Sunday, November 28, 2021

u got the look

Let's talk about this asshole, shall we? Why is he an asshole? I'll get to that in a minute.

Remember back before March 2020? Before we were all sent home from our office jobs to "work from home?" Unless you are over 100 years old and you lived through the last pandemic that was experienced worldwide, this was a whole new experience for almost everyone. As the tedious, unsure days of the pandemic raged on, going out in public and mingling with your fellow human became a rare event. However, a strange phenomenon occurred almost organically. People began to express a compelling feeling of camaraderie. An overwhelming "we're all in this together" attitude arose among humankind. A feeling of goodness and benevolence. Helping your fellow earth-dweller through the hard times became an everyday occurrence. Helping those having difficultly dealing with the pandemic — both physically and mentally — became second nature. Then we all got vaccinated and we all went back to our offices and we all started going out in public and we all regained our disdain for our fellow humans.

Back to normal.

My wife and I went to BJ's Wholesale Club yesterday. The store was fairly busy for 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon. It was the weekend before Thanksgiving, so I could understand the added crowd... although the woman exiting the store with merely two boxes of Cheerios and a container of sour cream puzzled me, but who am I to question someone's holiday traditions. We, too, were there to purchase some of the ingredients for our Thanksgiving meal in what would be the second of possibly four grocery store stops.

Once our cart was filled, we made our way up the the check-out area at the front of the store. That's where we encountered the asshole I alluded to earlier. But wait.... I'm getting ahead of myself.

The check-out lines were long. So long, in fact, that they snaked way back into the retail area of the store. Still-shopping customers had difficulty navigating the featured Christmas department while weaving around other customers who had already made their selections. The recent, pandemic-related practice of "social distancing" was somewhat relaxed, despite bright red labels affixed to the floor instructing customers to maintain a gap of six feet between them and fellow shoppers. Being respectful (pandemic or not), we kept a comfortable amount of space between us and the guy in front of us.

Evidently, not comfortable enough for him.

Since another pandemic-related practice — wearing face masks — has been implemented, our immediate interpretations of another person's feelings via facial expressions have been seriously impeded. The only thing we have to go by now is someone's eyes. Y'know, they say "the eyes are the windows to the soul." The guy in line in front of us.... well, there was no mistaking what was going on in his soul. If his eyes were lasers, they would have bored a hole through everything in our cart before moving on to our respective foreheads. From the look he gave us when we joined the line, and without hearing a word from him, I instinctively backed up a few feet. After his initial glare, he stood and silently surveyed each and every item in our cart. I could actually see his eyes stop and align themselves with each bag, box and plastic container. Before his eyes shifted to the next item, they would narrow angrily and reveal a palpable judgement of disgust. 

I stood by our cart as Mrs. P wandered in and out of the nearby aisles. Every so often, she would return with an interesting game or toy to show me. We would have a brief conversation about what she brought over. In my peripheral vison, I could sense the guy in front of us intrusively hanging on every word of our conversation. I could also see him silently shaking his head in an equally judgmental capacity, previously bestowed upon our grocery choices.

The line actually moved at a pretty good clip, bringing us within visual proximity of the cashier area. At this point, the single line fed each of the operating cash wraps. The guy in front of us — the asshole — chose the cashier to the left. We went right. As my wife entered her membership credentials into the electronic terminal, I began to arrange our soon-to-be purchases on the conveyer belt. I glanced over to our former line-mate, curious to see his progress. He was standing behind a woman who was methodically, albeit slowly, rifling though her purse, obviously searching for some form of payment. Our former line-mate — the asshole — stood rigid, arms tightly folded across his chest, his laser eyes burning a hole in the back of the woman's head.

Yep, we are on our way to "back to normal." There's a light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, it may be a laser.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

doing alright

In 1982, two great things happened. I met the woman who would eventually become the illustrious Mrs. Pincus, and Chipwich — the beloved chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich — was introduced to the world via vending carts on city streets.

I loved Chipwiches, from the very moment I purchased and gobbled one down. They were ingenious and I often wondered why no one thought up the concept prior to 1978. After all, ice cream had been around since the 17th century and, when Ruth Wakefield pulled that first batch of chocolate chip cookies out of her oven at the Toll House, why wasn't her immediate inclination to put a scoop of ice cream between two of 'em? Nevertheless, Richard LaMotta of Chappaqua, NY, inspired by his love of dunking chocolate chip cookies in milk, devised the Chipwich. His rag-tag squad of street vendors — clad in khakis and pith helmets — sold their frozen wares out daily... even at a then pricey $1.00 each. One of those vendors, with his retro-cool cart, stocked with Chipwiches, was a regular fixture on Philadelphia's famed South Street, a frequent haunt of the future Mrs. P and myself in our early, carefree dating days. Just into our official "adulthood," our lives were filled with movies and music and the pursuit of fun — all of which were readily available on South Street. And our pursuit always had room for a Chipwich.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, (future) Mrs. P and I strolled up South Street. As we approached our favorite Chipwich vendor — a typical 80s kid with multiple earrings and bleached blond-and-pink hair trying to make a buck — I spotted a new addition to his mobile establishment. Suspended from the metal ribs of his Chipwich-logoed umbrella was a hand-written sign that read "Rock and Roll Trivia." My curiosity was instantly piqued. I fancied myself an aficionado of trivia, especially in topics with which I was very familiar and rock & roll were two of them. Plus, at a Chipwich cart, I could only imagine what the prize would be. I was game. And hungry. I asked our intrepid vendor "What's this?" as I poked an extended finger in the direction of his sign. He smiled and laid down the simple rules of his probably-unauthorized contest. "I'll ask you three questions about your favorite band. If you can answer all three right... dude... you get a free Chipwich. Simple as that! Wanna play?"

