Sunday, June 25, 2017

baby elephant walk

Mrs. Pincus, who is way more active on Facebook than I am, got a message from someone with whom she is not connected. "Brian Roadblock," my wife announced as she gazed at her phone with a puzzled expression.

The name was not recognized, at first, but within a few short seconds there was something familiar about it. And it jarred me.

My paternal grandfather died in 1970 when I was nine years-old. After his funeral, mourners returned to my house for a shiva, a traditional gathering of family and friends after a Jewish funeral. My house was packed with people representing my father's side of the family, most of whom I barely knew. My father was an only child. His father (my recently-deceased grandfather) was also an only child and my paternal grandmother was despised by most of her relatives (and rightly so). Later in the day, a young man entered my house. Everyone welcomed him as "Stan." He looked vaguely familiar although he was a total stranger. However, I noticed that everyone in my father's extended family knew him. Even my mother knew him. My brother — a recent Bar Mitzvah — and I scratched our heads and briefly discussed who this guy could be. As the day became evening and wound down to a close, guests said their goodbyes and offered their condolence to my father. When the house was empty of guests, my mother began to gather empty cups and paper plates that seemed to have lost their way to the trash. My father, never one to help with "womens' work," had settled himself in "his chair" in the den and lit up a cigarette. My brother and I confronted our parents.

"Who was that guy 'Stan' that everybody knew?," we asked.

My parents froze and exchanged "the jig is up" glances. They hemmed and hawed and cleared their throats. After stalling for way too long, my mom and dad sat us down and came clean.

My father was married before he married my mother in November 1955. His brief first marriage produced a son, Stan. My father had just divorced Stan's mother when he was fixed up on a blind date with my mother in February 1955. At the start of the date, my father made his intentions very clear. "I am just coming off of a divorce," he told his date (my mother) "and I am not looking for a serious relationship." My mother, a 30 year-old bleached blond doppelgänger for actress Barbara Stanwyck, was a free spirit and not looking for a serious relationship either. But something must have triggered ol' Cupid to pierce their collective hearts with his arrow of love, because they were married a mere nine months after that first date. In the early days of their marriage, my mom and dad took five year-old Stan on weekends, treating the youngster to a day at the zoo or the movies or out for an ice cream soda.  These outings were regular occurrences until 1957 when my mother gave birth to my brother Max. My parents no longer needed Stan to play the part of surrogate son. They had Max, who was their own. Meanwhile, my dad's first wife had remarried. Her new husband adopted Stan and his Pincus name was abandoned is favor of his "new dad's" sobriquet: "Roadblock."

In 1961, little Josh completed the new Pincus family. A larger distance grew between my father and Stan and the two rarely saw each other again. My grandmother, however, maintained a close and loving relationship with Stan, while constantly hounding and belittling my father and treating my mother like shit. She antagonized my mother on a regular basis, criticizing her cooking, her housekeeping, her child-rearing - her every move. My relationship with my grandmother could only be described as "cordial." Not particularly "grandmotherly." She was never warm or welcoming. I remember her playful insults, often referring to me as "bucktoothed."

But Stan! Stan was the "golden child." He was rewarded for being the first grandchild, often lavished with gifts and money and love. My brother and I, the products of the distasteful union between my father and that woman, as my mother was no doubt referred to in private, were treated cordially, never with warmth. My grandmother fancied herself "benevolent" when she offered my brother and me rusty cans of Borden's Frosted Shakes when we accompanied my father on a visit. She exhibited an affectionate and comforting rapport with Stan, while her demeanor towards the second round of Pincus progeny was as cold as the chest freezer from which she extracted those chalky commercial milkshakes.

It was quite a blow to learn that a) my father was married prior to marrying my mother, b) I had a half-brother and c) that semi-sibling's existence was kept a guarded secret for a decade. After my parents concluded their lengthy tale of familial deception, we all sat silent for a long time. My brother and I thought about the novelty of having a new found brother. It was pretty cool. All was forgiven for this little indiscretion (after all, there would be more indiscretions) and life went on.

My grandmother passed away in 1995. She outlived my mother and my father. As a matter of fact, just after my father died, my brother and I drove to her apartment to inform her that her only son had died. When we told her the news, she scowled and angrily questioned, "Well, who is going to take care of me?" 'Cause that's the kind of person my grandmother was. Selfish, self-centered and self-serving. Except, evidently, to Stan and his family.

My grandmother's question was answered when my wife generously volunteered to tend to the old shrew's needs. Mrs. P did her grocery shopping (and was routinely castigated for her selections). She contacted a cleaning service to tidy up my grandmother's tiny apartment (there were repeated complaints about that, as well). She managed my grandmother's finances, writing checks for bills and making sure a positive balance was preserved in the account. That is until my grandmother accused Mrs. Pincus of stealing from her and had her unceremoniously removed from the account. 'Cause that's the kind of person my grandmother was. However, when my grandmother finally kicked, the eternally-nice Mrs. P single-handedly cleaned out and emptied her apartment of clothing, furniture and knick-knacks. She donated what she could. The rest she sold on eBay, splitting the consequential income evenly between our son and my nephew (Max's son), Curiously, Stan and his beneficiary family were noticeably absent from the "tying up loose ends" process. They showed up late for the graveside funeral that Mrs. Pincus had arranged, but displayed requisite somber facades nevertheless. At the sparsely attended ceremony's conclusion, Stan approached my wife with his young son attentively by his side. With a forlorn expression on his face, he asked Mrs. P if any of my grandmother's extensive collection of elephant figurines were in our possession. My grandmother was a lifelong, backwards thinking, narrow-minded, bigoted Nixon-loving Republican. She accumulated a vast assemblage of figures, in a variety of materials, all in some form of an elephant — the symbol of her beloved Grand Old Party. With nary an emotion, my wife reported that the entire contents of my grandmother's apartment was liquidated. Nothing remained. We all started towards our respective automobiles and we never saw Stan and his family again. That chapter of of our lives had ended.

Until a new, revised edition was released just this week — in Facebook form.

Stan's son Brian — now grown — took a shot in the dark and contacted Mrs. Pincus, tracing her though her married name and Philadelphia location. In his unsolicited salvo, he asked if she was the granddaughter-in-law of Molly Pincus and the half-sister-in-law of Stan Roadblock. Mrs. Pincus looked at the message for a long time before issuing a response. Finally, confirming her identity, she asked was there a reason for his puzzling inquiry. His near-immediate reply first expounded on his love for "his favorite great-grandmother" and their special, loving relationship. Then, he asked a twenty-one year old question: "I was wondering if you had any of her elephant figurines?" He explained that he began collecting elephant-related memorabilia in an effort to keep her memory alive. He would love to have one that actually belonged to her as part of his collection.

