Sunday, June 23, 2019

nothing but the water

I used to drink a lot of soda. My all time favorite was root beer. I loved drinking root beer when I was a kid, eventually discovering the miraculous flavor transformation my favorite soda made with the addition of a scoop of vanilla ice cream. (Recently, a young neighbor of ours was introduced to root beer floats — or "black cows," as they are called regionally. He told Mrs. Pincus and me that he was going to make us root beer floats, as though he had just invented them. He excitedly ran across the street to his house, we assumed, to prepare his version of the treat. Minutes later, we saw him run out of his house — empty-handed — and head down the block. We called to him, asking where he was going. He screeched to a halt, explaining that he was lacking some of the ingredients... specifically root beer and vanilla ice cream. He said he had everything else.) My father also liked root beer, which is kind of odd, because my father didn't like anything.

Somewhere also the way, I switched my soda preference to Diet Dr. Pepper. Sure, I tried regular Dr. Pepper, but I had always shied away from sweetened soda. All I could ever taste was the sugar. I gravitated towards the diet versions. I really don't care about the alleged detrimental effects of artificial sweeteners, so I actually preferred diet sodas. I liked Diet Dr. Pepper, but I eventually started drinking Diet Coke. I drank a lot of Diet Coke. An awful lot. Then I started drinking Coke Zero, buying into that "zero sugar" claim, but I really didn't care for it. I started to search for some other carbonated beverage to drink.

After one of my vasovagal syncope episodes, a doctor recommended that I drink more water. I interpreted that to mean any form of water. So I began buying and drinking a Walmart branded product called Clear American. The label ambiguously declared Clear American to be a "carbonated water beverage." My son, a seltzer aficionado, turned his nose up at the product, calling it "no better than soda." To prove his point, he served me a bottle of Topo Chico, a bubbly mineral water bottled at a source in Mexico, for comparison. It was good, much different from the 63¢-a-bottle, artificially-flavored stuff I was buying by the case at Walmart.. But not good enough to get me to buy it regularly. I finished the one-and-only bottle of Topo Chico I've ever had and moved on to find the next thing that would become my drink of choice. After passing on another brand of soda and plethora of trendy — and overpriced — seltzers, I found what I had been looking for right in front of my face. It had been there the whole time. 


There is actually a pipe in my kitchen that dispenses it any time I want. I have totally given up every other drink in favor of water. No exotically-named water bottled at some secluded, faraway source. The plain old clear H2O that I pay the fine folks at AQUA PA to pump into my house is a perfectly suitable drink. It goes with everything and clashes with nothing. It doesn't over power that taste of any accompanying food. Sure, I still drink coffee and tea, but, technically, they are just brown water and lighter brown water. 

I don't miss soda at all. I haven't had any in years. I find it amusing when I skip the soda aisle at the supermarket. I get a laugh at the growing number of choices of flavored seltzer and sparkling water...  and the folks pondering the selection.

Those are the sort of important decisions that I reserve for the cereal aisle.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

nazi punks fuck off

I think we can all agree that Nazis were awful. Following Germany's defeat in World War II and the discovery of the full extent of the Holocaust, Nazi ideology became universally disgraced and is widely regarded as immoral and evil.

Except by assholes like Steve Johnson.

Steve lives at 1041 Lindell Drive in El Sobrante, California, sixteen miles north of Oakland (and fuck him if he doesn't like the fact that I published his address). Recently, Steve installed a 10 foot by 10 foot black cement swastika in his front yard, not far from a flagpole on which the ol' Stars and Stripes waves proudly in the breeze coming off the San Francisco Bay. Steve's neighbors aren't so proud. As a matter of fact, they are overcome by concern and ire. A very short time after the installation was completed, local news outlets descended upon Steve Johnson's home, in search of his reason for making such a bold statement. The media, I'm sure, didn't just happen to stumble upon Steve's home renovation project by accident. Lindell Drive is not a major thoroughfare. The entire street only stretches a quarter-mile and dead-ends at another home's driveway, just behind the Pinole Vista Shopping Center – where a Sizzler Steakhouse still operates.. Obviously, one of Steve's justifiably outraged neighbors called the Bay Area newspaper The Mercury News.

Asshole's handiwork.
Reporters from the newspaper, as well as representatives from local TV stations, questioned Steve about his motivation for putting a Nazi symbol on display in front of his house. He gave wishy-washy answers that smacked of insincere innocence. He feigned misunderstanding when he countered an NBC-affiliate reporter's question with "What is a swastika?" He contained with: "It doesn’t represent anything. [It] represents me not having to pull weeds over in that part of my yard; that’s what it represents to me. What does it represent to you?"

