Sunday, March 26, 2023

love for sale

I suppose today's post on It's Been a Slice is the equivalent to an infomercial. For however long this blog has been raging on (it's been thirteen years, but who's counting?), I have referenced Mrs. Pincus's eBay store and the many places that have been my employer. Today, however, I offer a blatant plug for a little side hustle I got going. Perhaps you have seen it on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook if you are one of the tens of people who follow me and my internet antics. For those of you in the dark but still reading this far, I'll fill you in.

My first sale!
(No longer available.)
For the past few months, I have been selling t-shirts on a great website called TeePublic. I have been sitting at home, watching TV of contributing to my blogs (yes, that's plural. I have two) and wondering how I can make a few extra dollars from my silly little drawings and my slightly off-kilter sense of humor. I began to explore some options and decided that TeePublic's set-up made the most sense for me. One Sunday afternoon right around Thanksgiving, I created a few designs and selected a few drawings from my illustration blog (see? I do have another blog!) and uploaded them to my newly created storefront on the TeePublic website. Because I have a background in advertising and marketing, I also created a few graphics to promote my new business venture on several social media outlets. Almost immediately, I made a sale... giving me a false sense of security. It turns out, my first sale was to someone I knew. Nevertheless, a sale is a sale! I thanked her for her purchase and sat back, waiting for more sales to roll in.

They didn't.

However, I did get an email from TeePublic, that one of my designs was taken down for copyright infringement. A day later, I received a similar email and another one of my designs was removed. TeePublic is rampant with non-licensed designs of copywritten properties, yet I got busted right out of the gate. Still determined, I added a few more designs to my storefront. I chose designs of recognizable images and characters, trying my best to be discreet.

A few days after my first sale, I made two in one day. I began to think this little endeavor was gonna be great! Both, I found out later, were to someone else I knew personally.

Then, my entire store was pulled by TeePublic. Just four days after I "opened for business," I received this sad little email that began...
This is to notify you that, as a result of a violation of our terms and conditions, we have removed or disabled access to the material that appeared at Pincus and have deleted your account.

I stewed for a little bit, but I was determined. I rethought my approach and, with a different email address and a slightly altered name, I boldly relaunched my business as "JPiC Designs" on TeePublic. I scoured my website for drawings that I had done that were not overtly recognizable or could be altered so movies and names or references if they too drew much attention to a particular celebrity, movie or the like. I also began a series of illustrated song lyrics. Sure, that sounds like trouble in the making, but I was careful to select lyrics that did not mention a song's title. I figured these would appeal to true fans of a particular band. I also mixed in some famous movie quotes, again, careful not to use the actual title of the movie, but slyly employing recognizable typefaces and using images that could be.... well.... anything.... nudge, nudge.

I launched my TeePublic store 2.0 a week or so before Christmas. I made my first sale in the early weeks of the new year. I started the reboot with about two dozen designs and slowly added more each week. I have not bee sticking to any particular theme or style. I try to create what I think will sell, not necessarily what I like... but what the people will like. You know... give the people what they want! If you visit my storefront, you'll find movie quotes, song lyrics, goofs on famous works of art, silly drawings featuring both Jesus and Satan and a lot of designs depicting food.... because everybody like food. There are even a few designs aimed to please my fellow Philadelphians. Besides t-shirts, TeePublic offers a wide variety of other products, including hoodies stickers, buttons and mugs. Everything can be emblazoned with your favorite Josh Pincus created design.

So, there you have it. A word from our sponsor. Go take a look at what I have for sale. At last count, there are 240 different designs available. Some are drawings you may have seen on my illustration blog. Others are unique to TeePublic. I add new designs fairly regularly. Maybe there's something to fill that hole in your life you didn't know needed filling.

Or something like that.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog post.


Saturday, March 18, 2023

I'll still sing you love songs

When I was eighteen, the legal drinking age in New Jersey was eighteen. Yeah, I lived in Pennsylvania, but the Garden State was just a short drive over a 10¢ toll bridge and I was rolling in cheap beer and dive bars... legally. And South Jersey was filled with dive bars, most of which offered moderate entertainment at no additional charge. The entertainment to which I am referring was cover bands. Cover bands were an interesting entity. They were comprised of wanna-be "rock stars" who figured the only way to get their "big break" was to play exact, note-for-note recreations of the top hits of the day, along with a generous portion of classic, timeless tunes from the annals of (what is now known as) "classic rock." On any given weekend evening one of a dozen different area "cover bands" could be seen and heard at such alcohol-soaked venues as Dr. Jekyll's, Cherries or the ever-popular Penalty Box, a huge establishment with a dozen bars, all serviced by guys in referee's uniforms. Today, they would be mistaken for employees of Foot Locker, but in the late 70s, in Pennsauken, New Jersey, those jerseys meant someone was headed your way with a big, frothy pitcher of Rolling Rock. All of these places featured a rotating bill of the area's most beloved cover bands, each playing the same popular and familiar songs and some even specializing in the songs of one particular band. Witness did a full set of the music of Jethro Tull. Wintergreen did a set of The Beatles. Crystal Ship, as mentioned sarcastically in the Dead Milkmen's epic "Bitchin Camaro," presented their take on songs by The Doors. There was even an all-female band  — Rapture — that offered the best of Blondie. Of course, no group of cover bands would be complete without one who performed songs by The Grateful Dead. As a matter of fact, there were a couple in the greater Philadelphia area. There was Mr. Charlie and a few others — all trying their darndest to sound like Jerry Garcia and his tie-dyed pals. And for the price of a couple of beers, it was a pretty good few hours of entertainment until the real Grateful Dead made it to town. But everyone knew that these bands were just a bunch of guys playing songs by bands they liked for the enjoyment of drunk folks who also liked those songs.

But something happened.

