Sunday, July 15, 2018

we now state emphatically it's happy anniversary

Today marks thirty-four years of wedded bliss shared by my beloved (and yours) Mrs. Pincus and me. I was the first one of my friends to get married. When I told my friends that was my plan, they were shocked. Josh? Married? Never! But it turns out that our marriage has outlasted a lot of marriages — and that says something. Something about the strength of my relationship with my wife. And we do have a great relationship. We have often said that we were destined to marry each other because no one would be able to put up with either one of us.

But how did it begin? Well, I'll tell you...

I was in the middle of my junior year at the Hussian School of Art, a small vocational institution located in Philadelphia. I was a typical budding artist — a strong-willed dreamer with unrealistic visions of fame and fortune filling my head. I footed the tuition bill myself, as my parents made it very clear that if I chose to further my education past free public school, I was on my own. So, at 19, I wandered into a bank and, with no idea what I was doing, applied for a student loan. Then, I had to figure out how to begin to save up to pay that loan back. I got a job at my cousin's vegetarian restaurant located a distant, but manageable, walk from school. Three days a week, I would pack up my art supplies fifteen minutes early and head out of my mostly informal classes. The majority of my instructors said nothing, but for the few that questioned my early exit, I would curtly justify my actions with, "I'm going off to pay your salary." My departure was usually met with a silent nod.

My job was manning the counter of a cafeteria-style eatery that did a pretty brisk lunchtime business, but slowed to a crawl during the dinner hour. To be honest, Wednesday and Thursday evenings were dead. Tony, my co-worker, and I would sometimes stare at each other for a couple of hours before the first customer would breach the doorway. Fridays would be a little busier, but by no means did we ever — ever — experience the so-called dinner rush. With our 10 PM closing time approaching, Tony and I would start to wrap up items that we knew we wouldn't use in the final hour, like salad ingredients and baked potatoes. I'd leisurely begin to sweep, then fill the mop bucket as Tony gathered up serving utensils and nearly-empty casserole pans to carry to our second-floor kitchen and deposit them in a sink of warm, soapy water. At 10 on the button, I'd lock the door and we'd get that place "spic 'n span" in record time.

However, there was that one particular Friday night — February 26, 1982, as a matter of fact — when things went a bit differently...

It was 9:30, a half hour from closing time and Tony and I were at our usual places behind the counter of Super Natural Restaurant, just killing time until I could lock the door for the night. Suddenly, the front entrance was darkened by three late-evening diners — two attractive girls and a guy — and I didn't want any of them there. Begrudgingly, I tightened up the ties on my apron and forced a smile to my face. Tony disappeared upstairs to get a jump on his dish washing duties, leaving me to handle the threesome on my own. The trio first perused the menu board then drew closer to the glass-enclosed counter to examine what was left of the evening's dinner offerings. One of the young ladies — a tall, pretty girl with long dark hair — was the first to speak. She pointed to one of the many recessed metal containers that filled the serving area — each sporting the evening shift's remainder of salad fixings. I followed the direction of her dark-hued, lacquered fingernail, as she asked, "Does the cheese contain rennet?"

I frowned and replied with five words. Five magical words that were flush with charm and allure — effortlessly melting the heart of this young miss. "What the hell is rennet?," I said.

She frowned right back. "It's an animal derivative that is used in the making of cheese. I keep kosher and if this is a true vegetarian restaurant, then you should be serving cheese that is made with vegetable-based rennet." She finished and smiled sweetly.

I dug in for a second salvo. "Kosher?," I asked, "I don't know anyone under 80 that keeps kosher." This conversation was in a downward spiral. The subject of "cheese" was not brought up again, as they placed their orders. As I tended to preparing their meals, they took seats at the first table-for-four in the small dining room. In a few minutes, I presented these diners with their late dinner. And I decided to hang around their table, even though I was not invited. Hey, I was 20 years old and the pursuit of girls was instinctively a top priority. Based on absolutely nothing, I decided that the first girl was too old for me. Instead, I focused on the other girl. She was cute and I brazenly asked for her phone number. I didn't know who the accompanying guy was with... and, frankly, I didn't care. She wouldn't give in, despite my relentless badgering. The first girl looked up from her dinner and interrupted my ploy with, "Do you have an older and taller brother?" Caught off guard, I answered, "As a matter of fact, I do." She laughed and scribbled her phone number on a scrap piece of paper. And still, her friend wouldn't relent. They finally finished and stood to put on their coats, explaining that they were headed to a midnight showing of the movie musical Grease. Just before they left, the first girl double-checked that I had her phone number for my brother and then punctuated her visit by telling me that I was the most obnoxious person she had ever met.

And that was it. They left. Tony and I cleaned the restaurant. He went home and I went home.

On Saturday afternoon, after finishing up a some work for school, I gave my older and taller brother a call. At the time, he was dating the woman who is now my sister-in-law, but a zillion years ago, the Pincus boys didn't know the meaning of the word "loyalty." I told my brother Max that I had met a girl and got her phone number for him. He stopped me before I went any further. "Could you call her first," he said, "and tell her I'm going to call? I hate having to explain who I am and how I came to make this call in the first place."

"Sure," I answered obligingly.

I hung up the phone and then immediately dialed the number written neatly on that little piece of paper. Susan, the girl from Friday, answered on one ring.  "Hello?," she said.

"Hi," I began, "It's Josh... the guy from the restaurant...."

Once we got past the awkward re-introductions, our conversation touched on a wide variety of subjects. The next thing we knew, three hours had whizzed by as though they were mere seconds. "Damn!" I said, about to get brave, "Forget my brother! I'm going to ask you out myself!" She laughed. I laughed. And we went out on our first date the very next weekend. And then we went out the weekend after that. And the weekend after that. I never went out on a date with anyone else ever again. Susan and I were engaged before the year was over.

I still wonder, after 34 years of marriage, if I'm still the most obnoxious person she ever met. That's a title I don't want to lose.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

hot potato, hot potato

When I first started to write this story, it was a happy story. But, if you wait too long, happy stories might turn sad. Spoiler Alert! This story turns sad.

One day, last December, I had a few days off from work, so I met my son for lunch. My son, a Center City Philadelphia dweller, suggested we meet at a place that he had been meaning to try. So I, a firmly-planted suburbanite, hopped on the train and traveled into town. Around 11:45 a.m, fifteen minutes before "official lunch time," I arrived at our predetermined destination — Smoke's Poutinerie, a funky, little eatery that opened in the summer of 2017 on Philadelphia's famous "hippest street in town," South Street. A few minutes later, my son E. came strolling around the corner in his usual manner, water bottle in hand and bike helmet swinging by his side, having just returned his contracted bicycle to one of the nearby Indego Bike Share docking kiosks that have popped up around the Center City area. Together, we entered the mysterious and exciting world of poutine.

