Sunday, November 12, 2017

break on through to the other side

When I created the "Josh Pincus is Crying" character over a decade ago, I did my very best to maintain the illusion of the outspoken, opinionated, little red-headed stepchild that lives inside of all of us. I decided that rascally persona would remain online and online only, presenting my twisted illustrations, my somewhat dark sense of humor and my cranky demeanor as a goofy magnified version of the real me. I was able to keep the online "Josh" separate from the real-life "Josh" for quite some time.

Between Twitter and Instagram and, more recently, Facebook, I gained followers from all across the country and even across the world. Soon, I started to let small bits of my real life trickle into the online version of me, I infrequently posted photos of myself (previously a big no-no), although I tried to obscure my face, only allowing my "trademark" red hair to identify me. Sure, there are plenty of people who knew me in my pre-Josh Pincus days, but the more personal information I let slip out on my blogs (the one you're reading and my illustration blog), the more my two lives were brought together, making me more recognizable to those who only know me as that red-haired smart-ass who complains about everything and draws dead people.

Still only a handful of people who know the online Josh have met the real Josh. The first was voice actress April Winchell. Among her many talents, April briefly ran a website called (now defunct), a hilarious dig at the artsy April relentlessly scanned the numerous entries on, seeking out (and making fun of) the cream of the crap. I was a frequent commentor on, regularly acknowledged by Miss Winchell. One year into the website's run, April published a book based on the Regretsy site, presenting the "best of the worst" that had to offer. She went on a limited book tour that brought the transplanted Californian back to her native New York. My family and I attended the book-signing event and when I approached the table to get my book inscribed, I sheepishly (well, actually boisterously) revealed myself as "Josh Pincus." April lit up and afforded me a warm hug. We have remained in touch, albeit infrequently.

Surviving my first real-life "Josh Pincus" encounter, I dove headfirst into my second one. Through my long-time association with Illustration Friday, an online weekly artistic challenge, I have interacted with fellow artists around the globe. One of those artists — Indigene — I discovered, lives near me in the Philadelphia suburbs. Indigene is a real artist (not like me and my silly little drawings), using all sorts of media to create unique pieces of striking beauty. I saw that she was participating in a small showing at a house/gallery not far from me, so I decided to surprise her. After a morning traipsing through a couple of cemeteries, I arrived at the location of Indigene's art exhibit. I entered the house. Towards the back of the cramped basement, I spotted Indigene's work displayed along a long wall. I surmised that the woman alongside the pieces was Indigene. She was speaking with some prospective buyers, so I waited patiently. When she turned her attention to me, I smiled and introduced myself, first by real name, then as Josh Pincus. She shrieked and threw her arms around me. I suppose this is the reaction I should have expected. From her perspective, it was like meeting an imaginary being — finding out they are, in fact, real. Suddenly, I'm like Santa Claus. Maybe a little closer to Freddy Krueger.

One evening at the end of last year, my son and I went to see local (but soon to bust out worldwide) rock and rollers Low Cut Connie at a hometown show at the grand old Trocadero, a one-time vaudeville theater - turned strip club - turned concert venue. Before the show began, my boy and I were standing in our usual "down in front of the stage" position chatting, when we were approached by a woman. She hesitantly spoke to me, asking the single syllable, "Josh?" I had never seen her before and, at first, I found it a little unnerving. My son E., a DJ on a Philadelphia radio station and a self-proclaimed "minor local celebrity," is used to getting recognized. But, me...? I'm just a regular guy... with bright red hair. She introduced herself as "Amy" and confessed to being a Twitter follower and a big fan of Josh Pincus. In the darkened lights of the venue, it must have been difficult to see that I was blushing. It was equally as difficult to see that E. was rolling his eyes. Amy jabbed her husband in the ribs and pointed in my direction. "This is Josh Pincus!," she excitedly explained. He appeared as disinterested as everyone else in the room. "Who's Josh Pincus?," he obligingly asked. "You know," she said sternly, "the artist from the internet!" He obviously didn't know, nor did he care. But, it was still pretty cool — and a little embarrassing — to get recognized. I have seen Amy at other concerts, as well as on Twitter. She says she proudly wears her official "Josh Pincus" buttons, but "proudly" is a relative word.

Mrs. Pincus and I just returned from our sixth cruise. That's right — sixth! I realize that I have become the person that I made fun of on our first cruise. We had a great time, but, to tell you the truth, all cruises are the same. Our experience has been nearly identical on each sailing. Sure, the faces change and the entertainment may be slightly different, but the overall experience is the same. That's not a bad thing. It's enjoyable, fun and relaxing, it's just the "cruise experience."

