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.

Monday, October 21, 2013

she's a very kinky girl, the kind you don't take home to mother

I grew up in the protective cocoon of Northeast Philadelphia - mostly white, mostly Jewish, mostly middle class. Aside from a few family vacations to Atlantic City and a trip to Florida with some friends, I rarely ventured south of Cottman Avenue. My whole existence remained within the confines of a six-mile radius. It was a skewed reality that I didn't realize was skewed until I graduated from high school.

Once I left the Philadelphia Public School System, I was on my own. I chose to attend the small, but respected, Hussian School of Art in center city Philadelphia. The thought of me following my childhood dream of becoming a professional artist didn't exactly thrill my father. So, I had to pay my own tuition (which meant obtaining student loans on my own). I had to find my own transportation to school. Since I didn't own my own car, I opted for public transportation and was expected to pay for same. After my first solo ride on the subway, I found the world outside of the so-called "Great Northeast," was an adventure. I saw people of all shapes, ages, colors and races, some that I had been shielded from in my previously-sheltered life. At art school, I instantly became classmates with a wide variety of young men and women from a full range of backgrounds. There were hippie holdovers, mohawked punks, other-worldly New Wave disciples, flannel-clad greasers (whose style, in another decade, would be called "grunge") and Madonna-wannabes. I did my best to fit in with the mix of personalities and I succeeded, for the most part.

The school was tiny, with a student body of just over 300. Graduates were awarded an Associates Degree*, despite the course of study requiring four years. The catch (read: benefit) was there were no academic subjects offered. No math, no science - it was a dream come true... ask any artist. And because of the school's small size, upperclassmen mingled freely with lowerclassmen. We were one big, happy, eccentric bunch.

A week or so into my freshman year, a girl named Debbie took an unprovoked interest in me. She was tall, blond and four years my senior (my brother's age). She was not particularly attractive, but compared to the Semitic sameness of all the girls I knew from twelve years of public school, she was compelling. Plus, the fact that she was the same age as my brother... well, the possibility of pissing him off was irresistible. Oh, and when she wasn't sitting in class at art school, she was a go-go dancer. That pissed my brother off even more.

Debbie was — shall we say "aggressive" — and wasted no time. She invited me to spend a weekend at her apartment. Alone. For three days. For a na├»ve nineteen-year-old, this was the stuff you only read about in Penthouse Forum. We always thought those stories were made up, but here it was happening to me. In my elation, I managed to spit out a "Sure!" over my tied tongue. She gave me instructions for the train to her house and folded a single key into my palm. I anticipated the argument with my parents about my (Debbie's) plans, but it didn't really matter, because my mind was made up. I was not spending this weekend at home. My mother was not pleased. Not pleased at all. She was even less pleased when I didn't phone for three days. (This predates my first cellphone by quite a few years.)

When Monday morning arrived, I took the train into Philadelphia with Debbie. I went through the day at school in a fog, as I had just experienced a weekend with out much sleep. At the day's end, I took the subway home. When I wearily shuffled through my front door, my mother greeted me with a stern "Where have you been?," which she delivered through clenched teeth and a long pause between each word. My mom was not someone to be messed with. She didn't have time for anybody's bullshit and this little episode fell squarely into the Mom Pincus "Bullshit" category. We exchanged words, although her word output was nearly triple mine. When my father got home from work, dinner was nearly silent. My parents were angry and (speaking now as a parent myself) they had every right to be. When you're a nineteen-year-old boy, you don't think about things like responsibility and accountability. Nineteen-year-old boys mostly think with their penises and penises don't have much capacity for deep or rational thought.

Things eventually calmed down at the Pincus house. My parents realized that their little Josh was growing up and, although they had a difficult time with it, I spent several more weekends with Debbie.

One day, Debbie asked to come to my house. WHAT?, I thought, MY HOUSE? YOU? AT MY HOUSE? MY MOM MIGHT SEE YOU! I dispatched every possible excuse I could come up with, but Debbie wasn't buying. She insisted and was relentless about it. I told her I'd discuss it with my parents (a very childish thing to say, I felt). I explained that I couldn't possibly come and pick her up, that she'd have to find her own way to my house.I thought that would be the clincher, but no — she agreed to take the train, the subway and two buses. When I got home, I broke the news to my mother. My mom, used to the nice, manner-conscious girls I dated in high school, thought nothing of the request. Next Sunday, Debbie would come to my house. This was not gonna be good.

