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.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

walking with a ghost

I am on vacation this weekend, so here is a story that appeared on my illustration blog in 2010. It's a pretty funny story. It's is also a true story. Aside from the humorous subject and outcome of the story, it is interesting how much has changed in a mere eleven years. The boy who is the main character just completed his first year of college. I'm not sure if he has overcome his fears, though. My eldest niece, who is referenced three times, is now 41 and the mother of a pretty rambunctious seven-year old. My brother-in-law and his wife have been separated for over a year.  My eight-year old niece is now a high school graduate and is transgender.— JPiC

“A baby is an alimentary canal with a loud voice at one end and no responsibility at the other.”

Several evenings ago, there was a family dinner at my in-law’s house. My wife and I attended, along with my wife’s younger brother, his wife and two daughters, ages… um… somewhere between four and eight… or something close to that. Also on the guest list were my wife’s cousin, her husband and two young sons, both in the approximate age range of my nieces. My thirty-year-old niece was there too, but since she is relatively well-behaved and doesn’t fit into the “child” category anymore, she will merit merely this mention in the story. 

Dinner proceeded like most dinners, with cross-table conversation punctuated by clinking glasses, rattling flatware and my father-in-law rolling his eyes in exasperation and saying, “I can’t hear you.” As usual, the children picked, uninterested, at their meals and bolted from the table early while the adults lingered over their plates. My eldest niece (Hmmm! Two mentions!) stealthily began the preliminary clearing of the table to ready it for dessert. The living room, adjacent to the dining room, came alive with the unruly loudness of four rambunctious young cousins. The noise settled slightly after a visit by one of the parents  impatiently prompted by my father-in-law. Still, the muffled sounds of children’s voices could be heard, though no actual words could be discerned. 

The hushed tones from the living room, it would soon be revealed, was my niece (not the thirty-year old. Jeez! Three mentions!) recounting the legend of Bloody Mary for the benefit of her cousin. The tale of Bloody Mary, for those who never attended camp, never attended a public school or was never a kid surrounded by other kids, is a word-of-mouth ghost story. Although it has various origins and numerous colloquial nuances, the basic story remains. The evil spirit of a woman of undetermined background can be invoked by facing a mirror in a darkened room (usually the claustrophobic confines of a bathroom) and reciting her name  “Bloody Mary”  a specific number of times (anywhere from three to a hundred, depending on whose giving the instructions). My niece, at eight years of age, is a voracious reader, an avid TV and movie junkie and, just like her father at that age, a budding horror fan. Unfortunately, most children are scared shitless by things of that nature, and much to her delight, her slightly older yet very impressionable boy cousin was no exception. And judging by the sly smile spread across her lips, she knew that would be the result. 

As the evening wound down, my wife’s cousin rounded up her family and, as all good mothers are prone to do, insisted that her children visit the bathroom before the long drive home. Her older boy, the recently spooked one, reacted as though he was just asked to ingest a healthy serving of cockroach and broccoli casserole. His eyes widened in terror and his feet remained firmly planted as his mother directed him towards the small powder room just off the dining room. “No!,” he shrieked, his face growing flush, then pale. His parents exchanged bewildered glances. The poor boy shook with real fear as he protested any persuasion to get him to enter that bathroom. My mother-in-law, my father-in-law, his mother and his father (okay, maybe not his father so much) tried to reason with the terrified child, as his younger brother danced with indifferent joy, reveling in the fact that the journey home was being temporarily delayed. “There’s nothing to be afraid of!,” his mother said, “It’s just a bathroom.” My father-in-law suggested they take advantage of the bathroom on the second floor. That was just as bad, because obviously to the frightened boy, Bloody Mary’s portal to the world of the living was any bathroom and he wanted no parts of any one of them. He continued his ear-splitting screams until my niece sheepishly admitted that she may have inadvertently mentioned part of a story that may have implied that an evil, child-grabbing ghost lived inside all mirrors. Bringing it out in the open didn’t help. That kid was not going into the bathroom. He screamed louder, pleading to be taken home “right this instance,” as he put it. Finally, my mother-in-law took the frantic boy aside and leaned over to present her proposal face to face. With his full attention, my mother-in-law produced a large and shiny silver dollar from her pocket. She explained that if he entered the bathroom and completed the task that customarily takes place in a bathroom, this silver minted beauty would be his. He briefly considered, turned on his heels and while unbuttoning his pants, slammed the bathroom door behind him. One tinkle later, he emerged to collect his reward. 

