Sunday, August 12, 2018

birthday party, cheesecake, jellybean, boom

Yesterday was my 57th birthday.

Alexander Pope, the poet and satirist who introduced such oft-used quotes into the common lexicon as “To err is human, to forgive divine,” “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” and “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” died at 56.

Adolf Hitler was the leader of the Nazis and one of the most hated men in the world. With defeat closing in, he downed a cyanide capsule and shot himself at 56.

Charles Rocket, an actor and comedian, who as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, was fired for saying "fuck" on live television. He slit his own throat at 56.

Billy Mitchell, a brigadier general who is considered the "Father" of the US Air Force, was an outspoken critic of military strategy. He was convicted of insubordination and court-martialed. He resigned his commission rather than serve a five-year suspension. He died at 56.

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States. While attending a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater in Washington DC, Lincoln was shot to death by John Wilkes Booth. He was 56.

Ian Fleming was famous and celebrated for his eleven novels and short story collections about fictional super spy "James Bond." As a counter to critics labeling him a "one trick pony," Fleming wrote the epic children's novel "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." He died at 56 on his son's twelfth birthday.

Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the world's most influential composers. Beethoven composed some of his most famous and admired pieces during the last decade of his life, when he was almost completely deaf. After years of heavy alcohol consumption, he died of severe liver damage at 56.

Max Schreck was an actor, most famous for his role as "Count Orlok" in F.W. Murnau's creepy 1922 film Nosferatu. He died of heart failure at 56.

Rick James was a favorite purveyor of funk music. He had several encounters with law enforcement, including holding and torturing two women for six days while under the influence of crack cocaine. Rick died of heart failure at 56.

Betty Grable was an actress and popular pinup model during World War II. She died from lung cancer at 56.

Steve Jobs was a true marketing genius. Despite having never written a line of computer code in his life, he convinced the world to latch on to the technology that was Apple. He also exploited the talents of his pal Steve Wozniak. Jobs' dying wish was to never allow consumers to replace the batteries in their iPhones. He died at 56.

Warren Zevon was the anti-Jackson Browne. His sardonic tales of miscreants and headless mercenaries afforded him a cult following and the appreciation of many, including David Letterman, who welcomed Warren as the sole guest on his late-night show eleven months before the died at 56.

Charles Mingus was a brilliant and influential jazz bassist. Later in life, he suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that prevented him from playing his instrument. He died at 56.

John Hancock was one of the leaders in the United States' pursuit of freedom from England. He was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, barely leaving enough room for the signatures of the 55 men who would follow. He died at 56.

These folks only made it as far as their 56th birthday, so I'm feeling pretty good.

Yep. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

www.joshpincusiscrying.com

Sunday, August 5, 2018

they paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Mrs. P and I attended the annual XPoNential Music Festival*, a three-day gathering of members (and non-members, I guess) hosted by WXPN, an indispensable radio station in the Philadelphia area. This year marked the 25th year of the festival and boasted such diverse performers as David Byrne, Lukas Nelson, J.D. McPherson and a bunch more. It's more than just a concert, though. It's like a big family reunion, if you liked everyone in your family.

The festival takes place in Wiggins Park on the Camden, New Jersey waterfront. Wiggins Park, named for Dr. Ulysses Wiggins (who, I believe, was the first doctor to treat victims during the annual "Burn Camden to the Ground on Mischief Night"), is a picturesque natural amphitheater, with sloping lawns and shady trees. It is one of the truly nice things in Camden. Actually, Camden is going through sort of a Renaissance. Sort of. Within the first two blocks off the waterfront, there's a lot of construction, a lot of overpriced, rehabbed buildings festooned with signage to entice tenants.... and an abandoned minor league ballpark, the one-time home of the one-time Camden River Sharks. Past that two-block cutoff, you take your life in your hands. Camden is a scary, scary place — rife with shady looking characters, boarded-up buildings and a ton of broken glass. I suppose that's why Wiggins Park faces Philadelphia.

In the days after the XPoNential Music Festival*, most everyone is talking about their favorite memories of the weekend — which performers they enjoyed, that new musical discovery they were exposed to, how many free ice cream bars they consumed. Sure, we had a good time, heard a lot of great music and downed more than our fair share of ice cream, but, honestly who wants to read a Josh Pincus story about something pleasant? I'll try not to disappoint.

DAY 1
The gates were set to open at 3:30 on Friday afternoon, with the first band — Philadelphia funksters Swift Technique — scheduled to take the stage at 4. Mrs. P and I packed our cooler and gathered our new custom-made blanket (constructed from a collection of bandannas) and backed out of our suburban Philadelphia driveway around 1. After inching through congested traffic on the infamous Schuylkill Expressway, we made it to Camden around 2. Our go-to parking garage is not always accessible, mostly due to non-existent rules and some overzealous attendants who get to exercise a bit of authority one weekend a year. But, instead of following the giant electronic arrow flashing on a temporary sign at the corner of Market Street and Jersey Joe Wolcott Boulevard (I shit you not!), we made a left on the off chance that the parking lot attendant was feeling particularly generous this Friday. 

