When I created the "Josh Pincus is Crying" character over a decade ago, I did my very best to maintain the illusion of the outspoken, opinionated, little red-headed stepchild that lives inside of all of us. I decided that rascally persona would remain online and online only, presenting my twisted illustrations, my somewhat dark sense of humor and my cranky demeanor as a goofy magnified version of the real me. I was able to keep the online "Josh" separate from the real-life "Josh" for quite some time.
Between Twitter and Instagram and, more recently, Facebook, I gained followers from all across the country and even across the world. Soon, I started to let small bits of my real life trickle into the online version of me, I infrequently posted photos of myself (previously a big no-no), although I tried to obscure my face, only allowing my "trademark" red hair to identify me. Sure, there are plenty of people who knew me in my pre-Josh Pincus days, but the more personal information I let slip out on my blogs (the one you're reading and my illustration blog), the more my two lives were brought together, making me more recognizable to those who only know me as that red-haired smart-ass who complains about everything and draws dead people.
Still only a handful of people who know the online Josh have met the real Josh. The first was voice actress April Winchell. Among her many talents, April briefly ran a website called Regretsy.com (now defunct), a hilarious dig at the artsy etsy.com. April relentlessly scanned the numerous entries on etsy.com, seeking out (and making fun of) the cream of the crap. I was a frequent commentor on Regretsy.com, regularly acknowledged by Miss Winchell. One year into the website's run, April published a book based on the Regretsy site, presenting the "best of the worst" that etsy.com had to offer. She went on a limited book tour that brought the transplanted Californian back to her native New York. My family and I attended the book-signing event and when I approached the table to get my book inscribed, I sheepishly (well, actually boisterously) revealed myself as "Josh Pincus." April lit up and afforded me a warm hug. We have remained in touch, albeit infrequently.
Mrs. Pincus and I just returned from our sixth cruise. That's right — sixth! I realize that I have become the person that I made fun of on our first cruise. We had a great time, but, to tell you the truth, all cruises are the same. Our experience has been nearly identical on each sailing. Sure, the faces change and the entertainment may be slightly different, but the overall experience is the same. That's not a bad thing. It's enjoyable, fun and relaxing, it's just the "cruise experience."
A few weeks prior to our departure date, Mrs. Pincus joined a Facebook group specifically for our cruise. She began interacting with various members of the group and soon, she was referring to "Marilyn this" and "Richard that" and "George said this." "Who are these people?," I asked. She explained that I would meet them all on our upcoming cruise. After a week or so, I felt like I was going on this cruise with my wife and a bunch of her friends. One evening, my wife was telling me about a member of the Facebook group who blogs about cruises and mentioned that she has a child with severe food allergies. I paused and, out of nowhere, I asked, "Does she live in Toronto?" Mrs. P shot me a look of confusion. "I don't know. I'll check.," she replied. A quick scan of Facebook yielded an affirmative answer. This woman did indeed reside in Toronto. It turns out that we have been following each other on Twitter for years! I write regularly about my past adventures in Disney theme parks. She contributes to a blog that asked to use one of my illustrations. Since our initial connection, I have been sending her links to my Disney-centric blog posts. Over the years, we discovered that, among other things, our children both saw their first baseball games at Toronto's SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre). And, of course, I have made playful fun of Canada at her expense... but I make fun of everything. I shot her a quick private Twitter message to let her know that — ta daa! — we would be on the same cruise.
A meet and greet gathering was scheduled for the Facebook group for the first full day at sea. On that morning, Mrs. P and I headed to the ship's buffet, what would be the first of many, many visits during our week at sea. We called for an elevator and when the doors opened, there was already a passenger inside. The woman looked at Mrs. Pincus and exclaimed, "You're Susan!" By strange chance, it was Hiromi, my Twitter pal. We all laughed and embraced. An hour or so later, we formally met at the meet and greet, along with many other members of the Facebook group. I had to explain to Hiromi that "Josh Pincus" is a pseudonym, but she took to calling me by my real name almost instantly. Later in the week, we had a lovely dinner with her, her husband and son. (Hiromi has a teenage daughter that we met for a fleeting moment, as she spent the week off doing "teenager-y" things, sans parents.) Mrs. Pincus, the nicest person in the world, prepared little gift bags for Hiromi's children. We were sailing over Hallowe'en and she didn't want them to miss out.
On the evening of the day Mrs. P and I arrived home, I went to a concert with my son, my brother and a few friends. Before the show, I was telling my brother about the Twitter-Hiromi-Cruise internet triangle, and how my "online" life was slowly crossing paths with my "real" life. Our conversation was interrupted by a young woman who walked past me and cheerfully said, "Hi, Mr. Pincus!" I cocked my head and tried to place her. She said she follows me on Twitter and we had met earlier in the year at an outdoor music festival. My brother, surprisingly impressed, shook his head and laughed. "Boy," he observed, "you are quite the celebrity."
After the show, singer Nicole Atkins was busily attending to her merchandise. Nicole, a stellar performer with a magnificent voice, is friends with my son. My pal Steve approached her merch table to purchase an album and he asked me if Nicole knew me. I said, while we have met, it was some time ago. I would probably have to explain who I am. As we drew nearer to the table, Nicole looked up, gave a little wave and, with a smile, said, "Hi, E.'s dad."
Okay, now, it's getting weird.