Sunday, April 15, 2018

I've been driving all night, hands wet on the wheel

I hate to drive. I always have. It's a chore and a hassle and I just don't like it. My wife, however, loves to drive. So, you might say we have a marriage made in Detroit.... or something like that. (We both drive Japanese cars, but, for the sake of a joke, you know what I mean.)

I drove to every job I ever had and hated every gut-wrenching, white-knuckled minute of it. I hated driving in bad weather, especially when it snowed. I am not a particularly good driver (oh, I'll admit it) and sometimes I have difficulty navigating slick and snow-covered streets. I am also fearful of other drivers who don't change their reckless driving habits to suit the weather conditions. 

In 2007, I started a job that allowed me to take the train everyday. That was great. My car sat in the same parking space nearly six days per week, while I sauntered, carefree, to the train station that is conveniently located at the end of my street. Even on weekends or evening events, I would opt to take the train when my destination was downtown Philadelphia (which it often was). Sure, I had my share of complaints about my daily train commute — passengers putting their bangs on the empty seat next to them, despite posted policy comes to mind — but, compared to driving.... well, there was no comparison.

Now, eleven years later, I find myself back in the fast lane. Sort of. I started a new job and I no longer will be taking the train to work. I drive. Luckily, my work hours allow me to leave my house and drive in the direction where I can see a huge majority of drivers from Philadelphia's northern suburbs inching their way towards the city. The traffic in the opposing lanes moves at a snail's pace as I happily zip along on the wide open macadam. I get to hear the morning show on my favorite radio station and it's pretty smooth sailing for the approximately forty-minute drive.

But, all things in this world are not perfect. Several times during the last two weeks, I have encountered a traffic stoppage due to a train crossing (how ironic!) and several drivers who were more interested in their cellphones than paying attention to the other cars on the road. I was behind a fellow on a single lane road who nearly hit the curb twice and crossed the double yellow line three times as he leaned over towards the passenger seat in his car, his head only popping up when he needed to make a quick steering adjustment. I was delayed this evening by an accident and a number of cars not wishing to yield to an approaching ambulance.

Perhaps, I will get used to being a regular driver again. Now that I think about it, I suppose it's people I have to get used to.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

the way things are going, they're gonna crucify me

Well, I'm certainly not gonna make any friends with this particular blog post. I may even lose some regular readers. But before I get into the gist of this post, I wish to justify my narrative with something of a disclaimer.

On December 8, 1980, I was with my friend Sam at a Bruce Springsteen concert at the storied Spectrum, the self-proclaimed "America's Showplace," in Philadelphia. We were rocking and punching our fists to the sky in unison with our fellow Springsteen fans as "The Boss" poured his rock-and-roll heart out in a balls-to-the-wall rendition of Mitch Ryder's "Devil With a Blue Dress." Those in attendance that night were totally unaware that one hundred miles up the New Jersey Turnpike, John Lennon, the impish and sardonic Beatle, was being shot to death outside his apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. When the concert was over, Sam and I popped an 8-track tape of Springsteen tunes into the player that was amateurishly-installed under the dashboard console of my Mom's '72 Plymouth Fury. We headed to a diner for a late-night snack. I didn't find out the dreadful news until I arrived home and my parents were still awake. They greeted me at the front door and broke it to me in much the same way Howard Cosell broke it to America during Monday Night Football. I heard my parents' report through concert-weary ears. I shuffled up the stairs to bed. I had just started art school a month or so earlier and had to wake up by 6 a.m. to catch a bus. The next morning, I awoke with only a vague memory of the conversation with my parents. As part of my regular routine, I bought a newspaper to read on my long commute to school. The headline screamed "John Lennon Slain." As I sat silently on the bus, reading the accompanying story, I could feel tears rolling down my cheeks. I didn't even wipe them away. I just continued reading the account of the events outside the grand Dakota the previous evening. I glanced around the bus a few times. I wasn't the only one who was crying. I grew up loving the Beatles and I felt as though a piece of me was taken away.

See, I actually cried when John Lennon died. Remember that. 

However, John Lennon — snide and sarcastic counterpart to perennially sunny band mate and collaborator Paul McCartney — was kind of a dick. Stories of abhorrent incidents have surfaced over the years, some reinforced by the Liverpudlian singer himself. His extremely revealing and sometimes brazen interview in Playboy, just a few months before his life was cut short at 40*, offered a personal insight into the superstar's life — and heretofore furtive past.

Here are some things about John Lennon that you may not know:
  • He admitted to a sexual attraction to his mother.
  • He hated when disabled fans in wheelchairs were placed stage-side during Beatles performances. He was very vocal about how much he disliked this.
  • He cheated on both of his wives.
  • He physically abused both of his wives.
  • John Lennon notoriously hated to be touched. When actress Jayne Mansfield once touched his shoulder at a party, Lennon urinated in her drink and served it to her.
  • The chorus of the Lennon-penned song "Run For Your Life" is autobiographical. (You better run for your life if you can, little girl / Hide your head in the sand little girl / Catch you with another man That's the end, little girl)
  • He insisted that Yoko Ono accompany him everywhere, including band rehearsals and to the bathroom. She protested, but he was adamant.
  • He beat the shit out of an acquaintance for alluding to a homosexual relationship between Lennon and Beatles' openly-gay manager Brian Epstein. (In the fade-out of "Baby, You're a Rich Man," Lennon sings "Baby, you're a rich fag Jew.")
  • Once when his infant son Julian giggled, John told the child, "Your fucking laugh annoys me." He also frequently hit Julian. In the Playboy interview, he bluntly stated the difference between his two sons, Julian and Sean: “Sean was a planned child, and therein lies the difference. I don’t love Julian any less as a child. He’s still my son, whether he came from a bottle of whiskey or because they didn’t have pills in those days. He’s here, he belongs to me, and he always will…Julian and I will have a relationship in the future.” Julian revealed that Paul McCartney was more of a father to him than Lennon.
  • In the beloved song "Imagine," Lennon sings: "Imagine no possessions." Twenty years later, singer Elvis Costello (not such a great guy in his own right) sang: "Was it a millionaire who said 'imagine no possessions'"? Paul McCartney often said that Lennon was a hypocrite.

There you have it. Please feel free to research any of these examples of John Lennon's crass and callous behavior. But while you're Googling my allegations, remember... I cried when John Lennon died.

All I am saying is "Give me a chance."

*The interview took place in September 1980, but was not published until the January 1981 issue.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

preaching and a-cryin', tellin' me I'm lyin' about a job

Once again, much to my shock and surprise, I found myself back on the job market. The last time I had to look for a job was approximately fifteen years ago. The methods for seeking employment had changed considerably since 2003 — and it was a bit daunting. 

