house.

The next day, I came straight home from work and ordered a toilet float ball from Amazon for four dollars. Two days later, a big padded envelope with a big bulge in it arrived on my front porch. I tore the envelope open on my way up the stairs to my third floor. I lifted the lid of the toilet tank. I removed the old, broken float ball and tossed it in the trash. I worked the new float ball onto the threaded brass rod. Once it was screwed on as far as it could go, I turned the water supply back on. I could hear the rush of water and the new float ball leveled off at the water line in the tank. Then all was silent. I briefly admired my handiwork, as though I just whacked a perfectly pitched fastball over the outfield fence. Finally, I carefully replaced the tank lid.

And, as of right now, Pincus Plumbing Repair is officially out of business.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

fooling yourself

Plenty of people have called me "dumb" or "stupid" or "foolish" in my life. I am the first one to admit when that is applicable. Unfortunately, it is more often than I'd like. Let me warn you. This post might have you calling me some names. 

For years now, since I was diagnosed with hypertension, I have been starting my day with a bowl of cereal. My doctor believed that it would be beneficial to my health if I ate breakfast every morning and, for the most part, I listen to my doctor... except when I don't. So — on doctor's orders — I eat breakfast. And my cereal of choice is something sensible, unlike my selections when I was a kid. No loops comprised of "froot" or "smacks" glazed with "honey" (or "sugar" if you are as old as I am). Nothing with mini marshmallows or indeterminate shapes that rip apart the roof of my mouth. No, my cereal choices are limited and I have opted for Cheerios.

In 1941, General Mills introduced "Cheerioats," later shortening the name to "Cheerios." They were an extruded circle of tasteless grain that weren't the least bit enhanced by the addition of milk. Touted by the likes of "Cheeri O'Leery," a cute little cartoon character that interacted with the top stars of the day, and later "The Cheerio Kid," an All-American boy who got his muscles from Cheerios, the cereal was a top seller for years. In 1976, over 35 years after its initial introduction, Cheerios offered an alternative flavor - Cinnamon Cheerios. Three years later, they premiered Honey Nut Cheerios. By the time I started to eat breakfast on a daily basis, Honey Nut Cheerios was the top selling brand of cereal in the United States.
I like Honey Nut Cheerios. I like them a lot. I go through a box approximately every ten days. To be honest, I don't require a lot of variety in what I eat. I have been eating a bowl of cereal every day for the past seven years and the overwhelming majority of those bowls have been filled with Honey Nut Cheerios. Every once in a while, I decide to switch to another kind of cereal, but I always find myself coming back to Honey Nut Cheerios. As a matter of fact, while I am eating a different kind of cereal, I try to  calculate how much longer the contents of the box will last until I can return to my old stand-by. I don't want to be wasteful. I will dutifully eat a bowl of cereal that I do not like just to finish it off. It won't be the last thing I ever eat (until it actually is), so I eat and grin and bear it. 

My usual choice — when I stray from Honey Nut Cheerios — is Quaker Corn Chex. These are awful. They are thin, sharp-edged squares that are reminiscent of eating milk-soaked throwing stars. "Corn" is actually the most appealing flavor of the available "Chex" line of cereal that includes wheat, rice and their own version of a honey nut flavor. I have not tried their take on honey nut, but based on the blandness of the ones I have tried, I will pass for now. Chex has produced and discontinued a number of flavors over the years. I imagine they all lacked any sort of taste and decided to stick with the unpalatable originals. I have tried various versions of fruit-infused cereal including several varieties of raisin bran, blueberry and strawberry Cheerios and a limited edition box of frosted flakes labeled "banana creme" with a smiling Tony the Tiger offering up a brimming bowl of the stuff. The freshly-opened box emitted a fake, chemically, laboratory-conceived aroma of bananas. The flakes themselves appeared to be standard Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, but the overpowering smell made them difficult to consume. But consume them I did and, after ten days, I happily tossed the flattened yellow-hued box into the recycling bin. 

