Sunday, December 10, 2017

playin' in the band

One day last week, JP, a friend and co-worker, posed a question to me just as I arrived at work and was taking off my coat. Little did he know that his question was one that had been the topic of discussion many times with many people. Since JP has known me for nearly ten years, he had to have expected a long-winded, overblown answer rather than a typical "yes" or "no." JP's question was straight to the point and innocent enough. But when you ask Josh Pincus a question — well, you're just asking for it.

It seems JP, a fan of Phish, The Grateful Dead and most jam-related bands, was participating in a heated debate on an online jam-band discussion group the previous night. One of his statements ruffled some feathers (not that he was particularly upset). He made a comment regarding the band "Dead and Company." Knowing my devotion to all kinds of music and the fact that I have been married to a proud Dead Head for the past 33 years, he wanted my take on his position. 

So, what was JP's question, already? "If a well-known band is comprised of three original members and continue to tour using the band name (or variation of), are they still that band?" 

I swear, I have discussed this often. More times that you (or other normal people) can imagine. Therefore, I was prepared when I launched into the filibuster answer that JP had to have expected.

I believe this scenario first came up in conversation in 2005 when two remaining members of the band Queen embarked on a world tour fourteen years after the passing of charismatic front man Freddie Mercury. As a longtime Queen fan, I was angered. Not because guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor still wished to be part of the (*ahem* lucrative) music industry, but by the fact that they were calling themselves "Queen." They were not Queen. Without Freddie Mercury pirouetting at the edge of the stage, his unique vocals soaring into the stratosphere, they would never be Queen. Never. Some Queen fans, however, will disagree. They, of course, are wrong.

The criteria by which a band can call itself that band is a tricky thing. My opinion, of course, is merely that - my opinion. But I'll try to explain my rules.

If a band is comprised of the majority of its original members with supplemental musicians filling in for departed members, that band can still claim itself as the band. However (and that's a big "however"), if any of the members had a solo career during or after the band's major output of work, then they walk a fine line with regards to their rights to the band name. As an example: The Grateful Dead had many keyboard players over the years, but the core members remained the same. Some of those members (Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart) enjoyed solo careers — some more successful than others. Since The Grateful Dead never officially broke up while those solo careers existed, the members could reform and disband and still tour under the name "The Grateful Dead." However, when band icon Jerry Garcia passed away in 1995, the remaining members decided to permanently disband. That lasted approximately three years, when three members, along with several hired musicians toured as "The Other Ones," performing songs made famous by the Dead. Several incarnations of "The Other Ones" morphed into what is now known as "Dead and Company." This band, currently on tour and playing sets exclusively of dead songs, consists of Bob Weir, drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann and guitarist (and self-proclaimed Grateful Dead fan) John Mayer. Original bassist Phil Lesh, who toured with a few of the offshoot versions, has now embarked on his own, but still sticks to a Grateful Dead playlist. While Weir did sing lead on many of the Dead's notable songs, Jerry Garcia was the heart and soul of the band. When he died, he, essentially, took the band with him. This current version calling themselves "Dead and Company" are one step away from a cover band.

In 1986, Jeff Lynne, the mastermind behind classical rockers Electric Light Orchestra, called it quits following a performance in Stuttgart, Germany. Lynne continued to produce other artists and even joined supergroup The Travelling Wilburys for two albums. In 1989, ELO's drummer and founding member Bev Bevan, under a licensing agreement with band leader Jeff Lynne. ventured out in a newly-formed band called Electric Light Orchestra Part II. Although asked to participate, Jeff Lynne declined the offer, though he allowed a bastardized and deceptive version of the band's name as the banner under which they would perform. ELO II featured Bevan as the only original member for two years until he recruited original ELO members violinist Mik Kaminski, cellist Hugh McDowell, and bassist Kelly Groucutt. Hardly recognizable figures to anyone but die-hard fans. The band was obviously lacking something without the creative vision of Jeff Lynne. Now, as announced for 2018, Jeff Lynne has decided to tour as something called "Jeff Lynne's ELO," which, aside from keyboardist Richard Tandy, features a bunch of guys that Jeff Lynne knows.

