Sunday, March 3, 2024

searchin'

This story appeared on my illustration blog twelve years ago, complete with a drawing of my father. It's a funny story that wasn't too funny while it was actually happening.
I'm pretty sure my dad's intentions were good, but he had his own quirky method of making them known.

My father followed an old-time, though slightly skewed, set of ethics. He was a hard worker and blindly devoted to the company he worked for — no matter how little that company gave a shit about him. He tried to instill his work ethic into my brother and me and he somewhat succeeded, as we are both hard workers. However, the Pincus boys just never bought into the "blind loyalty" part, as we came to know after years of working for various employers, that most employers feel that their employees are expendable and easily replaced.

My father loved his family and his way of showing love was to keep constant tabs on their schedules and their whereabouts. As my brother and I came into our teens, that task proved increasingly difficult for my father. Where are you going? How long are you staying there? When will you be home? Who will you be with? these were all part of the regular barrage of questions my brother and I were riddled with when we made a motion toward the front door during our adolescent years. My older brother's teenage antics made a wreck of my father's sense of family order and when I reached "driver's license" age I was no better.

In the summer of 1980, when I was 19, I ran a sidewalk produce stand for my cousin at 16th and Spring Garden Street in downtown Philadelphia. My cousin awakened in the wee hours of the morning and would spend several hours purchasing stock for the stand at the massive Food Distribution Center in South Philadelphia. He'd load his van with crates of fresh fruit and vegetables and I'd meet him at the stand around 8 a.m. to help unload the van and set up for the day. I did this every weekday for the entire summer and, even though I would sometimes stay out fairly late on weekday evenings, I was never on that corner later that 8 a.m. the next day. No matter what. Never.

At the beginning of that summer, I went on my first vacation without my parents. I went to Florida with three of my friends. When I returned home, my cousin recruited me to hawk plums and lettuce and I was just getting into the daily routine that the job required. I had also just met a girl at a local record store and we made plans for a date. Late one afternoon, I came home tired from a full morning of weighing out cherries, bagging bananas and persuading passers-by to pick up some tasty spuds for their family's dinner. After a shower and a change of clothes, I was ready to take this new girl out to a restaurant and who-knows-what-else. I met my father on the front lawn as I was leaving the house and he was arriving home from work. Right on schedule, the questions began.

He opened with his old favorite — "Where are you going?"

"I have a date."

"When will you be home?"

"I don't know. Later, I guess."

"You know, you have work tomorrow.," he informed me, as though I would not have otherwise been aware of my employment.

"I know.," I answered as I opened the driver's door of my mom's car and slid behind the wheel. My father stood on the lawn, arms folded across his chest, and watched me drive off. It was apparent that he was not pleased with my limited answers to his inquiries.

I arrived at Jill's house and offered her the passenger's seat in my mom's tank-like Ford Galaxie. We chatted as we drove and at one point I glanced in her direction as she nonchalantly popped a Quaalude into her mouth. We pulled into the parking lot of the Inn Flight Steakhouse on Street Road and I helped Jill through the entrance doors as her self-medication affected her navigational ability on the short walk from my car. At dinner we talked and joked and exchanged other typical "first date" pleasantries. Before we knew it, we had spent several extended hours at that table, although I'm sure I was more aware of the time than she was. (Under the circumstances, I sure I was more aware of a lot of things than she was.) She invited me back to her house, explaining that her parents were away for a few days (hint, hint). We drove to her house and, once inside,  she motioned to the basement, telling me she join me in a few minutes.

Meanwhile, my father was manning his usual post at the front door. He stood and stared out through the screen with an omnipresent cigarette in one hand, checking his watch approximately every eight seconds.

"Where the hell is he?," he questioned my mother.

"He's on a date. He told you. You saw him when you came home from work.," she replied, as she had countless times before.

"He has to go to work early tomorrow morning. Doesn't he have a watch? Doesn't he know what time it is?" My father was convinced that if he personally didn't inform you of the current time, you couldn't possibly know. He fancied himself humanity's "Official Timekeeper". He would have made a great town crier.

My mother — that poor exasperated, sleep-deprived woman — tried to reason with my father. "He'll be home. He knows he has to work. He's responsible. You know  he's responsible."

Suddenly, he grabbed his coat and scanned the living room for his car keys. "What are you doing?," my mother asked, suspiciously.

"I'm gonna go look for him. Maybe he has a flat tire.," he said, trying to sound concerned, but my mom was not convinced.

"You don't even know where he is. You don't know where the girl lives. You don't even know her name! Where are you going to look?" My mother knew he was up to something. No one could get anything  past my mother. Especially my father.

"Then, I'll drive around and look for him." Ignoring her words, my dad got into his car, backed down the driveway and sped off to a planned destination. He had no intention off driving around. He knew exactly where he was going. Somewhere around the time that Jill was descending her parent's basement steps wearing little more than a blanket and a smile, my dad was bursting through the doors of a police station several blocks from our home.