First of all — and this was the scariest aspect of the whole procedure — fifteen years ago, I wasn't 56. Looking for a job when you are within ten years of retirement age is tough.  The reality is: the current world of graphic design is a young(er) person's world. And the actual process does not lend itself favorably to those of us with — shall we say — "experience." You see, there is no longer the opportunity to call a prospective employer and set up a face-to-face interview. Hell, you can't even drop by an office and present your resume because that office is on the fortieth floor of an office building and the lobby of that building is patrolled by uniformed guards that won't let you past the reception desk unless you actually know someone up in those lofty heights. Thanks Mohamed Atta, you motherfucker.

So, the preferred avenue at which potential employment is sought is now — ta daa! — the internet. Yep, websites like Monster and Indeed and Glassdoor and ZipRecruiter and LinkedIn are the way to go. A bunch of impersonal, electronic equivalents of the newspaper want ads or that bulletin board down at the  local supermarket. Every morning (I was still waking up at the same time I did when I was working), I'd diligently check each one of these websites and apply to each and every applicable position — and even a few that were slightly outside of my realm of expertise. I posted a reworked, streamlined version of my Curriculum Vitae, featuring only bulleted lists of my four most recent positions, edited down from a thirty-five year career of graphic design, illustration, publishing, advertising, printing.... I should probably turn this into a bulleted list. Once a job is applied for electronically, the next step is waiting. And waiting. And waiting. You see, there is literally no contact with those nameless, faceless folks who are offering jobs. There is no room for follow-up. There's no "hey, did you get my resume and can we discuss my qualifications?" There's no way of knowing if there even is a job available or if these folks are just testing the waters. Or worse... someting more malevolent.

On the final day of my tenure with my most recent employer, I received an email from one of the many companies to which I electronically sent my resume. The person identified herself as a recruiter from Tesla Motors. I vaguely remember applying for a graphic designer opening offered by an ad on one of the many online job boards. The recruiter, Sarah, invited me to an interview via Google Hangouts, a mode of communication with which I was unfamiliar. I figured it's some new technology that "the kids" use, so I better learn fast, lest I appear out of touch with current technology. Some quick research  and a bit of "trial-and-error" revealed that, once I was logged in to my Google account, I had access to Google Hangouts. I'm pretty savvy with other forms of social media, so I was able to figure out Google Hangouts in no time. I contacted Sarah at the appointed time and we began what looked like a Facebook Messenger session (or the old AOL IM, for those of you closer to my age). I thought it was a bit odd that Sarah was using a "GMail" account and not an official "Tesla Motors" email address, but when the chat turned to real graphic design questions, I changed my focus to the more important subject at hand. I was asked about my past design experience and the interviewer soon posed questions related to logo design and the entire creative process, using terms that were specific to the industry. Next, I was briefly informed that this was a "work-from-home" position and would require me to outfit a home office, then the conversation quickly turned to comfortable salary and benefits. After nearly an hour online, Sarah said she would present a transcript of our conversation to the hiring manager and I should "stand-by." And "stand-by" I did. For twenty minutes... while I was in the train station waiting for a train. (That's right, I participated in this entire interview on my cellphone!) Finally, Sarah returned to our "chat" and told me I had been hired by Tesla Motors. Then, she immediately sent me a lengthy list of everything that I would be required to purchase for my home office, including a Mac Pro and software, a Wacom tablet, a high-resolution flatbed scanner, a color laser printer and sundry other items that amounted to the contents of the average Staples store. I asked if I could have a phone number to speak to someone regarding this rather large purchase and eventual reimbursement. She assured me I would be speaking to someone soon, but failed to supply a phone number of any kind, instead, opting to supplement her list of essential equipment. I waited for a pause in the texts, quickly interjecting that I didn't think this was the job for me. She only replied "Okay" and disconnected from our conversation without inquiring about a reason for my change of heart. I was honestly confused and I second guessed my decision. Did I just turn down a job? But, the more I thought about it, the less sense the whole thing made.

A few weeks later, after sending countless (and I do mean countless!) applications to more employment offers than I can remember, I received an email from one "Michelle Technow," a recruiter from TSC Apparel. TSC was one of the many companies that was advertising for a graphic designer on several of the job-seeking websites. In the email, Michelle indicated that she wished to conduct an interview via Google Hangouts. I immediately became suspicious. Again, she was using a GMail email address instead of one from the company with whom she claimed to be associated. 

This time, I did a little pre-interview investigating. I went to the TSC website. They are indeed a legitimate company that supplies clothing to businesses on a wholesale level. I navigated to the "Careers" page of their website, where I was greeted by this message...
Holy shit! This is unbelievable! I took a screenshot of the message and quickly opened a Google Hangouts window to let Michelle Technow that I was ready to proceed with my interview. And I played dumb.
I waited a minute, then I sent the screen shot to her, along with a question about it.

And, again, I waited for a reply from Michelle Technow.... or whoever the fuck was on the other end of this bogus chat. I got nothing. As a matter of fact, the bright and colorful avatar of her (alleged) face went dim. I noticed that my message failed to send.
What on earth is this bullshit? Have people really sunk this low? Scamming some poor sap who is trying to find a job? Really? Really?? That's on the same level as kicking a puppy or cursing at a baby (and we certainly know that people do that!). Makes me lose my faith in humanity. Wait a second.... I have no faith in humanity. I haven't for a long time.

Anyway, after a long, tedious and very discouraging period of job hunting, I am now, once again, employed.

And I'm staying away from Google Hangouts.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

it's a man's world

I was in Barnes & Noble yesterday, just to kill some time. Every time I go in to Barnes & Noble, I am surprised that it still exists. It's a big, cavernous maze of a building filled with hundreds and hundreds of books. Actual books in a time when most people a.) don't read. b.) if they do read, they read from a Kindle or some other type of electronic, paperless reading device. The fact that Barnes & Noble maintains a physical inventory, as well as trying to compete with the mighty Amazon with an online presence, is just plain baffling. Just ask Borders or B. Dalton about how futile a task that is. This past holiday season once again showed Barnes & Noble a reason to reassess its business model. Their sales were down considerably. In my stroll through the store, I discovered a glaring display that should make Barnes & Noble rethink more than its lagging income. Or perhaps one of its contributing factors. 

In addition to the numerous shelves of books, Barnes & Noble stocks a wide variety of magazines. Usually situated along the longest, continuously straight wall in the place, the magazine section, called "The Newsstand," features familiar titles like People, Rolling Stone, Us, National Geographic and others that still, inexplicably, print an actual copy in these days of immediate online information sources.

I filed past the in-store cafe, its many tables occupied by folks hunched over a keyboard or a cellphone, taking advantage of the free WiFi. The smell of brewed coffee followed me to the wall of magazines. Adjacent to the longest, multi-shelf magazine rack was a display highlighting a special sponsored issue of Time or Life or some other revered publication. Under the large "Newsstand" sign, the rest of the many magazines were grouped in sections identified by smaller signs printed in the branded colors of deep green and cream. "Current Events," was followed by "Family," where copies of Disney Princess sat cheek-by-jowl with Mad. The next section was labeled "Entertainment," where the latest issue of heavy-metal periodical Kerrang! was placed alongside several titles that sported some unidentifiable teens in torn clothes with glitter splashed across their sneering young faces. Laying on a riser in neatly stacked piles were issues of In Touch and Ok!, their colorful covers boasting someone I can only assume was a Kardashian. The next sections were the ones that made me stare in disbelief and then cringe.

