Sunday, August 27, 2023

sisters are doing it for themselves

My wife and I have lived in our house for the past 37 years. We have seen our share of neighbors come and go... I suppose. Honestly, I have never had much to say to our neighbors. Sometimes, I don't even recognize our neighbors. It's not that I am not friendly (well.... maybe it is), it's just I don't feel that just because my house is on the same block as your house, we are automatically friends. I have a — shall we say — cordial relationship with my neighbors. If I recognize a neighbor, I might — might — wave or nod. But, for the most part, I don't do anything. I don't mean to be rude, but I'd rather not engage with someone I know nothing about. For the past few years we have had an annual yard sale. Potential customers come and say "Hello" and I say "Hello" back, just to be polite — having no idea that this person lives a few houses from my house.

Within the first few years of our moving in, I noticed that a woman who lives three or four houses away had twins — two little girls. They were a few years younger than our son and they kind of kept to themselves. As the years went on, I couldn't help but notice the twin girls growing up. I saw them running around on the front lawn of their house. Sometimes, I saw them get out of the car, each carrying a small bag of groceries. Other times, I would see them waiting on the corner for the school bus as I drove past on my way to work. Once in a while, my wife and I would pass them on the sidewalk, My wife would give them a big, friendly, neighborly "Hello." I would say nothing, deciding that my wife's greeting should be taken for the both of us. The twin girls would lower their glance in shyness and mutter something unintelligible  or — more often — say nothing.

Just a couple of years ago, as I pulled into my driveway, I saw one of the twin girls emerging from a car parked in front of their house. The car had a big sign attached to its roof identifying it as a vehicle from a local driving school. I mentioned to Mrs. Pincus, when I came into our house, what I saw, adding "Boy, those twins down the street are really growing up." Mrs. Pincus looked at me funny. "Twins?," she questioned "Who has twins?" I was confused. Surely, she knew to whom I was referring. She must have seen them over the past three decades. I pointed in the direction of the twins' house. "The twin girls who live three or four houses away. The twin girls.," I pressed. Mrs. P narrowed her eyes. "Triplets," she said, "They are triplets. There are three of them."

I thought my wife was joking with me. She was not.

"What?," I asked, as though I was just seeing the twist ending of The Usual Suspects for the first time. "There's three of them?" I needed confirmation. Mrs. P assured me that there are indeed three nearly identical young ladies living in the house in question.... and that there always have been. I was dumbfounded. Mrs. P was ready to debate the "founded" part of that.

From that point forward, I don't believe I have ever seen the three girls — these alleged triplets — together. I usually see two of them or one of them, but never three of them. I don't know if the two I have seen together are the same two each time. I also don't know if, when I see one of them, it's always the same one.

Last night, my wife and I took the train into center city Philadelphia to meet our son and his girlfriend for dinner. I noticed on our return trip to the suburbs, that two of the alleged triplets were in our train car. As the train slowed and came to a halt at our station, the two-thirds of the alleged triplets exited the train from a door at the other end of the car. My wife and I began walking to our house (the train station is at the end of our block). The two girls were creeping up behind us, chatting quietly to each other. We moved aside on the sidewalk to let them pass. They said nothing to us.

I concluded that if there are indeed three sisters, only two of them get along. The third one (if there really is a third one) prefers to keep to herself. She has a different group of friends and has a totally different set of interests. These two stick together as though they were twins, sharing friends, interests and maybe even a secret "twins" language. They shun and maybe even ignore the third sister. Perhaps the third sister is just fine with that.

That is.... if there really is a third sister.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

sixty years on

I recently... celebrated? .... let's go with "acknowledged" my 62nd birthday. It's a pretty inauspicious milestone. Too young for retirement (as though I could actually retire). Too old to check those survey boxes that list "35-59" as an age demographic for marketing purposes. But as a new 62-year old, I am happy to report that I have outlived some pretty significant folks. Sure, these people accomplished way more than I ever dreamed of, but I have surpassed them in time on Earth, thus offering more time for achievements equal to or perhaps even greater than theirs.

Sally Ride was the first American woman in space, as well as the youngest American astronaut. After a career at NASA, Sally was a professor of physics at USC-San Diego. She passed away in 2012 at the age of 61.

Ernest Hemingway was a Nobel-winning author, widely regarded as one of America's greatest writers. In addition, he was a noted war correspondent, covering The Spanish Civil War and World War II. He was pretty handy with a shotgun, using one to take his own life in 1961 at the age of 61.

Anthony Bourdain was a chef and an adventurer. His legions of fans lived vicariously through Bourdain's travels and endevours across the globe. He lived a life of chances and risks, eventually taking his own life in 2018 at the age of 61.

