Sunday, November 26, 2023

yes, I remember it well

When my mom died in 1991, she took the entire family history with her.

Every family has an unofficial family historian. You know, that one person you can go to and ask any question about any family member for whom you need a little bit of information or possible clarification. How are you related to this person? Who's child is this and when did they get married? Is that guy we call "uncle" really my uncle? For as long as I can remember, my mom was that person. She was the keeper of the Small family (her maiden name) history and she eventually served in the same capacity for the Pincus family when she married my father. (Curiously, there was no one in my father's family that could be relied upon to give an accurate account of family relations. My father's family all shared one common trait. They were habitual liars.)

My mom knew facts about generations that pre-dated her own 1923 birth. She could rattle off names, dates, locations, offspring, offspring's spouses and countless children — some of whom she never even met. Right off the top of her head, she could tell of long-forgotten incidents, including explicit detail, as though they had just taken place the day before. She could sift through a box of mismatched photographs — ones spanning numerous time frames as exhibited by an assortment of black & white and color examples — and identify the subjects, the location and the approximate date on which the photo was taken.

My mom was the youngest of five siblings — her oldest brother being eighteen years her senior. I recall my mom settling many an argument among her siblings. The phone in our house would ring regularly as a brother or a sister would call to confirm with my mom which one of their uncles owned a produce pushcart or which aunt was especially promiscuous. My mom always had the answer. "Call Doris! She'll know!" was a phase that was spoken frequently among the Small clan and eventually the lying Pincuses came to rely on my mother's encyclopedic knowledge.

In October 1991, after a long, up-and-down battle with cancer, my mom died and left her family in a state of confusion. Not only was she beloved among her immediate and extended family, but she one of the few family members (on both sides) that nobody had an issue with. She was always helpful and pleasant and funny. And when she died, family history began to rewrite itself. Surviving family members were left to piece together their vague, mostly inaccurate memories. This left the Smalls and Pincuses with a legacy that resembled a poorly-sewn patchwork quilt.

There is one story that I really wish my mom were here to set the record straight. It's a story that has become a "bone of contention" between by brother Max and I. Max, as is the way of most big brothers, is always right. This story has been discussed many times since my mother's passing and the way I remember it and the way Max remembers it couldn't be more different. It's as though it isn't even an account of the same incident. Personally, I am fuzzy on the exact time frame. I don't remember exactly how old I was when it happened. But I do know that the way Max tells it is not the way it happened. The way I remember it was....

My mother had purchased a cake for an upcoming birthday — maybe mine, maybe my brother's. I don't remember who would be the eventual recipient. The cake was in a bakery box on the second shelf down in our over-stuffed refrigerator. (I always remember our family's refrigerator being packed so tightly that items needed to be constantly rearranged in order to accommodate new purchases from the supermarket or even a plastic container of leftovers. How my mom managed to find space to fit a bakery box in that frigid Tetris game remains a mystery..... but, I digress....)

The box containing the cake had the string that secured the lid removed and it sat on the shelf with the lid just loosely protecting the pasty within. As was typical for the Pincus family, I sat with my mom and dad in our den, watching television — most likely a program of my father's choosing. My brother was not with us. He was upstairs in his room doing whatever it was that he did up there. At some point, he came downstairs and visited the kitchen, perhaps for a snack or a beverage or both. From the den — adjacent to the kitchen in our small Northeast Philadelphia house — we could hear the refrigerator door open followed by my brother clinking bottles and moving covered dishes in an effort to see what sort of after-dinner nibbles were available. Suddenly, we heard a noise — a sort of a bang! — followed by my brother angrily muttering "OH!"

My mom, my dad and I scrambled into the kitchen to find my brother standing in front of the refrigerator. The door was open. At his feet was the cake box. It was upside-down and its visible contents were smashed on the kitchen floor — a scattering of crumbs and icing in a small, misshapen arrangement on the linoleum. We all stood silently for a few moments staring at the unexpected scene that surrounded my brother's feet. Finally, my father spoke. 

"What the hell happened?" he bellowed, gesturing with his omnipresent cigarette towards the destroyed baked good strewn across the Pincus kitchen floor.

My brother, with not a lick of fear in his voice, plainly stated, "I dropped the cake."

My father was positively dumbfounded. Dumfounded! He jammed his cigarette into his mouth, knelt down and awkwardly gathered up the cake box in his hands. He frowned and spat, "How do you drop a cake?" He repeated this like a mantra several more times, until he forcefully shoved the unwieldy mess into my brother's hands and screamed — demanded! — "Show me how you drop a cake!"

The words sounded downright stupid coming out of my father's mouth. It was one of those things where your anger is so out of control and over-the top, that your mind can't form coherent sentences to express the serious tone of the situation. My mom and I stifled our laughter knowing it would have made my mad father even madder. My always-defiant brother, however, just rolled his eyes as he accepted the dented cardboard box from my father. He placed it on the kitchen table. Of course, he wasn't about to demonstrate the procedure of dropping a cake for my father. This was a one-time performance. Max just stood by quietly and waited for my father's tirade to wind down. Finally, my father let out an annoyed exhale, lit another cigarette and retired to the den, shaking his head muttering about dropping a cake.

My brother returned to his room with a couple of slices of cheese from the refrigerator.

And that's the story. For years — years! — the phrase "Show me how you drop a cake!" — was repeated in the Pincus household for comedic effect. My son, whose birth came decades after the notorious "cake-dropping" incident, has made use of the phrase from time to time. It's a funny story with all the elements you'd expect in a funny story — a silly accident, an over-reaction from my father, my brother standing his ground and my mom and I hiding our amusement.

My brother, however, remembers the event completely different — right down to the action taking place on the sidewalk in front of our house instead of in the kitchen. Because of this, the story is never ever told in my brother's company.

He may have to start a blog of his own.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

gimme a head with hair

On Sunday afternoon, I was at the supermarket to pick up a few things. I needed a head of lettuce, a bag of radishes, a cucumber. (Not for me, for Mrs. Pincus. I don't eat cucumbers in their natural form, Once they are turned into pickles, though... I'm right there!) I added a few more items to my cart before heading to the check-out line.

I queued up behind a couple who had loaded up the conveyor belt with their afternoon's grocery order. I grabbed a plastic divider, placed it behind the last item in their order and began to transfer my selections from my cart to the conveyer belt. In my peripheral vision, I saw a man take his place behind my cart. I continued my task and — in typical Josh Pincus fashion — ignored everything that was going on around me.

Then I heard the man behind me say.... something.