The first section was labeled "Womens' Interests." On these tiered shelves was a collection of magazines whose subjects ranged from cooking to knitting to crafts then back to cooking. The covers showed either meticulously-styled beauty shots of fresh-from-the-oven, restaurant-quality entrees or pink and fuzzy, knotted yarn bunnies. There was pack after pack of similarly-photographed covers until it ended at the next section, one designated with a "Mens' Interests" sign. This section was filled with publications sporting muscular men flexing their rippling bodies in various poses, angry-looking guys tightly gripping a basketball alongside covers with malevolent-looking firearms spattered below matter-of-fact mastheads that read "GUNS." I looked around and I was actually the only person in the store looking at magazines. Surprisingly, there were no crowds of women with cooking utensils, wielding pinking shears trying to get past me. There weren't any buff gentlemen toting free weights and AR-15s, pushing me out of the way of the shelves. There was only me. Standing there. Disgusted.

In these times of equal rights awareness and inclusion and the recent #MeToo movement, aren't these labels a bit... um.... counterproductive? Especially, when this narrow-minded, exclusionary, antiquated mindset is being proliferated by a major retailer. Aren't magazines just magazines? Open to anyone's particular area of interest — regardless of sex, race or society's predetermination. I stood for a few moments — by myself — and shook my head in disappointment. I thought about how other big retailers displayed similar sexist labels. Instantly, the store layout of Toys R Us popped into my mind with its familiar "pink" aisle chock full of Barbie and her pals and accessories, noticeably separated from the thick and stocky action figures of popular wrestlers and rugged GI Joe. I know plenty of boys who have no problem playing with Barbie and GI Joe. I know lots of girls who love watching wrestling on television and enjoy make-believe with the likes of a miniature John Cena, as well as fashion dolls. Sure some Toys R Us stores showed some integration of the "boys" and "girls" toys, but there is a discernible "no man's land" between the two.

Barnes & Noble should take a hard look at their labels and a harder look at Toys R Us.... 'cause we now know where Toys R Us is headed.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

brothers in arms

One of my favorite shows has always been "Leave It To Beaver." Although the show debuted before I was born and completed its six-season run when I was 2, I happily watched it in reruns on local channels, decades before the Nick-at-Nite concept was hatched. The show was pitched as a warm family comedy, offering a glimpse into the problems faced by kids, followed by gentle lessons in parenting. Its goal was light humor, regularly shunning the broad slapstick of "I Love Lucy." According to co-star Tony Dow: "If any line got too much of a laugh, they'd take it out. They didn't want a big laugh; they wanted chuckles."

Lumpy, Eddie and Wally.
The one thing that always intrigued me about "Leave It To Beaver," was how the conflict was created in each episode. Most of the time, it followed the same formula. You see, Beaver (played by Jerry Mathers) and his big brother Wally (played by Tony Dow) were pretty good kids. They were polite, well mannered and respectful. However, their judgement was questionable. Specifically, their choice of friends. Both Beaver and Wally had friends who were total assholes. Every one of them. They were a pack of lying, conniving, two-faced con artists whose main goal in life was to make life miserable for the Cleaver brothers. Most famously, there was Eddie Haskell, Wally's slimy "best friend" played with oily creepiness by future LA police officer Ken Osmond. Eddie was always sucking up to Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver, only to mock them behind their backs. Then, he would invariably steer good-hearted Wally in the wrong direction when tapped for advice. Eddie would routinely convince Wally to hide a dent in the family car, to doctor a low grade on a test or to forge his father's signature on an important document. For some reason, perhaps as a testament of his loyalty to an undeserving friend, Wally would follow Eddie's direction and get himself in a bigger predicament that could have been avoided if he had only not listened to Eddie. By the episode's end, a humbled Wally would have to swallow his pride and own up to his actions, only to be forgiven by his dad, though Eddie Haskell's ass would remained unkicked. Wally's other friend, Lumpy (played by the late Frank Bank) was a typical, knuckle-headed dope who would jump off a bridge if Eddie Haskell told him to. Yet, Wally, a bright, popular, good-looking young man, somehow let his insecurities get the better of him and heeded every underhanded suggestion from Eddie and Lumpy, those sneaky bastards. Wally always forgave them for their bad advice and still came back for more.

Beaver, Gilbert, Whitey.... and Larry.
Beaver was also a victim of his lousy friends' double-dealing actions. Beaver's pals rivaled Wally's in every shifty and despicable way. Larry Mondello, Beaver's idiotic acquaintance was a sloth-like, slow-witted moron who led Beaver astray at the same rate that he stole apples from the Cleaver kitchen. This character was written out of the show in the third season when actor Rusty Stevens moved out of the Los Angeles area. His position as a bad influence was taken by Gilbert and Whitey, two minor characters that were given bigger roles. Gilbert and Whitey were just as weaselly and scheming as the departed Larry, repeatedly leading a naive and trusting Beaver down the primrose path. It was Whitey who famously dared Beaver to check if a giant steaming bowl on a billboard really contained soup. Instead of telling Whitey to find out for himself, Beaver climbed up a ladder, fell into the bowl and... well, it wasn't good. Parents were called, Beaver got in trouble and Whitey, that backstabbing little shit, got off scot-free. And Beaver still hung out with him and continued to take his advice. Gilbert convinced Beaver to make a funny face in a school picture, promising that he would as well. Of course, Beaver made a face and Gilbert didn't. Beaver got reprimanded and, as usual, Gilbert concocted some excuse that made it look like it was Beaver's idea from the start. And poor Beaver clammed up so as not to rat out his friend.

In addition to getting Wally and Beaver into trouble, these so-called friends were always borrowing money and toys and comic books and sporting equipment from the Cleaver boys. They mooched dinners by taking advantage of Mrs. Cleaver's hospitality. In the case of Wally, they moved in on girlfriends. In Beaver's case, they taunted him for having a girlfriend. These "friends" had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. So why did Wally and Beaver keep them around? There wouldn't have been a show otherwise. And that's what makes television television.

Don't worry Wally, I won't ever let you down.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

make a circuit with me

I draw. I draw a lot. I have been drawing for a very long time. When I was a kid, every spare piece of paper, napkin, notebook, scratch pad and cardboard in our house was covered with the little scribbled pictures that sprouted from my imagination. For years, the only way anyone could see my drawings was to come in close proximity to the refrigerator in our kitchen, which, at times, resembled a magnet-adorned Louvre that also kept the family's food cold. My mother, the curator of the Josh Pincus collection, regularly rotated my drawings on the refrigerator door, carefully archiving examples from my earlier periods in order to display the latest in my portfolio. Of course, the bulk of those sketches were lost when my parents passed away and the contents of their house was dispersed. And by "dispersed," I, of course, mean "sent to a dumpster." Some of my post-adolescent works were salvaged, though. The body of work I produced during my four years in art school were housed in my basement for some time, until several drenching rainstorms and burst pipe rendered the entire collection soaked, mold-covered and, thereby, ruined.