His neighbors are furious, including one woman who has lived on Lindell Drive – near Steve – for 27 years. The neighbor, who is Jewish and rightly horrified and offended by Steve's display, said, "I was very clear with him about my feelings. I don’t agree with it. I think it’s wrong. I don’t like it, but it is his yard." She also noted that he had never done anything like this in the past.

Aerial view of an asshole's house.
But, Steve keeps changing his story. He told another reporter that it was a symbol of peace and tranquility from ancient Tibet. When asked if he was, indeed, Tibetan, Steve replied rather cavalierly, "Maybe I am."

Then suddenly, Steve gained some sort of new found knowledge about the history and significance of the symbol. However, he took a decidedly dismissive tone, when he said, "The Nazi stuff happened 80 years ago. Get over it." When a reporter pointed out a swastika sticker affixed to his motorcycle, Steve abruptly ended the conversation and ordered the media off of his property.

This is 2019. In the United States. Land of the free and home of the brave. Where any red-blooded American can grow up to be an asshole.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

all apologies

June is designated as "Pride Month." This is a story I've wanted to tell for a while.

High school is a brutal period in most people's lives and memories. I went to high school in the late 1970s. I hated high school and I attended as little as possible. For me, this was a fairly easy task, since there were 1100 students in my class alone, making an overall student body quadruple that number. So, blending in as a faceless entity was not difficult. I cut a lot of classes to avoid interaction with fellow students or I hung out in an art class when I should have been learning calculus or doing chin-ups. (A cool student teacher, just a few years older than I was, offered me sanctuary in her classroom and covered my actions with convincing excuses to the other teachers.) 

With over 4000 teenagers packing the halls and classrooms, nearly everyone was subject to judgement and ridicule and bullying at one time or another. Unfortunately, it was a time when this common behavior was not addressed with any sort of disciplinary action. It was usually dismissed by those in authority as "kids will be kids" — if it was addressed at all. I had a few "run-ins" with some guys who, I suppose,  got some sort of thrill threatening a skinny, pacifistic artist they knew wouldn't fight back. I was shoved a few times and, of course, several antisemitic slurs were levied at me, because that always makes for good "bully" ammunition. I did my best to avoid my infrequent tormentors and, eventually, they moved on to someone else (or maybe they were finally expelled).

If I was being picked on for being a free-spirit and just a little "out of step" with the "norm," I could just imagine the wrath that any of my gay classmates suffered — not that I really knew anyone who was gay. I'm sure there were gay students in my class. There had to be. It's just statistics. I just didn't know which ones were gay. I suppose they had to remain closeted because.... well, it was high school in the 70s. Calling someone "gay" when I was in high school was an insult of a pretty high level. In hindsight, that was horrible, just horrible. So, that added unnecessarily to the oppression that any gay student already endured. When I said 'I could just imagine the wrath any gay classmate suffered,' I really can't. How could I? But it must have been.... well, horrible. I can only understand that now.

In the 1990s, I was working at as a layout artist at a composition house, something that really doesn't exist any more. I did layout for a bunch of newspapers (something else that barely exists any more) that served small local communities, colleges and a few special interest groups. One of those newspapers was Au Courant, an independent weekly publication with a fairly large circulation in the Philadelphia gay community. The small contingency that formed the staff at Au Courant had broken away from the mighty Philadelphia Gay News over editorial disagreements and started their own tabloid, which was scrappier and hipper than PGN. Every Monday morning, I would lay out the composition boards for the anticipated 32-page issue of Au Courant and soon, I would join my fellow artists in assembling the weekly issue in a "cut-and-paste" method. (Now you know where the "cut" and "paste" commands in various computer programs originate. TMYK.) The entire editorial and advertising staff of Au Courant would file in to the office (Don't be impressed. That only amounted to four or five guys. It was a small paper.) and offer direction for placement of articles and ads.

I have to admit, I was a little leery of these guys, at first. They casually discussed detailed aspects of a lifestyle of which I was totally unfamiliar. It was the first time I had every met anyone who openly and happily acknowledged that they were gay. Initially, it made me uncomfortable, but I also must admit that I was surprised by how normal they were. (In hindsight, that sounds really stupid and narrow-minded.) As the time at this job went on, the more interaction I had with the staff of Au Coutrant, the more I looked forward to Mondays. For the most part, they were a bunch of really nice guys — close to my own age — and I had a lot in common with them. While we worked, we enjoyed lively conversation about movies, music and current events. There was one guy, however, who was a total jerk. That was Michael and Michael was the editor-in chief of the paper. He didn't come to the office often, choosing to leave the composition to his assistant editor who was a smart and funny guy. But when he did come in, he was angry and demanding, barking orders at his staff and belittling those who didn't heed his call on the first bellow. 

