Sunday, March 27, 2022

clean up woman

I will be the first to admit that what you are about to read — if you do, indeed, stick around long enough to read it — smacks of what the internet has deemed a "first world problem." Wikipedia — the invaluable, if not totally reliable online resource — defines "first world problem" as: "a trivial annoyance experienced by people in relatively affluent or privileged circumstances especially as contrasted with problems of greater social significance facing people in poor and underdeveloped parts." Yep! That's what this particular blog post in going to be about. So, sit back in your upholstered imported leather recliner, grab a nine-dollar cup of Starbucks coffee, have Alexa turn down the volume on your 65" flat-screen TV and commiserate with me as I voice my dismay over securing someone to clean my house.

Mrs. Pincus and I moved into our suburban Philadelphia home on Labor Day weekend in 1986. Our house is a three-story twin with — technically — six bedrooms, although only three of those rooms (one an always-at-the-ready guest room) are actually used as bedrooms. But there are six of 'em, just the same. The first floor boasts a large living room that leads into a large dining room and of course, a kitchen. After ten or so years, we hired a contractor to turn our dark dirt-wall basement into another, usable room. Taking way too long on the task, we now had another room, as well as another bathroom to add to the two we already had.

Even if you know nothing about home construction or architecture, you probably figured that every room in our house has walls and floors — much like your own house. And if you are any kind of civilized human being, you know that these surfaces need to be cleaned on some sort of regular basis. (Except, of course, if you are my brother-in-law, to whom the word "clean" has about as much meaning as the word "potrzebie.")

When we first moved into our house, my wife and I took care of the cleaning process ourselves. Once a week (approximately), I would run a vacuum cleaner over everything in our house that would be considered a floor. My wife would dust and wipe and straighten and practice other cleaning actions that, to be honest, were well out of my realm. My mom wasn't the best housekeeper that ever lived, so I learned from what I saw. My wife, thankfully, schooled me on how to clean properly and I tried to live up to her expectations....but, I was never a good student, so I just did my best. Sometimes, I would catch Mrs. P re-cleaning something that I thought I had completed to satisfaction. I wasn't insulted. I understood that my standards weren't the actual Pincus household standards.

When I got better jobs and the Pincus income increased, Mrs. P decided it was time to pay someone to clean our house. I was only too happy to agree. While my wife is a decidedly better and more thorough cleaner that I am, she actually dislikes the activity more than I do. So, she set out to hire someone to clean, sending out "feelers" among friends, neighbors and relatives who have had experience. Perhaps, she could even get someone who worked for a friend or neighbor, thus vouching for their reliability and trustworthiness, as well as their cleaning ability. This really had very little to do with me — except I was all for anything that would end my weekend vacuuming duties.

I would assume that if you decide to go into the housecleaning business, you would have no problem cleaning houses. After all, "house" and "cleaning" are right in the name. Perhaps I am being too presumptuous, but what do I know. Well. over the 30+ years we have lived here, we have had many, many folks who we paid to clean our house. A lot of them left after one or two visits. I'm not sure of the reasons, though. It wasn't as though Mrs. P is demanding. No! As a matter of fact, she rarely, if ever, criticized or pointed out shortcomings in the finished product. She would wait until the cleaner was paid and had left before tackling key areas that she felt could have been cleaned better. When the cleaner would return, she would politely point out areas of our home that needed closer attention... then she'd still pay them whether or not they did a satisfactory job.

There were a number of people who cleaned our house that I never even met, as the activity occurred while I was at work. Every once in a while, they would come on one of my rare, weekday days off. I'd say "hello" and then leave the house, going anywhere, just so I didn't have to be home. 

One of the longest-tenured cleaners we had was a young woman and her parents. This family were natives of Poland and mom and dad did not speak a word of English. The daughter would have to speak as an interpreter both ways — translating for my wife and then relaying messages from her parents. I met this crew a few times, as they worked for us for several years... until May 2020. That's when I lost my job due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. One of the first casualties of our loss of income and "tightening our belts," was the elimination of paid housecleaners. My wife broke the unfortunate news to the daughter via a phone call, delivering it thorough heartfelt sobs. She promised to call and "rehire" as soon as we were back on our financial feet, but, with such dark, unknown days ahead, there was no way to know when that would be.

