Monday, September 30, 2013

guess I got what I deserve

After five seasons and nine Emmys, AMC's Breaking Bad has ended. Everyone you know watched it. Everyone at work talked about, discussed it, analyzed it and second-guessed it. 

Everyone, but me. 

I have never seen a single episode.

It's not that I purposely shunned the series. I've heard all about its great writing, innovative plots, jarring visuals and stellar acting. It's just... just... I just never watched it. That's all.

I don't know anything about the show except that Bryan Cranston (Malcolm's dad and Jerry Seinfeld's Jewish convert dentist) is a guy who makes meth. I have unconsciously avoided conversations about the show among friends and co-workers. Usually, the question is raised, "Do you watch Breaking Bad?," and when I say I don't, the subject is dropped and the conversation takes a different path. But now that the show has completed its run, I thought about setting some time aside to watch the entire series.

At least until this morning.

Two of my co-workers, discreetly discussed the final episode of Breaking Bad just out of earshot of my open office door. Although I couldn't hear any parts of the actual conversation, I knew what they were talking about. As the morning progressed, Kym came by to say "Hello." She told our little corner of the Marketing Department that she spent Sunday afternoon fully immersed in a Breaking Bad marathon, with the intention of getting up to speed to watch the highly-touted series finale Sunday evening. Again, just outside my office door, a fellow marketer asked, "So, did you watch it?"

"Yes," she replied "and...

* * * * SPOILER ALERT * * * *
I offer this to those of you who have not yet watched the final episode,
a courtesy I was not afforded. 

...I'm glad to see Jesse got away with it."

"Oh well," I said, loud enough to interrupt their exchange, "I guess I don't have to watch it now."

Kym protested, "You don't even know who Jesse is!"

"Yes, but if I decided to watch the show, I will be introduced to the character and when I am, I'll know he gets away with it.," I explained. Whatever it is.

Perhaps if and when I do get around to watching the complete series of Breaking Bad, I will have forgotten all about this little reveal. But, unfortunately for me, I don't forget anything.

Now... not a word about Boardwalk Empire.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

ghosts that haunt me

My in-laws had their annual "Open Sukkah" get-together and, as usual, my wife and I were going to a Phillies game. We've been season ticket holders since 1996 and, invariably, this yearly soirée celebrating the "Festival of Booths" falls on the final home game of the Phillies' season. Luckily (or unluckily, depending how you look at it), this year has been a washout for the recent World Series Champions., so Mrs. P and I were able to make an early exit from the anti-climatic drubbing our home team was receiving at the hands (and bats) of the New York Mets. Easily slipping out of the ballpark, we headed back to Elkins Park.

My wife pulled her car to the top of her parents' driveway. We could see a few people in the side yard milling around the gaily decorated, slightly tilted, wooden structure. Inside the house, more guests were gathered in several rooms, with the largest crowd gathered by the food-laden table in the dining room. My in-laws' friends, relatives and assorted acquaintances like seeing the sukkah, but — boy! — do they love free food.

As I prepared a plate with mini stuffed peppers and assorted vegetarian hors d'oeuvres (duly marked by my mother-in-law with little homemade flags proclaiming them to be "veggie", making them look like they had been discovered and annexed by a Lilliputian tribe of vegans), I saw my wife talking to Linda, one of those women that you only see at these sorts of functions. I was shoving a spinach-filled flaky pastry thing into my mouth when Linda turned to me and said, "What's with Josh Pincus?" I cocked my head to one side, and chuckled as I began to tell the tale:
Josh Pincus is a pseudonym. It is the name under which I post illustrations. It is an alter-ego; a sarcastic, opinionated, little smart-ass in the guise of my five-year-old, redheaded stepchild self. Josh Pincus actually grew out of a dinner conversation at a Mexican restaurant. After spending the day with my then two-year-old niece, my wife and I took her out to dinner before taking her home. During the meal, she yammered on about the mysterious Josh Pincus, explaining that he was sad and he was crying, until she attempted to cheer him with an encouraging "Don't cry, Josh Pincus." Later, when we arrived at her house, my wife questioned her sister-in-law about Josh Pincus — was he a neighbor? a friend? a boy from day care? Sis-in-law was baffled, having never heard the name before. It was laughed off and promptly forgotten. A week or so later at a family dinner at my in-laws' house, I was seated at the kitchen table talking on my cellphone. My niece toddled past and asked, "Are you talking to Josh Pincus?" Then, she giggled and left the room. It was weird. 
When I decided to plunge into the daunting world of blogging, I adopted the name "Josh Pincus" and ran with it. Nearly eight years later, a Google search of Josh Pincus will deliver me in eight of the first ten results.(The other two are guys really named "Josh Pincus." That's right, I come up before they do.) It's all part of my ongoing campaign to take over the internet.
Linda listened attentively. I've told this story many times (although this is the first time I've made "The Big Reveal" to an internet audience). She finally gathered her thoughts and asked me, "Did you search any obituaries for 'Josh Pincus'?" She was being sincere. I felt an involuntary smile spread across my lips.