"My son is missing.," my frantic father shouted at the policeman on duty, "I don't know where he is!"

The unfazed officer grabbed a pen and, with it poised above a notepad, asked my father, "When did you see him last?"

"About seven hours ago," my dad replied, "when he left for a date."

The policeman dropped the pen, cocked one eyebrow and stared blankly at my father. "He's probably still on the date, sir." He instructed my dad to go home, assuring him that I'd probably be home any minute. Annoyed and dejected, my father shuffled back to his car and drove home. A few minutes after he pulled into the driveway, I steered my mom's car along the curb in front of my house. As I walked up the front lawn, searching for my house key, the front door opened and the shape of my father was silhouetted by the living room lamp. My mother was lurking several feet behind him.

"What are you still doing up?," I asked.

"Where the hell were you?," my father yelled, "I just came from the police station looking for you."

With this information coming to light for the first time, my mother and I simultaneously emitted a loud, angry and incredulous 'WHAT?'

"You went WHERE?,"  I screamed, "You knew I was on a date! Are you INSANE?"  I glanced down at my watch (contrary to my father's beliefs, I did own one and I referred to it often). "I don't have time to talk about this. I have to wake up in a couple of hours to go to work." I echoed my father's ingrained work ethic and looked him square in the face. "And so do you.," I finished.

With that, I stomped upstairs, flopped down on my bed and drifted off to sleep to the muffled tones of my mother's reprimanding voice coming from my parent's bedroom below.

I know my father's main concern was my safety and well-being and his intentions were honorable, but he desperately needed to take a course in Parental Behavior. Lucky for him, I think my mom taught those classes.

www.joshpincusiscrying.com

Sunday, February 25, 2024

only you know and I know

Both of my parents died from colon cancer in their 60s. That puts me — statistically — on the bad side of susceptibility of getting colon cancer. I have been to my doctor many, many times since my parents passed away. Whether it was for a yearly check-up or a follow-up for one of several hospital visits, my doctor has always asked me — in his run-down of "the usual questions" — "Have you had a colonoscopy?" As I shifted uncomfortably upon the examination room table, rebuttoning my shirt, my answer has always been the same. And that answer is "No." His reaction is always the same. He frowns, tells me I should really have one, and then he hands me a many-times Xeroxed list of area doctors who will happily perform the procedure. I take the paper, fold it up and, when I get home, I toss it on the pile of other copies of the same information I have received on previous visits.

It's not like I am afraid of getting a coloscopy. I'm not. Not at all. My brother — four years my senior — has had about a thousand since he turned fifty (the ideal age at which the medical profession suggests that a regimen of coloscopies begin). A friend of mine encouraged me to get one, reporting that the drugs they give you to knock you out prior to the actual procedure are — and this is a direct quote — "fucking awesome." You would think that the promise of an experience usually associated with the side effects of a Grateful Dead concert would be enticement enough to get me to make an appointment, but.... I still didn't. The actual reason (excuse?) I have been lax in scheduling a colonoscopy is convenience... or in my case inconvenience. Yeah.... I know. LAME! That is that lamest excuse. But, taking a sick day off from my various jobs has been — for lack of a better word — a hassle. When I worked at a law firm, my boss would throw so much guilt on me when I scheduled a vacation, as though the most important person at a multi-office law firm was the graphic designer. My next three jobs didn't offer as many sick days and vacation days as I would have liked, so a day off was pretty precious and I didn't feel a preventive care procedure was worth a day off from work. (Stupid, right? Yeah, I know.)

In January, I was in the hospital for a few days and, as my discharge instructions recommended, I scheduled a follow-up visit with my family doctor. As usual, as my visit drew to a close, the subject of a colonoscopy breached the line of questioning. My doctor cocked his head at me, expecting my answer to be one he had heard before. Then, he asked if I would be willing to take a Cologuard home colon cancer detection test.. He offered this alternative as sort a a "secret weapon" to counter my usual "no" response. Once I agreed to the Cologuard test, he muttered "you seem to be afraid of a colonoscopy" and he trailed off. I agreed to the Cologuard, dammit! and I'm not afraid of a colonoscopy! I thought. Instead, I forced a grin and said nothing. A Cologuard test was ordered for me and I was told it would arrive at my house in a few days.

Because of the television programming I usually watch, I have seen a lot of commercials for the Cologuard home test, mixed in with those for other prescription drugs, incontinence remedies, retirement homes, Medicare supplements and reverse mortgages. The Cologuard commercials are clear in their purpose, but are somewhat vague on the actual procedure. To be honest, I didn't pay that close attention to them. 

As promised, a few days after my doctor's visit, a plain white box arrived at my house. I actually ignored it for a couple of days. I also ignored the texts that the good folks at Exact Sciences (Cologuard's distributor) sent me on a twice-daily basis. Finally, I watched an instructional video that one of the texts contained.