Somewhere between 1977 and now, "cover bands" became "tribute bands" and the rules changed. These bands now play legitimate venues — the same stages that host actual, original bands. There's The Musical Box, a Canadian ensemble that recreates the heyday of Genesis. They have been together, touring internationally, for over thirty years. There is the unimaginatively named Australian Pink Floyd that offer a sonic and sensory experience surrounding the music of  — you guessed it! — Pink Floyd. In the Philadelphia area (and I assume other comparable-sized cities) several venues regularly present tributes to U2, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Queen, ABBA and, of course, tribute staples like Neil Diamond and Elvis.

I know I am in the overwhelming minority, but tribute bands make me very uncomfortable. More specifically, the people who go to see tribute bands make me uncomfortable. In past years, Mrs. Pincus and I were given free tickets to see a Neil Diamond tribute show. I emphasize "FREE TICKETS" because there is no way I would ever, ever pay for tickets to a tribute show. The show was fine. The guy had a good voice and did a pretty good Neil Diamond impression... but the audience! Oh, sweet Caroline! It was embarrassing. These folks thought they were at a Neil Diamond concert. Afterwards, they were clamoring to pose for photos with the singer, who, up close, didn't really look like Neil Diamond. But the audience members — in their sparkly shirts — all acted as though he was the real thing.

I was a very avid and devoted Queen fan when I was in high school. While I still appreciate their musical catalog, my tastes have waned since the passing of charismatic lead singer Freddie Mercury and the subsequent cringe-worthy statements from the previously-silent Brian May. Again, my wife and I were given FREE TICKETS to a Queen tribute show. My wife, a non-Queen fan, was non-plussed about attending and I, a one-time Queen fan, felt the same. The majority of the audience (mostly around my age) felt otherwise. As the lights dimmed and one guy screamed "FREDDIE'S IN THE HOUSE!," I knew I was not going to enjoy this. Queen has a large musical catalog and a plethora of popular songs from which a "tribute band" can choose. Why they selected a version of "Ave Maria" as the centerpiece of the their show still has me scratching my head. But, once again, the audience ate this up.

A few weeks ago, Mrs. P and I went to a Flyers game on the occasion of "Grateful Dead Night." This was the Philadelphia hockey team's attempt at filling their venue in the midst of a dreadful season. The event, however, was postponed, due to an Eagles game at the stadium right next door. Because of the inconvenience, we were given tickets to the rescheduled game later in the year, featuring a pre-game performance by local Grateful Dead tribute band Splintered Sunlight. Last Sunday we arrived on the new date, three hours before puck, drop to see Splintered Sunlight, along with a large group of over-sixty, tie-dye clad "hippies" who were sure — nay, positive! — they were going to see the actual Grateful Dead.

Splintered Sunlight have gained a decent fanbase in the Philadelphia area and have a standing monthly gig at a local venue. Bottom line... they play Dead songs. And Deadheads like to hear Dead songs. I am not a Deadhead. I don't mind hearing Dead songs, but I like to hear other songs too. I am married to a Deadhead. She likes to hear Dead songs. A lot. All the time. She likes to hear other songs, but not as much as she likes to hear Dead songs.

Jerry Garcia, the venerable leader of the Grateful Dead, died in 1995. I don't believe that news has reached a lot of Deadheads. When they hear Grateful Dead songs, some of them think the spirit of Jerry is still strong and is being channeled through the members of Grateful Dead tribute bands... or at least that's how it appears to me. This crowd — in the seating area of a multipurpose arena in South Philadelphia, three hours before a hockey game — believed instead that they were actually among the swaying bodies at San Francisco's Fillmore circa 1968. Some of them, I believe, have not bathed since then.

For two hours, these faithful, if delusional, fans swirled and swayed and twirled to the mid-tempo beats of... oh, I don't know.... all the songs sounded the same to me. They were having a good old time, singing along and pantomiming the lyrics. I was having a time. I could hear clips of conversation around me, referencing "Jerry this" and "Bob that" as though those two were actually on the stage. (They were not.) There was hugging and dancing and, at one point, a balloon bounced its way across the tops of patron's heads, just like at a real Dead show, maaaaaaan! It was a sight.

Honestly, I don't mean to be mean. I'm joking. I really am. It was an interesting experience... that I would not care to experience again. And it was a far cry from the dive bars of South Jersey. Well, maybe not that far a cry,

I still don't like "tribute bands," but I got a blog post out of the experience.

This guy had a good time, though, and that's what's important.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

i started a joke

I think I'm a pretty funny guy. It doesn't matter if you don't think I'm funny... as long as I think I'm funny, because my humor is purely for my own amusement. If you happen to think the things I say are funny, well, that's just a happy by-product of me amusing myself. As a matter of fact, when someone doesn't "get" my humor, that makes it all the more funny. And if they get angry at the "playing dumb" sarcasm, which is the tone of a lot of my humor, well.... it just gets funnier. For me, anyway... and that's what's most important.

Since I hopped on to Facebook, I have had a great time amusing myself by posting silly pictures with sillier captions or leaving slyly sarcastic comments on other people's legitimately earnest posts. I just sit back and marvel at how many people don't get that I am joking. I laugh at how many people will "mansplain" a topic of which I am clearly making light. Well, clearly to me, anyway, and, as we have already established, that is the goal. The people who have known me personally (IRL, as it were) usually know when I am joking... which is always. The folks who only know me through an internet connection should figure things out within a few posts. C'mon, did I really think that Dennis the Menace found Mr. Wilson dead on the sofa... no matter what the screenshot of my television depicts? Do I need someone to explain that George Reeves was not wearing his Superman suit under his Civil War-era garb in his brief appearance in Gone with the Wind? It's a joke! I'm joking! They're all jokes!