The Beatles never performed as a band again after that impromptu rooftop show chronicled in the film Let It Be. Paul McCartney, undeniably the most successful former Beatle, toured many times after the Fab Four broke up, but never did he call that band "The Beatles." He sang Beatles songs — a lot of Beatles songs — but he was still Paul McCartney. Even Ringo, who assembled many versions of his "All Starr Band," surprisingly never called his band "The Beatles" — which is commendably un-Ringo-like.

The Who, on the other hand, continue to tour with just two original members and a stage full of musicians playing Who songs. Both surviving members — vocalist Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend — have enjoyed long solo careers, yet they shamefully parade themselves around as "wild mods," despite having long outgrown that label. It seems when the rent comes due, Daltrey and Townshed dust off their bell-bottoms, fringed vests and Union Jack turtlenecks for an overpriced world tour.

Robert Plant, the one-time lead singer of mighty blues-rockers Led Zeppelin, regularly shoots down inquiries regarding a band reunion. Plant is not the least bit interested. As a solo artist, he has released eleven albums — two more than Led Zeppelin released over their twelve-year career. His current musical output leans toward mellow folk-rock, although his concerts are peppered with Led Zeppelin compositions. He struggles with the high notes, though. Plant has realistically assessed his career and knows, at 69, he is no longer the sinewy sex symbol and rock god he was worshiped as. He has moved on and adapted with the times.

When Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham died in 1980, Robert Plant considered leaving the music business to become a teacher. I can think of a number of classic rockers who should take his class.

Does that answer your question, JP?

***** ***** ***** ***** *****
My annual Christmas music compilation is available as a 
at for a limited time.

This year, it’s a whopping 81 minutes worth of pure Christmas cacophony that’s sure to ruin your holiday celebration within seconds. Need to clear your house of unwanted guest who have overstayed their holiday welcome? Download this compilation, crank it up and watch those ungrateful freeloaders head for the door. (You may even follow them.)
 You get twenty-seven eclectic Christmas selections that run the gamut from weird to really weird plus a custom full-color cover with track listings – all for you and all for FREE! (That’s right! FREE!)

(Please contact me if you have trouble with the download.)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

i love the dead

With so much going on in the world — so many important topics up for discussion and debate — I thought I'd focus on a subject that holds the utmost importance to me.


Specifically, my wonderful and turbulent relationship with the internet. Over a decade ago, I entered the world of the World Wide Web when I published the first entry* on, my illustration blog. My blog consisted mostly of entries for the weekly challenge posted on Illustration Friday, a sort-of community of artists from all over the world. Illustration Friday offers a single word of inspiration and allows artists a week to interpret that word until the next Friday brings a new word. I have actively participated in this process for eleven-plus years, never missing a single week (even when Illustration Friday missed a few themselves). I began small, hesitant to post anything controversial, fearful of editorializing, expressing my opinions or — gulp! — causing a stir. In between my weekly drawings, I began to create drawings of my own inspiration, under the category title "from my sketchbook."  But, over time, I began to inject some of my unorthodox sense of humor that has become the unofficial Josh Pincus trademark. 

In 2008, I posted this drawing of aspiring actress Peg Entwistle, who met an untimely demise in 1932. A distraught Peg, weary of the cruel treatment she received from film executives who crushed her glittery dreams of stardom, flung herself from the top of the massive "H" in the famed "Hollywood" sign that loomed over Tinsel Town. My illustration pissed a reader off so much that he contacted me with a series of threatening emails. I was so pleased that someone took that much time and effort with something that I created, I couldn't have been more flattered. As an artist, as far as I'm concerned, there is no such thing as bad publicity. I would rather have my art evoke anger than joy. Anger is a much stronger and more passionate emotion. 