It was then that it hit me. Why on earth would anyone dislike someone just because they were gay? It made no sense.... just like any prejudice makes no sense. Gay people are just people. Some are nice and some are jerks. As a self-proclaimed misanthrope, I know there are zillions of reasons to dislike someone long before "gay" makes the list. Michael was an absolute asshole. Conversely, Harry, the head of advertising sales, was a nice guy. A really nice guy. The fact that they were gay had absolutely no bearing or relevance to the types of personality traits they exhibited. They were just like everyone else. (There I go again. You know what I mean.)

After a year or so, Michael's visits became less and less frequent. When he did show up, he looked gaunt and weak and he remained seated most of the time. His voice was hoarse and it appeared to be an effort to speak. His boyfriend Joe, a nice, relatively quiet guy, led Michael around when he was asked. The most ubiquitous tool used in the newspaper composition business was an X-Acto knife. I used one at every one of my early, pre-computer jobs. I became deftly accurate at slicing up "galleys," another job skill that is now obsolete. On one of his last appearances in our office, Michael announced that he was not permitted to handle or be in proximity of an X-Acto knife. Shortly after, the Au Courant staff shared whispered conversations about AIDS. Shortly after that, we were informed that Michael had passed away. I surprised myself by how I felt. I was crushed. Michael was the first person around my own age that I knew that died. Dying was for old people, not for 35-year-olds. I didn't like Michael. Not because he was gay, but because he wasn't a nice person. I did, however, make a donation to MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance, a volunteer organization that brings meals to those in the Philadelphia area that are battling AIDS) in Michael's honor. I have made yearly donations (when I can) ever since.

I eventually left the composition house and moved on to my first job where I didn't use an X-Acto knife. A few nights a week, I also helped my wife with her blossoming eBay business. One evening, I was wrapping some glassware with old newspapers that we had accumulated. I grabbed the top sheet of the pile as I carefully lifted a fragile Depression glass sugar bowl with my other hand. I'm lucky I didn't drop the piece, as I was startled by a headline I saw in the several-weeks-old newspaper. It was in the "Obituary" section of a recent Philadelphia Inquirer. There was a black and white photograph of Harry, the advertising sales guy from Au Courant, accompanying a three-paragraph synopsis of his brief life. I scanned the story. It highlighted his education and his career, noting, most recently, he was employed in the sales department of the Inquirer itself. What was missing from the story was a life-defining incident that Harry had told me one day.

Harry spent a good portion of his life trying to live up to his father's expectations. His father, he explained, was a Camden, New Jersey police officer — a tough motorcycle cop, as a matter of fact. Harry did his very best to suppress his homosexual feelings, so — as he put it — as not to embarrass his father in front of his cop friends. Harry went to his senior prom with a girl from his class. After high school, he married a woman in an attempt to make his father proud. A little over a year into his marriage, Harry's wife returned home unexpectedly early from a day of running errands. She discovered Harry in their bed with a man. Harry told me the feeling of "getting caught" after so many years of acting the way he was "supposed" to act was liberating. Harry and his wife divorced. Harry became estranged from his father (however, they reconciled just prior to his father's death). But, Harry was finally living the life he wanted to live. His life. His way. It's just sad that he was only able to enjoy that life for only a dozen or so years. That story should have been the inspirational lede to Harry's obit.

My interaction with the guys from Au Courant taught me a valuable lesson and it changed my outlook for the rest of my life. Sure, there are plenty of people that I dislike. I don't deny that and I don't think I will ever stop disliking someone. But, I have reasons for my animosity. It is based on things they have said and actions they have taken against me personally. I never, ever have contempt for someone for what they believe in or how they look or who they love (unless they love The Dave Matthews Band. I have no tolerance for that!).

I'm not gay. Nor am I black... or Asian.... or Muslim..... or tall.... or good at math.... or any number of other qualities that make me different from everyone else. So what? Is that a reason to dislike someone? No. No, it is not. That would be stupid.

Don't be stupid. Just be who you are. Let others be who they are.

Unless you're stupid.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

fiddle about

My love of all things Disney is no secret. This story, however, is about my love of small things Disney.

After many trips to the Walt Disney World Resort just outside of Orlando, Florida, my family and I decided to check out Walt's original theme park on the west coast. Of course the Pincus family doesn't do anything in a normal way. He headed to Southern California by way of Las Vegas, spending three days in Sin City before driving four hours across the Mojave Desert to Anaheim.