He was not.

A weathered man with wild gray hair and approximately three teeth in his head (two of which were in his mouth) sporting a bright red "Live Nation" polo shirt signaled for us to stop as we approached the garage entrance. "You folks here for the concert?," he croaked through a sneer. We replied in the affirmative. He sneered more. "You gotta park in lot 1, 3, 4, 9 or 11.," he spat, as though everyone is intimately familiar with his random list of designated parking lots. My wife asked for general directions to the aforementioned lots. The man waved his arms left and right and muttered something about making lefts and rights. Mrs P spun the car around and drove up to the festival entrance where a queue line had already begun to form. I unloaded our gear — chairs, cooler, blanket — and left Mrs. Pincus to grab a spot in line while I went off in search of parking.

I continued past the Camden Aquarium and spotted an A-frame sign in the middle of an otherwise-barricaded street. The sign read: CONCERT PARKING $10. "Well, that's for me!," I thought. As I approached the entrance to a relatively safe-looking, fenced-in parking lot, a bedraggled attendant leaning back in a metal folding chair pointed to his wrist (he wasn't wearing a watch) and yelled, "Three o'clock! Lot opens at three!" Then he curled his lips into the standard parking lot attendant authoritative smirk. I check the clock on my dashboard. It was 2:30. I would have to find a place to sit in my car for a half hour, because the delicate balance of nature would be thrown irreparably out of kilter if I were permitted to stash my car on that hallowed asphalt thirty minutes early. 

Across the street from the inaccessible-til-3 lot was an entrance to a construction site that was as wide as a street with cars parked along both curbs. I saw a couple of hard-hatted men climb in to some of the vehicles and pull away, leaving an open parking spot. I pulled into one of the spaces to wait. A car pulled in behind me and the passenger — a confused looking guy — got out and looked around as though he had been dropped from an airplane. I suppose he was checking for a sign of some sort delineating the regulations for parking in this small access road. Of course, no such sign existed, so he did the next best thing. He asked the nearest person sitting in their car with the windows rolled down. That was me. "Excuse me," he said, "You think it's okay to park here?" I looked right at him and replied, "I wouldn't. I'm waiting for the lot across the street to open at 3 so I can park there." He scrunched up his face in an expression of befuddlement. "What do you mean 'you wouldn't?' Is it because you're worried something would happen to your car because this is Camden?," he questioned. "Yes. Yes, I am." I stated. The man shuffled back to his car. By this time, it was nearly 3 o'clock. I turned the ignition key and swung my car into a U-turn, heading over to the now-open lot. I paid my ten bucks and found myself an open space on the end of an aisle. The guy who questioned my parking plans pulled in next to me.

DAY 2
We arrived bright and early  as the second day of the XPoNential Music Festival* kicked off at noon, with the gates set to open at 11:30. Gluttons for punishment that we are, we took another shot at our favorite parking garage. As we approached, we saw several cars being waved in. That was a good sign and things looked promising. We got closer and an attendant — a different guy from the day before — waved for us to stop before entering. "You folks here for the concert?" he asked. We confirmed that we were. He informed us that today the garage was reserved for radio station employees and handicapped parking. My wife quickly explained that our son is an employee of the radio station. (He is indeed.) The attendant glanced into our car and gave the interior a once-over. Seeing no one but Mrs. Pincus and me, he was prompted to ask, "Is he with you?" Mrs. P tried to save this by saying we will be driving him later. The attendant wasn't buying it. Instead, he directed us to several other lots, the identifying numbers of which he rattled off like he was calling a Bingo game. Slightly annoyed, I dropped Mrs. P off at the entrance line again and parked at the same lot I parked in on Friday.

DAY 3
The final day of the festival found my wife and I dragging. Sure, we were having a great time, but the whole weekend is a tiring undertaking. Plus, with each festival, we find that we are another year older. Although we enjoy the convenience of the riverfront parking garage, we just weren't up for an argument over getting ourselves in. This morning, I just went straight to the entrance line and dropped Mrs. P off with our belongings while I headed to the parking lot that accommodated us the previous two days. As I pulled away from the curb and headed towards the lot situated four long blocks from Wiggins Park, my phone rang. It was my wife. She explained that she was talking to some guys in line who said they parked in the garage with no problem. I hung a quick left and drove right up to the garage entrance where I was greeted by the Sunday attendant — a different guy from Friday and Saturday's guardian. However, he must have been studying the Parking Lot Attendant Official Handbook, because he started off with the ever-popular ice-breaker: "You here for the concert?" I said, "Yes." Then, he threw me a curveball. "Are you a volunteer?" I panicked. I wasn't one of the many volunteers who offer their services for the weekend out of the pure love they have for WXPN. I love the station, but I like to just sit on a blanket and listen to music for three days. Sure, I could have very easily said I was a volunteer, but that would involve lying, which is something I do not do. It would also, most likely, require me to produce some proof of my volunteer status, so I answered, "No." I was immediately denied entrance to the garage. Again. Instead I was directed to follow the street to the traffic light where a left turn would take me to Lot 1. I angrily exhaled. I hit the gas and followed the road until I found a large, fenced-in, unmarked parking lot. A smiling young lady with a fistful of parking tickets waved me in. "Is this Lot number one?," I asked." Her smile broadened. "Yes it is., " she cheerfully replied. As she relieved me of ten dollars, I told her about the contradictory information I was given by many of her co-workers. He gave a little pout and sort of apologized on behalf of the entire Camden Parking Authority. Then she pointed to a wide area of available parking spaces and offered a heartfelt "thank you" as I drove off. That little bit of "nice" almost made up for three days of parking frustration.

