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.

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.