Well, eleven years ago this month, I discovered a new outlet where I could put my drawings on display — the internet! As a regular contributor to Illustration Friday, an art blog that issues a weekly drawing challenge, I decided to gather all of my drawings in one convenient spot for all the world to see. That central location is Josh Pincus is Crying that you've all come to know and love... or loathe, as the individual case may be. In addition to the weekly Illustration Friday posting, I have supplemented the content with stories from my youth and seasonal illustrations (like the annual Inktober challenge, a month-long celebration of monochrome drawings defined by the inked line, computer-generated or otherwise). Sprinkled throughout my illustration blog is the subject matter which has generated the most buzz and has gained me a small (very small) following as well as a macabre reputation. Of course, I am speaking of my love — and borderline obsession — with dead celebrities. Portraits of deceased celebrities  — both globally famous and unsung — make up a good portion of the posting on my blog. Recently, I even created a searchable category called "Dead Celebrity Spotlight" for which I post a new illustration and accompanying story every Friday morning.

First contact.
Over the decade-plus that I have maintained this blog, I've been contacted by folks who share (or at least claim to share) a connection to the subject of several drawings I have done. The first, and most notorious in the annals of the JPiC blog, came in April 2008 when I received an angry email from a fellow who was quite offended by my drawing and tale of Peg Entwistle. Peg, a nascent young actress who faced disappointment in the early days of Hollywood, leaped from the top of the "H" in the famed Hollywood sign, plunging forty-four feet to her death. My accuser was critical of nearly every aspect of my drawing (he said I was "sick") and my story (he pointed out discrepancies in times, days and locations). He even accused me of plagiarism. Prior to his barrage of emails, I had never heard of him. I gathered information from creative commons sources and other repositories of royalty-free content. This fellow was not satisfied by my calm and civil replies. He threatened me with lawsuits while he spewed the filthiest of insults at me, my work and my skills. He eventually gave up, but I got a great story.

Second contact.
Soon after the "Peg Entwistle" incident (as it has come to be known), I was contacted by another angry reader who didn't care for my portrayal of session drummer Jim Gordon. Gordon, for the uninformed or non-readers of my blog, was a member of a roster of musicians collectively known as "The Wrecking Crew." This revolving group of instrumentalists surrounding a core group of members performed, uncredited, on thousands of hit songs throughout the 1960s and 70s. Gordon was also a member of Derek and the Dominos, the blues-rock band fronted by Eric Clapton. Gordon composed and performed the iconic outro on the the classic song "Layla." He also beat his mother with a hammer and stabbed her to death with a butcher knife. He currently resides in a psychiatric prison in Vacaville, California. Someone identifying herself as "Layla Gordon" emailed me to express her displeasure with my drawing and story about Gordon and his fellow Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine. "Layla" insulted my talent, corrected my knowledge, questioned my research and cursed my existence. I replied in the most polite and even-tempered manner, only to be subjected to salvo number two (and eventually three). I chronicled our exchange in another post on my blog and was soon contacted by a different woman, this one offering a more sympathetic tone. Emailer Number Two explained that my original antagonizer had threatened her in the same way she threatened me. This compassionate ally identified herself as the spouse of one of Jim Gordon's band mates and a quick Google search confirmed her claim. She also requested that I keep our conversation confidential. I guess I just broke that promise.

Third contact.
In March 2008, I spun the grisly tale of Edward Hickman, a 20-year-old disgruntled bank employee who abducted, murdered and dismembered his boss's 12-year-old daughter. Hickman was tried and, despite one of California's first "insanity pleas," was executed at San Quentin Prison in 1928. I admit I told the story in lurid detail, but that's how I do things when I feel the subject warrants it. It's that "life ain't always pretty" philosophy that inspires me sometimes. Nearly four months after I published that story, I was contacted by another Edward Hickman, first with comments left on the post, then via email. This Edward claimed to be the murderer's nephew. He actually complimented my drawing of his relative. He also alleged that his uncle was remorseful of his actions, a claim I could not corroborate in all of my research. A month or so later the younger Edward reached out to me again, asking for a high-resolution image of my drawing. I happily complied and made a few bucks on the transaction.

Fourth contact.
In 2012, I briefly chronicled the life of Max Manning, a beloved sixth-grade teacher at a school in southern New Jersey. Manning, unbeknown to his devoted students, was a star player in the Negro Leagues in the 1940s. A victim of racial discrimination at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, Manning ended up pitching for the Newark Eagles. His stellar on-field performance helped the Eagles overcome the mighty Kansas City Monarchs to win the 1946 Negro League World Series. With no chance of playing in the segregated big leagues and faced with the responsibility of providing for his family, Max walked away from baseball. He attended Glassboro State College on the GI Bill and graduated with a teaching degree. He taught at Pleasantville Elementary School for 28 years until his retirement. The summer after I published Max's story, I received a comment on the post from Belinda Manning, Max's grown daughter. Belinda admitted that, during a bout of insomnia, she "googled" her father's name and was directed to my blog. She praised my rendering of her dad and lauded my account of his life. Belinda maintains her own blog where she expounds on her family history and the history of the Pleasantville/Atlantic City, New Jersey area. She also touches on instances of social and racial injustice.

Fifth contact.
Back in October 2017, as part of my "Dead Celebrity Spotlight" series, I wrote and illustrated another hard-luck story. This one was about Leona Gage, a hopeful actress and disgraced beauty pageant contestant. Leona led a sad and troubled life, filled with tough breaks, poor decisions and bad advice. Just yesterday, I got a comment on the blog post. It was just three words: "That's my mother." Then, the same fellow sent a message on my Facebook page. His Facebook message was a bit longer. It read: "You drew an interesting picture of my mother Leona Gage. Thanks for the story." I replied with a thank you and then spent the next twenty or so minutes engaged in a sweet and insightful conversation with him, touching on my love of the Golden Age of Hollywood and my penchant for cemetery visits. Soon, he was revealing insight into his mother's life that were not present in any article or clipping I uncovered in my research for the original piece. I researched him a bit and discovered that, based on his uncommon last name and the fact that I made no mention of his father's name in my story, this guy must be who he says he is. After all, if you're going to make a "claim of fame," why would you reference someone so obscure? I thanked him for the information and for his kind words about my artwork.

These little encounters are a testament to the power and reach of the internet. I suppose it also confirms that there's always someone, somewhere, who'll read and react to stuff I write.

Maybe you'll see a loved one depicted in a JPIC drawing before too long. Who knows? Wait.... I know.

You can get you very own Josh Pincus is Crying custom portrait.
CLICK HERE for details.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

tell me are you a Christian, child?