My grandmother's possessions — all of them — were sold two decades ago. I haven't given them or her a thought in twenty years. I haven't given thought to Stan and his family in as many years, as well. I get a bit steamed when I hear someone tell me what a lovely, caring woman my grandmother was. She was not. She was a vicious, vindictive, hate-filled, scheming troublemaker. I don't care what Brian Roadblock says. I voiced my opinion to my wife and asked her to take that into consideration when she decided to answer Brian's question.

Mrs. P responded. "The contents of Molly's apartment was sold over twenty years ago. I do not have anything that belonged to her. Although I appreciate your fond memories of your great-grandmother, please understand that it was a much different story with her other family. Molly treated my husband Josh, his brother Max and their families poorly. She was mean and nasty to both Josh and Max's mother and father, leaving us with less-than-fond memories."

We thought that would be it. The final final end of the story. But, alas, it was not. Brian sent Mrs. Pincus a Facebook friend request.

She deleted it.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

tell it like it is

Mrs. Pincus and I recently returned from our fifth cruise together. It was a relaxing, work-free week of kitchy shows, fun activities, forgettable excursions and stuffing our faces with food as though we were prisoners offered our final meal before lethal injections were administered.

The glorious buffet aboard the Norwegian Gem.
As I said, this is my fifth cruise. I admit that I balked at cruising for many years until I finally gave in and — much to my surprise — I enjoyed the experience. Honestly, what's not to enjoy? Well, you'd be surprised by how many people do not enjoy themselves. In between numerous visits to the endless buffet and reclining on one of hundreds of chaise lounges, my wife and I met a couple who told us that this particular cruise was their sixty-first. That's correct! They are veterans of sixty-one cruises — with no signs of stopping any time soon. (They have another already planned for the latter part of this year.) The wife, Lil, told us about a website called Cruise Critic, sort of a exclusively for cruises. So, after a week of self-imposed cellphone deprivation (Internet rates on a cruise ship are ridiculously expensive, besides, it would've seriously cut into my buffet time.), I logged on to the Cruise Critic website to see what other people thought of the Norwegian Gem, the ship on which we sailed.

Look at this selection!
Now, I am well aware of how cruel the internet can be. People have no problem voicing their most vicious opinions in a public forum under the protective guise of internet anonymity. (As an example and a barometer, may I direct your attention to the one-star reviews of The Diary of Anne Frank on As I perused the reviews of recent cruises posted by vacationers whom, I assume, experienced a similar cruise to the one from which Mrs. P and I just returned, I was stunned. There were complaints about every single thing. The beds were too hard. The beds were too soft. The pillows were too hard. The pillows were too soft. There wasn't enough food available for my strict specialized lactose-intolerant, gluten-free, tree nut-sensitive dietary restrictions. The food was horrible. They ran out of food. They didn't have the right kind of Cheerios. The staff was rude. The other passengers were rude. The bartenders didn't know how to mix cocktails. The bartenders were rude. The bartenders were rude when they were trying to mix cocktails. The casino was too smoky. The casino wasn't smoky enough, The hot tubs were closed at 4 o'clock in the morning. The bitching went on and on. The more I read, the more absurd the complaints got. One, in particular, spun a tale about an abusive relationship that played out in the cabin next to the reviewer. Despite several complaints to security, nothing was immediately done to quiet the loud threats emanating from the paper-thin walls of his neighbor's cabin. Eventually, the reviewer related, the couple were separated and the husband was thrown into the ship's jail for the remainder of the cruise. (I seriously doubt that there is a "ship's jail.")

Look, I complain about plenty of things. Some things I complain about, I'll admit, are stupid. For instance, I marvel at how people lined up at the breakfast buffet give you the "look of death" for taking the last waffle from the serving tray, as though there aren't going to be ten more tons of waffles coming in about three seconds... and all week! But, I digress.

I've been on five cruises and, unless you've been forced to walk the plank or ordered to swab the poopdeck (heh! heh! poopdeck!), there is literally nothing to complain about. You're on vacation! You're relaxed! You're waited on hand and foot!  There are endless supplies of food! Endless! And many people (not me, but many people) are drunk for the entire week. What on earth (or sea) is there to complain about?

But, humans do what humans do best. And humans do love to complain.

And complain they shall.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

all the little birdies go tweet tweet tweet

I love to be a smart-ass and I love the internet, so that must be the reason that I love Twitter. Twitter allows me to combine my two favorite activities. (If Twitter opened an all-you-can-eat buffet, I'd be in heaven!)

Remember this day-long exchange I had with @speakyteeth, the cryptic handle used by Arlene Van Dyke, wife of beloved actor/singer/dancer Dick van Dyke? Then, there was this comment I made that could have led to the end of a friendship. And who could forget my tête-à-tête with @RoryBBellows1* who took it upon himself to come to the defense of local pseudo-lord Philly Jesus, when I aimed an electronic salvo at the self-appointed deity one summer afternoon in 2015.

A few days ago, a local TV news reporter got into some hot water when she was escorted from the audience of a popular Philadelphia comedy club for "loud whispering, heckling and drunkenness." In her intoxicated state, the young lady got belligerent and verbally abusive, prompting club management to summon the police. Thanks to in-your-hand, on-the-spot technology, the entire incident was captured on cellphone video and posted to various social media outlets online. Within minutes, the whole scenario swept the internet. We were treated to a front-row seat, as poor Colleen Campbell's career unraveled before our eyes. She slurred her words, She reeled around on the sidewalk. And, best of all, she spewed a stream of vulgarities at an extremely patient and utterly professional Philadelphia police officer. He remained calm and unfazed, even when she called him a "fucking piece of shit," referred to the entire police force as "fucking cocksuckers," and then ordered the officer to "lick my asshole." She was eventually arrested, charged with resisting arrest, criminal mischief, and disorderly conduct. It was revealed later that Miss Campbell was informed by her employer, WB affiliate Channel 17, that her reporting services were no longer required by the station.

The morning after the incident, in typical Josh Pincus fashion, I tweeted this little observation:
It was a joke, of course. Most of my tweets are jokes, placed online in good-natured, if sardonic, fun. It even got a couple of "likes" and "retweets," and that is the goal of every, red-blooded "tweeter," isn't it? Well, a few hours later, I received this reply from one @liljohnmac77061, a Twitter handle that leads me to believe that there are 77,060 other Lil John Macs also logged on to the social media micro-blogging service. John — I think — appreciated my original tweet, although he ended his reply with a backhanded provocation:
What? A non-sequitur election comment? My tweet had no political content whatsoever. As a matter of fact, I recently (after a tiny bit of scolding from my son) made a conscious decision to avoid any blatant commentary about the presidential election, its subsequent results and the sorry state of turmoil our country is experiencing — thanks to the unhinged dipshit that currently occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (except on weekends, when he's cheating at golf and wolfing down beautiful slices of chocolate cake at his resort in Florida). I'm not sure what prompted this guy to take a sucker punch at me on a tweet that had nothing to do with any political agenda. But, Mr. @liljohnmac77061 chose the wrong person to accost. Especially on Twitter. I returned fire — not with words — but with a single photo. One culled from a quick Google search:
Yes sir, that's a troll and it expressed my sentiment exactly. For those of you who are social media novices, a "troll," according to the good folks at Wikipedia, is "a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll's amusement." The website The Urban Dictionary puts it more astutely, defining the term as: "being a prick on the internet because you can." Well, @liljohnmac77061 was being just that. And to prove it, he responded to my photo with a photo of his own. This one, in fact:
Lovely. If this isn't an actual photograph of the rear window of his car, I wonder what he searched to find this image. No matter, without even thinking, I sarcastically offered this bit of encouragement:
Then, nothing. No further reply. No profanity-filled tirade. No meaningless threats delivered in tough-guy bravado emanating anonymously from the cloistered security of his tiny corner of the internet. Just dead air. Was it a retreat? Was he pondering the perfect comeback? Was he just dumbfounded by my rapier wit?