"No," I replied, "I wasn't really that interested."

With a solemn tone in her voice, she looked at me over her glasses and said, "Maybe Josh Pincus is a ghost."

I held back a burst of laughter.

She told me a story of when her daughter was a little girl. On a visit to Linda's sister's house, Linda was asked if her daughter had an imaginary friend. It seems that she was playing in the attic and talked about two other children — Richard and Julia. On the way home, Linda asked her daughter about her curious playmates and would they like to come to their house to play.

Daughter replied, "Oh, no. Richard and Julia live at Aunt Patty's. They can't come to our house. They can't leave Aunt Patty's attic."

On a subsequent trip to Aunt Patty's, an elderly neighbor asked if Linda and her daughter were new to the block. "No," Linda answered, "we're here to see my sister. She lives there." Linda raised her hand and pointed.

The old neighbor grimaced. "Oh,", she said, "the house where those two poor children died."

I listened to her otherworldly account and, as diplomatically as possible, I called "bullshit." I told her that we obviously do not share the same beliefs about the so-called "spirit world." I firmly stated that everything — and I mean everything — has a logical, sensible, rational explanation. I may not have that explanation, but one does indeed exist. Linda did not seem offended, but she was also sticking by her story.

I maintain my misgivings for ghosts and the supernatural. I do, however, wholeheartedly believe in Josh Pincus.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

fight the power

It was all over the internet, and by "internet," I mean Facebook. You saw it. Everybody saw it. Guido Barilla, the 55-year-old chairman of the Barilla Pasta Company, one of the largest pasta manufacturers in the world, gave an interview on the Italian radio show La Zanzara. During the interview, Mr. Barilla, placed his semolina-encrusted foot in his mouth, and stated, "We won’t include gays in our ads, because we like the traditional family. If gays don’t like it, they can always eat another brand of pasta."

Holy shit, Mr. Barilla! Did you celebrate this narrow-minded proclamation by treating yourself to lunch at Chick-fil-A?

My wife numbered herself among those offended nationwide. Even though the Barilla Company exercised a little (very little) damage control by tweeting this message late in the day:
it was too late. Mrs. Pincus was incensed. She ransacked our kitchen cupboard searching for boxes of the insular pasta. Shoving several cans of soup aside, she extracted a single box of rotini emblazoned with the Barilla name. She then called her mother and explained Mr. Barilla's newly-revealed agenda. Mrs. P said she was coming over to take all of their Barilla products back to the supermarket. My wife was livid and on a mission.

Minutes later, we were raiding my in-laws' pantry. We succeeded in finding four boxes of the bigoted noodles. We headed out to our local Acme Market to take a stand.

We parked our car and stomped across the lot with a vengeance, a plastic shopping bag of Barilla pasta in hand. We burst through the doors and beat a path straight to the Customer Service area. Mrs. P was ready to give an earful when asked "Reason for return?" She planned to launch into a tirade about equal rights, human decency, prejudice, poor business practices, alienating customers, antiquated beliefs and anything else she could think of.

However, this evening's customer service was being offered by a disinterested young lady who was absent-mindedly poking at the lottery machine. As my wife approached, the young lady looked up with heavy-lidded eyes and asked, "Can I help you?" Forming the words seemed like an effort. 

Mrs. P sunk. Her proposed lecture crumbled, stifled before it began. The young lady obviously didn't give a shit. About anything. My wife pushed the five boxes of pasta in the young lady's direction and said "I'd like to return these." And the conversation ground to an abrupt halt. The young lady scanned the items one-by-one and silently issued us a store credit for five dollars.

As we left the store, a dejected Mrs. P turned to me and said, "I guess they don't have a separate line for politically-charged returns." 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

don’t bother with the local girls

(click to enlarge... if you know what I mean)

This showed up in the spam folder of my email account last week. I can't imagine why it was snagged and deemed unwanted, unsolicited correspondence by the good people at Yahoo!, whose job is to constantly look out for my well-being.

