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


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.