I will not elaborate on the actual details of preparation, procedure, post-procedure and getting the completed test back to the company for analyzation. However, I am well aware of what everyone who has taken a Cologuard test at home has done. And, conversely, they are aware of what I did. I know what you were instructed to do and, if you followed the instructions, I know what you did. I will not say what we did. Now, we are like Freemasons. We are now part of a secret society with covert, unspoken rituals known only to those who have been let into the fold. We did these things behind closed doors. Alone... while hundreds or even thousands of other folks were doing the same thing at the same time. We don't wear a badge or any kind of insignia to identify ourselves to each other. We know that we are not the only ones who did what we did. In five years, over two million people did what we did. When we see someone at the UPS office holding that square white box, we know the sequence of events that transpired to bring you to this moment.

We just know.

My test came back negative. Let's just leave it at that.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

are you ready, kids?

I grew up in a house that loved sports. My dad and my brother would spent countless weekend afternoons watching as many sporting events on television as they could pack into their waking hours. Baseball, basketball, hockey ( Well, not hockey for my father so much. He complained that the game moved too goddamn fast for his liking). But, come football season...! Oh my gosh! The television was unapproachable! Unless you wanted to watch a football game, the television was off-limits. From early afternoon until sometimes late Sunday evening, my father and my brother would watch and cheer and scream and over-analyze plays that transpired hours earlier. Knowing full well that I wouldn't get a chance at the TV until this nonsense was over, I voluntarily sequestered myself in my room and drew pictures. (That's called "foreshadowing.")

I watched two complete (and one partial) football games in my life. The partial was the Philadelphia Eagles' first Super Bowl appearance in 1981. They were defeated by the Oakland Raiders 27-10. I actually "Googled" that, because I have no recollection of any part of the game. I do, however, remember watching the Eagles' second Super Bowl game. This was the Eagles redemption game, one they were determined to win. I watched every single second of that game. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but I watched. I didn't understand any of the terminology used by the television announcing crew. I couldn't follow any of the maneuvers taking place on the field. I remember an unspectacular performance from Justin Timberlake at halftime, playing it safe 14 years after the notorious "wardrobe malfunction" with Janet Jackson. I remember that back-up quarterback Nick Foles led the team to a victory, replacing the injured Carson Wentz. I couldn't tell you what he did that was special, I just know the Eagles won. 

I watched the Eagles play last year in Super Bowl LVII and lose in a heartbreaker after being ahead for nearly the entire game. Once again, I was baffled by the action on the field, but I do remember enjoying Rianna's weird halftime antics, despite not being familiar with any of her songs.

This year, I started seeing promos on television that touted a Super Bowl broadcast hosted by beloved cartoon characters SpongeBob SquarePants and his loyal pal Patrick the starfish. In the days and weeks leading up to "The Big Game," Mrs. Pincus and I made plans to see if SpongeBob could stir interest in a game in which we had no interest. The Eagles were not playing and the two teams that were... well, I couldn't name a player on either.
But, goddamn! if that little absorbent and yellow and porous guy didn't make things interesting. The broadcast opened with the typical fanfare, but the good folks at Nickelodeon used up-to-the-minute technology to overlay jellyfish and bubbles and assorted sea life on the field and in the stands. The familiar orange blimp circled the rafters of Allegiant Stadium and cameras focused on "fish-ified" celebrities like "Claumuel L. Jackson," "Doja Catfish" and "Billie Eelish," who were in attendance. Touchdowns were punctuated by end-zone cannons spewing Nickelodeon's signature "slime" in all directions.

In addition to the action on the field, a remote camera followed SpongeBob's curmudgeonly neighbor and coworker Squidward as he waited impatiently to use the men's room. Commentary was lively — and funny — if not perhaps a bit above the intellect of the target audience. I wondered who was actually watching this broadcast... besides a 60-ish husband and wife whose child aged out of the Nickelodeon demographic decades ago. I assumed that in most football-watching families, Dad controlled the TV (much like my dad did all those years ago). There is no way any typical "I-Couldn't-Be-Bothered" father was sitting though the biggest event in sports with Patrick Star complaining "I don't understand" every two seconds. Nevertheless, my wife and I watched and enjoyed the cartoon high jinx. 

Actually, I was quite appreciative of Dora the Explorer's pop-up appearances to explain the meaning of each game-stopping penalty called by officials. In plain, understandable language, Dora made sense of "holding," "clipping" and "off-sides." While it was informative, I would have much preferred Clarissa giving the explanations. After all, wasn't that her schtick anyway? (Am I dating myself?)
The time flew by. Granted, we were not glued to the game, as though we had a couple grand riding on the outcome. But, all in all, I would consider watching future Super Bowls under these circumstances. As a matter of fact, I propose that SpongeBob and Patrick host all major sporting events and even awards shows. It would certainly liven things up and make the whole thing more interesting and entertaining.