In these days of cellphones and Bluetooth and wireless earbuds, one can never tell who someone is speaking to. I have seen folks have lengthy conversations — complete with flailing arms and expressive hand gestures — with unseen recipients of these animated diatribes. From a distance of even a few feet, they appear to be performing some sort of pantomime skit or perhaps an interpretive dance. With this in mind, I usually assume that a stranger speaking in my general direction is having a phone conversation and not addressing me. That's what I assumed regarding the man behind me in the supermarket check-out line. However, I unconsciously glanced up while leaning over the top of my cart and looked directly at him.

He smiled at me and said, "I like your hair."

Admittedly, I was taken off-guard and I felt myself involuntarily smiling. Then, I emitted a little laugh. He smiled even more broadly and added, "You certainly have more that I do!" He pointed to the top of his own head — shiny and bald. I nodded and laughed again.

It had been a very, very long time since any stranger had paid me a compliment about my physical appearance. For many years, I colored my hair a striking, yet decidedly unnatural, red. This chosen shade became something of a "trademark" among those who knew me personally. It also served as a point of focus for strangers. I regularly received comments about my hair and its unusual hue — in restaurants, in stores, on vacation, even while just walking down the street. However, after a dozen or so years and the onslaught of inevitable hair loss, I stopped coloring my hair and let it grow into its natural gray. With each subsequent haircut, more and more of my forehead became less and less hirsute. The nice woman who cuts my hair would hand me a mirror with which to view the back of my head and assess the results of her adept scissor work. With every new haircut, the bare spot on the back of my head grew bigger and bigger and barer and barer. She always comments that my hair grows so fast, but I know she's just being nice or, perhaps, looking for a bigger tip.

So, no matter what the guy behind me in the check-out line said, there is no way that he — or anyone — genuinely "likes my hair"... at least not at this juncture of my life.

Or.... maybe.... maybe... he really liked my hair.

After I paid for my groceries, but before I made my way towards the exit, I turned to the man behind me in the check-out line and said, "You... have a good day!," with emphasis on "you."

When I got home, I related this story to Mrs. Pincus and that four-word phrase — "I like your hair" — officially entered our daily conversations, joining such stalwarts as "How was your day?" and "What should we have for dinner?"

Sunday, November 12, 2023

wind of change

After mulling over my future options, I entered art school in the Fall of 1980.  I had graduated from high school over a year earlier. Although I had expressed interest in drawing at a very young age, I couldn't imagine making it a career. (Forty years later, I still can't believe I made it a career.) I worked in retail for a year while I decided what to do with the rest of my life. I was terrible at math, so that eliminated a lot of possibilities. I wasn't mechanically-inclined, so that eliminated even more. With my choices narrowing, I resigned myself to the pursuit of a rewarding career (?) in the field of commercial art.

Following Labor day 1980, I joined a small group of other budding artists as part of the freshman class at the renowned Hussian School of Art (Well.... "renowned" in Philadelphia, anyway. Well.... sort of renowned.) I met and eventually formed friendships with a majority of my classmates. Just like any school or other inter-personal situation, I didn't get along with everyone. There was one guy in particular who was.... what's the word?.... oh yeah.... an asshole. He was a sullen, angry, insulting, belligerent jerk. He openly criticized his colleagues' work, whether or not his opinion was requested. (It was not.)  He sat in class with arms folded tightly against his chest, head down, surveying his surroundings through strands of greasy hair that hung limply over his forehead, dipping into his line of vision. Mostly he would mutter to himself, huffing a "this sucks" or "you blow" under his breath. Every so often, he would raise his voice to make sure everyone was apprised of his negative opinion. "Sucks!," he'd spew and punctuate his statement by tossing a crumpled piece of paper at the artist whose work was being actually critiqued by the class instructor. Between classes, this guy would walk the halls and deliberately bump into people with the grace and finesse of a hockey defenseman. He'd offer his favorite, all-purpose, all-encompassing "pet name" to any and all that crossed his path. "Shit stain" he'd call them.

This behavior continued for the entire four years that I was a student. It never let up for one minute. After graduation, I figured I never see this guy again.

Nearly a decade into the 21st Century, an effort was made by some of my art-school classmates for an extremely informal twenty-fifth anniversary class reunion. Plans were made to meet at one of our old haunts — a small Irish pub in one of Philadelphia's narrow alleys. In our younger, more rambunctious days, many a Hussian student downed many an alcoholic beverage at this establishment, so it was the perfect venue. (Although I no longer drink alcohol, I myself ended up on the floor of this pub more times that I'd care to admit.) When the designated date rolled around, I hopped a train from my suburban home. I headed for the tiny bar with the hopes of reconvening and reminiscing with classmates and friends I had not seen in a quarter of a century. Many things had changed in that time. I was married for twenty-five years, having tied the knot just two months after my graduation from art school. I had a son that was about to turn 22. I was working in the marketing department of a large law firm in Philadelphia. I was genuinely anxious to see the paths my various classmates' lives had taken.

I arrived and entered the bar through the familiar heavy wooden doors. In the dim light, I immediately recognized some faces that had strangely not changed in twenty-five years. Sure, there were plenty of folks who I did not recognize, but after some awkward guessing I was able to make identification. As for my appearance, at the time, I had been coloring my hair a vibrant and decidedly unnatural red-orange, so I was subjected to a certain amount of scrutiny by those who knew me with mousy brown locks. 

The conversation was lively. I honestly dread events like this (I haven't attended a high school reunion since my first one — a five year milestone), but I was really glad I came. I talked with people who had not entered my thoughts for years... and it was very nice. During the course of the afternoon, a fellow approached me whom I did not recognize. He knew me, though. The first thing he did was offer an apology. As he spoke, hanging his head and expressing regret over his past actions, I realized who he was. It was my belligerent asshole classmate. He looked totally different, but once he began talking, it all came back to me. He acknowledged his poor behavior and asked for forgiveness for his less-than-amiable personality. He explained that he had grown as a person and turned himself around as his life progressed. He never pursued a career in art, but found a satisfying and rewarding vocation elsewhere. I shook hands with this former asshole. I had never shaken hands with him before.

As I became more active on social media, I have reconnected with a number of people with whom I attended art school. I see their vacation activities and their acquisitions of new pets and sad passings beloved ones. I see what they've eaten for breakfast. I've seen the marriages of their children and births of their grandchildren. I have received comments on my various silly posts and welcomed well-wishes on my birthday. Somewhere along the way, I reconnected with my asshole classmate. He has made comments here and there, although Facebook activity does not appear to be a priority in his life. Recently, however, he has made a few comments that harken back to his art school days, each one dripping with the same venomous loathing once so prevalent in those early 80s classrooms. Several consecutive comments — on different posts relating to different topics — smacked of that dismissive "you blow" and "this sucks" that I remember hearing an apology for.

