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!

www.joshpincusiscrying.com

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 time 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."

www.joshpincusiscrying.com

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.

However...

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.  
Sincerely,  
Joelle
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.

www.joshpincusiscrying.com

Sunday, April 2, 2017

one hundred hairs make a man

Starting from the day after the first time I ever shaved, I had a mustache. I remember gliding my father's electric razor around the contours of my 16-year-old face and thinking, as sparse growths of ultra-fine peach fuzz were sheared off: "Fuck this. I'm growing a mustache." And grow a mustache I did.

In all honesty, it was really just me being lazy. I didn't like shaving. Even with an electric razor, I didn't like standing and staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, trying to remember if I covered that area of my face yet. It wasn't like mowing the lawn, where — if I let it go long enough — I could tell which areas I hit with the mower by the comparison to the areas I hadn't yet covered. But, the hair on my face didn't grow at the same rate as my parent's lawn, so to me, shaving was an unnecessary chore. Of course, as I got older, my facial hair was in need of regular maintenance. I, however, had fallen into the rut of ignoring extensive daily grooming. Brushing my teeth was all I needed. I just pulled my long hair back into a ponytail and I was ready for the day. The scruffiness of my unkempt whiskers was not a priority.

When I attended art school in the early 80s, I earned extra money scooping ice cream at a popular spot on Philadelphia's artsy South Street. When I interviewed for the job, the store owner (a guy my brother knew from high school) told me I would have to shave my mustache. He explained that no one can have facial hair behind the ice cream counter. No exceptions. I really wanted this job, so I informed my girlfriend (who is now my wife) and I reluctantly took a razor to my face. For months, I was clean-shaven. I carefully maintained my face and shaved more often than I ever had in my life. One day, a new hire showed up behind the counter. A new hire — with a mustache and beard! I marched right up to the owner and questioned the allowance of the new guy's facial hair. He rattled off some lame excuse about the guy posing for a religious-themed painting and he was portraying Jesus so he had to have a mustache and beard. I wasn't buying it. I told him that, as of this moment, I will stop shaving. I promised to keep my pending mustache neat and trim, but I'd be growing it back just the same. 

When I finished art school, I was finished with scooping ice cream as well. I grew my hair long and my facial hair grew back to its unruly glory. Even as I entered the working world, employers didn't seem to mind how long my hair was or how I grew my mustache as long as my talent as an artist was up to the challenges of the job (or in my case, many jobs). I worked in small production houses (that's art industry talk) until I got my first job interview in the "corporate" world at the suburban Philadelphia offices of a legal publisher. I cut my hair, trimmed my mustache and beard close and got the job.

Several years and several jobs later, I was working for a local chain of floor covering stores where I produced their weekly newspaper ads and in-store signage. One day, a warehouse worker, in the throes of innocent conversation asked my age. I smiled and dared him to guess. He looked me up and down, scratched his head and said, "Eh, I don't know.... sixty?" I was taken aback and a bit insulted. I was not then, nor am I now, sixty. As a matter of fact, at the time, I was forty. I did, though, sport a full gray beard, which I promptly shaved off as soon as I got home that day — never to be grown back again.

When I first began my current job, a co-worker offered me five dollars to shave off my mustache. I did and happily took his money. Everybody got a good laugh and my mustache was back within a few days. However, after toying with the idea for some time, I shaved my mustache off at the beginning of 2017 — this time for good. It had been years since I had shaved the area between my nose and my upper lip. I cut myself a few times, despite being extra careful. Several dabs from my trusty styptic pencil and I was just fine.

With the exception of two colleagues with whom I work very closely, no one in my fourteen-person department said a word. I had shaved early in the morning before my wife woke up. When I got home, it even took a few overly-theatrical coughs and throat clearings until Mrs. P noticed. My in-laws still haven't said a word. My wife postulated that, since my mustache was predominantly white in color, it wasn't really such a drastic change. My son (who is still getting used to seeing my bare upper lip) told me that I now resemble my older brother. My brother, who seemed a little insulted by that assessment, told me I look nothing like him.

When I was a teenager, I think I grew a mustache in an attempt to look older. Now, I'm kind of hoping the lack of a mustache makes me look younger 'cause I'm not so sure the red hair is doing the trick.

www.joshopincusiscrying.com

Sunday, March 26, 2017

you'll never walk alone

It almost happened, but luckily, it didn't.

Last week, I had long-standing plans to go to a concert with my son — something I do quite often. This time, we were seeing Puddles Pity Party, the acclaimed "sad clown with the golden voice" who has been gaining attention and popularity (of the cult variety) thanks to his many YouTube videos, particularly his collaboration with Post Modern Jukebox and an unusual take on Lorde's anthemic "Royals." Puddles, a six-foot-eight clown, is, admittedly, not for everyone — especially those with a deep (or even mild) fear of clowns. While Puddles does have a beautifully rich, almost operatic voice, his performances are "in-your-face" and heavy on audience participation.

The day before the Puddles show, the Philadelphia area was hit by a blast of winter weather that could only be described as "inconvenient." Instead of the twelve to eighteen inches of snow that was forebodingly predicted, the city was merely covered with a cold wintry mix that blanketed lawns, streets and sidewalks with around four inches of hard, crunchy snow, making travel — either by car or on foot — difficult. The morning of the show, my son set out for work, a trek that ends on the other side of the "center city" area from his South Philadelphia home. In the course of his walk, he slipped on some unshoveled ice and fell. When he hit the ground, his legs involuntarily twisted in a position to cause him the most amount of pain. After downing Advil all day, he decided that staying off his feet for the remainder of the day would be his best course of action. So, we passed on the show, hoping to see Puddles on his next trip through our fair city.