I scrolled through a column in my Twitter feed, listing all of the tweets in which I was mentioned. I thought, perhaps, I may have missed a response that got buried among the hundreds of tweets I blasts out in a day. (I am currently at 51,000 tweets and counting.) There was nothing from this guy. I resorted to searching his name on Twitter. My questions as to why this volley came to a hastened end were answered.
@liljohnmac77061 blocked me.

Mission accomplished. Another banner day for Josh Pincus on the internet.

* I would include a link, but it seems this guy's Twitter account has been suspended.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

something stupid

Philadelphia is famous for a lot of things. At the top of that list is, without a doubt, the Liberty Bell. Then there's.... um.... ah..... did I say the Liberty Bell already? Well, Philadelphia is also known for its indigenous foods, like cheese steaks, soft pretzels, hoagies and — the City of Brotherly Love's best kept secret — water ice (or as we enunciation-challenged Philadelphians pronounce it: "wooder ice").

This curiously-named hometown favorite, for those unfamiliar with the frozen concoction, falls somewhere between a sno-cone and a Slurpee. But not quite. It is usually eaten with a spoon, or as true Philadelphians know, a pretzel. Most of Philadelphia's numerous neighborhoods have a single-location vendor that sells water ice to its loyal citizens. Each neighborhood is fiercely proud, even snobbishly partial, to its own purveyor of the icy summer treat. While water ice (sometimes called "Italian ice," but never in Philadelphia) dates back to the nineteenth century, Bob Tumolo, a former firefighter opened up a small water ice stand called "Rita's" (named after his wife) in the Philadelphia suburb of Bensalem in the summer of 1984. Soon, his product's popularity allowed him to open three more locations and, eventually, he began franchising his business. Today, Bob's vision boasts over 600 locations, spreading the one-time Philadelphia exclusive to a nationwide audience. Despite its current corporate status, Rita's is still pretty popular among local residents. 

My wife numbers herself among those in Rita's customer base. A longtime water ice aficionado (and purist), she will only order "chocolate" when given the choices available on Rita's extensive menu, in spite of such tempting flavors as "tangerine," "kiwi strawberry" and "cotton candy." She subscribes to Rita's "special offers" via their smartphone app and receives coupons and discounts throughout the summer months. Recently, Mrs. P was emailed a coupon for a free regular-size water ice in celebration of... well, something like the first day of spring or the end of winter of some other made-up occasion. Bottom line: free water ice awaited. 

Simple enough.
We drove over to our neighborhood Rita's and I hopped out of the car with the printed coupon in my hand. I descended the few steps to the line of order windows and a smiling young lady appeared in one of the open frames.

"Hi!," she welcomed, "Can I help you?" Friendly enough. I presented my coupon and said, "I'd like a regular size chocolate with a lid on the cup, please." The coupon itself was short on words, just the necessary verbiage to instruct the employee that this piece of paper was to be exchanged for a regular-size water ice in a flavor of the customer's choosing. As a matter of fact, the phrase "Free Regular Ice" were the largest words on the thing, dwarfing the remaining line — "in the available flavor of your choice" — by several dozen point sizes. The counter girl read the coupon, smiled again and asked, "What size? Regular or large?"

I slowly replied, "Regular, please." I gestured towards the coupon in her hand. "I believe the coupon is good for a regular size." She looked at the coupon in her hand. "Oh. Right." She wandered off to the large freezer that houses the supply of water ice to fill my simple order.

Soon, she returned. She placed the chocolate ice-filled cup on the counter, its contents held neatly in place with a plastic lid snapped tightly to the waxed paper rim. "Would you like a lid?," the young lady asked. I looked at the lid firmly attached to the cup. She looked at the lid firmly attached to the cup. "Oh. Right.," she said, with no inflection, "I mean would you like a spoon?"

"No thank you." I said. I grabbed the frozen cup and headed for the car.

A week or so later, Mrs. P got another coupon for a free regular-sized water ice, this time for her birthday. We followed the exact same routine. When we arrived at Rita's, the same counter girl was waiting.

"Hi!," she welcomed, "Can I help you?" I presented my coupon and said, "I'd like a regular size chocolate with a lid on the cup, please." Just as she had asked before, she asked again: "What size? Regular or large?" I replied, just like I did before: "Regular, please." I gestured towards the coupon that I had just handed to her. "I believe the coupon is good for a regular size." She looked at the coupon, this one as simply worded as the previous one. "Oh. Right." She wandered off to fill my order. When she returned, the cup displayed a large, rounded mound of chocolate water ice rising nearly a full inch above the rim. The counter girl jammed a long, plastic spoon into the surface of the ice, sinking it deep into its cold center. The chances of getting my requested lid on this thing were slim. I didn't even bother to ask. "Would you like a spoon?," she asked before interrupting herself  with an "oh" when it registered in her brain that she had already provided a spoon. She offered a monotone "Thank you" and disappeared back into the employee work area. 

When I returned to the car, my wife was obviously about to ask about the lid. I stopped her with a stream of disgusted muttering under my breath. "No lid!," I spat, "A spoon that I didn't ask for, but no lid." Mrs. P laughed, shrugged her shoulders and took a big lick of water ice.

I guess that's the important part.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

your mom threw away your best porno mag

I am on vacation right now, so I present a story that was originally published on my illustration blog in 2010. It is one of my favorite stories. If you haven't heard me tell it before, I think you'll get a kick out of it. If you have heard it before, you'll find it funny all over again.

My dad was a simple man and he loved simple things. He loved the Philadelphia Phillies. He loved breakfast at the Heritage Diner. And he loved pornography. 

I'm not talking about the occasional Playboy magazine that, as a nine-year old, I stumbled across hidden under some shirts in a bottom drawer or the lurid novel stashed behind the clothes hamper in the bathroom. Sure, my dad owned several copies of Playboy and Penthouse, but his tastes leaned towards the more — shall I say — exotic.  These weren't artful shots of lithe beauties, softly-lit and airbrushed to flawless perfection. I'm talking full-color, foreign-published, plain-brown-envelope, hard-core stuff. These tomes were filled with grainy photos of skanky women in various stages of undress, bent into impossible positions and inserting any one of a number of varied objects into any one of a number of body orifices. This was harsh and shocking stuff in the pre-Internet days of the 1960s. A thousand times more shocking than the sanitized material distributed by Hugh Hefner's fledgling publishing empire. 