It was a year. A full year.

During that time, I once again, found myself cleaning the floors of my house on a regular schedule — something I had not done since I was 25 years old. Somewhere along the line, nearly all of the carpeting in our house had been taken up, revealing beautiful, original hardwood floors. So, the task of making the floors clean required different equipment form the last time I did this — over three decades earlier. Because of the pandemic's uncertainty,  I was not leaving the house. Mrs. P bravely placed herself in harm's way, take over shopping duties for us, as well as her elderly parents. On one of her shopping trips, I requested a complete Swiffer cleaning system, including a telescoping handle and both wet and dry disposable cleaning pads and a Swiffer duster with a box of single-use disposable pads. Once a week in my sequestered state, I would turn off the TV, crank up the radio and "swiff" every walkable surface in my house. I had no problem doing this. I hoped I was making myself useful, as well as keeping my mind off my miserable employment situation. I was also helping Mrs. P as best I could. However, I would much rather have a job in my chosen profession and relinquish my floor cleaning assignment to someone more qualified.

In May 2021, with my unemployment insurance having run its course, I re-entered the working world when a nearby commercial printing company took a chance on a 60 year-old graphic designer. With regular paychecks once again coming in, it was time to get back to the good old days of someone besides a Pincus cleaning the Pincus house. True to her word, Mrs. P called our most recent housecleaners — the daughter-parents team. The coldness in the daughter's tone was palpable. She questioned the notion that nobody was cleaning our home for over a year. My wife explained that we were without substantial income. The daughter sounded very skeptical, telling that her other customers continued to pay her, despite not having the crew come and clean. Mrs. P said that we were in no position to do that, but were now ready to welcome them back... providing that she and her parents were fully (or at least partially) vaccinated for COVID-19. The daughter laughed. Audibly laughed! "No!," she proudly announced, "We are not vaccinated." It was as though she was asked if she had grown a tail.

Well, here we were in a position in which we had not been in a quite some time. Mrs. P asked around and, after some time, arranged for a woman to come and offer an estimate on cleaning our house. Simple enough, right? Well, on the morning of the appointed, she called to make it a different day, citing some person issue. The morning of the alternate appointment, she called to make it a different day, blaming a different personal issue. This went on for several reschedulings until on the sixth attempt, she actually showed up. When a price was agreed upon, getting her to come and actually do the cleaning part was similar to getting her to come over in the first place. First, she was sick. Then she was still sick. Then her mother was sick. Then, there were transportation issues. She was beginning to sound like Epstein from Welcome Back, Kotter, offering excuses for his absences signed by "Epstein's mother." She finally came. She did an adequate job. Not stellar. Not great. Adequate. But, as long as Mrs. P and I were relieved of house cleaning obligations, everything was good. However, every subsequent appointment was pre-empted by a run of "I can't be there today" messages on the morning of. All totaled, she came to our house three times. Mrs. P even purchased a specific style of mop and bucket at this woman's request. But, Mrs. P had had enough. We needed someone else.

On a friend's recommendation, we contracted a cleaning service. A real, live professional cleaning service with written contracts and post-cleaning walk-throughs — you know, like a real business. The woman with the excuses was told that her services were no longer required Finally! Our housecleaning worries were over. The new service was reliable, efficient, most of all, they did a good job.

Until, we got a call.

As of this week, the service was switching to commercial properties only. No more residential customers. They came for one more visit, cleaned... and that was it. Back to "Square One." Out of nowhere, like beacon from house cleaning heaven, my wife's cousin came through with her cleaner — a responsible, reliable woman who was only too happy to take on new business. With mop in hand, she is coming next week.

I'll let you know if it results in another blog post.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

season of the witch

It has been nearly six months since I did a blog post about television. Considering my daily participation in the activity of watching television holds such an important place in my life, let's remedy the situation right here and right now.