Poutine, for my non-Canadian readers, is the unofficial "official" food of Canada. Although the actual origin is in dispute, it seems to have first been served in Quebec in the 1950s in small restaurants called casse-croĆ»tes, essentially greasy spoon diners. Much in the same way arguments have erupted over the origination of the French Dip sandwich or the all-American hamburger, no less than three establishments lay claim to inventing poutine, with one — Le Roy Jucep — earning a government-issued trademark, much to the dismay of Le Lutin qui rit and La Petite Vache, the other claimants.

The dish — a big pile of french fries covered with cheese curds and brown gravy — is comfort food for our neighbors to the north. In its early days, poutine was negatively received and mocked as "food for commoners," but now it is a source of cultural pride. Numerous restaurants serve their own signature interpretation of the concoction. Even popular fast food chains have jumped on the band wagon, including versions from McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Dairy Queen. But in the United States, poutine is relatively unknown.

In 2008, Canadian entrepreneur Ryan Smoklin opened his first Smoke's Poutinerie in Toronto to much acclaim. He expanded his gravy-and-cheese-smothered empire to 150 locations across his native Canada. Not satisfied with keeping his successful venture sequestered in those ten provinces and three territories, Smoklin was determined to spread the comfort cuisine all over the world. In December 2014, the fine folks of Berkeley, California got its first taste of poutine. The company announced plans to open a whopping 800 Smoke's locations in the United States. Last summer, Philadelphia got its Smoke's. Actually, Philadelphia was doubly blessed, when a place called "Shoo Fry" opened up in the former location of the wildly popular (but mysterious closed) Underdogs, an eclectic hot dog joint just off renowned Rittenhouse Square. Poutine was nearly unheard-of in the City of Brotherly Love... now we have two "poutineries!"

My son and I studied the menu in the cramped restaurant that barely accommodated two small booths and a counter top to allow in-store dining. Our server/cook took our orders — two vegetarian versions of traditional poutine made with non-meat based brown gravy. He disappeared back to the food prep area as we seated ourselves on stools by the window and waited. Within minutes, we were presented with a steaming cardboard container stuffed to overflow with crispy fries, glistening dollops of cheese curds and a light beige gravy enveloping the whole she-bang. My son grabbed two plastic forks from a dispenser next to the cash register and I snagged a fistful of paper napkins I knew — from the looks of things — we would desperately need. We dug in for our first sampling of Canada's national food.

Oh. My. Goodness. It was delicious, despite its "pre-digested" appearance. It was so delicious, in fact, that I scarfed the whole thing down in a matter of minutes, as though I was in some sort of competition. My son, who ate at a slower, more human-like pace, wrapped a protective arm around his container, pulling it closer after he caught me eyeing up his uneaten portion. I sipped my Diet Coke until he finished, resigning myself to the fact I was getting none of his.... but it was sooooo goooood! Did I really want to place another order? Probably not. I didn't want to look like a glutton, although this would have been nothing new for my son to witness. I refrained. I was satisfied with what I had eaten and I would make time for a return visit to Smoke's. Perhaps I would even try something else from their menu. Maybe a different take on the poutine theme.

Here comes the sad part.

Just last week, my son called to tell me that Smoke's on South Street has closed. For good. And, it appears — according to their website — there are only five locations in the United States (the one in Ann Arbor, Michigan is so close to the international border that it might as well be counted among the Canadian locations). Alas, it seems that global expansion of the Smoke's Poutine Empire has come to a halt. People in the United States just haven't warmed up to poutine. To drive the point home, Shoo Fry has also closed its cheese-curd-guarding doors leaving Philadelphia — once again — a "poutine-free" zone.

I'm glad I got to taste and experience poutine. Maybe one day it'll catch on in the United States, eh?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

two for the show

I think I have made it quite clear how much I love television. I talk about it. I write about it. I draw characters from it and, of course, I watch it. A lot of it. I will happily admit — I watch a lot of crap. But I don't care. That's what makes television television! 

Some of my favorite networks are those that have recently popped up offering reruns of classic programs that were popular during my youth. My cable provider carries MeTV, Antenna TV, Decades, Heroes & Icons and, of course, TV Land, the original TV revival network, although it has begun to show newer series in addition to a move towards original programming. I love watching the shows on these networks. Aside from Jeopardy! and DVR-ed episodes of The Price is Right, I don't watch too much else. I find that after a day at work, I don't want to concentrate on a complicated plot. I want to watch something familiar and comforting, sort of like the TV equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup.

The Good Morning, World gang
Recently, Antenna TV revamped their schedule, as they are prone to do every so often. They shuffled around the broadcast times for some shows while removing others completely from their schedule. They also added some shows which is always exciting, especially if it's one that hasn't surfaced in years. In January 2017, Antenna TV brought back a show called Good Morning, World — a show that, despite my vast knowledge of TV trivia, I was not familiar with. I'll even go one step further. I never heard of it. Good Morning, World was the creation of Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, a pair of writers who previously piled their trade supplying jokes to a Los Angeles drive-time radio DJ. They graduated to become joke writers for The Steve Allen Show, parlaying that gig to land a coveted spot alongside the great Carl Reiner writing episodes of the beloved Dick Van Dyke Show. The year after The Dick Van Dyke Show left the airwaves, the pair developed a sitcom about a budding actress in New York City. The show, That Girl, was a break-out role for the series star, young Marlo Thomas. Based on the instant popularity of That Girl, Persky and Denoff created another show, this one based on their experiences on morning radio. The result was the one-season wonder Good Morning, World. Originally developed as a vehicle for comedian Ronnie Schell, the popular co-star of the inexplicably hit military sitcom Gomer Pyle, USMC. Schell was wooed away from the consistently high-rated series with the promise of his own show under guidance from the creative force behind The Dick Van Dyke Show. Recruited as Schell's co-star was an unremarkable character actor Joby Baker, a likable enough guy who was obviously being groomed in the Dick Van Dyke mold — a tall order that poor Baker was not prepared for. The cast was rounded out with Julie Parrish as Baker's typical TV sitcom wife, one trick pony Billy DeWolfe as the stuffy, perpetually-annoyed station manager, doing his best "Billy DeWolfe" shtick and a pre-Laugh-in Goldie Hawn at her ditsy finest as Schell's sort-of love interest.

The show, of which I have watched many, many episodes, is not very good. Although it was filmed live in front of a studio audience, the jokes were supplemented by a recorded laugh track. Despite the welcome addition of numerous big-name guest stars (including late '60s heavyweights like Andy Griffith, Jerry Van Dyke, Lynda Day George, Herb Edelman and countless others), the jokes were lame, the situations were predictable and he acting was just plain bad. It's a wonder that Goldie Hawn had a career after this dud. Good Morning, World, which tried desperately to be the Dick Van Dyke Show, lasted for twenty-six episodes before CBS realized it wasn't living up to expectations. Ronnie Schell returned to Gomer Pyle, USMC for its final season. Joby Baker, who had difficulty memorizing lines of dialogue, wound down his acting career and became a painter and illustrator. Julie Parrish took small roles in films and television, but struggled with health issues for a large portion of her life. Billy DeWolfe continued to play the same signature uptight character in numerous films and series until his death in 1974. Good Morning, World remained a footnote to the careers of all involved. And rightly so.