At the culmination of the three-day event, the General Manager of WXPN took to the stage, thanked everyone in attendance and invited everyone back for next year's festival.... although he made no mention of where to park.


* presented by Subaru

Sunday, July 29, 2018

dirty lowdown

As you read this, I am sitting in a camp chair on the Camden Waterfront, enjoying the final day of an annual music festival — just the latest in a forty-plus year stretch of going to concerts. Here is a tale of my early concert-going days.
A day or so ago, Mrs. Pincus and I were in the car when our favorite radio station played a new song called "Radiator 110," by venerable singer/songwriter/guitarist William Royce Scaggs, more widely known by his prep school moniker: Boz.

Mrs. P smiled and bobbed her head to the music. "Have you heard this?," she asked. I replied that I had. "I like it.," she continued, explaining that she had always liked Boz Scaggs.

I, however, have never liked Boz Scaggs. I have never purchased a single one of his two dozen albums, including the two on which he served as guitarist and sometimes vocalist for The Steve Miller Band. I really have nothing against Mr. Scaggs. His voice is okay. His guitar playing is okay, too... I guess. The reason I don't like Boz Scaggs is stupid. But, in all honesty, has nothing to do with Boz Scaggs.

I have been a music lover since I was a child. When I was in grade school, my beloved Uncle Sidney gave me a stack of Beatles 45s that he "obtained" from a jukebox as part of the "sketchy" affairs through which he made a living. I spun those disks on the family hi-fi, mesmerized by the hypnotic yellow and orange Capitol Records label. Later, armed with some birthday money, I purchased my very first album - multi-Grammy winner "Tapestry" by Carole King. After buying more singles (including "Sugar Sugar" by The Archies and "Age of Aquarius" by The 5th Dimension), I went back to my old friends The Beatles and made their self-titled "White Album" my second album purchase. After that, my music obsession went full steam ahead. More albums and singles. Music magazines. Listening to songs on the radio. But one part of my love for music was missing. Concerts. But, at the time, going to a concert never occurred to me. My parents regularly attended shows at the nearby Valley Forge Music Fair. My mom went to see Sergio Franchi, the charismatic Italian tenor, every time he performed at the famed Latin Casino nightclub in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Once, we even went as a family to "the Latin" to see crooner Bobby Darin just a month before he passed away. I remember an older cousin passing on my brother's Bar Mitzvah, opting instead to see Jefferson Airplane at the Philadelphia Spectrum. My brother went to concerts, too... I suppose. At the time, I just thought it was something that older people did. That is, until a couple of classmates told me they were going to see Elton John. "What do you mean 'going to see'?" I questioned, "Do you know him? How are you going to see him?" They clarified their statement. They had bought tickets to his upcoming concert in Philadelphia. Suddenly, a light bulb went off in my 14 year-old head! "You can do that?," I thought. I now saw things from a new perspective. Maybe I was an "older person," and the time has come for me to go to a concert. 

When I got home from school, I scoured the Philadelphia Bulletin for concert listings, something I had never done before. I read that shock-rocker Alice Cooper was bringing his malevolent Welcome to My Nightmare Tour for a stop at the Spectrum in my hometown. I had — and loved — the "Welcome to My Nightmare" album. I asked my mom for permission to buy a ticket (a whopping six dollars of savings I earned from hawking pretzels at a busy intersection in Northeast Philadelphia). When she agreed, I asked if she could chauffeur a few friends and me to the show. My mom — a sympathetic rocker herself — conceded. On April 25, 1975, I found myself in a darkened Spectrum among a throng of frenzied fans watching a tuxedoed and mascaraed Mr. Cooper execute a Busby Berkeley-style chorus line, flanked by six-foot tall black widow spiders. He also executed a giant menacing cyclops. It was well worth the entire six bucks.