A few days ago, MeTV, the retro television network I spend an inordinate amount of time watching, posted a little quiz about the final episode of M*A*S*H in which the character of "Radar O'Reilly" appears. A brief intro was followed by a series of multiple choice questions aimed to test readers memories about details of the show. I discovered the post through a Facebook link under the headline: "How well do you remember the ''Good-bye Radar'' episode of M*A*S*H?" It was accompanied by a photo of actor Gary Burghoff in character as the naïve company clerk with suspect extrasensory powers. At this point, there were just a few comments from readers, mostly affirming their sentimentality towards the series and that  episode in particular. This was the perfect — perfect! — scenario for a little of that patented Josh Pincus "smart-ass" humor that I've come to know and love (I cannot speak for you.) 

I have been a fan of M*A*S*H for years. I watched it in first-run and have watched reruns dozens — possibly hundreds — of times over the past forty years. (That's right, M*A*S*H had its final original episode broadcast forty years ago.) I like some episodes, I dislike some episodes. I like some characters. I dislike some characters. Overall, It's a show I will watch and one with which I am very familiar. Heck, my favorite all-time television episode is a 1974 episode of M*A*S*H called "Adam's Ribs." (I even wrote about it HERE.) Eventhough I like M*A*S*H, I will gladly make fun of it, because I make fun of everything... because everything is funny. So, injecting a little bit of sarcasm in the otherwise staid comment section was something that was custom-made for ol' JP. Here is my comment:

Of course M*A*S*H fans will recognize this as a deliberate misquote from the poignant 1975 episode "Abyssinia, Henry," that marked McLean Stevenson's swan song as the befuddled commanding officer "Lt. Col. Henry Blake." The line was delivered by Gary Burghoff to an unsuspecting cast and the tearful reactions in the episode's final scene were real. But, the internet is a relentless, humorless place, fraught with serious people who feel it is their self-appointed duty to keep the internet honest. Instead of putting their focus on inconceivable concepts like a child sex-trafficking ring operated by a former US senator under the cover of a Washington DC pizza parlor or the gubernatorial appointment of a religious zealot to a municipal board of directors, after he claimed that the public water system is responsible for turning men gay, they choose to put their time and energy into setting me straight on my confusion over a four-decade old sitcom. This is the battle they choose to fight. This is the hill they choose to die upon. The responses to my comment came in thick and fast.

It was hysterical! Do these people really think I was being serious? Let's analyze this for a second... First of all, if I can post a comment on Facebook, then I have access to the internet. If I have access to the internet, don't they realize that I can look this quote up in a matter of seconds? And, if they are such experts and bound to uphold the good and decent legacy of M*A*S*H, don't they see that the quote is spot-on accurate, except for the substitution of Radar's real name for that of Henry Blake's? And, most of all, don't they realize that this line was delivered by RADAR HIMSELF?!?! The whole thing is stupid, obviously comical and far from serious. 

At last count, ten people had made some attempt at correcting me, either with a brief "No" or "Wrong" to some actually taking the time to explain why I am wrong. These, of course, are the same people who enjoyed seeing the added request of "show your work" at the bottom of a lengthy word problem in seventh-grade math class.

A few responses were phrased as though I had just revealed an extramarital affair at a memorial service for Grandpa. How dare you! How dare you sully the legacy of the greatest achievement in the history of broadcast television! M*A*S*H stands for all that is good and decent in this world and making a factually incorrect statement about any aspect of the series is akin to blasphemy... even worse. A couple were written as though M*A*S*H was a documentary, Radar was real person and I flunked the final exam. The more self-righteous responses to my stupid joke were posted, the funnier it got.

I recently began selling t-shirts on the website TeePublic. A recent addition was this one, prompted by my regular response to those who don't "get" me. Perhaps you'd like one too. They can be very helpful... and they come in a wide variety of sizes and colors.

my city was gone

I believe that the greatest invention in the past ten or so years is the GPS. Sure, GPS technology has been around for a lot longer than ten years, but recently I have become aware of just how helpful and indispensable it really is. Years ago, a trip to AAA was the necessary first step in planning a family vacation to some distant destination. I would order a "Triptik" from the auto club well in advance of our departure date. My wife, who loves to drive, would sit behind the wheel of our packed car and I would man the passenger's seat — or in this case the navigator's seat — as I announced upcoming exits, turns and rest stops as highlighted on our custom, multipage roadmap, as prepared by the good folks at Triple A. The GPS has eliminated this service. It has also eliminated stopping a stranger on the street to ask (or clarify) directions. The ungodly procedure of asking a gas station attendant in an unfamiliar locale for directions has also been eliminated. (Actually, are there even gas station attendants to ask?) Yes sir! with the GPS that is available on nearly every cellphone or downloadable app, directions to anywhere are as easy as plugging in an address. Using your phone's location, directions are calculated in seconds and a nice lady with a pleasant (if sometimes insistent) voice will guide you to your destination. I have even used my GPS to locate a particular gravesite on my various cemetery adventures.

I was born and raised in Philadelphia and I have lived no where else. (Technically, I live in the Philadelphia suburbs, but that's splitting hairs.) I am a Philadelphian and I identify as such. Every morning, for the past two years, I take the same route to work, I drive a short distance through the suburbs to the Philadelphia city limit, crossing into the "Great Northeast" where I navigate my car towards the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge and cross into New Jersey (which is also, technically, a suburb of Philadelphia). It is approximately a forty minute drive that I have compartmentalized in my mind, taking note of where I am on my route, so I know if I am making good time and estimating my arrival time at work. Depending on the traffic, I will sometimes adjust my route — a block here and a block there — to avoid jams, construction, school crossings and other inconveniences that might hinder my commute. Every so often, I turn to my trusty GPS if I find myself on an unfamiliar street, just to get myself resituated.