A few weeks prior to our departure date, Mrs. Pincus joined a Facebook group specifically for our cruise. She began interacting with various members of the group and soon, she was referring to "Marilyn this" and "Richard that" and "George said this." "Who are these people?," I asked. She explained that I would meet them all on our upcoming cruise. After a week or so, I felt like I was going on this cruise with my wife and a bunch of her friends. One evening, my wife was telling me about a member of the Facebook group who blogs about cruises and mentioned that she has a child with severe food allergies. I paused and, out of nowhere, I asked, "Does she live in Toronto?" Mrs. P shot me a look of confusion. "I don't know. I'll check.," she replied. A quick scan of Facebook yielded an affirmative answer. This woman did indeed reside in Toronto. It turns out that we have been following each other on Twitter for years! I write regularly about my past adventures in Disney theme parks. She contributes to a blog that asked to use one of my illustrations. Since our initial connection, I have been sending her links to my Disney-centric blog posts. Over the years, we discovered that, among other things, our children both saw their first baseball games at Toronto's SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre). And, of course, I have made playful fun of Canada at her expense... but I make fun of everything. I shot her a quick private Twitter message to let her know that — ta daa! — we would be on the same cruise. 

A meet and greet gathering was scheduled for the Facebook group for the first full day at sea. On that morning, Mrs. P and I headed to the ship's buffet, what would be the first of many, many visits during our week at sea. We called for an elevator and when the doors opened, there was already a passenger inside. The woman looked at Mrs. Pincus and exclaimed, "You're Susan!" By strange chance, it was Hiromi, my Twitter pal. We all laughed and embraced. An hour or so later, we formally met at the meet and greet, along with many other members of the Facebook group. I had to explain to Hiromi that "Josh Pincus" is a pseudonym, but she took to calling me by my real name almost instantly. Later in the week, we had a lovely dinner with her, her husband and son. (Hiromi has a teenage daughter that we met for a fleeting moment, as she spent the week off doing "teenager-y" things, sans parents.) Mrs. Pincus, the nicest person in the world, prepared little gift bags for Hiromi's children. We were sailing over Hallowe'en and she didn't want them to miss out.

On the evening of the day Mrs. P and I arrived home, I went to a concert with my son, my brother and a few friends. Before the show, I was telling my brother about the Twitter-Hiromi-Cruise internet triangle, and how my "online" life was slowly crossing paths with my "real" life. Our conversation was interrupted by a young woman who walked past me and cheerfully said, "Hi, Mr. Pincus!" I cocked my head and tried to place her. She said she follows me on Twitter and we had met earlier in the year at an outdoor music festival. My brother, surprisingly impressed, shook his head and laughed. "Boy," he observed, "you are quite the celebrity." 

After the show, singer Nicole Atkins was busily attending to her merchandise. Nicole, a stellar performer with a magnificent voice, is friends with my son. My pal Steve approached her merch table to purchase an album and he asked me if Nicole knew me. I said, while we have met, it was some time ago. I would probably have to explain who I am. As we drew nearer to the table, Nicole looked up, gave a little wave and, with a smile, said, "Hi, E.'s dad."

Okay, now, it's getting weird.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

honeymoon with B troop

I wrote this story nearly eight years ago and it appeared on my illustration blog. Since I am on vacation with my spouse of thirty-three years, I thought I'd share this tale of our honeymoon. It's one of my favorites.                                                            

Let's get something straight. Men are idiots. They are bumbling awkward misfits who should be eternally grateful that women take enough pity on them to disrupt their own self-fortitude and take them as their husbands. As my 27th wedding anniversary draws near, I am reminded of how my own dear wife ignored all of the idiotic warning signs I displayed on our honeymoon and stuck it out with me for over a quarter of a century.

In the early morning hours of July 15, 1984, while the USFL champion Philadelphia Stars were embarking on their celebratory march down Broad Street, the new Mrs. Pincus and I were readying ourselves for our first trip as husband and wife. We crammed our suitcases into the tiny hatchback of our Datsun 200SX and pulled out of the parking garage of Philadelphia's Hershey Hotel (now a DoubleTree), where we spent our wedding night. Being children at heart (some more than others), our destination was Walt Disney World, the perennial mecca of pretend, just outside of Orlando, Florida.

