Thursday, February 26, 2015

only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air

"Jeepers, another stupid newsreel! I hate the news! " – Roger Rabbit

 A client sat down in Marie's chair, all ready to have her hair cut and colored. Marie draped a plastic smock over the woman's shoulders and tucked a towel into her collar. Then she prepared the mixture of color as the woman began to make conversation.

"Did you see what's going on with ISIS?," the woman began.

Marie squeezed a large gooey glob of hair dye into a small plastic bowl and began to whip it vigorously with a special spatula. "What?," she answered, absentmindedly.

"ISIS," the woman pressed, loudly pronouncing the name of the fearsome, headline-grabbing, terrorist organization as a sort-of reminder, "Did you see that they marched a group of Christian Egyptians along a remote beach and then executed every one of them?"

Marie frowned and shook her head as though chasing away the nastiness of current events. "No. No, I didn't. I really don't watch the news. It's too depressing."

News is everywhere and more readily available than ever. Besides the steadfast outlets of television and newspapers, news can be found instantly on your computer, your phone and your iPad. It's on big screens in the train station and LED-lit tickers in the lobbies of office buildings. News is everywhere.

But, alas, there are different kinds of news. There is the news about political events that may threaten the structure of democracy. There is news concerning ground-breaking decisions that could affect us in our everyday lives. There is news of scientific breakthroughs that could bring changes to how we actually live and breathe and function as humans.

You know, the boring stuff.

Then there's the other news. Stories about how Emma Stone accidentally flashed her underwear when she lifted her beaded green Elie Saab gown on the red carpet before heading into the Oscars ceremony. There are photos accompanying a story of a braless BeyoncĂ© – her shirt unbuttoned to the navel – on her way to a lunch date. There's news invoking anticipation surrounding the "big reveal" of the next cast of Dancing with the Stars.

You know, the stuff that Marie doesn't find depressing.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

here we come, on the run, with a burger on a bun

I regularly get offers from Groupon, the international "deal-of-the-day" website featuring various discounts on products and services, since I inexplicably signed up for emails about a year ago. As of today, I have taken advantage of exactly none of the offers.

Earlier this week, between the spa treatments, discount car parking at the airport and cheap tickets for a Bush concert (are they even still a band?),  I got an interesting offer from the good people at Groupon. I read it and re-read it a few times to make sure I was seeing it correctly. The offer was for a hamburger and French fries every day for a year at a place called PYT, in the hip Philadelphia neighborhood of Northern Liberties. PYT has gained near legendary status locally for their outrageous take on the classic burger (using donuts and Eggo waffles as buns; introducing peas & carrots and Scotch eggs as toppings). They also breached the infamy barrier when an incident over gratuity involving Philadelphia Eagles' running back LeSean McCoy made national headlines. I've never eaten at PYT, although, based on photos from their website, the burgers are astonishing – some bordering on obscene. Plus, I don't eat meat.

PYT's Groupon for a year's worth of burgers and fries costs $144. The regular price is figured at a couple of bucks shy of $4400, as most of their menu items run around the ten dollar mark. There is a short list of stipulations for the offer, like limiting the selection to burgers and fries only (PYT does offer other types of food, as well as alcoholic "adult" milkshakes). The deal is not transferable, so don't get any ideas about sharing this with a friend. They also limited the offer to "dine in" only. This was met with complaints, as the "no take-out" rule was not initially outlined in the original offer. PYT owner Tommy Up explained that anyone who feels he or she was misled could get a refund. "The intent of the burger deal," he said, "is to make new burger-loving friends." If you read the reviews on, PYT can use all the friends it can get. The joint has garnered quite a reputation for having a less-than-gracious waitstaff. Some waiters have been described as "rude," "pretty bad," "slow" and "not attentive at all."

PYT's Turducken burger is included.
But, let's get back to the deal at hand: one burger and one order of fries every day — every day! — for a year. How often can someone actually eat a giant, decadent burger and a full plate of fried potatoes? Once a week? A couple of times a week? Can someone consume a (and I quote from the menu) "banana-sriacha marinated juicy beef patty with applewood bacon on top between two deep-fried, kettle chip-coated peanut butter and jelly sandwich buns" seven days a week? Can a Bengal tiger even do that? When I first received the email, I sent a text to my son (also a vegetarian). I know he has eaten at PYT (they offer veggie burgers) with his girlfriend (a carnivore but we love her just the same). Assessing the value, his reply about the offer was: "That's an affordable way to die."

I wonder if Groupon considered pairing the PYT offer with a discounted consultation with a cardiologist?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

bigmouth strikes again

God bless Al Gore, because I love the internet. Although a lot of things have made the claim over the years, the internet truly is the greatest thing since sliced bread (providing that sliced bread is the barometer by which all great things are measured).

