Sunday, August 20, 2017

for you, for you, I came for you

I love to read and I love actual books. Books with covers and pages and a place to offer the services of a physical bookmark. I still purchase books and read them voraciously... on most occasions. I will admit that I have given up midway into the first chapter of a few books whose convoluted plots just weren't doing it for me. But, there is usually another waiting as a back up. I buy books several at a time because I am such an avid reader. And — best of all — my wife sells the gently used volumes (I take great care with my reading material) on eBay when I am through. She gets a good portion of the original selling price back, too.

As a reader, I have been to a few book signings, an event that coincides with another of my hobbies: collecting autographs. In 2010, Mrs. P, our son E. and I attended a book signing/charity auction in New York City. It was part of a tour by April Winchell, the multi-talented voice actress, who was promoting a recently published anthology of items from her (now-defunct) website April was a blast — engaging fans in conversation, personalizing each book and offering bookmarks made from maxi-pads. A few years later, my wife and I found ourselves at the main branch of the Philadelphia Library to hear actor-comedian Michael Palin read passages from his memoir Diaries 1969-1979, a personal chronicle of his years with the comedy troupe Monty Python. Afterwards, the comic signed copies of the book for a queue line than snaked thorough the cavernous library building. We waited — first outside in the rain, then inside among high shelves of books in forgotten storage rooms — for nearly three hours. Mr. Palin was delightful, humble and truly appreciative of the crowd.

This, apparently, is his BOOM-STICK!
A few weeks ago, I got word (via the internet's foremost source of information, Twitter) that actor Bruce Campbell had written a continuation of his 2001 memoir If Chins Could Kill. I read that book and it was highly entertaining. Subtitled "Confessions of a B Movie Actor," Bruce gives a hilariously-self-aware account of his humble beginnings as a budding actor, eager to ply his trade with some down-and-dirty "on-the-job" experience. With his childhood pal, director Sam Raimi, the pair teamed up to stand the horror genre on its bloody ear, combining over the top gore with slapstick humor. Bruce, for the uninitiated, is the rugged goofball best known for his cult-movie roles in the Evil Dead series of horror films, as well as a plethora of cameos in major studio releases, and the television series Burn Notice and the short-lived Adventures of Brisco County Jr. To his fans, like most actors in the horror category, Bruce is held in the highest of esteem. He is movie royalty, occupying a place of honor alongside Robert Englund ("Freddy Krueger" in the Nightmare on Elm Street films) and whoever is behind the hockey mask in Friday the 13th.

Bruce's three-month promotional book tour brought him to Philadelphia on August 18th, to a Barnes and Noble just a few blocks from my office. I pre-ordered my copy of Hail to the Chin* and picked it up early in the week during my lunch hour. When I made my purchase, I was issued a Tyvek wristband that guaranteed a spot in line to get my book signed. So, on Wednesday, I left work at my regular time and leisurely strolled the bustling sidewalks of downtown Philadelphia's afternoon rush. I took my time, as the event was called for 7 PM, a full two hours from the time I leave work. I stopped for a quick bite to eat at a popular vegetarian restaurant and then I walked a block or so up 18th Street to the Barnes and Noble that faces Philadelphia's famous Rittenhouse Square. When I turned the corner onto Walnut Street, I spotted a smattering of folks gathering for the evening event. When I entered the store, I saw even more. How did I know they were there to meet Bruce Campbell? Well, as a veteran of many horror movie conventions, there were quite a few tell-tale signs. First, most were clad in shirts emblazoned with Bruce Campbell's likeness, specifically his "Ash" character from the Evil Dead film franchise. The ones that weren't sporting T-shits were dressed as though they were attending a Victorian funeral, especially the female members of the crowd who were draped in heavy velvet gowns with lacy bodices. The men boasted hair either hanging limp and unwashed from their pale scalps or slicked with product, except for thick and menacing sideburns flanking their collective visages. Numerous examples of elaborately inked flesh were visible at every turn, begging the question: what sort of bodily artwork was hidden by the layers of somber clothing? Plus — and I mean this in the most non-judgmental context — most appeared to be experiencing their first visit to a book store. Not that their behavior was disruptive. (On the contrary, it was not!) They just exhibited a sense of bewilderment at the sight of stacks of those things they have not seen since school was in session.

The actual book-signing process was extremely well-organized. The staff of Barnes and Noble were friendly and jovial — all while being deadly efficient. The wristbands that were distributed earlier were each pre-marked with a letter designating the order in which groups would be led to the store's third floor. The line was moving at a fairly quick clip, with new group letters being announced every fifteen to twenty minutes, it was obvious that, two floors above us, Mr. Campbell began affording his signature almost an hour ahead of schedule. I overheard several non-book-signing customers wandering through the store, muttering, "Is this place always this busy?"

Who drew ya, baby?
I waited patently, following the direction of the smiling staff members, as they guided the line up escalators, around support pillars towards the Bruce Campbell-occupied destination. Mr. Campbell, it was revealed, would graciously autograph one additional piece of memorabilia with each copy of his book that was purchased. People were carrying all sorts of items, from DVDs and magazines, to action figures and replicas of the so-called Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the notorious "Book of the Dead," as featured in the Evil Dead films, noted for its binding (human flesh in the film; something else, I hope, in the facsimiles). An attentive worker walked along the queue line, exchanging customers books for one that had been pre-signed by Bruce, thereby allowing him to technically sign just one item for each waiting person. I exchanged my book, putting my signed copy in my messenger bag and extracting a glossy print of a portrait I drew of Mr. Campbell as a gift, as well as a photo I printed at home for him to inscribe. In an effort speed things along even more, it was made clear that nothing would be personalized. Bruce would just scribble the few twisted lines that passed as his signature.