One day last week, there was an awful lot of construction on a major thruway right at the beginning of my drive. I could see cars slowing down and up ahead, I could make out flashing lights and large, stationary construction vehicles. I quickly turned into the smaller streets of the adjacent neighborhood, hoping to take a parallel street and find my way back to my regular route. Apparently, every street in this neighborhood was blocked with maintenance vehicles from the Philadelphia Water Company. The further I drove, the further I got from the idea of backtracking to my regular route. When I finally came out to a street I recognized, there was a large fenced-in government building smack-dab in the middle of the neighborhood grid. Unhappily, I headed further and further south. I would have to forgo the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge and take the less-traveled Betsy Ross Bridge instead. The Betsy Ross Bridge was constructed between 1969 and 1974, though it did not open to traffic until 1976, due to protests from the neighborhood regarding proposed access routes. It was a beautiful bridge with no way to get on it. The Betsy Ross Bridge — almost fifty years later — is still surrounded by temporary roadways and changing access ramps. I don't take the Betsy Ross Bridge too often (if I can help it), so I needed a little help from my ol' GPS to get me to it. I typed in the name of my place of employment and the GPS sprung to life, instructing me to make various lefts and rights onto streets that, despite being born in this city and living here for 60 years, I was unfamiliar. I was even more unfamiliar with the neighborhood. It was a run-down, obviously working-class area with plenty of boarded-up businesses and grungy-looking auto repair places every five or so feet. I drove fairly slowly as I took my car over heavily potholed streets and past a number of abandoned vehicles. At one point, the GPS voice directed me to "turn left" down a narrow street lined with garages. A woman in her twenties was staggering across the street, reeling like a boxer trying to avoid getting socked in the head. She was unsteady on her feet, but had an enormous grin on her face. She also paid no attention to my car or the fact that it was moving towards her. I touched my brake pedal and waited for her to make it to the crumbling sidewalk, after which I left her in my rearview mirror. My next turn brought me to a large intersection where the street became six lanes. Huge shopping complexes filled with national brand stores rose up on all four corners... just a few feet from an area that looked like a battlefield. Just ahead, I was told to make another left. I did and I followed the street a short way to a giant municipal sign pointing to the entrance to the Betsy Ross Bridge — an entrance I had never seen before. As a matter of fact, I hadn't seen any of these surroundings before. I was a little embarrassed that, as a proud Philadelphian, there I was... driving around whole sections of my fair city that were as foreign to me as if they were in another country.

The next day, things were back to normal. Construction had ended and I was, once again, crossing the good old Tacony-Palmyra Bridge

If this happens again, luckily, I have my GPS to guide me... like an electronic Jiminy Cricket.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

poor unfortunate souls

My family has been fans of Disney for a long time. We have taken many, many trips to both US Disney resorts. We love the sights, the sounds, the overall experience. of just being there. This has prompted people — friends, family members, co-workers — to say: "Boy, I'd love to go to a Disney theme park with you guys!" Leading us to reply: "We are the last people you want to go to a Disney theme park with."

Aside from the rides, shows and other attractions, one of our favorite things to do at a Disney theme park is watch the other people. It's always a kick to see a family trudging through the park's walkways — a harried mom trying to wrangle an array of sugar-high children running in six different directions at once, while dad looks dour, figuring in his head how much this whole trip is costing him. We love to see folks who have no idea why they are there, aside from the fact that their neighbors came on a trip last summer and we can't have anyone outdo us! They misidentify characters. They ask directions to rides that are located at rival Universal Studios and they secretly discuss how their neighbors could possibly stand this place.

Then there are the "Disney Experts."These are my favorite group of Disney visitors. They are all decked out in their Disney finest — six lanyards, heavy with ready-to-trade enamel pins; a t-shirt emblazoned with the latest Disney character or some obscure Disney character long forgotten by the public; plenty of Disney themed accoutrements like socks, sneakers and, of course, those iconic mouse ears that you wouldn't be caught dead in anywhere else. These special Disney fans lead the uninitiated of their party through the parks, spewing all sorts of "inside" information and Disney trivia — most of which is slightly incorrect or blatantly wrong. To those unfamiliar, the majority of this information goes unquestioned, because — honestly — not a lot of people care enough to question. My family, however, enjoys hearing these self-proclaimed "experts" go off about locations of "hidden Mickeys" (look it up), tidbits about the construction of the park or little known facts about Walt Disney that they read on the ol' reliable internet. I have overheard everything from "Disney has snipers camouflaged in tree tops on the property, in the event of a serious security situation." to "Walt Disney is cryogenically frozen and his icy corpse rests beneath "The Pirates of the Caribbean" in a secure vault" to "The entire Haunted Mansion in Disneyland burned to the ground in the early 1970s." We've witnessed parents instructing their little ones to run up and give "Daffy Duck" a hug, while other groups of guests ask a Disney employee where "Harry Potter World" is. Once, in Florida, we were aboard one of the ferry boats that transports guests from the parking lot of the Magic Kingdom to the front entrance. As we made our way, another ferry was approaching from the opposite direction across man-made Bay Lake. The two vessels came precariously close to each other, prompting the ship's crew to scramble and sound alarms. During this incident, a particularly confident (and vocal) "expert" stated: "This is on a track. They can't hit each other." They are not and they could. We even made up a little song about the "Disney experts" that we covertly sang to each other when we encountered such a guest. We sang it often. It was very amusing. 

My wife and I have not been to a Disney theme park since 2017. My son, however, has taken two solo trips to Disneyland more recently. He reported that things have not changed and guests are just as misinformed as ever.

2023 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the Walt Disney Company. Aside from lengthy celebrations at their theme parks worldwide, a traveling exhibit will be making its way across the country, chock full of props and drawings and film clips and multimedia presentations honoring all things Disney. The exhibit makes its first stop in my home town of Philadelphia and last weekend — opening weekend! — my family and I attended. So did a bunch of "experts."