My dad thought he was clever and wily and that only he had knowledge of his pornography collection. I can't understand how he could believe this while sharing a house with his wife and two young (and curious) sons. My father was terrible at hiding birthday gifts and his beloved Tastykake snacks  from his family and he was just as terrible at hiding his pornography collection. My mom used to joke that nothing could get past her, but my brother and I were not so sure she was joking. She knew about things that she couldn't possibly have known — from the whereabouts of a mysteriously missing cupcake to a failing grade brought home on a hidden school test. My father's porn accumulation was no exception. My mom was fully aware of my dad's explicit cache. On a semi-regular basis, while my dad was at work, my mom would gather up his X-rated stockpile. She'd load it into several heavy paper grocery-store bags until they were at the point of bursting. Then she'd cap each one with another inverted bag for extra security and privacy. She'd carry each bag, sometimes numbering four and five, to the curb and place them alongside our metal trash cans, where they would wait until the municipal sanitation department truck came for its weekly pick-up. After a few days, my father was obviously frantic. He would search for his pornography in the most casual and unassuming manner. My mom would smile silently and relish in his frustration. He couldn't very well come out and say to his wife, "Hey, where's all my pornography?" It was an unspoken ritual. They were both aware of what had transpired, but neither one would dare give verbal acknowledgement. 

One day, my mom decided the time was right to "clean house" of my dad's smut reserve. While my father was at work, she went from hiding place to hiding place and gathered the material up into the grocery bags. With the second bag securely capped on top of each bundle, she placed five or six of the obscenity-stuffed packages at the curb in front of our house. Soon, the trash collection truck appeared, slowly making its way up the block as the workers methodically emptied the neighbors' refuse into the truck's rear receptacle. When enough trash had filled the open cavity at the truck's posterior, one of the workers would pull a lever and the garbage would be compacted back into the large storage area that made up the bulk of the vehicle's size. Eventually, the truck rolled up to the Pincus curb. One of the workers ambled over to our trash cans, while the other hefted two of the paper sacks holding the lewd contents. He tossed them into the truck. They mingled with the coffee grinds and empty cans and the usual household discards as he returned to the curb for the remainder of the bags. After adding the last few bags to the repugnant mix, he decided the mass needed compacting to make room for the rest of our blocks' rubbish. He pulled the lever and the machinery roared to life, as a huge steel plate forced the garbage back into the depths of the truck's auxiliary stowage. Suddenly, under the pressure of the equipment and the sheer volume of trash, several of the bags burst, spewing their lascivious filling into the air. A cloud of vulgarity rained down. One worker realized what had happened and yelled "Stop! Stop!" as the other quickly disengaged the compacting switch. The two workers dropped to their knees and grabbed at the printed material that was now scattered in all directions, shoving it in their pockets and arranging it into neat little stacks. The driver climbed out of the cab to investigate and soon joined his colleagues in their pursuit of free porn. My mother watched, unnoticed from our kitchen window, as the trash collection was halted for a good twenty-five minutes, while the three sanitation workers reaped the spoils of hitting the erotica jackpot. When every last piece of my dad's collection had been retrieved, the truck continued on its way up the street. 

Inside the house, my mom chuckled to herself. She knew she had a great story that she wouldn't tell to me until years later. A story she never told my father.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

kicks just keep getting harder to find

When I was a kid, I wore sneakers all the time. They weren't fancy They were purely utilitarian. As a matter of fact, my mom used to buy them for me in the supermarket, from a hanging display at the end of an aisle. They were cheap, only a few bucks. They were generic, brandless hunks of canvas and rubber that we called "bobos." There was even a silly little rhyme about them that some kids made up, sung to the tune of Colonel Bogey's March from Bridge on the River Kwai. I went through a lot of pairs of bobos.

When I was in high school, I graduated to name-brand sneakers. No, not the up-and-coming leather models from Adidas and Nike. I was still content with the canvas and rubber versions, but now I was sporting the "Converse" name on my feet. They looked like the bobos of my youth, but they were obviously of better quality. They cost more so, ergo, they lasted longer. 

In 1982, I saw the teen comedy film Fast Times at Ridgemont High (right after I read the book). In a memorable scene, perennially-stoned surfer Jeff Spicoli (played by future Academy Award-winner Sean Penn in just his third screen appearance) slams a pair of black and white checkered Vans sneakers against his head to demonstrate just how wasted he is. From the moment I saw those Vans, I wanted them. I really wanted them. They were so cool. They were slip-on sneakers with no laces. Did I mention how cool they were?

However, I continued to wear my Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. And since I started wearing other types of shoes, I wasn't wearing sneakers as often, so my sneakers weren't wearing out as quickly and weren't being replaced as frequently. Then, Converse introduced a new line of patterns. Soon, I was wearing black canvas high-tops covered with little white skulls. I bought a pair of green camouflage sneakers and ones that featured bright red and yellow "hot rod" flames. I had a closet full of sneakers like I was Imelda Marcos.

After many years as a loyal Converse customer, I bought the greatest pair of sneakers I ever owned. They were bright orange with no laces! There was a thick elastic band under the tongue that kept them firmly attached to my feet. I wore those orange babies for years and years. I wore them on beaches from Atlantic City to the Caribbean. I wore them to outdoor music festivals. I wore them with and without socks. I wore them in the rain and in the sun. The were the most comfortable sneakers ever! But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Alas, the rubber soles got thin and began to pull away from the canvas upper. The canvas, too, was looking threadbare in a few spots. They served me well for years. But, sadly, I would need to buy a new pair of sneakers.

After pining for them for over thirty years, I finally purchased a pair of Vans. I had waited so long, that the black and white checkered style is now called "classic" by the manufacturer. I ordered them from the easily-navigable Vans website. When they arrived, I tried them on (but not in front of my orange Converses, so as not to make them jealous) and they were a bit too small. Vans customer service directed me to my local Vans store (in a mall I hadn't been to in years) and, in a transaction that lasted approximately ten minutes, I painlessly exchanged them for a pair that fit perfectly.

I have not had the opportunity to wear my new Vans. My wife and I are going on vacation in a few weeks. I may choose "break them in" on the white sands of the Bahamas. Or I may wear them around this weekend while running neighborhood errands.

I couldn't bring myself to throw away my orange Converses. Instead, I tossed them to the back of my closet, like a one-time great power hitter relegated to the bench late in his career. Maybe one day, they'll get called back to pinch hit.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

one more time

"I wish I knew how to quit you." — Jack Twist, Brokeback Mountain

Some people just don't know when to give up. I suppose my wife and I fall into that category, because Sunday night we found ourselves, once again, at Movie Tavern.

