Wednesday, August 26, 2015

stacks of green paper in his red right hand

"It was made very clear to me what I'm supposed to do here. I smile, wave my little hat... I did that, so when do I get paid?"  — Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in "A League of Their Own" (1992)
Once again, I am confounded by the inability of some people to follow simple rules of conduct... especially when the party making the rules is dropping a ton of money in your lap. Of course, I am referencing two recent stories to break in the news around the same time. One concerns Jared Fogle, the one-time spokesperson for the highly-successful sandwich shop chain Subway. When Jared was an average, unknown college student, he famously dropped over 200 pounds by restricting his food intake to Subway sandwiches (sans fatty condiments like mayonnaise) and walking a lot. His story was brought to the attention of Subway's marketing department and the first commercial featuring the newly-svelte Jared appeared in 2000. He went on to make over 300 commercials for the chain over a period of a decade. Subway partly credits the "Jared" campaign with tripling their growth over that period and they rewarded him accordingly. It is estimated that Jared's net worth is around 15 million dollars. Plus, he was lavished with first-class travel and stays in 5-star hotels, all on Subway's dime. Jared's instructions from Subway were pretty simple. Subway was willing pay Jared to be the smiling face of the company in exchange for exploiting Jared's incredible weight-loss story. Jared only had to show up at publicity events, smile, shake some hands and get paid. No math, no real work and instant celebrity status with no real exhibit of talent. Pretty sweet deal.

But, Jared had a secret and the money fueled his growing ego. While representing Subway, his meal ticket (pun intended), he explored his lust for underage girls, solicited sex from underage girls and expanded his collection of child pornography. Now, I understand deep-seated urges and how they can be acted upon. I also understand self-control. Jared could have easily sought professional help for dealing with a condition of which he was, no doubt, well aware. Instead, he saw what he understood to be an endless supply of money headed his way and chose to indulge his fetishes, possibly falling into the belief that money makes you smart and puts you on a level above most members of society. A plush room at The Plaza, chauffeurs, publicists and an entourage only reinforced that idea. However it all came crumbling down around Jared in August 2015, when Subway severed all ties with him over allegations and an eventual guilty plea to federal charges of possessing child pornography and traveling to pay for sex with minors. Nice work, Jared. If only you would have just done the minimum of what was expected of you.

Almost simultaneously, Josh Duggar, co-star of the wildly popular TLC Network reality show 19 Kids and Counting, got himself into some hot water. His show, 10 seasons strong, was a day-to-day chronicle of the Duggars, a family of devout Independent Baptists. They frequently discuss values of purity, modesty, and faith in God. The Duggars vehemently oppose birth control, saying they have allowed God to determine the number of children they have. Since this has been put into God's deistic hands, the title of the show has changed twice with the addition of two more children. Recently, Josh, the eldest son of baby-machines Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, was accused of child molestation. This was a shocker for fans of the God-fearing, pious clan, however things grew worse for the 27-year-old Duggar son, when it was revealed that four of his victims were his sisters. As these allegations surfaced in the news, TLC promptly canceled the series, which contributed to Josh's estimated net worth of 200 million dollars. That's right, 200 million! Now, Josh, a proclaimed devotee of his religion, family values and all that self-righteous stuff, has been named as an active member of, a website devoted to hooking up married adults for adulterous affairs. (For those playing along at home, "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery" is Commandment Number 7.) Look, perhaps the religious tones of the show were not really within ol' Josh's beliefs and he was just playing along for the sake of his family and the money. But, for goodness sake, Josh, if you could have just kept your hands to yourself and sought professional help with your newly-gained funds, that cash cow would still be flowing with the milk of unlimited wealth. And cheating on your spouse? Really? Was it worth the 200 mil? Because your wife, the former Anna Keller, is gonna take a good chunk of that if she decides to seek a divorce. Or maybe she'll just let God decide that, too. But, obviously, God doesn't take too kindly to that shit either. He did burn those rules into a rock right in front of Moses' eyes. I think he made his point.