As we ate up the distance on our 990-mile journey, our conversation bounced about from our wedding the previous night to the plans for our vacation-at-hand. Playing the part of navigator, I deciphered the TripTik as my "better-half" helmed our automobile — music blasting out of the rolled-down windows. We made several stops along the way to quench my new bride's thirst for new shopping experiences. I believe we patronized every Stuckey's and Cracker Barrel between Philadelphia and North Carolina, checking out the tchotchkes  and souvenirs and stocking up on pecan log rolls and locally-distributed soft drinks along the way. Convinced we were making excellent time, we called it a day at a Quality Inn in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, just south of the Virginia border. We were given a room that faced the parking lot and offered an inviting view of an Aunt Sarah's Pancake House, which — based on the remoteness of our accommodations — would, no doubt, be our dining choice for the evening. We hurriedly stashed our luggage in our room. Our short walk across the gravel parking lot was quickly interrupted by a tiny kitten who was wandering around the walkway in front of our car. My wife, a sucker for a cute, pink-nosed, whiskered face — and cats, — immediately envisioned the feline as our traveling companion for the remainder of our trip. I explained how that idea was not a great one considering — well, considering everything — the drive, our reservations in Florida — everything!  A brief discussion yielded an amicable compromise. We decided to bring some small containers of coffee creamer to give to the cat when we returned after dinner.

Several stacks of pancakes later, we took the return stroll across the crushed-stone lot to our hotel. My wife remembered to grab a handful of pre-portioned cream containers, but as we approached the lighted area around our door, there was no sign of the little cat. I pulled back the foil lid on one of the small plastic cups and set it on the ground, allowing easy access to its pseudo-dairy contents. We patiently waited, craning our necks and scanning the surroundings for a glimpse of the cat. Our futile search lasted several more minutes until we finally retired to the confines of our evening's lodging.

An hour or so later, my wife became curious about our feline friend. She asked me to glance outside to see if the puss had come to investigate the processed cow juice we had left for him. Obediently, I parted the curtain and leaned toward the window. As I did, a face leaned in toward me, its head cocked at the same inquisitive angle as mine. Startled, I jumped and hastily threw the curtains back to their concealing position. My wife, shaken, asked what the matter was. I whipped around and said, "Someone was looking in our room at the same time I was looking out." I trailed off, realizing what had just transpired. Mrs. Pincus started blankly at me, her arms folded across her chest and that look  I would soon become very well-acquainted with across her face. Once my initial panic subsided, I realized that the guy I saw peering into our room had a certain familiarity to him. He wore the same glasses and the same shirt as me. He also had the same hair, though parted on the other side. It was at that moment the entire episode crystallized. The combination of the brightly-lit room and the darkness outside coupled with the opaque barrier created by the enshrouding curtains caused the window to take on the characteristics of a mirror. I sunk in the embarrassing affirmation that I had just been frightened by my own reflection. In front of my wife of thirty-six hours, no less.

The next morning, the incident was not subject to further discussion or analysis. I loaded our bags back into the car and we silently restarted our southbound course. However, within minutes, we were, once again, laughing and talking on the open road. Soon, we reached the sun-drenched expanses of central Florida. We plunged into a week's worth of fun and excitement, leaving my display of bonehead behavior a distant (but not forgotten) memory.

Our time in Disney World wound to a close and we began the long trek back to Philadelphia and to the new world of domestic marital bliss. Our trusty map from Triple A directed us to a more scenic homeward route. Veering off of I-95 just north of the Georgia border, we traveled through towns that could have doubled for the ramshackle settings of Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road.  At one point, we stopped for gas and, as I dispensed the fuel from the tall, glass-globe topped pump, Mrs. Pincus went to pay in the dilapidated shack that served as an office. She came out chuckling and told of two men playing checkers on a barrel top and how payment was accepted by a Jed Clampett look-alike who was leaning on huge jar proudly labeled "pickled pig's knuckles."