Who's with me? I can't HEAR you......!

 

Sunday, February 11, 2024

you don't have to put on the red light

After many, many comfortable carefree years of taking the train, I returned to the white-knuckle endeavor that is my daily commute to work.

I do not like driving. I openly admit that I am not a good driver. I can operate a car and I can get from one place to another. But, I do not enjoy the actual activity of driving. I think the main reason for this is other drivers. Other drivers are angry, aggressive, impatient, self-centered and oblivious to their surroundings and other drivers. I am very wary of other drivers making last minute decisions to change lanes without signaling. I try to make myself aware of that particularly erratic driver who — I just know — is not going to make that turn he has been promising for over ten blocks via his blinking turn signal. I keep alert to be ready to hit my brakes when the vehicle in front of me decides to stop, activate its hazard flashers and remain in an active lane, despite the availability of numerous curbside parking spaces.

More recently, I have witnessed a driving phenomena that just baffles me. I see it nearly every morning in the span of my forty minute commute to and from work. My morning and evening drive takes me through several small, residential Philadelphia neighborhoods. Like most neighborhoods, there are houses packed tightly into to a checkerboard of streets. There are cars in driveways and on the street and children running across lawns and sidewalks and sometimes into the street to chase an an errant ball. With all of this activity, I am still shocked — shocked! — to see drivers failing to stop at red lights on a regular basis.

Almost every single day, I as I apply my brakes at an intersection where the traffic signal in my direction is displaying a red light, a car next to me continues without slowing down and with no regard for the automated signal. However, a new twist has been added by some particularly brazen drivers. This new trend, which seems to be gaining popularity every day, involves an actual stop of the vehicle. The driver has acknowledged the existence of the red light and has stopped his vehicle accordingly. But, then, the driver has determined that the length of time that the red light is displayed is too long. He's got places to go and things to do and cannot waste any more precious time waiting for this silly light to turn green and allow him passage. So, taking the law into his own hands — and after stopping for his assessment of a reasonable amount of time — the driver proceeds right through the red light. Since he stopped, he is very conscious of what he has done. It is much different from "Oh, I didn't see that the light was red!" Instead, it is, "Oh, I saw the red light. I just had enough." I see this a lot. An awful lot. I have even seen this occur with a police car stopped nearby.

What have we become? Why are the basic rules of society breaking down right before our eyes? It's not just blowing a red light. It's refusing to wait in line. It's taking photos at a concert or play, despite pre-performance announcements of "No photography, please." It's demanding substitutions in a restaurant when the menu clearly states "No substitutions." It's parking in places that are obviously not parking spaces. It's not owning up to our own mistakes. It's a lot of things.

A civilized society is supposed to evolve. At least I thought that was the plan.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

moneygrabber

There's an old joke. A guy calls a plumber to fix a small leak in a pipe. The plumber arrives and he's led down the basement steps to view the leak. The plumber examines the pipe from all angles, assessing the situation. Finally, he says to the homeowner, "This looks like a 'Miami job.'" The homeowner asks, "You mean you saw a similar type of leak on a job in Miami?" "No," the plumber clarifies, "I mean with the money I get from you for this repair, I'll be able to spend a month in Miami."

Before I purchased a new car this past May, I drove my trusty Toyota RAV-4 for nearly twenty years. Over the course of two decades — as you can imagine — my car required its fair share of maintenance and repairs, as well as yearly safety inspections required by the state of Pennsylvania. When my car needed service, I took it to a mechanic named Dewey whose shop is in my neighborhood. Dewey is a nice guy, I guess. He would sometimes pick my car up at my house and drop it off when the work was completed. He has a genial demeanor, often limiting the technical jargon when he was explaining the repair that my car would need after I told of the abnormalities I thought my car was experiencing. 

The repairs that my car required — at any given visit to Dewey's shop — were extensive. Always. Even for annual inspections, at times when my car was running — in my opinion — just fine, Dewey would find something within the confines of my vehicle's body that would cost me a couple hundred dollars. Always. Once I needed a new headlight. While changing the headlight, Dewey told me that discovered that the intake valve of the deferential influx capacitor was not in tip-top working order. He innocently asked if I'd like it replaced and soon, a lousy new headlight was costing me four hundred bucks. State inspections  that should cost around fifty dollars, would always require some crucial engine component. Without a replacement, my car would not pass inspection and possible lead to a more serious issue. Of course, the new part would set me back a few hundred dollars. This went on for years. I don't think Dewey was an incompetent mechanic. I think he just went out of his way to find something wrong with my car every time I brought in. He wasn't going to let me take possession of my vehicle without a payment of at least a hundred bucks. I know nothing about the innerworkings of a car, so I was at the mercy of Dewey's perceived "expertise." So, I had him make any repair he suggested and I paid whatever he told me the bill was.