What's that they say about old dogs, new tricks and a leopard's spots never changing?

Sunday, November 5, 2023

come to me for service

I bought a new car this past May. I am enjoying driving around in a car that isn't 20 years old, not worrying about that new strange noise that I didn't hear yesterday and how much it's going to cost to make that new strange noise stop. 

A week or so ago, I came home from work to find that I had received a Safety Recall Notice from Subaru Corporate Headquarters. This recall includes my five-month old Subaru Crosstrek. Receiving a recall notice is the equivalent of your car being selected for jury duty. First off, it's an inconvenience. A day off from work has to be scheduled. A day sitting in the waiting room at the service area of a car dealership isn't most folks idea of a productive day. Personally, I dread the thought as well as the actual experience. (Same goes for jury duty.)

Following the instructions in the recall notice, I called the dealership at which I purchased my car. Once connected with the service department, I explained about the notice and the fellow on the other end of the phone asked "The wire harness recall, right?"

"Is there another recall?" I thought. What the fuck? What kind of bomb-lemon-reject did Subaru sell me? Instead, I just replied in the affirmative. "Yes," I said, "the wire harness recall." I briefly scanned the recall notice before making the call to schedule a service appointment. It seemed that a manufacturing flaw was detected and a plastic wire harness that sits atop the steering column could melt, thus short-circuiting the car's electrical system. The text explained that an inspection of my car would alleviate the problem, if caught in time. If left unattended, it could involve an all-day repair. None of this, however would incur any cost to me.... except for my time. I scheduled an appointment for a Saturday morning and told the service tech that I would prefer to wait during the inspection. He assured me it would take approximately forty-five minutes. The anxiety that accompanies waiting at a car dealership began.

A few days before my service, my friend Consuelo posted an account of a very positive experience with a Subaru dealer. Consuelo has a Crosstrek a few years older than mine. There was an issue with one of the car's tires. She took it to a Subaru dealer, not the one from which she purchased the car. The mechanic sent a video record, showing the repair. She was treated with respect. The service was efficient. The whole experience reinforced the "family" reputation that made me want to purchase a Subaru in the first place. My nerves were put at ease and I no longer had that sense of trepidation about my upcoming appointment.

Saturday rolled around. I had an earlier appointment for a haircut, but would have plenty of time to make it to the Subaru dealership in time for my recall inspection. I had only been to this dealership three times - once to buy my car. Once to pick up my new car and take possession of it and once more to have a little orientation about the sophisticated on-onboard computer system that controlled everything in the car. I was not familiar with the process of showing up for car service. I pulled into the dealership parking lot and parked in the customer parking lot. I walked in to the building and was greeted by a smiling young lady at the reception desk. "Hi," she beamed, "Welcome to Subaru! How can I help you?" Her smile took up most of her face. This was encouraging. I explained about the recall notice and that I had never been here for service. She stood up from behind the desk and escorted me across the lobby to the service department. This was also encouraging. She pointed to a space near the service counter and told me someone would be with me shortly.

So, I waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. While I waited, I was ignored by every blue-topped, beige-pantsed employee that walked by. And there were a lot of them.

As I waited, I watched one young man behind the service counter tapping away at a keyboard as he conversed with a worried-looking woman. There were two other customers ahead of me, anxious to step up once the worried woman's issue was satisfied. The keyboard-tapping man left his post and returned several times, leaving the worried-looking woman to grow even more concerned. Once, he passed me and mumbled: "M'll bewithyoo mint." with I deciphered to mean "I'll be with you in a minute." He wasn't. My initial feeling of encouragement was waning.

I watched as more and more people entered the service area through a set of automatic doors that separated the service desk from the actual area where cars were queued up for there various services. Each of the folks who came to the service area were greeted by an employee and asked to take a place at the counter. I stood and watched like an outsider. An invisible outsider. More men and women in Subaru-logoed clothing passed me, hurrying off to tend to a customer that wasn't me.

Finally, I left my assigned post and went to my car. I pulled it around to the service entrance, following posted instruction to "PULL FORWARD SLOWLY. DOOR WILL OPEN AUTOMATICALLY." Sure enough, the door rose and I navigated my car into the building, stopping behind a green Forrester with a decal from a Golden Retriever Club adhered to the rear window. The car's owner exited the driver's door. She opened the backdoor to release a large, rambunctious Golden Retriever from the confines of the backseat. The woman — of slight build and stature — looked as though she could be overpowered by this hulking canine at any moment. She lazily attached a flimsy leash to its collar and the dog paced quickly in circles around her. She followed a serviceman into the showroom.

And I waited. And waited. And waited.

Mohommed, Jugdish, Sidney and Clayton
Eventually, a young man (a different young man) with an iPad approached my car. "Are you here for an oil change?" he asked. I explained the reason for my visit. He directed me to leave my key fob in the car and take my place by the service desk where someone would be with me shortly. I walked back inside and stood where I had stood before - in my spot of being ignored. I was instantly reminded of a scene from National Lampoon's Animal House when smarmy Doug Neidermeyer is trying to ditch prospective pledges Larry Kroger and Kent Dorfman at a Fraternity Rush Party. I felt like Larry and Kent. I was slowly losing my patience and all signs of the "family feeling" reputation at Subaru was slipping away.

After a few more minutes, a man in a button-down Subaru dress shirt stopped and asked if I was being helped. He had passed me several times earlier and I supposed he grew concerned when he saw I had not changed position in nearly twenty minutes. Again, I explained about the recall and he led me to a spot at the service desk at the very end of the counter. He introduced himself as "John" and in an effort to redeem the good name of Subaru, speedily checked me in. He led me to the waiting area, pointing out an array of complimentary refreshments on the way. He aske me to have a seat, assuring me that the inspection should have me out of here by noon. A few minutes after I found a seat by the front window, my phone vibrated with a text message from John. He told me to contact him if he could be of further assistance while I waited.

No charge
True to his word, John returned to the waiting area and announced my name. He led me back to his computer terminal, saying that the inspection was complete, the repair was made and there, of course, would be no charge. He reminded me that a six-month oil change was approaching in November. No appointment was necessary and it was complementary, He led me out to my car, thanked me again for my patience and for choosing Subaru. He waved as I pulled out of the service area.