I was almost at the signing table, my turn coming just after two sweaty dudes in ill-fitting Evil Dead tank tops reminiscing about every single one of Bruce Campbell's 119 screen credits and a guy in a full Deadpool costume, complete with prop katanas (no, I don't understand the connection either). Finally, I was beckoned forward by a nice young lady who was monitoring the line. She handed Bruce my photo and I approached the signing table. Bruce was seated and, I suppose from that angle he isn't quite the imposing figure he renders on the silver screen. He wore a blue, subtly-flowered shirt. His usually coiffed hair was cut close, accentuating his graying temples. He fiddled with a rainbow selection of Sharpies as I handed him my drawing. "This is for you.," I announced. Bruce took my artwork, raised it to eye level and, with a slight sneer, handed it off to an assistant, with the instruction to "add this to the archives." He signed the photo, cautioning me to wait until the gold ink was dry before putting it away. I told him meeting him was a pleasure and I extended my hand. He grasped my hand with one of his large, perspiring paws and gave it a good, strong, vigorous shake — sending me on my way. It was very obvious that Bruce had done this before and he had the process down to assembly-line precision. My "brush with greatness" lasted under a minute. 

For Bruce, it was just another day at the S-Mart.

*Bruce Campbell's book titles are puns that allude to the actor's prominent mandible.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

up, up and away

Here we are in the final weeks of summer. Families are taking vacations before the kids have to return to school. Some will take quick jaunts to a nearby beach or lake resort, while others plan more elaborate trips to one of the many theme parks spread across the United States. I am reminded of my first vacation without my parents. In 1980, a year after my graduation from high school, some friends and I decided to scrimp and save to afford a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. We were beside ourselves with excitement as the summer date approached. When we actually boarded the plane (my first plane trip), we were ecstatic. When we landed in the magical land called "Florida," we were like uncaged animals, ready to explore and, most likely, wreak as much havoc as we were able.
I wrote this story nearly ten years ago about a trip that happened nearly three decades earlier, but it certainly could have happened last week — or on any trip to any family vacation destination that involves rides, souvenirs and ungrateful children. That pretty much covers everywhere.
Just prior to turning nineteen, I went to Walt Disney World with three of my friends. This was my first vacation without my parents. I told about this trip in a previous blog post. My first day in Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom was great. After spending a fun but exhausting day, my friends and I headed back to our hotel. Somnolent, we slogged the length of the sparsely-lit Main Street USA towards the Monorail that would take us to the parking lot. Just before we exited, I purchased a Mickey Mouse-head balloon for fifty cents (remember, this was 1980). There I was, eighteen-years old, springing toward the Monorail with a balloon string in my fist and a wide grin across my face. 

We waited on the platform, in the thick and shifting throng, for the next Monorail to arrive. The sleek transport snaked into the station. It came to a silent stop and the hydraulic doors opened with a hiss. The individual cabins were fitted with futuristic bench seats, upholstered in undentable teal plastic. They were not unlike the back seat of my father's 1968 Dodge Dart. They seated approximately ten passengers. My friends, my balloon and I chose an empty cabin and slid across the seat to accommodate everyone. A young couple and their son joined our cabin and occupied the bench seat opposite us. The boy was about nine or ten and he had a balloon, too. The balloon looked more age appropriate for him than it did me. 

The doors to the Monorail shushed back into place and we began moving. I sat, holding my balloon and smiled at the young boy across from me as he held his balloon. Suddenly, without warning, his balloon burst. BANG! It hadn't touched anything. It hadn't bumped the low ceiling. It just spontaneously burst — BANG! We were all startled, but even more so, when the boy, just as spontaneously, erupted into a spewing fountain of inconsolable cries and tears. His parents tried unsuccessfully to comfort him. Instantly, I spoke up and offered my balloon to the boy. "Here," I said, "you can have mine." His parents looked at me with expressions of relief and gratitude as I relinquished my balloon. His mom wrapped one arm around the boy's shoulders and gestured to me with her other arm — her hand palm up and extended in my direction. "What do you say to the nice man?," she prompted her son. The boy looked up at the balloon. Then, he looked at me with no expression on his small face. 

"I wanted a red one.," he said.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

now our children grow up prisoners, all their life, radio listeners

There are moments in the life of every parent that stand out as "proud moments." Seeing your child take his first steps. Hearing your child say his first words. First day of school, stellar report cards, praise from teachers, graduation. Then there's Bar or Bat Mitzvah or whatever is the non-Jewish equivalent (confirmation? baptism? coronation? I don't know...). The list goes on with parents beaming with each subsequent accomplishment. This past weekend, Mrs. Pincus and I witnessed an event that made us the proudest we have ever been.

Our son's first "Meet and Greet."

My son E. always expressed an interest in music. As soon as he could talk, he was rattling off the lyrics to Grateful Dead songs, thanks to numerous car rides with his mother. ("Tennessee Jed" was a favorite.) He loved listening to the Beatles and other "classic rock" mainstays, in addition to the eclectic influence of my musical tastes. I introduced my boy to such indie hidden gems as Stan Ridgway (former lead singer of noir new wavers Wall of Voodoo), Michael Penn, Moxy Fruvous and even guitar slingers Dinosaur Jr. and nouveau-ska purveyors The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. While other kids his age were bored by the likes of Raffi, E. was grooving to Garbage and Liz Phair.

As he got older, he made mixtapes (well... CDs anyway) to distribute to and enlighten his contemporaries. He tried to steer his peer group away from the shallowness of Britney Spears and The Spice Girls, exposing them to whatever new finds he discovered on radio stations in the uncharted far left of the dial. And one of those stations was Philadelphia's WXPN.