But it didn't end there. I was reprimanded by the admin of another illustration website. I received more threatening emails regarding a drawing I did of session drummer/convicted murderer Jim Gordon. I pissed off a fellow artist who accused me of being a bully. The list goes on and it's all documented under the "About" tab on my blog's homepage.

In 2008, I joined Twitter, which — depending how you look at it — was the best or worst thing I could have ever done. Twitter became the ideal place for Josh Pincus to flourish. It became an outlet for  my jokes, commentary, sarcasm and stream-of-consciousness thought. To date, I have logged over 55,000 tweets. It's a wonder I ever get any work done. Soon, I began to promote my drawings on Twitter. I gained more followers and widened my audience, although, I maintain, that I draw primarily for my own amusement.

Last year, while looking to amp up my illustration output from what had dwindled to just one per week, I began a new series on my illustration blog. I kicked off 2016 by posting the first drawing in my series I decided to call "Dead Celebrity Spotlight." As I stated in the premiere entry, this would marry two of my prime interests: drawing and celebrities who had passed on. The "drawing" part was obvious. I have been drawing since I was a child. The "dead celebrity" part stems from my love of old Hollywood, chock full of obscure tales of fleeting fame and spectacular deaths and my affinity for visiting cemeteries (yeah, I do that). So, after drawing and writing about a different dead celebrity (some that you recognize, some that you hardly even heard of) every week for an entire year, I continued the series into the current year, adding some special "mid-week" entries as the news of the passing of a beloved and renowned public figure broke. There are (as of right now) one hundred and twelve drawings and stories in the Dead Celebrity Spotlight series. I plan to keep posting new ones every Friday. I hope they garner the reaction that my most recent post achieved.

Early Friday morning, I woke up at 5:45 and, after showering and brushing my teeth and warming up the Keurig, I lumbered up to the third floor of my house to post the daily celebrity death anniversaries on the Josh Pincus Facebook fan page. Then, before heading back downstairs for a cup of coffee, a bowl of Raisin Bran and a couple of episodes of The Andy Griffith Show prior to catching my morning train, I selected a draft from the backlog library of "Dead Celebrity Spotlight" section of my blog to publish. This day, I chose a personal observation of teen idol David Cassidy, whose death just last week at a youthful 67 shocked and saddened a generation of fans who grew up watching and loving him on The Partridge Family. My drawing and commentary went live at 6:19 AM and, little did I know, all hell was about to break loose. My tweet, which is set up to automatically generate from Facebook, got some "likes," some "retweets," and some "replies" — one of which was quite displeased by my sentiment.

A Twitter user named Mar offered this reply:
In typical Josh Pincus fashion, I responded:
I thought this was funny enough to post as a screenshot on my Facebook page as well.

Later, another angered Twitter user, suspiciously calling herself  "Laurie," perhaps as an homage to Susan Dey, David Cassidy's TV sister on the 70s sitcom, expressed her displeasure at the choice of terms I used as the title of my illustration series (on my blog).
This one was puzzling. Was she offended? Really? It's not like I said "Croaked Celebrities," or "Celebrities Now Residing in Box City," or "Lifestyles of the Rotting and Famous," or any number of other derogatory euphemisms for "The Great Beyond." "Dead" is a perfectly good, non-offensive word. Funeral directors, doctors, newscasters, even your mother ("Oh dear, I just heard from Fannie that Milton is dead.") use it all the time. 

So, not being one to drop things until they are thoroughly beaten into submission, I questioned:
Laurie replied:
But the criteria for inclusion in this series is the celebrity has to be dead. Not for any particular length of time, just dead. I have done drawings of celebrities within minutes of the announcement of their death (former Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay comes to mind). I tried to stress this in 140 characters or less, but my confusion hindered my ability to be as articulate as I would have liked. Instead, I returned this:
Her brief retort popped up almost immediately, followed by what is commonly known as  a "kiss-off:"
And, just like that, she was gone. Her portion of the debate ended. Her final summation delivered. As Archie Bunker often proclaimed: "Case closed!"

When I was compiling screenshots to compose this entry on It's Been a Slice, I was met by this message when I visited "Laurie's" Twitter account page:
Now we're talking. Or... maybe we're not.