My mother was the manager of a women's discount clothing store. She was a hard worker and she often logged sixty hours in an average week. She relished her days off. Debbie chose one of my mother's precious days off to pay a visit. I got an early morning call from Debbie saying that she was leaving her house. I sweat bullets from the time I hung up the phone until I answered the knock on my front door nearly three hours later. There was Debbie — in all her tight-skirted, see-thru top skankiness — right there in my living room. The living room where I had my fourth birthday party. The living room where, every year, my mom set up a large aluminum folding table to accommodate extra guests for Thanksgiving dinner. I knew that allowing this slut to breach the sanctity of my home was an exercise in poor judgement. The poorest.

My mother entered the living room, smiling,  in her fluffy pink bathrobe. It was her day off. She was going to be comfortable after sixty plus hours on her feet dealing with bargain-hungry customers. My mom extended her hand as I introduced Debbie to her.

Debbie parted her painted red lips and asked my mother, "It's nearly one in the afternoon. Aren't you going to get dressed today?"

Time froze. I cringed.

My mother, in pure Mom Pincus fashion, coolly replied, "I worked all week. Today is my day off. I will get dressed whenever the fuck I feel like getting dressed." Then, my mom cocked a beckoning finger at me and, through those familiar gritted teeth, asked me to join her for "a word" in the kitchen. We excused ourselves. The "word" my mom had for me was "I don't like her very much." 

I spent the next weekend at Debbie's apartment. It would be the last time. Debbie received a letter which she didn't really try to hide from me. She left it out and open on her kitchen table. It was from her boyfriend. He wrote how he missed her and they would be together soon. Debbie never invited me back to her place again. In school, she barely talked to me. I realized that she was just biding her time with me until her boyfriend returned from where ever. I had been used.

But, it was a blessing in disguise. A short time later, I met the future Mrs. Pincus. 

Where is Debbie now? Who cares.

*In thirty years, no employer has ever asked to see my diploma.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

when people run in circles its a very, very mad world

I have never seen an episode of Mad Men. I know the basic premise of the series. I know about the personality traits of some of the characters. I know that it's a period piece set in the 1960s. And I know I hate it.

I have been in the advertising and marketing field, in one capacity or another, for over thirty years. For a long time, the only frame of reference for anyone outside of my chosen profession was Darrin Stephens, from the fantasy sitcom Bewitched. Darrin worked for the respected advertising agency McMann and Tate, directly reporting to clueless, brown-nose partner Larry Tate himself. When it came to pitching one of Darrin's ideas to a potential client, Larry Tate would ram his nose up the client's ass as far as he could wedge it. He would belittle Darrin's ideas, standing alongside the client with a sneer of condemnation, until he realized the client actually liked Darrin's ideas, then he'd become Mr. Jump-On-The-Bandwagon. He was a two-faced, spineless dickhead. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the majority of Darrin's ideas were hatched by his wife Samantha, a smoking hot witch who was way out of Darrin's league. (Both Darrins, as a matter of fact.) It was pure fiction, but it was as close as Mr. and Mrs. Average American was gonna get to how a real ad agency works.

And that was it. That is, until 2007, when Mad Men came along to ruin things for creative people everywhere. Mad Men was presented as a realistic, behind-the-scenes look at how the cut-throat world of advertising really operates. It was time to "pull back the curtain" on how ad campaigns are hashed-out, revised, refined and presented to clients  — all amid incessant drinking, smoking, adultery and double-crossing. It was cool, fun, sexy, enticing . .  and easy.

But, Mad Men created more than just entertainment. It created a monster. It gave birth to armchair advertising experts — something it did not purposely set out to do. Now, any shlub who has ever viewed even a portion of an episode of Mad Men — even if they began watching in the middle of Season Three — fancies themselves an authority on ad design, concept and development. So, now I hear regular, unsolicited input from viewers of Mad Men, using terms like "spacial relationship," "let's sell the sizzle," and "this copy needs to be sexier."  Do people who watch CSI barge in on police investigations with welcome constructive observations? Do viewers of House or Gray's Anatomy offer astute diagnosis while hanging around their local emergency room? So, why single out artists and writers as open targets?

I went to art school for four years. I worked long and hard for three decades for over a dozen employers and countless freelance clients. I don't feel I have to give serious consideration to suggestions from someone whose marketing experience came from parking their ass on the sofa and watching Don Draper puff Luckys. The attitude has become: "I saw a TV show about guys who come up with ads. I can do that! How tough could it be?"