When E. was winding down his time in high school, he applied for an internship at his beloved WXPN and, all on his own, was accepted. He was slowly introduced to the ins-and-outs of a radio station. He did a lot of administrative tasks, like logging daily playlists and other related data. He gladly fetched refreshments for visiting bands who stopped by for interviews. (He picked up lunch for alt-rockers Guster and learned that indie guitarist KT Tunstall likes her tea strong.) At the same time, E. began another internship with local legend Gene Shay, long-time host of a folk music show on WXPN on Sunday nights. On Gene's show, E. learned how to set up a studio for live performances, how to program music and other technical aspects of the radio business with which I am unfamiliar. 

When E. entered college, he continued his time at WXPN. He became more adept at "running the board," a term for radio production that I won't pretend I understand. He also began hosting his own weekly time slot on the station's internet-only experiment. Here, he was able to hone his on-air skills and personality, as well as select the songs that he played. After a while, he got a couple of "fill-in" shots on the main airwaves while regular DJs were on vacation. After a series of ups-and-downs and shifting-arounds among station personnel, E. was hired as a full-time DJ/producer by WXPN. He was assigned several weekday evening shifts and two weekends slots, including a three-hour stretch on Saturday afternoons where the playlist consists entirely of listener requests. With the help of a volunteer who answers the phone, E. deftly assembles and whittles down five hours worth of musical suggestions (delivered via Facebook, Twitter, email and the aforementioned telephone) into a coherent, sometimes (purposely) jarring, playlist — all on-the-fly, live in the studio. I had the pleasure of answering the phones on two occasions and it was a spectacle watching him work... and don't be fooled, it was indeed work.

With tongue firmly planted in his cheek, E. identifies himself as a minor local celebrity. Sure, there are other DJs on WXPN that are more recognizable, but E. does have a following. Social media, especially Instagram, has allowed listeners to know what E. looks like, making him more visible than DJs of my youth. (Instagram has also allowed folks to know what his cat looks like as well.) I have been with E. at concerts and witnessed people approach him to say how much they like his show. As his father, it sure was a kick.

Nicole Atkins' John Hancock
Last weekend was the culmination of years of pride brought on by my son. Friday afternoon kicked off the annual WXPN XPoNential Music Festival, a sprawling entertainment-packed, three-day event entering its 23rd year. The festival features an unusual blend (just like the station itself) of music from a wide variety of genres. Famous names and up-and-comers are equally represented. Past festivals have spotlighted heavyweights like Bob Dylan, Beck and Emmylou Harris, indie favorites like Wilco, Dawes and Father John Misty (who offered a now-notorious set in 2016), and lesser-known, but equally as talented upstarts like J.D. McPherson, Man Man, Low Cut Connie and Diane Coffee. WXPN, a commercial-free, member-supported station, offers an array of perks to its members that attend the weekend event. In addition to discounted admission and free soft drinks throughout the festival's duration, members are treated to special "meet and greet" encounters with some of the performers. Either before of after their set, a selection of bands and singers seat themselves at a table in the designated, roped-off "members only" area for a little face time with their adoring fans. It has become a fun little bonus and I have taken advantage of the offer on a number of occasions over the years. (I met Aimee Mann, Nicole Atkins and even Kevin Bacon on different occasions.)

At the top of the list.
This year, WXPN decided to allow listeners to meet the faces behind those familiar voices they hear coming from their radios. Interspersed throughout the band "meet and greets," a selection of DJs would be spending a little quality time with their fans... and, yes, there are fans. On Saturday afternoon, the schedule was posted at the Meet & Greet tent in the WXPN Members Only area and the first ones listed were popular DJ Robert Drake, he of local "Land of the Lost" fame (a monthly radio marathon of new wave hits from the 80s) and my boy E. Actually, E. informed my wife and I about his meet and greet earlier, specifically telling me to "not to make a big deal."  But, a father's job is to make a big deal! So, we made sure we were front and center at the designated time. I actually went to make sure that Mrs. Pincus and I weren't the only ones in line. And as long as I was there, I made sure that our last name was spelled correctly on the whiteboard. (It was.) At 1 PM, E. and Robert took their places behind a long table stocked with an ample supply of Sharpie markers and — sure enough — there was a good amount of folks already in line. The festival volunteers (many of whom we know) kept the queue moving along and distributed mini festival posters for the DJs to sign as souvenirs. Mrs. P and I could hardly contain ourselves as we observed our son extend his hand and offer a friendly smile to listeners and fans. We were thrilled as we watched him sign the posters and talk about his show and the station in general. My wife and I even got autographs. He inscribed "Have a nice summer" on a poster for me and he signed the back of a stock dividend check for my wife. (We had just received it the day before. It was from a stock that E. got as a gift when he was born. The total amount was 32 cents.) Mrs. P and I proceeded out of the tent, but hung around a bit longer to watch E. be E.

Wristbands, my man.
On the final day of the festival, E. tracked me down in our usual spot at the top of the natural amphitheater where the XPoNential Music Festival is held. He convinced me to watch the next band, the raucous Sweet Spirit, from a front row vantage point. I obliged and we headed down to the stage. We stood and chatted while we waited for Sweet Spirit's set to begin. A few people around us came up to E. and said "Hello" and "Love your show!," while others pointed E. out to their friends and whispered his name in hushed tones.

During the performance, I raised my cellphone to snap a "selfie" to chronicle another in a series of concerts my boy and I attended together. He snidely asked, "Oh, so you're one of those people now?" I can't possibly express how proud I am of him. He, on the other hand, has no problem expressing his feelings.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

I'm going off the rails on a crazy train

I have a "love-hate" relationship with SEPTA, the entity that provides and operates public transportation in the Philadelphia and suburban area. It is one of only two transit authorities in the United States that operates all five major forms of land transportation (buses, trains [regional rail], subway and elevated trains, trolleys and trolleybuses). SEPTA, an acronym for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority, does none of them well.

