Sunday, August 26, 2012

you're not the boss of me now

Yesterday, my wife and I were walking out of our house. As we made our way across the front porch and towards our car in the driveway, our new neighbor, Fan, bounded up on the sidewalk. Fan is a friendly, rambunctious little kid about five years old. Since he and his family moved into the twin house connected to ours, he is never seen without a fully stocked tool belt or some sort of oversized implement of construction in his small hand.

"Hi, there, Fan," I said, in a rare moment of neighborliness.

Without wasting time with a return greeting, Fan burst out with, "We're having a garage sale tomorrow!"

"Wow," I replied, "I've been looking to buy a garage."

Sort of getting my lame joke, Fan smiled the half-hearted, "I-sort-of-get-it" smile of a six-year old with a developing sense of humor. "No," he continued, unfettered, "we're selling stuff! We have... um... tennis racquets, two tennis racquets. And we have some electronics, a lot of electronics. And we're having lemonade. And I'm gonna be the boss of the lemonade."

When I was six, I wish I had such lofty career aspirations.

Monday, August 20, 2012

that's what friends are for

Earlier this evening, I was waiting for my wife to pick me up after work. (Okay, I was waiting outside of a casino, but that really has nothing to do with the story.  Okay. Okay, we were on our way to another casino to have dinner, but, again, that has nothing to do with the story!) Where was I....? Oh yeah... miraculously the Market-Frankford subway was running on schedule, so I arrived at Sugar House Casino around fifteen minutes before Mrs. Pincus did. Biding my time until I spotted my wife's car, I paced about our appointed meeting place just outside the north entrance. I fiddled with my phone. I avoided a few random dragonflies that buzzed off the nearby Delaware River. I checked my watch. I checked the digital clock on my phone. I compared the two times.

As I stood and waited, various people paraded by me. Some entering the casino, some exiting. Some paced around, making cellphone calls, others catching a quick smoke before heading back inside. I stared out across the parking lot and a figure came into my peripheral vision. I have an uncanny knack for ignoring pretty much anyone I choose to. I exercised my ability and ignored the gentleman, who had now parked his considerable bulk on the broken top of an ambient light fixture less than a foot or so away from me. He exhaled dramatically and exclaimed, "Ahhh! I gotta tell ya...."  to no one in particular, but unconsciously directed toward me.

I continued to ignore.

After a few moments of silence, he began again. "Did you ever have a friend that promised something and then didn't come through?," he asked hypothetically, directing his inquiry even more to me.

Reluctantly, I answered, "I have no friends." hoping my snide reply would put a quick end to this exchange.

"No friends?," he asked.

I shook my head. Twice, to be exact.

He wasn't even close to finished. "I owe a guy money," he continued, "and my friend was supposed to give me the money. I been trying to get a hold of him all day."

"Can't rely on anyone," I said. "That's why I don't have friends."

"Well," he elaborated, as though I cared, "I guess I gotta face the music and tell this guy he's not getting his money. I guess I gotta face the music."  I thought for sure that this gentleman was going to ask me for a "few spare bucks to help him out". I could feel it coming. Instead, he produced a cell phone and dialed a number. "Hello? Sam?," he spoke into the small electronic device, "Did you get the package I left for you? You didn't? Oh, well, I'll be by later on to drop something off to you." He added a quick "goodbye" and mashed the "End Call" button. Turning his attention back to me, he announced, "That was easier that I thought."

I nodded and hoped my wife would be pulling up any second.

"No friends, huh?," he reiterated, still intrigued by the beginning of our (mostly one-sided) dialogue.

"Nope.," I answered.

"Don't rely on anyone, huh?"

Again, I shook my head in the negative.

"Except for the Man Upstairs...right?," he said and smiled hopefully.

I stared silent and expressionless back at him.

"No response to that?," he questioned

"No response.," I responded.

"HA!," he laughed, "You have a good day, my friend." and he walked off towards the casino entrance.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

fly on little wing

It was the middle of the night. Our bedroom was dark and still. My wife lay beside me, her breathing restful and rhythmic. Dim shadows from the open window played across the walls and ceiling, making abstract shapes that morphed with each gust of wind that rustled the curtains.

Then..... something. Something was there.