Although, they did wash my car, I'm not looking forward to that oil change.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

so ya thought ya might like to go to the show

Now that the world seems to be slowly creeping back to some form of "normal" in these so-called "post pandemic" days, I've begun to venture out and experience live music again. I started off slow, first going exclusively to outdoor shows. Luckily, in my part of the Greater Philadelphia area, there are a lot of outdoor shows throughout the summer. The best thing about these outdoor shows — besides being outside — is they are free. I like free. My wife and I saw quite a few free show this past summer. The performances touched on all sorts of diverse genres — R & B, hip-hop, Tex-Mex, folk, jazzy cabaret and even a little bit of surf guitar. Oh, and they were free.

In June, I attended my first indoor show since 2020. I had some initial hesitation about going, but it was a show in a 1300-seat venue with reserved seating. I figured if I kept my mask on and people stayed in their seats, I could enjoy myself and not worry that some drunk hippie would twirl in front of me and cough his COVID-infused droplets all over my face. (No, it was not a Grateful Dead-related band and there was little-to-no twirling.) I left that show unscathed and — better yet — uninfected.

In September, I went to my first general admission, stake-out-your-spot-on-the-floor show since the week before COVID-19 shut down every public performance venue across the globe. I wore a mask and did my best to steer away from close contact with my fellow concert-goers... even this guy

Last Sunday, I went out to another show at a very small venue to see a band I had seen before. The headliner was supported by two opening acts, with neither of which I was familiar. After a quick dinner, my son and I went over to the venue and took our place at his favorite spot — a seat by the rail on the balcony, offering an unobstructed panoramic view of the stage, albeit an aerial view. Around 8 PM, the lights dimmed and the first band took to the tiny stage.

Now, I have been to a lot of concerts in my life and I have seen a lot of bands. Some good, some very good and some bad. Some very bad. I've seen some opening acts that I really enjoyed. I've also seen some that had me checking the time throughout their entire performance and trying to figure out how many more songs they would play in their allotted time. When the venue darkened last Sunday, from the opening guitar chords, I knew I'd be checking the time very soon.

The first band was boring... and bored. They appeared disenchanted with performing. Their opening number was dirge-y and tedious and cacophonous. At the song's conclusion, the lead singer, a young lady whose long and unruly hair covered her face, pushed her mouth against the microphone and introduced their next selection.

"Yeah... um.... so, this.... uh... next... um, like song.... is a new song and... like.... um.... its not on like an album or anything... and um... so... yeah... "

Every other song from the 30-minute repertoire was introduced in this fashion. One time, the stage banter was altered slightly to include a plug for the band's merchandise that was available for sale near the venue entrance.

"Um... yeah... so, like we have, like merch for sale. Like over there. We don't have no stickers though. We have t-shirts and... um, yeah... so we have merch and stuff. So, um... yeah... here's like... um... a... um.... song."

The sparse crowd — considerably younger that yours truly — seemed to be okay with this band. This led me to believe that the musical opinion of a 62-year old man is pretty much irrelevant. So, I sat quietly, fiddled with my phone, looked around and waited for the first band to leave the stage. They eventually did, departing with a message as eloquent as anything they previously said.

"So... um... that's our, like.... last song. Thanks for having... um.... us. We have merch. and... um.... so, yeah..."

After a brief rearranging of the stage, the next band came on. They were fronted by a particularly-flexible young lady with dyed periwinkle hair and a short, leopard skin skirt. They delivered a good old-fashioned punk rock show, possibly showing their predecessors "just how its done."

Sunday, October 22, 2023

happy loving couples

My parents had a group of friends with which the socialized on a fairly regular basis. By "regular basis," I mean whenever my mother made plans with the wife of the couple. Then, those plans were gently divulged to my father upon his return from a "hard day at work." (Every day at work was a hard day at work for my father.) My father would, of course, frown and grumble and express his displeasure at the thought of getting together with "those couples." Then he would relent when my mother would glare and threaten to withhold dinner beyond the unspoken but pre-determined 6:15 start time. You see, the majority of my parents' "couple friends" were my mother's friends from her days as a carefree, slightly uninhibited "party girl" and their husbands. I honestly don't remember any of the storied men from my father's youth making it to the "married adult friends list." 

My mom kept in close touch with her teenage (and beyond) girlfriends. She attended each of their weddings as a still-swinging single. When she became a bride at the unheard-of age of 33, her now-married friends joined her and rallied around to watch the once spontaneous and unpredictably wild Doris become Mrs. Pincus the First. Keeping in step with 1950s society expectations, my mom made regular plans with her friends and their husbands — regardless of how my father felt.

My mom's had three very close friends in their early twenties — Annette, Roberta and Bernadette. These three women, led by my mom, would descend upon various Catskill, New York resorts (like the one you saw in Dirty Dancing) and — as they say — "paint the town red." They would swim and dance and drink and flirt and flirt and flirt. My mom was the ringleader of the "Four Musketeers" and her friends were only too happy to follow along. Marriage, however, calmed these ladies down — reducing their frenzied nights of debauchery to quiet games of Mah Jongg. But, my mom liked having friends and, even though my father didn't like having friends, she got together with her friends and forced my father to be as cordial as he possibly could.

Plans were made most often with my mom's friend Annette and her husband Rusty. Annette was a typical quiet, polite, reserved 60s housewife, behaving as though she stepped right out of a TV family sitcom. Rusty was loud and boisterous and wore bold plaid sport jackets and told corny jokes. And, according to my father and repeated regularly, Rusty was cheap. Maybe that's the reason my father never wanted to get together with Annette and Rusty. My father, one of the world's worst handlers of money, had a terrible habit of reaching for the check at the end of a restaurant meal with friends. Always wanting to appear "the big shot," my father would grab the check as soon as the waiter would drop it on the table. Other husbands would protest and argue with my dad that the check should be split — the reaction my father was always hoping for. But not Rusty. Rusty would shrug and loudly exclaim to his wife: "Look Annette! He's doing it again!" Rusty would never argue or reach for his wallet, but he always had the same reaction. And my father still continued to grab the check first. He never learned.

One time, my mom made plans to go to a baseball game at brand new Veterans Stadium, the giant concrete monstrosity in South Philadelphia that was the new home to the Philadelphia Phillies after the closing of the venerable Connie Mack Stadium in North Philly. My father often took my older brother to Phillies games at Connie Mack, leaving my mother and I to stay home and listen to the game on the radio. My mom's plans for a family outing at the ballpark would include Annette and Rusty and their daughter, Cindy Wanda, who was my age. I didn't especially like Cindy Wanda (and I think the feeling was mutual), but a friendship was forced upon us by our parents. And I always thought it was weird that she was always referred to by her first and middle names. As per usual, my father grumbled about plans with Annette and Rusty, but, as per usual, buckled under pressure from my mother. Tickets were bought and we were going.

