Friday, December 27, 2013

Tra-di-tion! Tradition!

I'm Jewish. My wife is Jewish. For the most part, we observe Jewish tradition (Mrs. P more than me). We have a kosher kitchen. We search for chametz before Passover begins. We fast on Yom Kippur and we light real, wax candles on Chanukah, instead of the electrified version. So, after a lapse of many years, we once again participated in one of the most revered and time-honored of all Jewish traditions. On Christmas, we went to the movies and ate Chinese food.

Anticipating a large crowd, I visited the confusing Regal Cinemas website on Monday evening and purchased tickets for a 4:00 p.m. Christmas Day showing of Saving Mr. Banks at a nearby theater where the film was playing in one of the 22 auditoriums. I figured at 4, most gentiles would still be assembling new bicycles, figuring out which way to install batteries or mixing up their third batch of eggnog before the Christmas goose hits the tablecloth. (Having never celebrated Christmas, my only frame of reference is the Cratchit Family gathered eagerly around the Scrooge-provided meal in the final scene of A Christmas Carol.) I also figured that most Jews would venture out later in the evening, taking advantage of a day off from work. I printed out my "Print-At-Home" tickets, wondering what specific "convenience" was afforded me by the $2.50 convenience charge, and stuck them in a safe place until Christmas.

After a morning of Christmas episodes of vintage television (Mr. Ed, Hazel and The Patty Duke Show all shared similar "Down with Christmas Commercialism" plot lines.), Mrs. P and I headed out to the movies. As we drove the twenty-five minutes north on Route 611, I noticed that every strip center boasting a Chinese restaurant had a full parking lot. All other business were dark and locked up tight, but the familiar red and yellow sign in front of each Chinese restaurant burned brightly as a welcoming beacon. We passed six or seven such eating establishments and every one bore an overabundance of parked vehicles.

We pulled into the theater's parking lot and, it too, was jammed with cars. My wife located a space a good distance from the theater. We parked and hurried in. Luckily, we already had our admission tickets because the queue line snaked through the lobby and onto the cement walkway out front. At the risk of making a very, very racist statement, the overwhelming majority of patrons were Jews. Oh, it's okay — we can spot each other a mile away. We know our mannerisms, our traits, our demeanor, our speech patterns and our overall "look." Don't ask me to be specific, we just know. By the pained murmurs of "Oy vey! What a line!" and the over-dramatic exaggerated shrieks of recognition exchanged by women who just saw each other a day ago at the hairdresser, we knew we were among "my people." There were more Jews here than the last time I was at High Holiday services.

Our ticket was scanned by a disinterested young man who was wedged into a tight red Regal Cinemas vest. He directed us down the labyrinth-like corridor to Theater 13, where a line for seating was winding out of the darkness into the light of the hallway. We joined the line and shuffled slowly into the auditorium. My wife stopped to say "Hello" to a fellow she knew from synagogue (See?). Soon, we were able to view a selection of available seats. The place was packed and a low rumble of hushed conversation filled the dimly-lit room. I spotted two unoccupied seats in the middle of a row about halfway up. Excusing myself to the few seated patrons on the aisle end of the row, I led my wife to what would be our location for the next two hours.

The movie (once it started, as it was preceded by thirty minutes worth of trailers for a slew of films I have already decided I have no desire to see) was great. Well acted, well written and, save for a few anachronisms, very entertaining — but now I was hungry. 

We located our car (not before Mrs. P spotted and greeted another group of people she knew from synagogue) and headed back to Route 611. I found my cellphone and called a Chinese restaurant that's a few blocks from our house. Our plan was to place an order from the car and pick it up on the way home. I dialed the number. On the other end, I recognized the voice of the young lady at the restaurant that usually answers the phone, except this time she screamed "SZECHUANMANDARIN-CANYOUHOLDFORAMINUTE?" and I heard the receiver drop on something hard. She spewed  the salutation as one long, angry word. She sounded harried and frantic. Through the phone I could heard the clinking of plates and tinkling of silverware, but above it all, I could hear the agitated tones of the usually demure hostess. Although the words were indiscernible, they were obviously foreign and decidedly furious. I waited patiently. And I waited some more. I could still hear a great commotion through the phone, but no one was returning to accept my order. My wife called on her phone and I could hear the ring through my phone. Her call was answered by a man. She quickly passed the phone to me and I placed the order, only to be told that it would be ready in about fifty minutes, nearly five times the usual waiting period.

We arrived at the restaurant and I hopped out of the car. As I approached the entrance to the restaurant, it looked as though all of my fellow movie-goers had beat me here. I was told my order was not yet ready, so I waited some more. The place looked like a typical morning at the Wailing Wall. I expected a Torah to pass by carried by a t'fillin-swathed gentleman. Men and women I recognized from our predominantly Jewish neighborhood were pacing and talking and complaining.

"Oy! It's so busy!"

"This is crazy meshuganeh!"

"So many people here — kine hora!"

I spied the regular hostess scurrying between the kitchen and the reception area, her spindly arms over-laden with take-out orders. A young man, pad and pencil in hand, was scribbling the names of entrees being screamed at him by fur-wrapped, jewelry-encrusted, white-haired women in condescending mock-Asian accents. I stood by a coat rack, waiting for my order number to be announced. Finally, my vegetarian feast, labeled "Number 25," appeared. I paid and maneuvered my way through the crowd. I weaved around a few more arriving families — annoyed Dads, distressed Moms, unruly children and bewildered, slothy grandparents — and made it to my wife's waiting car.

I will make a note to remember these events next Christmas. And we will be breaking tradition.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

signed, sealed, delivered... I'm yours

Once again, Mrs. Pincus and I found ourselves shopping. This time, we were in Sam's Club, the bulk goods/members-only arm of the Walmart conglomerate. We shop there infrequently and usually end up purchasing more than we came for. This trip was no different.

With a large cart full of foil baking pans and antibacterial wipes (don't ask!), Mrs. P maneuvered down the bakery aisle. She parallel parked the cart alongside a large display of prepackaged, bakery-style cookies. You know, those desert-dry, powdered-sugar and sprinkle-dusted pastries that are served after dinner at your grandmother's house. These are not remotely in the same "cookie" category as Oreos. They are somewhat palatable with a cup of coffee or a big glass of milk. And I mean a really big glass of milk.

And my wife loves them.