I said it before, and I'll say it again: Oh, do I love the internet!

Ironically, that initial entry, in March 2007, featured an illustration of Bill Cosby, whose shattered career has been chronicled in recent headlines. How prophetic of me. I think.

***** ***** ***** ***** *****
My annual Christmas music compilation is available as a 
at for a limited time.

This year, it’s a whopping 81 minutes worth of pure Christmas cacophony that’s sure to ruin your holiday celebration within seconds. Need to clear your house of unwanted guest who have overstayed their holiday welcome? Download this compilation, crank it up and watch those ungrateful freeloaders head for the door. (You may even follow them.)
 You get twenty-seven eclectic Christmas selections that run the gamut from weird to really weird plus a custom full-color cover with track listings – all for you and all for FREE! (That’s right! FREE!)

(Please contact me if you have trouble with the download.)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

simply the best

In 1996, Wilco released their second album, Being There. On my lunch break from my job at a suburban Philadelphia legal publisher, I drove around the corner to a nearby Best Buy to purchase a copy of the album, as I had seen it advertised in their circular that came in Sunday's newspaper. Despite the poor reception their debut effort was afforded, I was a fan of Jeff Tweedy's new project. However, at the time, Wilco was nowhere close to the respected elder statesmen of alt-rock that they are today. They were a little band made up of the remnants of a dispute between Tweedy and band mate Jay Farrar in another little band called Uncle Tupleo. Nevertheless, I wanted to hear what Tweedy, an obviously talented and visionary songwriter, had up his sleeve for a sophomore release.

What's the World Got in Store
I parked and entered the cavernous Best Buy, headed for the sprawling CD department. I scanned the "W" section, flipping past dividers separating albums by the likes of The Who, Wham!, Stevie Wonder and Whitesnake. There was nothing by Wilco. I looked again — nothing. Now, I looked around the store, trying to locate a salesperson. It seemed as though I was the solitary person — employee or customer — in the building. I finally spotted a tall, lanky fellow in a signature blue Best Buy polo shirt and flagged him down. He slowly made his way to the aisle in which I was standing... and stood there, waiting for me to state my reason for needing his attention. "I was looking for the new Wilco album.," I asked. He tilted his head to one side. "Is that a band?," he asked. I frowned. "Yes. Their new album was in your Sunday ad circular.," I explained. "I never heard of 'em.," he replied dismissively. "So that means they don't exist?," I countered. He offered no reaction. Instead, he pointed to the racks of CDs. "Did you look under 'W'?," he asked, as though he solved my dilemma with his breakthrough suggestion. "Yes, of course," I said. "Then, I guess we don't have it.," he concluded, turned on his heels and lumbered away into the depths of the store.

And that's it. This happened over two decades ago and it's still my impression of Best Buy. Although I have bought items at Best Buy, I dread going there. Sure, over the years I have made sporadic purchases there. I bought a washer and dryer, a microwave, two computers and dozens of computer accessories and, of course, numerous CDs (when I was still buying CDs). The experiences were all very similar. I had to know exactly what I wanted to buy because the staff was less than informed about the products they stocked and even less than happy to share their limited knowledge. That is, of course, if you can find a member of their staff. Sure, they're there, but they all seem to be off somewhere just out of customer earshot.

Just last week, Mrs. P got an unsolicited email offer from our friends at Best Buy. The offer touted a  guaranteed gift certificate with a value between five dollars and five thousand dollars. We drove over to our nearest Best Buy and entered the store, the printed email clutched tightly in Mrs. Pincus's hand. As my wife had a cashier scan the bar code on the email to determine the dollar amount, I optimistically headed toward the colorful 75" flat-screen smart TVs. However, I was halted in my tracks when the scan revealed an award of five bucks.