You remember our first encounter at Movie Tavern, the innovative, long-overdue concept theater that offers full restaurant service while you watch a first-run movie. Our initial experience was stellar and we anxiously anticipated our our next visit. Things went so smoothly, so flawlessly, that we could not imagine going to the movies any where else. 

That is, until our second visit. A few weeks after our phenomenal experience, Mrs. Pincus and I ventured back to Movie Tavern. This time, we were exposed to the real Movie Tavern, an unorganized, understaffed, chaotic system of mismanaged perpetual trainees. That evening ran like a textbook example of Murphy's law. Our dessert came out first. We got multiple entrees and appetizers that we did not order and, to cap things off, we were overcharged. A subsequent visit revealed that this was the norm and our first experience was the fluke.

We purposely steered clear of Movie Tavern for nearly a year. But, just this week, Mrs. P received a free pass from Movie Tavern for her May birthday. So, we went. Begrudgingly, but we went.

When I'm calling you...
With the entire movie-going population rushing to see the highly-anticipated sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy (a film I did not care for), my spouse and I opted instead for the live-action musical Beauty and the Beast. We purchased a single admission and surrendered Movie Tavern's birthday voucher for the other. Once ticketed, we entered the theater. A server greeted us almost immediately, although I could not understand a single word he said. He smiled, however, he mumbled his entire "welcome" spiel. We chose the "2 for $30" special that includes an appetizer, two entrees from a selected menu and two cookies for dessert. My wife and I follow the laws of kashrut and our house is strictly kosher. Out in the world, we eat as vegetarians. Actually, I am a vegetarian (a fish-eating pescetarian, if you want to get technical), but my still-carnivorous "better half" will not consume meat in restaurants. We selected the delicious-sounding deep-fried artichoke hearts. (Coincidentally, we just had these at another restaurant last weekend and, indeed, they were delicious.) Our entree choices were limited to only two that were vegetarian-friendly. We decided on portobello mushroom sandwiches, but were quickly informed by our server that they were not available this evening. Mrs. P expressed her disappointment. The server mumbled and pointed to the menu. I deciphered "pizza" from his muttering. We resigned to the flatbread pizza and again, we were told they, too, were unavailable. The server kept pushing the regular pizza, but we resisted. Losing patience, I decided to forgo the "special" and just get fish and chips. Surprise! Fish and chips were not available either. Our non-meat options were narrowing at the same pace as my patience. We settled on side salads and an order of meatless nachos to split. At this point, our server had disappeared. I pressed the convenient "call button" with which each seat is outfitted. The blue lights gleamed to tell me that my request for a server had been sent. We waited. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. Soon, a different member of the waitstaff arrived and apologized, cryptically, saying that our server was "otherwise occupied." Was he watching another movie? Was he getting a lesson in diction? Was he ever coming back? Our back-up server took our salad-and-nachos order and explained that the reason so many items were unavailable was they are transitioning to a new menu and would no longer be carrying some current offerings. Wow! Someone took the time for a little customer service.

Our food arrived after the theater had darkened and the coming attractions had already commenced. Eating a salad in the dark was an unexpected challenge. I was forced to consume some components that I would normally relegate to the far side of my plate. But, eating by the light of a flickering screen twenty feet away from me, I'm sure I swallowed a few otherwise shunned tomato wedges. Nachos are another story. I would not recommend eating nachos in the dark. Nachos, when shared with someone with whom you are close, are usually a "finger food." But, without being able to see what you're reaching for, nachos become a sloppy, gooey heap of unidentifiable individual ingredients. While gingerly reaching for the triangular silhouette of a corn chip, I stuck my thumb into a wet mixture of refried beans and shredded lettuce. As I navigated the morsel towards my mouth, I could feel rivulets of pico de gallo running down my chin. We had to wait until a daylight scene (of which there are few) or brightly-lit segment (like the famous "ballroom" scene, which in this version, is not especially luminous) in order to see how close we were to emptying our plate.

Midway through the film and our meal, our server stealthily slunk by and dropped off our check. When the movie ended, I had to track him down to pay. And then, he vanished with my credit card. A few other servers, who were clearing dishes and gathering trash, asked if we needed help. I said I was waiting for my credit card to be returned. They all offered the same reply: "Oh sorry. No problem." Each one echoed the same apologetic sentiment like a chorus of confessors. Finally, our server returned to the theater and handed me my credit card, repeating the "Oh sorry. No Problem." refrain. I got the feeling that the staff at Movie Tavern get a lot of practice apologizing, as they do it quite often.

As my wife and I walked to our car, I imagined this would be the last time we would make this trip. But, Mrs. P told me that earlier in the evening she tweeted "Why do we continue to subject ourselves to Movie Tavern?" and tagged @MovieTavern.

Yesterday, they responded with a private message offering their patented apology and complementary admission and thirty dollars in food vouchers for a return visit. Hopefully, I won't get another blog post out of it,

Sunday, May 7, 2017

this is the house we used to live in

We've been what you call "suburbanites" for over thirty years. That means we make our home just outside of a big city. In our case, the city in question is Philadelphia, the "City of Brotherly Love" and the fifth largest city in the United States. Recently, my wife had an errand to run that took her into Northeast Philadelphia.

For those not from the area, Philadelphia encompasses 142 square miles and is comprised of a bunch of neighborhoods with clear boundaries delineated by streets or natural framing like rivers (and Philadelphia's got two big ones running right through it). Some of Philadelphia's neighborhoods are well-known outside of the city. Places like Society Hill, Italian Market and Old City have gotten exposure in movies and television. But there are smaller areas with colorful and somewhat puzzling names (like Graduate Hospital*, Strawberry Mansion and Fishtown) that are only a few blocks in diameter, but whose inhabitants fiercely defend the borders with pride.

The area known as Northeast Philadelphia, or "The Northeast" to locals, is situated in the far, far reaches of the Philadelphia city limits. It's a fairly large section, devoid of personality but overflowing with cookie-cutter housing developments and faceless shopping centers. Among a smattering of boast-worthy facts, Northeast Philadelphia is the birthplace of yours truly. I grew up there. Went to school there and, when I got married, got the fuck outta there as quickly as my legs could carry me. When my father passed away in 1993, I sold his house and, from that point forward, did my very best to avoid The Northeast as much as possible. As executor of his estate (Ha! "Estate," as though my father was John Rockefeller! He died in debt and left the house in which I grew up a shambles!), I was required to sit alongside my attorney at the settlement after we took the first offer on the house. I sat silently across a large table from the gentleman who was purchasing my childhood home. During the proceedings, I was asked about the origins of a lien on the property that was filed in 1977. I smiled, cleared my throat and explained that, at sixteen years-old, my parents were not in the habit of discussing their financial obligations with me. Then, the imminent buyer expressed his dismay at the current structural state of the house. "It's in worse shape than we originally thought.," he lamented. I shrugged my shoulders as I signed the last legal document. "Oh well," I smirked.