At the entrance to the exhibit, which snakes though a number of haphazardly-themed areas vaguely chronicling the history of the Disney Company, is a continuous film featuring Mickey Mouse (in a 1950s version of his Sorcerer's Apprentice garb) and a somewhat creepy Walt Disney, looking as though someone requested an AI generator to make a Walt Disney. The result is a little weird and sort of life-like, although they didn't get the hair quite right. Walt takes a minute or so to explain how his enterprise began and to never lose sight of the fact that "It was all started by a mouse." We know this because the queue line moved so slowly into the cramped, narrow first room of the exhibit, we got to see Walt and his rodent friend deliver their welcome message four or five times. (This little demonstration of technology has caused quite a stir on various social media outlets, with people voicing their "inside knowledge" about "how Walt would feel about this." Disney fans like to speak on behalf of the long-dead Walt Disney, confident that they knew him well enough to be qualified to express his personal sentiment... sort of the way Brian May speaks as though he is in regular contact with Freddie Mercury or how Republicans speak on behalf of Jesus.)

After the initial display depicting the early days of Walt Disney's little animation studio, the exhibit thankfully opened up into wider accommodations, allowing guests to wander around an open area and view the various artifacts safely presented behind glass. It was here I began to overhear the "experts" in full force. "Oh, that's 'Will Turner' from The Pirates of the Caribbean movie," one fellow announced, pointing to the costume actor Geoffrey Rush wore in his portrayal of the villainous 'Barbarossa.' Another articulated a long and convoluted explanation about how Walt Disney drew Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (a character that predates Mickey Mouse.) While the gist of his story was fine, he included details that he either made up or repeated what someone else made up.

Along the exhibit's route, there was a large window behind which a pair of beige pants are displayed on the bottom portion of a mannequin. A nearby placard explains that these trousers were worn by Walt Disney himself on an expedition to South America to gather information about the 1942 feature Saludos Amigos. A woman sporting glittery mouse ears and a large Mickey Mouse face splashed across her chest, proclaimed these to be the disembodied pants from the less-than-celebrated Pixar film Onward. No one in her travelling group objected, countered nor cared. They nodded and proceeded to the next item for perusal. My favorite comment of the evening from an "expert" was a young man, who had been spouting his Disney knowledge to no one in particular,  pointed to a display case and announced: "Oh my God! It's what's-his-face!"

There is a lot to see at this exhibit... and there is also a lot to read. The problem is, I don't believe a lot of the people visiting on this particular day had the patience nor ability to read every single supplied placard. Sure there are a lot of cool, instantly recognizable items on display. The glass slipper from the 2015 live-action retelling of Cinderella really needs no additional identification. Jimmie Dodd's, the host of the original Mickey Mouse Club, "Mousegetar" is neat to see, but I'd be surprised if the under-thirty crowd touring the exhibit knew what they were looking at. Other items were rather nondescript — a desk, a typewritten sheet in a frame, a drawing of a duck — without reading a paragraph describing why this is important. (A similar situation exists at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Without consulting a nearby plaque, that place is just room after room of old baseball equipment.)

At the end of the first half of the exhibit (yeah, it's big), there is a large wall decorated with the covers of albums from the archives of Disney's recording studios. One has the ability to call up timeless Disney music. This interactive presentation attracted those anxious to hear their favorite songs from High School Musical or Frozen II or the soundtrack of The Mandalorian, leaving tunes from Annette Funicello's stellar career and those from long-defunct Disneyland rides to go unplayed. 

The exhibit, in keeping to the code of Disney, ends at a gift shop. Visitors milled around the make-shift store, picking up Mickey Mouse this and Star Wars that. As a one-time collector of Disney memorabilia, nothing really appealed to me. Even here, the steadfast Disney "experts" misidentified characters, many of which they just spent the last ninety minutes learning about.

While I do not make recommendations, I will say that that I enjoyed the Disney 100 exhibit. I saw what I wanted to see, read what I wanted to read and overheard an evening's worth of unexpected entertainment. And once again, the Pincuses are the last people you want to attend such an exhibit with.

It runs through the end of August 2023 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

another auld lang syne

This story originally appeared on my illustration blog ten years ago. I think it's a good story and I like to revisit good stories because — face it! — some of the crap I write here isn't always worth the pixels they're written on. I am still confounded by anyone who isn't me reading my blog. And if you are one of the tens of loyal readers who have stuck with me, I sincerely thank you and I hope I haven't taken up too much of your time. 

A few notes... The "Randi" that we traveled to Florida with was written about HERE and her life took a decidedly weird turn. And the baby?  Well, the baby is 35 years old now.

Anyway, here's the story about a memorable New Year's Eve. I hope you like it as much as I endured to bring it to you.

New Year's Eve 1986 was the most memorable New Year's Eve for me — and nothing spectacular even happened. It was better than the New Year's Eve when I got stupid drunk and discovered true meaning in Side Two of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. It was better than the New Year's Eve that I dumped Linda Cohen just forty minutes after the ball dropped in Times Square. It was better than New Year's Eve 1999, when I still maintained that it was not the turn of the century no matter what eleventy gazillion people said. No, I will never forget New Year's Eve 1986 and even though I actually slept right through the clock striking midnight, I still remember it fondly it all these years later.

I have loved Walt Disney World since I set foot on those magical grounds in central Florida for the first time in 1981. I took two great summer trips there with friends, followed by a honeymoon with my new bride a few years later. Although, my wife and I love the Disney theme parks and the surrounding attractions (read: outlet malls), the heat and humidity in the Orlando area in July can be uncomfortable. So, we decided to give a December trip a try. The notion of seeing the Magic Kingdom decorated for Christmas heightened our excitement.

The decision to drive the 990 miles to Mickey's Mecca was made without a discussion. Despite the fact that Mrs. P was just informed that she was six weeks pregnant, driving our car was still our preferred choice for transportation. We knew that with a family expansion, our next trip to anywhere would be way off in the unforeseeable future. So, my wife wanted one last long-distance hurrah behind the wheel before the responsibility of parenthood forces us to think rationally. Besides, she loves driving and I love passengering, so it's a match made in heaven — by way of  AAA.