Bridget + Bernie = Love
Another show — this one I do remember — was run as a weekend marathon on Decades. The show, Bridget Loves Bernie, which ran for a single season on CBS, concerned the marriage of a young couple. The couple are Bridget Fitzgerald, an Irish Catholic, and Bernie Steinberg, who is Jewish. They elope, much to the chagrin of their overly-stereotypical, cartoonish parents. Bridget's parents (A hopelessly gentile David Doyle and Audra Linley) are portrayed as one-dimensional, narrow-minded, ridiculously wealthy high-society folks, complete with butler and a Saks Fifth Avenue obsession. The Steinbergs (an overly Jewish Harold J. Stone and Bibi Osterwald) are the owners of a New York delicatessen along with veteran Jewish character actor Ned Glass as wise and understanding "Uncle Moe." Bridget has a brother who is, of course, a priest. Bill Elliott as "Otis," "Bernie's" friend, a hip African-American "voice of reason" that was a part of every predominately white 70s sitcom, rounds out the cast.

The Fitzgeralds and the Steinbergs
I watched Bridget Loves Bernie in its initial run in the 1972-73 television season. I was eleven years old and I received my social lessons from my bigoted father and my liberal mother. My parents both loved the popular sitcom All in the Family for different reasons. My mother "got the joke" and my father thought he was watching a documentary. Every episode of Bridget Loves Bernie focused on some sort of religious conflict. And every conflict was addressed in the most outrageous and racist manner. Every single religion cliche was dragged out and blatantly splayed across every scene. The Catholic family assumed that everyone was Catholic, interacting with the Jewish family as though they were aliens and speaking to them in condescending tones. The Jewish family dismissed all things Catholic as "unheard of" while constantly making "delicatessen-related" analogies for every situation. When I was a kid, I didn't really get it. My father laughed at the "Jewish" jokes, frowned at the "Catholic" ones and quietly ogled the young Meredith Baxter, who played "Bridget." My mother was indifferent but enjoyed watching the dark good looks of co-lead David Birney. The show was very popular, ranking in an impressive 5th place among shows in the '72-'73 television season. However, CBS was bombarded with complaints from both Jewish and Catholic groups expressing outrage over how situations were presented and handled. Jewish organizations led the way, though, citing the show as a "flagrant insult to Jews." Meredith Baxter told of bomb threats called in to the studio during tapings. Producer Ralph Riskin was physically threatened by the Jewish Defense League's notorious Robert Manning. CBS, not wanting to deal with the negativity and the controversy any longer, pulled the plug on Bridget Loves Bernie in March 1973. I watched nearly every episode of Bridget Loves Bernie during the Decades "binge-watching" weekend — because I will admittedly watch almost anything. I had a much different reaction from when I was eleven. This time around, I cringed.

But it was on television, so, of course I watched. Because that's what I do. I watch. 

And learn.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

closing time

For our second date, the future Mrs. Pincus took me to her parent's store in the rural town of Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania. Gilbertsville was a place that time had forgotten. Just an hour west of Philadelphia, the fifth largest city in the country, Gilbertsville was a tiny farming community inhabited by characters from a John Steinbeck novel — folks that can only be accurately described as "salt of the earth." The men were weathered and grizzled, with far less than the standard adult issue of teeth. Most were clad in well-worn overalls caked with and stinking of farm animal excrement. The womenfolk were meek and reserved, dressed as though they were the stand-by female model for Grant Wood's "American Gothic." And, for some reason, they cowered behind their spouses. This was 1982 and when these people said they were headed to "The City," they meant Reading, Pennsylvania. They'd never set foot in Philadelphia. You could get murdered there.

This populace comprised the customer base of my future in-law's store — an amalgam of hardware, housewares, novelty items and anything on which my father-in-law thought he could turn a quick profit. The store was one of many that occupied Zern's Farmer's Market, a weekend-only commerce center that was a regular gathering place for the aforementioned locals for almost a century. Alongside the store was an array of vendors that offered fresh produce (well, fresh at least until early evening on Saturday), unusual configurations of processed meat identified on hand-written signs by angry-sounding Teutonic names, prepared food (like the popular chicken gizzards in a Styrofoam cup of, what appeared to be, motor oil), as well as sturdy, double-stitched clothing suitable for plowing the fields and a wide assortment of antiques, curios, collectibles and what-nots. But Zern's was more than just a place to buy things. It was a social outing, along the lines of a square dance or a barn raising. (I'll have you know that I refrained from saying "cross burning" as a second example, so I'm pretty proud of myself.)

Mr. and Mrs. Hardware
in their natural habitat.
How am I so intimately familiar with Zern's Farmer's Market? Well, by my third date with Mrs. P, I was working there. That's right. This naive kid from Northeast Philadelphia, who got lost outside of the comfortable boundaries of the city limits was now employed as a stock boy under the tutelage of my soon-to-be father-in-law. In addition to a concession in Zern's Farmer's Market, my father-in-law owned a stand-alone store directly across the street from Zern's that was open an extra day longer than the market. Here he sold, what he referred to as "the serious hardware" — professional-grade trowels and hammers and other implements of construction with which I was not familiar at the time but would come to be well acquainted. Despite years of experience in other retail establishments, I was not permitted to operate the cash register. That privilege was enjoyed by only one person and his name was emblazoned on signage throughout the store. Instead, I was relegated to schlepping cartons of merchandise from the storage area — a large, dirty, poorly-ventilated barn-like structure that had been attached to the existing large, dirty, poorly-ventilated main building. Boxes were piled high and my job was to bring them up to the selling floor, empty them and, at my father-in-law's behest, make all of the contents fit in a space that was way to small for proper accommodation. In the summer, during which I spent many a weekend stretch, the heat was stifling. In winter, the building could be used to keep meat from spoiling. Days, no matter what the weather, were grueling marathons that monopolized entire weekends, including the hour-long ride to and from Gilbertsville. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for his generosity, affording me employment while I sought a job in my chosen field. I just have a funny way of showing my gratitude. 

On Fridays and Saturdays, the logistics of the operation were slightly altered, as my future spouse and her mother would come to open and run the stand in Zern's. I would work with my father-in-law at the hardware store across the street, the two of us coming up much earlier in the morning. While he was a sweet, pleasant man at home, he would succumb to a lycanthropic transformation somewhere around Schwenksville when he would be come a ruthless martinet bent on uncontested ruling over his retail empire. On Saturday evenings, I would head over to Zern's to help Mrs. P bring things to a close for the day. Those were my favorite times. First, I was sprung from the sometimes unreasonable demands of my father-in-law. Second, I got to spend time with my fiance (Mrs. P and I would marry in 1984). We would steal away from the "satellite stand" for a few minutes (this is probably the first time my father-in-law knows about this) and walk thorough the market to see what we could see. Sometimes we'd wander outside to the weekly flea market, where a glance in any direction looked like a living Dorothea Lange photograph. Here we would peruse the unusual (and unrecognizable) items offered for sale. Then we'd quickly rush back, grabbing a soft pretzel or a bag of old-fashioned penny candy, just in time to start the task of closing up the stand for another week.