Approved for your convenience.
Because we observe the age-old laws of kashrut (keeping kosher), we only purchase food that has been certified by one of any number of overseeing bodies whose job it is to enforce the precautions and restrictions of the ancient Jewish mandates. Products are conveniently marked with a symbol identifying the item as "kosher," as well as the organization offering the certification. These symbols, which can be found on countless products on every supermarket shelf, are as meaningless as a production code number or UPC symbol to the average consumer. But to the discerning kosher-keeping shopper, these symbols are a big "a-okay" and an assurance that the particular fare has been prepared under the auspices of a respected mashgiach (kosher supervisor). For those who keep kosher, it's a pretty big deal.

Mrs. P. picked up a plastic, hinged-lid container of cookies and began examining the label for a sign of kosher certification. The symbol isn't always front-and-center and it isn't always in the most conspicuous spot. She lifted the container high above her head to read the label on its underside and not upset or break the cookies within. After a minute or so of keen perusal, Mrs. P. turned to me and said, "Hmm.... they're not certified." a phrase I have heard for years, usually referring to some marshmallow-fortified cereal or an off-brand of ice cream*.

Just as my wife said this to me, another shopper walked past us. She seemed to be very interested in our conversation, despite the fact that we weren't talking to her and it did not concern her in the least.

"What do you mean 'they're not certified'," she asked, totally butting into our exchange.

My wife smiled and, in her best deadpan sarcastic tone, replied, "They have to be certified as 'cookies', otherwise you can't be sure what they are."

The woman returned a confused expression as Mrs. P continued.

"If they're aren't 'certified cookies', you don't know what you're getting. They could be...," she paused dramatically and gulped, "... brownies!"

The woman cocked her head to one side and shuffled slowly away from us, pushing her cart on down the aisle. We, however, snickered like five-year olds.

*These products usually contain some form of gelatin, a solidifying agent made from boiling animal bones. Since kosher observance forbids the mixing of meat and dairy products, plus the origin of said bones being undetermined, these items could not receive kosher certification... and that's only the beginning.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

turning japanese

I was in the supermarket a few nights ago. I think I was picking up a quart of half & half ...or something like that. I made my selection and got into a checkout line. There were two women in front of me, finishing up their fairly large grocery order. One of the women was filling up bags with items while the other fumbled in her purse for cash or a credit card. I waited patiently.

A woman got in line behind me. She had several items in one of those plastic hand baskets. She began putting her items up on the conveyor belt. I held onto my single carton of half & half.

The two women ahead of me were taking an unnecessarily long amount of time. Another woman, pushing a shopping cart, got in line behind the woman with the hand basket. She was about my age (early 50s), wearing a blue winter coat with white faux fur trim around the hood. And she happened to be Asian. She asked the "hand basket woman" if she knew the location of an specific item in the store. The "hand basket woman" smiled and cheerfully directed her to the first aisle of the store and told her she'd find the item about halfway down on the left. The Asian woman thanked her, left her cart, and hurried up to the first aisle.

After a minute or two, another woman walked to the line, behind the temporarily abandoned cart. She was in her mid-30s, dressed in a dark red sweater. Her hair was pulled back into a knot at the top of her head. And, coincidentally, she was Asian.

The "hand basket woman" turned around and addressed the new addition to our check-out line.

"Did you find what you were looking for?," she asked.

The woman in the red sweater rightfully appeared confused. "Excuse me?," she questioned.

"The item I sent you for?," the "hand basket woman" continued, "Did you find it?"

The woman in the red sweater cocked her head to one side.

It suddenly occurred to the "hand basket woman" that she was talking to a different Asian woman. "Oh... never mind.," she said and turned back around to face front.

By this time, I was paying for my half & half and happy to be leaving the store.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

wish I could be part of your world

Despite not having young children nor participating in the celebration of Christmas, Mrs. P and I found ourselves in the thick of the holiday shopping frenzy. Killing time before a snowstorm predicted for our area, we ventured into a nearby Barnes & Noble Booksellers. My wife had a printout of an emailed offer from the book retailer and I came along to peruse the books and novelty sections. Although our son is 26 and moved out of our house over a year ago, I still purchase toys — to accessorize my home office and work office, as well. The shelves of my office are jammed with figurines depicting cartoon pals from my youth and more recent film characters (Quick Draw McGraw and Jonny Quest stand cheek-by-jowl with Norman Bates and Cherry Darling, Rose McGowan's machine gun-legged seductress from Robert Rodriguez's schlockfest tribute Planet Terror.) Earlier in the day, I picked up a small figure of Fred Flintstone, complete with Royal Order of Water Buffalo hat, which will occupy a prime piece of shelf space this coming week.

Barnes & Noble was bustling. Parents were selecting educational gifts for their youngsters, along with the obligatory frivolous toy... and B&N is not short on frivolous toys. A few years ago, the fine folks at Funko - the West Coast toy manufacturer noted for their character bobbleheads - introduced a new line to their roster of pop culture icons called Pop! Vinyls. Like the bobbleheads before them, Pop! Vinyls are 3.75" tall representations of your favorite superhero, TV character or other iconic member of the fictional world. At Barnes & Noble, the colorful boxes were piled high on shelves and on the floor. Customers, young and old, scanned the window-fronted display boxes looking for their favorites. My wife and I hung back behind the small crowd that had gathered by the figures — children in bulky winter coats upfront, Moms and Dads on cellphones at the back. I, however, wanted to look at the stock. Perhaps there was one that would feel at home on display next to the small plastic Mr. Flintstone.

My wife commented on how cute she found the figures. The man standing next to her - cellphone wedged under his chin, his arms trying to wrangle the many boxed figures he was precariously balancing - agreed with her aloud. Then he elaborated.

"I got my kids The Little Mermaid and Cinderella ones. We gave them to friends who were going to Disney World and they got The Little Mermaid and Cinderella to autograph them. They signed 'em right across the heads!" He was quite proud of his ingenious accomplishment.

My wife asked, in a whisper, "Do your kids still belive in Santa Claus?"

"Oh no!," he laughed heartily, "They're way too old for that!"

Now let me get this straight. They are past the age of believing that a man in a red suit delivers toys to every child in the world in one night in a reindeer-powered sleigh, BUT they are perfectly fine with believing that a pretty teenaged girl who is working her way through college by wearing a red wig and fish fins on a float in a theme park parade is the actual Ariel from her namesake cartoon from a quarter-century ago... and her glass-slipper wearing BFF, too.
"Please let me in."

My wife replied, "Y'know, you could have just signed it yourself." with an uncharacteristically sarcastic tone in her voice.

The man smiled and said, "Yeah, well, our friends were going to Disney World anyway."

Mrs. P awkwardly smiled, wished him a "Happy Hoiliday" and slunk away. I joined her... right after I picked out Russell.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

the snow is really piling up outside

I hate snow. I mean I really hate it. I love the summer, the hot weather, the unencumbered feeling of not wearing a heavy coat. Then, winter comes along, dumps snow all over everything and fucks things up until April. Ugh!

