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.