For twenty-five years, I worked at Zern's. In my younger days, I fearlessly scaled rickety shelves to retrieve that one elusive gizmo that was missing from a customer's life. I was there to help bust through the back wall when we expanded our selling space. I assisted in the arrangement and promotion of special sales when my wife slowly, but diligently, transformed the one-time hardware/housewares store into a treasure trove of pop culture collectibles, bringing in cool memorabilia to join the (ever-shrinking) mix of screwdrivers and extension cords. Mrs. P creatively spearheaded an annual Coca-Cola Festival, offering more Coke branded items than you knew existed. During the summer, she turned the store into an indoor beach party, displaying everything needed for a rural summertime soiree. She single-handedly introduced "Mardi Gras" to the heretofore sheltered population of Gilbertsville.

Throughout my nearly three decades of employment, we would regularly hear customers tell us that Zern's was closing... for good. Every weekend, a growing number of shoppers — many of whom had it on good authority* — would explain confidential details of the fate of the venerable market. "Oh yeah," they would smugly cluck, cocking a thumb confidently around a faded overall strap, "this place was sold to [insert local land developer here]. I heard they're gonna tear the place down and put up a [bowling alley, amusement park, car wash, supermarket, housing development, apartment complex, golf course, multiplex movie theater]." Yep, every week, according to our loyal customer base, Zern's was a goner and would soon become any number of decidedly un-Zern's-like domains. I came to learn that Gilbertsville was "ground zero" for wrong information. They never got anything right. But, that was part of the charm. I suppose.

A fond(ant) farewell
In early 2007, my wife's family made the difficult, but realistic, decision to close their store in Zern's. It was a tough decision, but with many contributing factors (declining sales, my in-law's advancing age, a fucking Walmart within spitting distance), it was the right decision. We mounted an almost year-long liquidation sale — slashing prices, moving merchandise, clearing shelves and wondering what we would do with our weekends. Just after Thanksgiving of that year, my father-in-law contracted an auctioneer and the remaining merchandise was practically given away for pennies on the dollar. (My father-in-law was not happy with the auctioneer or his meager results. He still grumbles about it to this day.) At the end of the day, we closed up shop for the very last time. We left the Zern's parking lot like Lot's wife fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah, never looking back for fear of being turned to pillar of fasnachts.

And then we never had to go to Zern's again. Mrs. Pincus remained in frequent contact with some former employees, as well as fellow merchants (some of whom are regular readers of this blog and may have been understandably offended by many things I've written, especially in the first, second and a little bit of the sixth paragraphs of this entry). Mrs. P has even returned to Zern's for a visit on several occasions. However, she went as a solo. I have not been back since the day we closed our doors. Recently, though, through my wife's Facebook page, I have been privy to the same rumor-mongering about Zern's that I heard in the past. Misinformation for the electronic age. But, this time, uncharacteristically, they got it right.

Zern's announced it was closing... for good.

In a lengthy Facebook post, the current owner cited a number of reasons for the proposed September 2018 closure, but the real reason is: Zern's is a relic. A dinosaur whose concept has long overstayed its welcome. A folksy, genial, single-proprietorship retail operation cannot survive in the world of big box mega-stores and internet shopping. It just can't. Even in a place like Gilbertsville that's several years behind the trends. The business is offered for sale, but I doubt there will be any takers. If there are, it will be to level the structure and build one of the previously mentioned options about which customers had speculated.

Do I have have memories of Zern's? Sure. There was no place like it. It was like a visit to Twilight Zone's Willoughby every weekend, if the citizens of Willoughby attempted to "jew down" the merchants. Do I have fond memories of Zern's? Few. It certainly gave me fodder for stories that made it to blog entries over the years. Will I ever stop talking about and thinking about Zern's once there no longer is a Zern's? 


* he said sarcastically 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

I'm on the hunt I'm after you

In keeping with our current campaign of downsizing a houseful of stuff, Mrs. Pincus and I had a yard sale last weekend. I printed out a stack of signs to hang up around our neighborhood. One evening after work, Mrs. P drove me around and I hopped out of the car to tack my paper advertisements on strategically-determined wooden utility poles within a ten (or so) block radius Chez Pincus.

So, we had our little yard sale and when the new week began, we put off the tedious task of taking down the signs until mid-week. (Yes, we are civic-minded people, who do the right thing and take down the signs we put up. Unlike most people who advertise their yard sales, choosing to leave the responsibility of removal for the "sign fairy" or until they deteriorate in the elements.) On Wednesday evening, Mrs. P got behind the wheel of her car and I took the passenger seat, ready to retrace our route through our neighborhood.

As we tooled around our small, suburban community, we saw that someone (or someones) had beat us to the punch. Many of the signs I had attached to utility poles were now just bright-colored corners held in place by heavy-duty staples. In some instances, a long strip of neon green paper sporting the first digits of our address flapped in the breeze. But, for the most part, only corners remained. Sure, there were plenty of signs still intact and I was determined to get each and every one, provided we could remember where we hung them all.

On a long stretch of Church Road, a main thoroughfare that bisects Elkins Park and continues on into the next township, I had hung a number of signs on consecutive poles. I jumped out of the car, finding it easier to just walk the whole way, instead of getting in and out of the car every few feet and have Mrs. P continually halt traffic. So, I got out and my wife drove on ahead to circle the block and eventually meet up with me down the road. I strolled the sidewalk, grabbing and ripping down each sign as I came upon them. At a forked intersection, a small car slowed down next to me and a young man emerged from the passenger side door. He was tall, athletic-looking in a University of Pittsburgh t-shirt and a dark ball cap — the bill pointing backwards — on his head. He hesitantly approached me. I assumed he was going to ask directions like a guy did last week when I was hanging the signs up. (A guy in a rusty heap, its backseat filled with assorted stained boxes and bolts of dirty fabric, leaned over and shouted through the open passenger window, "Which way's Glenside [another nearby town]?" I pointed over my shoulder and said, "Back there." "Back there!?!," he repeated in angered disbelief. He gunned his engine, ignored my reply and continued in the opposite direction.)

The young man smiled. "Sir, would you mind if I took your picture?"

I cocked my head and squinted to indicate I need further explanation. He complied. "My friends and I are on a scavenger hunt. We need a picture of a red-headed stranger." He offered a forlorn look, punctuated by a sorrowful pair of puppy dog eyes.

I laughed. "Sure," I said, "You can take my picture."