Money, it appears, trumps everything. Even ghosts.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

let it go! let it go!

I love Disney.

For those of you that didn't groan and click to another website, begrudging another rambling post about my love for the multimedia giant, let me further explain. I don't especially like everything specifically Disney. I dislike the majority of the programming on The Disney Channel and their cable offshoot Freeform. Those teen-angst-y, overly hip dramas and overly precocious family comedies, of course, are not geared to me. Although I am a fan of iCarly, Sam & Cat and Victorious (Nickelodeon, in my opinion, have achieved a better result with their writing and casting), Disney's shows have only accomplished a pattern of sameness. Again, I know I am not the target audience, but Disney knows who is... and they constantly and consistently hit their mark.

I don't love every film that the Disney company has produced. Sure, I have my favorites, animated classics like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty. I really like the productions from Disney-owned Pixar Studios, like the Toy Story franchise and Ratatouille. But, Disney's recent acquisitions of the Marvel Comics and Star Wars intellectual properties do absolutely nothing for me. But Disney knows what fans of those particular genres like and they are only too happy to give them what they want... or at least tell them what it is that they want.

My real love is the Disney theme parks. I have been to Walt Disney World and Disneyland countless times. I am never bored, never disappointed and always joyful (That's right! I am capable of joy!) during every minute I spend in a Disney theme park... with the possible exception of Disney's Animal Kingdom. (Oh, I don't care what they say — it's a zoo.) My family and I regularly marvel at the attention to detail Disney has applied to the immersive theme park experience. They set the standard and continue to maintain and even become the standard by which all other theme parks are measured. If not for the concept that Walt Disney thought up as he sat on a bench eating peanuts while his daughters rode a simple merry-go-round, no other theme parks would exist. (For those of you who hate Disney, but decided to stick around past the first sentence — there is where you can direct your disdain.)

But, love them or not, there is no denying Disney's mastery of marketing. I can think of no other company that can dictate, influence and manipulate its customers like Disney. While Apple Computers has a cult-like grip on its loyal users, they are still a niche business as compared to the widespread number of ventures in which Disney has an interest.

Not them. They're too happy... and clean.
The families on either side of them. They're the typical ones.
Disney knows their customer and they market directly to them the kind of enticement they know their customer wants to hear. The interesting thing
— and what makes their marketing prowess so admirable — is there is a wide variety of people that make up the "Disney customer." The most obvious one is the "family." Mom, Dad and their 2.5 children. If you look around at the crowds in Walt Disney World, you will see an overwhelming amount of families that fit this description. Mom, with the unfolded guide map, busily checking off each attraction the family has experienced and noting which ones they've yet to conquer. Dad, silently calculating in his head how much this vacation is costing him per minute and how much overtime he'll have to work to make up for it when they return to the "real world." Brother, sister and baby, whose collective heads are about to explode amid an overload of familiar characters, eleven dollar caramel apples, twenty-two dollar popcorn in a commemorative bucket themed to the latest film release and a barrage of questions regarding the origins of Splash Mountain. This is Disney's prime target, their "bread & butter." The ones who have no problem being coaxed out of their hard-earned money to become the proud owners of a two-foot tall Sorcerer's Apprentice hat that will never ever be worn again once they leave the Orlando Airport. They're the ones who — on Day One — grumble about having to feed a family of five for $125 per meal and — by Day Three — don't bat an eye as they wave their magical Magic Band at the restaurant cashier, where Disney has allowed them to be shielded from the sight of any actual money exchanging hands. These families aren't quite sure why they want to go to Disney World, they just do. Perhaps it's because their neighbor or a guy at work or a well-to-do brother-in-law is taking his family to Disney World. It's the thing to do, you know... go "down to Disney" as they say in my part of the country. Even the most rural-dwelling families — those who wouldn't dare set foot outside of their cocoon-like community — will venture to the "big city" airport to walk down a little tunnel, sit is a padded seat for two hours, walk down another tunnel and poof! — they are in Florida, just a short shuttle ride to the Most Magical Place on Earth.