At first, I thought, without my glasses, my astigmatic eyes were forcing me to see something that wasn't there. I sat up. Something whizzed past my head in the dark. Then, it whizzed past in the other direction and lit on the curtain rod above the front window.

My wife stirred. "What?, " she whispered, still mostly asleep.

"I-I think there's something in...." 

I was interrupted by the horrific shriek issuing from my wife's throat. She retreated to the woolen sanctuary that the bed covers became. The shrieks continued, although they were now muffled under several layers of quilts.

There was a bat in our room.

I bounded from the bed, and crept along its perimeter, keeping my head low. The nocturnal creature flew in wild circles around the ceiling. It flew out into the hallway and the adjacent den. Using uncharacteristically clear thinking, I closed and secured the door to each room leading from the hallway - starting with the door to our young son's room. I managed to confine the flying vermin to the den and I closed that door, too. Then, I darted down to the basement and grabbed the first thing I saw that I could wield as a weapon. I grabbed a broom. Two at a time, I ascended the stairs again and slowly, cautiously, opened the den door and slunk in. Immediately, the beast swooped towards me. I swung my broom. The bat dove again. Again, I swung in the manner of a delinquent hockey player just asking for a "high sticking" penalty. I continued my parry with the airborne rat until my household armament finally connected. My winged adversary fell to the floor of the den. I instantly observed that this critter I had perceived as being roughly the size of an Airbus A320 was, in reality, a little bigger than a Brillo pad.

Using my arsenal for its intended purpose, I swept the offending creature into an old shoebox. I hopped down the stairs, traversed the darkened living room, opened the front door and deposited the box into a trashcan waiting out on the porch. I locked up the house, stopped in the kitchen for a drink of water and to wash my hands, then headed back up to sleep.

I could see the silhouette of my wife, still quivering under the covers. I explained to her that I "took care of things," but those were hardly calming words. I believe she didn't emerge from her protective fabric shield until morning and many months had passed until she set foot in our den.

Twenty years later...

I had just returned home from dinner with my brother and his family. My wife was out of town for the week and my son had moved to his own place just fourteen days earlier. I unlocked the front door and entered my dark, empty house. I tossed my keys on a table in the living room and proceeded up the staircase. When I reached the top, I fumbled for a light switch.

Then..... something. Something was there.

In the dark, something whizzed past my head and into the direction of the unlit den. Frantically, I flicked the light on to reveal a bat flying in mad circles around the ceiling. It was huge, brown-black, with a wingspan of at least forty feet. Maybe fifty (at least!).

"Motherfucker!," I muttered aloud, in assessment of the situation at hand. I repeated the expletive several more times, adopting it as my mantra. I ducked low, pulling the door closed behind me, thus sequestering the aeriform mammal. I ran downstairs to the basement and grabbed my trusty broom (possibly the same one from two decades earlier) and returned to the second floor of my house, prepared for combat. I slowly pushed the door ajar and slipped into the battle arena. The room was eerily still. Suddenly, the curtains rustled and the bat flew toward me. Hyperventilating, I swung the bristled sweeper recklessly above my head. The bat caromed off the wall behind me and came back for assault number two. I spun around, heart pounding ferociously in my chest, and swiped at the thing a second time. The bat momentarily landed on the curtains and, then just as quickly, descended for the kill. The bat soared right at me and I hit him square, as though laying down the perfect sacrifice bunt. The winged fur ball hit the floor and lay motionless. Now that it was immobilized, I had a better gauge of its actual size, which was that of a small child's mitten.  I retrieved a piece of cardboard from a nearby trashcan and swept the late varmint up. Once downstairs, I deposited my spoils into a plastic shopping bag and deposited that into our outside trashcan. I came back inside, washed the filthy memory from my hands and collapsed on the sofa.

I surprised myself with my own turns of bravery twenty years apart. If I get a bat in my house every twenty years, the next one is due when I'm seventy-one. By then — fuck it — let it get me.

The story continues HERE.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

turn on the TV, let it drip right down in your eyes

I love television. But, my relationship with television has changed over the years. My formative years with television were the late 60s and early 70s. In the pre-cable days of television, I watched weekly series with diligent regularity – both comedies and dramas. On local UHF* stations, I revisited some of the classic shows from my youth. Once networks like TV Land and Nick at Nite began, I barely got any sleep because I couldn’t tear myself away from that glowing cathode ray tube time machine. Now,  I rarely watch any regular programming on the “Big Three” networks. Instead, I have discovered Antenna TV and MeTV and my television-watching has come full circle. I have a difficult time leaving the house while I weigh the benefits of going to work versus watching forty-year-old reruns of Family Affair.

