Wednesday, September 22, 2010

losing my religion

I see my friend Randi at the train station a few times a week since she and her family moved into the neighborhood. Coincidentally, we work in the same office building.

This morning, the train schedules were way off because when I arrived at the station at my regular time, the platform was packed with five times the usual amount of waiting passengers. A few minutes later, a visibly annoyed Randi stood by my side. She informed me that she had already been at the station earlier in the morning, waiting for a train that never arrived. She told me that several trains had zipped by with no intention of stopping. Off on the distant track, a train approached and we had this brief exchange...

R: "I hope this train stops. Please God."
The train wooshes by, leaving mussed hair and rattling newspapers in its wake.
JPiC: "It didn't stop. There is no God."
JPiC: "You just said 'Please God' and the train didn't stop. Your God has forsaken you."
R: "That's because of the jerks at SEPTA! (the region's mass transit company)"
JPiC: "The train goes by and it's SEPTA's fault. But, had the train stopped, would it have meant that God had answered your prayers?"
R: "Shut up."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

the greatest american hero

I collect autographed photos of celebrities. Before you get all impressed, I specifically focus on celebrities of the, shall we say, "washed-up" variety. For nearly twenty years, I have attended various sizes of so-called collector shows, where dealers gather at a contracted hotel conference room and display their treasured wares for curious hunters and collectors of post-war pop culture. In the more recent days of post-eBay, many of these regular shows have disappeared. The few that remain have had to resort to extremes to make attending more appealing to potential patrons. A few shrewd show organizers began touting appearances by actors whose careers had waned in the eyes of a fickle public. These performers swallow their pride and sit in an area separate from the vendors behind a folding table stockpiled with 8 x 10 glossy photos of themselves at the pinnacle of their popularity and others from lesser, sometimes unfamiliar, productions made when their demand was on the decline. For a reasonable fee (that has lopsidedly escalated over the years), a fan can awkwardly reminisce with a childhood idol and walk away with a personalized souvenir of the encounter.

I have well over one hundred photographs in a collection that boasts the likes of such luminaries as Lisa Loring (Wednesday from the TV series The Addams Family), Larry Mathews (Ritchie Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show) and the lovely Erin Murphy (little Tabitha from Bewitched). Most of the celebrities are pleasant and cordial with a few being extra friendly and engaging. Some are totally devoid of personality. While others are are downright assholes, behaving as though this whole scenario is beneath them and Hollywood will be knocking on their door any minute after a thirty-five year absence.

One show, in particular, that I attend regularly is the twice-yearly Monster Mania in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. I look forward to this show for several reasons. I get to see my friends and fellow artists Matt and Will and we have a blast marvelling at the plethora of horror-related memorabilia on display. But, this show is also one of the few remaining shows to offer face-to-face time with forgotten stars of recent and not-so-recent filmed entertainment.

Usually Monster Mania advertises one celebrity appearance that is "the deal breaker" and this year was no exception. Upon reading the list of scheduled guests, I, along with my son E., Matt and Will, were absolutely psyched to meet the one and only William Katt, star of Carrie and, most importantly, The Greatest American Hero, the single greatest television program since Paul Nipkow began messing around with the transmission of moving pictures in 1884. (Maybe.)

We entered one of two conference rooms whose walls were lined with tables at which celebrities of varying levels of fame were seated. Some were conversing with fans while others, gathering no interest in their presence, stared off into space. Standing adjacent to a table at which L.A. Law star Corbin Bernsen entertained questions from a young couple, was Mr. William Katt, busily covering up his stacks of photos with a dark tablecloth. My friends and I approached Mr. Katt and asked if he was leaving for the day. He replied in the negative, explaining that he was scheduled to participate in a "Q & A" session for the next hour. He thanked us for stopping by and sincerely requested that we return in sixty minutes. We, of course, obliged.