One of my favorite TV comedies was Bewitched. I remember watching and loving this show in its initial network run and still enjoying it in countless reruns throughout my teen years and later... right up to today. The show was conceived by screenwriter Sol Saks, lifting inspiration from the films I Married a Witch and Bell, Book and Candle. Saks had little to do with the series once production began. Those duties were shifted around a bit before chief director William Asher took over creative control for the show's eight seasons. Unable to settle on a deal with actress Tammy Grimes, Asher cast his wife Elizabeth Montgomery in the lead role as a real-life witch trying to live a life as a typical suburban housewife. Premiering in the Fall of 1964, Bewitched focused more on allegorical plotlines, substituting witchcraft for the tribulations of a mixed marriage. The "magic" actually took a back seat to standard "husband and wife" problems. The show was ABC's highest rated series and the second highest rated show across all three major networks, only bested by NBC's mighty Bonanza. By Season Three, head writer Danny Arnold and producer William Froug had left the production. William Asher became the default showrunner and took the comedy into a much more broad and slapstick direction, harkening back to what he learned as a sometimes director on I Love Lucy

Season Three opened with the switch to episodes filmed in color. For a long time, only these episodes where broadcast in syndication. It was believed that audiences wouldn't watch reruns in black & white (despite the perennial popularity of The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show and even I Love Lucy). Nevertheless, Bewitched was as popular a show in reruns and it was in the beginning of its first run.

Aside from its compelling and adorable star, the show was known for its mid-season replacement of co-star Dick York, who played the irascible "Darrin Stephens," beleaguered but loving husband to Montgomery's "Samantha." York had been injured on a 1959 movie set and was in constant pain for the rest of his life. After collapsing on-set in 1969, York was replaced midway through Season Six by actor Dick Sargent, coincidentally the original choice for the role at the show's conception. The show is much maligned for the switch and the decision is often cited as the downfall of the show. But that was not the only casting change on the series. There were many. The series featured two "Gladys Kravitz"s, two "Frank Stephens" (Darrin's father) and two "Louise Tate"s (Darrin's asshole boss Larry's wife). Many actors played multiple roles over the years, including Paul Lynde. Lynde was best remembered as Samantha's mischievous "Uncle Arthur." But the comedian appeared in an early episode as a driving instructor. Bernard Fox, who had a recurring role as the eccentric "Dr. Bombay," played a witch-hunting anthropologist in the second season. Veteran character actors Herb Voland, Edward Andrews, Larry D. Mann and Charles Lane appeared as various different prospective clients of McMann & Tate, Darrin's employer. And, of course, Elizabeth Montgomery took a shot herself, donning a brunette wig and flirty attitude as Samantha's sultry cousin "Serena" (credited playfully as "Pandora Spocks"). I have to admit, my little crush on Elizabeth Montgomery heightened when she played Serena. I think everyone's did.

In recent viewings of my beloved Bewitched, I noticed something that eluded me as a child, adolescent and even as a young (unaware) adult. Bewitched exhibited a pretty shitty view of women and marriage. There is an overall attitude of mistrust between husband and wife. Every female client of Darrin's makes some sort of overt sexual advancement on him, despite his protests of being happily married. Male clients brought home (on an unusually regular basis) for dinner, often make unwanted moves on Samantha once Darrin has exited the room to make drinks. Even her firm pleas of "NO!" are met with chuckles and even more grabby attempts to violate Samantha's personal space. Endora, Samantha's overbearing mother, is constantly filling her daughter's mind with notions of an unfaithful Darrin (or "Derwood" as she often calls him). Larry Tate leers at female clients and secretaries and every other woman who shows up, while Serena makes suggestive small talk with Larry right in front of his wife (whether it be Irene Vernon or Kasey Rogers). Nobody trusts anyone. Everyone lies to cover up a misunderstanding that could otherwise be easily explained in a loving trusting relationship. I suppose in the 60s and 70s, infidelity and adultery was good fodder for sitcoms. The home audience seemed to respond favorably, as Bewitched ranked among the top shows on television for most of its entire run.

Ironically, Bewitched's demise was met at the hands of another TV comedy, one that addressed real-life problems like bigotry, racism and even sexuality. Once Bewitched was broadcast opposite the up-and-coming All in the Family, its fate was sealed. Bewitched was canceled at the end of its eighth season. (In reality, Elizabeth Montgomery wanted out after five seasons, hoping to ignite a film career based on her popularity. Instead, ABC threw a ton of money and other financial incentives her way in a proverbial "offer she couldn't refuse.")