Aisin-Gioro Puyi became Emperor of China in 1908 at the age of two. He mostly served as a puppet ruler, carrying out atrocities on his country at the behest of the Japanese government. He was eventually jailed by the manipulative and powerful authorities in Japan. He died of cancer at 61, expressing deep regret for his actions.

Sergei Prokofiev was a celebrated pianist and composer, best remembered for his ballet Romeo & Juliet and his "symphonic tale for children" Peter and the Wolf. He composed seven complete operas, seven symphonies, eight ballets, five piano concertos, two violin concertos, a cello concerto, a symphony-concerto for cello and orchestra, and nine piano sonatas before his death in 1953 at the age of 61.

Cynthia Myers was a popular Playboy Playmate in the 1960s. A copy of her centerfold was secretly smuggled aboard the 1969 flight of Apollo 12. Cynthia made frequent appearances on the TV series Playboy After Dark and later served as a spokesmodel for Schlitz Beer. She was an early vocal witness of Bill Cosby's illicit behavior at the Playboy Mansion, as later related in a 1994 interview. Cynthia died in 2011 at the age of 61.

Roderick Toombs adopted the name "Roddy Piper," based on his proficiency of the bagpipes. He gained worldwide popularity for his antics in the wrestling ring and, despite his villainous persona, he was a fan favorite. Roddy dabbled in film and television and made regular appearances at conventions where he mingled with his fans. He died in his sleep from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 61.

Billy Martin was a second baseman but gained his notorious reputation as a manager. Billy served as manager for several Major League Baseball teams, including five separate stints with the New York Yankees. Despite 5 World Series Championships, Billy regularly butted heads with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Following a dismissal at the end of the 1988 season, Billy was killed in a single-car accident on Christmas Day 1989. He was 61.

Huddle Ledbetter, better known as "Leadbelly," was a multi-instrumentalist who introduced a number of compositions into the American songbook, including "Goodnight, Irene," "In The Pines," "Midnight Special" and "Cotton Fields." He sang and wrote about topical subjects including politics and racial issues. He often advised his black audiences to "stay woke," in one of the earliest known uses of the term. Leadbelly died in 1949 at the age of 61.

Peter Lawford was an actor and cohort of Frank Sinatra in the illustrious Rat Pack. He was a constant companion of the singer. Peter married JFK's sister Patricia, giving politically-connected Sinatra an "in" with America's so-called "first family." But a politically-charged falling out with Lawford led to an end of their friendship. Peter popped up on television throughout the 60s and 70s without Sinatra's help. After years of various substance abuse, he died from a heart attack at 61.

Goru Suzuki was born on a ship in en route to Japan. Although they were residents of Oakland, his parents wanted their son to be born in Japan. Goru lived in Oakland until his family was sent to an interment camp in Utah during World War II. With a leaning toward entertainment and hoping to avoid Japanese prejudice, Goru changed his name to the more Chinese "Jack Soo" and worked as a stand-up comic and singer in a Cleveland nightclub. He appeared on Broadway and many guest roles in television before landing the familiar role of "Detective Yemana" in the sitcom Barney Miller. Jack died during the fourth season of the series at the age of 61.

I don't expect to manage a baseball team or fly into space or write a symphony or rub elbows with political figures or appear in a sitcom or write the "great American novel," but at least I have time ahead of me to accomplish at any and all of those.

I guess...

Sunday, August 13, 2023

overnight sensation

I have always liked oatmeal. Yeah, I know… most kids didn’t. Most kids were forced to eat oatmeal. “Eat it!,” Mother would jeer through clenched teeth, “It’s good for you!” Well, that’s all a kid needed to hear… that something was good for them! They would instantly balk and frown and turn their noses up at it. But not me. I liked oatmeal and I remember that my mom cooked it – yes! actually, cooked it in a pot on the stove – on random weekend mornings. 

Comedian Shelley Berman did a routine about finding a black speck of something in a glass of milk. In this particular routine, he alluded to oatmeal just being comprised entirely of black specks, therefore he avoided it. Character actor Jack Gilford would put his trademarked “rubber face” to use in his impression of a pot of oatmeal boiling on the stove – blinking his eyes, puffing out his cheeks and opening and closing his mouth to simulate the surface activity of cooking the breakfast staple. Both of these comedy bits made me laugh, probably because I liked oatmeal… and probably because they were funny. 
When instant oatmeal was introduced, I was able to make it myself. I’d fill our tea kettle with water, flick on the burner. In a few minutes, the built-in whistle would alert me that the water within was boiled and ready to add to an envelope of instant oatmeal. I had breakfast and my mom was able to sleep a bit longer on a weekend morning. 