Our drive up Route 17 was long and tedious and, aside from several enormous tobacco fields, far from scenic. My watch ticked past midnight and the hotel offerings were separated by more and more emptiness. Finally, an ethereally-lit Ramada Inn shone like a beacon in the otherwise sleepy hamlet of New Bern, North Carolina. My wife navigated our vehicle just under the carport by the lobby entrance and I hopped out to check the availability of a room for the night. I pulled on the door and, despite obvious activity in the illuminated lobby, it was locked. I could see a burly man jogging from behind the reception desk and heading toward the door. Several other people inside glanced in my direction without changing their positions. As the man drew nearer, the gun jammed in his shoulder holster came into view. "Holy shit!," I thought, "I'm interrupting a robbery!" Frozen in my shoes, I quickly turned to Mrs. Pincus still seated behind the wheel of our idling car. I was about to mouth "Help!" to her, when the man unlocked the door and identified himself as a security officer, explaining that they keep the door locked at such a late hour. I inquired about a place to crash for the night and was informed that a lone room was available. I paid and was handed the keys (actual keys — this was 1984). I ran out to grab our suitcase. A minute later, Mrs. Pincus and I boarded the elevator.

Exiting at the proper floor, we located the room number corresponding to the oversized plastic fob to which the key was attached. I turned the key in the knob, reached inside the slightly opened door and flicked on a light switch. I swung the door fully open and, ahead of me, the television flickered with life. The bed was blocked from view by a wall, but I know an "on" TV when I see one. And an "on" TV usually means someone is watching it. I slowly closed the door and whispered to my wife, "I think there is someone in the room!  The TV  is on!"  Could the front desk have made an error? Did they lose track and book us into an occupied room? I opened the door again and called out "Hello?" No reply. I called again. "Is anyone here?" Again, there was no reply. I instructed my wife to wait in the hall. I entered the room. The TV blared. The bed was made and undisturbed. I cautiously swept my extended arm across the heavy, drawn curtains — in case a possible intruder had learned their lesson in camouflage from a 1940s detective movie. Satisfied that the curtains were not disguising any thugs, I dropped to my knees and checked under the bed. Coming up empty, I bounded into the small bathroom and gave the shower curtain a good shake. Echoing the words of Zelda Rubenstein in Poltergeist,  I announced to my spouse, "This room is clean" and welcomed her in. We were both exhausted but, although I had given the room a thorough once-over, we slept uneasily until morning.

I woke early. My wife awakened as I was dressing. I sat on the edge of the bed and while I pulled a sock onto my foot, the TV suddenly switched on. Then, it switched off. Then, on again. Rattled, I turned around to Mrs. Pincus and asked, "What's going on?" She answered, "I wanted to see what this controlled,"and pointed to an odd-looking light switch on the wall next to the bed. It differed from the other switches in the room, in that it was surrounded by a tarnished metal back plate and not the standard, cream-colored plastic. She flicked the switch several more times and the television screen brightened and darkened in the same sequence."Hey," I began my revelation, "there's a switch just like that next to the door." — I trailed off just like I did in another hotel room a little over a week ago. Again, my foolishness came to the forefront, as I slowly comprehended that I  had turned the TV on the previous night when I opened the door and reached for a light switch. Now, I was facing the big mirror over the dresser. I didn't need to turn around. Mrs. Pincus's reflection was giving me the look.

We silently finished our packing and headed to our car.

July 2011 marks 27 years of a marriage that has overcome the demonstrations of stupidity that book-ended our honeymoon. I know I am not alone in my struggle for consistent intelligent thinking. But, I am  in the minority of those who will admit to it.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

shake that rat

I used to fixate on — actually, I still do — the uncomfortable fact that my parents took me to see The Godfather when I was eleven. This bothered me a lot. What were they thinking? What kind of parent subjects an impressionable child to that kind of gritty violence? Were there no babysitters available? Did they discuss this and conclude that, as responsible parents, this was an admirable thing to do? I even wrote a lengthy blog post about this a few years ago, so the people that I couldn't tell in person wouldn't miss out on some serious parent shaming.

A few nights ago, I was scanning the multitude of entertainment options available through my cable television provider. I stopped at Turner Classic Movies — one of my favorites — to see what they were offering. I scrolled through to the schedule and soon found myself viewing the movies that TCM reserves for the wee hours of weekend nights — a period they refer to as "The Underground." While most folks are fast asleep, Turner Classic presents films that fall into the category of "cult." Just after midnight on Saturday, such forgotten gems as Coffy starring ass-kick Pam Grier and Hillbillys in a Haunted House, a painfully campy romp that Jayne Mansfield turned down. 

At 3:45 a.m., Turner Classic presented the 1971 thriller Willard, a heartwarming tale of an awkward young man who befriends a bunch of rats. This was followed by its 1972 sequel, the equally preposterous Ben, featuring a cast of every character actor the 1970s had to offer. An explainable wave of excitement shot through me and I instinctively set the DVR to record both movies. 