Well, on Sunday, we were subjected to the first snowfall of the season. What the weather forecasters originally dismissed as "just a dusting," turned into a full-on, cold slushy mess. When it was all finished, it left several surprise inches in its wake, along with the looming threat of more frozen precipitation to follow. The local meteorologists blew the first storm of the year and we already logged in half the total of last year's snowfall in one day. This is not looking good.

After spending a good portion of the day staring out the window and expressing my disdain for the white-blanketed scenery, Mrs. P and I dressed in some warm clothes, pulled on our boots and gloves and set out to the task of clearing the thirty-seven-and-a-half feet of sidewalk that fronts our property. The snow had finally stopped and the sun had gone down as well, leaving us with the oranged-tinged glow from the street light to illuminate our chore.

We quickly finished. I headed up the front walkway towards the porch, stomping the remnants of clinging snow off my boots and dragging my shovel behind me. I turned to make sure Mrs. P was following me. She was not. Instead, she was crossing the slush-covered macadam of the street, heading towards our neighbors directly across from our house.

"Where are you going?," I asked.

"I'm going to shovel their sidewalk.," she answered.

In the 28 years we have lived on this block, I have spoken to nearly none of our neighbors. It's not that I'm not friendly, it's.... well, maybe it is that I'm not friendly. The family that moved into the house across the street are... dare I say it?... really nice. The husband is a general contractor who has done lots of work in our house, painting, repairing and plumbing (including this property-saving job at the beginning of the year). His wife has taken an instant liking to my wife (who can blame her!) and their three kids are sweet, funny and well-behaved (three prime qualities that I immediately look for in other people's children).

I mulled over all that they have done for us and that "neighborly thing to do" guilt gnawed at my conscience (yes, I have a conscience!). I trudged across the street to join Mrs. P. I muttered a few curses under my breath.

Their property is enormous compared to ours, including a long sidewalk and a very long front walkway leading to their porch. We shoveled as a team, starting at opposite ends of the sidewalk and meeting in the middle. Mrs. P tackled the front walk while I gave the sidewalk a sprucing-up once-over. We finished and, y'know, we felt pretty good. The old cliché was right - it's nice to be nice. We crossed back to our house and called it a night.

This evening when I returned from work, Mrs. P and I went out to run an errand and do some shopping. Before we left, we went across the street so my wife could deliver a gift to the youngest member of our neighbor's household. She bought him a snowball maker, a very cool invention that we all could have used when we were kids. With the snow currently covering the ground and the promise of more in twenty-four hours, it seemed like the perfect time to give an eight-year-old such a useful implement. He was thrilled and he ran outside to test it out (coatless and in his slippers, much to his dad's chagrin).

Dad began telling us that a friend borrowed his snow shovel to dig out her property and when she brought it back, she shoveled his property — the long sidewalk and the very long front walkway leading to their porch — before she left.

Mrs. P and I looked at each other. "Who shoveled?," we asked in unison.

"Karen." he replied, "She said she shoveled the front and all the way to the porch, then put the snow shovel where she found it and went back home."

 Mrs. P and I looked at each other. Again.

Our neighbor sensed something and finally urged a general "what?"

"We shoveled your sidewalk!" we exclaimed, "US!" I added, "I don't know who this Karen is, but I know who she isn't. She isn't someone who shoveled your sidewalk!"

He produced his cellphone and showed us a text message exchange with this Karen character, in which she takes full credit for our hard work. We were dumbfounded and we ratted her out. Happily.

We finally excused ourselves, explaining that we had to get to an appointment before closing time. As we crossed the street, I commented to my wife, "The one goddamn time I do something nice for someone, someone else takes the glory." My wife smiled. Doing nice things comes as second nature to her. It may never come to me again.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey

"Oh, for chrissakes!"

It's official. We, as a society, have failed. We have tried to rise up and better ourselves as productive members of civilization, contributing to the continuing evolution of our species and our planet. But, it turns out, we are just a bunch of self-righteous morons who can't distinguish our collective asses from any number of holes in the ground.

This week, a friend showed me an article about something called The Nonhuman Rights Project, a campaign led by an animal rights group. They have filed a writ of habeas corpus (that there's lawyer talk for a petition to release a prisoner or captive, based on lack of evidence) essentially demanding that chimpanzees held in zoos be recognized with "personhood." You heard me, Dr. Zaius — personhood. The wish for chimpanzees to be granted rights usually reserved for beings who can hold a job, operate heavy machinery, cure diseases and wear pants for reasons other than "it looks cute when you're riding a unicycle." We have a winner, ladies and gentlemen. Good night and drive safely.

Steven Wise:
"Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle."
The suit has been reported in such respected news outlets as TIME, The New York Times and CNN (okay, maybe CNN shouldn't be listed under the "respected" category). The basic story centers around Tommy, a 26-year-old chimpanzee who lives in a cage in trailer park. Tommy has his own television for company. May I reiterate that Tommy is a chimpanzee. He most likely has thrown his own shit at something that annoyed him during a point in his life. May I also reiterate that a chimpanzee is not a person. I'm not a lawyer or a zoologist, but I can tell you that with some amount of confidence. However one ironically-named Steven Wise will tell you differently.

Mr. Wise is the founder of The Nonhuman Rights Project and the initiator of the legal debate. He is a legal scholar who teaches animal rights law at Harvard Law School, Vermont Law School, John Marshall Law School, Lewis & Clark Law School, and Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. I just lost respect for the prestige of Harvard. The Yale Law Journal called him "one of the pistons of the animal rights." Oh, for fuck's sake — not Yale, too!

Look, I don't want to come off as a cold-hearted animal-hater. (In reality, I'm a cold-hearted human hater, but that's another blog post.) I get choked up when Sarah McLachlan shows me pictures of sad-eyed doggies and abused kittens in-between acts of cable TV reruns, her voice cracking in gut-wrenching helplessness. I had cats growing up. My wife and I had cats for many years. I smiled when my son recently sent us a video of a cat relentlessly licking his beard for a little under a minute. I also know that, when there were cats living in my house, there was a box of shit in my house, too. I have seen animals at the zoo and I have seen people at the zoo and — for the most part — I can tell the difference.

I wonder... while the "personhood for chimpanzees" issue is being hotly debated, are the residents of the Primate House at the zoo listening intently, their large ears cocked towards the radios, anticipating a positive verdict? If results are found in their favor, will they erupt in jubilation, much like members of the LGBT community when the deliberation over same-sex marriage is at hand? I doubt those scenarios will remotely mirror each other, since the LGBT populace includes intelligent, educated individuals (human individuals) and the Primate House is made up of a bunch of monkeys who scratch their assholes while they eat.