So today, on my 51st birthday, my TV habit was further indulged when I attended the final day of the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. At 10 a.m., Mrs. Pincus and I set out for the drive to Cockeysville, Maryland (that’s right… Cockeysville) for this annual gathering of people who haven’t quite accepted the fact that television broadcasts are now in color.

As mentioned previously, I collect celebrity autographed photos and I have been frequenting these shows for over twenty years to add to my collection. Mrs, P, on the other hand, loves buying memorabilia and haggling with the dealers who display their wares in the marketplace areas alongside the featured stars.** (With very few exceptions, my spouse steers clear of the celebrity autograph area, or as she refers to it, “the human zoo”. )

We arrived at the suburban hotel that hosted the festivities. Once we strapped on our all-access wristbands, we strolled the first-floor level of dealer-lined hallways of the convention center. There were vintage theatrical posters, publicity stills of long-forgotten matinee idols and DVDs of obscure B-grade movies… all for sale with mostly over-inflated price tags.  The downstairs housed a huge ball room outfitted with more vendors. The centerpiece of the room was a squared blockade of long banquet tables, stock with glossy photos and manned by celebrities eager to sign them. I was anxious to get to the lower level to see the “special guests” and happily pay them for their signatures. (That sounds tacky when phrased so bluntly. It makes me sound like a “trick” and them sound like “Sharpie pen whores”.)

We descended the escalator and headed to the main room. While my wife examined a display of antique Lone Ranger publicity shots, I spotted Shirley Jones. I excused myself, explaining to Mrs. P, “I’m going to talk to Mrs. Partridge over there.” The white-haired, yet still-striking Miss Jones was seated behind an array of items chronicling her long and illustrious career, from her motion picture debut in 1955’s Oklahoma  through her Oscar-winning turn in Elmer Gantry  to The Music Man  to, of course, The Partridge Family.  Meeting Shirley Jones was surreal, to say the least. My wife joined me and we sang her praises and gushed as we mentioned our favorites of her roles. She seemed a tad distant, but politely and graciously accepted our compliments. I selected a photo (a reproduction of the Oklahoma  lobby card) and presented it to Shirley for a twenty dollar inscription. With her pen poised in anticipation, she asked, “Would you like a name on it?”  “Yes’” I replied, “preferably yours.” Shirley chuckled and I added “Look at me! I’m smart-assing Shirley Jones!” She laughed again. We offered our collective thanks and expressed our pleasure to have met her. Before making our way to the next table, I asked Shirley, “Where’s your Oscar?” She mockingly raised a half-empty water bottle and waved it high over head, an ersatz solemn expression on her face.

Seated alongside Shirley Jones was the one and only Geri Reischl, whose claim to fame consisted of nine episodes of the infamous Brady Bunch Hour, a 1977 variety show deemed by TV Guide "as one the 50 worst television series in American history." When the original The Brady Bunch  was canceled in 1974, producers Sid and Marty Krofft assembled the original cast for a series featuring singing, dancing, and hokey comedy skits (even hokier than the sit-com). Actress Eve Plumb, the original “Jan,” wanted no parts of this potential fiasco and perky Geri Reischl was recruited to replace the troubled middle sister. Miss Reichel has playfully acknowledged the casting mis-step and has embraced the negativity associated with being ‘Fake Jan”. Geri, whose attractively zaftig  figure was poured into a black mini dress, was a pure delight to talk to. She was cute and animated and exhibited an audacious sense of humor. (During our conversation, I smart-assed her,  as well.) She took an instant shine to my wife (who could blame her?!)  and happily posed for a photo with my wife’s little pal.