For someone like me, to whom being a smart-ass comes as naturally as taking air into my lungs, the internet is a very useful outlet. No longer is my sarcasm limited to those lucky few who come into personal contact with me. No, no, no! With forums like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and blogs like this one (and this one), the entire world is at my disposal.... and my mercy. And, because I am who I am, no one is exempt and nothing – nothing! – is sacred. I have a gift and I seek to share that gift with everyone.

While I do have a presence on Facebook, I really use it only as sort of a clearing house for my other social media platforms. My Facebook page is not a personal page, but rather a "fan" page. I can post things I want to share and you can comment on them, but I cannot see photos of your kittens or your kid's first loose tooth or that beautiful sandwich you are about to eat. I can't see nor comment on the fact that you're tired or you have a headache or you just ran a 10K. I just post. You just look. And that's just the way I like it.

I like Twitter a lot. I suppose that's fairly obvious, because, as of this writing, my tweets number 28,000 plus. I guess I just have a lot to say. Twitter has put a new spin on watching television, especially if you are watching a particularly bad show, like a Phillies game or a lengthy awards broadcast. "Live tweeting," as it has come to be known, while using pre-determined "hashtags" (or funny, made-up ones) is like watching and commenting with six billion of your closest friends. My philosophy is: "If you can't say something nice, then say it on Twitter."

A good portion of my tweets are responses to other tweets. I regularly offer snide, yet playful, retorts to mostly earnest posts from followers and their re-tweets. (If you don't understand some of this lingo, you should either start tweeting or stop reading right now.) I have "smart-assed" everyone from public officials and local newscasters to celebrities and even the spouses of celebrities. It's all in fun. It's not malicious. It's just me being funny... or at least giving it the old college try.

Last week, someone felt I crossed the line.

I got a DM (direct message for those of you non-Tweeters) from a Twitter follower, my friend Calluna, a former co-worker. Calluna works at an ad agency and I follow her tweets, as well as the agency's. It seems I made a comment on one of her co-worker's blogs, one that I discovered via the agency's Twitter account. My comment, evidently, made her co-worker pretty upset. She asked if I would remove it.

As a self-proclaimed and proud smart-ass, I make a lot of comments that have the potential to make people upset. The internet (especially Twitter) is a cruel, cruel place. It's a lot like high school in its viciousness and its "clique-iness." For the most part, the comments, the judgments and the insults are superficial and soon forgotten. But, you gotta grow some thick skin if you want to play with the Twitter kids.

I had to ask Calluna to direct me to the comment I had made because, as I explained, I make a lot of comments on a lot of blogs. However, after a little retracing of my electronic footsteps, I found the "offending" remark on my own and deleted it. I usually would never do something like that, but I made an exception to my normal "no apologies" policy because 1.) the comment, after re-reading it, wasn't all that funny (I've posted funnier) and 2.) I like Calluna a lot. Besides, I'm sure I made many more smart-ass comments later the same day.

So, there, Internet. Your pal Josh Pincus isn't always an asshole. I have my reasonable, "ol' softie" side.

  You can take your chances and follow me on Twitter or just "like" me on Facebook if you wanna keep your distance. You have been warned.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

have you ever been had in Clubland

Last night, Mrs. P and I went to Sam's Club, the membership-only retail warehouse chain owned by the good people of Walmart. Sam's Club, named for beloved founder Sam Walton, is like a Walmart SuperCenter on acid. One can purchase a giant TV and pick up four tires just a few feet away. Then, just down the aisle, you can find a nine-foot high display of Cheerios, available for purchase in convenient, two-boxes-stuck-together packages. Most things are dirt cheap (a 32 ounce bag of prepared salad for a buck and a half!), while others are deceptively expensive (like, surprisingly, Coca-Cola products). 

Once your shopping cart is sufficiently loaded with selections – both sensible and frivolous* ones – they are checked out by a cashier and placed back into your cart without being bagged, Then, you head to the exit. It's up to you to put your unbagged purchases in your car so they don't fly all over the place on the ride home. Watch those quick stops lest you get nailed in the back of the head with a four-pack of canned tuna!

In an effort to control possible pilferage, Sam's Club employs a practice of checking each and every receipt before a customer is permitted to leave the store. A friendly man or woman, wearing an over-sized name badge and wielding a yellow HiLiter®, meticulously compares the list of items printed on your receipt to the items in your cart. And they better damn well match!

Yesterday evening, my wife and I approached the Sam's Club "purchase checker" after leaving the cashier. Mrs. P handed the receipt over to the young man at the door and he set to work examining the contents of our cart. Suddenly, he paused.

"Where's the 3-D X-Men movie?," he asked. He pointed to our receipt, singling out this item...