Personhood, Mr. Wise? Why don't you ask Charla Nash how she feels about "personhood for chimpanzees?" Of course, Ms. Nash won't be able to see you while you question her because her eyes were savagely ripped out in an unprovoked attack by her friend's chimpanzee, along with both of her hands and most of her face.

Don't waste the time of the already-overburdened courts, Mr. Wise. And don't you dare insult the concept of "personhood." 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

give a man free food and he'll figure out a way to steal more than he can eat 'cause he doesn't have to pay

Mrs. Pincus is, by far, the nicest person I've ever known (and — I swear — that is not a biased opinion). She is kind and helpful, always willing to offer a ride or run an errand. She expresses genuine concern for her fellow human. She is hospitable and really enjoys doing nice things for people. She is a direct contrast to her husband (yours truly), who distrusts and has contempt for nearly every person on the planet. 

Getting a jump on the upcoming gift-giving holidays (another of her many virtues), Mrs. P was on her way home from a day filled with shopping. She stopped at a Wawa Market (a chain of local convenience stores, some of which feature gas stations) to fill up and pick up sandwiches for dinner. She stood by her car and busied herself with her cellphone as the gas pump administered gallon after gallon of fuel into the car's tank. A car pulled up alongside Mrs. P's car and the driver's window slid down into the door.

"Excuse me.," a woman's voice said.

My wife didn't look up, continuing her mobile post to Facebook.

"Excuse me, ma'm.," the woman repeated.

Realizing that the woman was trying to get her attention, my wife answered. She expected to soon be delivering directions to a nearby address or, at the very least, a secluded street.


The woman hesitated slightly, but then summoned her courage and made her plea. "I'm so sorry to ask this. This is very difficult to ask. I am on Welfare and I'm waiting for my check and I don't have any money for groceries for my family... for my children. Do you think you could spare some money so I can buy something for my children to eat?"

My wife was touched, however, she explained that she had no cash at all. (She really didn't.) But, she offered to go into Wawa and purchase sandwiches for the children.

The woman was stunned at my wife's generosity. "Really?," she asked, "You'd do that?"

"Sure. I sure will."

The woman cautioned, "I have four children. There are four of them."

My wife stepped closer to the car as the woman waved her open palm over the tops of her children's heads like a model on The Price is Right gesturing towards a washing machine. Mrs. P. saw four children in the car — three in the backseat, one in the front passenger — ranging in age from teen down to eight or nine. None of them looked up, as they were all thoroughly engrossed in the activity playing across the screens of their iPhones.

That's right. iPhones.

"You have got to be kidding me!," my wife exclaimed, "They have iPhones?!? I don't even have an iPhone!"

The woman countered. "Their father bought them. I have no control over what he buys for them."

"Yeah," Mrs. P replied, "but someone is paying the monthly bill for them... and it sure isn't gonna be me!" With that, she returned the gas nozzle to the pump, got into her car and drove away.

My wife is nice, but even "nice" has its limits.

Monday, December 2, 2013

it's a little bit of everything

When Sarah Hale took up her letter-writing campaign to five presidents over a period of seventeen years, I don't think this was the type of Thanksgiving she was fighting for.

- - -   ACT ONE   - - -

It is Thanksgiving. DOC is seated silently at the table. He is picking at a plate with a minimal amount of traditional Thanksgiving fare. To his right is his five-year-old son TISH, who is crying. TISH also has a plate before him. It looks relatively untouched. GRANDFATHER sits at the head of the table. He is silent, as well.

(with teeth clenched)
Eat your broccoli! Eat. Your. Broccoli!

I want my Mommy!

CRISSY, TISH's mother, enters the room, stomping her feet in exaggerated steps. She is in her early 40s, but behaves like a teenager. She seems harried and annoyed.

(yelling at TISH)
I have to get my work done! I need to finish my report! If I don't finish, I will lose my tenure and I will lose my job!

DOC does not look up from his plate. TISH begins to cry harder. A door slams. DOC gets up from the table and leaves the room. A door slams again. TISH gets up, but is called back to the table by GRANDFATHER. DOC returns to the dining room.

C'mon. We are leaving.

DOC, CRISSY and TISH exit.

- - -   END SCENE   - - -

- - -   ACT TWO   - - -

It is minutes after DOC, CRISSY and TISH have exited. WARD (DOC's younger brother) and his daughters BG and PEALY enter the dining room. The telephone rings. BG answers. It is SIMONE, WARD's wife. WARD has explained that SIMONE is "not feeling well." She is at home and has chosen not to join her family because she is currently angry with GRANDFATHER. However, she has called to make sure that WARD brings a sampling of food from GRANDFATHER's house for her.

(speaking into the telephone)
Yes, he is making a platter for you.

(through the telephone)
* * * indiscernible chatter * * *

(speaking into the telephone)

BG and PEALY seat themselves at the dining room table. Everyone eats silently. Dinner is rushed. WARD finishes and gathers his children, escorting them towards the door. He is holding a covered plate with dinner for SIMONE. WARD, BG and PEALY exit. GRANDMOTHER and GRANDFATHER begin clearing the dining room table.

- - -   CURTAIN   - - -

Thursday, November 28, 2013

she's just a devil woman with evil on her mind

She was the most evil woman that I have ever known. Don't be deceived. Look at that conniving, scheming smile. She was always up to no good.

When he was a child, she told my dad that water ice (a popular Philadelphia summertime treat, similar to a snow cone) was poison. She didn't allow him to partake, although the other kids in the neighborhood were enjoying the frozen confection and not dying.

She treated my mother like shit, dishing out unwanted (and unwarranted) criticism, while lavishing praise on my dad's first wife.

She was a bigot, regularly spewing out the "N" word as part of her normal conversation without batting an eye. After all, from her mean-spirited viewpoint, that's what "those people" were. Not to be left out, she referred to people of her own ethnic background (who dared speak with an old-world accent) as "mockeys."

Upon their respective deathbeds, each of her siblings specifically requested that she not be permitted to attend their funerals. "I don't want that woman anywhere near me – alive or dead!," they each echoed.

When her only son died, she responded to the news with: "Well, who's going to take care of me now?" Her only concern was herself.

My wife felt sorry for her, comparing the relationship to that of her own grandmother. She did her marketing for her to help out (purchases were always criticized and determined to be "wrong!"). Mrs. P maintained her banking and bill-paying – until my wife's name was unceremoniously taken off the account without any warning. When I found out, I called her and screamed and yelled and poured out thirty years of disdain. I had to take my phone conversation behind a closed basement down, so as not to upset my young son. I told her to never call my house again and that I was happy to know that, after I hang up the phone, I would never have to speak to her again.