That is genius marketing.

Disney's other key target audience are the die-hard Disney "purists." These are the folks who know (or sort-of know) the history of Disney World, revealing trivial bits of Disney lore and pointing out hidden secrets to the uninitiated — whether they asked or not. This group will buy nearly anything that has Mickey Mouse or the iconic Disney logo emblazoned upon it. They happily pay the exorbitant food prices on Day One, because they know that's the "Disney Way." They also feel slighted when the Disney company doesn't consult with them before a change is made to a ride or attraction. When Walt Disney spoke the line "Disneyland is your land." in the opening day speech at his California theme park, some people took that literally.

Disney changes things constantly. They make changes for many reasons — advancements in technology, regular maintenance and upkeep, popularity of a particular film, character or property, even reasons they don't reveal because they really don't have to. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), both of these groups — vacationing families and Disney purists hate change. What's interesting is — there are some changes that one group hates, the other is indifferent to. 

Just last week, a popular restaurant in Disney's Polynesian Resort called Ohana's removed a beloved item from their menu. The dish, Pineapple Stir-Fried Noodles, was a secret, go-to concoction that was spoken about in hushed tones by those "in the know." (In reality, it was on the regular menu and could easily be ordered without a secret handshake or a covert nod to the chef.) The internet Disney community called the menu deletion "an outrage," "a disgrace," "a poor business decision," "a big disappointment" and a number of other derisions. After a week or so of angry commentary, an announcement was made informing the noodle-loving world that their precious noodles would be back. (Granted, Ohana's has not yet reopened since the beginning of the global pandemic that shuttered numerous restaurants across the country, not just Disney World. No one has had these noodles since March 2020. No one.) That buzz among potential and return customers is Disney's brilliant marketing at work. Get people talking. That's good marketing strategy.

A few days ago, several theme park guests realized that Walt Disney World had altered the familiar, pre-recorded announcement that precedes the nightly fireworks display in The Magic Kingdom. The words "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls" had been excised, leaving the introduction to begin with "Good evening, dreamers of all ages." A Disney spokesperson explained to a network news source that the decision was made in a broader effort to be more inclusive regarding their guests. The amount of backlash was astounding. Fraught with blatant anti-gay sentiment, the comments posted to official and unofficial Disney websites expressed anger and disappointment. "Who is this offending?" said one person who this decision did not affect. "Disney has gone too far! I will never go there again!," said another person who will surely go to Disney World again, once they have forgotten the reason they said they weren't going. Disney, however, did not back down on this decision and the crowds at subsequent fireworks shows were just as large as they've even been.

Every year, Walt Disney World begins decorating The Magic Kingdom for Christmas during the first week of November. Seven percent of the US population does not celebrate Christmas. Although I include myself among that small percentage, I enjoy seeing the unique decorations. I am not offended by the decorations. To accompany those decorations, Disney releases a sleigh-full of Christmas themed merchandise. I like seeing the merchandise, too. When I collected Disney memorabilia, I purchased a respectable amount of Disney Christmas items to put on display. After a while, Disney mixed in some Hanukkah merchandise with the standard Christmas articles. The stuff was cute, but it appeared (to me) to be a placating afterthought. But to the average Hanukkah-celebrating Disney Fan (I don't consider myself in that group either.), this was a noble and welcome effort on Disney's part to be all-inclusive. In stores in Walt Disney World, however, I have witnessed people pointing and scoffing at the Hanukkah merchandise, some of them holding an armload of red and green colored items and sporting holly-appointed mouse ears. A larger percentage (40%) of Americans do not celebrate St. Patrick's Day. But every year, Disney stocks their gift shop shelves with Irish-themed items to entice those who do celebrate their affinity for the Emerald Isle. I am not offended by these items either, nor to I begrudge anyone who celebrates. In an all-inclusive attempt to be all-inclusive, Disney began offering rainbow-themed merchandise to celebrate Pride Month in June, specifically "Gay Day," an acknowledged, but unofficially sanctioned, event held in Walt Disney World. Disney knows that the LGBTQ community is known as a statistically affluent group with a high percentage of expendable income. "Expendable income" are two words — in that particular order — that Disney loves.