In the years since my father died, I have only ventured back into the old neighborhood a handful of times and those were handfuls too many. A great many of the houses and business have been reconfigured, though most have been boarded up or torn down. The Northeast has become a faded ghost of the charmless region it once was.

When my wife was out on her errand, my cellphone buzzed with the arrival of a photo she sent to me. I tapped the icon on my phone screen and an image popped up that did not look at all familiar.
But before I could reply with a question, she quickly sent me this photo:
Along with the caption: "This lady lives at your house now."

Wow! This was a picture of my parents' house. My childhood dwelling. The first Pincus homestead. I didn't recognize it. The last time I saw it, it was painted a faded avocado green, the result of my brother's handy work in his teen years. It didn't have those bay big windows or that fancy front door. That little patio is also a new addition... just like the cement "lady" on the lawn.

I tried to conjure memories from my childhood and that house. I remembered the many times I pushed a lawn mover across that grass, while the smell of freshly-baked cookies from the nearby Nabisco factory enveloped the neighborhood. That was pleasant. But then, I remembered riding my bike to a neighborhood sandwich shop to get lunch for my mom and me. While I was inside, some older kids stole my bike and the ones who didn't participate in the theft stuck around to spit anti-Semitic slurs at me. I remember getting pummeled with snowballs on my way home from the school bus stop. I remembered the time Dougie Salt shot me in the back of the head with a BB gun.

I quickly tried to think of fonder memories. And suddenly I realized that those memories all happened at my current house. The house I share with my wife and, until recently, my son. All of my really great memories — my happiest memories — were created over the past thirty years. Not that my childhood was unhappy. It was just.... eh. Average. Uneventful. My adult life just overshadowed my childhood one-hundred fold. That's not bad. That's good.

My elementary school seems to have made improvements, as well.
It's funny, because when I was a student there, hate felt right at home.

* the name sticks although the actual hospital closed ten years ago.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

early morning strangers

Every so often, I ride the train to work with my friend Randi. I met Randi when our kids went to nursery school together, so I have known her for a very long time. A few years ago, Randi and her husband moved into my neighborhood and, coincidentally, we both work in the same office building in center city Philadelphia. Randi usually takes an earlier or later train than the one I regularly take, but, a few times a week, we ride to work together.

On our short commute into Philadelphia, we discuss a multitude of topics — religion, family situations, movies, television shows. This particular Monday morning, I was telling Randi about the Monster Mania convention, a twice-yearly gathering of all things horror that my son and I attended the day before.

I don't know why I continue to subject myself to this convention, but I do. And with much regret. I go specifically to add to my autographed photos collection, but over the years, the cost of admission and the autographs themselves, have become ridiculously overpriced. I really wrestle with myself every time a new roster of "celebrities" is announced. I assess the pros and cons of driving to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, finding a place to park in the small hotel lot, paying the inflated admission and then paying the exorbitant fee for an autographed photo. But, this past weekend's "guest of honor" — Danny Lloyd — was the clincher. Thirty-seven years ago, Danny played Jack Nicholson's enigmatic son in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror classic The Shining. After filming wrapped, Danny had one more role in a TV movie about Watergate nut-job G. Gordon Liddy, then abandoned show business and fell back into "real life." Now, at 44, he is a biology professor at a community college in Kentucky. Well, I don't know exactly what he's teaching in his class, but he sure learned how to get forty bucks for writing his name on a photograph of himself from his youth. I begrudgingly handed him two twenty dollars bills (Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher, who was also at this show, was only asking thirty bucks) and tried to make some small talk. I asked him if the Internet rumors about his not knowing that The Shining was a horror movie were true. He laughed and confirmed that Kubrick, a vicious taskmaster to the adult actors, was very protective of his underage actors (Danny and the Burns sisters, who played the ghostly Grady twins and were, coincidentally, seated at their own table to Danny's left). I asked if his students know about his former life as an actor (albeit two roles). He said some did, some didn't and most were not impressed and didn't care.

As I related my little weekend adventure to Randi, I noticed another commuter, just across the train aisle from us, was hanging on to every word I was saying. It was so obvious. He wasn't even trying to hide the fact that he was listening so intensely to our conversation as though he would be transcribing it later. I tried to subtly nudge Randi to covertly point the eavesdropper out. When the train stopped at our station, we all got off and I pointed the guy out as he hurried up the platform stairs.

The next day, I was standing on the train platform waiting for my morning train. Randi was not in sight on this morning, but that was not unusual. So, as I waited, I fiddled with my phone. Suddenly, in my peripheral vision, I could see someone approaching. I looked up and I was startled to see the eavesdropper from yesterday's morning commute standing less than a foot away from me.

"Hi.," he began, innocently enough.

"How're you doin'?," I mumbled, still trying to figure out what this guy wanted. I am, admittedly, very suspicious of people I don't know.

"I heard you talking on the train yesterday about The Shining." Well, at least he got right to the point. "I wanted to know if you ever saw the documentary Room 237? Have you ever heard of it?," he asked. Not only had I heard of the film, I had seen it. It is an independent production from 2012 that unobjectively relates several wild theories that The Shining is not merely an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, but an elaborate puzzle, cryptically alluding to either the systematic slaughter of Native Americans or an apology by director Kubrick for his collusion with NASA in the ruse that was the first moon landing or a symbolic tale of the Holocaust or a combination of the three.

But the real question was: Why did this guy care if I saw this documentary? Plus, he just admitted that he was listening to my conversation from the previous day.

This was weird. I, however, was uncharacteristically polite. I answered his question and engaged him in a little chit-chat about my views on The Shining and my conversation with the now-adult Danny Lloyd. A train pulled up to the station, thankfully bringing this awkward exchange to an end. I started towards the last car of the train and he called out "Nice talking to you!," as he headed in the opposite direction. I was relived that he didn't feel compelled to continue our tête-à-tête in a more intimate setting on the train.

On subsequent days, I have seen the eavesdropper milling about on the train platform. He seems to be purposely steering clear of me. That's just fine with me. His "striking up a friendship" skills are in need some refinement.

Oh, and Room 237 was absolute bullshit.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

and now, the tragic story

Am I about to write a review of a movie that's forty-three years old? Um, possibly.

When I was thirteen, I used to go to the movies with my friends and my family. It was 1974 and I accompanied my parents to see Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Riding on the successful coattails of the 1972's  The Poseidon Adventure, the trend-setter in the disaster film genre, I saw The Towering Inferno, Airport '75 and Earthquake (presented in theater-shaking Sensurround). Although titillated by the provocative TV commercials for the animated adult feature The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat, I had to settle for tamer, more age-appropriate offerings like Journey Back to Oz and Herbie Rides Again. When I was out with my friends, we gravitated towards cooler movies, like The Lords of Flatbush (with Henry Winkler and a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone) and the rollicking, swashbuckler The Four Musketeers. However, one movie stood out among all the others that year. It was a hodgepodge of horror and music and comedy and just plain weird. I'm speaking, of course, about Brian DePalma's Phantom of the Paradise. (Yes, that Brian DePalma.)