She lived out her final days in a facility for the elderly. My brother made several visits and then would give me reports on her condition. I didn't care.

My mother always said that she was too mean to die and she would outlive us all. For a while, we thought my mother may have predicted accurately. However, when she finally did pass away, I only attended the funeral to make sure that she went into the ground. When it was over, I drove out of the cemetery and went back to work for the remainder of the day.

She was a lifelong Republican, to boot.

My grandmother. I don't miss her for a minute and I'm glad she's gone.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I can see clearly now

My friend Kym loves her daughter Elle, but over the past few months you could hear the pain and frustration in her voice when she spoke about her. Elle is bright, articulate and just plain "on the ball." And she does a pretty good job of keeping Kym in line.

Elle was dreading each school day. She made excuses for not doing homework assignments. She was having a tough time concentrating in class and staying focused. And reading! Ugh! It was a battle all the way. Elle's reading level was noticeably lagging behind other children in her class — children of which she was intellectually superior. But she just couldn't get it. She had a hard time distinguishing one letter from another. She shunned and even threw books aside in disgust. Teachers voiced their opinions and offered their own diagnoses — dyslexia, learning disability and a number of other scenarios that had Kym at her wit's end.

Kym scheduled consultations with specialists, all of whom recommended long series of tests — none of which Elle wished to be subjected. She just wanted to read like the other kids. Kym was frustrated. Elle was frustrated.

Then, Elle started telling her mom that she couldn't see the whiteboard at school. While driving with Kym, Elle said she couldn't see objects in the distance. Kym decided that a trip to a pediatric optometrist was in order. An appointment was made and after an examination, Elle was presented with a prescription for corrective lenses. Kym took Elle to a local optician and, as they looked at the hundreds of selections, Elle thought it was pretty cool.

A week later, Kym took Elle to pick up her new glasses. There were some last minute adjustments to the frames. Kym paid and they left the store. Elle put her new glasses on, opened her eyes wide and surveyed her surroundings.

"Mom," she said, her voice tinged with an excitement that had been absent for months, "I can see the leaves!"

Kym was elated and relieved.

That night before bedtime, Elle began reading a book — all on her own. 

And she was happy.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

it's a mystery to me

I have been posting to Illustration Friday since it was introduced to me in 2006, predating my own blog by nearly a year. The concept of Illustration Friday is pretty simple ... and pretty cool. They post a new word each week and artists from all over the world create an illustration based on their individual interpretation of the word. The words are pretty unassuming (recent suggestions have been secret, underwater, power, fresh). It's interesting to see the different styles and concepts and compare them to your own.

Illustration Friday led me to another blog for artists called Portrait Party. Presenting another interesting concept, Portrait Party challenged a pair of artists to draw each other - either in person of by exchanging photos via email. I would frequently see an artist named Patrick's fierce and angular illustrations mixed among the weekly entries on Illustration Friday, and now, I was seeing his work on Portrait Party as well as his personal blog, fifty-two fridays. (I spend a lot of time looking at and searching for art blogs.) After participating in a few portrait exchanges (including one horrible episode), I believe that I initiated the "portrait swap" between Patrick and myself. The results of which can be seen here.

A day after my 49th birthday, I received an email invitation asking me to contribute to a new blog. The offer was from Patrick. The blog was called "This Day in Real Life" and it was conceived to chronicle "all those wonderful/horrible moments that would have gone undocumented otherwise," or so reported the blog's tagline. I was game, as I felt that I needed an outlet for illustrations (and rants) that didn't quite fit in with stories of my youth, Illustration Friday words and profiles of unsung dead celebrities that made up the bulk of the content on my main blog, josh pincus is crying. So, on August 15, 2010, I made my first post as an invited member of "This Day in Real Life."

As time went on, I still actively (sometimes obsessively) contributed to my blog. I researched obscure celebrities and weird death stories. I supplemented my posts with visual travelogues of my visits to cemeteries. All the while, I found time to post an entry or two to "This Day in Real Life." Since it was sort of an "in the moment" blog, I wrote and illustrated little narratives of things that happened to me. If someone in a store pissed me off or I witnessed an act of total stupidity or I made an observation about something mundane, I'd scribble out a sketch and write a few funny paragraphs and post it. Soon, I realized, that I was the only one providing "This Day in Real Life" with content. Patrick and few other authors had dropped out of sight. But, I plugged away. Just earlier this year, without asking, Patrick made me a site administrator.

Then, in September 2013, after months without a peep, Patrick posted to "This Day in Real Life." His entry read:
"i think that this idea has run its course. thank you to all participants, it's been swell but the swelling's gone down. ."
I immediately sent him an email. I requested that he turn the blog over to me and I would maintain it. After all, at this point, I was the sole contributor. He replied with this incoherent, somewhat cryptic, ramble:

i would like to begin by saying that i respect you as an artist, and you seem to be my kind of human being. i like you.

the only reason that i am sending you this is that you have contributed heavily to this blog since the beginning, that is why i felt i am waiting until october 1st to take the content down, to give you a chance to move it elsewhere.

as for the reason i have decided to end this blog, i have several and they are personal, they have nothing to do with you or any other contributor, suffice to say that i totally get that you don't understand why i dont pass this along to you and i'm sorry that i can't really explain. you have to just accept it. this needs to be done. i am sorry.

please feel free to start a similar project on your own, and i will happily put a redirect link to wherever you move, so that the people who are looking for you work will have an easy way to find your work. i will leave that up for a little while. 

again, sorry.

if you need to be mad or hate me or whatever i understand.
No, Patrick, you don't understand. I had built a following on that blog. You abandoned it. My individual posts were racking up views in the hundreds (which is pretty impressive for a "word of mouth" blog that I was promoting on my own). Faced with little choice, I copied every one of my entries - all 104 of 'em - and moved them to my own new blog. I'm lucky I did that when I did, because Patrick rescinded my Admin status and locked me out of "This Day in Real Life." I don't know what deep dark secret Patrick has, nor do I care. You want sympathy and comfort for your troubles? Stick to Facebook, because the rest of the Internet doesn't give a shit.

Thanks, Patrick. I'll take it from here.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

the ashtray says you were up all night

I am not a fan of cigarettes. My father smoked like a chimney, starting in February 1944 when he joined the US Navy for a two-year hitch at the end of World War II. Although he claimed he had quit at various times, he didn't. He stopped smoking when he died. His father smoked until he died from emphysema. My father smoked and watched his father die from a disease directly related to smoking. He continued to smoke anyway. 