He had me at "free Chipwich."

"I get to pick the band, right?," I confirmed. He assured me that was the case. Without even any consideration, I chose Queen, a band I had loved since I heard "Killer Queen" wafting from my AM radio back when I was in 8th grade. The Chipwich vendor smiled and rubbed his palms together in a close approximation of a cartoon villain. I could almost visualize the wheels spinning in his head as he formed the first of my three questions.

"What was Brian May's first guitar made of?," he asked, and stared at me as he waited for — and anticipated — a wrong answer.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that my feelings for Queen's guitarist have changed considerably since the passing of Freddie Mercury in 1991. With the flamboyant frontman out of the way, May has morphed from a silent maestro of the six-string into an outspoken, self-appointed and self-important mouthpiece of a (in my opinion) now-defunct band whose musical output is at the licensing beck-and-call of Brian May's monetarily-driven whims. But, in 1982, I was still on "Team Brian" and he was okay in my book. I made it my top priority to know everything there was to know about Queen — its germination, its members, its songs, everything! And — goddamn! — if I didn't know what Brian May's first guitar was made of!

I looked the Chipwich vendor right in the eye, puffed out my chest and proudly said, "Brian May built his first guitar from some wood from a fireplace mantle and parts of an old chair."

The Chipwich vendor's jaw dropped. "What?," he exclaimed, "No one knows that!" He reached into the frigid bowels of his cart and extracted a cellophane-sheathed Chipwich, its wrapper flecked with sparkly bits of ice. "I'm just gonna give you the Chipwich, man. I'm not even gonna bother with any more questions. No one knows that guitar one!"

I began to unwrap the frozen, chocolate chip-appointed spoils of my victory. As I reached for a napkin from the conveniently placed chrome dispenser, I casually asked the Chipwich vendor, "Just out of curiosity, what was the second question going to be?" The Chipwich vendor grabbed a rag and wiped up a few errant drips of ice that were now liquefied on the hot chrome lid of his cart. "I was going to ask 'How many synthesizers were played on Roger Taylor's first solo album?'" 

There was a long-running statement/inside joke included in the credits of every Queen album release. At the end of a long list of studio personnel and an enumeration of the various musical instruments and recording techniques employed by the band, they were adamant about letting the world know that not a single synthesizer was used to achieve any of the unusual sounds the listener heard. Sometimes varying in its wording — no synthesizers, nobody played synthesizer, no synths!  — the sentiment was always the same. Drummer Roger Taylor, the first member of Queen to release a solo album, included the smart-alecky line "P.P.S. 157 synthesizers" at the end of the liner notes of his "Fun In Space" debut in 1981. At the time, however, I did not own this album. Ergo, I did not know the answer to the second question.

I finished that Chipwich as fast as I could.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

welcome to my world

Remember that guy I told you about last week? My co-worker who stinks? Well, I have another co-worker who also stinks... but in a different way.

I have been in and around the commercial printing business for approximately 40 years. I have worked for printing companies. I have designed for printing companies. I have dealt with printing companies as a customer. In my nearly four decades of experience, I can safely say, with certain small exceptions, that people in the commercial printing business are some of the dumbest people I have ever met. The frightening majority of folks in the commercial printing business are ignorant, narrow-minded lunkheads who, aside from operating a printing press roughly the size of a battleship, can't do much else. And the sales force in the commercial printing business don't posses the skills to operate the presses, so they are even dumber. Salespeople who sell commercial printing services are a special kind of dumb.

Here's my most recent encounter with one of their representatives.

In my current job, I design ads and other promotional materials for the supermarket industry. I work closely with a guy who sells the owners of these supermarkets on the idea that their store needs these items in order to drum up business. After lengthy in-person or phone conversations with the customer, the salesman hands me scribbled pages of notes and rudimentary drawings and it's my job to translate these hieroglyphics into something "pretty." After submitting a design idea, the salesman runs it by the customer and it goes though several more rounds of changes, edits and additions until an approval is given and it goes to print. The changes are usually transmitted via email . But along the way. some of those changes are delivered verbally, in the form of the salesman sitting behind me as I guide my mouse cursor around my computer monitor, telling me "Move that there." and "Change this to that." 

The salesman in question is a slick little motherfucker with a Mephistophelian beard, French-cuffed shirts and a vocabulary like a longshoreman. An uneducated longshoreman. He complains about the stupidity of every single one of his customers. He second-guesses his customer's changes and often directs me to make changes contrary to their changes... only to have those changes changed back to what they originally requested.