I was bitten by the concert bug. I wanted — nay, needed — to go to another as soon as possible. Granted, funds were low. I'd have to sell a lot of street corner pretzels to buy another ticket at these steep prices. It wasn't until a year later that I attended my second concert: America with former Raspberries lead singer Eric Carmen opening the show. America? Really? "A Horse with No Name" America? After Alice Cooper? I know, I know. But I was desperate. I wanted to go to another concert so badly that I was willing to see the first band that I heard of. I knew some America songs from the radio, but I wouldn't number myself among their die-hard fans (Do they even have die-hard fans?) I bought a ticket — setting me back a full dollar more than my Alice Cooper admission! The show was... okay. Not awful. Just not spectacular. They sang a bunch of their familiar sunny, silly Top 40 hits. Actually, it was pretty forgettable, but it was a concert nonetheless. I redeemed myself later in 1976 by attending a concert by the ubiquitous Elton John, touring in support of his "Rock of the Westies" album, an album that, despite the inclusion of the achingly putrid "Island Girl," would become my favorite Elton John release. 

With three shows under my belt, I was now an official "concert veteran." I eagerly participated in those regular high school "concert conversations." (Who have you seen? Oh I saw them. They were great!) I was constantly planning and deciding which would be my next concert. So were my friends. 

My friend Hal knew a guy named Mike. Although the word didn't exist five decades ago, Mike was — what you would now call — a "frenemy."  I knew him, but I didn't particularly like him. He was loud and overbearing and one of those people who was an expert on everything.  But, he was Hal's friend, so I put up with him. One day, I was at Hal's house and we were listening to records. I put on my copy of Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours." I wasn't a fan of the band, but it was an album that everyone had. Plus, if you were a 16 year-old male in 1977, Stevie Nicks was the shit! While we listened, Hal noticed, in the newspaper, that Mick Fleetwood and company were coming to Philadelphia in a month or so. We decided we would go and, since Mike was there, we felt obliged to invite him along. Mike had never been to a concert before. He was obviously excited by the idea, but tried to hide his excitement behind a shield of forced, cool indifference. It was pretty annoying. Exactly the thing I didn't like about Mike.

The night of the concert rolled around. Hal, Mike and I rode the bus and then the imposing Broad Street Subway to the South Philadelphia venue. Mike was so ecstatic, one would have thought we were headed to an audience with the Queen of England. He yammered on with unsubstantiated authority about the location of our seats (in a venue he had never visited) and the band (whose albums he didn't own) and — due to his limited concert and music experience — repeated himself several times. The show itself was good. Kenny Loggins opened the night, followed by a substantial hit-filled set by Fleetwood Mac. Strangely, they skipped "Don't Stop," despite its inclusion on the playlist of every radio station in the country. At the show's conclusion, Mike picked up his non-stop monologue where he had left off, only now, as the veteran of a single concert, he was an expert. He sang wrong lyrics to songs he had just heard, awkwardly fitting them into tuneless melodies. It was maddening.

During the next week at school, Mike cornered me in a hallway as I was retrieving some books from my locker. "Hey!," he began. Was he initiating a conversation with me? He was Hal's friend, not mine. What does he want? I thought. 

"Yes?" I replied. 

"You wanna go see Boz Scaggs?," Mike asked. Why was he asking me? Oh right! I'm his concert buddy now. Shit! I rolled my eyes. 

"What?," I said, hoping for a little clarification. 

"The Scaggs show. You wanna go see Scaggs?," he elaborated, narrowing his eyes, cocking his head and forcing an air of coolness about himself, like he had been to hundreds of concerts. It wasn't working. He looked and sounded like an idiot. And "Scaggs?" What the hell was that? Why does he keep saying that? Who was he trying to impress? Me, I suppose. 

"Uh, no," I answered, "I'm not a big fan of Boz Scaggs." He looked dejected, but tried to maintain his stupid "cool." It was apparent that Mike had been bitten by the concert bug as well and wanted to see another concert as soon as possible... even if it was a performer with whom he was not familiar. (At least I held out for America, a band from whom I could name a number of songs.) 

"Awright, I'll see if someone else wants to see Scaggs." His voice trailed off as he walked away. Finally, I wouldn't have to hear him say "Scaggs" again.

So, there. That's it. That's the stupid reason I don't like Boz Scaggs. Because Hal's friend Mike ruined him for me. Even if I had the notion to give Boz a second chance and another listen —  in my head, I'd only hear Mike saying "You wanna go see Scaggs?" Ugh. That was forty years ago! Some things stick with you forever. No matter what you do, you just can't shake 'em.

My apologies, Boz. Blame Mike.
This is a very unusual photograph. It was taken in 1977.
I was not friendly with anyone in the picture... especially Mike, who is second from the left. That's me in the center.



Sunday, July 22, 2018

don't leave me hanging on the telephone

I often wondered if faithful lab assistant Thomas A. Watson rolled his eyes and pretended not to hear when Alexander Graham Bell's voice crackled over his new invention, ordering: "Mr. Watson – Come here – I want you," "What!?!," I imagine Mr. Watson bellyaching while throwing his hands in the air and stomping his feet. I can picture him groaning at being interrupted — unnecessarily — by his boss Bell for some stupid task that Bell could no doubt perform for himself.