I have tried to introduce 
regular Frosted Flakes into my cereal rotation, but they are coated with a ridiculous amount of sugar. I don't remember them being so sweet when I was a kid, or, perhaps I'm just more sensitive to sugar since I stopped eating candy bars and ice cream and stopped drinking soda. So, I always seem to gravitate back to Honey Nut Cheerios. I don't know why I keep straying. All of the cereal I eat that isn't Honey Nut Cheerios, I do not like! As a matter of fact, when we are compiling our weekly shopping list, I have told my wife to add Honey Nut Cheerios on a regular basis. I have also said that if I ever ask for anything but Honey Nut Cheerios, just write "Honey Nut Cheerios" anyway — no matter what I ask for. It has become a running joke in the Pincus house. Mrs. P asks if I need cereal. I answer "yes, I do" and I mention that I'd like to try something different. She laughs and — not matter what I say — she adds "Honey Nut Cheerios" to the list. I have gone so far as to request Gerber's baby cereal, the likes of which have not seen the inside of my house in over thirty years and she writes "Honey Nut Cheerios" as she nods her head in agreement.

Today, however, I managed to convince her to purchase something called "Cheerios Cinnamon Oat Crunch." I don't know... it was late at night... we were tired... Mrs. Pincus was reviewing our shopping list for an early morning curb-side pick-up and I nonchalantly snuck the request in as though it was another head of lettuce. All I know is... as soon as I finish the box of Honey Nut Cheerios I am currently working on, I will crack open that box of Cheerios Cinnamon Oat Crunch, fill up a bowl, add milk and prepare myself for more disappointment.
Almost as disappointing as reading an entire blog post about me and my eating cereal habits.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

what's new pussycat?

I guess it's time for a little explanation. If you follow me on other social media outlets (and — face it — why wouldn't you?), you probably have seen pictures of a mature black and white cat keeping a watchful eye atop a set of cement steps and a white wooden doorway whose frame is in need of a fresh coat of paint. As far as I'm concerned, this stoic little fellow is named Ambrose.


Probably not.

I love Kung Fu
My wife and I became active walkers well over a year ago. And by "active," I mean "active for our age." We are not in training for a 5K or a 10K or any other K that may exist. (I thought "K" stood for "strikeout." I don't know what it means in relation to walking or running.) We like the exercise and, as we approach the twilight of our lives, a bit of leisurely exercise is a good thing. We're not trying to break any records. We just want to stay healthy. So, instead of purchasing some bulky piece of commercial exercise equipment that will only become an expensive clothes rack after the initial novelty wears off, Mrs. Pincus and I do a couple of rounds around to block as often as possible. Like David Carradine's "Kwai Chang Caine," we walk the earth — seeing what we can see and meeting who we can meet. Mrs. P sees people she knows and even waves to people she doesn't know. We find unusual things along the way, like discarded full meals still wrapped in the logo-emblazoned paper from McDonald's and, more recently, a trail of newly-discarded face masks as though Hansel and Gretel were blazing a path but still trying to keep COVID-19 at bay. 

Most days, we take the same route. Actually I follow my wife's lead, since she knows the neighborhood better than I do — even though I have lived here for thirty-five years. Some days we head to the right once we've exited the house and descended our porch steps. But, most days, we head south on our suburban Philadelphia street. It's on this route that we see Ambrose.

A mere four houses away, Ambrose surveys his feline kingdom from the top step of the stone and wood house of our unseen neighbors. Ambrose watches regally as I fumble in my pocket for my cell phone. He waits patiently as I awkwardly enter the passcode and scroll to the camera icon. He poses obligingly when I raise my phone to eye level and snap off a couple of quick pictures. Then, he watches as Mrs. Pincus and I continue on our little jaunt around the block — or sometimes even further. If we happen to double back on our return trip to our house, taking a portion of the same homebound route as we started out on, Ambrose is frequently in the same position as earlier. Sometimes, he has dozed off behind one of the large cement urns that flank our neighbor's front door. Sometimes, he has stretched himself out upon the welcome mat, experiencing a slightly different perspective of his domain. Rarer, though, Ambrose is gone, perhaps off to chase a bird or a mouse or to see what awaits him in the backyard.

In the winter, although we kept up our regular walking habits, Ambrose had vacated his usual spot, opting — no doubt — for a warmer place. Cats can always find a place to keep warm. But once spring returned and the warming sun was out, Ambrose was back, silently surveying the area. 

Ambrose has a tendency to disappear for days at a time. We've passed his familiar steps and, sadly.... no Ambrose. Day after day, we walked slowly by our neighbor's house, craning our necks to hopefully catch a glimpse of Ambrose lurking behind a bush. Then, one day, Ambrose would reappear at the top of the steps  staring at us with his confident look, letting us know that he would not be offering an explanation of his absense.