... until this year when I purchased a 2024 Subaru Crosstrek for the price of my 2004 Toyota RAV-4 and an undisclosed amount of cash. Because of the delicate computer system that is standard on new cars, I purchased an extended warranty on my new vehicle, thus eliminating any future dealing with Dewey. I would be taking my new car to the Subaru dealership for state inspections, any future maintenance and eventual repairs. My wife, who drives a 2018 Toyota takes her car to a Toyota dealer for maintenance, so, as far as I can see, Dewey is out of our lives. As a matter of fact, Mrs. P ran into Dewey at the supermarket and told him that I had purchased a new car. She said he appeared happy and wished me "good luck" with the car.

One day last week, Mrs. Pincus returned from running errands to discover that her car had a flat tire. After the involuntarily voicing of a few choice words, she called AAA and waited for someone to come and change the tire. Afterwards, we discussed her options for getting the flat tire repaired... and repaired quickly. First, we considered the Toyota dealer, but without an appointment for service, who knows how long the wait would be for a "walk-in" repair. The last thing Mrs. P — or anyone — wants to do is spend countless, non-productive hours in car dealership waiting room. The next option was rather obvious — Dewey.. We were fairly sure that Dewey, who operates a one-man repair shop, — would be only too happy to fix a quick flat tire for a member of the Pincus family. After all, we were loyal customers for over twenty years. (Yep, we took our cars before my Toyota to Dewey!) 

The next morning, Mrs. P took her "temporary spare tire equipped" car over to Dewey's shop. I, of course, had left for work a few hours earlier. That afternoon, I called my wife to see about the progress of — what I assumed — would be a fast repair. 

"How's your car?" my text to my wife read.

A few minutes later, I received this response...

She went to to explain that — according to Dewey's expert assessment — her car would need four new tires and rear brakes. 

Apparently, Dewey missed us.

Desperately.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

moon over parma

I love television. I love watching television. I love reading about television. I love talking about television. and, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I love writing about television.

I grew up in the 1960s and 70s watching television. Those were some interesting years. The airwaves were filled with Westerns and police shows and anthology series and situation comedies. A lot of the current crop of independent "retro" TV channels have rerun some of the more popular programs from "back in the day." Of course, Nick at Nite revolutionized the "kitschy rerun format" that so many other networks have copied. I was a big fan of Nick At Nite in its early days. I relished the simplicity of The Donna Reed Show, the stupidity of Mr. Ed and the "shoot the bad guy and learn a lesson" repetitiveness of The Rifleman. Nevertheless, there I was, front and center, happily consuming everything Nick At Nite had to offer.

Ten years after its cable television debut, Nick at Nite teased at having Welcome Back Kotter join its evening line-up in the spring of 1995. I was very excited by this news. I remember being a big fan of the Gabe Kaplan-led sitcom in its initial run in 1975 (when I was 14). I distinctly remember being in hysterics from the outlandish behavior of the "Sweathogs" — a group of unknown young actors whose antics were the centerpiece of each episode. Welcome Back Kotter enjoyed phenomenal ratings in its first two seasons and it made stars out of its cast — specifically John Travolta. During its run, Travolta launched his successful film career, garnering an Oscar nomination for his turn as a Brooklyn disco enthusiast in Saturday Night Fever. Mrs. Pincus and I anxiously looked forward to the return of Welcome Back Kotter and to reliving fond memories of our youth.

On Monday, May 29, 1995, we excitedly tuned in... and OH MY GOD!

Just after the conclusion of the familiar theme song (a Number 1 record for former Lovin' Spoonful front man John Sebastian), the veritable shit hit the fan. The show was nothing like we remembered. It was awful. It was painful. The writing was terrible! The acting was amateurish. The premise was stupid. The jokes were not funny. Mrs. P and I shot each other helpless looks. "Could this be the same show we loved?" we collectively thought. "What were we thinking?" Sympathetically, we watched another episode or two during Nick at Nite's "Big Premiere." Finally, we changed the channel to something — anything! — else.

At the end of the summer of 1995, standup comic Drew Carey premiered his self-titled sitcom on ABC. The show featured Drew and his pals hanging out in a Cleveland bar, dealing with all life has dealt them in their working class life. Drew's character worked at large department store and the daily situations lent themselves to Drew's often funny, often off-the-wall humor. The show lasted nine seasons and was pretty popular, even through cast changes. Drew and his co-stars were consistently funny and, from what I recall, remained funny through its finale — despite lagging ratings. Curiously, after its first run, syndication of the show was sparse. A few local stations briefly showed episodes and several "retro networks" sporadically put the series in its lineup. Star Drew Carey was named the new host of stalwart game show The Price is Right. Drew's costar's found gigs in other series, films and on comedy club stages. I like watching Drew Carey on The Price is Right. He appears to be having a better time that the contestants and often delivers self-deprecating jabs to the bewilderment of the studio audience.