When I was young, my dad would get furious when the phone rang in our house. Not just during mealtime or TV watching time or sleeping time but anytime. Granted my dad would get annoyed by a lot of things (snow, rain, Democrats, minorities on television, minorities not on television, Philadelphia sports teams, teams opposing Philadelphia sports teams), but a ringing telephone would set him off every time without fail. Midway through the first RRRIIIING!, my father would growl, "Who the hell is calling?" Even if he was expecting a call, my dad would greet that initial telephone ring with the same contempt. If it was one of my friends or one of my brother's, my dad would mockingly mutter the friend's name under his breath for the duration of our conversation. I sometimes wondered why we even had a telephone. Why was my father paying a monthly fee to have this constant source of irritation in his house?

Something in my father's make-up must have rubbed off on me. While I don't get annoyed when the phone rings in our house (well, not nearly as annoyed as he did), I will admit, I do hate talking on the phone. I can't quite put my finger on what it is about talking on the telephone I don't like... but I don't like it. I can make it through a few informative seconds on the phone, like a call from my wife if I ran to the supermarket and she realized that eggs were not included on the shopping list. But, if the conversation extends past the instruction to get eggs, I bristle. "We can talk when I get home," I'll gently explain, trying to put an end to a lengthy discussion yet not wanting to appear rude — but usually failing miserably in the process.

I rarely — if ever — answer the phone in my house. It's never for me. If I do answer, it will most likely be someone who wants to speak to Mrs. Pincus. Or it'll be a solicitor with a brief survey that usually ends when question number three is: "Does anyone it your family work for a radio station?' and I answer "yes." Or it's some malicious scammer telling me that they have been receiving messages from my Windows computer. Or it's just a plain old wrong number. But, I can be assured that it's not for me.

So, wouldn't you know.... I started a new job earlier this year that requires me to speak on the phone more than all of my previous jobs put together. It's very strange, but over the last few months I've gotten used to it. Some of my new co-workers have even complemented me on my phone manner, citing me as both professional and pleasant. I have even surprised myself with my patience and courtesy. Some of the folks I speak to on the phone are decidedly harried, curt, unreasonable and downright rude. But I have uncharacteristically maintained a cool head and affable demeanor. I never knew I had it in me. I still don't like talking on the phone, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Now, you'll have to excuse me. The phone is ringing..... and I'm not gonna answer it.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

we now state emphatically it's happy anniversary

Today marks thirty-four years of wedded bliss shared by my beloved (and yours) Mrs. Pincus and me. I was the first one of my friends to get married. When I told my friends that was my plan, they were shocked. Josh? Married? Never! But it turns out that our marriage has outlasted a lot of marriages — and that says something. Something about the strength of my relationship with my wife. And we do have a great relationship. We have often said that we were destined to marry each other because no one would be able to put up with either one of us.

But how did it begin? Well, I'll tell you...

I was in the middle of my junior year at the Hussian School of Art, a small vocational institution located in Philadelphia. I was a typical budding artist — a strong-willed dreamer with unrealistic visions of fame and fortune filling my head. I footed the tuition bill myself, as my parents made it very clear that if I chose to further my education past free public school, I was on my own. So, at 19, I wandered into a bank and, with no idea what I was doing, applied for a student loan. Then, I had to figure out how to begin to save up to pay that loan back. I got a job at my cousin's vegetarian restaurant located a distant, but manageable, walk from school. Three days a week, I would pack up my art supplies fifteen minutes early and head out of my mostly informal classes. The majority of my instructors said nothing, but for the few that questioned my early exit, I would curtly justify my actions with, "I'm going off to pay your salary." My departure was usually met with a silent nod.

My job was manning the counter of a cafeteria-style eatery that did a pretty brisk lunchtime business, but slowed to a crawl during the dinner hour. To be honest, Wednesday and Thursday evenings were dead. Tony, my co-worker, and I would sometimes stare at each other for a couple of hours before the first customer would breach the doorway. Fridays would be a little busier, but by no means did we ever — ever — experience the so-called dinner rush. With our 10 PM closing time approaching, Tony and I would start to wrap up items that we knew we wouldn't use in the final hour, like salad ingredients and baked potatoes. I'd leisurely begin to sweep, then fill the mop bucket as Tony gathered up serving utensils and nearly-empty casserole pans to carry to our second-floor kitchen and deposit them in a sink of warm, soapy water. At 10 on the button, I'd lock the door and we'd get that place "spic 'n span" in record time.

However, there was that one particular Friday night — February 26, 1982, as a matter of fact — when things went a bit differently...