The day of the game — a Sunday afternoon — we found our seats and settled in. Somewhere around the third inning, my father silently rose and left his seat, never informing anyone of his destination. A few minutes after my father left, Rusty also left and scurried up the aisle of our section. Rusty returned quickly, carrying three hot dogs in his hands. He made his way to our seats and handed a dog to his wife and his daughter and they ate in silence. My father soon appeared toting six hot dogs — one each for his family and for his "friends' family." He was visibly angered by the fact that Rusty and his family where already munching on their own ballpark staples. He grew more vexed when Rusty happily accepted three more hot dogs and opined a familiar sentiment: "Look Annette! He's doing it again!" 

Every so often, my mom would invite her friends and their husbands to our house for an evening of talk, camaraderie and some games — poker for the men in one room and Mah Jongg for the ladies in another room. With the notion of company, my mom would stock up on snacks and such, putting out a spread on our kitchen table of cold cuts, bagels, sandwich accoutrements and condiments, as well as big bowls of potato chips, pretzels and something called "bridge mix," little dark chocolate coated morsels that resembled rabbit droppings. Often these little get-togethers would rotate from house to house and a similar array of food and refreshments would be offered by the evening's host couple. My father dreaded when Annette and Rusty where the "hosts of the week." (Honestly, my father dreaded these evenings PERIOD.) The food at Annette and Rusty's was minimal, consisting of cheese slices and other foodstuffs corresponding to the exact number of people attending the night's gathering. Four couples? Eight slices of cheese. No more. No less. Eight bagels. Eight slices of tomato. Eight napkins. You get the picture. Oh, and eight cans of soda were set out. And no ice bucket.

After a while, my parents didn't get together with my mom's friends and their husbands. My mom began working full time and taking on lots of overtime hours. Her time at home was spent catching up on sleep. My dad was just as happy. he went to work. He came home. He smoked a ton of cigarettes, ate a lot of red meat and watched a lot of television. Friends he didn't need or want.

Especially cheap ones.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

i want candy

Halloween is coming. I like Halloween. Yeah, there are not many holidays that I like, but I do like Halloween. When my son was little (he's 36), I loved thinking up costume ideas and then creating and assembling said costumes on Halloween night. I liked taking him around the neighborhood and then returning to our house to greet trick or treaters, see their far-less-imaginative costumes and reward them with candy for their efforts. My wife and I would decorate our house with elaborate accoutrements we had accumulated over the years, a collection that rivaled some family's Christmas decorations. As the years went on, though, and my son grew up and moved to his own house, Halloween has become less exciting. We don't decorate as much. (Some years, not at all.) We get fewer and fewer takers for free candy. Those that do venture out are finished knocking on doors and ringing door bells by the time the sun has set. The fun of Halloween has waned.

Mrs. Pincus and I got married in the summer of 1984. We moved into a two-story townhouse in Northeast Philadelphia just after our honeymoon. This is where we celebrated our first Halloween as a married couple. We had noticed a lot of young kids at the apartment complex where were lived and figured that — come Halloween — we had better stock up with plenty of giveaways.

Northeast Philadelphia is fertile ground for strip shopping centers. There were several right near our house. During the summer, we saw a new concept store open up in one of the nearby strip centers. It was a store called Barrel Grocer and they sold their various wares in bulk. The store was outfitted with aisles and aisles of barrels from which shoppers could fill a bag with bulk flour or nuts or Hershey Kisses, weigh the selected amount and (theoretically) save big. It was a novel idea, but I don't think the savings were nearly worth the effort. Supermarket prices were still cheaper and their established system was really more convenient. But, Barrel Grocer was a fun place to shop. While strolling among the barrels one day, I thought of a funny idea and I laughed to myself. I presented it to Mrs. P and she was totally on board. I decided that, instead of giving out candy for Halloween, we should give out packets of ketchup and mustard and jelly, like you would get at a fast food restaurant. These were all readily available in bulk at Barrel Grocer. I thought: "Would kids complain?" Probably not, and especially not if they can't see what we're putting in their trick-or-treat bags. Then we thought of these kids coming home at the end of the night, dumping their bags on the kitchen table and spotting ketchup and jelly packet among their Snickers bars and Reese's cups. Mom and Dad would scratch their heads, look at each other, then silently mouth: "Who the fuck gave out ketchup and mustard packs?" The answer, of course, would be "WE" the fuck did and we laughed again at the mental picture.

But instead of dismissing a funny idea, we went ahead with our plan. We filled a bunch of bags with ketchup packets and mustard packets and jelly packets (two different flavors) and even honey packets. We brought our twisty-secured plastic bags up the the cashier, laughing all the way. We laughed on our drive home. We laughed as we lined the bags up on our small kitchen counter and waited for Halloween.

Halloween 1984 arrived with pleasant weather. It was nice enough that we were able to leave our front door open as we watched the parade of kids make their way up and down the little walkways that led to each individual apartment. When the various faux witches and ghosts and clowns and superhero du jour approached with various configurations of bags extended at arms length, we were ready. As each costumed child exclaimed "Trick or treat" in their excited and shrill little voices, I reached deep into an opaque brown paper grocery bag that handily concealed what The Pincuses were giving away. I extracted a fistful of condiment packets and, under the cloak of the descending darkness, reached deep into the depth of the trick-or-treat bags to deposit our "treat." The children narrowed their little eyes and craned their little necks to catch a telling glimpse of what sort of unknown treat this guy (me) was giving out. A few kids poked around in their bags as they shuffled off. Others flat out asked us what we were giving, to which we evasively replied: "It's a surprise."

Mrs. Pincus and I (mostly me) had a hard time containing our laughter with each innocent trick-or-treater. As the night went on, however, I remember a pair of costumed kiddies pointedly ask "What was that?" as they got a fleeting peep at one of the packets being dropped in their bag. Mrs. Pincus, who as we have already established is waaaay nicer that I am, just answered. "It's jelly" and stepped back slightly, awaiting a reaction. The two kids looked at each other, looked down at their bags and looked at my wife. Then they turned on their heels and enthusiastically shrieked "WE GOT JELLY!!!!," as they skipped off towards their parents who were waiting at the end of the walkway. It was priceless.