We killed time perusing the dealer room, gawking at some of the other celebrities (like Eric Roberts and wacko deluxe Gary Busey) and catching up with the events in each other's lives (Will informed me he had lost his job the day before). The hour had flown by and we headed back to seriously commune with Carrie White's prom date. Sure enough, there was William Katt, now uncovering the photographic chronicle of his career. He was moving rather like he was in slow motion, but we thought nothing of it. I got in line behind a guy who already gripped an accumulation of pictures in his hand. My son stood next to me while Matt and Will queued up behind us. When our turn arrived, I approached the table where a droopy-eyed William Katt sat motionless behind. I told him I was a fan of his 1980s TV show and selected a photo of him in full costume to be inscribed. He picked up a Sharpie and wrote "Believe it or not! Thanks- William Katt" across the bottom of the photo — a reference, of course, to the show's iconic theme song. I passed a twenty into his waiting palm and he handed me the pic. Matt, who was on the fence over whether or not to drop twenty bucks on another autograph, was overwhelmingly convinced once he saw Katt's clever inscription. Matt stepped forward, chose a photo, mentioned something about the horror film "House", another of Katt's roles, and waited for Katt to begin writing. Katt sat, slightly rocking from side to side, the whites of his eyes slowly becoming obscured by his heavy eyelids. He held the Sharpie a good three inches above the photo and made circles in the air, the pen point never connecting to any writing surface. We all exchanged glances with each other, confirming that we were all witness to the same thing. Mr. Katt remained in this state for — no exaggeration — three minutes, at which time, Matt leaned into my ear and whispered, "He is sooooo fucking baked!" Finally, after regaining brain synapse and divining a clever sentiment, the pen met the glossy photograph and he wrote "Thanks for coming. William Katt". He put his hand out for payment from a now-disappointed Matt and he gently blew the fresh ink dry. "You guys want a picture?," William asked, slurring his words and staggering to his feet. We arranged ourselves in a standard pose and, as Will raised his iPhone to snap the shot, William rearranged us to a pose more to his liking. Will quickly took the picture, thanked Mr. Katt and made our way from his table. Almost simultaneously, E., Matt, Will and myself said "What the fuck was that?" "I'll tell you what that was," offered Matt, "he was totally fucked up."

Now I know the real power behind getting that suit to fly.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

another expert

This past Tuesday, my son E. and I went to see singer-songwriter Stan Ridgway in concert at the Tin Angel, a small venue on the second floor of a restaurant in center city Philadelphia. Stan, for those (read: most) unfamiliar, was the leader of the quirky 80s band Wall of Voodoo, most famous for their MTV-heyday era hit "Mexican Radio". Stan has had a 27-year solo career since severing ties with Wall of Voodoo, releasing eleven albums and acquiring a passionate cult following. Stan rarely tours outside of California, but E. and I have been lucky enough to see him live several times. (Yeah, we number ourselves among that cult.)

After dinner and twelve dollars worth of ice cream from the quaint and old-timey Franklin Fountain, E. and I hiked over to the Tin Angel. The street entrance to the Tin Angel opens to a long and steep staircase that leads to the narrow and intimate second-story performance room. Having arrived an hour or so before the official showtime, we took our place in the small queue line that had begun forming.

Ahead of us on the stairs, we soon found out, was the world's foremost expert and authority on all things Stan Ridgway. He was with a younger woman and another man sporting a souvenir t-shirt from a previous Stan Ridgway tour. (I sarcastically lamented to my son that I had forgotten to wear my Stan Ridgway shirt. Now, how would he know I was there to see him if I wasn't properly labeled.) As we stood and waited, the expert expounded on Stan's career, highlighting various other musicians he had played with and carefully name-checking albums from early in Stan's discography. He related stories he had read about the inspirations for songs and appearances Stan had made on foreign music programs in the 80s and 90s. He dropped the names of Stan's influences and collaborators and haughtily announced what he predicted to be the set-list for this evening's show. His two companions seemed about as impressed by his vast knowledge and insider information as E. and I were from our eavesdropping. Not content with spewing little-known tidbits about the evening's headliner, he began a lengthy dissertation chronicling the multitude of performers whose autographed photos graced the wall of the stairwell. His comrades were not nearly as dazzled by his insight as he was, as the expressions on their faces betrayed their indifference. After a lull in his monologue, he returned to the subject of Stan Ridgway by asking his male sidekick, "What's your favorite Stan Ridgway song?"  I was hoping he'd direct the question to me, as my answer would have been, "Hmmmm, that's a difficult one, but I'd have to say I'm kind of partial to... Fuck you, asshole."