Phantom of the Paradise stars singer/songwriter/actor Paul Williams as Swan, a villainous record impresario who flim-flams a poor sap named Winslow Leach out of his elaborate cantata. The film is chock full of everything to appeal to the cinematic masochist. There's mediocre acting, over-the-top musical productions (as over-the-top as the small budget would allow), and a handful of Paul Williams-penned tunes — none of which come close to "We've Only Just Begun," "Old Fashioned Love Song" or "The Rainbow Connection," though spunky Jessica Harper (in her motion picture debut) was obviously coached to mimic Karen Carpenter in her somber take on "Old Souls" about midway through the film.

By no means is Phantom of the Paradise on the level of Citizen Kane. Nor does it pretend to be. It does, however, possess all the elements of a great cult film. It's one of those "so bad, it's good" films. You know, like a big-screen car wreck at which you cannot look away. It pre-dates The Rocky Horror Picture Show by eleven months, and certainly, in my opinion, deserves the same (dis)respect. Phantom of the Paradise boasts similar production values and hokey story, though the Tim Curry-Susan Sarandon-Barry Bostwick trifecta is far superior to Paul Williams and a handful of glitter. When I was thirteen, Phantom of the Paradise was the coolest movie I ever saw — until it was usurped by Tommy only five months later. But those were a glorious five months.

When my son was in high school, Phantom of the Paradise was released on DVD and I bought it immediately. I was so excited to watch this film with my son, hoping that he would enjoy it as much as I did. He was very leery of my big build-up for the film. In his defense, I had not seen it in thirty years and I only had fuzzy but fond memories of it. So the two of us sat on the sofa as scene after garish scene flashed across our TV screen. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my son giving me that look. "This is the coolest movie you every saw?," he muttered in disbelief. "Well, I remember it being a lot better.," I explained, "Besides, I was thirteen." He was a sport and he sat with me until the end. Then he got up and left the room without saying a word. I got the message, though I think I may have watched it again by myself.

Over the years, I would still pull out my Phantom of the Paradise soundtrack and give it a nostalgic listen. Sure the songs are not particularly memorable, but they are like a visit from an old friend. So you can imagine my excitement when it was announced that there would be a special screening of Phantom of the Paradise at a popular concert venue on the night before Easter. My excitement level could be measured in direct contrast of Mrs. Pincus' reaction when I asked her if she'd like to go. I noted that it was free admission. She gave a defeated exhale and agreed to go. My son even joined us. (Granted, the venue is in the same building where he works.)

All day Saturday, I tweeted about my evening plans and Instagrammed screenshots from the movie (some of which were "liked" by Paul Williams himself, who, for some reason, follows me on social media. Yep, the real Paul Williams.) I was as giddy as I had been when I saw the movie in its initial run.

That evening, we sat in an audience that was comprised of about eight people and a whole lot of empty chairs. I sang along with all the songs. (I still knew all the words.) My son laughed at the terrible acting and my wife checked her eBay auctions and answered emails, pausing several times to ask me "How much longer?" Ninety-one minutes and one big, splashy, puzzling finale later, it was all over.

And it was great!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

gettin' down here with the people

It was a typical Saturday night, but it turned out to be anything but typical.

I picked my son up around 5 o'clock, just after he finished his on-air shift at the radio station where he works. We had plans to go to a concert in Delaware, just over the Pennsylvania border. We had plenty of time, so we hopped on the subway and headed to a new restaurant we had heard about to grab dinner. Pretty typical so far.

After dinner, we jumped back on the westbound subway to get my car and make our way down to the show. I punched the address of the venue into the GPS on my phone and we were off. After crossing the state boundary, I carefully followed the mechanical-voiced instructions though uncharted rural Delaware thoroughfares until we arrived at our destination, which, in this case, was the Arden Gild Hall. Again, pretty typical.

It was our first time at Arden Gild, a rustic looking compound comprised of several utility buildings and a large main structure that, once inside, my son observed that it looked like a "hunting lodge for rich weirdos." The room was slowly filling up and the weather had just turned to a more seasonal clime for our area. Actually, the temperature was inching towards the higher numbers on the scale. We spotted a few members of both the warm-up act (Scantron) and the headliner (Low Cut Connie), both of whom we've seen numerous times before. As a matter of fact, the bands actually share a few members. My son and I chatted with James and Larry, the Connie boys' guitarist and drummer respectively, and then moved closer to the stage as the lights dimmed and the first band played the opening notes of their first song. Still, nothing out of the ordinary.

After a brief intermission, my son and I moved even closer to the stage. Scantron burst onto the stage with the same high-energy, high-octane bravura they displayed a week ago on the tiny stage at Kung Fu Necktie. Performing this time as a trio (with a supplemental keyboardist), the band ripped through a raucous playlist that included garage rockers and odes to James' Delaware roots. Scantron concluded their set and crew began setting up for Low Cut Connie's show-closing set. I talked with my son and a photographer friend of his. Soon our conversation was joined by a lovely couple we have met at many a Connie show, who just happen to be the parents of Low Cut Connie's charismatic frontman Adam Weiner. So far, so typical.

Suddenly, a strange feeling fuzzed up my head and my vision. Things started to get atypical.

As the stage crew adjusted mic stands, arranged guitar stands and placed the venerable "Shondra" (Adam's trusty, road-worn piano) in her usual spot at the front of the stage, my peripheral vision began to close in creating the effect of standing in a darkened tunnel. My head began to swim. I removed my denim jacket and tied it around my waist. I leaned toward my son and asked him if he could get me a bottle of water. He took several steps towards the bar at the back of the venue, but stopped to grab a folding chair for me. He could tell I was a little "off." He didn't have time to unfold the chair as I fell unconscious into his arms. Adam's father jumped from his chair and rushed to my aid, helping my son to lower me to the floor. I don't remember any of this. I only remember opening my eyes to see a dozen or so faces peering down on me from my prone position. My shirt was drenched in my own perspiration. Two women, crouched on either side of me, identified themselves as nurses. One grasped my wrist as she searched for a pulse, while the other started in with a barrage of questions — "What's your name?," "How old are you?" (My son later informed me that I got that one wrong.) The one that momentarily jolted me back to my senses was "Who's the president?" I remember scowling and cautioning my interrogator not to get me started.

My son and Adam's dad hoisted me into a folding chair. Someone placed a wet towel on my neck. I felt better, but only for a few minutes because I passed out a second time. Meanwhile, the venue's announcer was backstage, informing the band that "some guy with bright orange hair passed out in front of the stage." Adam interrupted his pre-show rituals to exclaim, "I know that guy." When I came around the second time, Adam was kneeling on the floor in front of me, grasping my sweaty palms in his hands. The rest of the band was at the edge of the stage, gazing down on me, along with nearly everyone else in place. I looked up to see my son on his cellphone.

"Who are you calling?," I asked.

"911.," he replied. He was calm and in control.