Friends told us that we would be disappointed by Disneyland as compared to Walt Disney World. The California version is small and quaint, they warned. You'll be bored after a day. They were wrong. We fell in love just moments after stepping through the entrance gates. There is something homey and warm about Disneyland that doesn't exist in Walt Disney World. Sure, we love Disney World, but it seems so big and sprawling and corporate. (Yeah, I know. That sounds silly. Disney exudes "corporate!") Planning a vacation to Walt Disney World is little like planning to lead troops into battle. You must have a preconceived strategy, a game plan, a proposal for attack. There is no down time! Move, move, move! No time for relaxation! There's Dole Whip to eat and singing pirates to see! Disneyland didn't seem like that... at least to me... at least in 2004. The first thing I noticed, as we approached a familiar-looking Main Street USA, was The Main Street Cinema was actually showing movies. In Walt Disney World, The Main Street Cinema had long been transitioned into another gift shop selling the same Disney trinkets as every other shop on Main Street. Disneyland had open areas with benches and beautifully landscaped shrubbery. And not just in one little place near the forecourt of Sleeping Beauty Castle. There were little shady spots throughout the park. Secluded quiet places with a bench or two taking up precious real estate that, in Florida, would have someone hawking membership in the Disney Vacation Club upon it. Disneyland, on the other hand, is a place that folks who live in the surrounding area can just wake up in the morning and say "Hey! Let's go to Disneyland!" Just pure spontaneity with no planning whatsoever. After a day of observing the little touches of thoughtful detail, my family was in agreement that Disneyland seemed closer to Walt's original idea of a theme park.

Our last trip to Disneyland was in 2011. Things began to change a short time after, with a big push for big change over the past few years. It worked, too. Park attendance has increased.... by three million annually.

Your time is up.
As I write this, it is the eve of Disneyland opening one of its most ambitious expansions. After three years of secretive construction, Disneyland will unveil the much-anticipated "Galaxy's Edge," a 14-acre immersive land based on the beloved and lucrative "Star Wars" movie franchise (which Disney purchased the rights to in 2012). Much speculation, rumor and excitement has filled the Disney-loving community since groundbreaking on the project took place. As opening day drew closer, Disney began to issue reservations for admission. Due to anticipated popularity, guests will be limited to a four-visit during the first month of operation. Those who fail to comply with the time limitations will be escorted out of Galaxy's Edge by storm troopers straight out of the film series. (I kid you not!) Along with the enveloping experience, Disney is selling custom light sabers for two hundred dollars, custom "droids" for ninety-nine dollars and, if you get thirsty, Oga's Cantina will set you up with a rum-laced "Yub Nub" in a souvenir glass for forty-two bucks. Disney is poised to make gajillions.

But that's not what this story is about. This story is about the little touches at Disneyland. The things that Disney does so well and go relatively unnoticed by the theme-park going masses. Stuff that Disney doesn't have to do, but does anyway, because its part of the "magic" that Disney prides itself on providing. The kind of things that make Disney Disney and sets them apart from other theme parks. Sure, the big thrill rides are what draws the crowds and whips up excitement. But, the little one-on-one interactions are just as important and often much more memorable. So, as Disneyland excitedly gears up for the reveal of Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu, it waves a tearful goodbye to one of those little pieces of "magic" — Farley the Fiddler

Have fun.
Farley the Fiddler was one of those special added touches that brought a smile to guests' faces as they strolled the wooden-plank walkways of Frontierland. At near hourly intervals, Farley — a tall, lanky fellow decked out in full Western regalia — would stand outside of the Pioneer Mercantile, draw a rosined bow across his weather-patinaed fiddle and delight the small crowds that would gather. He would play some classic cowboys tunes, He would perform a few cool tricks with a lariat. He would even tell a few corny jokes in the trademark Disney vein. Of course, he'd pose for pictures, too. Sometimes, Farley would hand out stickers as a free souvenir. (Wow! Something free at Disneyland!) Farley did this on a daily basis  (with a few days off here and there) for nearly a quarter of a century. Just this past Monday — Memorial Day 2019 — Farley the Fiddler hoed his last down and hooted his last nanny. After seven shows a day for twenty-three years, Farley the Fiddler called it a career.