I have always enjoyed all-you-can eat buffets, especially breakfast buffets, usually experienced in a hotel lobby after a one-night stay while driving from Philadelphia to Florida. Larger, more expansive breakfast buffets were availed on the many cruises I have taken with my wife. The buffet is my favorite part of cruising, the breakfast buffet especially. The choices are nearly endless, with large platters of scrambled eggs, pancakes, waffles, hash brown potatoes, along with various meat options for the carnivores. Somewhere among the breakfast offerings is a selection of hot cereals, each in a shiny metal cylinder with a long-handled ladle at the ready. There’s always oatmeal, as well as cream of wheat (another of my favorites) and grits (a Southern corn-based specialty that I have enjoyed from time to time). I usually supplement my overly-laden breakfast plate with a bowl of oatmeal topped with a helping of brown sugar… eating it as sort of an appetizer to my cruise buffet breakfast mish-mash. 

Every so often, my dear Mrs. P will break out a pot and a cook oatmeal for the two of us, stirring up memories of when we were still kids in our respective kitchens or sailing on a giant ship in the middle of who-knows-where. 

Game changer.
If you are a regular reader of this blog (if it even has regular readers) or if you know me IRL (as the kids say), you probably are familiar with my disdain – that’s right! seething disdain! – for the overuse of the mawkish superlatives that have overrun our everyday conversation, specifically in our collective online personas. Words like “amazing” and “game-changer,” and their regular misuse, make me cringe. I have often railed against the use of the word “amazing” applied to situations that are clearly not amazing. Your kid passing a spelling test is not amazing. No one has ever prepared and consumed a grilled cheese sandwich or a piece of cake that was amazing. There has never been a movie or television show or concert or any other form of entertainment that was amazing. However, on the off-chance that there was one of these that could possibly qualify as “amazing,” chances are you didn’t see it and you didn’t witness eight of them… in the same week. Sure, there have been good food and good movies and good performances in academics, but “amazing?” Come on… Organ transplants are amazing. Discovering a cure for polio is amazing. Sending astronauts to work and live on a space station floating somewhere way up in the sky is amazing. The fiftieth steak that some French guy cooked in a restaurant…. Amazing? Really?

Do you want to know what a “game-changer” is? The shot clock in basketball. In 2018, the NBA implemented the 24-second shot clock and that changed the game. In 2022, Major League baseball decided, in an effort to speed up boring baseball games, to start each half-extra inning, after the regulation nine have been played to a tie score, with an automatic runner in scoring position on second base. Just this season, a regimented pitch clock has been installed to force pitchers to stop fucking around on the mound and throw the goddamn ball already. Those are game changers. You know what’s not a “game-changer?” Putting salt on caramel or adding a rinse aid to your dishwasher. 

I’m not sure when I first heard about it, but I have become aware of a thing called “overnight oats.” Now, I don’t profess to be a chef of any sorts, but the concept of “overnight oats” sounded pretty simple. Just follow the recommended quantities for cooking oatmeal, but instead of combining everything in a pot on the stove, you just mix it all up in a bowl, cover it and stick it in the refrigerator for – guess how long? That’s correct! Overnight! When you wake up, you can be treated to a healthy, filling nutritious breakfast… that is, if you don’t mind cold oatmeal. (Some recipes do suggest heating the concoction up in the microwave, but the general consensus of folks who have jumped on the “overnight oats” train eat it cold.) 

I have seen a number of online posts singing the praises of overnight oats. People have labeled overnight oats “game changers” and “amazing.” Closer to real life, one of the more vocal advocates of overnight oats is my brother-in-law (no, not that one, the other one). A self-proclaimed authority on pretty much everything, he has been making overnight oats for quite some time. He has told Mrs. Pincus (his sister) how “amazing” overnight oats are and how she and I should try its magical properties ourselves. He has not recommended this to me directly since I have not personally spoken a word to him in over a decade. (And that, my friend, is a story for another blog post!) Nevertheless, always looking for another option for breakfast, I decided to give overnight oats a shot. 

...and liddle lamzy divey
On a recent Sunday evening, I prepared a lidded Tupperware bowl with a cup of dry oats, a cup of almond milk and the amount of brown sugar I would normally add to a bowl of hot oatmeal. I thoroughly mixed the ingredients together and snapped the lid shut. I found a little spot in the refrigerator in which the mixture could congeal or ferment or do whatever it is that takes place over eight hours in cold confines. A few recipes proposed adding peanut butter, jelly, nuts, chia seeds (ch-ch-ch-CHIA!) or other enhancements, but I stuck with what I was used to for my initial run. I closed the refrigerator door. Technically, I was cooking. 

My alarm went off on Monday morning and I hopped out of bed at 5:30 with the start of another work week ahead of me. I went downstairs to the kitchen and flicked on the Keurig coffee maker. But, instead of removing a bowl from the cabinet above the sink and filling it with Honey Nut Cheerios like I have done a zillion times before, I went to the refrigerator to get, what I anticipated would be, a brand-new revelation in breakfast at the Pincus house. 