A look of relief and elation came across his face. "Really? Cool! I gotta call my friends. They'll be here in a minute." He quickly tapped his cellphone and then shoved it into his pocket. While we waited for his friends, I asked him what else was on his scavenger hunt list. "Any call for old yard sale signs?," I asked and gestured with the stack of spent signs in my hand.

He allowed a small laugh. "Ha! No.," he continued, "We had to walk a stranger's dog."

"Someone let you walk their dog?," I questioned.

"Oh yeah, and she was very nice about it," the young man said proudly.

"I would have run off with the dog.," I joked. He didn't get that I was joking and briefly gave me a look of slight horror. I quickly changed the subject. "So, have you been driving around Elkins Park looking for a red head for a long time?"

"Not really.," he replied, "Well, not too long."

After a minute or two, another small car parked illegally across the street, its two right wheels up on the curb. The doors flew open and four kids in their 20s bounded out, each wearing a heather gray t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a different college. The group gathered around me like we were posing for a family reunion picture and I was the long-lost relative, discovered after years of searching. I announced, "Before you take your picture, is it okay that I'm not a natural redhead?" They laughed and assured me that it was fine. They took their picture, thanked me over and over again and bounded off in much the same manner they arrived.

My wife pulled up as the episode was ending and I filled her in as I climbed into the car. When I finished, she laughed and told me she had passed them on her drive around the block.

"They were putting clothes on a fire hydrant and taking a picture.," she revealed.

Who says nothing exciting ever happens in the suburbs? 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

wordy rappinghood

Like most big cities, Philadelphia has its own set of colloquialisms that only Philadelphians understand. Some of these words have become well-known throughout the nation and are no longer Philadelphia-specific. By now, everyone knows what a "hoagie" is, except that Philadephians still pronounce it with that guttural "oh," a sort of "secret handshake" that allows other Philadelphians to identify their homies. The same goes for "wooder*," "Oh-pal**," "Ac-a-me***" and "fil-im****, all common words that true Philadelphians just can't seem to pronounce correctly.

There's another word that is prevalent in the current Philadelphia vernacular. It's an all-purpose word that means many things and is the perfect word for many occasions. Perhaps you've heard it shouted across the Italian Market on 9th Street. Maybe someone said it while they were walking into the Linc. Or maybe you heard it the first place heard it. In a courtroom in City Hall.

In 1983, I was in my third year of a four-year program at the Hussian School of Art. a small but prestigious art school located on three floors of an office building in Center City¤ Philadelphia. (Yellow Cab occupied several of the lower floors.) One morning, my illustration teacher, a talented and inspirational young lady who allowed the class to call her "Ginny," took our ragtag band of budding artists on a field trip. We assembled and walked as a group to nearby City Hall, a majestic building situated dead center in the intersection of Broad Street and Market Street. Upon completion of its 30-year construction, Philadelphia City Hall was the tallest inhabitable building in the world. The limestone, granite and marble structure is adorned with 250 statues created by artist Alexander Milne Calder, including the massive, 37-foot tall figure of city founder William Penn, which is still the largest statue to top any building in the world. City Hall is the headquarters of Philadelphia's municipal court system and that was the destination of my illustration class that morning. Arrangements had been made by Ginny to have our class observe and draw the occupants of a courtroom during a trial. As a group, we were excited — collectively imagining our work prominently displayed on the 11 o'clock news while Action News anchor Jim Gardner reads a story of some hardened criminal's pending sentencing.

We were ushered into the ornate courtroom by Ginny's legal connection and we shuffled to find seats in the visitors' gallery. A trial was already underway, so we tried our best to remain as quiet and we could. The prosecuting attorney — a novice Clarence Darrow — briefly stopped his questioning as he turned his head to watch us take our seats. When we were all seated, he resumed speaking, only now, it seemed, he was injecting his queries with a more theatrical bravado... after all, he now had an audience. He paced in front of the young man in the witness box as the jury watched intently. The witness, a young African-American gentleman dressed in a popular 80s-style jogging suit, seemed totally disinterested in the proceedings at hand. We had missed the beginning of the case, so we had to figure out what was going on based on current activity. At this point, none of us were drawing. The prosecutor gestured in exaggerated motions and asked his witness, "So, then what you do?"

The witness shifted in his seat and mumbled, "I went and got my hammer."

The prosecutor looked puzzled. "Your hammer?," he repeated, "You got a hammer? A tool to drive nails?"

The witness looked at the prosecutor like the guy had three heads. He frowned, shook his head and answered, "Nah, man. My hammer!" He raised his hand, popped up his thumb until it was perpendicular to his extended forefinger, creating a right angle. He waved his digital approximation of a firearm in the prosecutor's direction and then spoke the word.

"Y'know, man. My jawn!"

The room fell silent. Then a low murmur rippled through the visitors' gallery. "What was that?" "What did he say?" "What does that mean?" The witness shrugged, as though he uttered something as familiar as "Happy Birthday to You." Realizing that his statement was not understood, he leaned forward, his lips almost touching the microphone and said, "My gun.," and leaned back in his chair, lifting the front legs off the floor. The prosecutor was obviously startled, so he changed the direction of his questioning and just let "jawn" go on... unacknowledged.

And I never heard the word again, until some months later.

I was working in my cousin's health food restaurant with a nice guy named Tony... although sometimes he preferred to be called "Gary." One evening, after we closed, Tony was in the kitchen of the restaurant, washing some pots in a sink overflowing with suds. I was carrying the unused portions of casseroles into the kitchen to wrap and pile up in the refrigerator. Tony was working steel wool in perfect time to some awesome jams blaring from the radio Tony kept on the window sill. I asked Tony about the song, one I had never heard before. Tony extracted his hand from the sink and pointed a soapy finger at his boombox.

"That's the jawn!," he said with a smile. In the following weeks and months, Tony said "jawn" a lot. Everything was a "jawn." A casserole in the oven was a "jawn." A serving utensil was a "jawn," My car was a "jawn." My bike was a "jawn." A movie Tony saw the past weekend was a "jawn," too. "Jawn," it seemed, was whatever you needed it to be. An all-purpose word that served all purposes. 

And it was purely Philadelphia.

More recently, "jawn" has hit mainstream Philadelphia vocabulary. It's used on local radio, on local television, in local advertising. Some Philadelphia businesses have embraced and even hijacked "jawn" to give themselves an air of "street cred," thinking it makes them automatically cool. I've seen "jawn" on local billboards for organizations like the Philadelphia Visitors Bureau. And, you know what, I'll give them a pass. They do great things in the name of promoting our fair city. 

But this one, I believe, officially marks the decline — and eventual death — of "jawn."

Oh "jawn," we hardly knew ye.

