Sunday, April 29, 2018

seen the doctor

I have suffered from a condition for over forty years. but I was finally able to get an appointment to see the doctor. 

One Sunday evening, just before I started high school, I discovered something unusual while listening to the radio. As a fourteen-year old, well versed and totally immersed in the world of Top 40 Radio, I stumbled upon some strange sounds emanating from a station just a little up the FM dial from WIFI-92, a Philadelphia Top 40 station masquerading as a cool FM station. It was on 94 WYSP, an album-oriented rock station my older brother listened to, that I heard the quirky DJ with the even quirkier voice, introduce "Transfusion" by one Nervous Norvus. This tune, one I had never heard before (I would later find out it was originally released in 1956, five years before I was born.), was an echo-y, sinister-sounding recitation with vague musical accompaniment, filled with the gut-wrenching sounds of a car crash and lyrics coolly describing the aftermath of reckless driving habits with rhymes like "Pour the crimson in me, Jimson." It was awesome. Next was another gem of weirdness called "Fish Heads," a nonsensical ditty chock-full of non-sequiturs, performed by Barnes and Barnes (Brothers Art and Artie, later revealed to be songwriter Robert Haimer and actor/singer Bill Mumy, best known as "Will Robinson" on TVs "Lost in Space"). For two hours, I sat transfixed as the DJ — Dr. Demento, as he called himself — assaulted the airwaves with the likes of "I Want My Baby Back" by Jimmie Cross, "The Battle of Kookamonga" by Homer and Jethro and "Leader of the Laundromat" by The Detergents (another group fronted by prolific vocalist Ron Dante, the voice of The Archies, The Cuff Links and producer of the first nine Barry Manilow albums). He even played "Monster Mash" and it wan't anywhere near Halloween. Later in the program, I heard Spike Jones and his City Slickers, a band with whom I was familiar from a stack of  thick 78s my mom used to play. Much to my amazement. Dr. Demento also spun tunes by Allan Sherman, a singer of song parodies I also knew from my parents' record collection. 

I was dizzy with excitement, hopeful that this was not just a one-time broadcast. When the show concluded (with a Top Ten countdown that crowned "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!" by Napoleon XIV [the stage name of Philadelphia singer/songwriter/producer Jerry Samuels] as this week's "Number One Most Demented Song"), the good Doctor invited listeners to tune in each and every week for more demented songs. As I listened to the crackly tones of "Cheerio, Cherry Lips, Cheerio," the closing theme originally recorded in 1929, I knew I'd be in the exact same spot the following week — and for many, many weeks to come. 

Eventually, WYSP stopped carrying the syndicated broadcasts of the "Dr. Demento Show." It was around the time my musical tastes began to expand. However, I still kept a soft spot for novelty records. I was a big fan of They Might Be Giants, who — let's face it — are just a good old-fashioned novelty act with wide appeal. I bought early albums by Barenaked Ladies, a group of Canadian popsters who mixed songs like "Be My Yoko Ono" among their dreamy ballads and upbeat rockers. And, of course, I loved Weird Al Yankovic, himself a Dr. Demento discovery.

When my son was growing up, we listened — as a family — to a call-in show for kids on Philadelphia public radio station WXPN. The host, a jovial and endearing woman named Kathy O'Connell, carried the Dr. Demento torch as she peppered her show with tracks by Weird Al, Allan Sherman and her personal favorite, TV pioneer Soupy Sales — introducing a new generation to these timeless "classics" of a bygone era. I was so excited to hear these songs again to share them with my young son, telling him about Dr. Demento as we listened. My son got a kick out of the novelty songs, too.

The Doctor will see you now.
(photo by Patti with an EYE)
Which brings us up to the present. My son, now 30, works at WXPN. In addition to his own on-air shifts, he serves as the engineer for Kathy O'Connell's show, which, three decades later, is still going strong. Just this week, I got word that the actual, real-life Dr. Demento would be paying a visit to Philadelphia to speak with Kathy as part of Kindie Comm, an annual event focusing on the independent kids' music industry. The good Doctor is also promoting the release of a 2 CD, thirty-track tribute to the beloved songs made popular on his show — all performed in a punk rock style by noted bands of the genre. My son, now a certified radio "insider," was good enough to slip me in during Kathy's Q & A session with Dr. D and John Cafiero, his cohort and collaborator (conspirator?) on the compilation. Dr. Demento was positively fascinating. He is a gentle, soft-spoken, if somewhat befuddled, man — now in his late 70s — with an encyclopedic knowledge of names, dates and participants in the music and radio industry going back to the first time Guglielmo Marconi stuck two wires together. The audience — made up in part by singers and songwriters who were heavily influenced by the songs they heard on Dr. Demento's show — were held spellbound by tales of Benny Bell and Freddy Martin (AKA Felix Figueroa) that Dr. Demento spun. Afterwards, a lengthy queue of devoted fans aching to meet their musical hero formed in the venue's lobby. I numbered myself among them.