To make up for it, my son got me on the guest list for a local bunch of raucous garage rockers that go by the moniker "Scantron." They are a five-piece band comprised of three-fifths of the band Low Cut Connie. My boy, a DJ and producer at a Philadelphia radio station, would be unable to join me, as he was busy engineering a broadcast, followed by a recording session with another band. I was on my own to find someone to accompany me. Of course, Mrs. Pincus would be the obvious choice, but, alas, my spouse and I do not always see eye-to-eye with our musical tastes. Having been to the particular venue before, I didn't think she would enjoy... well, any of it. The close quarters, the seedy atmosphere, the turned-up-way-too-loud sound system, the near-primitive bathroom facilities and the nothing-more-than-cheap-beer menu. Within a few minutes, Mrs. P would have headed for the door. So, I spared her the trip, although I did offer an obligatory, yet half-hearted, invitation (which she obligingly declined). Via Twitter, I contacted my pal Cookie. I know he goes to a lot of shows, based on the photos he posts on his various social media outlets. Cookie hemmed and hawed a bit and offered a non-committal reply with a solid "maybe." I told him that I'd be going, no matter what his final decision would be.

I have been going to concerts for forty-one years. Since the first time I anxiously entered the (now long gone) Philadelphia Spectrum to see Alice Cooper spill his "Welcome to My Nightmare" tour across the stage, I have seen hundreds of shows at dozens of venues. However, I went to every single one of those shows with someone — never alone. Never.

I came home from work, ate a quick dinner with my wife, then headed down to the show. As I wound my way through the congested streets of North Philadelphia, I thought about parking, about how late I was gonna stay — everything except the fact that I was going to be at this show without anyone I knew. I'd be that guy standing in the corner — or worse — up in front of the stage, all by himself. I'm sure you've seen that guy. I didn't want to be that guy at this show.

I parked and walked up the venue. I began to explain to the dude at the door that I was on Scantron's guest list. Suddenly, George, Scantron's second guitarist, ran from the restaurant across the street to confirm my inclusion on said list. He recognized me from previous introductions. It was pretty cool. I've been the "plus one" on my son's guest list inclusion, but never on my own. I entered, as George smacked my back and told me he was going back to join his band mates for dinner. I took a spot inside and watched two guys stumble their way through a game of pool. I quietly fiddled with my phone and was resigned to that fact that I was gonna be at this show by myself.  Until I got a text from Cookie saying that he was on his way.

Twenty or so minutes later, Cookie and his fiance Consuelo wandered in. We exchanged greetings and, after a bit of chit-chat, I confessed that this was almost my first "alone" show. Ever. Cookie furrowed his brow and gave me a look of scrutiny. "I've been to plenty of shows by myself," he explained, "no big deal. You've never gone to a concert alone?"

"Nope." I said flatly. "Never."

"But I've seen you at...," he started.

I interrupted.  "You were there, so I wasn't alone." Then, I continued, "And now that you two are here, my streak still stands."

Scantron was getting ready to perform and we made our way back to the small stage area. I took a place up close to the left side, within arms reach of the stage. Cookie and Consuelo hung back on the far right. A dozen or so people filed in between us, eventually blocking them from my clear line of vision.

But, I as far as I was concerned, I was not there alone.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

open the door, richard

For however long I have maintained a Facebook presence, I have posted the death anniversaries of notable (and not so notable) people on a daily basis. Each morning before I make breakfast for myself, I scan the dark corners of the internet and select a group of folks whose common bond is the day they took their final breath and joined the choir invisible (as George Eliot so eloquently put it). I find a suitable photo and post it along with the simple, non-descriptive line: "So and so died on this date in this particular year." It's up to the reader (one of the 198 faithful who have chosen to "like" Josh Pincus is Crying) to Google the name to find out more, if they so choose. Hey, it's a hobby. Just like collecting stamps. Sort of.

I also post current celebrity deaths as soon as I can confirm information or their demise. Now, my criteria for "celebrity" varies greatly. Of course, a famous actor or actress, politician or sports figure fits the bill. But, I have also included those with lesser-known sobriquets but well-revered significance in the world of pop culture. Last February, for instance, just a week prior to the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, one Mary Fiumara, died at the age of 88. Ms Fiumara was prominently featured in a commercial for Prince spaghetti that ran for 13 years. In April, Lee Waas passed away at 94. He wrote the happy little jingle that blared out of loudspeakers mounted on the roofs of Mr. Softee trucks, announcing the welcome arrival of the ice cream man. Though I have been obsessed with celebrity deaths for years, I have taken my little hobby to the internet in an effort to keep better track of the demise of famous people and to bring the information to a wider audience. I have "met" (in internet terms) many people who share my interest, thus giving me a bit of validation. So, I will continue.