Farley the Fiddler
My family and I stumbled upon Farley the same way most guests do — by accident. We were shopping (browsing) in the Pioneer Mercantile, scanning the merchandise and marveling at the detail of the displays and fixtures (as we do in most Disneyland gift shops), when we heard sweet fiddle music just outside the far entrance. We walked outside and right into the middle of a Farley afternoon front-porch performance. He offered a wide, friendly smile and gave us a nod, tilting his Stetson in our direction, never once interrupting the bright, cheerful tune emanating from his fiddle. He chatted with us and other guests between songs and rope tricks, peppering his banter with some groan-worthy cowboy puns. ("I get a lot of fringe benefits," he said, gesturing to his decorated buckskin vest.) He'd politely excuse himself at the timed conclusion of his set and let everyone know when he'd return. Then, he'd nonchalantly disappear behind a cast member door, like all the other Disneyland cast members.

We made sure we stopped to see Farley on subsequent visits year after year. While searching the internet for more information, I found a blog post from 2015 written by a woman about the fun she and her children had with Farley the Fiddler. I even left a comment on the post to let her know she was not alone and to express my admiration of Farley.

Farley's retirement is bittersweet. I know that the next time I go to Disneyland, Farley won't be fiddling on the porch at the Pioneer Mercantile. I know, instead, that the queue to ride "Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run" will probably wind down to where Farley spun that rope and cracked a few silly one-liners. But, that's progress... I suppose.

I hope they still have a couple of benches.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

poor poor pitiful me

My dear wife frequents a Facebook page devoted to our small suburban Philadelphia community. This page is sort of a community “town square,” where members can ask their neighbors for recommendations on home repairs or someone to cut their grass. They can look for their contemporary's experiences in local restaurants. The page has also been used to voice opinions about happenings in the neighborhood. The operation – and eventual demise – of a local co-op market was a hot-button topic for a while. I even fueled the fire when I weighed in with my “Monday Morning Quarterback” assessment of the entire situation. 

My wife has used the Facebook page to solicit packing material and boxes to supplement her burgeoning eBay business. On any given day, our front porch can be piled high with discarded cartons, Styrofoam peanuts and various other shipping paraphernalia... along with an abundance of assorted (and unusable) shit that should have been rerouted for collection on the donator's designated trash pick-up day. But, not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, Mrs. P happily accepts it all and just adds the useless pieces to our weekly trash. 

Sometimes, the page resembles an online yard sale. Household items are for sale from time to time or, in some cases, offered as donations. Items such as furniture or toys have been available for sale at a nominal – or sometimes exorbitant – fee. Other times, these items are just announced as “first come-first served” to be grabbed from the owner's front porch or “for curb-side pickup,” which has become a more popular practice. 

Recently, a new type of post has appeared. Not content with waiting for someone to offer goods and/or services for free, some folks have taken to brazenly asking for stuff, under the guise of being needy. Yep, they're just skipping the middle man to become their own self-sufficient charitable organization with a single beneficiary. Some requests, I suppose, are genuine – like the ones who find themselves suddenly unemployed and are having difficulty making ends meet until they can find a new source of income. These people have humbly asked for baby toys or a car seat or similar items to comfort a child who couldn't possibly understand that Mommy or Daddy are facing a temporary financial upheaval. Those are the cases that are heart-wrenching, if they are indeed sincere. (I don't trust anyone!) Others ask for wood scraps or leftover building material or surplus fabric for a possible craft project. I guess these requests are legitimate, although I have not checked out the price of pipe cleaners recently.... or ever. 

Yesterday, however, Mrs. Pincus brought this post to my attention. It started off innocently enough....
“Hello. I am in need of a new stroller for my daughter. Someone donated one to us about two years ago and has lasted for a very long time and gone through a whole lot with us. I do not have money to pay for a stroller so I am asking anyone who may have one who would be willing to donate to us. We are going to Disney World at the end of June...” 
SCREEEEEEEEEECH! What? You're WHAT? Are you fucking kidding me? You are going to Disney World and you're begging for a stroller? Disney World! Walt Disney World! In Florida? The most expensive domestic vacation there is? Where a single day admission price is over a hundred dollars? That Disney World? I just want to clarify your level of neediness. 

Where was I? Oh yeah... the plea continues... 
“...and I really need one to take with us. I am looking for one that possibly has compartments at the top by the handle, has a cup holder/place for snack infront od [sic] baby...” 
Hold on just a second there, sister! You lost me at “Disney World,” but now, your tale of woe has taken on the characteristics of a “refining your categories” Amazon search. 

“...folds semi easily and has a semi large storage at the bottom. I apologize I fell in love with this old stroller that's now falling apart. Looking for one that is very similar. Thanks so much in advance. I apologize for sounding so needy. I'm just really in need. I do have 2 other strollers I can not use and will be posting to give away for free. Thanks.” 
No shame. No shame at all. I hope this person read and re-read this post before clicking the “post” button. I can only surmise that someone who would have the nerve.... the cajones... the chutzpah.... the balls to feel fully within their rights to post this, must be doing so alongside Will Byers from underneath Hawkins, Indiana or from somewhere on the outskirts of Bizzaro World. 