We wandered up and down each aisle of Best Buy, trying to pick out something for five dollars, realizing, of course, the choices were slim. Suddenly two smiling employees approached with the obligatory opening line, "How're you folks doing tonight?," like a couple of textbook used car salesmen. We returned a forced "We're just fine" to the pair and tried our best not to engage them in conversation. One of the sales associates asked if we'd ever been to Best Buy before — my favorite question from retail employees, as though we were just dropped from a passing space craft as emissaries from a distant civilization sorely lacking in the "big box electronic store" department. Without waiting for our reply, he continued. "Well, Best Buy has changed a lot," he boasted, "The cool stuff is located in the center of the store and the..."

I interrupted. "Are you implying that the items around the perimeter of the store are not cool?"

He laughed nervously. "No," he stammered, "of course not. I mean the TVs and computers are in the center of the store and the..."

I interrupted again. "The washers and microwaves are over where the non-cool stuff is. Look, we bought a pretty cool microwave here a few months ago." The other salesman giggled.

Realizing he was getting nowhere, he changed the subject. He extracted a phone from his pocket. "You want to see a really cool app?," he asked, then inquired, "Do you folks have smartphones?" He asked his question the way you'd ask your great-grandmother if she has seen the remote control for the television. My wife and I frowned and displayed our phones for the salesman. I added, "Is this smart enough for you?," as I waved my Samsung Galaxy in the air like a Fourth of July sparkler.

He laughed nervously again, and continued. "Here's the app — watch!," he said. He tapped his phone a few times before announcing, "I just opened and closed my garage door." A smug smile spread across his face.

I shook my head disapprovingly. "If you want to really impress me, show me an app that can open and close your neighbor's garage door. That would be something!"

There was that nervous laugh again. Again, he changed back to his original topic of explaining how Best Buy has changed. He said if there was anything we needed, we should let him know. He smiled and wandered away with his silent colleague in tow.

Mrs. P and I exchanged confirming looks. Best Buy hadn't changed at all.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

I can't get next to you

My wife and I just returned from our sixth — count 'em sixth — cruise. Now, there's a sentence I never thought I'd see myself type. Don't get me wrong. I have enjoyed each and every one, but, honestly, they all have been very similar experiences. First of all, we are on vacation, so the level of energy we exert is minimal... as it should be. Sure, there are people aboard the ship who jog or exercise or swim or workout in the large gym. Not me. I don't do those things at home, so I am certainly not doing them on vacation. What I do most often is eat, as does the majority of the passengers. After all, cruise lines are famous for their sumptuous and abundant buffets, most available 24 hours a day.

First prize
Our typical day on the ship would be to wake up around 8 a.m. We dress and head out the the first session of trivia of the day. That's what we like to do: play trivia games. It's fun. It's silly and requires little to no energy... except for thinking. Considering that the prizes are usually some sort of cruise line branded tchotchke, we don't try to be especially competitive. Well, hardly ever. After winning trivia (yeah, we usually win. Either we are really smart or the other passengers are hungover), my wife and I find our way to the breakfast buffet. Our days are leisurely, relaxing and effortless. They are punctuated by mindless activities and eating. That may not sound like much of a vacation, but to paraphrase ol' Doc Brown from Back to the Future III: "Your cruise is whatever you make it, so make it a good one."

Some folks, however, spend a ton of money on a trip such as a cruise and have no idea how to relax. Or even how to interact with other people. Over the years, Mrs. P and I met many fellow passengers who were travelling as a single. Even on this most recent cruise, we met several people who were vacationing by themselves. But, they were friendly, personable and outgoing. Richard, one of the members of a Facebook group my wife joined prior to our trip, was a great guy. Funny, interesting — a real character. He even wrote a book that he allowed his cruise comrades to download to their Kindle for free. Mrs. Pincus, a supporter of the arts... I guess, purchased an actual copy. Richard was flattered, adding there's a possibility she may have purchased the only copy. George was a hoot. Tall and quite noticeable, George bore a striking resemblance to beloved teacher-turned-meth-dealer Walter White from TV's Breaking Bad. He stuck to his story that it was merely a costume (as we sailed over Hallowe'en), but I was leery. Again, George was traveling alone, but every time we saw him, he was in the center of a crowd — smiling and laughing and making the most of his cruise. There are people, though, that board the ship with luggage in their hand and a chip on their shoulder. We met one.