Gay Day, which began in 1991, now draws 150,000 members of the LGBTQ community (including ally friends and family) to the Orlando area the first week of June. Disney rolls out a slew of rainbow colored items — some subtle, some garish — to the delight of those there for Gay Day as well as those who just like rainbows. For some reason (we know the reason), there is an enormous amount of backlash from certain groups of people who consider themselves righteous Americans living their lives with righteous American values. The same ones who sneer at rainbows, will defend Mickey Mouse's right to wear a Santa hat to their dying breath — no matter how exclusive it is. Their battle cry? "Everyone celebrates Christmas!," they will maintain, because as far as they're concerned, everyone does. Even those who don't.

My point is (Oh... I promise you, there's a point here somewhere...) Disney does what it does to make money for their stockholders, first and foremost. That is the main function. That is why they exist. If they happen to bring happiness to someone along the way, that is just a by-product of their function. Every move, every decision, every assessment they make is calculated to bring the biggest monetary return to the company. They know that their customer is loyal, but will complain about a new policy, will threaten a boycott and promise never to give Disney another single red cent... until the next installment of the Captain America story or the next chapter in the Star Wars saga or the next time a football is tossed on ESPN.

Disney knows. 

Oh boy! do they know.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

good company

I spent the day with my son. Here's what we did.

Around 11 o'clock in the morning, there was a knock at our front door. As I approached the door, I could see the top of my son's head. When I opened the door, he was fumbling with a small ring of keys. He explained that he had tried several on the ring but none were successful in unlocking the door. "I guess I don't have a key to your house anymore.," he shrugged. Some time ago, he had lost a set of keys when he hit an errant pothole while biking through center city Philadelphia where he lives. He was happy to come into the house and seemed uninterested in a replacement key.

We left the house in my car, our first stop was an unremarkable visit to get my hair cut. Prior to leaving, I studied my reflection in a mirror and concluded that I really didn't need a haircut. But, I already had a scheduled appointment, so I went. When it was all over, I really did need a haircut after all. My son went off to occupy his time while I sat in the barber's chair. First, he wandered the aisles of a nearby Fresh Market, an outlet in a chain of new-style grocery stores just aching to be the next Whole Foods. This pseudo-artsy, pseudo-funky, all pretentious store held my son's interest for a minimal amount of time. He had just about enough when the first aproned clerk accosted him and loudly introduced herself (despite wearing a very large name badge) asking "Are you finding everything you need?," as though the store sold items hidden behind opaque curtains and there was no signage.

When my haircut was finished, I found my son sitting at a small metal table just outside the entrance of a Corner Bakery, another outlet of the many chain establishments that dot the suburban Philadelphia landscape. An insulated cardboard cup of coffee sat on the table top. I could surmise that my son was indifferent to it, although his eyes were hidden behind the dark lenses of sunglasses. I took the other seat at the table. He turned to me and said, "I'm so glad that there are good coffee places in center city." He extended a finger in the direction of the cup and proclaimed it one of the worst cups of coffee he ever consumed. He went on to describe the events that preceded his occupation of this table. "I ordered a cup of coffee," he began, "and asked the fellow behind the counter if they had non-dairy coffee cream." The fellow replied that they had skim milk, hoping that would satisfy my son's request. Instead of a lesson in how "skim milk" is still a "dairy product," my son just smiled and moved on.