A little closer to home, I had a co-worker who was hired with specific instruction as to what his job entailed. He was to keep peace within a particular department that displayed signs of friction. That's all. The department's work output was, otherwise, pretty good. It's just that the individual team members were constantly at each other's throats, filled with contempt and mistrust for one another. This guy was just supposed to unite everyone and readjust the focus of the department to one of harmony. (Ironically, he succeeded in uniting everyone in their dislike for him.) For this task, he was grossly overpaid. Now, despite a clear explanation of his role, he proceeded to make unnecessary, overly-complicated and "un-asked-for" decisions. He also exhibited behavior that was, shall I say, unappreciated by some of the female members of the department. He was reprimanded over and over again, until the company finally had enough. If only he had just followed the concise instructions that were clearly explained to him, he would still be collecting that obscenely-large paycheck. Instead, the salary only served to feed an unwarranted ego, one that he couldn't keep in check. He is currently seeking employment elsewhere.

This behavior is nothing new. Back in the 60s, budding filmmaker Bob Rafelson came up with the idea for a sitcom about a struggling rock group. Taking inspiration from the Beatles and their wild antics in the film A Hard Day's Night, Bob joined up with Bert Schneider, whose father was the head of Columbia Pictures' Screen Gems division, to bring his idea to the small screen. The pair placed an ad in a trade paper, looking for "Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running Parts for 4 insane boys, age 17-21." Of the nearly 500 applicants (including Stephen Stills and, allegedly, Charles Manson), three were chosen to join the already-cast Davy Jones, a proven Broadway actor who had originated the role of "The Artful Dodger" in Oliver! The three additional young men had their roles clearly explained by Bob, Bert and musical director Don Kirshner. They were actors, not musicians. They were playing the parts of musicians. The music was already figured out and they would have nothing to do with it. With that understanding and their cooperation, they would be paid a lot of money. As simple as that sounds, Mike Nesmith, a country singer-songwriter with a modicum of talent, Peter Tork, an unsuccessful guitarist who, prior to this casting, was working as a dishwasher, and Micky Dolenz, a former child actor who was hired purely on the merit of his "unusual face," understood something different. They were convinced they were chosen based on their musical chops and they were to be the next Beatles. Only Davy, the true professional, got it. He understood that he was not Paul McCartney and this was not the Beatles. This was just another acting role and he was going to hang on to it as long as possible, because he knew acting roles are tough to land on a regular basis. The trio (again, not including Davy) were shocked and insulted when they were barred from participating in a recording session. When the money started rolling in, their egos inflated, ignoring the fact that the success was due mostly to someone else's expert casting and predetermined musical choices. When Kirshner presented the "band" with a check for one million dollars (twenty-five thousand each) and a tape of what he selected as their next single,* an ungrateful Mike Nesmith offered his thanks by slamming his fist through a wall and informing the bewildered Mr. Kirshner "that could have been your face, motherfucker." The Monkees, under the tutelage of Nesmith, sabotaged their success and, in essence, orchestrated their downfall. The show lasted only two seasons. Although their fame endured, only Davy embraced the novelty and happily made it his career, right up until his untimely death in 2012. The others begrudgingly took part in reunions over the years, but then took the money as though it was owed to them. They probably still don't realize that they merely "fit the suit."

What is the moral of these stories? If you think it's "Money is the root of all evil," you weren't listening. The true moral is "Listen. Keep your goddamn mouth shut and listen."

*The song was "Sugar, Sugar," eventually recorded by a group of anonymous studio musicians and released under the name of the fictional "The Archies." Kirshner commented that he was forced to create a band that couldn't talk back to him.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

your own personal Jesus

For a little over a year now, residents, tourists and daily workers in Philadelphia's bustling center-city business district have spotted a young man draped in linen, his shoulder-length hair blowing in the wind, his chin obscured by a scraggly beard. He bears a striking, if not uncanny, resemblance to those Eastern European depictions of ... well... of Jesus. You know, Jesus Christ. Yeah. That Jesus Christ.

He calls himself "Philly Jesus," and his "haunt of choice" is JFK Plaza — Love Park, as it's more commonly called — at the foot of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Philly Jesus wanders around the park, mingling with people, posing for pictures and spouting a close approximation of the Gospel. His Word-spreading has, however, been interrupted several times when he was arrested for panhandling and for baptizing a man in the park's fountain. In addition to all that, inexplicably, he tweets. Just like the real Jesus did (or does or... whatever.) The reason I know he tweets is because — wouldn't you know it — he follows me on Twitter. (Of course, I follow him back.)