In the wake of the #MeToo movement and women's rights in general, I find Bewitched difficult to watch now. The fashions and dialog notwithstanding, the show is dated. Very, very dated. Sure there are other shows that are just as dated, like Leave It to Beaver. But that show depicts a time of old fashioned family values, the benefits of a loyal friendship and morality. Bewitched evokes a time that we should really be embarrassed by — and I don't mean because of the wide neckties and overuse of the word "groovy."

Sunday, March 13, 2022

bread and circus

Let me warn you. This story has no real resolution... except if you count a thorough — and well deserved — spanking from my mother.

When I was a kid, my family — as well as the majority of the families in my Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood — had many household staples and services delivered right to our house. On an almost daily basis, long before I awakened for the day, the little metal box that rested just outside our kitchen door, was filled with glass bottles of milk by a mostly unseen (at least by me) milkman. Sometimes, the milk was accompanied by butter and perhaps a dozen eggs. In summer, my mom would order lemonade or fruit punch and they would arrive along with the milk, in the same type of glass bottles. Every so often, on a weekend morning, I would actually get to see the milkman when he would come to our house to collect payment for his deliveries. He looked just like the guys I saw on TV shows and commercials. He wore all white with a black bow tie and shiny-brimmed cap. He'd park his truck at the foot of our driveway, bound up to our house and gently rap on our kitchen door. My mom would let him in and, depending on the amount of the bill, she'd pay in cash, extracting a few dollar bills and coins from her purse. If the Pincus family tab had gone unpaid for a few weeks (which was normal for my family, in keeping with my father's notorious mishandling of funds), my mom would pull her checkout from her purse and dash off a voucher for the outstanding dairy balance.

In addition to milk and dairy products, we'd get potato chips, pretzels and other assorted snacks from the Charles Chips driver. Once a month or so, that familiar truck would pull up and the driver would carry two big metal tins up to our house. The light-tan colored one was filled with crispy potato chips and the dark one was filled with pretzels. My brother would practically wrestle the pretzel tin out of the driver's hands. My brother laid unspoken claim to any pretzels that entered our house, almost demanding permission if a small sample of his private stock was to be had by anyone who wasn't him. Charles Chips offered cookies once in a while. I liked those. I liked them so much, my mom would often hide them somewhere in the kitchen so I didn't consume them all as soon as the package was opened. She knew what little Josh was capable of.

When I went to the supermarket with my mom, I marveled at the fact they sold items that we got delivered right to our house. Who was buying these items here?, I would think. Doesn't everyone get these things delivered? 

Along with milk and snacks — and even dry cleaning — the Pincuses had home delivery of bread. Following approximately the same schedule employed by the milkman, the bread man would supply us with loaves of bread, as well as hot dog and hamburger rolls. In direct competition with Charles Chips, Freihofer's Bakery (from whom we got our delivery) would offer cookies. Their marketing strategy was different, however. The driver — a genial, avuncular gentleman that the kids in the neighborhood called "Uncle Ben" — would tear open a package of cookies and hand them out to the kids, in hopes they would beg their moms to purchase additional boxes. Of course, it worked... at least in my house it did. Uncle Ben would wave to the kids as he drove his open-door delivery truck through the streets of my neighborhood. He'd politely tip his hat to the kids as he visited their homes, toting loaves of bread that would soon be used for school lunches and weekend breakfasts.