While scanning the wide assortment of entertainment that I pay Comcast to pump into my house, I came upon a listing on Antenna TV. The Drew Carey Show was added to their Sunday evening lineup. My interest was piqued. Should I watch? Will I be disappointed? After all, I hadn't seen an episode of The Drew Carey Show for years. These thoughts ran through my head as I toyed with the remote control. As the 8 o'clock start time approached, I clicked over to Antenna TV... almost expecting to be disappointed ala Welcome Back Kotter.

So, Mrs. Pincus and I watched through very, very discerning eyes.

It was surprisingly funny! It held up, aside from a couple of dated references to John F. Kennedy, Jr, the jokes made us laugh and the situations were genuinely ...well ... funny! The cast was funny. The writing was funny. The show was funny. When the four back-to-back episodes were over, we changed the channel at the opening notes of the theme to the absolutely dated sitcom Family Ties.

There are some shows from my youth that I can watch and there are some I cannot — all for different reasons. I'm glad I found out that The Drew Carey Show is one I can still watch.

www.joshpincusiscrying.com

Sunday, January 21, 2024

needles and pins

I just returned from a three-day, unplanned visit to the hospital. I spent the first twelve hours in the emergency ward, where I was poked and stuck and prodded by a variety of apologetic medical staff wielding a variety of sharp objects. After a quick assessment by a very astute doctor, it was determined that a regimen of antibiotics would clear up the nasty pinna perichondritis (Google that. Go ahead.) from which I was suffering. 

The antibiotics would be administered intravenously and a young nurse (Who am I kidding? Everyone on staff was young!) came by to insert an IV line into the crook of my left arm. Now, admittedly, I don't like getting needles. I have been vaccinated. I have had blood taken from me. I've been hooked up to IVs. Each time I experienced one of these, I have to close my eyes and turn my head away from the arm in which the needle will be inserted. Usually the nurse or technician will offer a cute verbal warning — "Little pinch..." — before sliding that slender metal spike beneath the top layer of my skin. In reality, I don't ever feel anything. Sometimes, I don't even feel that "little pinch" that was promised. I just don't care to watch the actual process. I can't watch it happening to someone else and I can't watch it happening to me. Kind of like the teacup ride in Disneyland.

Once the IV port was inserted in my left arm, each bag of healing antibiotics would be painlessly connected to the long tube that was now securely taped to the inside of my elbow. However, after two bags were emptied into my bloodstream, the vein that had received the IV was determined to be "sluggish" — which, I have come to understand, is a medical term. Another "little pinch" warning was issued and a new IV was inserted on my forearm just a few inches closer to my wrist from the original entry point. A third IV was connected and we were back in the "getting better" business. A lot of activity at 4 o'clock in the morning.

At around 6:30 AM, just after I quickly finished my hospital breakfast of Rice Krispies and horrible coffee, I was moved to a regular room in a new wing of the hospital, where it was quiet, secluded and devoid of any of the loud, wet coughs and woeful moaning that were rampant in the ER.

In my new accommodations, the antibiotic procedure continued. Every so often, a new nurse would come into my room and regretfully inform me that I needed to provide serval vials of blood. Since my left arm was otherwise occupied, my right arm would be the source of the required sanguine extraction. Once again, the "little pinch" heads-up was announced, immediately followed by a faint twinge in my arm. Because my eyes were tightly shut and my head was turned away from the action at hand, I could only hear a length of medical tape being ripped from a roll to hold a wad of cotton in place over the withdrawal point. I was asked to provide blood several times during my stay, each new procedure similar to the last.

On the morning of what would be my last day in the hospital, a new nurse came in to my room to tell me that hospital policy requires all patients who are in bed for extended periods of time (like me) receive a blood thinner to combat clotting. This medication — surprise! surprise! — would be administered via a needle. And this particular needle would be delivered to my abdomen. Getting a shot in the abdomen for someone who does not possess a rock-hard, six-pack of rectus abdominis muscles is no treat. Unlike a shot in the arm, it is very difficult to brace and tighten the abdomen of someone who stretches out on a sofa rather than a rowing machine. So, while the nurse readied the sharpened syringe, I tried my best to tense up my gut. It didn't work and unlike my non-reaction to previous shots, I let out out little "JEEZ!" Well, maybe not little and maybe it was fully pronounced "JESUS CHRIST!" The nurse empathetically winced herself and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry." 

I explained that I never had an involuntary reaction to an injection before, but that one caught me off guard. I went on to say that, while I don't like needles, I can tolerate them. She laughed and said that she has had patients — brawny men whose arms and torsos are covered with intricate tattoos — wince and scream from injections. She couldn't understand how a quick tiny needle could freak out someone who obviously had to sit for a considerable length of time while needles were repeatedly inserted and extracted — over and over and over — into their skin. Getting tattooed — especially some of the more elaborate designs — requires hours and hours of needle pricks. A blood sample or vaccine takes less that two minutes.