I have been a regular commuter on the SEPTA regional rail for over ten years. Sure, it's a pleasure not to have to drive to work and fight traffic, especially in bad weather (which Philadelphia gets a lot of). But. in those ten plus years, SEPTA has exhibited some of the most consistently worst service I have ever seen from a consumer-oriented company. My morning train — the one I take to work at the same time every morning — has never ever been on time. Ever. A SEPTA representative, who was handing out some public relations material one morning at the train station near my house, told me that "railroad standard" allows trains to be within six minutes of the scheduled time and still be considered "on time." I scrunched up my face and replied, "First - the standard is determined by the industry itself? Then why bother to make a precise schedule if the listed times are, in reality by your own admission, approximate times. Second - if the medical profession worked that way, a doctor could remove your kidney, but, since it's within the area of the appendix, it's still considered a successful procedure." The SEPTA guy laughed, shrugged his shoulders and handed me a pamphlet.

The staff on the trains are pretty rude also. They rarely announce upcoming stations. They snap at commuters with questions. They are the furthest thing from courteous. And they never apologize for the train being late, or crowded, or hot (in summer, when the air conditioning fails), or cold (in winter when the heat fails). My feeling is: they are already at work. What do they care if you're late for work.

So, with poor service, late trains and rude employees, SEPTA feels totally justified in raising fares and not doing a thing to improve themselves.

Yesterday was the clincher. I boarded my train at the train station near my suburban Philadelphia home. It was late, as usual. I found a seat in the last car and sat down. Something on the seat across the aisle caught my peripheral vision. I turned my head and saw a rather large key resting in the center of a seat meant to accommodate three passengers (a "three-seater," as we regular commuters call them). I instantly recognized the key as one used by train conductors to open and close the train doors, as well as operate other functions aboard the train. From my observations, it is an integral piece of equipment in a train conductor's arsenal and one that should be kept close at all times. By this one was alone on a empty seat in a train car conspicuously devoid of all SEPTA personnel. I immediate pulled my phone from my pocket to snap a picture and display it on Instagram for all the world to see. (I regularly chronicle SEPTA's and SEPTA rider's infractions on Instagram, mostly blatant violations of the "Dude, It's Rude" campaign that attempts — and fails — to discourage people from putting their bags, backpacks or briefcases on the empty seat next to them, while offering a gentle reminder that seats are for paying customers.) I quickly focused and got the shot, frantically tapping out a smart-ass caption to accompany the image. I chose to go with: "Is that the key to the entire SEPTA Regional Rail System just, absentmindedly, left on a seat? Ahh, SEPTA, it's a good thing you don't guard our nuclear weapons." Because my social media accounts are linked, my message appeared on Twitter, as well.

Well, SEPTA's social media account (for reasons only known to them) follows my Twitter account (@joshpincus for those of you who dare). Almost immediately, I was contacted via Twitter by one "KW" who was monitoring the SEPTA Twitter this particular morning. This was our exchange:

This little conversation shows SEPTA's sheer laziness and complete lack of customer service. Sure they are confined to 140 characters per message, but they didn't come close to the limit. They barked questions are me, a customer, as though I were responsible for their error. "What train? What car number?" Not a "please" or an "excuse me" or a "would you mind." The train number and car number are two pieces of information that are not easily ascertained by the general public. These numbers are usually posted on the lighted informational boards at the train stations (My station does not have one of these boards.) or on the SEPTA smartphone app. Train numbers are never used by commuters and are the source of confusion when SEPTA uses them in updated schedule and train arrival announcements. My admittedly rude reply ("I don't work for SEPTA") was still met with a pressing and impolite demand for these obscure identifiers. I finally conceded and pulled up the app on my phone to find which train number I was currently riding on.

The train pulled into Suburban Station, my destination for work. I rose to exit the train. A spotted a guy sitting in the seat when I had seen the key. He gathered his belongings (which were disobediently occupying the space next to him) and, in one motion, scooped up the key with his stuff. He palmed the key like a seasoned magician and scooted out into the train aisle just ahead of me. He left the train. He did not appear to be seeking out a SEPTA employee.

Will this guy be opening and closing the doors on tomorrow's commute? I don't know. Will he be making any unscheduled stops based on a whim? I don't know. Will that key be dangling from a chain, RUN-DMC style, the next time I see him on the train? Perhaps.

Do I really care? I do not.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

dinner bell, dinner bell, ding, ding, ding

I love to eat in restaurants. I'm usually not picky about where I eat because my philosophy is: "This won't be my last meal." If I don't like a restaurant, I probably will never go back, but I am happy to give any place a try at least once. Sure, I have my favorites, although one of them is on the other side of the country and an incident with another made me change my entire way of eating. But those are isolated cases. I like several local diners and nearby locations of small chains, as well as several single location eateries.

Recently, my wife and I joined friends at a place with which I was unfamiliar. In the age of the internet, however, that is no longer an issue. A quick Google search will return everything you need to know about an unfamiliar restaurant — location, menu, price range, etc. We met our friends at a place called Harvest. Harvest, it turns out, is one of several restaurants under the auspices of the Pennsylvania-based Dave Magrogan Group (DMG), an up-and-coming hospitality conglomerate in the mold of the mighty, nationwide Darden Brands. DMG introduced an Irish-themed pub called Kildare's in 2003. According to their website, Kildare's is "wildly popular." You tell me....

