Sunday, February 20, 2011

had to make due with a worn out rock 'n' roll scene

Last weekend, Mrs. Pincus and I took a three-hour drive to Gaithersburg, Maryland, a sleepy burg situated about 50 miles southwest of Baltimore. Our destination was an antique show being held in one of the buildings at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, a facility which, in warmer months, plays host to livestock and farming expositions. We had been to previous shows at this venue in years past, but with the increased popularity of eBay and other online outlets for purchasing collectibles, the recent incarnations have shrunk in size considerably. What was once a sprawling cornucopia of varied objects and curios has been reduced to a smattering of dealers sadly displaying their wares to their equally computer-challenged prospective buyers.

My wife and I started out at 8 AM on Sunday morning and mingled with the few cars that comprised the traffic on southbound I-95. It was early, so we talked to keep my wife from falling asleep at the wheel. Our car was filled with the sounds of WXPN and its regular Sunday morning eclectic mix of quiet songs to ease its listeners into a lazy day of relaxation. This was hardly the soundtrack my wife needed to accompany her navigation through the increasing number of cars that now joined us on the highway. As we left the Philadelphia area and the broadcast realm of its radio stations, we began to scan the dial for the regional offerings of Delaware and Maryland's sonic transmissions. Although our twenty-seven year marriage has sustained on a host of common interests, Mrs. Pincus and I usually divide when it comes to musical preference. For the most part, my tastes run from 30's era swing to current alternative bands and everything in between. With very few exceptions, my wife dislikes any band that isn't The Grateful Dead. I will listen to pretty much anything. My wife is a little more particular. So, settling on a radio station we both can agree upon can be a tall order. As on most lengthy car trips, my wife drove with one hand on the steering wheel while the other hand danced around the radio dial as though the preset buttons were on fire.

As we crossed the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge and my wife negotiated the potentially dangerous crosswinds, her fingers tuned in a local Classic Rock station playing the opening bars of Queen's 1975 stalwart "Bohemian Rhapsody". My wife simultaneously shot me a sidelong glance and a bemused smile. With her affinity for the meandering psychedelic blues-rock of Jerry Garcia and company, Mrs. Pincus is decidedly not a Queen fan. I, however, was an ardent fan of Freddie Mercury and his cohorts in my youth... and Mrs. Pincus knew this all too well. (That story is related HERE on the josh pincus is crying blog.)

With the four-octave range of Mr. Mercury's vocals wailing from the speakers, Mrs. Pincus asked, "When a song like this comes on the radio, is it like an old friend has returned and taken you back to a simpler time — a time of youth and innocence and no responsibility?" She explained that's how she feels when she hears certain songs. I thought for a bit about her question before answering. Finally, I replied, "Not this song. Other Queen songs, sure, but not this one." When the first section of the song ended, Mrs. Pincus hurriedly changed the station before the "dreadful operatic part" (as she put it) began.

Several days later, I found myself placing Queen's 1973 debut album into my CD player and cranking the volume to a window-rattling level. Despite having not listened to these songs for nearly thirty years, I knew the guitar riffs, the drum beats and the words to every tune — and I sang those words out strong and loud (much to the chagrin of my son, the only other person at home at the time). My wife was right. Old songs can be like old friends. And it's the good ones  — the ones you miss the most  — that bring you the most comfort.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

pardon me boy

Taking the train to work for nearly four years has been a wonderful experience for someone like me. By that, I mean someone who continually marvels at the inherent stupidity of humans. I am astonished by the utter lack of intelligence displayed by people and my daily commute on the train offers me an insightful glimpse at a cross-section of society where stupidity plays a major role. From businessmen with briefcases to students with book bags to women with environmentally-friendly, reusable shopping bags they overpaid for at pretentious Trader Joe's, stupidity is rampant. The world has evolved into a bunch of self-centered, oblivious, inconsiderate sacks of blood, bones, organs and nerves — but sadly — no brains. They come fully equipped with a cellphone and an iPod and a Sudoku book and a Kindle and a Starbucks Venti (and now Trenta, for those morons who wish to feel more superior in their feeble grasp of bastardized corporate Italian) and any other trendy doo-dad that some marketing focus group told them they needed. When the train pulls into the station, the doltish masses shuffle in front of one another, vying to be the first one aboard. Grown men step unchivalrously ahead of women. (I grew up in the heyday of the Women's Lib movement, but for Christ's sake, this is a matter of courtesy!) Once on the train, the idiotic cretins territorialize more than their share of seat allotment and become visibly irritated when asked to relinquish space to accommodate another paying passenger. Then, for the duration of their journey, they stare in wonder at their electronic device du jour and mentally play out the workday ahead  — a day that will no doubt be filled with banging into office walls and bumping mindlessly into co-workers until five o'clock, because these imbeciles are not capable of accomplishing anything more.

The train that I take every morning makes four stops before arriving at my destination in downtown Philadelphia. The third stop is Temple University. Founded 127 years ago, Temple is the 26th largest university in the United States. It is a respected institute of higher learning, shaping the minds of future leaders and boasting a vast array of distinguished alumni* including former Philadelphia mayor John Street, award winning screenwriter Richard Brooks, comedians Bill Cosby and Bob Saget and political activist Noam Chomsky. This morning, I saw one of the future shining stars on my train. He was scrunched in a corner seat which he shared with a woman struggling over a Seek and Find puzzle book. His eyes were heavy-lidded, but he was not asleep. He was more in a state of bewilderment, as though he had just magically materialized on the train. His lower jaw was at a loose hang and his tongue lolled just inside his mouth.

This morning's train was unusually crowded and the main aisle was lined with unhappy standing passengers. The public address speakers crackled with static as a disembodied voice announced Temple University as the next stop. The sleepy young man slowly attempted to stand, but was weighed down by his huge backpack, apparently stuffed with enough provisions for a two week visit to the campus. He strained to maintain balance, but his academic baggage pulled him awkwardly backwards. He swiped at and finally grabbed the overhead luggage rack and steadied himself. His female seatmate had already stood and cleared a path to the aisle for the young man. The train stopped, the doors opened and several young men and women sporting Temple IDs on Temple-emblazoned lanyards exited the train. Through the dirty windows, I could see them make their way across the platform to the stairs. The backpack boy remained motionless behind a standing woman reading a newspaper in the aisle. She looked at him and asked, "Are you getting out here at Temple?"

"Me?", he asked back.

"Yes, you.", she answered, her voice getting more agitated, "Is Temple your stop?"

"Uh-huh", he replied, still making no advancement in the direction of the exit door.

"Then you should probably get off the train now.", the woman prompted, tipping her head and motioning with her hands toward the door.

Without another word, the dazed young man shambled down the aisle with no sense of urgency whatsoever. He barely made it to the station platform before the doors shut. As the train pulled away, I watched as he aimlessly dawdled about and a frightening thought about the bleakness of the future crossed my mind.

* and my son.