I looked at the nurse and answered: "It's simple. Tattoos are cool. Getting blood work done.... not so much."

She laughed.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

weird scenes inside the goldmine

One night for dinner, Mrs. P wanted spaghetti. Now, we are — in no way — "food snobs." We are not particular about where we go to get spaghetti. I am not one of those people who turns up their nose at ordinary, unimaginative, run-of-the-mill, neighborhood Italian restaurants that serve the basics. You know the type of place to which I'm referring. It's a big, boxy, dimly-lit place with a zillion teenage girls bustling behind the counter, a pen perched behind an ear and cracking chewing gum while they juggle a tray filled with generic-looking and plainly-prepared pasta dishes. Over in the corner is an older, balding gentleman in a white t-shirt and a  sauce-smeared apron, his overly-hairy forearms flexing as he grabs a knurled wooden peel and extracts a piping-hot pizza from the oven. A younger fellow — a family relation to the older man — is barking orders to the girls in a combination of broken English and fluent Italian. That sort of place. I know there's one in your neighborhood. It's usually called "Vincenzo's" or "Pizza Palace" or "Mama's Place," although "Mama" is no where to be seen.

In our neighborhood, that place is called "Roman Delight." It is only vaguely "Roman" and not anywhere near a "delight." Despite this misnomer of a name, it's been supplying mediocre, overpriced, somewhat Italian food to the northern Philadelphia suburbs for decades. Mrs. P and I have been infrequent patrons for about as long as we have lived in our house. (That's almost forty years!) Once we have whittled down our dinner options and Mrs. P doesn't feel like cooking, we will reluctantly call Roman Delight and get a perfectly okay meal for a little bit more that I think it should cost. Our order is usually the same each time. I get baked ziti in marinara sauce. Mrs. Pincus gets eggplant parmigiana over spaghetti and we will split an order of greasy garlic bread. Call-in orders sometimes need a bit of explaining and clarification with the order-taker — primarily to make sure they understand which items from their expansive menu I would like. Twenty or so minutes after my call-in order, I'll drive over to pick it up. We eat and that's it. It's not great. It's not horrible. It just serves as "dinner."

So when Mrs. Pincus wanted spaghetti for dinner, we just automatically thought to call Roman Delight. 

But, I stopped. "Let's try someplace different!," I suggested.

My wife gave me a puzzled look. "Where?" she questioned.

Several jobs ago, I worked for a place that designed and printed take-out menus for area restaurants. I remembered there was a place a block or so away from Roman Delight that boasted a similar menu. I pulled the place up from a quick Google search and scanned their menu. Their prices and selection were comparable to Roman Delight. "Let's give this place a try," I pressed on. Mrs. P appeared indifferent. So, we went.

The place I proposed is in a shopping center that we rarely visit. The last time I was there, the "Michael's Craft Store" that occupies the far end of the strip of businesses was a supermarket. The Rite Aid at the opposite end is now closed, a casualty of the pharmacy chain's slow and inevitable demise. In-between is a nail salon, a beauty supply store and a Chinese restaurant that never looks open. There's a Chipotle that I wrote about in 2014 and — in a space once occupied by a Baja Fresh — our destination Italian restaurant.

We entered the front door. The place was totally devoid of customers. It was 6:15 PM — dinner time for most — on a weekday evening. Not a single one of their dozen tables and booths were occupied. Behind the big, tile-front counter, two young ladies were staring off into space. Alongside the counter, a man in an apron sat in a chair. He greeted my wife and me with a big smile and a hearty "Hello!"
As I reached for a take-out menu from the small counter display, the man in the chair said to me: "Do you believe in UFOs?"

"Excuse me?," I replied, taken off-guard.

"Aliens! You know.... from outer space!," he explained.

Mrs. Pincus looked at me with wide eyes. Having seen those eyes over the past 42 years that we have been acquainted, I knew the message they were silently expressing. "I am not comfortable here." That's what my wife's eyes were telling me. We pretended to read the menu a little bit longer. The staff — the man in the chair and the two young ladies — did not say anything further to us. They didn't even look in our direction. They continued their conversation about aliens and UFOs.

I placed the folded menu back into the counter display. Mrs. P and I slowly — and as inconspicuously as possible — backed out of the empty restaurant towards the door. Still, no one said a word to us.

As we made our way to our car in the parking lot, I was already on the phone with Roman Delight — explaining which items from their expansive menu I would like.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

rescue me

This may surprise you, but I go to work to work. Over the years and over many, many jobs, I have pretty much kept to myself. I like to think that I am a diligent, focused worker and my prime concern when I am at work is to work — to do the job that I am being paid to do. I have had a few jobs where I became friendly with my co-workers and — to be honest — that took a bit of adjustment time. I never looked at work as a social situation. I never considered my "co-workers" to be my "friends." They certainly weren't my enemies (except for the few that actually were). I maintained a cordial, business relationship with my co-workers and the majority of my discussions with co-workers were business-related. I didn't socialize with my co-workers. As a matter of fact, I never even considered socializing with my co-workers. I will admit that, in the few rare instances when I let my guard down, I have maintained some friendships that carried on long past the time I spent at the particular job during which I first made them. (I just attended a birthday party for a close friend that started out as just a co-worker at I job I had five jobs ago.)