I hadn't seen either one of these movies in years! Decades! On Sunday morning, I set myself up with a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee and settled into the den sofa for a "blast-from-the-past" double feature. I remember loving these movies when I was a kid. Hey, what's not to love? It had Ernest Borgnine, excitable "Commander McHale" playing against his TV type (but not movie type, as he portrayed numerous assholes on the silver screen) as Willard's asshole boss. It had the eccentrically other-worldly Elsa Lanchester at the end of her illustrious career as Willard's mother, acting as though she didn't get the same script as the rest of the cast. There was lovely waif Sondra Locke as Willard's pseudo love interest and a supporting assortment of characters from TV including J. Pat O'Malley (Google him, you'll know him) and the delightfully daffy Jody Gilbert, who made a career of playing "Woman" or "Fat Woman" in 115 screen credits. With newcomer Bruce Davison (who has gone on to a five-decade career that included an Oscar nomination) in the title role, Willard was a typical 70s schlock horror film. It was a low-budget, zero production value, poorly-acted 95 minutes of dreck... and I loved it! Movies in the 70s were churned out with assembly-line regard. They followed trends and genres and there was very little originality. Actors wore, what seemed like, their own street clothes — or maybe costumes just mimicked the brightly-colored polyester fashions of the day. It certainly did not try to top Citizen Kane and that certainly was not its goal. It was just crappy entertainment and it delivered. 

Mom and Dad's guide
to parenting
While I watched and chuckled at the over-dramatic antics flashing across my television, remembering my first view of this film, something dawned on me. I saw Willard at a Saturday afternoon matinee at the Parkwood Theater in 1971. I was ten. Ten years old! I went with friends. My mom most likely drove us there in her lime green Rambler, dropping us off and providing me with a few dollars for popcorn and candy. She was well aware of what sort of movie Willard was, as our television was bombarded with ads for the movie. They must have caught Ernest Borgnine shilling on Johnny Carson's show, explaining how the stunts and effects were accomplished after running a promo clip for the audience. So, what was she thinking? Why would she allow a ten-year old to see this? This was not a film for a ten-year old! I should have been seeing Bedknobs and Broomsticks or Million Dollar Duck or The Barefoot Executive or any number of movies more suitable for a ten-year old. Not a movie where a pack of hungry rats rip "Commander McHale" apart right before your eyes. So, I shouldn't be surprised that, a year later, my parents thought it was a fine idea to take me to see The Godfather. After all, once I saw thousands of rats gnaw through a wooden door and attack the once-sympathetic Willard, watching a helpless James Caan get riddled with thousands of rounds of machine gun fire was nothing.... I guess. And that severed horse's head? Piece of cake.

Perhaps my Mom and Dad should have read a good book on parenting skills after they finished Mario Puzo's tale of "family."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

let's give 'em something to talk about

When I'm not drawing stupid pictures or writing rambling blog posts or exposing violators of the "Dude, It's Rude" policy on my daily train commute, I work as a graphic designer at a large chain of bakeries*. They have locations up and down the East Coast and recently expanded to the Midwest. My company employs many supporting staff in addition to the 400+ bakers that are the lifeblood of the business. After all, where would a bakery be without experts in flour and mixing and frosting?

I don't work here.
One of the responsibilities in my job, in addition to producing long, wordy informational sheets detailing cake ingredients and regular newsletters informing customers of breaking news in the world of baking, is creating advertising for various publications. These ads are requested through a section of the company's intranet, on a page plainly labeled, "Advertising." Here, a selection of ad layouts is displayed. Once the appropriate design is chosen, a small form is filled out with pertinent information for getting the ad created (size, color limitations, recipients contact information, as well as the identity of the requester) and submitted. I, then, receive an automatically-generated email with the request. Shortly afterwards, using a set of previously prepared templates, I create the ad to the submitted specifications and send it off to the requester for review and eventual approval. Once approved, I send the completed, camera-ready ad to the publication and we are done. Simple? You'd be surprised.

Bakers are interesting people. They seem to believe that baking is the most important profession on earth. The also seem to believe that bakers possess a far superior intelligence than, say, police officers or barbers or postal workers or artists, for that matter. Somehow, working with hot ovens and proofing boxes makes them experts in all professions, regardless of any special training or years of experience other vocations may require.