Soon, the crowd parted for two EMTs who helped me on to a gurney and wheeled me out to a waiting ambulance. As they shoved me backwards into the vehicle, my head reeled. My son announced, "I guess this is a good time to call Mom." He punched in my home phone number and slowly, coolly and calmly explained the situation to my wife, who was an hour away in Philadelphia. As I was whisked off to the hospital, with my son in the ambulance's passenger seat and my wife frantically dressing then speeding south on I-95, I could imagine the chatter among the people at the concert venue.

"I wonder what that guy was on?"

"Wow! I think that guy died!"

"I never saw anyone with that color hair before!"

Within minutes, I was in a small room in the emergency department of Christiana Care Hospital in Wilmington. An attentive team of technicians, nurses and doctors dutifully poked and prodded me. They asked me the same questions several times over. They took my blood pressure a million times and extracted many vials of blood from my left arm. A bag of some magic rejuvenating fluid was attached to my right arm via a tube and I began to feel much better. A short time later, my wife arrived at the emergency room, blotting tears from her eyes. She made me promise that I wouldn't die.

I would find out later that Adam and his pals dedicated the evening's performance to me. (Appreciated, but how embarrassing!) The next day, my Twitter feed lit up with well wishes and concern from a sampling of people I met at the show. (Appreciated, but how embarrassing!) My son stated that, while we can never show our faces at Arden Gild again, I better not pull that shit in September, when Low Cut Connie makes a return trip to Union Transfer in Philadelphia. "I go to Union Transfer a lot," he explained, "I want to be able to go there again." (How very embarrassing!)

I'm just happy that this didn't turn out to be Low Cut Connie's "Gimme Shelter."

Sunday, April 9, 2017

it seems like blessings keep falling in my lap

Two years ago, I wrote a lengthy blog entry about a bad experience at a local Ruby Tuesday restaurant. I carefully described the entire episode in great detail and then... I never published it. It still sits in my "drafts" folder, waiting for its day in the sun.

In that blog post (which you may never get to read), I had an issue with a gift card and the unprofessional manner in which the restaurant manager handled it. Then, on a later visit, we had an issue with the way a server first ignored, then argued over, our presentation of a discount coupon. I vowed never to return to Ruby Tuesday. I usually pride myself on keeping my word on ultimatums, but since I never actually published that blog entry, there was my loophole. (Jeez! Politicians use that excuse all the time!)

One day last week, I arrived home after work at my usual time. My wife greeted me and said that she wanted to make a quick trip to IKEA to get some specialty light bulbs. (Evidently the lamps in our bedroom can only accommodate rare Swedish light bulbs. We have tried run-of-the-mill Philips brand bulbs from Home Depot, they only last a few days. In defense of our lamps, I believe they were purchased at IKEA, as well.) While we were out in the direction of our nearest IKEA, Mrs. P suggested getting dinner at Ruby Tuesday. I frowned. She saw me frown. But, I relented and agreed to give Ruby Tuesday another chance.

Trips to IKEA, in my experience, are never "quick." Maybe it's because of the sheer size of the building or the overwhelming inventory or the fact that my wife likes to shop, but a visit to IKEA rarely involves picking up one item. We snaked our way through aisles of kitchen gadgets and magazine storage boxes and folding somethings until we found the lighting department. Finding the item you're seeking in IKEA is never an easy task because things are arranged aesthetically not categorically. We finally located a display of Ryet bulbs (one of the endearing individual names that IKEA gives to their products to personify them.... I guess) and grabbed enough of a supply to keep us from coming back to IKEA for a while. We wended our way to the check-out area, paid, and headed out the door. 

Content with our purchases and hopeful of our bedroom being fully lit for more than a week, we pulled into the parking lot of Ruby Tuesday. It was a weekday evening, nearly 7:30 pm, so we were seated immediately. Our server, Riley, introduced himself and handed menus to Mrs. Pincus and me. I marveled at — what I considered — fairly high-prices for chain-restaurant food. After a few minutes, Riley returned to take our order. We helped ourselves to the newly-expanded salad bar (four different kinds of mixed greens, garlic-sauteed broccoli, mandarin orange slices). We were silently welcomed back to our table with tall glasses of water and a plate of Ruby Tuesday's signature cheddar biscuits, a complimentary feature that are about as moist and flavorful as the Sahara Desert. Our dinner was okay. Not great. Not terrible. Just okay. Riley checked on us a few times during the course of our meal and even filled our water without being asked.


At the conclusion of dinner, Riley arrived at our table with a leatherette portfolio containing our check. He laid it on the table midway between Mrs. P and me. He smiled and said, "Thank you and have a blessed evening."

What the fuck?

Were we just blessed by a guy whose most recent interaction was bringing me bland tilapia and a baked potato? Were we consecrated by someone who only 30 minutes earlier told us that we could substitute the salad bar for one of our side dishes? Did our waiter just invoke a sacred bond between us and his deity for the remainder of the night? Riley just crossed the fucking line. 

I was annoyed. Mrs. Pincus was furious. 

Religion is a very, very personal thing and my relationship with organized religion has waned considerably over the years. I am not a fan of religion or any of the people who blindly follow it. I have respect for the people who follow religion, as long as they keep their beliefs to themselves or to the company of others they are one hundred percent sure share their beliefs. Aside from that, I get pretty uncomfortable with anyone making any sort of religious reference to me. In a routine by comedian Jim Gaffigan, he begins by telling the audience that he'd like to talk about Jesus. Then, he mutters (in his characteristic imitation of the audience): "He better not!" He goes on to say, "Does anything make you more uncomfortable than a stranger telling you he'd like to talk about Jesus?" Well, as far as I'm concerned, I don't want to hear about anyone's religion, especially someone I don't know and especially if my relationship with that someone is of a server-customer nature. You cannot assume someone's religious beliefs are the same as yours, unless you really know that person well. Very well, in fact. And dropping a plate of tilapia and a baked potato in front of them does not qualify as a close relationship.

An enraged Mrs. P wanted to give a piece of her mind to the manager on duty. I discouraged her, explaining that her anger would be falling on the deafest of ears. Instead, I continued, I will send a email to Ruby Tuesday corporate headquarters. I would let them know how offended we were and how inappropriate the sentiment was. We silently paid the bill and left.

The next morning, I composed a carefully worded email and sent it through the feedback section of the Ruby Tuesday website. The next day I received this reply:

Dear Josh, 
Thank you for your message following your visit to Ruby Tuesday. Our guests, like you, are very important to us and it is concerning when anyone leaves our restaurant feeling uncomfortable. Please accept our apology. Your feedback has been forwarded to our senior management, for follow up with the restaurant team. We anticipate a response directly to you within 48 business hours.  
Ruby Tuesday Guest Relations

Very nice. Very corporate. It is now 240 business hours since I received this reply. I have received no response directly to me from the restaurant team. Actually, I have not received any additional response. Guess who won't be getting a third chance?

And this blog entry is officially published.