For a long time, Philly Jesus and his message and his social media presence were pretty harmless. He was a novelty. He presented himself as a friend to all, happily spreading the word of peace and love and brotherhood and togetherness and all that stuff that religion claims to stand for. He was blind to race, beliefs, ethnicity and sexual orientation. When the Supreme Court announced its monumental decision regarding the nationwide legality of gay marriage, Philly Jesus tweeted in full support... only to delete those tweets several days later. Social media-wise, he did a complete turnaround, stating instead, that "Sin is sin," "Marriage is between a man and a woman," and calling homosexuality "a vile affection." Twitter doesn't take kindly to stuff like that, especially from a public figure. Especially if that public figure tries to pass himself off as the son of God. No sir, Twitter doesn't like that one bit. And Twitter isn't nearly as forgiving as the Lord.

For nearly two months now, Philly Jesus has been the constant target of insults, abuse and taunts from the Twitter community-at-large. He's been called "hypocrite," "fraud," liar" and worse. He has received suggestions for where he can go, and what assorted and heinous things he should do when he gets there. Philly Jesus accepts the barrage of derision and, in a modern twist on "turning the other cheek," he re-tweets every single affront. Sometimes he unleashes a single tweet that expresses his feelings, like this one I saw the other night:
Well, I couldn't let that one go. Ever the twitter smart-ass, I offered this reply:
I got a couple of "likes" on that one. But, I turned my Twitter attention to tweeting about something I was watching on television or something I saw elsewhere on the internet or maybe I was giving a snarky comment to a co-worker who, for reasons I cannot figure out, decided to follow my antics on Twitter.

Suddenly, someone named "Rory B Bellows," with a Homer Simpson icon, came to Philly Jesus's defense.
This, my friends, is what the internet calls "trolling." According to the Urban Dictionary, "trolling" is defined as "Being a prick on the internet because you can. Typically unleashing one or more cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent by-stander, because it's the internet and, hey, you can." Well, I was only watching a rerun of The Andy Griffith Show (one I had seen many times), so I indulged the guy. Against my better judgement, I replied in typically innocent, but totally smart-ass, tone :
Just as quickly, this popped up on my Twitter feed:
This was getting mildly entertaining. I submitted this clever salvo, trying to keep within the original religious flavor:
"Rory B Bellows" (if that is his real name) broke out the standard trolling tactics, starting off by accusing his prey (in this case - me!) of being a troll:
This is what makes the internet great! The anonymous tough guy. Pseudo-menacing accompanied by mild name-calling. Just like a school-yard bully.  I continued for the benefit of my own amusement. I tested myself to see how long I could keep the biblical puns flying. I served up this one in response to his threat:
This is some of my best, off-the-top-of-my-head work, if I do say so myself. But, this guy wasn't finished. 
Now, he's resorted to real threats! And... wait a second... did he just call me a pussy? Yeah, he took a feeble shot at a double entendre, but  — in the name of Philly Jesus! — he called me a pussy! Quickly, I opened an internet browser window on my smartphone and looked up his Twitter feed. There was very little original material. It was mostly retweets and angry replys to other tweeters. All of the replies smacked of trolling (surprise!). Interspersed throughout the animosity, were links to cat videos. That's right, Fluffy batting around a furry felt mouse or Whiskers doing a backflip off a coffee table. You know, cat videos! They're all over the internet and they were all over this troll's page! Another reason I love the internet!

I laughed to myself as I composed this one:
There was a definite, noticeable pause before his reply. I saw how quickly his previous replies had come, but this one was taking a long time. Finally, this...
Then, he must have checked my Twitter profile, which contains a link to my illustration website. He added this to his last response:
Uh-oh! A misspelling in an attempted insult! He was grasping and flustered. Or maybe he was just an idiot. By this time, I was bored. This "battle" wasn't going anywhere and I wasn't waiting around to be called a "pussy" again, so I blocked him and went to bed.

This morning I decided to chronicle this episode in a blog post (this one, as a matter of fact), so I went to grab screenshots (the ones you see above) from my Twitter feed, as well as from his. It was then I discovered that he had blocked me too.