When I was a kid, my father used to send me to buy cigarettes for him. There was a market within walking distance of my house. My dad would give me fifty cents for a pack of cigarettes and an extra dime to buy a candy bar for my trouble. The store owner didn't bat an eye as he handed a cellophane-wrapped package of Viceroys over to a seven-year-old.

I have vivid memories of my father waking each morning with a dry, hacking cough. Bent over, he would brace himself with his hands on his low dresser and cough uncontrollably. Then, when the coughing subsided, he'd pop a cigarette in his mouth and fumble for his lighter.

My mother smoked as a young adult. She continued to smoke after she married my father, not at all pausing through two pregnancies. She eventually quit when I was in high school and became a militant opponent of cigarettes. Being married to a chief offender was difficult and maddening. On regular household cleaning days, my mom would remove disgusting, yellow residue from nearly every piece of furniture in our house — their bedroom furniture accumulating the worst of it. My father would smoke at the dinner table and crush his cigarette butts out on his plate.

In the middle 90s, my immediate family took our first trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario. We marveled at the natural majesty of the falls and the surrounding landscape. We had a blast visiting the hokey tourist attractions on nearby Clifton Hill. We stopped in a small convenience store and were floored by the price of cigarettes. My wife and I are not smokers, but the $7.50 (Canadian currency) per pack price was incredible to us. A clerk explained that the cost was mostly taxes that funded the nationwide health care. We gave fair warning, on a subsequent trip, to friends traveling with us. They were smokers. During our trip, they ran out of cigarettes. If they wished to smoke, they would have to pay the high Canadian prices. They did and they did. (A quick Google search reveals that cigarette prices in the United States have caught up to or passed the Canadian prices of twenty years ago.)

So, now after years of research, it has been determined that cigarettes are bad for you. They can be traced as the cause of or a contributing factor to any number of ailments and diseases. They make your clothes stink. They make your hair stink. They make your breath stink. They impair your breathing. They impair your ability to properly taste food. They are expensive, commanding a price as high as twelve bucks a pack in New York.

Yesterday, I passed a woman sitting on the curb on 15th Street as the busy Philadelphia lunchtime crowd hustled along the sidewalk. She was clad in a dirty pink winter coat. Her knees were protruding from large holes in her dirty jeans. Beside her was a dirty, wrinkled plastic shopping bag that held, I imagine, her few worldly possessions. She held a torn piece of corrugated cardboard upon which she has scrawled: "Homeless. Hungry." Between two fingers, she squeezed a burning cigarette. Based on the current prices in Pennsylvania, that cigarette cost 34 cents. If her being homeless and hungry is presented (as her handmade sign advertises) as my concern, then her smoking is my concern as well. Even if she bummed that cigarette, it seems as though that was a bigger priority than obtaining food or shelter. I refuse to help someone who takes no interest in helping themselves.

In the introduction of an illusion performed by magician Penn Jillette, he puffs on a cigarette and states: "Hey kids, don't smoke... unless you want to look cool."

Some people don't get the joke.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

hey lord, don't ask me questions

The Mrs. and I picked up dinner at Burger.Org, a local kosher burger restaurant around the corner from our house. There is a relatively large and active observant Jewish population in the neighborhood. One would think in a four-and-a-half square mile area boasting five synagogues, opening a kosher restaurant would be the equivalent of owning a gold mine. One would think.

In the nearly thirty years I've lived in Elkins Park, I've seen kosher restaurants come and go. However, the bitching I've heard regarding the lack of kosher restaurants maintains a constant level - and that level is "high." The members of the Jewish community in Elkins Park are a bunch of judgmental finger-pointers who look down their noses at anyone who is not part of their little individual circles — and with five synagogues, that's five circles. They whine and complain about not having a kosher restaurant nearby, and then, when one opens, they don't support it. And worse, when it closes, they whine all over again.

The poor success rate of kosher restaurants cannot be blamed solely on the lack of support from the neighborhood. Most of these establishments are opened and operated by people with no business sense or restaurant experience. They are usually poorly run, poorly staffed, poorly stocked and overpriced — in all, a deadly combination. 

Burger.Org has four locations in the area, with their busiest one handling lunchtime crowds in Center City Philadelphia, nestled among a thick density of office buildings. I've been to the Elkins Park outlet many times and I have never seen another customer. There were several staff members milling about and the ubiquitous mashgiach (an on-premises rabbi tasked with supervising kosher compliance) was there, but the set tables were empty. It's sort of baffling, because the food is pretty good. My wife (an unwavering carnivore) has enjoyed burgers and and fries and I (a vegetarian) have enjoyed their meatless alternative. (If you put enough lettuce, onions, guacamole, jalapenos and salsa on anything, it'll be pretty good.) However, every time we go there, we expect the place to be closed, as in "closed forever".

So, once again, we parked in the empty lot and approached the empty restaurant. We were greeted by a young man who smiled and waved as he took an order on the phone. He wore an apron and had a yarmulke bobby-pinned to the back of his thick mop of hair. With the phone wedged under his chin, he scribbled frantically on a small pad and repeated a barrage of "Uh-huh"s in the the receiver. 

"Hang on, " he said into the phone, then directed his attention to the wizened old man behind the counter, "I'll ask."

The old man behind the counter looked like a character from Fiddler on the Roof: long, wiry, white beard, black vest over a wrinkled white shirt, collar buttoned at the neck, a large black hat perched on his head. His wisdom-filled eyes were slightly obscured by world-weary lids. He turned to the young man, readying himself for an inquiry that would require the deep consideration that only a learned man of his life experiences could deliver upon. He leaned forward and offered a nod of permission to present tonight's question of the ages.

"Rabbi," the young man began solemnly, "does the green salad have tomatoes?"

The old man wrinkled his forehead and thoughtfully stroked his beard. "If they want tomatoes, they can have them. They don't have to have them."

Oh, I guarantee this place won't be open too much longer.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

It's a pity there's nobody here to witness the end

To paraphrase a lyric from Brazilian electro-rockers CSS, music often feels very much like my imaginary friend. I listen to music constantly to the point where sustained silence has become unbearable and maddening. I’ve also been going to concerts since a very early age; the thrill of being in the presence of the talents behind my favorite songs was intoxicating. In the years that I’ve been working in my chosen corner of the entertainment industry, my concert attendance has unsurprisingly skyrocketed. Oftentimes I will be invited to go to shows by label representatives, PR pushers or the artists themselves. The experience of live music is something that has yet to grow old, despite the fact that the experience itself has changed quite drastically over the last few years.