We were joined on this trip by Randi, Mrs. P's longtime closest friend, who was Maid of Honor at our wedding and our choice for godmother to our pending offspring. While I made the arrangements for admission tickets and plotting a route for our journey (in the days before the internet and the GPS), Randi offered to take on the task of booking hotel accommodations near Disney World. A few days before our departure, Randi cheerfully reported that she had secured a hotel.

We loaded up the hatchback of our tiny Nissan with enough essential gear for three adults and we left the day after Christmas, which — as the calendar would have it — was the first night of Chanukah. My ever-prepared spouse packed a small menorah and enough candles to take us through Day Eight of the observance. Judah Maccabee would have been proud. Mrs. P navigated the car south on I-95 and we talked and sang and marveled at the quirky sights along the way (A Cracker Barrel every fifteen feet qualifies as — quirky — in my book). After a long day of driving (and an obligatory stop at South of the Border for God knows what reason!), we pulled into a roadside motel just north of Savannah, Georgia. We just wanted to stretch our legs, eat and sleep so we could arrive fresh and relaxed in Orlando the next afternoon. Plus, we needed to light candles for Chanukah's opening night. We grabbed a quick dinner at the restaurant next to our motel, returned to our room, kindled the holiday flames and hit the sack. We woke early the next morning and headed out to the same restaurant for breakfast. After our morning meal, we came back to find our room had been made up by the attentive housekeeping staff — beds made, fresh towels stacked by the small sink, carpets vacuumed, waste cans emptied. However, the remnants of the previous evening's Chanukah candles were conspicuously untouched. The matchbook lay in the exact same position in which it was left. The melted candle wax, now hardened, stood undisturbed — its frozen drips never reaching the nearly circular, solid puddle of paraffin below. Several unused candles were untouched, still balanced precariously upon one another, just as they had slid from the box eight hours earlier. We figured the chambermaids were horrified and mistook this display for some primitive ritual of black magic, wanting no parts of it. Perhaps they left the room extra clean as a peace offering.

After a full morning on the road, we took the Kissimmee exit on I-4 and began the search for our hotel. Since it was holiday time, the hotels along that stretch of US Route 192 were adorned in Christmas finery. Hundreds of lights twinkled from in and around artificial greenery and from under piles of fake snow, giving the otherwise temperate clime a faux-wintry façade. The changeable signage below each lodging establishment's illuminated logo declared some sort of sentiment of the season. We passed numerous "Happy Holidays," "Seasons Greetings," and the occasional holiday-specific "Merry Christmas," all glowing softly with a welcoming radiance, regardless of the succession of angry "NO VACANCY" signs ablaze just a few inches below. Luckily, we had reservations. The procession of corporate resorts dwindled and we finally located our hotel. It was the last one on the strip before the multi-lane highway yielded to overgrown brush and heat-buckled macadam. The backlit sign proclaimed "Happy Birthday Jesus" in eight-inch high, right-to-the-point Helvetica Bold Caps. This was to be our home for the next five days.

I obtained the key and directions to our room from the office. I pointed to my wife and she pulled the car ahead in the direction of my outstretched finger. I turned the key in the lock (remember — this was 1986 in a technologically-deficient hotel) and the door swung open to reveal a plain room with two plain beds, a plain lamp and plain dresser and, as we soon discovered, a sink without running water. A quick call to the office (on the age-yellowed desk phone) told me that some work was being performed on the pipes and the water should be on in "a little bit." I was not familiar with the Southern chronological time-frame of "a little bit," so we had no choice but to stick it out and wait. After settling in and a casual dinner, we decided to turn in and get an early start tomorrow at the Magic Kingdom. I noticed that instead of a deadbolt and chain, our hotel room door sported a length of rubber hose nailed to the door jamb adjacent to the knob. (I shit you not!) Proper security was achieved by looping the hose around the door knob, followed by praying to the Lord Birthday Boy. I followed the procedure with the hose, but instead of prayer, I opted to slide a chair in front of the door. I put my faith in a heavy object rather than a magical Lamb of God.

The next morning we were jarred awake by a sound. Not a phone ring or an alarm clock or even the sound of wrenches tightening pipes. This was a human sound; a human voice — or two. Through the paper-thin walls, we could hear the unmistakable tones of an argument, and a heated one, at that! It was coming from the adjoining room. While there was no denying that a bitter disagreement was unfolding on the other side of a few inches of plaster and wood, we couldn't make out a single recognizable word. Actually, we could make out four words. Four distinct words.  Four words that were used repeatedly and they came through clear as crystal as though the speaker were at a lecture hall podium. "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" burst forth in staccato rhythm.  Then, some muffled dialogue. Then, some more muffled dialogue, until the fervent crescendo of "shut the fuck up! Shut The Fuck Up! SHUT THE FUCK UP!" pierced the suppressed fracas again, cutting like a machete through softened butter. We were glued to the unseen action, momentarily stopping our preparations for rushing out to a theme park. Suddenly, the explicit (but subdued) sound of a slamming door signified the ruckus had ended. We laughed as we resumed getting ready to start our day. Making our way across the parking lot to our car, we wondered about the "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" family, surmising that if they were here, then they are on vacation and if they are on vacation, then — Dear Lord! — how did they behave at home?