He craned his neck, as he gingerly lifted the 16-count pack of sandwich wraps and pushed aside the 3 pound bag of frozen salmon fillets. Mr. P and I exchanged glances and then turned to scan our purchases ourselves. Then, it hit me. This was the item in question...

It was a bulk package of 20 disposable razors that manufacturer Schick calls "Xtreme 3." It appears encoded on the receipt as "X3D Men's," as in men's razors, not Wolverine and his mutant pals. I pointed this out to the checker. "Oh.," he laughed and stroked our receipt with his marker, thus giving us the "all clear."

Sam's Club security is only as good as its weakest link.

And I think we met him.

*does anyone really need 132 ounces of ketchup at one time?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

I wanna go to cool places with you

We ran into my wife’s cousin, Diahann, and her husband, Heath, again. We seem to run into them frequently. And it always seems to be at a supermarket.

Last year, we bumped into Diahann and Heath at our local Acme Market. (Acme, a supermarket with its roots in Philadelphia, is a now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the mighty Albertson’s, the second largest supermarket chain in North America.) Mrs. P and I were guiding our cart through the produce section, when my spouse spotted Diahann. We all chatted briefly — I remember pointing out the misleading signs that were placed by the sweet potatoes — and then we parted ways. 

A week or so ago, Mrs. P and I had just finished a quick run through the aisles of a Giant supermarket*. While I scanned our purchases at the self-checkout, my wife picked out Diahann and Heath strolling past the deli counter.

“Is this the only place you ever go?,” I asked, with an obvious sarcastic tone in my voice. We all laughed.

Just yesterday, as we entered the Acme market, we were met by the now-familiar sight of Diahann and Heath. They had just paid and were leaving the store. Again, we laughed at the absurdity of these on-going encounters. That is, until they mentioned that their next stop was another supermarket within five miles from where we stood. The conversation turned into a store-by-store comparison of nearly every supermarket the four of us had visited within the last several years. We highlighted prices, selection and even cleanliness. We were reminiscing like a bunch of teenagers before a concert trying to outdo each other's experiences.

Then, Diahann and Heath realized that they should be on their way. Instigator that I am, I refused to let them go without bringing everyone's attention to the unusual circumstances of our last few meetings. I offered with a smile, “Y’know, going to the movies is pretty good entertainment, too.” Heath told me they just signed up for a Netflix account.

I'm fairly certain that they rent movies at the supermarket.

*no, not a giant supermarket, as in enormous. It’s the name of a conglomerate owned by Dutch retailer Ahold, based on the East coast.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

the autumn of my years

Television has always played a big part in my life. As a kid in the 60s, I was always up bright and early on Saturday mornings, parked in front of the television with a big bowl of Trix balanced on my still-pajamaed little legs. On Friday evenings, I'd watch The Wild Wild West with my Mom and, on Sundays, everyone's family would tune in to Ed Sullivan.  Mondays brought The Monkees followed by Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Tuesday nights were filled with Red Skelton's variety show and Doris Day's sitcom (if I was allowed to stay up until 9:30). Wednesday offered the action-packed camp of Batman, with another episode on Thursday on the same "Bat-channel" at the same "Bat-time." 

When the mod 70s came along, ABC presented a Friday night line-up that I still remember vividly — The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, That Girl (and later The Odd Couple) with Love American Style as the grand finale. My Dad loved All in the Family, although he was convinced it was a documentary. Later, programs like Happy Days and Marcus Welby MD were not to be missed. 

Guess what? Thanks to cable networks like MeTV and Antenna TV, I still watch many of these shows from my youth. These shows were simply shot, with uncomplicated plots and mediocre acting. The jokes weren't great and the sets were used and reused from one show to another. And I still love them. They remind me of a good time in my life, when my biggest worry was finishing a book report and a weekend trip to the shore was a grand vacation.

However, I'm a bit disturbed by the commercials that are shown on these nostalgic networks. Because I am more than just a casual watcher, I get to see many of the commercials over and over. (I guess the advertisers got a really good deal or maybe they don't get that many advertisers. It's hard to tell.) I see commercials for ambulance-chasing lawyers promising to get huge sums in compensation for those who have been wronged by something called a "transvaginal mesh." (I don't think I'm eligible.) There are spots for medical providers who can get hydrophilic catheters delivered discreetly to my home. (I don't think I need that.) And, of course, there are a plethora of invitations to apply for a reverse mortgage. All of these products and services have one thing in common: their target audience is old. 

I think.