This week, the Los Angeles-based Fitz and the Tantrums made their third visit of the year to Philadelphia, following a supporting slot on pop superstar Bruno Mars’ arena tour and a performance at the Jay Z-curated Made In America festival. My girlfriend and I have been longtime fans of the R&B-tinged group, having seen them several times at venues of ever-increasing size. As this was the band’s first headlining gig in town since the release of their latest album, we put aside our lukewarm feelings for their newfound slicked-up/major label-backed image and acquired tickets. The show sold out quickly, thanks to the inclusion of fellow L.A.-ers Capital Cities to this leg of the tour. After their opening set, I can safely say that what Capital Cities did that night could be the future of live music.

The show took place at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory. Not to be confused with the much-loved venue that stood at 22nd and Arch streets until 1973, the current Electric Factory is a converted warehouse just steps away from the never-ending hum of I-95. Despite its cavernous dimensions and resulting notoriously awful sound, the space nonetheless remains a destination for touring bands that can easily sucker 3000 people into doubling their ticket price in the name of ‘convenience fees.’ When I say this show was sold out, it was like society had collapsed and the 21+ wrist stamp was king. An oversized pair of sunglasses frames appeared in light-studded silhouette at the back of the stage, standing as a silent indicator of the excitement that was sure to follow.

Capital Cities are the kind of band that only major labels and commercial radio stations would classify as ‘indie rock.’ On their recordings, the band is the project of singer/keyboardist Ryan Merchant and drummer Sebu Simonian. In their live iteration, the duo is bolstered by a guitarist, bassist and, most notably, a trumpeter. Their brand of disco- and new wave-influenced pop exploits the fact that their fans are all too young to know that those styles of music are from different decades. A few pleasantly poppy numbers gave way to an unfortunate medley of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” and Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song),” as well as a piece reminiscent of “We Didn’t Start The Fire” that could only generously be referred to as a ‘song.’ Even though they’ve only been around since 2009, Capital Cities know the cardinal rule of live performance: save your biggest song for the very end of your set. Capital Cities biggest song is one of their first, a rave-ready slice of vapid pseudo-inspirationisms called “Safe And Sound.”

For the three minutes and change of the song, the band was lively and the audience was extremely responsive. But then something happened. Instead of finishing the song, wishing the crowd a good night and leaving the stage, the band transitioned their live performance of “Safe And Sound” into a pre-recorded remix of the very same song. All six members abandoned their instruments and stood at the front of the stage, dancing and leading the crowd in their makeshift party. Merchant could even be spotted taking the now-requisite ‘crowd shot’ on his phone, with the implied intention of posting it to Facebook or Instagram shortly thereafter. Music, vocals and all blared over the sound system, with the crowd dancing, clapping and celebrating. Those tickets, bought with hard-earned money, had granted admission to what became a glorified nightclub. But it was not Capital Cities’ gall to close their set in such a way that bothered me most. The worst part was that no one else seemed to care. Nobody felt fleeced that the band they came to see just popped on a track of their hit song and danced around onstage like everyone else. I get that, when Queen used to play “Bohemian Rhapsody” live, the elaborate middle portion would be played from a pre-recorded tape. But that was the ‘70s, and Capital Cities had just played the song.

I realize that, since I got complimentary tickets, I have little room to complain. Still I can’t help but think that bands are using audiences as societal Petri dishes to see just how much they can phone in their performances and get away with it. If you see Capital Cities (or any other band, for that matter) try to pull a stunt like this, call them out on their bullshit. The future of live music performance depends on it.

Friday, November 1, 2013

itchy chicken

As a pre-Halloween treat, Southern Culture on the Skids — the trailer-park pride of Chapel Hill, North Carolina — and masked guitar slingers Los Straitjackets (as well a veteran garage rockers The Fleshtones) brought their "Mondo Zombie Boogaloo" Tour to Philadelphia's beautiful World Cafe Live last Sunday evening.

Boasting one of the coolest band names in music, Southern Culture on the Skids formed in 1983 as the self-proclaimed purveyors of "toe sucking geek rock." While the radio waves were jammed with the likes of synthesizer-heavy New Wave, SCOTS were pumping out their inimitable brand of Southern-fried surf or countrified R & B ... or a reasonable combination of the two. The band is comprised of guitarist-songwriter Rick Miller, (who looks more at home holding a can of PBR than his beat-up vintage Danelectro), along with bee-hived bassist Mary Huff and stand-up drummer Dave Hartman. I stumbled across the down-home trio with their 1995 release Dirt Track Date, not knowing that I had missed four albums and some EPs over the previous few years. My then 8-year-old son, always on the outskirts of mainstream music, was even digging their guitar-driven twang. By the time their follow-up CD, Plastic Seat Sweat, came out in 1997, my boy was adding their songs to a playlist that he was compiling for his Bar Mitzvah. Bubbie and Zayde would never be the same.

I've seen Southern Culture on the Skids many times over the years and , while their live show is an upbeat raucous celebration, it very rarely strays from its formulaic basics. Certain songs have become live show staples, as well as the order in which they are performed. I'm not knocking this agenda, I'm merely saying that one knows what to expect from a SCOTS concert. Mary will check her makeup, pluck her bass and deflect catcalls from the male members of the crowd. Audience members will be invited to the stage to join the band in a little "Camel Walk"-ing. Rick will relate a road-weary tale of the tour in his folksy drawl.

And chicken will be thrown.

Track 7 from the aforementioned Dirt Track Date is the notorious "Eight Piece Box," and it has become a fan favorite. Southern Culture's concert rider, I can only assume based on the regular appearance of the tune in the set list, must include a standing supplication for the venue to provide a bucket's worth (if that's a standard unit of measure?) of fresh fried chicken - Southern or otherwise. So, as the band is tearing through such crowd-pleasers as "Voodoo Cadillac" and "Soul City, " the unmistakeable smell of batter-dredged and deep-fried poultry fills the air, alerting the faithful as to the identity of the next number and giving fair warning to veterans of past shows. To the uninitiated, now's the time to take cover, because as Rick is picking out the opening riff, he's also flinging those breaded chicken carcasses in a high arc, above the spotlights, where they will rain down upon the crowd in a heavy, greasy fowl barrage. What is a pleasant four minutes and two second song duration can be quite unpleasant for some. I have been attending concerts for nearly forty years and I have dodged a lot of foreign objects that have been hurled either from the stage or from the audience. Fried chicken, I can say with some amount of confidence, is unique to Southern Culture on the Skids shows.