Here's the post.
Let's break down the situation at hand and analyze it. After the shamelessness of making stipulations about particular storage areas and the ease of folding, this person apologizes for sounding needy, but justifies their neediness by adding an off-handed “I'm just really in need.” But then goes on to say that he or she is currently in possession of two additional strollers that could be given away. Two, I suppose, that just do not make the cut of the stringent list of features a proper stroller must include. I'm actually a little bit surprised that a list of acceptable colors was not provided. The sense of entitlement here is astounding.

Well, this particular poster was not treated kindly by the people that frequent this Facebook group. A number of participants left comments berating the poster's audacity. The comments became worse and more graphic than the last. But, that's the purpose of Facebook, isn't it? It was created to bring people together, to interact with each other and to share thoughts and ideas. 

And to point on who's an asshole. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

when I paint my masterpiece

Let's get something straight. I don't draw for you. I draw for me. I draw purely for my own amusement. Sure, I have that little ad on my illustration website where I offer to draw a portrait for a nominal fee. But, be assured that I will be getting way more enjoyment out of it than you ever will. 

I have been drawing since I was a little kid. As would be expected, my style has changed considerably over these many years. A lot of that change, I will admit, has been forced. That's right. I make a conscious effort to change my style. Sometimes, it's based on another artist's influence. Sometimes I change out of boredom. I don't like to keep drawing things the same way over and over again. I like to see if I can draw differently. See? All for my own amusement.

I am also my own worse critic. I am very critical of my drawings. I have done thousands of drawings during my lifetime and I have probably thrown away a comparable amount to those I have shown to other people. I have posted over 1500 drawings on my illustration website since 2006. There have been many, many more that never saw the light of day because I didn't think they were good. I know I have posted some that aren't great, but the ones you've never seen? Trust me..... they were awful.

Along the way, I have done some drawings that have really pissed some people off. I know this, because they took the time to email me and tell me what a terrible, horrible no-talent hack of an artist I am. Some have told me that I have no business calling myself an artist. In some cases, I would tend to agree, but I have made a living in the field of graphic design for over 35 years, so I'm either doing something right or I have only worked for people who wouldn't know good art if it whacked them in the head. (There's another idea for a blog post right there.) One reader once emailed to tell me (and I quote): You suck as an artist too. Find something new to sketch like going back to trees, a-hole.


I actually love those sorts of comments. Sure, I like the praise and the ones that tell me how talented I am, but I relish the emails from folks who were so offended by something I drew that they were driven to put it into a lengthy message. Little do they know that its fairly difficult to insult me and my silly artwork. I don't take any of it seriously and, like I said, I have already critiqued it with more scrutiny that you can imagine.

In 2016, I began a feature on my illustration blog called "Dead Celebrity Spotlight." This sub-category combines three of my favorite things — drawing, dead celebrities and storytelling. Kicking things off on January 1 with a portrait of actor Edward G. Robinson, I have told the tales of over 200 folks who fit just two criteria — they're dead and they're a celebrity. And, believe me, "celebrity" is used in a pretty broad sense. I have done my very best to spin interesting stories of the famous, the not-so-famous, the unsung and the notorious. I have also tried to rush out a drawing as quickly as I can when a celebrity of note passes. Doing this usually entails a frantic drive home from work, my head filled with various layouts of how I will present the deceased subject. Then I bound up two flights of stairs to my third-floor drawing table, where I sketch out a quick pencil drawing. Then I ink it in with an appropriate weight of Micron or brush pen (that's art talk). Finally, I scan it to my computer, where I import it into Photoshop and color it (if I decide that color is appropriate for the subject). When the drawing and coloring are completed to my liking, I quickly research and write about the celebrity, trying to find an obscure anecdote or maybe I'll relate a personal experience. Then, I hit the ol' "Publish" button and it's posted. I will then cross-post it on my Facebook page and Instagram. (I've also gotten into the habit of making a little Instagram story with enhancements and music.... again, for my own amusement.) Soon, a small flurry of folks give me a "thumbs up" or a "heart" or even that little "shocked face" emoji in response to my drawing. Of course, there have been some who are so totally offended by what I have drawn or written, they feel compelled to let me know how badly I am shitting up the internet and my efforts would be better used elsewhere, besides a so-called "creative" capacity.

Case in point.....