It was 9:30, a half hour from closing time and Tony and I were at our usual places behind the counter of Super Natural Restaurant, just killing time until I could lock the door for the night. Suddenly, the front entrance was darkened by three late-evening diners — two attractive girls and a guy — and I didn't want any of them there. Begrudgingly, I tightened up the ties on my apron and forced a smile to my face. Tony disappeared upstairs to get a jump on his dish washing duties, leaving me to handle the threesome on my own. The trio first perused the menu board then drew closer to the glass-enclosed counter to examine what was left of the evening's dinner offerings. One of the young ladies — a tall, pretty girl with long dark hair — was the first to speak. She pointed to one of the many recessed metal containers that filled the serving area — each sporting the evening shift's remainder of salad fixings. I followed the direction of her dark-hued, lacquered fingernail, as she asked, "Does the cheese contain rennet?"

I frowned and replied with five words. Five magical words that were flush with charm and allure — effortlessly melting the heart of this young miss. "What the hell is rennet?," I said.

She frowned right back. "It's an animal derivative that is used in the making of cheese. I keep kosher and if this is a true vegetarian restaurant, then you should be serving cheese that is made with vegetable-based rennet." She finished and smiled sweetly.

I dug in for a second salvo. "Kosher?," I asked, "I don't know anyone under 80 that keeps kosher." This conversation was in a downward spiral. The subject of "cheese" was not brought up again, as they placed their orders. As I tended to preparing their meals, they took seats at the first table-for-four in the small dining room. In a few minutes, I presented these diners with their late dinner. And I decided to hang around their table, even though I was not invited. Hey, I was 20 years old and the pursuit of girls was instinctively a top priority. Based on absolutely nothing, I decided that the first girl was too old for me. Instead, I focused on the other girl. She was cute and I brazenly asked for her phone number. I didn't know who the accompanying guy was with... and, frankly, I didn't care. She wouldn't give in, despite my relentless badgering. The first girl looked up from her dinner and interrupted my ploy with, "Do you have an older and taller brother?" Caught off guard, I answered, "As a matter of fact, I do." She laughed and scribbled her phone number on a scrap piece of paper. And still, her friend wouldn't relent. They finally finished and stood to put on their coats, explaining that they were headed to a midnight showing of the movie musical Grease. Just before they left, the first girl double-checked that I had her phone number for my brother and then punctuated her visit by telling me that I was the most obnoxious person she had ever met.

And that was it. They left. Tony and I cleaned the restaurant. He went home and I went home.

On Saturday afternoon, after finishing up a some work for school, I gave my older and taller brother a call. At the time, he was dating the woman who is now my sister-in-law, but a zillion years ago, the Pincus boys didn't know the meaning of the word "loyalty." I told my brother Max that I had met a girl and got her phone number for him. He stopped me before I went any further. "Could you call her first," he said, "and tell her I'm going to call? I hate having to explain who I am and how I came to make this call in the first place."

"Sure," I answered obligingly.

I hung up the phone and then immediately dialed the number written neatly on that little piece of paper. Susan, the girl from Friday, answered on one ring.  "Hello?," she said.

"Hi," I began, "It's Josh... the guy from the restaurant...."

Once we got past the awkward re-introductions, our conversation touched on a wide variety of subjects. The next thing we knew, three hours had whizzed by as though they were mere seconds. "Damn!" I said, about to get brave, "Forget my brother! I'm going to ask you out myself!" She laughed. I laughed. And we went out on our first date the very next weekend. And then we went out the weekend after that. And the weekend after that. I never went out on a date with anyone else ever again. Susan and I were engaged before the year was over.

I still wonder, after 34 years of marriage, if I'm still the most obnoxious person she ever met. That's a title I don't want to lose.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

hot potato, hot potato

When I first started to write this story, it was a happy story. But, if you wait too long, happy stories might turn sad. Spoiler Alert! This story turns sad.

One day, last December, I had a few days off from work, so I met my son for lunch. My son, a Center City Philadelphia dweller, suggested we meet at a place that he had been meaning to try. So I, a firmly-planted suburbanite, hopped on the train and traveled into town. Around 11:45 a.m, fifteen minutes before "official lunch time," I arrived at our predetermined destination — Smoke's Poutinerie, a funky, little eatery that opened in the summer of 2017 on Philadelphia's famous "hippest street in town," South Street. A few minutes later, my son E. came strolling around the corner in his usual manner, water bottle in hand and bike helmet swinging by his side, having just returned his contracted bicycle to one of the nearby Indego Bike Share docking kiosks that have popped up around the Center City area. Together, we entered the mysterious and exciting world of poutine.

Poutine, for my non-Canadian readers, is the unofficial "official" food of Canada. Although the actual origin is in dispute, it seems to have first been served in Quebec in the 1950s in small restaurants called casse-croĆ»tes, essentially greasy spoon diners. Much in the same way arguments have erupted over the origination of the French Dip sandwich or the all-American hamburger, no less than three establishments lay claim to inventing poutine, with one — Le Roy Jucep — earning a government-issued trademark, much to the dismay of Le Lutin qui rit and La Petite Vache, the other claimants.