Just this week, I acknowledged the passing of a character actor named Richard Karron. Karron was a stand-up comic who was performing at New York City's famous comedy club Catch a Rising Star, when actor Dustin Hoffman took a liking to his routine. Through this connection, Richard began getting bit parts in television and films based on his distinctive, gravelly voice and boisterously fun personality. He appeared in television dramas and sitcoms, as well as taking small roles in Mel Brooks' History of the World, Part I and Anne Bancroft's slapstick but endearing Fatso, her feature-length directorial debut. In addition, he was in a series of commercials on TV and radio for the regional auto parts chain Royal Auto ("We're Sens-a-tive!"). Karron was a member of the Screen Actors Guild for 35 years, yet his name remained mostly unknown. Well, Karron fit the profile of the type of unsung "celebrity" I like to remember and when I discovered that he passed away on March 1, 2017, I let the internet know that I knew who he was.

I never anticipated the shit storm it would unleash.

At 1:20 PM, on a day nearly two weeks after the fact, I posted an innocuous, "Josh Pincus"-style death announcement for Karron on my Facebook page, like I've done hundreds of times before for similar-level celebrities. The "likes" and comments began almost immediately. First was my pal Steve, who joins me in my love for pop culture and forgotten celebrities. In his initial comment, he reminded me of Karron's Royal Auto commercials. Next came a "thumbs up" from my wife. An hour or so later, a fellow named "Gimmi" commented that Karron had lost a significant amount of weight. It's true. In his early career appearances, Karron cut quite an imposing figure and, based on the type of role for which he was cast, his size was an attribute. In more recent photos, he looks as though he had shed a good portion of his bulk.

Now, for those of you who do not know me personally — I am a bit of a smart-ass. No, actually, I'm a lot of a smart-ass. It's just my nature. I have been known to make jokes at "supposedly" inappropriate times. But that's the beauty of being a natural smart-ass. There are no inappropriate times. Nothing is sacred and everything can be funny. I have done my very best to have that aspect of my personality come across on my blog and, for the most part, I think I've been successful. I try to be funny any chance I get. And, if you don't think I'm funny, rest assured, I think I'm funny and that is what's important. So when Gimmi made his comment about Karron's weight loss, I couldn't resist. I replied:
Well, Steve thought it was funny. Of course, I thought it was funny. Mrs. Pincus, who has been my best audience for the last 35 years, thought it was funny. But, alas, Valerie, in The Beach Boys hometown of Hawthorne, California, didn't see the humor at all. As a matter of fact, I must have struck a nerve, because her outrage prompted her to tell me (with Gimmi in her corner): 
See, this is the stuff I live for! This is what makes the internet the greatest invention since... since.... well, ever! I insulted someone I never met, on the other side of the country with a joke that, technically, she had to search for. (I checked. Valerie is not currently a "Facebook follower" of mine. I guess I've blown that chance now.) I love getting comments on my blogs (this one and my illustration blog), especially negative ones. Sure, I appreciate the ones that tell me how wonderful I am. But the ones from readers that have been offended by something I've drawn or written (or both) are the ones I cherish and remember. It's the angry ones that tell me someone took the time to really study what I have produced and, instead of dismissing it as just another blemish on the face of the internet, they took the time to let me know how abhorrent they found my work. Now, that's a sincere commitment! So, imagine my excitement when this little exchange popped up under my original announcement for poor Richard Karron.
Steve joined in my elation and I offered another snide comment to all participants. Valerie, however, was not amused. As an alleged personal acquaintance of Richard Karron, she found my retort repugnant and Steve's accolade equally deplorable. (All claims to close relationships to celebrities — no matter what the level of fame — is "alleged" on the internet. Unless the claim can be backed up or is made by me.) Plus, Karron began his career as a stand-up comic working in small clubs delivering gritty material. I can only assume that he either heard or told jokes of a similar edgy tone.

My mom taught me to laugh at everything. I get my subversive sense of humor from her. My mom died 26 years ago and I have joked about her death on several occasions. It doesn't mean I am disrespecting her memory. On the contrary, with every snarky comment, I am keeping her memory alive.

Oh, this is not the first time I got into a "back and forth" with a total stranger on the internet. I don't think it will be the last, because you never know what benign statement will set someone off. Since the internet is so vast, coupled with the protection one gets from commenting under the guise of anonymity, these usually reserved voices are riled up without much effort. The more riled they get, the more likely they are to tell me exactly how they feel. 

And that makes me love the internet more and more every day.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

let my people go-go

I was born and raised Jewish. Growing up, most of my friends were Jewish. Now, in my social circles, that meant that while everyone else was celebrating Christmas, we screwed a fresh light bulb into the electric menorah with each new night of Chanukah. We had a box of matzo in our house around the time we saw commercials for Easter egg dye on television. We weren't particularly religious, but when one of my friends turned thirteen, he got a big party and bunch of money for reciting a memorized speech in Hebrew in front of a bunch of his relatives at synagogue. Aside from that, we were just like everyone else. We dressed the same. We ate the same food and, for the most part, we looked the same.

However, this did not make me immune to my share of discrimination. I experienced a good deal of antisemitism in my mostly gentile neighborhood. My Jewish friends and schoolmates all lived in a different, mostly Jewish neighborhood. The kids in my neighborhood never let me forget that I was Jewish. I was taunted, accosted, pushed, prodded and verbally abused. Even though, for the most part, like I said, I looked just like they did. I didn't dress any different. I didn't wear a traditional head covering or sport curly payis on the sides on my head. I even ate the same foods they did, except for the foods I didn't like, not for any religious dietary reasons.