I'm sure you get a regular stream of junk email. Offers of cheap real estate, cheap pharmaceuticals, cheap electronic cigarettes and other "cheap" come-ons infiltrate my email on a daily basis. There's also the occasional plea from the relative of dead royalty who needs my assistance in transferring inheritance from their foreign municipality bank to my account here in the Philadelphia suburbs. You know, because the international hotbed for currency exchange and distribution is located between my post office and my dry cleaner.

But, this particular message caught my attention, simply for its direct approach. After thirty years in marketing, I can appreciate the art of the sale. This short and simple solicitation follows the basic rules of marketing to a T.

  1. Eye-catching subject line. This wastes no time and even starts off with a sense of urgency and a call-to-action. It is clear that, in order to take advantage, immediate response is required. This offer isn't going to last forever. It's only available for a limited time. And, making the offer more enticing, it won't cost a single red cent. No, sir! You will receive free access. Plus, don't expect to travel a great distance to take advantage of the product. No, no, a thousand times no! Availability is right in your immediate area. It can't get any better or more convenient that this!
  2. Concise message in simple words. Once you open the email (and, at this point, who wouldn't?), the offer is driven home in three simple lines of copy. It is informative, explaining a situation you may not even be aware of! Evidently there are lots of people in my area waiting to hook up right now! They are not just typical, run-of-the-mill people - NO! They are sluts, by God! And they don't cost a thing! In case you feel that the first two lines come off as being a bit coy or cagey, the last line is as clear as crystal: No cost! Easy access! They pledge willing candidates with one thought, and one thought only! These people - sluts, if you will -  are lined up to do nothing other than fuck. They won't waste your time trying to sell you a time-share or preparing your taxes. They just wanna fuck. And fuck they shall! Oh, and they are right in your area, so no need to worry about purchasing a plane ticket or packing an overnight bag.
  3. Instant gratification. You don't have to fill out an application or take part in a lengthy interview. You already have the email open and your hand on your mouse. Just click on the designated spot (as directed by the uppercase bold blue letters), and you will be experiencing the ultimate result as soon as day turns to evening. It can't possibly get any easier. Besides, it's a solemn promise.

I'm thinking of bringing this fine example of marketing genius to my next department meeting. They will either praise me for recognizing the email's adaptable marketing applications.

Or they'll throw me out on my ass.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

meanwhile, back in the jungle

My wife and I were kind of in a hurry. We had to pick up a prescription for my mother-in-law and then rush back to their house for dinner. And we were already running late. My wife gathered a few requested dinner accoutrements, threw them into a bag and we hurried out the door.

We climbed into my wife's car and she slowly began to back out of our driveway, when suddenly a young man pushing a stroller with a baby and another small girl in tow emerged from the knot of overgrown vegetation that enshrouds and obscures my neighbor's driveway and sidewalk. Mrs. P hit the brakes. I leaned out the passenger side window, smiled and waved the Dad on, assuring him that we were allowing safe passage. He offered a silent wave of thanks, a return smile and they were on their way. The small family were never in danger, but had the sightlines been clear of the Amazonian rain forest that occupies my neighbor's adjacent property, there would have been no issue.

My neighbor is an inconsiderate, self-absorbed jerk. I don't want to say that she has no regard or respect for other people, because, as far as she's concerned, there are no other people. She perceives that she is alone in the world to do what she wants, when she wants, where she wants — with no consequence.

Several years ago, she split with her husband and he moved out. While they were still married, he — an old-school, tree-huggin' hippie landscaper — planted an array of exotic plants in their front yard. They were an odd assortment of growths, most looking like they'd be more at home in a Dr. Seuss book. However, he trimmed them and maintained them and when winter arrived, he uprooted them (or ate them or smoked them... whatever) because they were gone until they reappeared in the spring. Then, the whole ritual started again. The divorce must have finalized during growing season, because he left the greenery (and blue-ery and red-ery and yellow-ery) in mid-blossom. By the time autumn rolled around, those weeds were out of control, creeping along the driveway and making a devious reach across our property line. I was furious, but my wife — the level-headed member of the Pincus family — told me to curb my anger or pick my battles or some other cliche to ease my rising blood pressure. I said nothing and those trees and things grew until my neighbor's tiny front lawn was covered by a mismatched hodgepodge of fauna, wide floppy leaves, narrow twisting stems and and an intertwined tangle of sinewy vines. It is unkempt, unsightly, unruly and unnecessary.