Oh Lord! Do I love the internet!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

no static at all

My son E. is employed at a local Philadelphia radio station. In addition to his various on-air shifts, he is a producer, engineer and a host of other titles that fall in to the category of "multi-tasking." On Saturday afternoons, he hosts an "all-request" show. That is exactly what is sounds like and it hearkens back to the simple days of my youth when you could call in your request to your favorite radio station to hear the latest hit single by your favorite band-of-the-moment. If you were lucky enough to get through to your favorite "boss jock," he would tell you what pre-selected song to request, if you'd like to hear your voice on the air. However, things have gotten a bit more involved in the age of rapidly-advancing technology. Requests are now delivered via Facebook, Twitter and email, in addition to the old-fashioned telephone. And, the requests, at least on my son's radio station, are legitimate requests from the listeners. The station, an NPR affiliate, prides itself on its eclectic mix of off-the-beaten-path singer-songwriters, classic and stalwart rock, local artists and the occasional surprise, maybe a 60s bubble gum nugget, a funky hip-hop groove or an out-of-left-field, indescribable something... or sometimes a strange combination of the above. Noticeably absent from their unwritten playlist is Top 40 mainstream artists of the American Idol and The Voice ilk (although they may slip in every once in a while just to shake things up, depending on who is manning the proverbial turntable).

Earlier in the month, E. made plans to record a session with self-described internet pop music "cult" Hussalonia for a later feature on his Friday evening showcase of independent artists, The Indie Rock Hit Parade (listen at you will not be sorry). Since I am a fan of the enigmatic Hussalonia, I invited myself to witness the session. I also planned to arrive early and sit in the studio to observe my boy at work as he spun the dials and slid the levers for his weekly Saturday afternoon request show.

I stood at the building's entrance on Walnut Street and waited for E. to arrive. In the bright noon sun, I could see someone turn the corner at 30th Street that I thought was him. When I realized they were wearing shorts (he doesn't own a pair), and were approaching a car parked at a meter (he doesn't drive), I knew it wasn't him. Also when I realized it was a girl, my inkling was again confirmed. Soon, a cab pulled up and E. bounded out and greeted me.

"You think you could answer the phones today?," he asked. Then he said "Hi" and hugged me. He's still my boy! I couldn't refuse.

We headed into the studio, E. toting his professional-looking headphones and me tagging behind like an eager-to-learn intern (or a puppy). E. got himself situated behind the imposing console. Then, he explained the simple process of answering the studio request line. He showed which buttons to press and how to advance to the next call. He supplied me with a stack of paper and a pen and I was on my own in my new employment in whirlwind fashion.

What would you like to hear?
Suddenly, we were live on the air. E., with headphones perched in position and lips pressed to the huge microphone, slid a lever with his left hand and spoke to his unseen audience. He welcomed listeners to the show and recited the various options of contact for requests. Upon delivery of the phone number, the phone lit up like a little Christmas tree (if Christmas trees were dark gray and decorated only on one side with small green lights). With pen poised at the ready, I sprung into action.

I furiously punched the phone buttons and scribbled the requests as fast as I could, only able to pause to remain silent during E.'s live breaks every twenty or so minutes. At those points, he would announce the titles of the previously-played songs and give out the contact information, upon which the whole frantic process would start up again.

With each call I answered, I clearly stated the stations call letters and asked, "What would you like to hear?"

"Hey! I love your show" most of the calls began, followed by a hesitant and unsure "could you play..." and everyone from Frank Zappa and Isaac Hayes to NOFX and Something Corporate were suggested. As I feverishly jotted down artist's names and song titles in my best legible shorthand, E. scanned the Twitter feed and posts to the station's Facebook page. The dozens and dozens of titles are then assessed by E. and assembled in some sort of pleasing — or even jarring — playback. E. takes pride in crafting an on-the-fly playlist under such pressing constraints. During a three-hour show, he gets at least five hours of requests, so creating a cohesive sound is a pretty daunting task. It was a treat to watch him work. He even acknowledged me by telling listeners that "internet celebrity Josh Pincus" was answering the phones. To my surprise, a few callers recognized my name by my association with E. and my incoherent Twitter rants. He never let on that I am his dad.

The calm before the storm.
Three hours flew by. Hussalonia, whose traveling incarnation includes drums, guitar and bass, arrived for their session. "Can you give me a hand with the session?," E. asked. I was only too happy to help. We met the band at their car which they parked on the street adjacent to the building. E. loaded a rolling garden cart with as much of their equipment as he could, piling bass drums on top of amplifiers. I hefted a canvas bag of cymbals in my left hand and gripped a guitar case in my right. Once in the studio, E. directed me to plug a dozen cables into a multi-outlet electric box and snake them individually to any number of microphones and instruments. E. had a plan in his head and instructed me — his roadie du jour — to help bring that plan to reality. He was a blur as he connected power jacks and arranged mic stands, then ran back to the control room to set levels and check sound feeds. Then, he scaled a ladder to fire up lighting for clearly capturing the moment in photographs (which he would be taking). It was like watching five people at once.