In my defense, one of the reasons I had not attempted to cultivate friendships with my co-workers is the nature of my chosen profession. I have been working in and out of the commercial printing industry with the better part of forty years. For those of you unfamiliar with the commercial printing industry, I can tell you that it employs the absolute scum of the earth and lowest of the low that society has to offer. The commercial printing industry is chockful of dopes, idiots and morons... and that's being kind. Those of you who either work in or have dealings with commercial printers know what I am talking about. If you disagree with me, well, you are the person I just described.

At my current job, I rarely (if ever) speak to my co-workers. I will only talk to any of then if it pertains to print dates or the design of an ad. Otherwise, I have work to do. I don't have time for mindless chit-chat with a bunch of people who — despite three years of employment — I don't know their last names. Conversely, my co-workers know nothing about me. They know I live in Pennsylvania. (I work in New Jersey.) If they are observant, they have seen a wedding ring on my left hand, so, if they have a brain in their heads, they can assume I am married. But, I don't think any of them know my wife's first name or if I have any children... and that's just fine with me.

The commercial printer I work for produces full color advertisements for supermarkets of all sizes. Personally, I am responsible for the layout and production of the ads for two markets — an on-going assignment that keeps me busy week in and week out. Recently, the company acquired the account of a chain of markets in the New York area whose ads they would like me to produce. In order for me to do this, they hired a new graphic artist whom I was tasked to train to take over one of my more needy, more cumbersome clients. (That's a story for another blog.) The new artist is a very quiet young lady. On her first day on the job, she sat attentively by my side while I offered a detailed "play-by-play" narration of how to layout the ad that would eventually be passed on to her. I talked and talked and explained and illuminated while she furiously scribbled notes in a notebook. Every so often, she would politely interrupt my barrage of instruction to ask for clarification, but overall, I talked and she listened. This method proved very successful. I the subsequent weeks, Kathy (the new artist) had taken over the ad like a pro. Her questions came few and far between and her work output was fast, efficient, accurate and professional. My watchful eye became relaxed as I realized that she no longer required regular supervision. A few times, she would ask for specific layout advice, but, overall, she was working independently and that was the goal.

A few days ago, I was obligated (I think) to attend a holiday get-together for my immediate co-workers  — the ones in my department. When this little soiree was first proposed, I thought that I would rather have root canal sans anesthesia, than sit in a restaurant with a bunch of people I didn't really know and didn't want to really know. But, I went.

Midway through dinner, I glanced around the table and noticed that a few co-workers were missing. Theresa, who organized this thing, was sitting next to me. Theresa is a particularly loud co-worker who was probably on the property when construction began on my employer's building, so they just built around her. I turned to Theresa and — against my better judgement — initiated a conversation.

"I noticed," I began to Theresa as I gestured towards my co-workers at the long table, most of whom are close to my own age., "that some of the kids aren't here." By "kids," of course, I was referring to several new hires who appear to still be a few years from their thirtieth birthday, Theresa frowned and with a throaty, nicotine-tinged voice, said, "Yeah, none of them wanted to come." Then, she said with an accusatory tone, "What's up with that Kathy girl?" Theresa seethed a bit when she pronounced Kathy's name. 

"What do you mean?" I asked. I couldn't believe I was furthering the conversation.

Theresa leaned right in. "There's definitely something wrong with her." 

"She is shy.," I replied.

"Oh no!," Theresa barked, "She's more that just shy! She's socially awkward. I looked right at her and she won't even say 'hello!' She's weird."

"Show me an artist that isn't socially awkward!" I began with a little levity, but I felt I couldn't let Theresa get away with her loudmouth, unwarranted condemnation of someone who I felt was doing a pretty good job — and wasn't there to defend herself. "Kathy happens to be doing a very job on the ad she took over. She knows what she's doing and she needs no supervision anymore. Sure, she's quiet, but she's there to do a job and she is doing that job." I concluded my defense of Kathy by adding, "Besides, Theresa... I don't say 'hello' to you either."

Theresa laughed nervously and promptly changed the subject.

The next day at work, my boss was making the bi-weekly rounds of distributing paystubs. He stopped at my desk and thanked me for sticking up for Kathy's work practices. He also expressed his displeasure, deeming Theresa's comments as "out of line," considering she has absolutely no work-related interaction with Kathy. 

I smiled and went back to work... because I had work to do.

Footnote to this story: Kathy tendered her resignation after two months of employment. I hope Theresa is happy.