It started when I saw a commercial with some white-haired old guy hawking the life-saving benefits of a reverse mortgage. (I still have no idea how a reverse mortgage works, but it sounds shifty and it seems like they are preying upon desperate, easily-confused old people.) Upon closer inspection, I was alarmed to discover that the old guy was none other than Henry Winkler, AKA "The Fonz," the leather-jacketed King of Cool from Happy Days. Yeesh, Fonzie! Really?!? He was no longer the svelte tough guy who could start a jukebox with a well-placed rap of his fist or attract a bevy of gorgeous chicks with a mere snap of his fingers. He was a paunchy geezer with Sansabelt® pants and a head full of gray hair in dire need of a haircut.

Later, a matronly woman seated by a crackling fireplace delivered a heartfelt plea about the virtues of securing a burial plot, so the task wouldn't be a burden to your family. A few prerecorded testimonials were afforded by several elderly couples before returning to the solemn-looking woman continuing the pitch by the blazing hearth. To my horror, the woman was Morgan Fairchild, the ubiquitous TV bombshell famous for her shapely figure, surgically-pointed nose and impenetrable hair helmet. Now, here she was — not sipping a cocktail on the Lido Deck of the Love Boat — but comfortably fuzzy in a sensible, cable-knit cardigan, extolling the upside of pre-purchasing my grave.

That's when it hit me. The advertisers were using spokespeople to whom their target audience could relate. Here were two icons from my TV watching heyday. Had I become the target audience for these products?

When did Fonzie and Morgan become old people? And did I get old right along with them?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

do you know where you're going to?

What a glorious time to be alive! Cutting-edge technology is rampant among us. We live in an age where the advancements and achievements in science, mechanics, and computers make new discoveries obsolete almost as soon as they are introduced.

While planning vacations over the past few years, Mrs. Pincus and I have noticed how many common tasks have been made obsolete by the advancements in technology. First of all, we no longer require the services of a travel agent, as options are easily accessible and arrangements are easily made and confirmed on the internet. Driving maps to our destinations are no longer required. As long as we know the address — or really just the name — of our destination, the GPS that is built into our cellphone will guide us. It will even figure out how to reroute if we make a wrong turn... all while giving directions in a friendly voice.

Of course, instruments of technology are only as good as the user.

On our recent trip to New Orleans, Mrs. P and I rented a car in order to see areas not readily volunteered by the city's Bureau of Tourism. The desk clerk at the car rental company offered an "add-on" GPS as part of our rental package, which we respectfully declined (along with collision insurance. That's a scam like "undercoating" when you buy a car or "radon testing" when you buy a house). On previous trips, I would print out pages and pages of driving directions, carefully filing them in order of my pre-determined sightseeing schedule. Now, dispensing with the printouts, I merely maintain a list of various points of interest, ready to punch them into the GPS on my phone. (Because she loves to drive, I am like the "navigator" to my wife's "pilot.")

After a few days of tooling around The Big Easy, we got a feel for the lay of the land. While returning from Metairie Cemetery, just north of the touristy French Quarter, we decided we had some time to drive past 1239 First Street, the former residence of author Anne Rice, located in the nearby quiet Garden District neighborhood. I carefully typed the address into the GPS function. Within seconds, calculations began and a route was plotted. I was alarmed when an estimated time of arrival was displayed at five hours and forty minutes. "How could that be?," I thought, "We are no more than fifteen minutes from our hotel and the Garden District is just a few blocks past that." I tried again and the same result appeared. The map displayed on my backlit screen looked correct, although it traced a blue path alongside Interstate 10 instead of instructing us to use the highway. But it still indicated that we would not arrive for another five hours. That was impossible! The day before, we had traveled 140 miles on Route 90 to the Tabasco Factory and that only took two and a half hours. Now, it was showing us that a two-mile drive would take five hours!

I ignored the incessant commands of "turn left in one thousand feet" and "in a quarter-mile, turn right," and just followed the map. We became frustrated when a request to "turn left" would send us the wrong way on a one-way street. How could this system not be up-to-date? These streets didn't become one-way yesterday! Finally, we arrived at our destination and, just as I figured, it had only taken ten minutes from our starting point.

Later in the day, we had the same trouble when trying to find a restaurant I knew was near our Poydras Street hotel. Even after several tries, my GPS repeatedly gave the ETA as three hours. Once again I was puzzled. I turned my phone on and off a few times. I removed the battery and blew on the terminals, hopefully removing some circuit-scrambling dust. But to no avail. I received the same result. The mapping was correct, but the times were off by hours!

Then, the ever-rational Mrs. P offered up a single question. "Do you have it set to driving directions or walking directions?," she asked.

"Huh?," I eloquently replied.

I checked the device. The little "car" icon was "grayed out." Next to it, the little "walking man" icon glowed brightly. I mashed the glass of my phone, selecting "car" and deselecting "walking man" in one motion. Instantly, the time on the map recalculated to three minutes. Three correct minutes.

At the same time, the "user error" light lit up in my brain.

I sheepishly directed my wife to "make a left here." I noticed she was shaking her head.