Hussalonia warms up in the studio while E. (far right)
does something "producer-ish."
The band ran out to grab something to eat before the session started, but E. never stopped. He checked and rechecked connections, lighting and sound levels, angles of microphones and a host of other things with which I am not familiar. Situated behind a control board bigger and more imposing than the one in the broadcast studio, E. now directed the band as they tuned up and segued into their first song. They sounded great, but everyone decided on a second take. As a matter of fact, a second take was performed for each of the band's four selections. Afterwards, E. got them to record a few station ID promos and they began packing up their stuff. Over the next half hour, we broke down what we had just set up — meticulously coiling cables, tucking mics back into their protective pouches and setting equipment stands back in their proper storage spaces. Then, we helped the band with transporting their equipment back out to their car. They graciously posed for some pictures on the sidewalk, then we said our 'goodbyes' and they were off to Hussanlonia Land.

E. and I went back into the studio for a final survey of the place, making certain everything was put away properly and anything that needed to be turned off or shut down was turned off and shut down. E. walked with me to the train station where he grabbed a Philly Bike Share bike for his ride back to his South Philly home. He thanked me for my help and hugged me 'goodbye.' I got the feeling I was officially relived of my position in the radio business.

At least I have that graphic design gig to fall back on.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

seaside rendezvous

I first went to Seaside Heights, New Jersey just after I met Mrs. Pincus. We were not yet married, just a couple of kids looking for some fun at the shore. By this time, the Atlantic City of our youth had all but disappeared. It was now making the hopeful transition to becoming the Las Vegas of the East. Family resorts had been converted to casinos, amusement piers went bankrupt and were shuttered and the beach was no longer AC's number one destination. Seaside Heights, as I was told by my art school pal Eric who spent his summers in the small North Jersey community, stood unchanged for generations. The boardwalk, while considerably smaller than its famed Atlantic City counterpart, was lined with games of skill (like Whack-a-Mole and SkeeBall), spinning wheels of fortune and several piers jammed with carnival-style thrill rides.

One summer day in the early 1980s, Mrs. P (in girlfriend mode) and I tackled winding Route 37 through the notorious Jersey Pine Barrens*, to the tiny burg just over the oddly-configured Thomas A. Mathis and J. Stanley Tunney twin bridges. As we approached, we spotted the tracks of rollers coasters rising above the typical Jersey shore homes, We could hear the cheerful sounds of a calliope mixed with the angry chirp of seagulls and the calming woosh of the ocean. It was as though we were transported back twenty years to the fond memories of days spent lounging by the pool at The Deauville and evenings spent spinning on the Tilt-a-Whirl on Million Dollar Pier.

Mrs. P and I met Eric on the beach in the morning and later "walked the boards," marveling at the sights, riding the rides and even scoring a full box of candy at one of the wheels when the arrow finally landed on our quarter-covered number. (Of course, we had already plopped down twice the amount a box of candy would cost had we just made the purchase in a legitimate store.) After a nightcap of a Kohr Brothers chocolate-dipped cone, Mrs. P and I said our goodbyes to Eric and headed home, still joyed from a day's visit to a time past.

We returned to Seaside Heights regularly, even after our son was born in 1987. By this time, Atlantic City showed no signs of its former self, as the casino business was experiencing a massive construction boom and dizzying revenues. Seaside Heights still offered fun for the whole family. Rides, games, the beach and pizza slices bigger than your head.

Of course, time marches on. Our son grew up and a ride on the Whip could no longer compete with concerts and college and girls. Mrs. Pincus' interest in casino gambling blossomed and we found ourselves in one Atlantic City casino or another nearly every weekend. Our trips to Seaside Heights became less frequent, eventually ending altogether. The next time we heard the name "Seaside Heights" was in 2009 when MTV presented Jersey Shore, a "real life" look into the lives of a group of self-proclaimed "Guidos and Guidettes" sharing a house near the town's boardwalk, I never saw an episode of the show, but I know it was an extremely popular cultural phenomenon. It made Seaside Heights a household name as more tourists clamored for a glimpse of Snooki, The Situation and their assorted partners in crime.