My wife has been operating an eBay store for — gosh! — I don't even know how long. Years ago, when she first started, I used to help pack the merchandise that she sold. That was a long time ago and the process of running an eBay store has evolved into — well, closer to running an actual store. And Mrs. Pincus runs things in much the same way she ran her parents' general merchandise business in a Pennsylvania farmers market for many years. She has a designated day for listing, a designated day for packing and specific times to take shipments to the post office. However, due the the global reach of eBay and her participation in international sales, Mrs. P has been unable to limit the hours dedicated to answering customer (including potential* customer) inquiries. She regularly checks email and quickly replies to any and all questions. I have awakened in the middle of the night to see my wife's face illuminated by the glow of her cellphone. "What are you doing?," I'll groggily ask, knowing darn well what she is doing.

A lot of  questions regarding the items that my wife has for sale can easily be answered by reading the listing a little further past the title. Mrs. Pincus routinely answers questions about an item's size, color and other components — all of which are included in the brief description a mere mouse-scroll below the title and photo. But — as we have come to learn — people don't like to read. They like to be read to. Rather than exert a little investigative effort (very little), they like to be told by someone who has done the investigating for them (commonly known as "Let me Google that for you"). However, not every question can be anticipated. Mrs. P does her darnedest to include every possible measurement, every shade of every color and every piece of pertinent descriptive information, but, sometimes you get that one question that results in a good head-scratching.

Recently, Mrs. Pincus offered a plastic novelty magnet in the familiar shape of a bottle of Heinz ketchup for the reasonable price of $7.99. Feeling extra generous, an "or best offer" was added to the price.  Dated 1982 and manufactured by a long-defunct company called Arjon, this cute little magnet would be a welcome addition to anyone's novelty magnet collection (and before you ask — yes — there are plenty of folks who collect novelty magnets). One such collector contacted Mrs. Pincus with a two-part question about the Heinz ketchup magnet. The first part was "Would you do a 'Buy It Now'?" This is a feature that a seller can set up to enable a quick purchase for a price that is agreed upon by both parties. Mrs. P does this quite often. Part Two of the query was a bit more..... unusual.

"Are you a Christian? We are." This was followed by a little smiley face comprised of a colon and a closed parenthesis.  

Mrs. P was taken aback. Of course, she wants to sell this stuff. That's why it's on eBay in the first place. Of course, she doesn't want to lose a sale at the cost of offending a potential buyer. So, Mrs. P replied in a firm and diplomatic way — way more diplomatic than I would have been.
Like most folks who freely promote their religious beliefs as though they were discussing the weather, they are either convinced that everyone shares their beliefs or they feel they are doing the Lord's work, convincing a lost lamb to join the comforting fray. Either way, it is always a losing argument, usually met with cheerfully narrow-minded reasoning and unwavering commitment. They will never ever see the other side of the argument. There is no "other side," as far as they're concerned. This case, of course, was no different, as this revealing response shows:
First comes the sermon, the stirring message of reaffirming faith and back-handed enticement into the ways of their dogma. Then, back to business, because — well, they obviously want that magnet. (perhaps as an offering). But they also feel a divine obligation to save another poor soul from the fiery grip of Satan. So, they offered four bucks on the magnet. Mrs. Pincus politely declined the offer, hoping that this exchange would now continue as a business discussion, but she knew it would not. She replied, attempting to make her position clear. 
But, as expected, they were not finished. They would not rest until our eternal, everlasting spirits were fully accepted into the Kingdom of... of.... Everlasting Acceptance. Their parting salvo was phrased this way, still mixing business with religion to their very last breath... er, offer
By the way, if you'd like, the beautiful 1982 Arjon Heinz Ketchup magnet is still available on eBay. 

Shipping is extra. Religion is too.

*A potential customer is anyone who asks a question about an item, though hasn't necessarily made a purchase... or has even hinted at making a purchase. Mrs. P has learned to treat every inquiry as a paying customer. Who knows? The goal is to get them to end up as one.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

you load sixteen tons and what do you get

Just after my father served a two-year stretch in the United States Navy, assisting the Allied Forces in defeating Emperor Hirohito's army, he returned to Philadelphia to search for employment. For reasons only known to him, my father entered a Penn Fruit supermarket and inquired about filling the available position of apprentice meat cutter. He was hired and soon began to be taught the ins and outs of slicing up stripped cow and pig carcasses into consumer-tempting cuts of meat. He worked long and dedicated hours, honing his craft, as well as honing his knives. As time moved on, he became extremely adept in his ability, deftly gliding that blade through the marbled flesh, with the result being a beautifully-appealing roast or chop that would become some lucky family's dinner.

With his apprenticeship behind him, my father was promoted to full-fledged meat cutter. Working alongside others in his profession, my father churned out stacks of cut beef, pork and poultry at an astounding rate. He rarely moved from his position in the "cold room," working like a machine, only stopping every so often to grab a quick cigarette or a cup of coffee in the alley behind the the store. He would return to his work as quickly as he could, adjust his bloodied apron and continue stacking cuts of meat on pressed paperboard trays with expert precision. 

This went on for years and years until he was once again promoted, this time to meat manager. In his new position, he would still perform the physical act of cutting and packaging meat for sale, but he was also responsible for ordering product, dealing with suppliers for the best prices, scheduling staff, preparing weekly specials for inclusion in the store's advertising, as well as any number of incidental tasks that would pop up along the way. He liked being in charge, but he loved working at cutting meat. My father was transferred to different stores around the Penn Fruit chain, quickly adapting to a new commute and a new store configuration. A new location, however, never impacted his work ethic or his allegiance to the company that paid him at the end of each week. He did what his company asked him to do and he never questioned their decisions.

Mr. Dedication.
Another promotion came for my father. This time, he was made store manager. Although it was a gesture of trust on the part of Penn Fruit, my father accepted the new title with reluctance. As manager for the entire store, he would no longer be able to ply his meat-cutting ability on a daily basis. His new job would keep him busy with figures and reports and scheduling and customer service. He would still venture into the meat department regularly, even picking up a knife to separate a steak from a strip of errant fat spotted during a routine inspection. During his time as store manager, my father was also transferred more often. His competence as a manager meant his skills were needed to increase business at more stores. His stints at stores would be for shorter periods of time, sometimes even under a year, until he was sent to another location to bring up sales. My father was happy to be wanted and his dedication seemed to appreciated, though it was never overtly stated.

But Penn Fruit's overall sales began to slip. They made some poor investments and bad business ventures into previously-untried territory failed miserably. Then, Acme, a rival supermarket chain, waged a vicious price war against Penn Fruit, sending the once-dominant chain into a financial tailspin. They scrambled, quickly selling off non-grocery holdings and even resorting to closing some lesser-producing markets. But it was the way they closed stores that was so... so... devastating, callous and thoughtless. The modus operandi of the corporate representatives was to drive up to a store as it was closing and demand the keys from the store manager. The corporate rep would lower his car door window and bluntly state to the unwitting manager, "Hand over your keys. This store isn't opening tomorrow."