The dish — a big pile of french fries covered with cheese curds and brown gravy — is comfort food for our neighbors to the north. In its early days, poutine was negatively received and mocked as "food for commoners," but now it is a source of cultural pride. Numerous restaurants serve their own signature interpretation of the concoction. Even popular fast food chains have jumped on the band wagon, including versions from McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Dairy Queen. But in the United States, poutine is relatively unknown.

In 2008, Canadian entrepreneur Ryan Smoklin opened his first Smoke's Poutinerie in Toronto to much acclaim. He expanded his gravy-and-cheese-smothered empire to 150 locations across his native Canada. Not satisfied with keeping his successful venture sequestered in those ten provinces and three territories, Smoklin was determined to spread the comfort cuisine all over the world. In December 2014, the fine folks of Berkeley, California got its first taste of poutine. The company announced plans to open a whopping 800 Smoke's locations in the United States. Last summer, Philadelphia got its Smoke's. Actually, Philadelphia was doubly blessed, when a place called "Shoo Fry" opened up in the former location of the wildly popular (but mysterious closed) Underdogs, an eclectic hot dog joint just off renowned Rittenhouse Square. Poutine was nearly unheard-of in the City of Brotherly Love... now we have two "poutineries!"

My son and I studied the menu in the cramped restaurant that barely accommodated two small booths and a counter top to allow in-store dining. Our server/cook took our orders — two vegetarian versions of traditional poutine made with non-meat based brown gravy. He disappeared back to the food prep area as we seated ourselves on stools by the window and waited. Within minutes, we were presented with a steaming cardboard container stuffed to overflow with crispy fries, glistening dollops of cheese curds and a light beige gravy enveloping the whole she-bang. My son grabbed two plastic forks from a dispenser next to the cash register and I snagged a fistful of paper napkins I knew — from the looks of things — we would desperately need. We dug in for our first sampling of Canada's national food.

Oh. My. Goodness. It was delicious, despite its "pre-digested" appearance. It was so delicious, in fact, that I scarfed the whole thing down in a matter of minutes, as though I was in some sort of competition. My son, who ate at a slower, more human-like pace, wrapped a protective arm around his container, pulling it closer after he caught me eyeing up his uneaten portion. I sipped my Diet Coke until he finished, resigning myself to the fact I was getting none of his.... but it was sooooo goooood! Did I really want to place another order? Probably not. I didn't want to look like a glutton, although this would have been nothing new for my son to witness. I refrained. I was satisfied with what I had eaten and I would make time for a return visit to Smoke's. Perhaps I would even try something else from their menu. Maybe a different take on the poutine theme.

Here comes the sad part.

Just last week, my son called to tell me that Smoke's on South Street has closed. For good. And, it appears — according to their website — there are only five locations in the United States (the one in Ann Arbor, Michigan is so close to the international border that it might as well be counted among the Canadian locations). Alas, it seems that global expansion of the Smoke's Poutine Empire has come to a halt. People in the United States just haven't warmed up to poutine. To drive the point home, Shoo Fry has also closed its cheese-curd-guarding doors leaving Philadelphia — once again — a "poutine-free" zone.

I'm glad I got to taste and experience poutine. Maybe one day it'll catch on in the United States, eh?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

two for the show

I think I have made it quite clear how much I love television. I talk about it. I write about it. I draw characters from it and, of course, I watch it. A lot of it. I will happily admit — I watch a lot of crap. But I don't care. That's what makes television television! 

Some of my favorite networks are those that have recently popped up offering reruns of classic programs that were popular during my youth. My cable provider carries MeTV, Antenna TV, Decades, Heroes & Icons and, of course, TV Land, the original TV revival network, although it has begun to show newer series in addition to a move towards original programming. I love watching the shows on these networks. Aside from Jeopardy! and DVR-ed episodes of The Price is Right, I don't watch too much else. I find that after a day at work, I don't want to concentrate on a complicated plot. I want to watch something familiar and comforting, sort of like the TV equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup.