When I was 20 years old, I met the woman who would become my wife. When she told me that she observed kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), I told her the only people I knew who kept kosher were in their 80s. Needless to say, I didn't win her over immediately. (It worked out, though.) As I got to know her and the family into which I would marry, I was introduced to the heretofore unfamiliar world of traditional Jews. I found myself witnessing — and even participating in — Shabbat prayers. When Spring rolled around, Passover became more than just a single box of matzo. My in-laws would be host to a full-blown seder, complete with ornate wine cups and long explanations of the origins of the holiday, and, of course, homemade matzo balls, gefilte fish — everything! At Chanukah, my future wife's mother shredded actual potatoes and made latkes right before my eyes! We attended synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but also on Simchat Torah, Purim and other holidays that I never heard of. All this prompted my mother — a woman whose maternal grandfather was a rabbi  — to ask if I was marrying into an Orthodox family. When I did marry, my wife maintained a kosher kitchen. (as a matter of fact, we still have a kosher kitchen!) Our son attended Jewish Day School through high school and loved knowing how knowledgeable he was about the history of his family's religious observances.

Recently, Mrs. P and I experienced a different sort of discrimination. This time, it was under the watchful and judgmental eye of our own people.

Last weekend, Mrs. Pincus and I took a drive to Lakewood, New Jersey, a community of 92,000 that sits about 60 miles east of Philadelphia. Lakewood, itself, is pretty unspectacular. It's got houses and apartment buildings and many varied businesses. But what makes Lakewood unique is its Jewish population. More than half of its population is comprised of Orthodox Jews. And they are quite visible. On a drive down Route 9, the township's main thoroughfare, you can see men in dark suits, white shirts and wide-brimmed black hats on nearly every corner. Women surrounded by hordes of clamoring children are close at hand. Because of neighborhood demands, Lakewood is home to a giant supermarket called Gourmet Glatt. An unbelievable operation, Gourmet Glatt is easily twice the size of  typical supermarket. In addition to aisles and aisles of grocery items, there is a huge fresh produce section along with an array of stations offering sushi, cold cuts, salads, entire prepared meals. And every single thing in the place is certified kosher. They stock many national brands that are already kosher (whether you knew it or not) along side lesser brands that are more familiar to the particular (and loyal) clientele, On the Sunday we were there, the place was jammed. It was, after all, the week before Purim, the holiday that commemorates the ancient Jews being persecuted by someone (probably). Purim tradition has children dressing up in costumes mimicking the main characters in the Purim story. Sweets are distributed and exchanged as part of the celebration. Gourmet Glatt sets aside an entire room filled with high factory shelving overflowing with candy treats and various colorful containers ready to fill and disburse. It is on par with what most secular stores put out for the Christmas season. Again, this area of the store was packed to near capacity, making the navigation of the aisles a bit tricky and accessibility of a shopping cart impossible.

As Mrs. P and I strolled the aisles of Gourmet Glatt — marveling at the sheer volume of product, the compelling displays and the swarming crowds of anxious shoppers — I got a strange, somewhat uncomfortable vibe. How could that be? I was among my people. Tribesmen. Mishpacha. Well, we were being watched by the other customers, eyed like we didn't belong, scrutinized like outsiders who had infiltrated their secret sanctuary. The stares were palpable. Mrs. Pincus was wearing jeans, a no-no among Orthodox women. I was sans a head covering and fringes from a prayer shawl were not visible at my waistline. Also, I was clean-shaven. Unfettered, we ignored the silent inspection as best we could.

My wife, who had been to this store several times before, searched the delicatessen section for a delicacy called kishke, a rich, savory appetizer made from matzo meal, schmaltz (chicken fat) and spices. (Hey, don't knock it. In my carnivore days, I couldn't get enough of this stuff.) She scanned the many refrigerated cases but came up empty. Not content, she approached a bearded fellow who was arranging some packaged meat in another cold case.

"Hi," she began, with a smile, "I was looking for packaged sliced kishke, but I didn't see any."

By the way, this is kishke.
The fellow placed his last package in the case and, with a friendly grin, replied, "I can check to see if we have some." He burst through a swinging door and soon returned with a Styrofoam tray upon which rested two ochre-colored disks of kishke. "Here's some," he said as he presented the tray to my wife.

"Is this pre-cooked?," she asked, remembering that the last batch she bought only required a quick warming in the microwave. Uncooked kishke, you see, needs a good hour or so in a hot oven before it can be eaten.

The bearded fellow pointed to the tray of kishke and looked at my wife. "Well, Jewish people usually heat this up and serve it with gravy."

An expression of horror flashed across Mrs. P's face. I saw it. I saw it immediately. The bearded fellow was explaining the customs of Jewish people to my wife — she of Jewish day school training, of traditional and observant upbringing, of Kosher kitchen keeping. But now she was gettin' schooled by a guy who already deemed her  — purely based on his own assessment  — as not Jewish.

She momentarily struggled to respond, but then slyly injected her response with the word "fleshig," a Yiddish word for "meat." The bearded fellow didn't bat an eye, figuring to himself, "Well, whaddaya know? The shiksa picked up some Yiddish." We took the package of kishke and continued our shopping, first annoyed, but then amused by the exchange.