Single copy
A few days into our cruise, after mingling with the fun group of people at a pre-arranged gathering of the aforementioned Facebook group, Mrs. P and I spotted Richard sitting at a small table in O'Sheehan's, the signature Irish pub that is featured on nine Norwegian Cruise Line ships. I quickly made my way back to our cabin — just three decks up — to grab our copy of Richard's book and a black Sharpie with which he could inscribe the title page. In a flash, I returned and handed the book over to my wife. She took over the charade from there. We strode up to Richard, seated at his small table-for-one (as the opposing chair had been removed) and, as we feigned excitement,  Mrs. P announced, "Oh my gosh! Richard! Richard is on this ship!" Richard laughed and tried, unsuccessfully, to hide under his baseball cap. A few patrons craned their necks in our direction, trying to figure out if Richard was someone they should know. Mrs. P laid it on thick. "I have your book, Richard. Could you please sign it for me?," she implored with faux adoration. Richard, who, of course, we had met earlier, played along, dramatically signing the book with an exaggerated flourish. We stood by Richard's table chatting briefly while he waited for his lunch order to arrive. We flanked Richard's table as we talked. A few minutes later, a waitress led a gentleman to the table across the narrow aisle from Richard. I could see, in my peripheral vision, the man was not sitting. Instead, he stood at attention alongside his chair. We continued our talk with Richard, but I could see that the man at the next table, still standing, was shifting his weight from one foot to the other. From his body language, he seemed to be quite annoyed. The waitress returned and asked if everything was okay. "I'm just waiting for someone.," he replied. He remained standing, when suddenly, he tapped my wife on the shoulder. Mrs. P turned to him. Through clenched teeth, he seethed, "You are making me very uncomfortable by hovering near my table! Could you move?" Mrs. P apologized. "I'm so sorry," she said, "I'm glad you said something." We sort of scooted over to the other side of Richard's table. By this time, his lunch had arrived. We told him we'd catch up with him later. As we left O'Sheehan's, my wife, once again, apologized to the "hover table" guy. He grumbled under his breath at Mrs. P's parting atonement.
Too close...

At first, we felt bad. But, the more we thought about it, the more we realized the absurdity of that guy's reaction and behavior. Here he is, on a ship by himself, with 4000 passengers — and he's angry because someone was standing near him?!? Hey dude, if you don't like people standing near you, a cruise ship is the last place you should be. At some point during the week, someone is gonna be near you.

The next morning, Mrs. Pincus and I were in the Garden Cafe, the ship's buffet, finishing up breakfast. Suddenly, I saw the "hover table" guy place a plate filled with breakfast foods at a table just a few feet from where we were sitting. He turned and headed toward the self-serve beverage area and grabbed a coffee mug from the rack. I jokingly said that I was going to stand next to his table when he returned. I watched the "hover table guy" reach to dispense himself some coffee by jutting his hand right in front of another passenger who was also getting coffee. Again, he reached right across this poor man's personal space to grab a few sugar packets. Then, he lumbered back to his table, a scowl across his face, and seated himself at his breakfast plate. Then, he bowed his head and crossed himself. My wife frowned and commented, loud enough for me to hear, but not so loud that the "hover table" guy could hear: "Did Jesus teach you how to be rude to your fellow man?"

... for comfort.
Now, I'm not one to knock anybody's religious beliefs.... well, actually, I am..... but I cannot be alone in the feeling of blatant contradiction between multiple instances of rude behavior and the pious act of bowing one's head in prayer and (I assume) gratitude towards a "higher being." Didn't I once hear something about: "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself" (that one is right from Leviticus.... that's the Bible). I think that includes telling someone to move and reaching your arm across someone's personal space to get a cup of coffee for yourself.

I'll bet this guy's neighbor probably lives too close for his liking.

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.