Harvest (or Harvest Seasonal Grill and Wine Bar, its official name) is Magrogan's entry into the trendy "farm-to-table" style of restaurants. The dining room is dark, with stacked slate walls, dark wood accents, and dimly-lit single-bulb fixtures offering little to no illumination for each table. The menus are single-sheet tomes describing things like "farro and freekah" and other things that make one unsure of their inclusion on a menu. Our waiter, a serious fellow named Erik, asked if we had ever been to Harvest before. I explained that, while we had never been to Harvest, we had, indeed, been to restaurants and were quite familiar with how the procedure goes. With no regard for my comment, Erik launched into what amounted to a minute-long commercial for Harvest. His delivery was scripted and emotionless, as though he had recited these exact same words hundreds of times. Hundreds of times today. He pointed out and highlighted many entrees on the menu as though we were illiterate and then disappeared for a few moments, soon returning to hear our decisions.

Honestly, I don't remember what I ordered. I don't remember if it was good or bad. I don't remember if it needed seasoning, how it was plated, what vegetables, if any, were served alongside my main course... whatever it was. I do remember, however that it was overpriced. I am a vegetarian and something called a "steamed ancient grain bowl," devoid of meat, rang in at $18.00. No meat and more than the cost of the menu's cheapest hamburger. Was the meal bad? I don't think so. It just wasn't memorable.

Earlier this week, my wife's brother (her other brother) invited us to dinner at another restaurant I had never heard of. This one, Seasons 52, is one of the Darden roster of eateries, the fine folks who brought you such respected culinary institutions as Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse. Seasons 52 is Darden's foray into the, obviously, lucrative realm of  "farm-to-table." I say "obviously," because Darden wouldn't waste their time if it wasn't profitable and didn't draw the masses. Based on the Italian authenticity of Olive Garden, I assume that no one associated with Seasons 52 ever set foot anywhere near a farm.

I arrived at the restaurant separately from Mrs. P and her brother's family. I found them at a dark table and took an empty seat. As I perused the menu, a feeling of déjà vu swept across my mind. I felt as though I had been here before. Then it occured to me. I had been! Except it was called Harvest. This place was identical to Harvest - the same stacked slate walls, the same dark wood, the same dim lights. I ordered from the menu and — I'll be damned! — I can't remember what I had there either. I don't remember if it was good or bad. I don't remember if it needed seasoning, how it was plated, what vegetables, if any, were served alongside my main course. It was creepy.

When we had all finished our main course, our waitress returned with a burly fellow balancing a knurled wood tray artfully arranged with a selection of shot glass-sized desserts, a new trend in pretentious after-dinner treats. He hovered a small flashlight beam over each one and recited descriptions that were straight off the Food Network. I suggested that if they just turned the lights up higher in the whole place, they wouldn't have to provide a personal spotlight for each dessert. He returned a smile that more closely resembled a sneer. When he turned the tray in my direction, I told him he could wave that light as much as he wished, I was taking a hard pass on dessert.

I am not a fan of corporate chains, although I have eaten at quite a few, mostly in other cities and only for familiarity sake. They come off as phony and geared to make folks who shop at Walmart and watch American Idol think they are dining like folks in high society. Sort of like a restaurant "experience," rather than an actual restaurant.

But, I love theme parks, so... what do I know.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

my melancholy blues

Not Queen.
I loved Queen, the rock band that shook up radio playlists in 1974 with unique instrumentation and elaborate harmonies on their hit Killer Queen, brought opera to the mainstream, followed it up by reviving the rockabilly genre, then made a left toward funk and disco. Not bad for an art student, an astrophysicist, a dental student and an electronics engineer who stumbled into super stardom.

I saw Queen several times when I was in high school, at the height of adoration for the band. In 1977, I caught one of the coveted carnations tossed to the audience by charismatic front man Freddie Mercury during the encore of the band's Philadelphia date on the News of the World tour. I took my soon-to-be wife and my mother (um, those are two separate people) to see what would be Queen's final US tour in 1982. My mom, a long-time Queen fan experiencing her first concert, was brought to emotional tears. My almost-wife, an unwavering Dead Head, was also brought to tears — but for different reasons.

Freddie Mercury had kept his AIDS diagnosis a secret until the day before his passing in 1991. In Spring 1992, a crowd of 72,000 mourning fans packed London's Wembley Stadium for a star-studded show honoring the late singer. It was the last time the surviving members — guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon — would perform together onstage. 

Deacon has since retired from the music business to a very non-public life, however Taylor and May have attempted to rekindle the magic of Queen's halcyon days. With May at the forefront, they recruited one-time Free and Bad Company vocalist Paul Rogers to fill Freddie Mercury's shoes (or ballet slippers, in this case). While Rogers' husky voice is typical "rock & roll," it is hardly in the same ball park as Mercury's five octave range. But that didn't deter Brian May from cashing in on the Queen legacy sans Freddie. He latched on to American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert to take on Freddie's vocal acrobatics, touting the young singer with the cringe-inducing blessing: "Freddie would have approved." (I commented at length on my current feelings for Mr. May nearly three years ago.) Needless to say, as far as I am concerned, there is no longer a band called "Queen," nor will there ever be.

Around the time that Mercury and company were telling the world that they were the champions, Broadway was alight with a show called Beatlemania. This multimedia production, billed as "not the Beatles but an incredible simulation," was a meticulous recreation of musical moments from the illustrious career of the Fab Four. It was an exciting and, for the time, unique undertaking, as well as a treat for those who had never seen the Beatles in concert (which was many, since the Beatles ceased live concerts in 1966). The four members of the cast talked like the Beatles, dressed like the Beatles, moved like the Beatles and, yes, sang like the Beatles. It was spectacular, if not a bit eerie. The production, which ran for over 1000 performances, spawned a new show business phenomena — the tribute band.