It was odd being in Walt Disney World wrapped in a heavy jacket for warmth, especially after so many previous visits in shorts and T-shirts. Disney World draws tourists from so many areas and so many various climates, the mish-mash of clothing we saw was intriguing. While in a queue line for It's a Small World, we were flanked by a family in parkas (from Florida) and a family in Hawaiian shirts and clam diggers (from Minnesota). The weather was indeed brisk. While waiting for the next performance of The Country Bear Jamboree (re-programmed for the season as The Country Bears' Christmas Vacation), the three of us chatted and planned out our day. In front of us was a harried mother with a baby in the crook of her arm. A small boy, about 6 years-old, ran around her like a blur, screaming, flailing his arms, swinging on the ropes that delineated the queue area. The poor woman was exasperated, trying unsuccessfully to keep the child in check. In front of them were an older couple dressed in Christmas-y sweaters and knit gloves and a single woman roughly the same age. They were quietly talking, perhaps about finally being able to do all the things they hoped to, now that they had reached retirement age. As she talked, the single woman kept craning her neck over the crowds, obviously gauging the arrival of the missing member of their foursome. Soon, a smiling white-haired man, all sweatered and gloved and looking like a missing piece to this retired crew puzzle, approached. He held before him a cardboard tray with four neatly-arranged foam cups, wispy curls of steam escaping from their vented plastic lids. Balancing the tray, he slipped under the ropes, joined his party and began distributing the beverages. Suddenly, the gyrating 6 year-old flung himself forward, his outstretched arms knocking the man off-balance for a second. He regained his footing without spilling a drop, but was noticeably shaken by the unexpected shove. The boy's mother, now mortified, grabbed the youngster's arm with enough force to yank it from its socket and, with baby parked on her hip, pulled him out of line for a overdue lesson in "How to Behave in Public," complete with some hands-on reinforcement.  The two couples looked bewildered, as though they had entered a play in the middle of the second act. With pleading eyes, they silently sought an explanation from us, since we were close enough to bear witness. "Well," I offered, "maybe he was mad that you didn't bring hot cocoa for him."

To celebrate New Year's Eve, Walt Disney World had a veritable smorgasbord of festive events lined up. There would be fireworks and parades and marching bands and a giant mess to clean up the next day and, of course, thousands of people. We crammed as many rides as we could into that afternoon. Our plan was to leave the park, get a fast dinner, grab a nap and come back refreshed and ready for a long night of partying. I followed the "leaving the park" and the "fast dinner" part as per our arrangement, but when it came time for the "nap" portion, I got a little tripped up. Actually, I never woke up. Come to think of it, I don't think I ate dinner. Mrs. P and Randi did, or so they told  me when they came back to our hotel room after midnight to find me fully-clothed and zonked out cross-ways on the bed. The television was blaring with the harrowing story of a deadly casino fire in Puerto Rico and I still slept through the shouting reporters and the wail of sirens. Even the exploding fireworks (that I was missing) from the nearby Disney Resort weren't enough to stir my slumber.

I missed welcoming the New Year for the first time in ages. So, why was New Year's Eve 1986 so memorable? It was the gateway to 1987; the year life changed for Mr. and Mrs. Pincus. In eight months, we welcomed something much better than a new year.

We welcomed our son.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

swinging school

In 1965, Bobby Rydell sang about some mythical institute of higher learning where "the chicks are kicks and the cats are cool." I had this 45 and I played it often. I knew Bobby was a fellow Philadelphian, but I wasn't quite sure which school he was singing about. There certainly weren't any "kicky chicks" or "cool cats" at any school under the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia School District that I attended. School was awful, filled with bratty classmates, rigid, humorless teachers and a curriculum that never got any better or any easier as I struggled my way through twelfth grade. And "swinging?" Ugh! You gotta be kidding me!

I did what I could to get out of going to school as often as possible. I played on my mother's sympathies, milking every little sniffle into the onslaught of the bubonic plague. I suddenly became a devout student of the Talmud when I overheard some of my classmates discussing some obscure Jewish holiday that I needed to observe at home, taking precedent over a typical day at school (preferably a day when a book report was due). My mom (as I later discovered) wasn't as gullible as I had thought. She knew I was full of shit with each and every excuse I employed. But, my mom didn't press me for good marks or perfect attendance. She knew the limits of my academic abilities. She also knew that a day off here and there wasn't going to cause any permanent damage to the person I would become. She picked her battles and putting up a fuss when I wanted to stay home from school wasn't high on her list. My dad, by the way, couldn't have told you what grade I was currently enrolled in at any given time. He left that stuff to my mom. My dad did the important things. He went to work. He came home. He smoked cigarettes and he watched television. Mostly sports.

My dad — and my brother, for that matter — watched a lot of sports on television. A lot of sports. If it involved a ball, a bat, a stick, a racquet, a club, some sort of padding and a final score, my dad was watching it. I was not. I had no interest. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I didn't know a field goal from a lay-up. I couldn't tell you the difference between an inside pitch and an inside straight. But, my dad could. He watched baseball in the summer, football in the winter and basketball and hockey in the spring (although, he did complain that hockey moved "too goddamn fast," but he watched it anyway). 

When I was a kid, Philadelphia sports teams were notoriously bad. The Phillies were bad. The Eagles were bad. The 76ers were above average when they had Wilt Chamberlain in the early 70s, but stunk again until they acquired Julius "Dr. J." Erving (I looked that up). The Philadelphia Flyers, though — that hockey team that moved "too goddamn fast" for my father — were pretty good. And in 1974, the whole city — hockey fans or not — cheered them on as they became the Stanley Cup Champions that season. Of course, the city celebrated by throwing the team a victory parade. It was held on Monday, May 20, 1974 — the day after the Broad Street Bullies defeated the Boston Bruins to take Game 6 and the series.  And it was a school day.

I'm in there somewhere.
Reports on the news determined the Flyers Stanley Cup Victory Parade had a bigger celebratory turnout in Philadelphia  than the announcement of the end of World War II. An estimated two million people lined Broad Street and stood in a shower of ticker-tape as their tough-and-toothless heroes smiled and waved as they rode past the crowds on the open backs of city fire engines. A series of speeches and presentations were offered at JFK Stadium, the venerable venue in South Philadelphia (now gone, with the state-of-the-art Wells Fargo Center in its place). All were welcome and the stadium was a madhouse. I should know. I was there. Yep. On a day that should have been taken up by another installment of seventh grade, I was screaming and yelling and cheering a bunch of guys who played a sport that I didn't watch. My mom gave me permission to skip school and accompany my brother and his sports-following friends to the parade.  Miraculously, he agreed to let me in his car. From the looks of things, a lot of kids didn't go to school that day. An awful lot.