Before I was aware of an unprovoked pall of anti-Semitism befalling my neighborhood, I was friendly with several kids on my block. Prior to bigoted parents filling their children's impressionable minds with ideas that my family and I were responsible for killing the savior they worshiped on infrequent Sunday visits to church, we were all content to play tag and dodgeball and kick-the-can together, regardless of our religious beliefs. One of my closest friends was Lou, who lived across the street from me. Lou was a year or two older than I. However he, nor any of his siblings, ever attended the same schools the rest of the kids in the neighborhood attended. They all went to what was referred to in the 60s and early 70s as "special school." This, of course, was a euphemism for a facility for either delinquents, incorrigible troublemakers or learning disabled students. Lou and all of the children in his family fell into some or all those categories. Lou's father reminded me of the title character of a popular newspaper comic strip called "Moose Miller." Moose was a slovenly, scheming, unkept, ne'er-do-well who spent most of the daily three panels and Sunday eight panels reclining on a threadbare and patchwork sofa surrounded by stray animals, beer cans and trash. That was Lou's house. It was dark and dank and it smelled of burnt food, pet waste and sweat. No one was quite sure what Lou's father did for a living, as he was always home when other dads were off at work. Lou's mom was equally as disheveled. She would sometimes join a little sidewalk klatch of neighborhood moms to discuss household matters and maybe even a little gossip. Lou's mom would casually reveal some sort of unusual quirk that she obviously thought was the norm. Her views on personal grooming and child care were always points of astonishment among her peers. Once, she told my mom that she and Lou's father were never "officially" married — which was positively shocking in the pseudo-suburban world of the late 1960s. Lou had two unseemly older sisters who were both — as I recall — slutty and scummy. He had an athletic older brother who was friendly with my athletic older brother. Lou's younger brother was creepy in a "Damien" from The Omen sort of way. He often yammered on nonsensically and I don't remember understanding too much of what he had to say.

One summer afternoon, Lou and I were cavorting on our front lawns, as kids on summer vacation were prone to do. Our playtime was interrupted when our pal good old Uncle Ben pulled up in front of my house in his Freihofer's Bakery truck. "Hiya, fellahs!" he said, as he bounded out of his truck carrying two loaves of bread and his ledger book. He was obviously going in my house to collect on the outstanding balance owed by the Pincuses. Would my mom be able to satisfy our debt with the few bucks she had stashed in her purse... or would she have to dip into the available funds in the checking account?

This is where memories get a bit fuzzy. To this day, I am still not sure how, why or by whom the idea was hatched... but hatched it was. Lou and I stopped our playing and approached the rear of the parked Freihofer's Bakery truck. With Uncle Ben otherwise occupied in my house, one of us opened the back door and together we entered the truck. Inside, the back portion of the vehicle was lined with aluminum wire shelving, fully stocked with dozens and dozens of packaged loaves of bread, assorted rolls, cookies and a smattering of other baked goods that the Pincus family never requested. As though possessed by a controlling but unseen force, Lou and I began tossing loaves of bread out the open back doors and into the street. Acting like we were a crucial link in a makeshift "bucket brigade" that ended with us, we seemed to be determined to empty that truck of every last example of bakery product we could grab. Again, after 50-some years, I seemed to have blocked out the motivation behind our actions. We were just two dumb kids throwing bread out of a truck for no good reason.

As Lou and I were engaging in our decidedly illicit behavior, my brother and Lou's brother were sitting across the street on Lou's front porch. Their discussion was abruptly cut short when, in his peripheral vision, my brother caught a glimpse of several oven-fresh projectiles being launched out the back doors of the nearby Freihofer's truck.

"Hey!," my brother exclaimed, "There's bread coming out of that truck!" He directed Lou's brother's attention to the scene. Just then, Uncle Ben, having finished his financial dealings with my mom, was greeted by the same scenario as he ambled down my driveway. He quickened his step and advanced towards the posterior of his truck. He stood, dumbfounded and speechless, at the open doors, finally mustering up the strength to say "Hey!" Almost instantaneously, he was joined at the back door by my mom... and she was none too happy. She shrieked! She didn't say any actual words, she just shrieked. She took a small step into the truck, grabbed my forearm and yanked me out. My mom dragged my up the driveway — still shrieking — and threw me into the house. A few seconds later, Lou's mom appeared and led Lou to his house in a similar fashion, although she clamped two vise-like fingers onto his earlobe instead of his forearm... but the sentiment was the same.

I honestly don't remember too much of the aftermath. No doubt, I received a severe spanking from my mother who was tasked with keeping order in the Pincus household and was a much more feared disciplinarian than my ineffectual father. I'm not sure if home deliveries from the fine folks at Friehofer's Bakery continued. I do remember eventually purchasing bread from the supermarket, so perhaps my mother severed all ties with Uncle Ben's employer out of sheer humiliation. However, this story received many a retelling over the years. First in high school and continuing on in my life. When he became old enough to understand what his father did was dead wrong, I related the "bread truck incident" (as it had come to be known) to my son — who delighted in its stupidity and reveled in my childhood shortcomings. At recent gatherings in our home, I have even caught my son beginning the story to an eager group of listeners and inserting himself as the main protagonist. "That didn't happen to you!," I'd say, "That's my story!" 