This is how my father was relived of his employ after twenty-five years of blind loyalty.

Conrad Van Orten, Sean Penn's character in David Fincher's 1997 thriller The Game, put it so eloquently when he explained the nature of corporations and the business mindset: "They just fuck you and they fuck you and they fuck you, and then just when you think it's all over, that's when the real fucking starts."

Don't forget that.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

over under sideways down

Just the other day, a question popped into my head. I don't know what prompted it, but sometimes my mind works in mysterious ways. I brought the query up to my wife and a short discussion ensued, because that's how things go in the Pincus house. The question concerned the orientation of the toilet paper roll in our home's three bathrooms.

In my house, growing up, the unspoken rule was that the roll of toilet paper be placed with the available length coming over the top of the roll, cascading like a waterfall. This was determined by — gosh, I would assume — my mother, since my mother determined how pretty much everything was done in our house. She did the grocery shopping, despite the fact that my father was the manager of a single location of a local supermarket chain. That's right, my dad worked all day in a supermarket and never — and I mean never ever — did he bring anything home from his store. My mother did the shopping at a different location from the one he worked or sometimes even at a rival market. She never got a discount and never questioned that situation. She selected which brands of everything were purchased, so I can only assume that, once she got everything home, she determined which way the rolls of toilet paper were placed in the holder. When I went to friends' homes, I thought it was odd if I discovered that their family placed the toilet paper the other way in the roll.

When I got married, I soon found out that my bride came from a home that positioned their toilet paper in the "come from underneath" orientation. Not wishing to make trouble in our new marriage, I said nothing. After a while, I got used to it, although I was probably corrected  a few times, followed by silent reorientation if I happened to have been caught backsliding into my old ways. Soon, placing the toilet paper in the correct direction became second nature.

When our son was born (and eventual toilet training achieved), he, of course, was schooled on the proper way in which to install a new roll of toilet paper, as he had now joined the ranks of those responsible for refilling a depleted roll.

A few years ago, my son, now thirty, moved into his own home with his girlfriend. Their house — a narrow, two story home in South Philadelphia — is a cute and cozy little dwelling and they have made it a true home for the two of them. But, as I mentioned at the beginning, the question of toilet paper placement popped into my head and I needed my boy's take on the situation. We went to a concert recently and, over dinner, I asked him the burning question. 

"You came from a house that puts the toilet paper in the holder so it unrolls from the bottom." I began my opening statement. He nodded and cocked his head to one side in anticipation of where I was going with this.  

"Yes?," he listened suspiciously.

"So how do you put the toilet paper in the holder, now that you have your own house?," I continued my query, "and how does it jibe with Pandora's (his girlfriend) habits and upbringing?" I don't remember his answer. It was either "over the top" or "from underneath." I forget.

In reality, the important thing is that someone refills the roll. That's the polite thing to do and it's something we can all agree on.

Now, on to more important issues.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

get it right the first time

An historical event took place last Sunday, February 4, 2018. Sure, the Philadelphia Eagles — those scrappy, but determined, "underdogs" of the National Football League — defeated the mighty (and mighty arrogant) New England Patriots in a gripping Super Bowl LII, loosening the Pats' "New York Yankees"-like stronghold on football championships. It was a terrific game (I'm told) that shattered all sorts of league records (I'm told), in both regular and post-season play (I am also told).

You see, the Super Bowl is not the historical event which I referenced in the opening sentence, although it is closely related. Sunday — Super Bowl Sunday —  marked the first time I ever watched a complete football game. Ever.

The OG Pincus
I grew up in a house with two die-hard sports fans. First, there was my dad. He was the typical fair-weather fan. My dad was born in West Philadelphia (42 years before the Fresh Prince was shootin' some b-ball on the playground of Overbrook High) and loved the Phillies as a kid. As an adult, he loved to tell a tale of how he cut school to see his beloved Phils play in the days before illuminated night games. He claimed to have seen a rare no-hitter and couldn't tell anyone because he would have gotten in trouble for blowing off classes. It was a great story, but a little research revealed that my dad made the whole thing up... 'cause that's what my dad did. My dad loved watching, reading about and talking sports — baseball, football, basketball and even wrestling, if that is considered a sport. (But not hockey, because, as he often explained, "it moves too goddamn fast for me.") His attitude towards all Philadelphia teams was "Love 'em when they're winning; hate 'em when they're losing." He would often holler "You lousy bums!" at a television broadcast of an Eagles or a Phillies game, only to change his tune when the score turned in the home team's favor.

The other sports fan I shared my house with was my brother. Four years older and way more athletic than I (in fairness, there is furniture that is way more athletic than I), my brother lived and breathed sports — all sports — hockey and wrestling included. My brother was more of a student of the game. Not to say that he couldn't give his peers a run for their money in his playing prowess, but he loved stats and comparisons and probabilities and theory and speculation, in addition to savoring each moment of each game he watched. My brother analyzed and reanalyzed plays and suggested alternative moves that could have been attempted, while my dad just sucked down the nicotine of one Viceroy after another and cursed.

Needless to say, my dad and my brother butted heads and did so quite often. I overhead many of their heated game day disagreements from the safety of my upstairs bedroom, where I busied myself with drawing, consciously avoiding their confrontation and their sports. I wanted nothing to do with their arguments and I especially wanted nothing to do with their stupid sports. I didn't understand it. I didn't see the entertainment in it. I just didn't get it. Games were always on in my house. And I never watched any of them. Even when cartoons were snapped off (without asking) by my father in favor of some sporting event, I just left the room with no interest in the ensuing contest. Yeah, I went to a few baseball games with my family, but I didn't pay attention to the game. Instead, I watched the guys selling pennants and popcorn and marveled at the size of Veterans Stadium. I went to one hockey game and one basketball game when I was in high school and neither event made an impression on me (I remember the hockey game was cold.)

I did, however, number myself among the crowds at two parades honoring back-to-back Stanley Cup wins by the 1974 and 1975 Philadelphia Flyers — the infamous "Broad Street Bullies." I went to the parades, but I didn't watch a second of any game — regular season or playoffs. Five years later, I blew off a day at art school while the rest of the city was celebrating the Philadelphia Philles' 1980 World Series Championship. I had worked as a soda vendor at Phillies games in '77, but most of the time, I had no idea who they were playing. When the Phillies came up victorious at the end of the 2008 World Series, I watched from the middle of a cheering crowd, as the celebratory parade passed by my office building — then went back to work when the last parade vehicle was a dot in the distance.