We still were being watched and judged as we walked towards the checkout counters. Men in wide black hats, women in sheitels and scarves, droves of kids swarming around the candy displays, all dressed in frumpy drab clothing and all looking exactly the same. I whispered to Mrs. P, "If one of these kids wanders off and Mom calls 'Shlomo!,' two dozen boys will come running."

Then I realized that I was exhibiting the exact same type of discrimination that we just had thrust upon us.

Discrimination and prejudice is a curious thing. Just like opposable thumbs and the ability to reason, it's what makes us human.

I won't be going back to Lakewood anytime soon. But the next time Mrs. P has a craving for kishke, she is likely return.

www.joshpincusiscrying.com

Sunday, March 5, 2017

big bottom


All this and candles, too.
After seeing countless commercials for the casual dining chain restaurant Red Robin (yummmmm!), Mrs. Pincus and I got the opportunity to dine at one of their 538 locations on our most recent trip to Virginia Beach. Earlier in the day, Mrs. P's cousin Juniper chauffeured us around nearby Williamsburg with our actual destinations being several local wineries. The penultimate stop on our whirlwind tour of the historic city (of which we saw no sites of any historic significance) was a Yankee Candle® store of theme-park proportions. (Oh, you read that right! It's an enormous building that resembles a hotel, jam-packed with display after fragrant display of the stout, glass-potted, wax-'n-wick beauties. The multi-room complex is supplemented with cookware, handbags, candy and other unrelated, non-candle items — just to fill the place out.)

We'll meet 'neath that giant Red Robin sign
that brings this fair city light.
As the sun set and our thoughts turned to dinner options, we surveyed the landscape. I am convinced that the geographic area known as the Eastern Shore of Virginia has more fast food and chain restaurants per square foot than any other place on earth. Along both sides of Interstate 64, some of America's favorite restaurants can be spotted. National heavyweight advertisers like Outback Steakhouse, Carraba's Italian Grill, Olive Garden, TGI Friday's and hundreds of Starbucks, along with regional entries like Smokey Griddle Pancake House and Southern Pancake & Waffle House (the South sure loves them some pancakes!) were among the wide array of evening meal choices. Juniper suggested Red Robin (yummmmm!) and said there was one just ahead. I checked the GPS on my phone and — sure enough — 100 or so feet ahead, in a shopping center that looked just like a dozen shopping centers we already passed, was a Red Robin (yummmmm!), its channel-lettered logo glowing bright red, reflecting off the adjacent Dick's Sporting Goods. We found a parking spot, then entered the restaurant. We joined a fairly large group of hungry patrons, all gripping now-silent pagers, poised for a vibrating explosion of LED lights informing the holder that seating and menus were mere moments away. 

Objects may appear larger
in our commercials.
Soon, our pager's lights began blinking and a young lady in a popped collar, logoed polo shirt led us through a maze of booths and bistro tables to a semi-circular booth in the far corner of a room that boasted three gigantic screen televisions as its main decor. We all slid awkwardly into our booth and perused the menu. Now, I'll be the first one to admit that my silly, self-imposed dietary restrictions severely limits my choices in most restaurants, but, rest assured, I can always find something to eat on nearly every menu. And Red Robin (yummmmm!) would be no exception. I settled on the vegetarian-friendly version of their signature Banzai burger, piled high with grilled pineapple, cheddar cheese and a thick teriyaki sauce, in addition to lettuce and mayo. This, as are all entrees, was accompanied by the highly-touted "bottomless" fries. Oh yeah! The centerpiece of Red Robin's (yummmmm!) advertising is their promise of an endless supply of generously-cut steak fries, always available and always plentiful, even long after you've gobbled up the last of your burger. The implication was that fries could continue to be delivered through dessert and coffee, as long as the customer desired.

Really? REALLY??
We ordered. When our meals arrived, I scrutinized the tiny chrome-plated cup that stood in the shadow of my burger in the corner of my plate. Eight, maybe nine, broad steak fries stood upended in the confines of the scant metal container. I thought about the images I had seen in Red Robin's (yummmmm!) effective advertising campaign. Visions of fresh-cut potatoes, mounds of golden-brown fries fanned out and overflowing from the blond-wood cutting board — far, far too many for one person to consume, but readily available for the taking. The puny cupful of fries next to my burger? Damn! I could down them in one, fairly effortless gulp. Between bites of my burger (which, I will admit, was pretty good) I finished my fries. I looked around the bustling eatery for our server, but he was nowhere to be found. (In all fairness, the servers — with their gelled-up hair and shirt collars standing at attention — all resembled one another.) I finally picked out our guy (Chip or Dave or Bruce or something) and requested another round of fries. Chip (or whoever) winked and shot me a "thumbs up" sign, then disappeared into the crowd. A few minutes went by. Then a few more. Then a few more. I slurped at my water glass and poked around at the crumbs and sauce remnants on my mostly-empty plate. Juniper and Mrs. P, both normal-paced eaters (I am a particularly fast eater), were still enjoying their dinner. Each still had plenty of fries left in their initial order. I was craning my neck and diligently scanning the place for a sign of our server and my second round of supposedly "bottomless" fries. More and more time passed before Chip finally arrived to place a plate of fries before me. There were approximately twice the amount of my first order, this time arranged on a plate instead of in a little cup. I tried my very best to leisurely devour the fries, but I could not. My lightning-fast eating habits, coupled with my lack of patience, had me wolfing down this supplemental portion in record time. Of course, I wanted more. After all, they — not me — made the "bottomless" offer first. But, now I was wise to their game. They were a bunch of "fry-teasers," weren't they?!? Those potato-tempting bastards! They were worse than drug dealers! They get you hooked, then they take their sweet time bringing out more, forcing you to be too embarrassed to order a third round, daring you to risk eating them while the custodial staff is mopping the floor and stacking the chairs on the tables.