Somehow, that made the story funnier.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

hang on to your ego

Many, many years ago — too many to count, I designed a poster for a local disc jockey who had seen my work from another local disc jockey. I never met this DJ, so we corresponded via email. She explained the theme of the event she was planning and what sort of graphics she had in mind. Back then, I was asking very little for freelance work. I had a good full-time job and I looked as "side work" as a fun distraction from my everyday grind of creating newspaper circulars (which was the major focus of my job at the time). We decided on a fair price... a very fair price, as a matter of fact. To be honest, I think I asked for fifty bucks. Maybe even forty.

I sent the DJ several designs and she replied with some changes and edits. I did what she requested and, after four or five proofs, she gave me her approval, with a promise to pay sometime after the event occurred. I was fine with that arrangement. The dance party for which I did the poster was April 8, 2010. That date passed. And passed. And passed. Needless to say, I did not get paid.

I emailed the DJ, gently reminding her of our monetary agreement. A sufficient period of time elapsed with no response. I emailed again. I was a bit firmer in the wording I chose, hoping she'd get the message. Nothing. Nothing at all. Weeks turned into months and still no payment, no contact, no nothing. I was persistent. It wasn't that I really needed the money, I was angered by someone not holding up their end of a deal. 

Somewhere around September, she finally replied. Her message was short and curt. She explained that attendance for the event wasn't what she had hoped and she could not afford to pay me. No apology, just a sentence (maybe two) outlining those two (in my opinion, unrelated) facts. Did she really think that was it? Did she use the same tactic with the electric company? The lighting in my home wasn't what I had hoped, therefore I will not be paying my bill this month. I immediately responded with an email expressing my anger, frustration and disappointment. I also made it clear that regardless of the success of her event, I was still entitled to received payment. How many people attended her event had nothing to do with me or our agreement. I received no response.

I still kept up a regular schedule of emails to this DJ as the year 2010 came to a close. In December, I saw her name pop up in an internet "chat room" (remember those?) when the subject of holiday plans was being discussed. She was saying that she purchased a six-pack of beer for a friend as a Christmas gift. I sent her a private message, identifying myself and berating her for buying gifts when she still has long outstanding financial obligations. She said she had been low on funds, couldn't afford to pay her bills, but needed to buy Christmas gifts. Then she called me an "asshole" and told me I just ruined her holiday. Then she abruptly left the chat room. Sometime in the spring of 2011, she sent me a check for five dollars, saying it was all she could afford and this was to settle her debt.

Nearly a decade later, Mrs. Pincus experienced a disputed charge by one of her many eBay customers. It seems this guy's credit card was compromised and he questioned every charge on his recent bill, including one for some items he bought from my wife. However, this guy was a previous customer. Mrs. P sent him a friendly email, identifying herself and the charge as legitimate. He apologized via email and promised to sent payment immediately using a different method.

You know where this is going.... right?

Well, weeks went by and no payment. Mrs. P — in the middle of fulfilling holiday orders, rushing to the post office and keeping up with a barrage of questions from potential buyers — regularly emailed this particular customer, still requesting payment. He does respond, albeit several days after the remainder are sent out. He explains something about working with his credit card company to "make this right." Sometimes he says he's been busy with work-related things, but payment will come immediately. (It doesn't.) Sometimes he doesn't answer. 

Mrs. P contacted eBay. They were no help, telling her that there was nothing they could do. It was all on the customer because of the nature of the issue. Mrs. P tried emailing again, nicely but firmly requesting payment. This time, his response included the statement: "I have been caring for my mother. I will get to it as soon as I can."

People don't understand that we all have issues. We all have problems. We all have mishagas in our lives. What makes you think that your problems are way more important than mine or anyone's problems?

Oh right. Ego.

I made it! Top of the World, Ma!