Just this week, I was working on a door hanger for a supermarket grand opening in the South Jersey area. (You know what a door hanger is. It's a long cardboard advertisement with a slotted hole cut in it that... you know... hangs on your doorknob.) This particular piece had gone though an inordinate number of changes over a period of a couple of days. (I generated nearly eight unique proofs, only differentiated by a few insignificant changes — none of which would ever be noticed by a potential recipient as he tosses it from his front door into the pile of the week's recycling.)

Late on Friday afternoon, the salesman stomped into my office, grumbling something about "more changes." He plopped himself into a nearby office chair and asked me to pull up the pending door hanger-in-progress on my computer. As I searched my folders for the proper version of the InDesign file, the salesman said: "The first thing the customer wants, is to add 'Black Lives Matter" to the front, under the logo."

I froze.

I slowly turned around, something I rarely do, as I prefer to accept dictated changes while I face my computer screen. "Really?," I asked. Customer changes of any kind never surprise me. Store owners have been known to make any number of unusual requests ("unusual" in my opinion) for what they want added to their advertising in the name of the dangerous combination of "promotion" and "community awareness."

He laughed heartily. "No," he clarified, "I'm just kidding."

This made me angry. Very angry. First of all, as the "new guy," I was in no position to say anything about anything. I couldn't reprimand him. I couldn't explain how I found his callous comment offensive. I couldn't tell him how his belittling of the BLM movement was dismissive of an entire race that has been dismissed for years and years. I certainly understood his derisive remark. The supermarket is located in a predominantly black neighborhood. In his narrow little mind, he saw me — a white guy with gray hair — as a comrade. A compatriot. A confederate. An ally. A reflection of his own way of thinking. He even repeated his little racist comment to the real stinky guy behind me — who chuckled with his acknowledgement.

The salesman continued dictating the actual changes he wanted and I made them to the document. I generated a PDF proof and emailed it to the salesman, hitting the big "SEND" button as he exited my office. I stewed for sometime until I gathered up my jacket and left the office myself, as it was the end of another work week.

Over the weekend, I thought (on and off) about my few options. I decided — reluctantly — to do nothing. Not to say anything to my supervisor at work. Not to say anything to the nice lady in Human Resources who I have not seen since my first day of work seven months ago. I decided to let it pass. Racists will always be racists. I can't change that. Stupid people will always be stupid. I can't change that either.

The best I can do is blog about it.

So I did.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

ooh, ooh... that smell

I started a new job a few months ago. I work in an office by myself and... well, it doesn't really make a difference what I do. That's not the point. The point is: I work in an office by myself for most of the day.

Until around three o'clock.

At three o'clock every day, a guy named Frank comes in and sits at another desk — at another computer — about five or so feet away from me. I say "Hello" when he walks in and he raises an open palm in acknowledgement. When I leave — approximately 90 minutes later — I say "Good night" and am usually out the door before I hear whether or not Frank has replied.

Those 90 minutes, however, are torture.

That's because Frank stinks.

At first, I just thought it was the familiar smell of lingering cigarette smoke. I grew up in a house where, for a time, both of my parents smoked. My mother quit sometime in the middle 1970s. Afterwards, I believe my father increased his cigarette smoking to make up for my mom. My father smoked right up until the time he was still able to lift a cigarette to his lips. When he could no longer smoke, it was because he was dead. He threatened promised to quit many times over the years, but, like most of his promises, he never followed through. In the meantime, his clothes, his house, his car, his everything smelled of smoke. It is a smell with which I am intimately familiar and suitably repulsed. My mom would regularly wipe down the furniture in their bedroom, coming away from the process with a cloth that was yellow with nicotine residue. It was disgusting.

So is Frank.

Because I realized that the smell that accompanies Frank is not just cigarettes. It's just partly cigarettes, because Frank does indeed smoke. Frank obviously does not maintain the proper grooming practices that an adult in a civilized society should. He sits behind me at his desk and does whatever it is that he does. The whole time, the air is fouled with a horrible stench I can only imagine is similar to that of the city morgue or a butcher shop experiencing freezer problems. 

Every so often, Frank gets up and leaves the office, leaving an invisible — but palpable — odor of decomposition in his wake. When he returns, he brings the aroma of freshly-burned tobacco back with him, along with the deathly scent of a month's worth of unwashed laundry marinating in stagnant motor oil.

Frank seems like an okay guy. Y'know... just an average guy. But — Jesus! — is there no one at his house or in his life to sit him down, hand him a bar of soap, and explain the simple instructions of how to put it to its best use?

Luckily for me, Frank and I are on differently work schedules. Our shifts only overlap for an hour and a half. I can work through the uncomfortable atmosphere for a quick 5400 seconds. At least he is a fair distance from me and the air circulation is pretty good in the building. I do sit with my back to him and I've been practicing holding my breath. 

I am also thinking of buying this shirt for Frank...

... but Frank is bigger than me.