After four years of ridicule based on Jersey Shore's infamy, Seaside Heights was assaulted by Hurricane Sandy (or "Super Storm," as it was dubbed by every major and local news outlet because everything needs a name) in the fall of 2012. Mrs. P and I sat in front of our television in a Las Vegas hotel room and watched in horror as the piers we once walked upon and rides we once rode upon were reduced to splinters by voluminous rains and violent winds. However, in the aftermath, the scrappy little town-by-the-sea banded together, determined to rebuild in time for the important summer season. For the most part, Seaside Heights bounced back and welcomed tourists as they had in the past, only to be knocked down again in September by a devastating fire that destroyed over fifty boardwalk businesses as well as one of the more popular amusement piers. But, again, like a phoenix, Seaside Heights rose unfettered and greeted tourists in 2014 with open arms, open beaches and open bars.

"we're gonna get to that place 
 where we really wanna go and 
we'll walk in the sun"
Last Sunday, just my wife and I (refusing to admit to the label "empty-nesters") returned to Seaside Heights after an absence of almost twenty years. Filled with nostalgic curiosity (and looking for an excuse to kill a Sunday afternoon), we decided to check out the progress and changes since our last visit. First, the private parking lot in which we regularly had secured our car was now a municipal lot, outfitted with automated, credit card-accepting kiosks dispensing tickets in lieu of a real-live teen with summer job. The boardwalk, however, looked nearly as we remembered — packed with bathing suit clad tourists, toting giant stuffed animals awarded by one of the many spinning wheels of chance or daintily stuffing a deep-fried Oreo into their zinc-oxide smeared lips. Groups of teenagers mingled with clutches of extended families and the atmosphere was buzzing with joyful activity. The beach was just as jammed with sunbathers and sand castle-builders and volleyball players. Music played. Rides spun to dizzying heights. Pizza doughs were tossed high in the air. Mrs. P and I strolled the truncated boardwalk and took in the sights, the sounds and the smells. We were happy — very happy — to see that Seaside Heights was thriving and vibrant. And when I saw that sign in the window of a boardwalk bar, I knew the more things change, the more they stay the same. Seaside Heights is gonna be okay.

The missus and I each had a slice of pizza as big as our heads, then started for home.

*The Jersey Devil was nowhere in sight.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

happy birthday to me

Yesterday was my 54th birthday. Yeah, no big deal. 54 isn't exactly a milestone age, unless of course, you consider the alternative.

I was thinking about all of the significant events that occurred in my lifetime (so far). I realize that 54 years, in the great scheme of things, is not a particularly long time, however an awful lot of history was made in that time.

A president was assassinated and serious attempts were made on the lives of eight more. A couple were nearly successful.

The Beatles rose to huge popularity and, at this time, two members have passed away.

A full trade embargo against Cuba was put in place and lifted.

The population of the world doubled.

The Walt Disney Company increased its theme park presence from one to five (soon to be six).

The first man walked on the moon. That man has since passed away.

The Berlin Wall was constructed and demolished.

The United States elected its first African-American president.

The 20th Century became the 21st Century

There have been six popes, two of them in the 21st Century. One of them resigned. 

A President of the United States resigned. Another was impeached.

The Woodstock Music & Art Fair happened.


Cable television. VCRs. DVD players. Blu-Ray. Netflix. (The rise and fall of the video rental.)

Walkman. Discman. iPod.

And the internet... which allows for this blog.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

if I wanted someone to clean me up I'd find myself a maid

My love for old television shows is no secret. Every morning, before I go to work, I pour myself a cup of coffee and stretch out on the sofa for a short visit to the black and white world of McHale's Navy or I Love Lucy* or The Donna Reed Show. I love the nostalgia of times past. I love the novelty of the far-fetched situations. I love seeing famous actors in bit parts early in their careers. (I've spotted a pre-Oscar-winning Cloris Leachman seeking advice from wise neighbor Donna Stone on The Donna Reed Show, Estelle Parsons, another Oscar winner, as a prospective customer for vacuum cleaner salesgirl Patty Duke and Jack Nicholson as the frantic father of a missing boy on The Andy Griffith Show.) I love the uncomplicated mawkishness of Mary having two dates for the same night or the panic over Uncle Tonoose dropping in for an extended weekend stay. (Cue spit take!)