I'm sure we ruined Halloween for a lot of children that night. But two — in particular — had jelly with their breakfast on the morning of November 1st and were excited about it.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

police on my back

In the summer of 2020, I wrote about the police for what I thought would be the last time. I don't like to get political on this blog, but sometimes a situation becomes so astounding and so outrageous, I feel I have to address it. (I promise to get back to in-depth analysis of old TV shows and things I ate for dinner as soon as I can.) Not that my opinion makes any difference, but it's more like opening a valve on a pipe to let the build up of steam escape. In 2020, a police officer murdered George Floyd in plain sight of a number of people, including other police officers who did nothing. As a result, the nation erupted in outrage and protest in many cities across the country, including my own city of Philadelphia, the alleged "City of Brotherly Love." Watching the protest on television from my safe suburban home was horrify and, at the same time, enlightening. In the following days, I was educated by a few African-American friends, giving me a perspective on the events to which I had previously been blind. I learned — in the most basic of terms — that white people are awful. Just awful. They are unjustifiably scared and have pretty much caused all of the issues they have with people who are not white. White people have always been in charge and have feared losing that status the entire time. It's just terrible and, sometimes, I am embarrassed and ashamed to be white. I thought — and really believed — that after George Floyd's death and the eventual sentencing of his police officer/murderer, things would improve. I believed that white people would collectively realize their past treatment of non-white people and begin to take the road to understanding, equality and better relationships. I thought that police officers would relax their targeting and profiling and stop being bullies. I would have been better off and achieved more favorable results had I focused my optimistic beliefs on the Tooth Fairy.

Tashawn and Michael Bernard
In August 2023, 12 year-old Tashawn Bernard was helping his father wash the dinner dishes in his Lansing, Michigan apartment. Tashawn's father, Michael, asked his son to take a bag of trash out to the dumpster that sat just across the parking lot from their unit in the apartment complex. It was something that Tashawn had done a million times before. After an inordinate amount of time, Tashawn had not returned and Michael became concerned. He left the apartment and came down to the parking lot — only to discover several police cars surrounding the dumpster and his son - in handcuffs - flanked by two police officers and being guided into the back seat of one of the police cars. Both frightened and angry, Michael called out the the officers: "Why is my son in handcuffs?" One of the officers answered back that he would be told "in a little while" and should keep his distance on the sidewalk. With Tashawn in the back of the police vehicle, Michael pressed for an explanation. Another officer explained that they were searching for a suspect in a series of car thefts in the area and Tashawn fit the basic description. As the story unfolded, some disturbing details were revealed. It seems that Tashawn had just tossed the bag of trash into the dumpster when a police car pulled up to him. An officer emerged from the car and unholstered his gun as he began to question the young man. It turns out that the only characteristic that Tashawn shared with the suspected car thief was he was black. Tashawn was a different height, a different build, different age range and was dressed differently. Eventually, Tashawn was released to his father and the two returned to their apartment. (Michael was subjected to disrespectful comments and threats prior to his son's release from custody.) Michael contacted the Lansing Police Department, as well as several media outlets. He demanded an apology, which he did receive a few days after the unfortunate incident. Both Lansing's Chief of Police and Lansing's Mayor offered very standard, very corporate and very cold apologies, with phrasing that would have been more appropriate for a mistakenly-issued parking ticket. Michael has since contacted an attorney for possible further legal action.

When I read this story (that got relatively no national attention), I was saddened, frustrated and angry. I could not imagine what was going through Michael Bernard's head when he saw his son in handcuffs. I thought about how I would have felt if I had seen my son in that situation. But, what would be the chances of that happening? My son is white and police officers would run past a white young man for the opportunity to unjustly harass a black young man. This story made me ask the rhetorical question: "When will this end?"

I got my answer last week. And the answer I got is "never."

David Ryan Harris and his children
On September 15, 2023, David Ryan Harris, a singer/songwriter, got his children up for an early flight from Atlanta International Airport to LAX. It was a six-hour flight and his two boys were understandably cranky from being awakened at 4:15 am, hours before sunrise. As they boarded the flight, a flight attendant became concerned that a light-skinned 7 year-old with curly blond-brown hair was travelling with a black man. The shy young man didn't answer the flight attendant's questions and turned away when asked his name. The flight attendant contacted authorities in Los Angeles. When the flight touched down at LAX, Harris and his two boys were met at the jetway by four Los Angeles police officers and an employee from American Airlines. After some brief public questioning, right at the gate, the police determined that the now-agitated Harris was, indeed, the father of the two boys. A furious Harris noted that his boys are shy and are not obligated to engage in any conversation. Harris unsuccessfully contacted American Airlines customer service before taking his anger to social media.  In a post to Instagram, Harris stated: "If this had been a white dad/mom with 2 little black kids, they would probably been offered an upgrade, not an interrogation." American Airlines later issued an apology to the singer. A company representative contacted Harris, explaining that they were concerned over the possibility of child trafficking. In an effort to "make things right," American Airlines promised an investigation and would credit Harris's account with 10,000 frequent flyer points. Harris pointed out that the airline awards 50,000 points when you open an account, so this is kind of insulting.

I wonder how soon until I read another one of these stories. I wonder when it will end. I wonder when I will stop hearing people say "Blue Lives Matter" as a response to "Black Lives Matter." 

White people, I mean.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

like a prayer

I wrote this a few years ago and never got around to publishing it. My feelings about religion have not changed. If anything, they have become even more critical and dismissive, if that's possible. But, it's a nice story at its heart.
Religion isn't one of my favorite things. It doesn't even rank in the top thousand. If I were to give it a position among the things for which I have a fondness, I would place religion just below repeated punches to the forehead. I find religion silly, outdated and totally useless... for me, anyway. I equate the mumbo-jumbo recitations with the mystical incantations spoken by "Samantha Stephens" in countless episodes of Bewitched... and just as effective. I will not, however, impede on anyone who finds peace and solace from religion. But, don't try to convince me to see things your way. I won't. My limited participation in any sort of religion-related activity is purely out of respect for my dear wife and, in turn, her respect for her parents — who take their religion pretty seriously.

Recently, I accompanied my wife to a shiva for a family member. A shiva, for those of you not familiar with Jewish practices and customs, is a gathering for a period of mourning after the death of a "first-degree" family member (i.e. mother, father, sister, brother, son or daughter). Family and friends assemble at the decedent's home (usually) for evening prayer services for a (traditional) period of seven days, but most American secular Jews whittle that down to three (sometimes less).