Here either.
Recently, I received an indirect request from two bakers, via an email chain, on which I was copied. At no time was I actually addressed in the course of the correspondence. I was merely referenced and the fact that an ad was needed was discussed. Surmising that no official ad request was going to be made, I took it upon myself to be proactive and create an ad. Through an email attachment that I discovered on the third "go-round," I was able to find a spec sheet from the organization. The ad in question was for a small theater presenting their annual program of classical music. I chose an appropriate layout — featuring a photo of an orchestra — and prepared an ad to send to these two bakers for review.

I finished the ad, created a PDF (which is standard procedure) and sent it off, along with my regular accompanying email copy:
"Attached please find a PDF of the ad, as requested. Please review and reply with edits or your approval. Once approved, I will send this ad to the organization.
Thank you. Josh."
Within seconds of clicking the "send" button, I received a reply from one of the bakers. His single-line, signature-less correspondence read:
"Is this ad in black and white?"
I reread the ad specifications on the original solicitation from the theater (that was first sent to the bakers before it was attached to the email on which I was copied). Printed under the available ad sizes were the words: "All ads will be printed in black and white." I immediately and dutifully responded:

"Yes, according to the ad solicitation from the theater, all ad will be printed in black and white."

The baker replied with three words, and, what I interpreted as, an air of dismissive disgust:
"What a waste."
I wasn't sure how to take that. Perhaps the theater could not afford to print a program booklet in full color. It is a small community theater and full-color printing can lean towards expensive. I wasn't sure if his disdain was directed at me, as though I determined that this and all ads would run in monochrome. So, I just didn't reply. I just waited for the other baker who "requested" the ad to weigh in.

He did. Indirectly. He replied to a representative from the theater, informing her that a check would be sent by his assistant and an ad would be sent by "my colleague, Josh Pincus." (I'm a colleague. Whaddaya know?) I took that as an approval from Baker Number Two, so I sent the ad. All finished.

But not really.

Nearly two hours after I sent the ad to the theater, Baker Number One, once again, chimed in. He interjected:
"It appears we have no choice. I assume that none of you have a black and white TV."
It got no response from anyone on the original email chain. I honestly don't know what it means. What I do know is:
  1. I sent the ad to the theater
  2. I got receipt confirmation for the ad
  3. I will never be able to figure out bakers.

* If you have been paying attention, you know that I do not work at a bakery. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

welcome to the grand illusion

I actually wrote this post almost one year ago to the day. I just never got around to publishing it, Coincidentally, the holiday that I reference — and the subsequent annual celebration — just occurred this past weekend. It is interesting to note that the events that I describe were repeated nearly identically as they had a year ago. This leads me to believe that I could just publish this post every year, at this time, and save myself some writing.
My in-laws had an annual gathering at their house. The occasion was the holiday of Sukkot, a celebration that takes some explaining for the uninitiated. Luckily, I have written about Sukkot before, so you can find the explanation of the holiday here. It may not be the most accurate explanation but, after all, isn't that why you are here? To relish my inaccuracies? If wanted accuracy, you could just "Google" stuff. You're welcome.

Hours before the first guests arrived, my wife was busy in the kitchen. She coordinated a precision "assembly line" of trays filled with hors d'oeuvres. As one tray went into the oven another came out. With the indispensable help of my niece, the process of getting the food prepared for a houseful of hungry people became a regimented ballet. Mrs. P's cousin, an invited guest, even pitched in to plate appetizers and bring them to the serving table. Between the three of them, the place looked inviting and the food was stocked to the delight and appreciation of the multitude of freeloaders guests.

Then there was Simone. Simone was her regular self. She took great care in dishing out the few salads the she brought or prepared there. She sort of shuffled some items around on the kitchen counter, giving the illusion that she was actually doing something constructive or helpful. She checked the status of  the hors d'oeuvres baking in the oven exactly once before retreating to join the rest of the guests that she invited... never setting foot back in the kitchen to see if her assistance was needed.