¤ Another of Philadelphia's charming colloquial terms, this one for the downtown area of the city.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

freeze frame

For eighteen seasons, Mrs. Pincus and I were proud Phillies season ticket holders. Well, maybe we weren't proud for every one of those seasons, but, you get what I'm saying. We first purchased our tickets — four seats in the lofty 500 level of Philadelphia's notorious Veterans Stadium — to qualify to buy two tickets to the 1996 All-Star Game that was scheduled to be held in our fair city in the mid-season break in July.  In 1996, if you recall, the Phillies were terrible. Just three years removed from a World Series appearance, they were now a bedraggled crew of over-the-hill under-achievers. Despite the pitching prowess of dominating southpaw Terry Mulholland and future asshole Curt Schilling, the Fightin's put up abysmal numbers, closing the season just five shy of losing 100 games. We had to literally beg friends and family to join us to occupy our fourth seat. We whittled it down to three the following season.

Our plan was especially prepared with families in mind. It was a 13-game plan, every Sunday home game. The April games were cold. The August games were broiling. But, all in all, it was a memorable piece of family bonding for me, my wife and our young son. We all grew to have a love of all things baseball. We visited other ball parks in other cities. We knew the goings-on with other teams. We could rattle off the current standings at any point during the season. My wife could explain the infield fly rule, fer crissakes! When the Phillies moved into their new digs at beautiful (and I do mean "beautiful") Citizens Bank Park, and started to get good again, we were right there with them. We got to know — and became close with —  the group of folks whose seats were surrounding ours. Even when our son decided he wanted his summer Sunday afternoons unencumbered by endless foul tips and Seventh Inning Stretches, Mrs. P and I continued to renew our Sunday plan with just two seats. And we did that right up until the end of the 2013 season, when we quietly opted not to purchase tickets for 2014. The last five years were the most exciting of our entire run... and for a reason that you would not expect.

As any true baseball fan can tell you, baseball is boring. Sure it has its exciting moments — the grand slam, the walk-off home run, the elusive triple play*, the no-hitter** — but, for the most part, not much happens in between. In June of 2009, a benign discussion at work yielded a brilliant idea. During a lull in the workday, some co-workers and I were discussing people wearing Phillies jerseys to Phillies games. I always thought it was weird, along the lines of wearing a t-shirt of the band you are seeing in concert.. Everyone knows why you're there! You're there for the same reason everyone is there. You're a fan! Do you really need to label yourself? I found myself in the minority, everyone in agreement that wearing a jersey of the home team shows support. Okay. I get it. It's just not for me. Then, someone brought up whose name is appropriate to put on the back of a jersey. Well, obviously, your favorite player's name would get the honors... I mean, as long as we're showing support. We all agreed that putting your own name was just flat out wrong! A total violation of the hallowed rules of baseball. An unforgivable infraction that must be dealt with... publicly. And so, my alter-ego was born.

The very next Sunday, I became "Photographer N." I was a silent, stealthy whistleblower exposing those who dare rank themselves among baseball's greatest — the Ruths, the Mayses, the Gehrigs — by displaying their own moniker across their shoulders while bypassing the earned respect and applied diligence. I am a firm believer that anyone over the age of twelve looks silly wearing a baseball jersey to a game — but that's my pet peeve and I know I am in the minority, But, an adult shelling out $200 for an officially-licensed Major League Baseball jersey and ruining it by getting their own name on the back — that's just stupid. Does some out-of-shape accountant sitting in the upper deck with his personalized jersey tucked into his dress pants really think he's gonna get a "call up" if the Phillies' bullpen runs out of relief pitchers? Well, it was my self-proclaimed duty to expose these guys for all the world to see.

With my digital camera battery fully charged, Mrs. Pincus and I arrived at the ballpark early and nonchalantly strolled through the crowds on the main concourse. I kept a keen eye open to my surroundings, hoping to spot someone — anyone — with their own name on a Phillies jersey. I was not disappointed. As a matter of fact, I was pleased — if not a bit disturbed — by just how many people had no problem displaying their innermost baseball fantasies to their fellow Phillies fans. Among the "Utley"s and the "Howard"s and the "Halladay"s, I saw numerous non-Phillie names in big red letters unjustly stitched across those red pinstripes. I got as close to the offenders as I could and snapped a picture, preserving the evidence for later display. On my first day of this project, I got five pictures. After we arrived home from the game, I started a new WordPress blog called "Who Does He Play For?" Every week, I would add to the collection of "jersey offenders." I posted the photos I gathered that day and captioned them with words of good-natured ribbing (well, "good-natured" unless you were the subject). Some days, I came home with a collection of pictures that numbered in the high twenties. As the weeks passed, I started receiving pictures from other Phillies fans, thanks to an anonymous email address posted on the blog's masthead. My blog was even acknowledged by a sportswriter from the Philadelphia Daily News and was mentioned in an online publication devoted to sports uniforms.

This blog had taken on a life of its own, as well as injecting new excitement into the boring routine of going to a Phillies game. Don't get me wrong. We enjoyed our Sunday outings, but, as I mentioned, baseball is not a particularly exciting sport. However, we were making our own excitement. But it didn't come without risk. When I spotted an "offending jersey," I would take off into the crowd, leaving poor Mrs. Pincus (now using the counterpart alias "Mrs. Photographer N") in the dust, worrying if some drunk guy with his own name on his jersey would catch me taking his picture and beat the crap out of me. Would she stumble across my bloodied and battered body a few hundred feet up the concourse with my camera stuffed in my mouth, mob hit-style? Nope. She never did. I was careful. Plus, I came to see that most people are oblivious to their surroundings. With the flash on my camera turned off, I have gotten within inches of a subject and remained undetected. As a courtesy to the folks who deserved no courtesy, I blurred any visible faces in every photograph, including innocent bystanders.

My "Who Does He Play For?" blog kept me busy with nearly 1500 posts over five years, including posts during the off-season (because there is no rest for the weary). But, at the end of the 2013, after 18 seasons spanning two ballparks, Mrs. P and I decided not to renew our ticket plan. I hung up my camera and "Photographer N." faded into the crowd, remaining unidentified until the confession you are now reading.

Mrs. P (or should I say "Mrs. Photographer N") went to a Phillies game just last week. I am saddened to say that the tradition continues among the fans. Luckily, I brought my camera and I snapped one for old times' sake.

Although the blog is no longer active, it is still available to peruse (HERE) as an archive until the internet takes it down. Enjoy. I know I did.

* saw one
** saw one

Sunday, May 27, 2018

now it's time to say goodbye to all our company

In the summer of 1980, I made my first trip to Walt Disney World.... and I didn't even want to go. 

I had graduated from high school just a year earlier and hadn't yet decided what I wanted to do with my life. My friends had all taken the expected educational path and were enrolled in college. But not me. I was working as a cashier at a clothing store as I pondered a suitable (and lucrative) direction for my career. I considered going headfirst into retail — except I hated it. I had been drawing since I was a child, but the thought of making a living at it was inconceivable. I had always heard of the proverbial "starving artist" and I didn't want that to be me.