As you may have seen, I post a picture of Ambrose whenever I see him. Mrs. Pincus gets a little nervous when I stop to take a picture. "What will you say if someone comes out of the house and asks why you are taking a picture of their cat?," she asks.

"I'll just explain that Ambrose has a little following on my social media." I reply.

The problem is — if the owner hears my explanation, the first thing they'll say is: "Who the hell is 'Ambrose?'"

You see, we named him "Ambrose." We actually don't know this cat's name. There's a good chance it's "Fluffy" or "Whiskers" or "Misty." There's a better chance that it's not "Ambrose."

Sunday, May 2, 2021

metal heath will drive you mad

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by those old guys who roamed the beach with metal detectors. On family trips to Atlantic City, I could always count on a few things. My parents would take my brother and me to the beach. My dad would gingerly wade into the ocean while wearing his sunglasses, indicating that he had no intention of putting his head anywhere near the water. Then he would invariably disappear from the beach, sneaking off to watch the slick-talking hucksters set up on the Boardwalk demonstrating those "handy-dandy" vegetable peelers/cutters that the likelihood of his purchasing one were about as good as his putting his head in the ocean water.

We could always rely on my mom buying an ice cream treat from one of those borderline-homeless guys who toted their frozen wares in a dented cooler, layered alternately with rock-hard dairy products on a stick and dangerous, but tempting, dry ice. We could also be sure that we'd see at least one old guy (but there were usually more) in torn shorts and a faded, threadbare t-shirt following his extended metal detector around like a handler displaying a prize-winning show dog. We would often see these mysterious figures in the early morning hours on the infrequent occasion that we were renting bicycles to ride on the Boardwalk. (Always with my mom. Never my dad). As the sun was slowly rising over the ocean, the silhouettes of these guys wandered intently in the freshly-combed sand, a pair of large headphones enveloping their heads under a ratty, but concealing straw hat. They'd listen closely for little "beeps" or "boops" indicating the presence of some hidden metallic treasure just below the sandy surface — or twenty feet below the sandy surface. It was a crap shoot.

Seeing these treasure seekers was a true sign that summer had arrived. Just like popping a salt water taffy in your mouth or flicking a wooden ball down a Skee-Ball alley, an unkept old guy on the beach with a metal detector let you know that school was out, surf was up and summer had begun. 

Did any of these determined fellows ever find anything of any real value? I'm not sure. Obviously, they did have the funds with which to purchase a metal detector. Perhaps they were just digging in a random spot on the beach and they discovered a long-forgotten pirate chest... or a wallet stuffed with twenties. Whatever the case, they were able to purchase a much-needed piece of equipment to assist in their quest for additional wealth. I surmise, however, that since they are still scouring the beaches, they are not yet financially sound and must continue their search in order to make ends meet. Or maybe greed is their motivation

The absurdity of their quest became even funnier to me as I got older. In 1991, children's network Nickelodeon broadcast a thirty-minute special that eventually became a series called The Adventures of Pete & Pete. It chronicled the quirky exploits of one Pete Wrigley and his little brother, also named Pete. This special focused on the Wrigley brothers encounter and subsequent search for their friend, Mr. Tastee, the local ice cream truck driver. Along the way, they visit a beach, where, with the aid of his trusty metal detector, the senior Mr. Wrigley finds a 1978 Cutlass Supreme buried in the sand. My son and I roared with laughter as the Petes helped Dad unearth the car and drive home in it. (That's right! It was buried with a full tank of gas!) I was immediately reminded of those optimistic old men on the Atlantic City Beach, wishing for a similar reward.

Just a few days ago, Mrs. Pincus and I were circling the block on our daily afternoon walk, when I spotted a familiar figure in nearby High School Park. Fifty or so feet into a large expanse of neatly-trimmed grass, in the shadow of some landscaped shade trees, there was an older man in ragged pants, faded t-shirt and straw hat methodically ambling about with a metal detector at arm's length. I suppose April is too soon for the beach, so perhaps he was keeping his finding skills sharp until that time when he could trade his sneakers for sandals and his ragged pants for ragged shorts.

There are coins or jewelry waiting to be found. Maybe even a Cutlass Supreme.