There is one show, however, I do not get. I watch it, mind you, I just don't know why. I don't enjoy it. I can't, for the life of me figure out its appeal or who its target audience was in its initial run from its premiere in 1961 to its swan song in 1966. With each episode (and there are five seasons worth!), it gets increasingly frustrating.

Of course, I'm talking about Hazel.

At one time, Shirley Booth was a popular, versatile and well-respected actress. She made her debut on the Broadway stage in 1925 and went on to win an impressive three Tony Awards including Best Actress in the gut-wrenching drama Come Back Little Sheba. Shirley reprised the role of "Lola Delaney" in the film version of the play and won an Academy Award for her effort. She also received high praise for her role as "Dolly Levi" in Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, the non-musical source for Hello Dolly. Although she only made five films in her career, she was a staple in live theater, originating the roles in The Desk Set and Summertime that Katherine Hepburn eventually played in the films. She was the wise-cracking "Miss Duffy" on radio's Duffy's Tavern and she auditioned for, but lost, the lead role in Our Miss Brooks to Eve Arden.

Mr. B and Missy
In 1961, Shirley Booth was tapped for the live-action portrayal of Ted Key's cartoon maid Hazel, a popular character frequently appearing in single-panel strips in the Saturday Evening Post. The half-hour sitcom co-starred Don Defore as George "Mr. B" Baxter, Hazel's irascible employer, Whitney Blake as his ever-patient wife and little Bobby Buntrock as their son Harold. The show chronicled Hazel's weekly exercise in meddling, interfering, insubordination and arrogance. She was a smug, sneaky, obnoxious, condescending, self-righteous troublemaker. She regularly second-guessed and undermined both Mr B's business dealings and home life, despite bragging to the other maids that she worked for a "prominent attorney who practically runs the city for the mayor." She repeatedly interrupted client meetings with inane crusades for a new flower garden in the park or a new jungle gym for the playground. She often talked back — or worse — talked over her boss. Sure, she made impossibly flaky and delicious dinner rolls, but that's hardly an argument for putting up with all that other nonsense.

Still, I can't figure out who the hell was watching and enjoying this infuriating bullshit? Who was relating to this? I grew up in a middle class family in the 1960s. We didn't have a live-in maid. I didn't know anyone who had a maid, live-in or otherwise. Yet, everyone in the Baxter's neighborhood has a maid  and Hazel is friends with all of them. (And by "friends," I mean she's sticking her bulbous nose into their business as well.)

Meet the new boss.
Same as the old boss.
I can't understand why the ever-exasperated Mr. Baxter didn't fire Hazel's ass the first time she talked back to him or fucked up some important family plan or business venture because "she had a better idea." Hazel criticizes Mr. B's weight, clothing, golf game, business decisions and friends. She barges into personal husband-wife discussions (May I point out that the lovely Whitney Blake is way out of Mr. B's league!) and dispenses un-asked-for advice to impressionable young Harold (who thinks Hazel is "the greatest!"). When Defore and Blake were unceremoniously canned in favor of a more youthful couple, Ray Fulmer and Lynne Borden were introduced as George's brother and sister-in-law. Hazel went to work for them, inexplicably taking Harold along with her. But for some reason, Hazel was an instant hit and a ratings monster. It ranked in the Top 25 shows for most of its five seasons, including the Number 4 spot during its first. I know there weren't as many television choices as there are today, but — jeez! — I think I would have watched almost anything besides this irritating depiction of suburban life.

So, why do I watch it now? Because, in comparison, I would rather suffer through Hazel disrespecting poor Mr. B than be subjected to the reality shit storm that The Today Show has become.

* It should be noted that I like everyone in I Love Lucy, except for Lucy. The ensemble cast — William Frawley, Vivian Vance and Desi Arnaz — are funny. Lucille Ball, however, is annoying, overbearing and not at all funny. Maybe they should have called the show "I Love Everyone Except Lucy." But, I watch it just the same.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

I foresee terrible trouble and I stay here just the same

If you are a fan of Steely Dan, you might as well just stop reading right now. There is nothing I am about to say that you will like. Go and explore some other part of the internet for a few minutes.

Now, for the three people left, let's proceed...

Mrs. Pincus and I went to see the local stop on the oddly-named Rockabye Gollie Angel Tour 2015, featuring the unusual pairing of Steely Dan, the venerable jazz/rock band that dominated FM dials for the better part of ten years, and Elvis Costello, the one-time angry young man of New Wave who has now emerged as the elder statesman of aging punk rockers, if only for his career longevity. 