Boy, I sure could use a little of Samantha's magic right about now.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I heard it through the grapevine

Stop trying to get me to eat raisins. I don't like them. Nobody likes them. If people like them so goddamn much, how come you have to keep hiding them in food? I'll tell you why... 'cause nobody likes raisins.

When I was a kid, my mom's favorite candy bar was Chunky. She loved Chunky Bars, that foil-wrapped square of dense milk chocolate (easily mistaken for a dose of Ex-Lax, so she was careful where she stored them). The problem with Chunky was: hidden in that thick, inviting block of chocolate were raisins. They weren't visible, like the almonds in a Hershey Almond bar or the sandpaper-like appearance of the underside of a Nestle Crunch (both of which I liked, so I didn't mind the attempted cloaking of a supplemental ingredient). No, those raisins were deep inside, away from the smooth exterior, just patiently waiting to fill the mouth of an unsuspecting chocolate-lover with distaste and disappointment.

On Sunday mornings, my dad liked to wake up early (actually, my dad liked to wake up early every morning) and go out to get sticky buns from Bauer's Bakery. Sometimes, I would accompany him. I loved to watch those stout, gray-haired ladies behind the chrome and glass display cases. They'd bump into each other and reach across each other's hunched backs as they filled customer orders in the impossibly-narrow work space. Sometimes, one of the women would spot me, smile, wink and announce in a thick, unplaceable, Old World accent, "Give that little girl a cookie." (It was the 1960s and, much to my father's chagrin and my mother's delight, I had shoulder-length hair.) As I munched my free cookie, the lady would fit a glistening square of golden brown sticky buns — dripping with syrupy glaze — into a plain white cardboard box and then bind it tightly with string from an overhead dispenser. When we got home, my dad would cut the string with a steak knife and that box lid would spring open. I'd eagerly pull one of those sugary beauties away from its conjoined neighbors and take a big bite. Ugh! Raisins! Hidden on the bottom! Those treacly pastries were supported by a double-thick foundation of raisins! Of course they were concealed beneath the appeal of cinnamon-swirled, sweetness-blanketed, yeasty dough. If they put the raisins right there on top, for every customer to see, no one would buy them. And since some supply manager obviously ordered way too many raisins, they have to get rid of them somehow. So, if they tuck a bunch under their popular sticky buns and still call them "sticky buns" and not "raisin sticky buns," no one will know... at least not until they get them home.

The worst is when they try to sneak raisins into cookies, taking full advantage of their look-alike qualities to chocolate chips. How many times I've made my selection from an offering of assorted cookies, thinking I was choosing one filled with chocolate-chips, only to discover the unmistakable gummy texture and pasty taste of — you guessed it — raisins!... after just one bite.

There better not be any raisins in here.
My mother-in-law makes a delicious kugel, a sort-of casserole made with egg noodles, cottage cheese, sour cream, cinnamon and sometimes apples. It is good when served either hot or cold, but it is usually ruined by the addition of one ingredient. Wanna guess what that ingredient is? I'll give you a hint... it's raisins! And my mother-in-law gets sneaky about it, too. She knows (like every other "raisin-adder") that nobody likes raisins, so one must be devious about their unwelcome inclusion in any recipe. My mother-in-law uses the dreaded golden raisins in her kugel, so they blend in stealthily with the yellow of the noodles. Innocent dinner guests shovel a heaping forkful into their mouths, never suspecting what awaits them once they begin to chew. I suppose my mother-in-law gets a good chuckle out of it. Same goes for my father-in-law's home-baked challah. Why do you think the plain challah is more popular than version with raisins? Um... 'cause it doesn't have raisins!

At Halloween time, what kid cheers when they find a box of raisins mixed in with their Reeses Cups and Kit Kat Bars? Raisins always evoke a crestfallen "awwww" once discovered at the bottom of a trick-or-treat bag. Then, they are discarded with the empty wrappers, crumbs, lint and other undesirables by the second week of November.

Hey kids! Please like me!
In the 80s, the California Raisin Advisory Board (who knew there even was such an organization?) introduced a lovable gang of cartoon characters called the California Raisins, to stir awareness of the wonderful properties of raisins... what ever they may be. (Vitamins? minerals? chewiness?). This cute and endearing troupe of animated singers, dancers and musicians captured the hearts of children. They didn't make raisins taste any better, but they were pretty popular characters. Raisins, however, were still raisins. Despite the concerted effort by the Raisin Growers to convince us that those wrinkled little nuisances were "Nature's Candy," we soon found out what we knew all along — "candy" was actually "Nature's Candy." Raisins are not.