I reminded my wife of the time we went to an all-you-can eat Dim Sim night at a Philadelphia Chinese restaurant. We ordered the special and our waiter brought out a considerable selection of vegetarian dim sum (traditional Chinese food served in bite-size portions). We ate the first round and ordered more. Round number two was equally as tasty, but half the amount was offered. The third round was brought to us on two small saucers, a size usually reserved for a tea cup or after-dinner mints. The fourth round was the check. It was determined for us that we had had all we could eat. It seems that Red Robin (yummmmm!) had taken a page from that Chinese restaurant's playbook.

I don't think I will go out of my way to find a Red Robin (yummmmm!) closer to home. The bottomless fries may not have a bottom, but they sure have a catch.

(yummmmm!)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

let the jerk-offs clean it up

I have been writing this blog, in one form or another, for nearly seven years. When I first began, I was invited by another blogger to contribute to his existing blog. I was flattered, but since my main focus was maintaining my illustration blog, my offerings were infrequent. After the untimely demise of the original blog, I created my own version. I actually enjoyed writing about the mundane things I see every day, the usually unnoticed quirks and foibles exhibited by people, the weird sights I have spotted and the funny situations I have encountered. I also began to realize that this blog has become a sort-of therapy, a cathartic outlet for frustrations and outrage. Although I am not a writer by trade (and I don't pretend to be), the act of putting aggravation into the written word can be a comforting release. But the main goal of my blog is to be funny. If you, dear reader, don't think it's funny, be assured that I do and, in all actuality, I write this thing for my entertainment, not yours.

However...

Although cloaked by the powerful anonymity of a pseudonym, I am still not entirely free to write about anything I like. Believe it or not (if you are a frequent reader of this blog - God bless you), there are certain subjects that are off-limits. You see, I know some people who read this blog regularly. People with whom I have a personal relationship. There are some topics and incidents that would elicit bad feelings — very bad feelings — if I were to elucidate in a public forum.

Oh, I can be sneaky though. I have written about touchy subjects with slight changes to the actual scenario. I have changed names and twisted around timelines, but the gist of the story remains fairly clear. Mostly, I embellish by injecting humor, but still am able to make my point and satisfy my original grievance. See, I still know who the stories are about, but the unknowing main character remains clueless. I have dropped subtle hints alluding to actual incidents and people, most of which only I am aware. A handful of readers get the reference and are suitably amused. That's the fun part.

Sometimes, I don't have the ability to cleverly camouflage the particulars in a story without revealing who I'm writing about. I have avoided publishing several stories because they are far too offensive and potentially damaging to either a specific person or my relationship with a specific person I have described. I usually get away with my cryptic references, because only I know what I mean. But I don't always have that luxury. Sometimes, I just have to completely pass on a subject in order to keep and maintain the peace. Sometimes, I have to write about how much I hate snow or a bad restaurant experience instead of a serious, personal injustice that I would prefer to scream about.

A while ago, I coined this proverb that I use quite often: "Everyone can act like an asshole, but if you act like an asshole, then you're an asshole." Some people just behave like total arrogant, entitled, self-centered jerks. But they are the first ones to be angered and offended by someone exhibiting the exact same behavior. Because of behavior like that, I am kept from writing about certain scenarios.

So, if you continue to read my blog (and I hope you will), be warned. If you are confused by the roundabout way in which I approach certain subjects, I may be writing about you.

www.joshpincusiscrying.com

Sunday, February 19, 2017

dirty water

I am not much of a handy man. My collection of tools with which I tend to the needed repairs around my house consists of three hammers, five screwdrivers — three straight, two Phillips — a set of Allen wrenches* and a lightweight pair of pliers. I also have a small container of short brass nails that I use to hang the many framed, autographed photos I have accumulated from the many collector shows I have attended. Aside from the occasional self-extracted nail in a floor plank that needs to be taught a good pounding lesson or a loose chair screw in need of tightening, I rarely have the opportunity to ply my limited home-repair skills. And that's good, because anything more challenging than changing a light bulb or... or.... changing a light bulb, well, then I'm in over my head.