The bowl was right where I left it, on the shelf in the refrigerator. I popped open the lid. No elves had come to dance and sprinkle their magic. No visible chemical reaction had taken place. The oatmeal appeared to be oatmeal. Cold, but still oatmeal. I made a cup of coffee and took my breakfast upstairs to watch the remaining minutes of a fifty-plus year old episode of Dragnet and an older one of My Three Sons before leaving for work. 

Before scooping up the inaugural first taste, I stirred the thick mélange to reincorporate the components. I dunked my spoon below the lumpy surface and brought up a generous helping of overnight oats… and into my mouth it went. 

It was cold. 
And bland. 

And it had a weird texture and, to steal a phrase from many a program on The Food Network, it had an unappealing mouth feel. 

It tasted like cold oatmeal. Like oatmeal I had made and forgotten about. 

A dramatization.
Mrs. Pincus always says that I’m a “good sport.” I will do things I don’t really care to do. I will go to places I don’t really care to go to and I will eat things I don’t really care to eat. And I will not complain about it. Well…. Maybe I’ll complain about it a little. (Does writing a lengthy blog count as a “complaint?”) I ate the entire bowl of overnight oats. It was not good. I did not enjoy it. I ate it knowing that it would not be the last meal I would ever eat. With each bite, I swigged some coffee to mask the unpleasant taste until the bowl was empty. 

On Tuesday, I had a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast. Overnight oats will not darken my refrigerator ever again. 

My game was not changed, nor was I amazed. 

Sunday, August 6, 2023

missing you

Mrs. Pincus has an eBay business… and no! she will not sell your stuff for you. She will, however, happily take your unwanted small boxes, bubble wrap, packing material and padded envelopes. You can either drop these items off on our front porch or she will come to your location (within reason) and pick them up. 

My wife has put the word out for boxes and things on a fairly regular basis. And, on a fairly regular basis, our front porch is overflowing with all shapes and sizes of boxes and such… some that can be used in her business and some that cannot. The things that she has no use for (including newspaper, large boxes and Priority Mail boxes that have gone through the postal system once) are added to our weekly recycling bin and taken to the curb on trash collection day.

While she is grateful for the boxes that people are kind enough to save for her, I am still puzzled by the thing that people thing qualifies as “useable packing material.” Among piles of suitable boxes, we have found empty packages from baked goods with a big cellophane “window” and the bottoms of which are covered with crumbs. We’ve received product boxes from make-up – tiny boxes of flimsy cardboard that once held a tube of lipstick, not more than two inches long. What could we possibly ship in a box like that? We’ve found pieces of Kleenex and crumpled fast-food wrappers. In other words, trash. 

We have also discovered unusual items mixed among a stack of boxes. Things like bags of screws that came with a purchased item to aid in assembly. Sometimes we have found the ordered item itself. We once even found a credit card lying at the bottom of an opened Amazon box. People are very particular about obscuring their home address on a shipping label, but not so concerned with making sure they have removed the item they bought before discarding the box. 

Mrs. P takes the usable boxes to her shipping office, where it will be reused at some point in time. Sometimes, a box or envelope may sit for months – or even years – until it is deemed the perfect vehicle for a particular item’s journey through the delivery process. 

This week, Mrs. P needed to ship a small poster of some sort. She selected a sturdy cardboard mailer that a kind soul donated some time ago. She opened the mailer to secure the purchased item only to find that something was already inside. She reached in and extracted a large diploma from New York University. Shocked, she pulled a similar-sized mailer that was on the shelf, as it was received at the same time. This one contained a diploma from the University of California. The names on the address labels on both mailers had been blackened with marker but the original postmarks were still legible. They read “2018” and “2020” respectively. These envelopes were setting on a shelf for at least three years waiting to be used.

Mrs. P didn’t recognize the names on either diploma. Because the recipient’s name was crossed out, she had no idea who could have dropped this off at our house… three years ago. 

So, she took to the always ready, usually helpful social media, specifically Facebook. Logging in to a group for our immediate neighborhood, she posted the scenario. To combat those who would tell her to just contact the names on the diploma, she added that the names of the graduates may not be the ones who dropped off the envelopes. 

Not too long after her post, she was contacted by the embarrassed mother of the diploma recipients. She said those envelopes must have been gathered up with other, emptier envelopes without even checking the contents. Why weren’t the diplomas framed and hanging on a wall? Why weren’t they missed – one for three years and one for five? Didn’t one of those kids ask where their diploma was? Perhaps a prospective employer didn’t need proof of graduation. 

So many questions. 

We still want your boxes though. Who knows what we’ll find next?