Next, we approached a strapping older man – six-foot-four with fire-white hair contrasting his glowing bronzed complexion. I extended my hand in greeting and it was immediately swallowed up in his massive grasp. He flashed a mouthful of pearly-white teeth and announced, “I’m Ron”. He was Ron Ely, one of a long line of Hollywood Tarzans. Ron starred as the wily jungle dweller for two seasons on the 1966 weekly NBC series. At 74, Mr. Ely still possesses the rugged good looks that made him a heartthrob in the eyes of young girls who preferred loin cloths over mop tops. My wife, moon-eyed and swooning, lavished praise on Ron as I debated over which nearly-naked photo I’d have him autograph. Having already introduced myself, Ron asked if I’d like a name on the photo. Slyly, I used the same line that worked so well on Shirley Jones – the “preferably yours” line. Ron wrote “To Josh, “and handed the picture to me without his signature. Ron Ely had just smart-assed me. It was awesome. (He laughed and eventually signed it with his name.)

Our final celebrity encounter was one I looked forward to, yet turned out to be most unusual. I recently began watching Dennis the Menace,  the late 1950s series based on Hank Ketcham’s syndicated comic strip. I disliked the show as a kid, but I have gained a new respect for the show. Dennis only wanted to help. Mr. Wilson was an irascible jerk and Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell were blithely oblivious. Chockfull of one-dimensional supporting characters, it was TV sitcom at its na├»ve best.  The show’s star, Jay North, was announced early as the convention’s special guest and soon after, Jeannie Russell, who starred as his nemesis Margaret, was added to the roster. I couldn’t have been happier. Prior to leaving for the show, I printed out three illustrations from my blog featuring characters from Dennis the Menace. (This onethis one and this one.) Jay was sitting alone when I approached his table. He turned in his folding chair, bored and lost in thought, staring off at nothing in particular. I broke up his daydream with a hearty “Hi Jay!” He looked up. Although gray-haired and a bit stocky, that mischievous twinkle was still present in his eye and the cocky grin of a six-year-old curled across his lips. I slid my drawing out of a manila envelope and presented them th Mr. North, explaining that I have a blog and these had been featured on several posts over the years. His smile widened. “Wow!,” he began, as he examined my artwork, “You got Herb and Billy and Joe. These are great!” I was very pleased. Jay liked my work! I selected a promo shot of Dennis and Margaret for personalizing. Jay took the photo and said to me, “I think we can make an even trade.”, implying that he was accepting my drawing in exchange for a signed pic. While that certainly was not my intention, I wasn’t going to argue. I asked if I could get Jeannie Russell to autograph it as well. Jay said “Sure” and called over to Miss Russell, who had wandered off to talk to a show staffer. Jeannie returned to the table and smiled at me as she scribbled her sentiment across the photographic Margaret’s legs. She handed the photo back to me and said, “That’s twenty dollars.” Jay jumped in, extended an arm around her and said, “I’ve comped  this one, Jean. Look at these drawings he did.” Jeannie Russell was less than impressed – by neither my artwork nor the situation at hand. “Comped?,” she questioned. “Yeah,” Jay replied. Jeannie was not happy. Not happy at all and Jay could sense this. I interjected, “Are we cool?” Jay smiled and waved me off. “Yeah, I got it.”, he said as he turned his attention back to Jeannie Russell and actually reached for his wallet. “I’ll  give you the twenty bucks,” he said, as he fished through his paper money for the appropriate currency. I would have happily paid for the photo, but seeing a pissed-off grown-up Margaret was worth the price of admission. (Jeannie Russell, I might add, is a very successful chiropractor to the stars in Hollywood. Very  successful.)

We circled the perimeter of the room, taking in the various offerings from the collectibles vendors. My wife purchased this giant inflatable jar of mayonnaise and we left.

We stopped for gas just off of I-95 North. Across the street from the gas station was this restaurant.
 How fitting. I hope Uncle Charley was out in the kitchen.

 - - -
  you have the internet… look it up.
  ** I use the word “stars” in the loosest of contexts

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I'm leaving it all up to you

There are benefits to being married to someone with a chronic gambling problem who enjoys the occasional casino visit. Based on her tracked playing time, my wife and I have been flown, cost-free, to several out-of-state casino resorts. We've been "comped" for every meal and hotel stay for nearly five years and, best of all, we have received complementary admission to a plethora of entertainment. We have seen the likes of such varied acts as B.B. King, Don Rickles, Tony Bennett, Levon Helm, Bill Cosby, Blue Man Group, The Lion King and many others. I love live entertainment and I especially love free tickets. And there is very little I will turn down if its free. This past Saturday night will attest to that.