My friends and I began kicking around ideas for a trip — our first collective vacation sans parents. As summer was approaching and the school year (at least for some) was drawing to a close, a vacation sounded like just the thing we all needed. We quickly dismissed a week in Atlantic City, as that was the "go-to" option we were compelled to take for most of our lives. We wanted to really go somewhere. Somewhere to which we'd never been. We all agreed on Florida, but where exactly in Florida was a point of contention among us. I voted for Fort Lauderdale, lured by my older brother's tales of flowing beer and bikini-ed girls. My friends Alan and Scott suggested landlocked Orlando, home of Walt Disney's variation on his "Disneyland" theme. I frowned at the idea. "An amusement park?," I whined, "I don't want to spend a week at an amusement park!" I was debated and cajoled until I finally relented. Little did my 19-year old self know that by agreeing to go to Disney World, my feelings for all things Disney were about to do a complete one-eighty.

I scraped together every spare cent I could and even had to borrow the last few dollars to purchase my very first airplane ticket. Soon, my friends and I found ourselves face-to-face with actual palm trees of which we had only seen pictured in geography books. Our rental car took us to the ritzy (in our perception) International Inn, dead center on the main drag of bustling International Drive in Orlando, a thoroughfare so exotic in our sheltered eyes that it boasted an International House of Pancakes at either end of the street. We were definitely not in Philadelphia anymore. We checked into our room, tossed our luggage where ever it landed and headed out to the first liquor store we could find. Unlike Pennsylvania, where the state-run Liquor Control Board holds a tight grip on the distribution and sale of distilled spirits, alcohol flowed freely and was as readily available as Coca-Cola (or in Florida's case — Mr. Pibb). And four rambunctious, uninhibited Yankee 19-year-olds took full advantage.

Twenty bucks including tax.
On our first full day in Florida, my friends and I stuffed ourselves with the fine offerings from Davis Brothers breakfast buffet (where a mere five bucks allowed me to eat more waffles in one morning that I had eaten in my entire life up to that point). We piled into our rental car and tooled on over to the Magic Kingdom, the only Disney theme park in Central Florida at the time. We made sure we each had our coveted two-day, all-inclusive Magic Kingdom "Passport" that we had purchased under the guidance of  the travel agent with whom we had arranged our trip. Yessiree! Our "passport" would allow full access to every attraction the Magic Kingdom had to offer without having to fuss with those pedestrian "letter" tickets. As we passed through the turnstile, our admission ticket was hand-stamped by a smiling young lady in a Disney-branded plaid vest and skirt. I began to feel a twinge of actual excitement breaking through my previous "vacation cynicism." This was pretty cool. And perhaps, I thought to myself, this place is something more than an amusement park. The combination of a loud, steamy tooooooot from an old-fashioned train just above our heads, the low tones of a unseen calliope, the distinctive rhythmic tinkle of ragtime piano chords, the scent of fresh popcorn and the sweet aroma of flowers was putting my senses into euphoric overload. A grin stretched across my lips as I scanned the free park guide map, trying to decide which attraction would be my inaugural foray into an eventual lifetime of Disney.... hell, I'll say it.... obsession. I raced with my friends up Main Street, weaving around the crowds, making a slight left toward the path marked "ADVENTURELAND" in decidedly primitive-looking letters arranged across a wicker arch that spanned the walkway. Jungle drums beat out an ominous cadence. Giant palm trees bent down, creating a cool, secluding canopy that effectively blocked out the gaiety on Main Street, a mere fifty or so feet away. We tackled The Swiss Family Treehouse first, making our way up and down the narrow rope-and-plank staircases that threaded through the enormous trunk. On first glance, the whole thing is quite impressive, but, when you realize that not a goddamn thing in the entire place is real — that's when it hits you just how impressive Disney World is. It was the kick-off of a surreal day filled with rollicking pirates and singing bears and spinning teacups and gas-chugging race cars and 999 happy haunts and eighty dolls singing small world after all.

Gotta have 'em.
At the end of my first taste of the immersive world of a Disney theme park, my friends and I made our way towards the exit, but not before an obligatory stop at The Emporium — the largest gift shop in the Magic Kingdom. Excitedly, I sorted through the bins and displays and racks of Mickey Mouse-emblazoned tchotchkes. I began grabbing everything! And I do mean everything! Buttons! T-shirts! Pens! Posters! Magnets! I started filling a shopping basket as my bewildered friends marveled at my behavior. They had never seen me so... so.. possessed, at it were. They also seemed curious as to why I was wasting precious beer money on black felt Mouse ears with "Josh" stitched across the back. When the dust finally cleared, I lumbered out of the store with several bags brimming  with all sorts of Disney treasures.

And that's where it all began. My hobby. My pastime. My collection.

I visited Walt Disney World many more times after my initial trip, including my honeymoon and a wintertime vacation when Mrs. Pincus was about six weeks pregnant. Actually, when I met the future Mrs. Pincus, we each had a small collection of Disney items from previous theme park visits. Her family had been to Disneyland in '68 and to Disney World just after its 1971 opening. When we married, our collections were merged in much the same way as her Grateful Dead albums were placed alongside my Queen albums, but without as much cacophony.

Each visit yielded more and  more Disney items added to "the collection." What had once been a little assembly of cute figurines, novelty buttons and a smattering of ephemera on a single shelf in a spare room now swelled to three full bookshelves and soon an entire room and it showed no signs of receding. Books and toys (still pristine in their packaging) stood meticulously positioned alongside vintage glassware and novelty lunchboxes, all distinct in their inclusion in the Disney canon.

Our Disney collection was expanding almost at the same rate as Disney expanded their theme park roster worldwide. Of course, we obtained items from Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong and the Shanghai locations, as well. My wife and I were always on the hunt for that elusive object that we didn't even know we were missing until we saw it. We had housewares and mugs and records and the much-sought-after "cast member" items... oh, all kinds of stuff. Guests at our house would smile, and yet, scratch their heads, pondering why two adults would have a roomful of kids' stuff. In their defense, it was a pretty good question.

Just before our son was born, the entire collection was moved (by me — in a single night) to a heretofore empty room on the third floor of the home we had purchased a few months earlier. Of course, we purchased a lot of Disney toys and related items for our new baby, as did family and friends who figured that he had no choice but to become a "Disney Kid." Our son E's room was subtly appointed with Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh, in both plush and plastic formats. We watched Disney video tapes as a family and E was a fan of cable TV's fledgling Disney Channel. As E grew up, he would often ask people whose houses we visited if he could see their "Disney Room." He just assumed that every house had one. His house did, as well as the standard living room, kitchen and bathroom, so why wouldn't they have a "Disney Room?" When his requests for a tour were met with confusion, I suppose that's when he figured out his parents were not like other parents.