This year, I was dimly aware of the buzz the current Philadelphia Eagles team was creating. I read the news. I keep abreast of current events. Living in Philadelphia, it was kind of tough to avoid. As the 2017-2018 season went on, the focus on the Eagles moved out of the "sports" portion of nightly newscasts into the "top story" slot. One Sunday evening, I was quite surprised when my wife, who I thought was just working in the third-floor office in our house, came downstairs to tell me she just watched the end of the Eagles-Vikings game and now she was looking forward to watching the Super Bowl. "What? Football? In our house?," I questioned, as I looked up from an Andy Griffith Show rerun flashing across the 43-inch television screen in our den. But, just two weeks later, there we were, with folding snack tables set up in front of the TV and big bowls of homemade chili steaming before us — I was about to watch my very first football game.

And watch it I did. Every minute. Every time-out. Every kick-off. Every pass. Every field goal (and the missed ones, too). Every tackle. Even that dreadful half-time show. I watched. Aside from the basics, like a guy carrying the ball into the area painted with a team's logo means a six-point touchdown and a kicked ball sailing through the goalposts means... um... some points, but not as many as a touchdown, I had no idea what was going on. I don't know what an "offsides" is... or are. I don't know what any of the penalties mean. I don't know where "the pocket" is. (I know it's not on any of those tight pants the players wear. Maybe it's near "the crease" in hockey.) Despite my lack of knowledge of the fundamentals of this game, almost immediately, I was able to assess that the Eagles (in green uniforms) were definitely outplaying the Patriots (not in green uniforms). And in the end, I was right. I even found myself getting a little excited and emotional towards the riveting final moments. When the game was over and elated Eagles players climbed all over each other in celebration of winning their first Super Bowl (an accomplishment made sweeter by their besting the five-time champion Patriots), I could hear firecrackers exploding right outside of my suburban window. As I write this piece, the live broadcast of the Eagles parade is on a television screen just a few feet away from me. Every so often, I glance up from my keyboard to see a sea of (an estimated two million) joyful fans flooding the streets of my hometown and to hear a beefy player (that I cannot name) screaming about bringing the Lombardi Trophy to Philly. I love this city and I am happy for the Eagles' success. Unfairly derided, these guys rose to the challenge and delivered for their fans. Looking back, I really enjoyed watching that game. It was stirring and its aftermath was even a bit inspiring.

Last Sunday — February 4, 2018 — was historical in one more respect. It also marks the day I watched my last complete football game.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

you look so small, you've gone so quiet

My wife and I spent a good amount of this past summer at the beach. While I am not a fan of the beach, my wife loves it, so I go. I will admit that it was not totally unpleasant. I got to spend time with Mrs. P. I got to sit and do practically nothing for several hours. I was actually able to take a quick, undisturbed nap every so often, too. So, there was a little sand in my shoes and my hair was flattened to my head from the protective baseball cap I wore. It wasn't horrible.

I remember sitting on the beach, looking around at the surroundings — the ocean, the umbrellas, kids running through the sand. I remember hearing the sounds — seagulls, the low roar of the waves, parents screaming at the aforementioned children. Yes, several times during the summer, I was jolted awake by some of the foulest language I've ever heard, being projected at full volume. The words were fraught with vicious anger and the object of this tirade was usually a youngster of five or six.

I was dumbfounded. Here was a child  — happy, carefree, busying himself with the task of constructing the world's greatest castle of sand. This young architect  — dragging an overfilled bucket of ocean water from the shore's edge in order to formulate the proper consistency of the sand to create a sturdy foundation for his structure... only to have a belligerent adult (a father? an uncle? Mom's new boyfriend?) harangue this young charge for doing, at the beach, what kids do at the beach.

"Get that fucking shit away from me!," I witnessed one bathing suit-clad gentleman yell at a young fellow who couldn't have been more than five. He gripped the handle of a brightly-colored plastic pail in his tiny fists and silently took his abuse with wide, sorrowful eyes.

This morning, a friend was telling me that she witnessed a woman pushing a small child in a stroller through the downtown Philadelphia train station, the same one I commute to every morning. She watched as this woman pushed until she stopped the stroller at a set of steps that led up to street level. The woman tilted the stroller forward, bared her clenched teeth and growled at the child, "Get out!" The child scrambled dutifully to his feet and carefully, though awkwardly, ascended the stairs.

I have one thing to say to these people: If you don't like your kids, and you never should have had kids... for goodness sake... don't take your anger and frustration and poor decision making out on your kids. Just resign yourself to the fact that these children are your responsibility. You were "adult enough" to create a child. Now, be "adult enough" to be an adult.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

all hail caesar

One evening this week, Mrs. Pincus and I went to pick up a pizza for dinner, something we do quite often. It may come as a surprise to you, but we regularly go to a Little Caesars location not far from our house. Unlike most people, we don't really have a single location pizza place that we swear by. We are not connoisseurs or "pizza snobs." We happen to like cheap, crappy, chain-store pizza. We just do.

My wife pulled into the parking lot of the strip center where the Little Caesars occupies the end storefront. I hopped out of the car, like I had done countless times before, and walked up to the front door and entered. The place rarely, if ever, has a welcoming vibe. Through the wire racks of stacked pizza boxes at the rear of the narrow service counter area, I could see several workers — all decked out in branded Little Caesars regalia (hats, shirts, aprons) — busily preparing pizzas at a large work table. Behind them, another fellow was monitoring the business-end of the large oven, extracting finished pizzas by gripping their pans with a pliers-like device and deftly shaking them into a waiting, pre-assembled box. They all appeared to be working in a predetermined rhythm, like the proverbial "well-oiled machine."

However, the young lady at the front counter, the "face" of the "Little Caesar's experience" for this particular location, did not exactly fit in with the rest of the apparent work ethic practiced by those in the nerve center of the establishment.

When I entered the store, to my right, was a man — in a Little Caesars hat and apron — stocking single-serving bottles of soda in a tall refrigerated display case. A few customers (maybe two, actually) were scattered about the open area, obviously waiting for their individual order to be served. Behind the counter, seated on a low object (perhaps a small carton?), was a young lady — I would guess still in her teens — with her back to the wall adjoining the business next store, paying extremely close attention to her cellphone. As I approached the counter, she slowly rose — though not exactly tearing her attention away from whatever was dancing across the small screen in her hand. She was wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the named of a local high school. No where on her person did the name or logo of Little Caesars appear. Nowhere. She finally turned her attention to me and asked, "Mmmnnnmmnnmmm."

At least, I think it was a question. Only because the inflection of her utterance went up in tone, slightly, at the end. I honestly has no idea what she said, but I can assume it was along the lines of "Can I take your order?" I asked for a pizza and an order of bread sticks and passed over my credit card to her her limp, waiting hand. She swiped it through the slot on the credit card reader, removed the receipt, handed me back my card and said, "Mmmnnnmm." Then, she promptly returned to her original perch, concentrating, once again on her electronic device and blotting the customers out.

A fellow from the back of the store placed a stack of pizza boxes on the wire rack from behind. The young lady rose slowly, grabbed the boxes and announced "Mmmnnnmm" in the general direction of a woman with short dreadlocks in a dark blue coat who was waiting, patiently, with her arms folded across her chest. The woman accepted the boxes and no more words were exchanged by either party. The young lady repeated this same procedure with the other customer who was waiting for an order to be filled.

