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.

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