On Tuesday, I went to school.

My first class was math. I hated math. I have always hated math. I still hate math. And, to be honest, math isn't too fond of me either. My teacher was Mrs. Goetz, a nasty, cranky old martinet who looked like my paternal grandmother — a woman I could not stand. (Your grandmother? Josh! That's terrible! Oh yeah? Here's why...) When ever I mentioned this teacher's name, my mother would sing: "Whatever Missus wants.... Missus gets!" It wasn't until years later that I got this reference. As students filed into her classroom, Mrs. Goetz eyed each boy and girl with contempt, leaning forward and following with her gaze as each student took their assigned seat. She squinted and wrung her hands, like Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz trying to figure out how to get those ruby slippers off of Judy Garland's feet. Before a single integer was reversed or sine was cosined, Mrs. Goetz announced her displeasure with the amount of students who were missing from her class the previous day. She continued her tirade by insisting that everyone who was absent better have a good and valid excuse.... adding that "going to a parade for a hockey team" would not be considered a valid excuse. She spoke the phrase "going to a parade for a hockey team" as though Satan were whispering instructions in her ear. Still putting any mathematical information on hold, Mrs. Goetz ran down the class list — one by one — asking for reasons of absence. A majority of students — boys and girls — explained that they had attended a classmate's out-of-town Bar Mitzvah on Sunday and arrived home very, very late in the evening. They were much too tired and in no shape to attend school on Monday. Mrs. Goetz seemed to accept this lame-ass excuse, I suppose on the fear of repercussions from possible "religious persecution." She nodded to each student who offered the "Bar Mitzvah" reason. "I'll allow that," she muttered, as she made some marking with her pencil on the roll sheet. When she got to me, I was angry. I had already delivered the required note from my mother to my homeroom teacher. School policy didn't require that every teacher be given a separate note for each absence. This ornery old fuck was just being difficult for her own amusement. "Well," I thought to myself, "Fuck her! I'm telling her the truth!"

"Pincus!," she announced, "Why weren't you here yesterday?"

"I was at the Flyers parade." I said

Mrs. Goetz exhaled angrily. "That is no excuse! You get a 'zero' for the day!" Teachers have been using that "zero for the day" threat for years! It means nothing. Absolutely nothing. It doesn't follow you for the rest of your life. It doesn't play into job interviews or loan applications. It's just a stupid, manipulative device that teachers wield to make them appear to have some life-altering control over the course of your existence. Spoiler Alert! They don't. 

I hated math. I hated Mrs. Goetz. Mrs. Goetz taught math. (I can't believe I'm going to use this joke....) You do the math.

A few hours from now, the Philadelphia Eagles are going to play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII. There has been a lot of fervor over the Eagles for the entire season. Philadelphia is a sports town, specifically a rabid football town. Football always takes the forefront, no matter how good or bad the city's other sports teams are doing. I have heard the notorious "E-A-G-L-E-S" chant break out at a Phillies playoff game. Recently, Mrs. Pincus and I inexplicably found ourselves at a Flyers game. The Eagles were playing right next door. Midway through the Flyers game, "The Chant" erupted as word spread of another Eagles win. As the Eagles' regular season wound down, it became apparent that they had a shot at the whole ball of wax. The city was approaching a collective frenzy, as "The Birds" defeated every team they faced in the playoffs, securing themselves a spot in "The Big Game" — The Super Bowl.

There is a one-week gap between the last football playoff game and the date of The Super Bowl. In that time, several surrounding school districts have announced two-hour delays for the opening of schools on the day after The Super Bowl. Just a few days ago, the School District of Philadelphia followed suit and confirmed that its 217 schools will be opening two hours later than normal opening time on Monday, February 13. I'm pretty sure I heard all 124,111 students cheer from my home, just outside the city limits. While this decision does not affect me in the least, I am confounded by it. I cannot remember anything like this occurring in the history of the School District of Philadelphia. When I was an elementary school student, schools closed for Thanksgiving and Memorial Day. There was a ten-day break at the end of the calendar year that encompassed Christmas and New Years Day... and, if we were lucky, Chanukah fell within that time. If it didn't, well... tough. A one-week break covering Easter closed schools in the spring. Because of the unpredictability of Passover, Jewish students were on their own. A little parental convincing allowed for the first two and last two days of Passover to be taken off, while we ate peanut butter on matzoh during the days between. (If I told you that peanut butter is traditionally not eaten during Passover, you'd get that joke.) Sometimes we got Washington's Birthday (later combined with Lincoln's birthday to form the super holiday Presidents Day!) as a day off. Sometimes we got Columbus Day, too. Oh, and Veterans Day... we got Veterans Day off, prompting my father to lament: "I fought in the goddamn war and I have to go to work!"

But a football game? Really? What sort of example does this set for impressionable (and already entitled) children? I think the school boards are making a mistake with this one. Students' education has already been impacted by a worldwide pandemic. Do they really need to interrupt their school day because of a football game. Do they expect every student will be watching the game? Is it required to watch the game? If, by chance, the Eagles win (and they are the favorite), will schools be closed again for the obligatory celebration parade? Again, this decision has absolutely no bearing on me, my family or my life, but... seriously. Philadelphia has had other winning teams before. Jesus, the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017 and Philadelphia public schools opened at the same time they always did... providing there wasn't two inches of snow on the ground. I just think this is wrong. Very wrong.

Mrs. Goetz is probably spinning in her grave... assuming she is dead.