Offer not valid where invalid.
After about eight minutes (the "Hot & Ready" promotion as presented in a series of Little Caesars commercials and in-store signage seems to be invalid at this location or in this realm), the young lady muttered her signature, unintelligible grunt at me and offered me a pizza box with a bag of bread sticks resting atop of it. I took it from her hands, thanked her and wished her a good evening. I really did. I headed towards the door, which was held open for me by a new, incoming customer — who would, no doubt, be subjected to the "Little Caesars welcome" that is standard operating procedure at this location.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

I want to see the bright lights tonight

In our house filled with things, my wife came across a cache of concert ticket stubs, some dating back to the middle 1970s. I had actually been looking for this collection of memories for some time. I honestly thought they were long gone, tossed to the trash when we made the move from our newlywed apartment in Northeast Philadelphia to the suburban house that has been our home for over thirty years. 

Wild nights are calling.
Curiously stored in a Barnum's Animal Crackers box, these torn paper testaments were in surprisingly good shape. Time had faded some of the early-computer printed particulars, but the ones that escaped total destruction at the hands of some minimum-wage earning ticket-taker were still legible. The band names were clear enough to read - some consisting of careless, though comical, misspellings. (The opening act for a 1977 Queen show at the Philadelphia Civic Center listed the supporting band as "Thin Lizzie," as though it was an emaciated ballerina.)

A lot of the ticket remnants were from 70s-era Grateful Dead shows, many of which were from shows staged at the Philadelphia Spectrum, the self-proclaimed "America's Showplace," which boasted some of the worst, sound-deadening acoustics this side of the $64,000 Question's isolation booth. Despite being the home base for both the Philadelphia Flyers and the 76ers, the Dead managed to find time to fit in 53 concerts at the venue, more than any other musical act. That allotment of tickets, of course, belonged to my wife — as my first experience with the psychedelic San Francisco troubadours was in April 1982, when I was taken (abducted? dragged?) to a spring concert by the future Mrs. P. I recognized my concert tickets by the decidedly un-Grateful Dead band names that were printed across the colorful Ticketmaster branding. Again, most were from the Spectrum, as it was the biggest and most popular venue in the city, but a smattering were from shows at the smaller Tower Theater, a converted movie palace just outside the western city limits.

My brother, older by four years, was a veteran concert-goer, having seen performances by Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, The Moody Blues, George Harrison (reporting that the former Beatle was "awful" and the show was stolen by energetic keyboardist Billy Preston) and others of that ilk. He witnessed the now-legendary marathon at the remote Widener University gymnasium by an up-and-comer that he mistakenly identified as "Bruce Springstein.*" Some of my friends at middle school had toyed with the idea of actually seeing some of our favorite singers live when they came to our town. But I broke the proverbial ice when I scraped together a hard-earned six dollars and fifty cents for a single, general admission ticket to see Alice Cooper (and leather-clad guitar slinger Suzi Quatro) on the local stop of his "Welcome to My Nightmare" tour when it touched down in Philadelphia in April 1975, the twenty-second date on its five-month, multi-city trek across North America. That night, after seeing the wiry Mr. Cooper dance with giant spiders, cavort with tuxedoed skeletons and lop the head off a menacing cyclops, I was bitten by the concert bug. I left that show rabid — anxious to see another concert. And fast! It wasn't until a full year later that I was able to attend my second concert. Forking over a steep seven-fifty, I spent an evening at the back of the cavernous Spectrum, watching bland folk-rockers America deliver one boring song after another as they promoted their newest release — a greatest hits compilation culled from their five-album catalog on which every song sounded identical. I can't figure out what exactly I was doing there. I was not a fan of America — not even in the most casual sense. I didn't own any America albums. I suppose I just wanted to go to a concert.

I made better choices (in my opinion) as the years went on. I saw Elton John when he brought tennis star Billie Jean King onstage to join him in a chorus of the terribly shitty, yet hometown beloved, "Philadelphia Freedom." I saw the electrifying Queen several times, including once with pneumonia (me, not them). Freddie Mercury was a showman like no other. I even took my DeadHead future spouse to Queen's final American tour where she questioned the numerous costume changes and lighting effects. After all, the Grateful Dead had not changed their clothes since 1969 and their fans usually visualize their own lighting effects.

I saw Elvis Costello a few times as well, watching as he made the jump from new-wave pioneer to the elder statesman of his bygone "angry young man" genre. The late Warren Zevon, a short-term Philadelphia resident while he was between record deals, gave impromptu recitals at the wonderful, yet now-defunct, Chestnut Cabaret on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Mrs. Pincus and I were in the audience for several of those intimate shows and they were a memorable treat. Along the way, I got to see The Boomtown Rats, Tim Curry (yes, that Tim Curry), They Might Be Giants, Fleetwood Mac, Duran Duran, Squeeze, even Barry Manilow.

My son developed an early love for music, based on the constant albums and radio blaring from speakers all over our house. His interest blossomed into a career, as he is now a host/producer on a local Philadelphia radio station. Even before his current employ, we accompanied each other to a boat-load of concerts. We've seen good bands, bad bands, strange bands and just-about-to-hit-it big bands. We've had band members jump off the stage in front of us. (In one case, a singer fell off the stage on us.)  My son even introduced me to bands (A Giant Dog, Low Cut Connie, Kid Congo and The Pink Monkey Birds... yeah, you read that right) in the same way I gave him his first taste of the Beatles and his mom taught him about Jerry Garcia. Thanks to my son and the numerous concert venues that have opened in Philadelphia (named by one music website as the "best concert city" in North America), my concert calendar is usually packed. I never dreamed that, at 56, I'd still be going to shows, let alone bumping elbows in tiny venues with fans half my age. Conversely, it was funny when my wife and I sat in a sold-out Atlantic City showroom for a Tony Bennett show and, looking around, wondered how many other audience members had also seen The Clash.

It's okay, I'm with the band.
The concert experience has changed considerably since I was perched on the second level of the Spectrum, squinting to make out the color of Sir Elton's glasses. Bands were untouchable and unapproachable, sometimes just an out-of-focus dot bathed in a purple spotlight. Now, in the days of social media, a selfie with your favorite singer is no longer a rarity, it is a requirement. Granted, artists that fill stadiums are off-limits, save for those willing to pony up a few hundred (even thousand) dollars for a one-on-one experience. But, the bands that play 1200-seat (or smaller) venues will often appear at unannounced "meet-and-greets" at their "merch table" where the purchase of a t-shirt or album will net you the bonus of a sweaty hug and the opportunity of a cellphone picture to document the encounter.

This story, of course, is far from over. I love live music and it takes a lot to stop me from seeing it. As I write this, I have at least two concerts lined up in the coming months. And there will be more after that. I guarantee it.

*My brother informed me that he thought the singer's name was "Bruce Bringsteen." Actually, that's funnier.