When I was younger, my friends and I would frequent any number of dive bars in our area. Besides cheap beer, these places would feature a band offering their interpretations of the hits of the day. In addition, some bands would do an entire set of the songs of one band. There was Witness, who did a Jethro Tull set.  There was the all-girl band Rapture, giving their best approximation of Blondie and, of course, local legends Crystal Ship famous for their Doors show. (Crystal Ship are famously mocked by The Dead Milkmen in the spoken intro of their song "Bitchin' Camaro.") These were just a bunch of guys playing songs by their favorite popular bands. But, more recently, tribute bands are big business. They tour regularly and get themselves booked into larger venues. Some even are officially sanctioned by the band to which they offer tribute. With clever (?) names like The Musical Box (a Genesis tribute), Strutter (a KISS tribute) and The Iron Maidens (an all-female tribute to guess who?) and some not-so-clever names like Australian Pink Floyd and 2U, these bands draw a loyal following of both the tribute and actual band.

Yesterday, my wife called me at work to tell me that her cousins Diahann and Heath (remember them?) were offering us tickets to see a Queen tribute show at The Borgata in Atlantic City. Mrs. P would pick me up near my office after work and we'd drive to the shore for dinner (again, complements of Diahann and Heath) before heading to the show. I did a quick Google search for this particular Queen tribute and discovered an officially endorsed tribute called "The Queen Extravaganza" starring one Marc Martell. The project, produced by Queen drummer Roger Taylor, was described as "much-buzzed-about" and has received much praise. Martell was commended as sounding "as if Freddie (Mercury) was in the room." However, further investigation revealed that the show we would be seeing was not that show. It appears that Mr. Martell has split with the official version, and taken his own rogue band in a similar direction, calling themselves "The Ultimate Queen Celebration." Ultimate, indeed.

After dinner, we entered the sparsely-populated venue a few minutes before showtime and were ushered to our eighth row seats. Mrs. P and I glanced around the room and assessed that the majority of the crowd had at least ten years on us... or perhaps they had all just led hard lives. Soon the lights dimmed and stage smoke enveloped the racked guitars and drum kit. In the dark, a man in our row screamed at the top of his nicotine-roughened voice: "Freddie's in the house!" Mrs. P and I exchanged surprised looks and Mrs. P whispered, "These people think they're at a Queen concert." On second thought, she may not have said "people." She may have said "idiots." Other folks were screaming wildly, bopping their heads and throwing up the "devil horns" (The same ones that KISS's Gene Simmons wants to trademark). The band members emerged from the violet-lit smoke, strapped on their instruments and launched into "Tie Your Mother Down," the lead-off track from Queen's 1976 effort A Day at the Races. Marc Martell, the alleged second coming of Freddie Mercury, stepped to the front of the stage and belted out the song's opening lines: 
"Get your party gown
Get your pigtail down
Get your heart beatin' baby" 
Was he good? He was okay. Was he Freddie Mercury? Not. Even. Close. Bud.

They were a cover band. A band doing other band's songs. Mr. Martell was making a half-hearted attempt at imitating some of Freddie Mercury's signature stage moves, while incorporating some of his own gestures. (Having seen the real Queen, I am very familiar with Freddie's faux ballet, stiff-finger punches in the air and microphone balancing.) The band was average, with the lead guitarist copying Brian May's well-known solos, but not his expression. Actually, he looked as though he had better things to do.

They delivered song after song, feigning excitement with each one. I physically winced at the opening strains of Sheer Heart Attack's "Now I'm Here," one of my favorite songs in the Queen canon. 

Not Queen.
Each new number — "Killer Queen," "Save Me," "Love of My Life," "Play the Game" — merely served as a sad reminder of how good Queen was. I silently reminisced about how much I once loved this band and how I still smile when I hear one of their hits and what welcome shot of nostalgia to hear one of their more obscure songs. But, by Queen — not a cover band. Freddie Mercury oozed a certain amount of arrogance and pomposity, but it was earned. He was beloved by fans worldwide. When he greeted a local audience with "Hello Filthy-delphia! How are you motherfuckers?," it was received with reverence and esteem — especially when it was intoned with his upper-crust British accent. When Marc Martell, with the tiniest bit of smugness, shouted: "How are we, New Jersey?," it was met with a smattering of light applause. This was Queen karaoke by some guys playing rock & roll dress-up.

After a while, I was embarrassed. For the band and for the audience.

I don't know what would have made it better. Would I have appreciated it more if it was closer to Beatlemania, with the band members actually dressing like and imitating the members of Queen? I really don't know. I think that would have made it too close to the stage show We Will Rock You, the Ben Elton-penned Queen musical in the Mamma Mia vein. My son and I saw this ill-conceived debacle in Las Vegas and I hated it. I mean I really hated it. So, I don't know.

Was "The Ultimate Queen Celebration." an interesting evening? Oh sure. Hey, I got a blog post out of it. It also made me want to listen to my old Queen albums — something I haven't done in, literally, years.

The band wasn't bad. The performance wasn't horrible. But, most importantly, it wasn't Queen.

This is:

Look, Diahann, I didn't even mention the pretzels.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

promises, promises

"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in." 
— Michael Corleone, Godfather III

I know. I know. I know. I said my last post about Movie Tavern would be my last post about Movie Tavern. Actually, I think I said that every time I've written about Movie Tavern. (Counting this post, that makes a total of five.) But, this one, I swear will be my last. Promise.

click image to enlarge
Back in May, my wife and I went back to Movie Tavern to afford them one last chance for redemption. They failed. The vicious circle began... again. We complained. They compensated, this time with complementary admission and thirty dollars in food vouchers. Were we dumb enough to fall for this again? You betcha.