The shiva that I attended was to remember Lila, my wife's once or twice removed cousin. We arrived at a house filled with people I did not know. Most, I assumed, were friends of Lila's and her husband. Further inside the house, I spotted my in-laws, my nieces, my wife's brother and sister-in-law and Lila's two children, who are around my own age. I also recognized the rabbi from the synagogue to which Lila and her husband frequented as long-time members. Coincidentally, my son went to elementary school with this rabbi's children, although they were not in the same grade. As far a rabbis go, he's a nice guy. As far as non-rabbis go, he is also a nice guy.

Growing up, I rarely went to any sort of religious services. The ones that I did go to, I always remained in the back of the chapel, as far back and as close to the exit doors I could get and still be considered "inside." From my distant vantage point, I watched the rabbi go through his motions. He was usually an older man, with graying temples and a Mona Lisa smile — not unpleasant, but not quite friendly. After services concluded, he greeted congregants with a wise and knowing nod, patting young ones on the head and warmly shaking the hand of older folks. In my mind, I  have always had a certain mold in which rabbis should fit. This is how I want my rabbis to appear and behave. 

When I met my wife, she and her family belonged to a synagogue whose rabbi fit my "rabbi criteria." He was a tall, genial, white haired gentleman with a pleasant voice and reserved demeanor. He had a strange habit of repeating the last few words of his sentences, I suppose, to emphasize the points of his sermons. I also learned that he was a career Navy man. But, he was, unmistakably, a rabbi. Mrs. Pincus and I were married at a different synagogue whose rabbi, while much more approachable and friendlier than the Navy man, was still, unmistakably, a rabbi. He was a warm presence and his congregation adored him.

When the Navy rabbi retired, he was replaced by a steady stream of candidates who were, decidedly, un-rabbi-like. Some were crass, unpolished and very uninspiring. The synagogue finally settled for a young rabbi who treats the honored position with the same dedication as a fifth-grade kid at 2 p.m. on the last day of school before summer vacation — staring at the clock, watching the hands tick off the minutes until he can blow this proverbial taco stand. To this guy, being a rabbi is no different than any profession that works "on the clock." Once the time card is punched "out," that's where his "rabbi"-ing is — out! His service is supplemented by an assistant rabbi who, I believe, assists him in watching the clock. Both of them are out-of-sight more than they are visible and "rabbi"-ing.

Back at the shiva, the evening prayer service was beginning. I politely grabbed a siddur (prayer book) to follow along. I refuse to participate in responsive reading, reading in unison or pretending to read "silent devotion," but I will not be disruptive to those who wish to carry out the ritual. This rabbi took his place in the center of the living room, a small, semi-circle of people loosely formed around him, and he began.

He spoke so eloquently, guiding everyone through the words and offering gentle reminders of the current page from which we were reading for those (like me) who don't read Hebrew or just lost their place. He interjected with brief, but concise, explanations of the prayers and their intended meaning. His voice was sweet, filled with compassion and comfort, while maintaining an air of authority and command. The crowd was obviously entranced by his presence.

When the service concluded, I thought "If I was gonna start believing in this hooey, this guy would certainly be a good reason." His voice and manner were comforting and compassionate, giving off a palpable feeling of warmth and grace and kindness. It made me think that maybe the content of religion isn't important. All those so-called words of scripture aren't the important part. Maybe it's just the vessel through which they are delivered.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

this is cracker soul

Mrs. Pincus and I got married in July 1984. For our honeymoon, we drove to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida — foreshadowing what would become a nearly annual trip for us and the eventual extended Pincus family. The drive was a real adventure for the newly-wed Pincuses. As Mrs. P sat behind the wheel of our little maroon Datsun, I studied the map provided by AAA and acted as navigator for our route down Southbound I-95. We stopped at outlet stores and roadside stands offering useless souvenir tchotchkes of whatever locale we were passing through. As we ventured deeper and deeper into the uncharted southern states (well... uncharted for us anyway), we came upon some establishments we had never seen before. We ate our first dinner as husband and wife (aside from the one we had at our wedding — a meal which we both actually skipped), at a place called Aunt Sarah's Pancake House, adjacent to the hotel at which we stopped on our first night. Aunt Sarah's was once a small but thriving chain in the southern United States, content with its status and not threatened by national chains like IHOP. Just as long as Aunt Sarah kept slinging pancakes within a specific area, everyone would get along just fine. (After 17 years of "playing nice," Aunt Sarah's has sadly gone out of business.)

Hitting the road again on the morning of Day Two, we visited our share of Stuckey's, the granddaddy of roadside rest stops. Stuckey's, dating back to the 1930s, once boasted nearly 400 locations across 30 states. Over 4000 billboards nationwide announced the distances to the next store to weary travelers. It was a place to get gas, stretch your legs, visit a rest room of questionable cleanliness and purchase a variety of Southern-style treats like boiled peanuts and pecan log rolls. It was also a window into a culture that a Northerner who had never crossed the Mason-Dixon Line had ever experienced. The flagpole in the parking lot usually flew a large Confederate flag and among the hand fans, sunglasses and snow globes, one could easily find a selection of items depicting "playful" racist sentiment amid images of kerchief-wearing "Mammies" and sinewy, overall-clad African-American children eating watermelons. In 1984, still many years away from the disappearance of such items from Stuckey's shelves, Mrs. P and I marveled at their stock in uncomfortable silence.

Somewhere in North Carolina, we chanced upon our very first Cracker Barrel. We had passed several billboards promising an "old country store" experience, its message illustrated with the help of a friendly-looking country gentleman in a rocking chair leaning on — what else? — a cracker barrel. Up ahead, set back a bit from the six-lanes of I-95, was a rustic little building with a long front porch outfitted with a line of high-backed rocking chairs. Mrs. P veered the car onto the small service road that connected the highway to the parking lot. We parked, walked across the crunchy gravel that covered the lot and stepped up on the porch towards the big wooden entrance doors. Between a few of the rockers were cloth checkerboards on barrels and an array of red and black checkers in position and ready for a new game. The front doors opened to the sound of a tinkling bell, purposely placed to evoke visons of ol' Mr. Drucker or reliable Nels stationed behind the counter of Oleson's Mercantile. 

With beauty shots of fried chicken and fresh sunny-side up eggs splashed across forty-foot billboards, we were of the understanding that Cracker Barrel was a restaurant. But once inside, we were momentarily startled, believing we had mistakenly entered the annual Mayberry Church Bazaar, half expecting to find Aunt Bee and Clara Edwards duking it out over a box of Christmas decorations. Cracker Barrel offers the best of both worlds for the typical vacationer traveling by automobile. There's a roomful of pseudo-country crafts, knick-knacks and clothing along with a large selection of snacks, condiments, beverages and cast-iron vessels in which they can be prepared. Tucked in a nearly-obscured corner is the entrance to the actual restaurant — a large, open, plank-floored dining room with tables attended to by a battalion of gingham-and-denim dressed young ladies just trying get enough money to get through the next semester of college. 