Plus, they look like rabbit shit.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

I just wanna bang on the drum all day

I don't play a musical instrument and neither does Mrs. Pincus. So, what were we doing in Guitar Center, a local outlet of a chain of music stores? We were buying a birthday gift for Mrs. P's cousin's little boy who is a budding ?uestlove, Neil Peart or (God forbid) Ringo Starr. And, what store won't we ever set foot in again? That's right, Guitar Center.

When we received an invitation to the four-year-old's birthday party, Mrs. P — the Queen of unique and thoughtful gifts — decided on a cool pair of drumsticks. She had seen the youngster pounding away on a small drum kit in some videos posted by his mom on Facebook. I thought it was cool too, but I hadn't been in a music store since the last time I took my son to get his guitar restrung and that was years ago (and that was at Sam Ash, Guitar Center's biggest competitor). 

My wife saw a pair of tie-dye decorated sticks on Guitar Center's website, but was disappointed when she discovered they were only available online. So, this afternoon, we drove out to Guitar Center to peruse the stock in search of a pair of of comparably cool sticks. We parked and entered the store. It was dimly lit. The walls were lined with guitars in every conceivable shape and size. A few long-haired dudes handled a few of the instruments. Just ahead of us was a separate room with a large sign reading "DRUMS" in metallic purple letters above the door. On the other side of the threshold, we were greeted by a goateed dude who offered assistance.

"We're looking for a pair of drumsticks for a four-year-old," my wife explained.

Evidently, this guy heard "Buddy Rich" instead of "four-year-old" and launched into a technical pitch as though we were newly-hired roadies and we were setting up the stage for the Newport Jazz Festival. When Mrs. P finally conveyed that she was shopping for a child, he provided a selection of drumsticks covered in glitter up to the silicone tips. As my spouse made her selection (the red and blue ones), the counter phone rang and the clerk dude excused himself to take the call. He "uh-huh"ed and "mm-hmm"ed for five minutes. Other customers wandered into the drum room as his phone conversation continued. Those same customers wandered out of the drum room as his phone conversation did not let up. Finally, my wife approached the counter and motioned to the clerk dude that she'd like to pay and get on with our lives.

Then things got strange.

He asked for a photo ID and information with which he could start a profile for their customer database. When she produced a credit card, he asked for additional identification. ("Oh, you don't have to take it out of your wallet. It's just for your own protection.," he said reassuringly.) Then he presented the receipt.

"Hang on to this," he insisted, "the girl at the front door needs to see it before you leave."

Sure enough, a young lady who resembled Chrissie Hynde circa 1982, blocked our path to the exit. "I just need to see that.," she said in a monotone as she reached for the receipt in my wife's extended hand. "Can I just check the bag, too.," the girl added. She scanned the contents of the bag — two sets of drum sticks and a baseball cap with a gold Zildjian logo above the bill. She confirmed that the items corresponded to the inventory listed on the receipt. She stamped the paper slip and, still expressionless, handed it back. "Have a good day." she said, as though it was an effort to say it. I quickly glanced around the store and noticed that a good amount of the staff were watching a good amount of the customers. Us included.

In the parking lot, we climbed into our car. "Well," my wife said, "their motto should be 'Guitar Center — where we ignore you then treat you like a criminal.' "

"I guess musicians are not to be trusted.," I replied.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

just like that soul singer in the session band

After toiling for years in school and working with dedication in unpaid internships, my son E. landed his dream job. He is an on-air host and producer at a local Philadelphia radio station. And he has become something of a "minor local celebrity" (his words, not mine). Accompanying him to a concert has become an experience that is much different from the shows we attended together when he was in high school. We can't take three steps inside any local concert venue without someone saying "Hello" to him or offering a friendly back-slap and a smile. He knows the band members, the technical crew, the club owners, PR guys, even the people selling T-shirts. It's ridiculous. And it's very cool.

Recently, my immediate family went to a gathering at my in-laws' house. Invited guests included a mixture of friends, family, friends of family and a few stray acquaintances. After filling a plate from the buffet table, my son and I found a quiet area of the living room to talk. My wife (who was mingling among the other guests, something I choose not to do) and I had picked up my son en route between an afternoon Phillies game and her parents' house. My son and I were discussing the sorry state of the 2013 Phillies when a couple we did not know approached us. They stood side-by-side and smiled, obviously waiting for one of us to pause long enough so they could interrupt our conversation. My son glanced in their direction.

The woman began. "Are you E.?"

E.: "Yes."