Mrs. P received a fat little envelope stuffed with a letter of apology accompanying the free tickets and food coupons. We stuck the envelope on our refrigerator with a magnet and nearly forgot about it, until just this week. "Hey, I wonder if there is an expiration date on those Movie Tavern vouchers?," I inquired aloud to my wife. She shrugged her shoulders, so I checked. Sure enough, they did expire... at the end of July. With our free time in short supply, we decided to use them just this week. Y'know, to get it over with. We didn't even care what film we saw, as long as we wouldn't have to return to Movie Tavern after this last trip.

Rob, the General Manager at the local Movie Tavern, asked my wife to email him before we come, so he could arrange for seats and we could skip the box office. He also said if there are any problems this time, we should ask for "Matthew" or "Wanda" at the theater. When we arrived, we had to go to the box office anyway to get our tickets. We explained our exchange with Rob. The nice gentleman at the box office had no idea what we were talking about. No one had informed him of our arrival, of our "make up visit," of anything. (This was off to a fine start.) The fellow at the ticket window called for a manager for help. A young man, who was neither Matthew nor Wanda, arrived. He, too, knew nothing about our arrangement, however, he did give us tickets when we surrendered the passes Rob had mailed to us.

When seating was announced for our theater, we entered the auditorium, found our pre-selected seats and began to peruse the menu. I have never had a complaint about the food at Movie Tavern. It's always good and plentiful and filling. They have changed their menu considerably since our last visit, so we took our time weighing our meal options. There were several non-meat offerings, including a reformulated black bean burger, which I decided upon. My wife chose their new traditional pizza that replaced the flatbread option from the previous menu. Soon, a waiter appeared to take our order. After we gave him our meal selections, he asked for a credit card to create a "tab." I produced the three $10 food vouchers that we received from General Manager Rob and handed them over. Then, I gave my credit card for any overage that the vouchers didn't cover. As the waiter walked away, I joked to Mrs. P: "You know, when our check comes, it's gonna be for the full amount and he will have forgotten about those vouchers I just handed to him." We laughed. My wife added, "If that happens, I am not complaining about it. I don't want more free passes and have to come back here again!"

Our appetizer and main course came during the movie. We ate and everything was fine. We were both enjoying the movie — Edgar Wright's action-comedy Baby Driver, reminiscent of Pulp Fiction-era Tarantino, but done much better — when the check arrived. The waiter leaned in and whispered, "I was only allowed to apply two vouchers to your bill."

Oh, Movie Tavern, Movie Tavern, Movie Tavern. When will you get your shit together?

He asked if we'd like to talk to a manager. I told him "yes," but that I'd also like to watch the movie! In the darkened theater, I could see that he nodded. He continued down our row, dropping checks on the trays of other audience members, A few minutes later, he returned. He placed his hand on the faux leather portfolio and asked if our check was ready to be paid. "No," I said, in an annoyed whisper, "I'd like to talk to a manager... and I'd also like to watch the movie!"

Finally, the movie ended, the lights came on and our waiter asked if we'd still like to speak with a manager. "Yes," I answered, as I unfolded the apology letter from my pocket, "Is Rob here?" He told us that Rob was not there this evening. "How about Matthew or Wanda?," I continued. "Oh yeah," he said, "I'll get 'im." Soon, a fellow in a Movie Tavern polo shirt entered the theater.

"Can I help you folks?," he asked with a friendly smile. My wife questioned, "I guess you're not 'Wanda'." "Actually, I'm 'Wanza'," he said as he pointed to his name badge which read "Wanza." Mrs. P and I both swallowed hard, but Wanza didn't seem to be bothered. I was ready for an argument, raising my voice and reading Rob's letter — but I didn't have to do any of that. Wanza announced, "We usually don't accept more than two vouchers, but since Rob said it was okay, it's okay with me. Give me a minute and I'll adjust your bill." He returned in a moment and added, "There was a balance of $1.30, but forget it. I'll cover it. No sense charging your credit card such a small amount. I just want to make this right." We thanked him sincerely. As we left the theater, he thanked us again and said, "I hope you'll come back again."

He was the first Movie Theater employee who truly expressed a feeling of pride and caring for the company he represents. He was really concerned about us, the customer.

Unfortunately, Wanza, we will never see you again.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

darkness falls upon the land

I've made no secret about my love for all — well, most — things Disney. Ever since my first trip to Walt Disney World, as a rambunctious, alcohol-sodden teenager in 1980, I was hooked. A few years later, my wife and I spent our honeymoon in the central Florida theme park. After my son was born, summers often included a family road trip, traversing I-95 down the eastern seaboard, with The Magic Kingdom et al as our destination. We took nearly a dozen trips to Walt Disney World before we would breach the next level.

A dozen or so years ago, my wife's brother got married in Las Vegas. My wife joined a few members of her family in Sin City for the ceremony. My son, E., who was still in the throes of high school, and I stayed in Philadelphia. But, thanks to the internet, we were able to watch the festivities via a webcam positioned in a corner of the chapel. It offered a panoramic view of the entire wedding and, via cellphone, my son and I spoke to the little, pixelated Mrs. Pincus on our computer screen. It was as though we were there. In a few days, when she returned to Philadelphia, Mrs. P gushed about Las Vegas. It was her first visit to the gambling mecca. She told us about the grandiose buildings, the gaudy casinos, the blazing sun (even though it was October), and her family's outrageous behavior — but that could happen anywhere. I had never been to Vegas. Actually, I had never been anywhere further west than West Philadelphia (born and raised). We toyed with the idea of a trip there ourselves, when E. had finished school for the year,

Our dreams became a reality. A reality with a bonus. We decided to fly to Las Vegas, spend a few days, then rent a car and drive to Disneyland. It would be everything we loved about vacations. Glittery casinos, spectacular shows, endless buffets, a lengthy road trip and a Disney theme park as the pièce de résistance. It was great. After three days in Vegas, we drove through the Mojave Desert until we arrived in Anaheim. As we crept down Harbor Boulevard, we could see Space Mountain just beyond the sidewalk and the Tower of Terror loomed large a short distance ahead. We felt our collective excitement build.

