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)