Woman: "I'm Abby. I'm a friend of your aunt's*. You work at W*** (the local radio station, which, in order to protect my son's privacy, shall remain nameless), right?"

E.: "I do."

Woman: "We're big fans and we listen to you a lot."

E.: "Thanks." He smiled.

And then — claws out and fangs bared — she dove in for the kill.

Woman (turning slightly and gesturing to the gray-haired man to her left): "My husband is a singer-songwriter and he was wondering......"


My son didn't know where to hide. He hears this introduction often. So often, in fact, that he could have said it himself, word for word. "Blah blah blah - singer - blah blah blah - I have a CD - blah blah blah - play my songs on the radio." As this guy took a close seat and elaborated on his own musical talents and songwriting prowess, I silently watched my son's eyelids lower and all expression disappear from his face. He innocently came to his grandparents' house to say "Hello" and maybe have a snack. He didn't come to be pitched to.

I will say that my boy handled the situation like a seasoned professional. He politely, but firmly, explained that radio is a structured medium and that programming is a complicated, multi-level process. He cheerfully offered suggestions for performing and making a name in the local music scene. The man insisted that my son take his CD, a copy of which he conveniently brought with him, and give it a listen. Reluctantly, my son took it, chuckled, and told him he would. Then, he informed the man that he gets hundreds of unsolicited CDs each week. He said he'd do his best to give it a listen, but added the caveat: "Please be patient." The man and woman thanked him and, with their mission accomplished, left.

My son was furious.

The next day — the very next goddamn day — the guy emailed E. and asked if he listened to the CD.

My son was furious. Again.

I can tell all of you aspiring musicians, singers and songwriters: This is not the way to go about furthering your career. I can't say for sure, but this guy probably ruined his chances of my son (or anyone else at the station) ever hearing a single note of any of his songs. Initially, my son was very diplomatic as he faced a very uncomfortable situation. But even diplomacy has its limits.

* * * UPDATE * * *
The guy sent a text message to my son this afternoon. Guess whose CD will never get listened to now?

*An interesting aspect to this story (that makes the situation even more infuriating) is E.'s aunt, to whom Abby refers, is not a fan of E.'s radio station and her husband has made many a disparaging (read: insulting) remark about the station, as well.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

whatever happened to my transylvania twist?

My father was coming off a divorce and my mother was, until recently, a party girl and a confirmed bachelorette. Whatever  "magic" it was that brought this unlikely couple together, it made them act like giddy newlyweds, despite being in their early thirties. 

It was December 1955 and my parents had married just a few weeks earlier. My mother sat on the sofa in their small living room in their small apartment on Roosevelt Boulevard. My father, a butcher at a Penn Fruit supermarket, arrived home after another grueling day of turning whole steer carcasses into conveniently-packaged roasts, chops and steaks. My mom greeted her new husband with a kiss. In her hand, she held the Evening Bulletin, opened to the television listings, and she was bubbling with excitement.

"Look what's on tonight," she said, her finger jabbing at one of the tiny, typeset lines in the first column, "Dracula! The one with Bela Lugosi!"

My father smiled.

"We have to watch it.," she continued, "That movie scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. It gave me nightmares! I haven't seen it in years! We just have to watch it." She looped her arm around my dad's skinny waist and squeezed herself closer in playful fright. My dad laughed.

They rushed through dinner. My mom popped a bowl of popcorn in a soup pot on the stove. They dimmed the lights in the living room and snuggled up close on the sofa. The only light in the room came in a harsh glow from the black-and-white images flashing across their modest television screen.

The movie began. My mom lowered her head as memories from 1931 swirled in her subconscious. She was a nine-year-old girl subjected to the big-screen menace of the Transylvanian count. Although details of the film were vague, she distinctly remembered the terror she felt when the malevolent Lugosi appeared. She silently shooed the thoughts out of her head and focused on the present. She was with her husband now and she was an adult. But still, she watched with a bit of uneasy anticipation.

A carriage carrying Renfield, the real estate agent, rumbled up a hill. He headed toward the castle to meet the infamous Count, disobeying the warnings and superstitions from the quaint Bavarian townspeople. He opened the great heavy doors and stepped into a massive foyer filled with cobwebs and (inexplicably) armadillos. Suddenly, in the darkness, Lugosi's rich Hungarian accent cut the atmospheric silence.

"I am Dracoola. I bid yoo velcome!"

The camera cuts to a close-up of the actor's face. It's a pasty white visage perfectly painted with cartoonish cupie-doll lips. They looked like and were about as threatening as Betty Boop's.