I have my doubts. 
The table looked beautiful and, thanks to Mrs. P and my darling niece, the food offerings were never sparse. There were mini hot dogs in puff pastry, latkes, sweet and sour meatballs and their vegetarian counterparts (or so I was told) and much much more, including an array of baked goods for which my wife is renowned. At the end of the afternoon, as guests thanked my in-laws and said their farewells, Simone disappeared or faked an injury or some such other bullshit. Mrs. P cleared the serving table, with help from her father and even me. My spouse hand-washed the delicate dishes and loaded the dishwasher with the sturdier plates and utensils. I helped to put away what remnants of leftovers were, well, left over. Simone, spooned her salads back into their containers and loaded them into a bag to take to her home, along with a few bottles of wine that were brought by visitors. She barked for her immediate family and, as they say, "got the fuck out of Dodge,"

Mrs. Pincus made sure her parent's kitchen and dining room looked exactly as it did before a horde of of guests filled the house. Satisfied that everything was in order, we headed home. But first, we thanked my in-laws for hosting. I don't recall Simone doing even that.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I saw the harbor lights

Here's a fun fact: When the Food Network conceived the show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and offered hosting duties to Guy Fieri, they had to explain what exactly a diner was to the boorish, peroxide-blonde celebrity chef. He just could not grasp the concept, despite being a "restaurateur"* for over twenty years.

However, anyone who grew up on the East Coast — specifically in close proximity to New Jersey — is very familiar with diners and all they have to offer. Poor, derided New Jersey is home to the largest collection of diners in the world — a claim that is completely understandable. A drive through any small town (Jersey has a lot of them) will reveal scenery regularly dotted with gleaming chrome eateries. Diner menus are renowned for their encyclopedic proportions, offering page after laminated page of every possible configuration of meal from hearty breakfasts to full-course dinners (with soup or salad, choice of two vegetables and Jell-o or rice pudding for dessert) to late-night snacks. Even those watching their weight need not worry, as diners notoriously offer "lo-cal" versions of popular dishes. Diner owners seem to think that a hamburger served with peaches and cottage cheese constitutes suitable diet fare. Every diner offers pretty much the same, abundant selection and the same quality food. Not great, but somehow, comforting. After all, it's kind of difficult to screw up eggs or a tuna melt.

I have always loved eating in diners. They are a fascinating time capsule, a place where eras from the past remain a part of the present. What is really fascinating  is that, no matter where they are located, they are all pretty much the same. Same set up. Same decor, Same wait staff. You know what i mean. That teased-haired woman with the doily on her head and too much rouge on her cheeks, her voice roughened by years of cigarette smoke, her vocabulary peppered with lots of "hon"s and "sweetie"s and "not a problem"s. My dad's favorite diner was The Heritage, a place just a few blocks from our house. Our family ate there often. My dad ate breakfast there every weekday morning for decades, and after my mom died, he ate every meal there. The Heritage had a waitress that fit that description. As a matter of fact, all of their waitresses fit that description.

This past summer, Mrs. Pincus and I took regular drives to and from Atlantic City. Sometimes, we went to spend a day on the beach. Sometimes, we went to take care of other obligations. One evening, we were driving back home to Philadelphia. As we drove, we discussed our options for dinner. Growing weary of pizza and sandwiches from Wawa (we love 'em, but...), we decided to stop at one of the many diners that we usually pass on our routine transversing of Route 30. The narrow, mostly two-lane, highway that is Route 30 snakes through many small towns — Pomona, Absecon, Egg Harbor City, Chesilhurst, Elwood, Hammonton — in Southern New Jersey. For a lot of these tiny burgs, the only place to eat is a diner. Just ahead of us, between a church and an Auto Zone, we spotted the soft glowing neon of the Harbor Diner. But this time, we stopped.

There's a light....
The Harbor Diner is pretty unspectacular. It's chrome-clad exterior is similar to a thousand other diners on Route 30 and throughout South Jersey. Inside, the faux leather booths, silver-flecked Formica counter and other characteristics were, again, as nondescript as any other establishment in its category. A young lady grabbed two hefty menus and directed us to a booth along the front of the narrow building. We scanned the numerous offerings for something that did not include meat. On most diner menus, the vegetarian-friendly options are plentiful. I decided on an entree from the typewritten dinner menu that was attached with a clip to the pre-printed menu, expanding the selections by at least 30. The waitress — another young lady who bore all the signs of evolving into the waitress I described earlier — deposited glasses of water on our table and asked if we were ready to order. My wife ordered a lettuce and tomato club sandwich, an assemblage that sometimes requires a bit of explanation and garners strange looks when it is made clear that no bacon is to be included. However, our waitress scribbled the order on a pad without so much as a blink. I ordered grilled salmon and was promptly informed that salmon was not available. I settled, instead, for fried flounder, a diner staple and a point of misty reference from my youth. I ordered fried flounder at The Heritage Diner more times that I can remember. A short time later, our food arrived. It was typical diner food and it was good. Really good. Afterwards, Mrs. P got rice pudding to take home.