In a few short days, I will turn 51, so, accordingly, I grew up in the heyday of "bubble gum" pop music. Every AM radio blasted one hit wonders sung by Paper Lace, First Class and Edison Lighthouse. Motor-mouthed DJs announced the same "boss tracks" getting played practically five times every hour. This was also the time of the friendly rivalry between Motown soul popsters The Jackson Five and their whiter-than-white, mayonnaise-slathered Mormon counterparts, The Osmonds. The Jacksons were decidedly the cooler of the two family groups. Big brothers Tito and Jermaine provided funky bass and guitar accompaniment as little Michael twirled on blurred feet and belted out "I Want You Back" in his unmistakable falsetto. The Osmond brothers, on the other hand, were the safe, boy-next-door cuties that sang about bad apples and lazy rivers. I liked the Jacksons. The Osmonds were for girls.

In early June, my wife was offered a pair of tickets to a late summer performance by Donny Osmond and his sister Marie, in the main showroom at Caesars in Atlantic City. Donny and Marie, for Christ's sake! How could we turn that down? We were genuinely excited as the date approached. We anticipated a campy romp through the sugary-sweet career of the Osmond siblings, peppered with knowing winks and jovial self-awareness.

Boy, were we in for a surprise.

The date of the performance arrived and, with complementary ginger ales in hand, we took our seats in the upper section of the theater and waited for the lights to dim. The seats filled with patrons, mostly women of our age group, hoping to have an intimate encounter with that toothy twelve-year-old that graced the covers of Tiger Beat and 16 all those years ago. The curtained stage was flanked by two large video screens displaying random facts and trivia relating to Donny and his little sis. Soon, a countdown clock popped up on the monitors and ticked off the few exciting seconds until showtime. The theater darkened. The curtain lifted. The band kicked in - guitars wailing, horn section blasting, drums a-pounding. And suddenly, Donny and Marie Osmond descended the open staircase that served as the centerpiece of the stage. As their images flickered across the video screens, the middle-aged female contingency shrieked in delight and were immediately transported in their minds to a slumber party from days gone by. Donny, in a black shark-skin suit, prowled the edge of the stage, high-fiving and waving those he couldn't reach. Marie, in a black sequined, fringy number, stood at stage left, shaking her trim 52-year-old ass and flashing her famous giant incisors. The pair sang a medley of familiar and unfamiliar, mid-tempo tunes, addressed the audience with cutesy banter and rehearsed heartfelt "thank yous" and then the lights dimmed again.

A sharp guitar riff split the darkness and Marie, now clad in a purple version of her opening act costume, emerged from a cloud of dry-ice smoke at the rear of the stage. The guitar chords solidified and became instantly recognizable. As Marie pronounced the first lines of her solo portion of the show, I cringed. 

"Backstroke lover always hidin' 'neath the covers Till I talked to your daddy, he say"

"Holy shit!," I thought, "Marie is singing Aerosmith!"

In my peripheral vision, I could see Mrs. Pincus turn to me. She laughed and whispered, "If you could see your face right now!" For good measure, or perhaps to add insult to injury, Marie sprinkled in some verses from "These Boots are Made for Walkin'". She gave a half-hearted approximation of Joe Perry as she strummed a fake, Swarovski crystal-encrusted guitar that wasn't plugged in. I don't think it even had strings. Upon finishing her heavy metal massacre, Marie reminded everyone that she was on Dancing with the Stars, co-founded the Children's Miracle Network, performed on Broadway, has a new show premiering in the fall on The Hallmark Channel and that her son Michael had committed suicide. Then she sang some opera.

The Donny solo segment was a bit more accessible. He joked about his age, his appearance on Dancing with the Stars, and his sister. He took playful shots at Justin Bieber, his brothers and his teen idol status - capping the monologue with a stilted rendition of "Puppy Love".

The rest of the ninety-minute production became an uneven mish-mash of Broadway medleys, big band tributes, faux rock anthems and the occasional Osmond hit - all interspersed with video montages culled from fifty plus years of footage from TV and live shows.

On the whole, this was a show strictly meant for die-hard, life-long Osmond fans. No outsiders or fringe admirers, baby. This is hardcore. Donny's a little bit kitchy, but Marie's a little bit self-absorbed.