My mom burst out in uncontrollable peals of laughter. My father laughed as well, as he stepped into the kitchenette and returned with a calming glass of water.

My mother finally caught her breath. "This is what scared me? This? My goodness, this is hysterical!"

They watched the rest of the film accompanied by the sound of their own giggly amusement. It was comedy that rivaled Jack Benny.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

breakfast in america

Jesus Christ, did I love Fruit Brute! 

In 1971, the geniuses at General Mills released two new cereals that sported monsters on the boxes instead of the usual happy elves or rambunctious tiger or some racist character that was slightly less offensive than Little Black Sambo. Monsters, goddammit! How cool was that! In '71, I was of the prime target age group to which these sugar-coated, marshmallow-enhanced empty calories were marketed. In 1974, the brilliance struck again, as the good folks in the test kitchens of General Mills released - nay, unleashed - Fruit Brute. It was an early morning dream come true. Where the first incarnation of the monster cereals were standard kid-friendly fare of chocolate (Count Chocula) and strawberry (Franken Berry), they crossed the innovation line with Fruit Brute. Fruit-flavored cereal (or at least some laboratory's interpretation of fruit flavors) mixed with lime-flavored marshmallows. Lime! Motherfucking lime! This took the most important meal of the day to a higher level. And, as a bonus, there was a werewolf on the box!  A werewolf! Oh my God, be still my adolescent heart! I couldn't get enough Fruit Brute.

Well, General Mills discontinued the manufacture of Fruit Brute the year I got married, but I had long since stopped eating cereals that were geared to children (with the exception of the occasional bowl of Cap'n Crunch). Three years later, Fruity Yummy Mummy was introduced as a feeble substitute, but the scare comparison between a vicious, bloodthirsty lycanthrope and a gaily wrapped dead guy with a shit-eating grin was nearly non-existent. Besides, I had begun to observe the traditional values of kashrut (keeping kosher). It seems those delicious marshmallow bits that propelled me through my youth were trayf (not kosher). They were chock full of gelatin with is made from... well, if I told you, you'd probably throw up and then swear off marshmallows (and Jello and Peeps and Circus Peanuts) forever. And then throw up again.

As this summer drew to a close, my son emailed me a link to an online article about a limited-edition Halloween distribution of the monster cereals. Now, General Mills has done this in the past several years, re-releasing Count Chocula, Franken Berry and the elusive blueberry-flavored Boo Berry in redesigned boxes graced with hi-tech and distorted renditions of the familiar monster mascots. But this year, the line-up included Fruit Brute (now, inexplicably spelled "Frute Brute"). Childhood memories surged through my once sugar-addled brain. Visions of bowls full of brightly-colored bits swimming in pastel-tinged milk as Tennessee Tuxedo and Underdog flickered across my black-and-white television screen filled my consciousness. My head nearly exploded when I read that Target stores would be offering the cereal exclusively in retro-style boxes. I needed a box of Fruit (Frute) Brute and I needed one now.

Last night, I bought a box of new "Frute" Brute at Target. As a kosher-observing vegetarian, I had no intention of eating the cereal and it's animal-derivative marshmallows. I wanted the box to display in my office at work, in coveted place alongside my Fruit Brute bobblehead figure. It would serve as a constant reminder of a simpler, stress-free time long in my past. As I was about to place the box in its position of honor, My friend and co-worker Kym (of Breaking Bad spoiler fame) swung by. I offered her the cereal to take home for her daughter Elle. Kym wrinkled her nose at first, explaining that she refers to obviously unhealthy, overly-sugared breakfast food as "vacation cereal," reserved for starting the day on brief trips to the shore or some other laid-back and carefree locale. However, she reconsidered and happily agreed to take the cereal for Elle. I ran my thumb under the box flap, breaking the factory seal. I slowly extracted the translucent polybag from the box, its colorful contents glowing harshly under the fluorescent lights.

"I'm sure Elle would like the box.," Kym stated, momentarily confused my by actions.

"Sorry," I replied, "The box is mine."

Elle, happily coming over to "The Dark Side"
Elle had a big bowl of Frute Brute for breakfast this morning. She even drank the sickeningly-sweet surplus milk, proclaiming "I LOVE THIS CEREAL!" She anxiously awaits breakfast tomorrow morning, when she will - no doubt - polish off the remainder of the bag.

I feel for you, Kym. Elle will be bouncing off the walls until 10 PM and then wake up at 4 AM, demanding her Frute Brute fix. This stuff is worse than heroin.