And it all blocks my view of approaching traffic.

Maybe one day, if I wish hard enough, those plants will devour her like the stuff that covered Stephen King in Creepshow. And I hope it takes her barking dog, too.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

it takes a train to cry

It was 4:55 pm. and my regular train lurched into Suburban Station, its wheels emitting a high-pitched squeal as it slowed along the platform. With a pneumatic hiss, the doors opened and passengers exited through a narrow path made by the parting of new passengers waiting to board. I shuffled in behind a lady lugging a wheeled case and I quickly located an empty seat in the last row of the car. I slid in against the window and pulled my current book* out of my bag, opened it up and proceeded to lose myself on the commute homeward. The last few passengers trickled in and the train again chugged to life.

Less that five minutes later, the train pulled into Market East Station and more passengers, finished with the workday, boarded. I had just begun reading a passage, when I was distracted by someone plopping themselves down into the remaining eighteen inches of ass-space available in the double-seater that I occupied. I scrunched myself closer to the window. My new seatmate, a large, broad-shouldered man wielding a well-worn leather briefcase shifted and adjusted with no regard for my personal space.

And he smelled. Bad. Real bad. An elusive mixture of sweat, dirt and the smell that comes from the bulk plywood department at Home Depot.

The center aisle became clogged with passengers left to stand as each seat filled. I was trapped. I was wedged against the window, my head turned away to avoid the stench. I was careful to twist my body away so my seatmate's clothing would not brush up against me. And I had two more stops to go.

I held my breath and read my book, hoping the descriptive text would be a distraction. It wasn't. In my peripheral vision, I could see him fiddling with his iPhone, his elbows resting on his briefcase which was now horizontal across his lap. How could he not know he stinks? I could see the two backpacked students we picked up at Temple University Station standing in the aisle covertly gesturing to each other and giving this guy "the look." They could smell him, how could he not be aware?

Just as the contents of my stomach began to churn, the conductor announced "Elkins Park" — my stop. I mustered up an "Excuse me, please." and the odorous passenger stood and allowed me to exit. I bolted down the aisle, nearly bumping into the woman with the wheeled case waiting to exit herself. 

I walked across the station parking lot and I laughed as I thought that some unsuspecting soul surely took my seat. 

* This time, it's comedian Jay Mohr's 2004 memoir Gasping for Airtime: Two Years in the Trenches of Saturday Night Live.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

psychedelic shack, that's where it's at

Although I am the progeny of two Jewish parents and come from a long, Jewish lineage, my family was hardly what you would call "observant." Actually, we were hardly what you'd call "Jews." I was effectually aware of the popular Jewish holidays — Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the lesser, though way more fun, Chanukah. As far as I was concerned, these were justified days off from school. Evidently, my people's struggle under a sadistic and malevolent Pharaoh earned me a couple of skipped sessions of third grade. There were other holidays, too — Simchat Torah, Shemini Atzeret (and maybe Ramadan... maybe not). If it meant a day at home watching cartoons and Let's Make a Deal, then I was all for it. 

I rarely attended synagogue. We had a single box of matzo on Passover, but the ubiquitous loaf of bread still maintained its rightful place on our kitchen table. We exchanged Chanukah gifts on December 25. But, we knew we were Jews, and not just because it was regularly pointed out by some of our anti-Semitic neighbors.

When Mrs. Pincus stepped into my life thirty-one years ago, I was introduced to the deep-rooted customs of traditional Judaism. I'm talking two sets of dishes and silverware, no pork chops, shrimp or cheeseburgers, Friday night candle-lighting followed by Ha Motzi (blessing) over wine and challah and you didn't turn the TV on during yom tov (holidays). My new in-laws weren't fucking around, either. They followed some pretty hardcore rules! It was a bit intimidating — coming from my background. My father-in-law went to synagogue any chance he could, without even being told! And not just on holidays! And he enjoyed it! And, he knew all the proper litany and accompanying gestures without the aid of a prayer book. Holy crap (no pun intended), what was I in for? But, as the years went on, I became more accustomed to the practices, even intrigued and fascinated by the history and origins connected to the rituals. I learned far more than I ever did from a yearly viewing of The Ten Commandments on television.