Our first day in Disneyland's Magic Kingdom was.... well.... magical. We honestly anticipated disappointment. Tiny Disneyland would pale in comparison to its massive Floridian counterpart. Or so we thought. Disneyland proved to be warm and welcoming and quaint and nostalgic. It came off as the embodiment of Walt Disney's original dream. Florida's Walt Disney World, while a wonderful place, is a big, sprawling, commercial destination with tourists in mind. Disneyland is a small, beautifully-themed retreat for the citizens of Southern California. A place where local residents can wake up on a Saturday morning with no plans and say, "Hey! Let's go to Disneyland today!" You would never try that in Walt Disney World. A visit to Walt Disney World requires weeks of planning and coordination. It's like plotting a military operative. There is a noticeable difference between the two parks and it's more than just being on opposite sides of the country.

Mrs. P and E. in their Bats Day finest.
Months before our trip, my son began corresponding with a group of "artisans" based in Long Beach, California. This group, "The Cult of the Eye," is the self-proclaimed "America's favorite secret society." They are a fun-loving club, expressing their affinity for kitsch through their preference of music, movies and other entertainment. Through his association with the "Culties," E. was made aware of an annual, yet unofficial, event called "Bats Day in the Fun Park." Bats Day began as a prearranged meet-up at Disneyland of patrons from two of Los Angeles' prominent goth clubs. They decided on the weekend before Labor Day, when blackout dates on their Disneyland Annual Passes had not yet gone into effect. Attendees showed up in full goth regalia — black leather jackets, corsets, fishnets, tophats, canes, fingerless gloves, pale makeup with coal-black accents. That first year the group was comprised of about 80 people. The next year, it doubled and the next year, it doubled again.

On our first day in Disneyland, my son coincidentally wore a commemorative Bats Day t-shirt that he had purchased through the event's website. A cashier in one of the many gift shops noticed E.'s shirt and asked if he would be coming to this year's Bats Day. "I don't know? When is it?," E. asked. "I think it's this weekend.," she replied. E.'s eyes lit up and he was shot with a bolt of excitement. What were the chances?

Sure enough, when Sunday rolled around, the entrance to Disneyland was a swarming knot of hundreds of black-clad goths of all ages. There were teens in tight black jeans and skull-adorned t-shirts. There were satin corseted Moms herding their child goths into some sort of semblance and tattoo-covered Dads pushing strollers with baby goths in Bauhaus onesies. They were everywhere, It was a spectacle. E. even met up with his Cult of the Eye pals and disappeared into the park until we met up with him hours later at the Haunted Mansion. At 8 PM, we would discover, was the Bats Day tradition where all event attendees would queue-up and ride the venerable Disney attraction  — an obvious favorite of the goth community — en masse. An arrangement was made (by Noah, the uncharacteristically-cheerful, diminutive mastermind with a wildly teased purple Mohawk sprouting from his semi-shorn scalp, who is the founder and organizer of Bats Day) to allow groups of 25 riders to pose on the Mansion's front steps for a quick photo-op before entering the infamous "stretching room" and all that follows. Mrs. P and I managed to place ourselves in the back row of one group, while E. joined his Cultie friends in his own photo. As the night wound to a close, we were already making plans to return the next year. And this time we would be prepared.

The following summer, we came equipped with our Bats Day outfits. We each chose appropriate attire that was more akin to Hallowe'en costumes, although the majority of Bats Day participants dress like that all year 'round. I selected all black clothing, while Mrs. P acquired a skirt embellished with spider webs and a black lacy shawl that resembled spider webs as well. Mrs. P also stocked up on Bats Day "accoutrements," like skull-shaped candies, eyeball lollipops and little plastic bat rings which we planned to pass out among the many goths we would encounter. When the big day arrived, my family and I, along with just over a thousand leather-and-velvet-clad men, women and children (as well as a few undefined affiliations) descended upon the "Happiest Place on Earth," for a day filled with good-hearted mayhem. We mixed and mingled among the surprisingly friendly and welcoming crowd. There was a true sense of community among these folks, despite the odd looks — and even some jeers — from uninformed guests who were just out for a day at Disneyland. Personally, I couldn't decide which scenario made this event more fun. Was it the fact that a bunch of goths had taken over the world-renowned, family-friendly Disneyland... or the reaction of the other guests seeing a bunch of goths had taken over the world-renowned, family-friendly Disneyland? It was a toss-up.
click to enlarge                             photo  © 2007 Bats Day in the Fun Park 
We have been back to a few subsequent Bats Day celebrations. However, in 2009, the event was moved to the first weekend in May. It seems that a large number of attendees were uncomfortable in the late August heat and preferred the more temperate clime of early spring. After all, leather and velvet (especially tightly bound corsets) are not very forgiving when the thermometer registers 80+ degrees.

Mrs. P and I have often kicked around the idea of a return visit to Bats Day. We have taken different sorts of vacations since our last trip to Southern California, mostly casino-related based on my wife's (former) fondness for gambling*. But, the idea is not out of the question. There are a few restaurants I'd like to try in Los Angeles (including a vegan joint operated by former Bats Day staple "Doomie") and there are many west coast cemeteries that I have yet to explore.

So, another Bats Day?  Perhaps one day.

*more on that on a future It's Been a Slice post

Sunday, June 25, 2017

baby elephant walk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She deleted it.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

tell it like it is

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

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

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

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

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

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

And complain they shall.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

all the little birdies go tweet tweet tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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