It's interesting that I seem to encounter one of these guys at every concert I attend. Every concert seems to have a pre-show band expert placed in the crowd within earshot of me. The expert is there to inform his entourage of live music greenhorns about the show they are about to see. He will tell of the past shows he has seen and rank them in ascending order of entertainment "wow factor". He will prepare his pals for disappointment, as this show can't possibly match the performance he saw the band give in July 19-whatever. He knows every note and every word to every song and will sing along with each one — straining his voice to heard above the crowd as though he was asked to duet. If this guy's behavior doesn't seem familiar, well then, you are probably that guy.

Monday, September 6, 2010

nip it! nip it in the bud!

Mrs. Pincus and I just returned from a short trip to Laughlin, Nevada. Without going into too much unnecessary detail, it was a free trip with free airfare, free meals and free accommodations at Harrah's Hotel Casino. However, just because something is free doesn't mean it is wonderful or should be envied. Laughlin, it should be noted, would be the place of insertion for the tube if the state of Nevada were to receive an enema.

My wife and I, whose ages each hover around the half century mark, brought the average age waaaaay down when numbered among the other members of the chartered trip. We were one of the few that did not come complete with our own tank of oxygen, our own aluminum, four-wheeled walker or several cartons of unfiltered cigarettes.

Just after midnight Pacific time, we landed at Bullhead City International Airport, a flat one-story building reminiscent of a bus terminal located at the end of a two-lane blacktop road that bisects a huge expanse of dirt. A set of steps was wheeled up to the plane and the travel-weary group was herded off to waiting buses, but not before several dozen rewarded themselves with a cigarette for sitting patiently through a five-hour flight. After a three-minute ride across the Colorado River (That's right, the airport isn't even in Nevada. It's in Arizona.), we were assigned rooms via the contents of sealed envelopes and we were on our own for the next four days.

During the week, despite our greatest efforts, we spotted some people we recognized from the flight. One couple, in particular, stood out. The man looked like Don Knotts, the scrawny, nervous actor most famous for portraying Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show and, later Mr. Furley, the weasly landlord on later episodes of Three's Company.  His female companion resembled 70s-era Cicely Tyson, the Academy Award-nominated actress famous for her ground-breaking role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. We saw this couple everywhere. In the casino, in the restaurants and in the halls. At the end of the week, we saw Don and Cicely again as we boarded our airport shuttle bus for our journey home.

Our plane touched down an hour early in Philadelphia. We were forced to taxi around the airport in search of a open gate and access to the terminal. It was like driving around the tarmac looking for a parking space. Finally, United Airlines offered its heartfelt sympathy by opening a gate for us, which our adept pilot promptly overshot trying line up the plane door with the expanding corridor that was our exit. (I shit you not!) At last, we were permitted to leave. Heading toward the baggage claim, my wife commented that she hoped we would never ever encounter any of these people ever again...ever.

Our designated baggage carousel was currently winding down from its previous flight. A few straggling passengers were watching three lonely pieces of luggage travel around and around and around— sad and unclaimed. Soon the carousel's perimeter was lined with many familiar faces from our flight, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our checked belongings. Don and Cicely staked themselves a prime spot directly across from Mrs. Pincus and me. We would soon realize that we had great front-row seats for the entertainment portion of our luggage retrieval. Suddenly, Don's weary eyes widened as he spotted, what he believed to be, one of his suitcases. In reality, it was one of the leftovers from the flight before ours, already on its fifty-eighth lap around the conveyor. He excitedly reached towards the bag and, upon realizing his error, pulled back. The black tweed overnighter continued on its familiar route. A minute later, the bag returned to Don's field of vision. And once again, he made the reach and, again, disappointment swept across his face when his mistake became apparent. I swear to God — and I am not exaggerating — he did this ten more times. Ten! Ten more times! I remind you that, at this point, there were three bags on the conveyor belt. A small red bag with a metallic ribbon tied to the handle, a beat-up blue suit bag and Don's bag's doppelganger. Each time the black bag came into Don's peripheral vision, he swiveled his melon-like head around and lit up, knowing that this time the case was his!

A flashing light went off and our group's luggage appeared in a clump and was soon in the hands of its rightful owners. After identifying and grabbing my wife's suitcase and my wheeled duffel bag, we waited to see what Don and Cicely's bag really looked like. It turns out, it was a swirly paisley pattern and as different from Don's prey as could be.

Mrs. Pincus and I made our way to the airport parking lot, never turning back once.