In the fall, as the weather moved from warm to cool and Rosh Hashanah was a memory, preparations are made for the observance of Sukkot, The Feast of Tabernacles. The seven-day festival (eight, if you live outside of Israel — out amongst the English), commencing on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, celebrates (according to the Book of Exodus) "the end of the year when you gather in your labors out of the field." It's essentially a week-long harvest party. The celebration includes eating your meals in a sukkah or "booth". Contemporary Jews erect a temporary structure that mimics the fragile dwellings inhabited by the Jews as they traipsed across the desert as freed slaves. My in-laws annually build a sukkah on a tract of land adjacent to their house that draws visitors from across several suburban municipalities. Sitting at the top of a sloping lawn and visible from the street, their sukkah evokes comments ranging from "beautiful" and "inspiring" to "ugh, they're putting up that friggin' shed again!"

For over twenty-five years, I actively and dutifully participated in the construction of the sukkah. My father-in-law fashioned an ingenious "sukkah kit" out of stockade fence sections, metal mending plates and several dozen carriage bolts. The fence-piece walls are fastened together with the mending plates and bolts until they formed an oblong enclosure reminiscent of a frontier U.S. Cavalry fort (like the one on F Troop, but smaller). With a construction crew that has changed and evolved over the years (brothers-in-law, children, cousins and the occasional neighbor), the sukkah goes up in just under ninety minutes, sometimes slowed by a misplaced wrench, a power-drained cordless drill or in-fighting among the help. 

Once the structure is shored-up with sturdy two-by-fours, the real work begins. Mrs. Pincus works her magic and transforms that eight foot by twelve foot overgrown dog run into a breathtaking collage of fruits, leaves, flowers, lights and an array of decorations acquired over a span of many years. She does this almost single-handedly and the result is a labor of love that is truly evident and truly spectacular.

The first few years of putting up the sukkah were novel for me. I had never seen one before, let alone participated in its assembly. Once completed, and Mrs. P's astonishing metamorphosis finalized, I was proud to flaunt photos to my then-boss and co-workers. At the time, I worked at a small graphics studio that was owned and operated by a very nice woman who, had she not gone into the printing production business, would have — no doubt — become a nun. I often referred to her as "Sister Mary Graphics." One October morning in the early 1990s, I arrived at work with a stack of glossy photographs of the newly-built and decorated sukkah with which to educate and even show off. Sister Mary and an equally-Gentile co-worker examined the snapshots with wide eyes as I described the scene. Had the pictures not displayed a colorful burst of autumn foliage and produce subtly illuminated by carefully placed spotlights, you'd have thought they were viewing an autopsy.

"You eat your meals in this... this... room?," began Sister Mary, her head cocked to one side, her sensibly-short blond hair tousling about as she shook it from side to side. "And you decorate it with fruit and vegetables hanging on the walls?" Her face twisted into a dismissive scowl, as though I had just vomited on her shoes.

I countered, forcing a mock-puzzled look across my face. "You mean to tell me that every December, you drag a tree into your living room and put lights all over it and presents underneath it? Hey, at least we Jews have the sense to leave our trees out in the backyard where they belong!"

She failed to see the humor.

Over the years, my once-resolute feelings towards organized religion have waned. I no longer attend (and actually scorn) synagogue or services of any kind. I question the validity of so-called miraculous occurrences and the authenticity of Biblical parables that I can't discern from children's fairy tales. My faith and beliefs have given way to the cynicism brought on by habitual mistrust and the lack of consideration I see exhibited by my fellow human.

I will say, however, that Mrs. P has outdone herself on this year's sukkah.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

iron, like a lion, in Zion

This is an email from a friend's sister, concerning a true household crisis: 
Just listened to a voicemail from the cat groomer who Bob met this morning when he dropped Archie off for a 9 AM appointment. The drop-off alone left Bob speechless but not as much as her message left me without words, "Archie is primped, polished and primed in front of the birdcage ready for pickup when you are. Your photo album of Archie head shots is also ready and included in today's visit."
It seems that Archie, the family cat, is shitting all over the shag rug in Bob's home office. Their family veterinarian suggested that ol' Archie be groomed because sometimes the accidents happen when long hair is matted around the anal area. (But, of course you knew that. Everyone knows that! It's common knowledge, right? Who among us hasn't completed extensive studies of the feline anal area?)

Not knowing where to begin, Sister had to find a place that would groom a cat. Petsmart, the national chain of pet supply stores, wanted no parts of it. So, on recommendation, the family took Archie to an establishment in the affluent Philadelphia suburb of Paoli called "The Main Lion." This is a "cats only" salon.

And this is what The Main Lion did to Archie:

Archie is ready for his close-up, Mr. DeMille.

Sometimes, I'm embarrassed to be white.