Let me tell you something, as a person descended from the group of people who fought on the non-bigoted side of the Civil War, I was a wee bit uneasy meandering around the faux-homey displays in the Cracker Barrel retail area. As a person who was raised Jewish — albeit a very casual and minimally observant version of Judaism — my feeling of uneasiness was heightened. There was just something about the place that made me feel I didn't belong. From my standpoint, Cracker Barrel is not for everyone. Sure, on the surface, it appears very welcoming and very hospitable — a comforting oasis on the road to one's vacation destination. But, there's an underlying feeling of scrutiny and a palpable air of non-Heimisha that permeates Cracker Barrel. I can't quite explain it, but ask one of your Jewish friends (assuming you have at least one). They'll know what I'm talking about. They'll know that you shouldn't dare ask for a bagel to accompany your country breakfast plate. (As the kids say: "IYKYK.")

Over the years and through many journeys down I-95, my family and I stopped at Cracker Barrels. We noticed that locations began popping up more frequently and closer in proximity to one another. We even ate in Cracker Barrel's dining rooms one or two times, often finding it very difficult to find an entrée (or even a side order) that fit into the criteria of a family that keeps Kosher (like mine). A lot of Cracker Barrel's victual offerings are proudly, if not stealthily, cooked in or with some sort of fat rendered from an animal that doesn't possess a cloven hoof or chew its cud. (You have the internet. Google the "rules of kashrut" and settle back for a wild read.) Pancakes or eggs were a safe bet, but corn muffins and hash browns were inexplicably prepared with bacon fat. After a while, the Pincuses wised up and stopped elsewhere for meals along the 900+ mile trip. We still stopped at Cracker Barrels here and there, just not to eat.

Just last weekend, Mrs. P and I attended a collector show in Maryland, a couple of hours drive from our suburban Philadelphia home. The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with some pressing family issues, have kept us grounded for the past few years... more specifically, keeping my wife from engaging in one of her favorite activities — road tripping. Mrs. Pincus loves to drive. Loves it! Almost as much as I hate driving. In our nearly forty years of marriage, we've driven to a lot of places. (Well, she's driven. I just sat in the passenger's seat and gazed out the window like a puppy.) But Mrs. P loves tooling along, window down, wind blowing, fiddling with the radio buttons and taking in the whole carefree experience. On our way home from Maryland, we found ourselves on familiar I-95 in the once-familiar position of looking for a place to have dinner... harkening back to those long-gone days of checking a AAA TripTik for rest stops. Of course, the TripTik has gone the way of the dinosaur in these instant gratification days of the internet. Now I just merely Googled "restaurants near me" and, with the mobile GPS coordinates emitted by my phone, the glorious internet guided us to a selection of chain and local restaurants available at the next exit. One of those places was a Cracker Barrel. Mrs. P lit up. "Hey, let's give Cracker Barrel a shot!" (We had briefly decided on Red Robin, but weren't committed.)

Mrs. Pincus steered the car off the highway and followed the posted directional signs to Cracker Barrel. A narrow road looped around the parking lot of a Hampton Inn where, nestled behind a bank of landscaped trees and bushes, was the familiar rustic porch of Cracker Barrel. The rocking chairs on the porch were now constructed with some poly-carbonite-neo-fiber-wood-like alternative, but their appearance brought back memories circa our honeymoon trip. We entered the building and were immediately transported back decades. The store stock was the same. Sure, things were a bit updated, but there were still plenty of knurled wood plaques with "WELCOME" painted in distressed pink letters. There were displays of smiling Christmas snowmen and rural-looking Halloween witches side-by-side. There was a toy section filled with quaint "Wooly Willys" and wooden trains, along with trendy electronic devices and Barbie-themed items. Near the dining room entrance, there was a large area with shelves full of candy and chips and unusual bottled sodas. Mrs. Pincus picked up a few candy packages in hopes of bringing back a little surprise for her parents. She began scanning the packages for a symbol indicating Kosher certification. (This has been a common practice for us. I hope you Googled  "rules of kashrut" like I suggested.) I told her not to bother. Even though we have entered the 21st century and more and more businesses are doing their very best to accommodate the needs of those with specific food aversions, allergies or dietary restrictions based on religious, philosophical or environmental beliefs, Cracker Barrel is still a Southern company with Southern values and, if it weren't for recently-passed laws, would still be flying the ol' Stars and Bars right below Old Glory on their flagpole.

We were seated in the restaurant by a very attentive young lady who handed us menus and returned quickly to fill our coffee mugs. I noticed that Cracker Barrel now offered Impossible™ sausage, the trendy new plant-based meat substitute, alongside their standard fare of pork sausage, pork bacon and pork pork. (Plant-based foods have been a boon for those who keep kosher [Mrs. P] and follow a vegetarian diet [me].) I remember when Cracker Barrel announced that they would be adding plant-based sausage to their menu. The uproar on social media was incredible. Folks (who I was surprised could operate something more complicated than a lawn mower) posted tweets and Facebook comments, expressing their anger with Cracker Barrel's decision. "How dare they buckle to the needs of these "woke" people!" "Keep this plant-based bullshit off the menu! I want my bacon!" "We don't need this crap on our menu! Vegetarians can eat somewhere else!" were just some of the disgruntled sentiment I read. I expected to see someone asking that string beans be removed from the menu, too, " 'cause I don't like string beans!" Cracker Barrel's regular customers are very protective of their beloved rest stop. They want to keep it free of infiltrators with their new-fangled, plant-based, progressive-thinking healthy food and all-inclusive ideals.

After dinner, we paid our check via a sophisticated-looking terminal at the front counter. With our credit card inserted into a slot beneath the tiny screen, we were offered the option to leave a tip in one of three "pre-figured-out for you" dollar amounts. The clientele, however, looked like they would be paying their bill by bartering with provisions from their dirt farm. On my way out the door, I passed a rack filled with CDs by classic country singers as well as Jason Aldeen. There may have been a Confederate flag rolled up in the corner.

Cracker Barrel is an interesting diversion from real life. Try the pancakes. You get your own little bottle of syrup...and maybe a judging glance, if you're lucky.

Y'all come back now, y'hear?