Next on our agenda was a quick stop at a CVS to grab a small pack of tissues to alleviate the sneezing that accompanies my son's severe summer allergies. I was surprised when he came out of the store with a large package of Haribo gummies along with the tissues. Okay, maybe I wasn't that surprised.

Our major planned activity for the day was going to the movies, something I have not done since Christmas Day 2019, when my wife and I subjected ourselves to the uncomfortably grueling Adam Sandler crime drama Uncut Gems. The only thing I remember about that movie was checking my watch every five minutes during the entire 135 minute run time. Then a global pandemic hit, keeping everyone in their homes and movie theatres locked up tight. Now, with abundant vaccinations and COVID-19 cases on the decline, movie theatres are welcoming folks back. 

We had some time to kill before the start time of the movie we had chosen, so we parked and spotted an arcade in the same shopping center as the theater. The concept was pretty innovative. Instead of quarters and change machines, all machines were set on "free play." Players pay a flat rate to play during specific time allotments. For three bucks, my son played a few current and classic video games and pinball machines before the cashier-issued timer sprang to life with a pattern of blinking lights. My son finished defeating the Death Star on the Star Wars pinball game he had selected and we left our little distraction to find a new distraction to eat up more time.

Speaking of "eat," that was exactly what my son suggested. We headed over to hometown favorite Wawa where he ordered the smallest sandwich I had ever seen and I got a cup of coffee. We sat in my car and talked about all sorts of stuff until we figured it was time to venture into the theater. 

The theater had used their time during the pandemic to do a bit of remodeling, specifically they completely eliminated and removed their box office. The now-cavernous lobby now features an array of self-serve kiosks on which tickets came be obtained with a swipe of a credit card and a few touches on the screen... sort of like check-in at an airport. A lone usher — someone in the theater who still has a job — scanned the barcode on my son's phone that served as our tickets. He didn't even bat an eye at the "outside beverages" we were blatantly carrying into the theater. We found the correct theater and sat outside on an upholstered bench until showtime.

We chose The Sparks Brothers as our first foray back into the normalcy of a — dare I even say — post-pandemic existence. (No, the pandemic is not over.) Years in the making, this labor of love from director Edgar Wright tells the tale of Ron and Russell Mael — collectively known as "Sparks" — who have been making incredible, experimental and influential music for 50 years. Never heard of them? I didn't think so. Their career is lovingly chronicled, punctuated by comments from famous fans and fellow musicians. The highlights, the lowlights and everything in between are presented in an engaging format that switches between concert footage, studio interviews, stock film and animation. It's two and a half hours long and I didn't check my watch once. My son and I are both long-time Sparks fans, even having the opportunity to see the band twice. They rarely tour in the United States and I remember at their 2013 show in Philadelphia saying to myself "I never thought I'd ever see this band." When I saw them again in 2015 with the band Franz Ferdinand, I thought the same thing. (My son took me to both of those shows.) We found our seats and when the theater lights dimmed and the film began, we were joined by five more people. It was like a private screening — for all of us. At the film's conclusion, I half-expected an usher to ask, "Did you five folks enjoy yourselves?"

When the film was over and the lights came back on, I informed my son that I needed to use the bathroom for the last hour and a half. Throughout the course of the documentary, each and every one of Sparks' 25 albums are highlighted. I was beginning to panic when I saw they were only up to the albums from the 80s. But, alas... I made it. I realized I have gotten very spoiled by the "pause" button on my cable TV remote.

After the movie, we came back to my house. Mrs. P suggested that we order Chinese food for dinner. My son balked at first, saying he wasn't particularly hungry. However, when dinner arrived, his order of Spicy Szechuan Noodles didn't stand a chance. After dinner, I drove my son home. As he exited my car, he told me he was going to feed his cat then take a nap. It was 9:45 at night. Ah, to be young.

Just a day. But a good day.