The Good Morning, World gang
Recently, Antenna TV revamped their schedule, as they are prone to do every so often. They shuffled around the broadcast times for some shows while removing others completely from their schedule. They also added some shows which is always exciting, especially if it's one that hasn't surfaced in years. In January 2017, Antenna TV brought back a show called Good Morning, World — a show that, despite my vast knowledge of TV trivia, I was not familiar with. I'll even go one step further. I never heard of it. Good Morning, World was the creation of Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, a pair of writers who previously piled their trade supplying jokes to a Los Angeles drive-time radio DJ. They graduated to become joke writers for The Steve Allen Show, parlaying that gig to land a coveted spot alongside the great Carl Reiner writing episodes of the beloved Dick Van Dyke Show. The year after The Dick Van Dyke Show left the airwaves, the pair developed a sitcom about a budding actress in New York City. The show, That Girl, was a break-out role for the series star, young Marlo Thomas. Based on the instant popularity of That Girl, Persky and Denoff created another show, this one based on their experiences on morning radio. The result was the one-season wonder Good Morning, World. Originally developed as a vehicle for comedian Ronnie Schell, the popular co-star of the inexplicably hit military sitcom Gomer Pyle, USMC. Schell was wooed away from the consistently high-rated series with the promise of his own show under guidance from the creative force behind The Dick Van Dyke Show. Recruited as Schell's co-star was an unremarkable character actor Joby Baker, a likable enough guy who was obviously being groomed in the Dick Van Dyke mold — a tall order that poor Baker was not prepared for. The cast was rounded out with Julie Parrish as Baker's typical TV sitcom wife, one trick pony Billy DeWolfe as the stuffy, perpetually-annoyed station manager, doing his best "Billy DeWolfe" shtick and a pre-Laugh-in Goldie Hawn at her ditsy finest as Schell's sort-of love interest.

The show, of which I have watched many, many episodes, is not very good. Although it was filmed live in front of a studio audience, the jokes were supplemented by a recorded laugh track. Despite the welcome addition of numerous big-name guest stars (including late '60s heavyweights like Andy Griffith, Jerry Van Dyke, Lynda Day George, Herb Edelman and countless others), the jokes were lame, the situations were predictable and he acting was just plain bad. It's a wonder that Goldie Hawn had a career after this dud. Good Morning, World, which tried desperately to be the Dick Van Dyke Show, lasted for twenty-six episodes before CBS realized it wasn't living up to expectations. Ronnie Schell returned to Gomer Pyle, USMC for its final season. Joby Baker, who had difficulty memorizing lines of dialogue, wound down his acting career and became a painter and illustrator. Julie Parrish took small roles in films and television, but struggled with health issues for a large portion of her life. Billy DeWolfe continued to play the same signature uptight character in numerous films and series until his death in 1974. Good Morning, World remained a footnote to the careers of all involved. And rightly so.

Bridget + Bernie = Love
Another show — this one I do remember — was run as a weekend marathon on Decades. The show, Bridget Loves Bernie, which ran for a single season on CBS, concerned the marriage of a young couple. The couple are Bridget Fitzgerald, an Irish Catholic, and Bernie Steinberg, who is Jewish. They elope, much to the chagrin of their overly-stereotypical, cartoonish parents. Bridget's parents (A hopelessly gentile David Doyle and Audra Linley) are portrayed as one-dimensional, narrow-minded, ridiculously wealthy high-society folks, complete with butler and a Saks Fifth Avenue obsession. The Steinbergs (an overly Jewish Harold J. Stone and Bibi Osterwald) are the owners of a New York delicatessen along with veteran Jewish character actor Ned Glass as wise and understanding "Uncle Moe." Bridget has a brother who is, of course, a priest. Bill Elliott as "Otis," "Bernie's" friend, a hip African-American "voice of reason" that was a part of every predominately white 70s sitcom, rounds out the cast.

The Fitzgeralds and the Steinbergs
I watched Bridget Loves Bernie in its initial run in the 1972-73 television season. I was eleven years old and I received my social lessons from my bigoted father and my liberal mother. My parents both loved the popular sitcom All in the Family for different reasons. My mother "got the joke" and my father thought he was watching a documentary. Every episode of Bridget Loves Bernie focused on some sort of religious conflict. And every conflict was addressed in the most outrageous and racist manner. Every single religion cliche was dragged out and blatantly splayed across every scene. The Catholic family assumed that everyone was Catholic, interacting with the Jewish family as though they were aliens and speaking to them in condescending tones. The Jewish family dismissed all things Catholic as "unheard of" while constantly making "delicatessen-related" analogies for every situation. When I was a kid, I didn't really get it. My father laughed at the "Jewish" jokes, frowned at the "Catholic" ones and quietly ogled the young Meredith Baxter, who played "Bridget." My mother was indifferent but enjoyed watching the dark good looks of co-lead David Birney. The show was very popular, ranking in an impressive 5th place among shows in the '72-'73 television season. However, CBS was bombarded with complaints from both Jewish and Catholic groups expressing outrage over how situations were presented and handled. Jewish organizations led the way, though, citing the show as a "flagrant insult to Jews." Meredith Baxter told of bomb threats called in to the studio during tapings. Producer Ralph Riskin was physically threatened by the Jewish Defense League's notorious Robert Manning. CBS, not wanting to deal with the negativity and the controversy any longer, pulled the plug on Bridget Loves Bernie in March 1973. I watched nearly every episode of Bridget Loves Bernie during the Decades "binge-watching" weekend — because I will admittedly watch almost anything. I had a much different reaction from when I was eleven. This time around, I cringed.

But it was on television, so, of course I watched. Because that's what I do. I watch. 

And learn.