A week or so later, we stopped at the Harbor Diner. This time we were with our son and his girlfriend, returning from a relaxing day on the Atlantic City beach. Our family was greeted by the staff of the Harbor Diner as though we  were regulars. We ordered and we all enjoyed our choices. It was a good meal, nothing spectacular or exotic. Just good food at ridiculously cheap prices.

Cluck and Z with Murphy on the side
A few weeks went by and, once again, Mrs. P and I found ourselves at the Harbor Diner. This time it was late, nearly 11 PM. We looked over the menu and decided to have breakfast nine hours early. Mrs. Pincus ordered sunny-side up eggs, toast and home fried potatoes. Strangely, the preparation of the eggs required a bit of additional explanation. The waitress asked if my wife if she wanted her sunny-side up eggs "over easy." My wife smiled and clarified, "No, sunny-side up." The waitress nodded without further expression and jotted something down on her little pad. I ordered a mushroom-cheese omelette and its standard accompaniments. When our food was brought out, I promptly took a picture of my classic-looking platter and posted the result on Instagram. Google Maps, into which I am automatically logged on, asked If I wished to post my photo to the gallery created for the Harbor Diner. I happily accepted, uploaded my photo and then dug into my late dinner/early breakfast.

A few days later, I got an alert from Google. Someone had a question for me about the Harbor Diner, based on the photo I posted, no doubt. I clicked the notice and this eloquent, astute dissertation popped up:

I read it. And reread it. And reread it again. Technically, it wan't a question. Obviously, this fellow was disappointed with his visit to our newly discovered. eatery. Even after several run-throughs, I was still confused by this poor customer's sentiment. His anger seemed to have totally obliterated his ability to use punctuation, save for a set of misplaced ellipses. That aside, I sort of surmised that he saw a young lady (presumably a waitress, although he does not make that clear) smoking in the "ketchen," which I understand to be the area where the food is prepared and not the late creator of the popular.Dennis the Menace comic strip. His food was "diff" and "cold," which, unless it was ice cream or gazpacho (which I do not believe they offer), is unacceptable. Actually, I'm not sure was is acceptable, as far as "diff" is concerned. He concludes by saying that he is paying for this kind of service and he would go there "agian" (sic).

I was saddened by Mr Google "M"s convoluted rant cum complaint about the Harbor Diner. I cannot speak for Mr. "M," (actually he can barely speak for himself), but I know that I will happily return to the Harbor Diner, if given the opportunity. 

Perhaps next summer. Perhaps next week.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

get right with god

I'm going to start my own religion. Would you like to join and become a follower? My religion, for which I have not yet chosen a name, will teach love. Love for everyone, no matter how you look, how you think, what you wear, or who you love. Everyone will be treated equally. There will be no leaders. We will all help each other.

This religion will teach kindness and charity. Sure, other religions claim to teach that, but they don't. We will be polite and non-judgmental. We will never berate or belittle you for the choices you make, as long as they are not harmful or impede upon anyone else's choices. We will teach politeness and tolerance and humility. 

We will have no dietary laws or rules about what sort of garments you should wear in order to make your prayers more effective. Hell, we won't even have prayers, so you needn't worry! We won't have specific houses of worship, either. You can practice love and kindness everywhere, as you should anyway. Religions have rituals that make sense to the followers and appear goofy to everyone else. We won't have to worry about that. We'll have none, unless you want to hop on one leg or clap your hands. We won't mind or judge.

We won't have any reverence for any imaginary "higher being" that allegedly controls everything. If such a being existed, there would be no starvation or sickness or hatred. Offering prayer and sacrifice to this imaginary being obviously does nothing because all of that strife is still as prevalent as it has been for thousands of years. We are on our own and we have apparently been going about it all wrong. I suggest a worldwide movement of peace and love. Sure, other religions claim to preach the concept of love, but they do not. They teach love among their followers while mocking followers of other religions.

With the exception of natural disasters, every single problem in the world has a basis in religion — wars, hatred, bigotry, violence, animosity, racism. What happened to "Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Man?" Or is that only during Christmas? I sit here writing this on Yom Kippur, while, around the corner from me, there are synagogues stuffed with hypocrites who believe that fasting and chanting in Hebrew will allow them to atone for their sins. Sins they will go right back to committing after they've shoved a bagel in their maws at sundown.

So, whaddaya say? Wanna join me? What have you got to lose? Don't want to join me? That's okay, too.

See? It's working already.