"I'm snackin' all night/
It's all right all right"
My son was DJing on stage before the show and between each of the three bands' sets. As each act readied themselves to play, my son ducked into a backstage area and soon joined me and Mrs. Pincus in the standing audience. As each set drew to completion, he'd stealthily appear in the stage wings prepared to continue spinning tunes until the next band was up. Towards the end of Southern Culture's performance, my son sent a photo to me via text message. When my cellphone vibrated, I clicked to view to picture he had snapped from his backstage vantage point. From what I could tell, it was a stainless-steel, commercial restaurant container filled with fried chicken. I knew what was coming. Sure enough, within seconds, Rick Miller was asking dancers to come on up to the stage. The sound of an electric guitar mimicking chicken clucks got the dancers a-wigglin' and the Southern-prepared fowl was distributed among the stage invitees. Soon the fried chicken that I had just seen so calmly on my phone was flying through the darkened venue. In past shows, I was agile enough to evade the crispy projectiles. I wasn't as lucky this time. A young lady in full zombie makeup (it was a Halloween show) was dancing alongside Mary Huff. Keeping time with Mary's hip sways, the zombie girl was winging chicken parts into the crowd with the velocity of Nolan Ryan. People were flinching and cowering with true fear for their well-being — myself included. Suddenly, my right shoulder exploded in a hot burst of a secret blend of eleven herbs and spices. I've been hit! I thought of myself as a young GI shivering in a foxhole as enemy ammunition whizzed above my head. A large, semi-transparent sheen of grease spread across the sleeve of my white shirt, accented by a few stray crumbs of fat-browned flour. The culprit lay at my feet on the beer-soaked floor — twisted and limp, missing a few thin lines of cooked skin. Immediately, I thought I had had a target on me with instructions to "Aim for the vegetarian!"

I cleaned my shirt off with a foil-wrapped WetNap I had in my jacket pocket. I laughed at the absurdity of the situation and took it in stride. I had seen Southern Culture on the Skids before, but this time I was just unable to dodge the pullet.

(All puns intended. - JPiC)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

hey Mr. DJ, I thought you said we had a deal

L. to R.: Joe Tarsia, founder of Sigma Sound Studios; Gene Shay,  longtime Philadelphia DJ and co-founder of the Philadelphia Folk Festival; David Dye, Philadelphia DJ and host of the syndicated radio show World Cafe; Helen Leicht, longtime Philadelphia DJ, current midday host at WXPN; Michaela Majoun, longtime Philadelphia DJ, current host of the WXPN Morning Show; Jerry Blavat, legendary Philadelphia DJ, aka The Geator
This past week, the Philadelphia Music Alliance gave its annual nod to ten contributors to the music industry with Philadelphia connections. Honorees are commemorated with a plaque installed along a several-block stretch of Broad Street, right on the sidewalk in the shadow of the Academy of Music, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and the Merriam Theater. Past recipients include diverse personalities from Dick Clark and Solomon Burke to Marian Anderson and DJ Jazzy Jeff. Some names emblazoned on  plaques are head-scratchers like Joan Jett (born in Philadelpha) and Dizzy Gillespie (moved to Philadelphia with his family in 1935), but their inclusion is revealed with a simple Google search.

On this particular chilly October afternoon, I skipped out of work a little before noon and walked down to Broad and Locust to witness Gene Shay take his rightful place among the other legends in Philadelphia music history. Gene is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Folk Festival (now in its 53rd year) and a staple of Philadelphia radio. He currently hosts Folk Alley (heard on Sirius XM on Sunday evenings) and a local folk show on WXPN radio in Philadelphia (for which my son served as engineer for several years). Gene will proudly tell you (and anyone who crosses his path) that he was first to bring Bob Dylan to Philadelphia in 1963 for his debut concert. Gene is a great guy and most deserving of this honor.

I met Mrs. Pincus in the crowd just as the ceremony was beginning. Although I couldn't get his attention, I spotted my son's shock of auburn hair about ten feet away, front and center in the crowd, as he was designated by WXPN to take photos of the event. For a brisk afternoon in the middle of a work week, a fairly large amount of onlookers had gathered. My wife and I pushed in close, still leaving a comfortable distance to the couple standing in front of me. Despite being electronically amplified, the speeches were, at times, difficult to hear over the ambient crowd conversation and constant motor traffic just feet away on Broad Street. 

The gentleman in front of me suddenly turned around, facing away from the presentation podium. He seemed to be scanning the crowd, searching for someone. As he turned back to concentrate on the ceremony, he caught a glimpse of my denim jacket with a WXPN logo embroidered above the left breast pocket. 

"You work there?," he asked, poking a chubby finger in my direction. 

"No. " I smiled and replied, "Actually, my son is a DJ on WXPN."

"Really?," he leaned back and nodded, then said, "I know David Dye." He curled his lip, obviously impressed by his association.

David Dye is a respected disc jockey, a mainstay in Philadelphia radio for five decades. He currently hosts World Cafe, a show syndicated to over 250 public radio stations across the country. In addition, he maintains his Philadelphia roots by logging time at WXPN as host of the weekly Funky Friday show that's had Philadelphia shaking its booty for years. David, along with WXPN colleagues Helen Leicht and Michaela Majoun, was scheduled to introduce and present Gene Shay with his replica plaque. David was seated not more than five feet from where we stood.

"Well, there's David right there." I said and directed the gentleman's line of vision towards Mr. Dye with my extended index finger.

"Where?," he asked, his head swiveling on his neck, "Where is David Dye?" He spoke the name as though it were one word.

"There!" David is quite noticeable with a full white beard and a head of brilliant white hair. I pointed again, this time leaning in close to the man and raising my arm and finger to his eye-level, so he could follow it like he was aiming a rifle at a prize deer. "Right there!," I repeated.

"Oh.," he acknowledged with a half-hearted and confused tone.

The three WXPN staffers were introduced by the legendary Jerry Blavat, a DJ who, although younger than Gene Shay, has been on the Philadelphia airwaves for nearly as long. David, Michaela and Helen approached the podium. As David apprised the crowd of Gene's folk music accomplishments, the man in front of me responded with a loud whoop of "David Dye!" and clapped his hands together enthusiastically. When a humbled (but not too humbled) Gene took the makeshift stage and accepted the facsimile plaque, the man, again, applauded and hollered "David Dye! David Dye!"

Gene was sporting large yellow-lensed sunglasses. My crowd-mate leaned back and asked me if David Dye was blind. I replied in the negative, adding that I believe I have seen David drive a car. 

At this point, it occurred to me that this confused gentleman had never met David Dye or Gene Shay and obviously had their achievements and resumes mixed up.

Or maybe he was just plain clueless.