The one you didn't see.
On Monday, May 13th, Doris Day passed away. I loved Doris Day. I loved everything about Doris Day. I loved her movies. I loved her singing. I loved her lame TV series in the 70s. I loved her interviews with a leering Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. I loved the fact that she just decided to up and abandon the spotlight in 1986 after the abrupt cancellation of her own talk show Doris Day's Best Friends. Doris Day was a top box office star throughout the 60s, an Academy Award-nominated actress and a Grammy-honored singer until she ditched her public life to spend her remaining days walking her dog through the gardens of the bed & breakfast she co-owned with her son (the late record producer Terry Melcher) in Carmel, California. I felt an obligation to pay tribute to her in the best way I knew.... by drawing her portrait.

When I got home from work on May 13th, I scoured the internet for the perfect picture of Doris Day on which to base my drawing. I went through dozens (not an exaggeration) until I selected one. I hurriedly did a line drawing from the photo and I frowned.  I didn't like it. It didn't look like Doris Day. I studied my drawing and I studied the reference photo and I came to the conclusion that pretty Doris Day is pretty difficult to draw. 

Nailing likenesses is not an easy thing. As an artist, you've got to focus on particular features to emphasize. Sure, Doris Day is remembered for her blond hair and her radiant smile, but a lot of actresses have blond hair and radiant smiles. Doris Day had unmistakable looks, but nothing specific. Nothing uniquely Doris Day stands out about Doris Day.

The one you did see.
I selected another photo and went through the same process. This one was a little bit better likeness, but I was still unable to capture her like I wanted. "Screw it!," I thought, "I'm coloring this one and I'll be done with it." I began the procedure of coloring in Photoshop. Layering. Lightening. Sharpening. Blurring. All the standard techniques I put into a Photoshop illustration. Usually, during this process, the likeness becomes more and more apparent. Usually..... but not this time. I just wasn't getting it. Mrs. P, whose desk and computer is a foot or so away from me, usually turns to take a peek at what I am working on and identifies my subject (if she knows who it is. Some of my subjects are pretty obscure) within seconds. Sometimes, however, it takes her a bit longer and she has to ask "Who is that?" This was one of those times. She remarked that I didn't quite capture Doris Day. And she was right.

But I wanted to finish and, despite knowing full well that this was not my best work, I posted it. When it showed up on my Facebook page, I received the expected reaction. Some "hearts." Some "crying" emojis. Even some "thumbs up," which I assume was for my drawing not an approval of the death of 97-year-old Doris Day. Then I got a comment from Wayne Buna.

I do not know Wayne Buna. He is just one of (at current count) 276 people who "like" the official Josh Pincus is Crying Facebook page. I can only assume that this group likes my drawings, my daily posts of celebrity death anniversaries and my overall skewed sense of humor. Wayne, as it appears, is not a fan of all of my drawings. Actually, Wayne fancies himself a qualified art critic. Wayne took one look at my illustration of Doris Day and was so outraged, so offended, he was prompted to let me know his true feelings, along with a professional assessment of my talent. Wayne — dear, dear Wayne — told me: "That sketch looks nothing like Doris Day. It's in poor taste."

You think I don't already know this, Wayne? I wrestled with this illustration for hours, as well as the one I did before it — the one you never saw. I realize that I didn't quite capture the sweetness, the allure, the appeal of the beloved Doris Day. I tried. God damn, did I try! I just couldn't get the lines on the page to duplicate what I saw in my mind. Sometimes that happens. It's the kind of thing that drove Jackson Pollack to drink and Vincent Van Gogh to cut off his ear. Is it a great drawing? No. I'll be the first one to admit that it's not one of my best. (Did you see the one I did of Amy Winehouse? I thought that was pretty good. And my illustration of obscure French actress Renée Adorée was one I personally liked.) But... in poor taste? I don't agree with that at all. I should know. I've done plenty of drawings that could be deemed "in poor taste," but the drawing I did of Doris Day? I don't think so. Back in 2008, I used to contribute to an illustration blog whose admin reprimanded me about this drawing I submitted. While I still maintain it is not in poor taste, the guy who ran the blog thought otherwise. But, come on.... my feeble attempt at trying to capture the essence of Doris Day was failed, sure.... but "in poor taste?" Please! (On Instagram, a friend commented on the unnatural look of Doris Day's cheeks in my depiction. "Squirrel cheeks" I believe were the words that were used. Okay! Okay! I get it!)

Happily, Mrs. Pincus — my biggest fan — came to my defense. She called out Mr. Buna, citing his comment as uncalled for and demanding to see if he could do any better. As the time of writing this blog post, Mr. Buna has not answered the challenge.