I came prepared with a drawing I did of the good Doctor for the good Doctor — two copies; one for him and one for me. When it was my turn (I was second in line), I shook the Doctor's hand and presented him with my drawing. He smiled and asked If I drew it. I modestly answered in the affirmative and he told me that the cover of his first compilation album (released in 1975 - he released 17 more since) was drawn by a fan of the show. Then he scrawled his signature across the bottom of my drawing and graciously posed for a photograph. When I posted the photo on social media, my connections came out of the woodwork to tell me how jealous they were that I got to meet Dr. Demento,

I felt like fourteen-year old me who was hearing Dr. Demento for the first time.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

I see your true colors shining through

My hometown has been in the news this week for reasons that do not make me proud. Two African-American gentlemen walked into a Philadelphia Starbucks and sat down to wait for a colleague. This apparently made the manager of the Starbucks uneasy. Having two African-American men waiting at a table was more than this particular Starbucks manager could take. He called the police. After a discussion that referenced Starbucks company policy and a disobeyed order to leave the premises, the two gentlemen were placed in police custody, handcuffed just as their friend was entering the Starbucks to make their appointment. A cellphone video, posted to YouTube, shows the friend questioning the nature of the arrest... and receiving no real answer. The men were questioned at police headquarters and eventually released at approximately 2 AM — nearly nine and a half hours after the police were called. In the days following, protesters patroled the area outside the Starbucks at 1801 Spruce Street. Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks for under a year, came to Philadelphia to apologize to the gentlemen in person. Both Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney apologized to the two gentlemen for the way the incident was handled by the arresting officers. The whole incident was embarrassing and infuriating. I still find it puzzling that such blatant racism still exists in the United States in 2018.

Last October, my wife and I were on a cruise. During the course of our week at sea, we made friends with a variety of folks who were on the Norwegian Breakaway for the same reason we were. One afternoon, early in our trip, Mrs P and I were participating in a rousing game of Pictionary with some of our fellow cruisers. In between rounds, we made small talk with the other players, mostly discussing about the up-coming ports-of-call and where everybody hailed from. My wife struck up a conversation with a multi-generational family who, like us, called Philadelphia home. A friendly older woman revealed that they were  travelling with a church group from Southwest Philadelphia. As Mrs. P and this woman chit-chatted, a young girl sort of clung to the woman, silently taking in the conversation, trying to figure out who this lady was that was talking to — we later discovered — her grandmother. The little girl was about seven or eight and displayed an air of suspicion. She watched with wide eyes and exercised caution, staying behind the protection of her grandmother. Her grandmother, on the other hand, was quite animated and talkative and the conversation soon branched out past "where do you live?" and entered other areas of shared interest.

During the week, we saw this little family at the buffet, near the pool, walking the common areas, at activities, as well at the first of several late-night movies. As the time went on, the little girl became less and less timid. By Day Two, she actually introduced herself as "Anissa," careful to pronounce it "Ah-NEES-a," as though we would only get one chance and we better say it correctly every time we used it. Mrs Pincus, a natural Pied Piper of children, told Anissa that there was a famous child actress with that name who was very popular and she even pronounced it the same way. Anissa smiled and showed signs of warming up. She asked us if we have any children. I answered her by pulling up a picture of our thirty-year old son on my cellphone. Anissa asked us about pets and we told her that we do not have any currently, but we did have cats — on and off — for years. She asked more questions and we answered the ones that we could. We could see that Anissa was becoming more comfortable with these people who talked to her grandmother. By Day Three, Anissa was shrieking "SUSIE!" with delight when she spotted my wife scooping herself a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. Later the same day, we again heard the unmistakable cry of "SUSIE!" as we took our places for an afternoon session of trivia — our favorite shipboard pastime. Anissa even took a spot in a chair next to Mrs. P.

One late afternoon about midway through our trip, Mrs. P and I settled into a couple of overstuffed chairs in the ship's Atrium to watch a documentary about swing dancing on a two-story projection screen. Just before the film started, a young man we had not met before came over to us and asked how we know so much trivia. Evidently, he had witnessed the mind-numbing expertise we exhibit while answering the silly, general knowledge questions that were posed. Mrs. P and I laughed and explained that we watch a lot of television, watch a lot of movies and just have an uncanny knack for remembering useless tidbits of information. He laughed, thanked us for our candor and strolled off. As he did, he passed Anissa who appeared with her family and greeted us (actually just my wife) with a loud, excited "SUSIE!" She stood between us and asked — in all earnest and innocence — if that boy we were talking to was our son. She followed up by asking if we were with her church group.

I must interrupt this story for a brief explanation.

Anissa and her family were African-American. The young man who asked about our knowledge of trivia was African-American. My wife and I are Caucasian. 

Anissa, apparently, saw none of that. She merely saw us speaking with a young man older than she, but young enough to be the son we often mentioned in our conversations. Anissa didn't see skin color. At all. For the entire week. We were so taken by Anissa's "matter-of-fact" untainted outlook. It made me wonder if Anissa couldn't be the teacher from which we all can learn. All of us.

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... something more malevolent.

Nope.
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.