I will tell you that I have advanced slightly above the level of my father's fix-it prowess. I remember a long-ago family project involving painting the bedroom I shared with my brother. My mother picked out and purchased paint and the event was planned for an upcoming weekend. Bright and early on Saturday morning, my mother (not my father) moved all of the furniture out of the way and covered everything with dropcloths and old sheets. She laid out brushes and rollers and turpentine and disposable trays filled with paint. She instructed my brother and me to dress in old clothes and then, when we were suitably outfitted, she offered additional direction on painting procedure. In the meantime, my father dressed up in what had come to be known as his "handyman costume." He'd put on a pair of white canvas pants speckled with assorted sizes of multi-colored paint splotches, a shapeless denim shirt decorated with a similar amount of paint and — as the crowning glory — a white painters hat that he scored for free when he paid for the paint. He smiled proudly as he paraded around the prepared bedroom, modeling his outfit for the family. He picked up a dry brush and mock-painted the faces of my brother and me, We laughed and he did this many more times until it was no longer funny. Finally, he dunked a roller into the tray of paint and made a couple of sloppy drags across the wall. Then, he plopped the roller back in the tray and announced that he was going downstairs for a cigarette. That was the last we saw of him until my mom, my brother and I finished the job ourselves. At least I now have the sense enough to hire a painter,

My father's constructive efforts left a lot to be desired. There were broken windows in forgotten rooms on the second floor of our house. There were frayed electrical cords and broken lamps throughout our house. I'm not sure my father even knew how to replace a light bulb. I was sure, however, that he knew nothing about plumbing. That did not stop him from hiring a plumber (who happened to be my uncle) and berate the poor guy as he banged around under our failing hot-water heater.

I know I am not handy and I don't pretend I am. I can tackle easy jobs, but even those can end with less-than-stellar results. (May I direct your attention to a door in our house that doesn't quite close all the way since I "fixed" a loose hinge.)

I have been noticing, for a few months now, that the toilet in our third-floor bathroom has been taking a particularly long time to fill after flushing. I have lifted the lid and stared into the tank for inordinate amounts of time, expecting to see — I don't know — a big, flashing arrow pointing to exactly what needs fixing/adjusting/replacing. So, I... y'know.... kept an eye on it. Surprisingly, it did not fix itself. It actually got worse, making high-pitched whistles and strange gurgling noises as the tank slowly refilled. A few days ago, after a flush, the water in the tank just ran and ran and ran. Again, I extracted the lid and I saw the flapper ball at the bottom of the tank was flopping at an awkward angle, nowhere near the hole at the base of the flush valve it's supposed to cover. (See? I learned something from working weekends in my father-in-law's hardware store for 25 years!) Quickly, I shut off the main water supply to the tank and stared helplessly into the porcelain abyss. After a day, I decided to take a trip to Home Depot to buy a new flapper ball and tackle this repair myself, goddammit! As I perused the many flapper balls on the shelves, I was very pleased to see that each and every package was labeled "universal." Good thing, because I took no measurements. I bought a lovely brick-red number with a sturdy-looking chain and a five dollar price tag and headed home to begin and end my little project before dinner.

I sprinted upstairs, filled with confidence. I yanked the lid off the tank. I popped open the blister-carded flapper ball and untangled the shiny new flush chain. With a fistful of paper towels, I reached to the bottom of the empty tank and deftly ripped the one remaining attachment of the old flapper from its weakened grip. The old ball, after who knows how many years of waterlogged submersion, had been rendered soft and gummy and tore away from its single mooring easily. With my path clear and my determination high, I fastened the new flapper ball into place, connected the chain to the flush handle with the recommended amount of slack and replaced the tank lid — all in a matter of mere minutes. I restarted the flow of water to the tank and, after a test flush, all was working properly. I was triumphant!

A day or two later, I noticed that the sink in our main bathroom was a little slow in draining completely. My wife had been feeding some organic, biodegradable solution into the drain on a semi-regular basis with minimal success. Drunk with my new-found "master plumber" power, I twisted the pop-up drain plug out of its chrome-rimmed hole. Clinging to the bottom of its four-inch plastic shaft was a wet, gray mass that looked like an animal tail. I pulled the stringy mess off and tossed it in the trash. I replaced the drain plug and ran some water into the basin. It swirled and wooshed down the drain with the force of Colorado River rapids.

So, am I ready to take on more complex home repair projects? A new counter-top for the kitchen, perhaps, or a little rewiring in the basement? No sir. I am not. I will stick to hanging pictures and changing light bulbs. I will leave the big stuff to someone who needs a big metal box to carry their tools.

www.joshpincusiscrying.com

* I'm not sure why I own Allen wrenches. I don't know anyone named "Allen."

Monday, February 13, 2017

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round


I watched the 2017 Grammy Awards last night and I'm not sure why. I don't like awards shows (with the single exception of this single broadcast. Coincidentally, the 2017 Grammy Awards were hosted by James Corden, who also hosted last year's enjoyable Tony Awards. Unfortunately, his affable personality could not save this train wreck.) Awards shows are messy, awkward, uneven affairs that go on aimlessly for way too long. The performances are usually bad. The award presenters and recipients are poorly prepared. Aside from that...

As I watched the show (and tweeted along with the rest of the country), a few random observations crossed my mind...

  • Ed Sheeran is boring. I am not familiar with his music, but based on the performance he gave last night, I'm not missing much.

  • The Grammys aren't quite sure what the word "tribute" means, so they should probably stop doing them. Their version of a tribute to the Bee Gees included karaoke-caliber performances by a bunch of people who apparently never heard of the Bee Gees. The tribute to the late George Michael focused on diva-of-the-day Adele stopping her song after the first verse and insisting that she begin again. If you expected the Grammys to end on time, you can blame Adele for throwing the production ten minutes behind schedule.

  • There was a fun take on Corden's popular "Carpool Karaoke" featuring Neil Diamond leading a raucous version of "Sweet Caroline," that was marred by the fact that country songstress Faith Hill obviously didn't know the words.