Well, another celebrity had died since Doris Day's passing, plus I have a bunch of ideas for more drawings in the queue. This little episode will all be forgotten soon enough. Unless, of course, someone doesn't like my take on Tim Conway....

That illustration is dedicated to you, Wayne.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

stand in the place where you are

My wife and I find ourselves in the supermarket quite regularly. We eat a lot of salad and fresh vegetables, so we must keep replenishing our stock. That stuff doesn't have a long shelf life and, honestly, the salads we make are pretty big. 

We live in close proximity to several large supermarkets, each one equally convenient, however not as equal in the products that they carry. The one that is closest to us – Acme, a subsidiary of the Albertson's grocery chain – does not carry bagged, shredded red cabbage. I love red cabbage in my salad and the amount that is included in the pre-bagged “Classic Salad” mixes (as offered by Dole and Fresh Express) is not sufficient to satisfy me. Acme is also lacking in other products, such as low-fat salad dressing. (I know. I know. I am very particular about my salads.) So, more often, Mrs. P and I find ourselves in the produce section of our local Giant supermarket. (Giant is the name, not a commentary on its size. It is no bigger that any other supermarket near us.) 

Giant has a beautiful produce section, with offerings that Acme never carries (including bagged, shredded red cabbage). Until a recent remodel rectified the situation, the Giant store was poorly laid out, with aisles running perpendicular to other aisles. There were aisles that did not run the entire depth of the store,  and aisles that ran part way across the store, making shopping a tedious and exhausting task, forcing the poor disoriented shopper (me) into feeling like a lab mouse caught in an impossible maze experiment. Well, they straightened out and simplified the floor plan, plus they introduced “Marty.” Marty is a robot that roams the aisles of Giant. That's right – a robot. Marty is a sleek gray plastic piece of equipment standing 6-and-a-half feet tall and outfitted with scanners and – inexplicably – a large set of googly eyes. Marty's mission is to identify spills and obstacles that may impede on a shopper's in-store experience. Marty glides almost silently through the store, moving slowly enough so as not to startle the elderly shoppers and to enable the curious to snap a quick selfie. Marty has been programmed to not bump into carts or shelving and nor will it block the aisles. 

Although that problem at Giant has not been fully resolved. 

One of the reasons I don't care to shop at Giant is an on-going phenomena among a large percentage of their clientele. It's a phenomena I have been subject to on nearly every visit to the store. It seems every single time I go to Giant, someone is blocking every single aisle. I have never encountered this at any other supermarket besides Giant. There always seems to be someone standing in the dead center of any given aisle with their shopping cart strategically positioned so no one can scoot around them on either side. This shopper is usually rifling through a fat cardboard folder of coupons or craning their neck in confusion while considering a display of products on a top shelf ten feet away. The other infuriating scenario is when folks saunter to the end of an aisle and stop. Just stop and ponder. Ponder which way to turn. Ponder what items are still remaining on their shopping list. Ponder which items they missed in the aisle that they almost exited. Ponder the speed at which the Earth rotates as it makes its way around the sun. Who knows what they are pondering. I just know they are not pondering getting out of the way. That one they got all figured out. 

On my most recent visit to Giant, I left my wife at the deli counter to peruse the various cold prepared salads. I told her I was just going to hop over to a far aisle and grab a jar of sliced roasted red peppers (another favorite salad topping of mine) and I'd be back in a second. On what should have been a ten second quest, I was held up no less that five times by shoppers standing at a dead halt at the end or middle of an aisle for no discernible reason. People just stopping dead in their tracks, as though they were trapped in quick-drying cement. These people have no regard for other shoppers around them. Other shoppers who don't lead a life of leisure that allows for a casual stop-and-start stroll though a bustling market. There are people who don't want to make a trip to the market like a trip to a museum. A lot of people want to get what they need and get on their way. That is the beauty of self-serve markets and the concept that brought them into existence in the first place. You want to stop and think about your next supermarket purchase? That's fine. Just do it off to the side and have a little consideration for someone who doesn't share your (and The Eagles') philosophy of “Take It Easy.” 

When I finally returned with my jar of roasted red peppers, I related my tale of woe to Mrs. Pincus as we made our way up to the check-out area. As you would expect, I prefer the self check-out lanes – except when I get behind someone with an issue or a problem or something they didn't mean to purchase. This time, though, we were lucky and it was smooth sailing. We quickly scanned our items, bagged them and paid. I gathered up our bags and we started for the exit. 

Only to be blocked by an emergency meeting of the Old Man Giant Door Blockers Union Local 101. I believe it is usually held RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE ONLY STORE EXIT!