Over the course of thirty or so years, between numerous vacations to Disney World, Disneyland, Disney merchandise outlets, Disney Stores, eBay auctions, flea markets and collector shows, our "Disney Room" grew and grew and grew. It became legendary among friends, relatives, friends of friends, coworkers and other acquaintances. At our yearly "Night Before Thanksgiving" dessert soiree, invited guests would climb the two flights of stairs to the third floor of our house and cram themselves into the ever-shrinking space in the center of the "Disney Room." With each passing year, the walls seemed to close in a little more and fewer people could fit in the room at the same time.
(click to enlarge... if you dare)
When my parents passed away in the early 1990s, I became concerned about what sort of mess my son would be left with when my wife's and my time on earth has run its course. I certainly didn't want to leave a house full of shit like my parents left me. While our house is way more orderly than the chaotic shambles my parents called "home" (and stocked with way cooler stuff), Mrs. P and I toyed with the notion of thinning out our household accumulations — including our beloved "Disney Room." With our 60th birthdays looming in the not-too-distant future, we really gave "liquidation" some serious thought.

Then, this past February, came the unthinkable. I lost my job. At 56, it was quite scary. Not knowing when my next employment would begin, my wife and I tightened our belts, swallowed our pride and started in on the bittersweet task of dismantling and selling off a lifetime — our lifetime — of Disney memorabilia. At first, it was hard. Very hard, as a matter of fact. I scanned the room and reluctantly cherry-picked a few nondescript items. A book. A die-cast car. A yo-yo. A doll. My wife, who has maintained an eBay store over twenty years, patiently schooled me on the ins-and-outs of listing items on the world's largest internet auction website. The first weekend of our "little project" was admittedly tough, but as the days went on, it was actually a freeing and fun experience. I began to gather up items with zeal. I was not nearly as discerning as I was when the project began. Certainly not as discerning as when I was originally buying the stuff. I was on a mission and that mission was clearing those shelves to both generate income and not leave an abysmal burden for our son. Every weekend afternoon, my wife and I sit side-by-side and list our prized possessions. And little by little, the room is noticeably emptying. For the first time in thirty years, I am able to see the backs of the shelves. Some surprising items are generating interest, while others — ones I thought would be most sought after — are ignored by what is obviously a new crop of collectors who don't share the same sense of nostalgia as Mrs Pincus and me. There is activity among DuckTales and TaleSpin items, a Disney cartoon that was popular when I was 26, so there's this "window of opportunity" for the older, more collectible pieces that may have closed when were were still happily admiring our accumulation. Nevertheless, the majority of our collection is selling at a fairly brisk clip.

Am I sorry to see the stuff go? Not nearly as much as I thought I'd be. As a matter of fact, as the weeks go on and more of our collection is sold, I am less and less concerned. Recently, my son had the opportunity to give the Disney Room a "once-over," grabbing stuff that he had singled out and desired over the course of his lifetime — stuff that, at one time, was off-limits to the touch of a child's hand. He took a mini Pirates of the Caribbean music box from Tokyo Disneyland that he had been eyeing for years. (Actually, my wife had to yank it from her eBay store, as it was already available for sale.)

If you have ever been to my house — I'm sorry — but the "Disney Room" is no longer accepting visitors. If there was something you saw on a shelf that you secretly wished you could own, now is your chance. Take a look at the Disney items available in Mrs. P's eBay store and auctions.

There's enough stuff to fill a room. But it's going fast.

Click here for a panoramic view....that no longer exists.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

meeting across the river

I hate meetings. Meetings are stupid, non-productive and a colossal waste of time. For the most part, they serve to give office dead weight somewhere to go to justify their coming into work everyday. At my last job, meetings were a daily event for a lot of my co-workers. Topics were discussed in a series of cliches and buzzwords, most of which baffled a lot of folks in my department. Corporate jargon was bandied about in cryptic cadence, often mixing up the mysterious metaphors — like "getting your cats in a row" or "herding ducks"— making them even more confounding. My close colleagues and I would exit those grueling marathons with absolutely no clue as to what had just transpired. We were clueless as to whether we were headed in the same strategic direction as a department.

But, there was always lunch, so it wasn't a total loss.

Years ago, I worked in the advertising department of a large, national after-market auto parts supplier (you probably know which one). I was one of a dozen graphic artists whose responsibilities included the production of the company's weekly advertising circular for the Sunday newspaper. These multi-panel broadsheets consisted of hundreds of items jammed into postage stamp-sized blocks arranged in large, colorful grids that were spread over four (sometimes six) pages. Every week, it seemed, the same items were featured in the ads but their positions were rearranged like a big Rubik's Cube. Before a new ad was composed, the production department (of which I was a part) would meet with the executive advertising team, as well as the product-line buyers, to discuss what would be included in the coming week's circular. The groups would assemble in a large, paneled conference room, everyone jockeying for position at the oblong table. Department members would do their best to sit together in order to compare hastily-scribbled notes. Sometimes, due to prior commitments, late arrivals had to find a seat far from their department colleagues, forced to "wing-it" on their own. These meetings were pointless because the same items were advertised over and over and, throughout the course of the week, the decisions made in the meeting were overridden by the "powers-that-be" who couldn't remember what they decided three days earlier.

One meeting in particular, I was able to grab a seat near the Vice-President of Advertising. The actual President of Advertising, curiously, never attended these meetings. As I recall, he was rarely even seen, usually spending his days behind a closed office door at the end of a hallway. On the rare occasion when he was spotted, he was only glimpsed for a few seconds as he carried a cup of coffee back to his office, his tanning-booth skin tone harsh beneath the overhead florescent lights. His "second-in-command" — a bespectacled, lanky gentleman who, I swear to God, was stoned off his ass every second of the day — led the meetings in his superior's stead. And there I was, seated to his right, the faint smell of marijuana between us (although that could have just been the power of suggestion and reputation). I was surrounded by others from my department, all waiting with a fresh page of a legal pad and our ball-points poised at the ready. The room began to fill up with buyers and assistant buyers, along with representatives from the pricing department. Minutes before the meeting commenced, my pal Steeveedee, a copywriter from the advertising department, rushed in looking harried and scanning the room for an available chair. He spotted one  in the far corner and snaked and shuffled his way through the crowded room to get to it. The meeting began. Buyers shouted for attention and the production team asked everyone to slow down with their directions as they feverishly jotted down instructions as quickly as possible. I watched Steeveedee arrange and rearrange papers and notes in his hands, a look of deep concentration on his face. 

That's when I decided to be an asshole.

I inconspicuously withdrew my cellphone from my pocket and sent a three-word message to Steeveedee's number. I slowly and deliberately typed the fourteen-letter message and hit the "send" button.

"Go fuck yourself" it read.

In a few seconds, I watched Steeveedee fish in his pocket and extract his phone. I watched as he looked down at his phone over the tops of his glasses and pressed the buttons to retrieve his messages. I watched as his eyes darted across the tiny screen of his phone as he read my message. I watched as his cheeks puffed out and he bit his lip to stifle, what was obviously going to be, a very loud and hearty laugh. I watched as Steeveedee closed his eyes to regain his composure and then glanced around the room for — who else? — me.

And there I was — smiling and holding back a laugh myself — when his eyes finally landed on me.

I still hate meetings, but I sure liked that one.