  • I can only imagine the conversation that took place, leading up to Metallica's puzzling performance.
Producers: Hey do you guys want to perform on the Grammys?
Metallica: The Grammys? What, so we can stand there like idiots while you give another "Heavy Metal" award to Jethro Tull?
Producers: Aren't we past that, fellahs? After all, that was 1989 and we gave you plenty of recognition since then.
Metallica: Yeah, for a cover of a Queen song in '91. Y'know, we released five albums before that!
Producers: C'mon, do you want to perform or not?
Metallica: Oh... okay.
Producers: By the way, you'll have to perform with Lady Gaga.
Metallica: We have to perform "Radio Gaga?" Another Queen song?
Producers: No, no. Lady Gaga. The singer. She's very popular. Not with your fans, of course. Oh and James's microphone will have to be turned off during the first verse.
  • Every one of us should have someone in our lives that we trust as much as Beyonce trusted that chair.
  • John Travolta is, was and always will be "Barbarino."
I actually watched the whole show to see my favorite part of any awards show — The "In Memoriam" segment. This short remembrance is supposed to honor those who passed away since the last awards show. And, as always, there are omissions. This year was no exception. Way too much time was spent on the intro by John Legend, but at least big names like Prince and Leonard Cohen were mentioned, as well as jazz vocalist Al Jarreau who died earlier in the day. However, they forgot big band singer Kay Starr, The Roots drummer Questlove's father singer Lee Andrews, Thunderclap Newman's leader Andy Newman, Phil Kives, the founder of K-Tel Records, folksingers Glenn Yarborough and Oscar Brand, Pete Burns from Dead or Alive and electronica pioneer Jean Jacques Perrey.

Why do I subject myself to this, when I know it only frustrates and infuriates me?

I'll let you know after the Oscars in two weeks.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

is this the real life, is this just fantasy

My mom was a character.

She had a wicked — somewhat twisted — sense of humor. She loved a good, dirty joke. Actually, some of the best dirty jokes I know were told to me by my mom. She taught me curses in Yiddish. She listened to rock and roll, once beating me to Peaches Records to purchase a copy of Queen's 1978 album Jazz when it was released at midnight.

Growing up, my friends loved her. Not many of my friends knew my dad, but everyone knew my mom. She was the "cool" mom before there even was such a thing. When I attended elementary school, she made a few extra dollars driving kids to kindergarten, so she was always around and visible. At the end of the school year, she ran the face-painting booth at the school fair, plying her artistic abilities to the faces of many of my classmates. In later years, she regularly volunteered to drive my friends and me around to the movies, and eventually, concerts.

My mom didn't take too much too seriously. So, when she expressed an interest in the supernatural, everyone was a bit leery. She started hanging out with a group of ladies to discuss reincarnation and past lives. My father wanted no parts of this, so she would often go to these little, informal gatherings alone. Once in a while, though, I would accompany her. Seated around someone's living room, these women would pour themselves a glass of wine (except for my mom, who did not drink) and earnestly discuss the afterlife. One member of the group, an older lady who resembled actress Anne Bancroft in The Graduate, but not as attractive, told about a form of hypnosis called "regression." My mom leaned in closer as the woman elaborated on the process of inducing a subject into a deep, hypnotic sleep and jogging their subconscious memory with a series of suggestive inquiries to ultimately have them reveal and describe the details of a past life. My mom was a skeptic from waaaay back, which is why her interest in any of this was puzzling. But, my mom was pretty mischievous, so who knows what she had up her sleeve.

She ended up taking a course in hypnosis and had a framed certificate hanging on the wall in our den to prove it (as if that proved anything). Soon, she was hypnotizing willing friends and family members with the mumbo-jumbo words and incantations that she learned. At first, she read the steps and recitations straight from a paperback "textbook" she balanced on her knee. She strained to read the words, as the room was dimly-lit for purely atmospheric purposes. Maybe my mom's soothing voice offered relaxation to those needed relaxing and maybe relaxing led to a dreamlike state, but — dammit! — if she didn't get some pretty entertaining results from her little parlor trick. Several of my friends happily volunteered to be "regressed." At various times, one of my friends would stretch out on the sofa in our living room. My mom would pull up a chair next to the prone victim subject and recite her little spell. Much to the surprise and delight of the onlookers, my mom's suggestive hoodoo seemed to have worked. With some gentle coaxing from my mom, my friend would begin to spin some incredible tales of ancient Rome, ancient Egypt and even 17th century, witchcraft-threatened Salem, Massachusetts. Word of my performing mom spread throughout my high school. Soon, my mom had a regular gig with kids clamoring to find out who they were hundreds (or even thousands of years) ago.

Actually, it's Scrabble®
My mom was having a blast and she was ingratiating her standing as the "cool" mom. How ever she was able to get a bunch of teenagers to dream up whatever scenarios popped into their subconscious mind was a testament to her ability and the power of her suggestion. Did she really believe she was evoking actual "first hand" accounts of past lives? I doubt it. Was she getting a kick out of the whole thing? You bet! She even began supplementing her little dog-and-pony show with a foray into OUIJA® boards, creating a homemade version with letters from a Scrabble® set and an inverted wine glass. I'm pretty sure that was bullshit, too.

After a while, the novelty of regressions wore off and my mom went back to playing mah jongg. At least with that, she could hustle a few bucks from some old ladies.

Anything to keep it interesting. That was my mom.