I have seen Elvis Costello a few times before and, while I am a fan, I have been less than impressed with his live show. I saw Elvis and his backing band The Attractions in 1982 when he was promoting Punch The Clock, not one of my favorite of his twenty-four (to date) releases. I also saw him with The Imposters (essentially The Attractions with a substitute for bassist Bruce Thomas) on New Year's Eve 2007 in Atlantic City. While the performance was entertaining and his song selection satisfying, he curtly vacated the stage on the dot of 12:30 AM, as though his union contract prohibited playing for one single minute more. Steely Dan, on the other hand, were never a favorite. Sure, I heard their ubiquitous sound for nearly a decade. If you owned a radio, you had no choice. They were hit machines in the progressive 1970s. They specialized in slickly-produced, jazz-tinged poetic mini-epics that maintained uniformity from song to song and album to album. While I own many entries in Elvis Costello's vast discography, I own only Aja, Steely Dan's 1977 career-defining monster — and that purchase was made when I was 16. I don't dislike Steely Dan. I just wouldn't number them among my top 100. Or even 200.

Back in April, Mrs. P purchased a pair of lawn seats for this show through Groupon, at a deeply discounted price that we just couldn't turn down. Considering the unpredictability of Philadelphia summers, we couldn't have been blessed with a more beautiful evening. We stretched out on our blanket and sipped the bottled water* we brought with us. I observed the crowd filing in to the venue as we waited for the concert to begin. I watched as men and women who could only be described as "old" shuffled along the parched grass that Susquehanna Bank Center tries to pass off as "lawn." The bulk of the crowd were weary, tired, hunched-over figures. Men in ill-fitting shorts, sad expressions on their collective faces. Women wearing too much make-up to conceal the lines of a hard-lived life. "Jesus!," I whispered to my wife, "Are we as old as these people?" It was pretty obvious that the overwhelming majority of these concert-goers were there to luxuriate in the dulcet, silken sounds of Steely Dan and not the piss-and-vinegar petulance of Mr. Costello.

At a few minutes before the posted start time, Elvis Costello, sporting a wide brimmed Panama hat for reasons only known to him, took the stage with his band — busting out "I Hope You're Happy Now" from his 1984 release Goodbye Cruel World, an album that Elvis himself described as "the worst album of my career." He and the band sped through an hour or so of career-spanning hits. At the end of his set, he waved and quickly exited and — encore-less — stayed exited.

The sun set, the stage lighting glowed and soon the multi-piece touring version of Steely Dan filled the stage, complete with a trio of slinky back-up singers. Craggy-faced, satin-voiced Donald Fagen rewarded the crowd early by kicking things off with an almost album-quality rendition of "Black Cow." from the aforementioned Aja. From that point, it was hit after hit after hit, sounding like a Steely Dan jukebox or like we were listening to the radio and it was once again 1978. The crowd was responsive, entranced and enchanted. Everyone knew every beat, every cue and nearly every word that they spent decades trying to decipher. They were getting exactly what they came for. However, for this casual listener, every single song — including the ones I knew — sounded identical to the one before and after it.

I saw my first concert in 1975. I was fourteen years-old and I went with some friends to see Alice Cooper as he brought the sinister spectacle that was the Welcome to My Nightmare show to the Philadelphia Spectrum. Bitten by the concert bug, I was rabid to see another. I chose Midwestern folkies America for reasons I can't begin to fathom now. I was not a fan. I owned none of their albums. I was familiar enough with some of America's songs from the radio ("Tin Man," "Sister Golden Hair," "Horse with No Name"), with their sweet harmonies and nonsensical lyrics. But I went to see them nonetheless. I remember hearing the hits but there were no standout moments.

That was how I felt as Steely Dan bid "farewell" to the evening with a spot-on, album-duplicate take of "Kid Charlemagne." It was pleasant, non-offensive and not at all memorable. I fully realize that I am in the minority and I have come to the conclusion that every band is someone's favorite band. The thousands of dancing, delighted faithful around me would attest to that — trick knees and artificial hips be damned! All in all, it was a lovely evening in lovely weather with my lovely wife.

Reelin' in the years
Oh, that picture at the top? That's a shot I selected from a Google search. We weren't nearly that close. We were waaaaay back where the muddy sound system at the Susquehanna Bank Center sounds even muddier. Here is my view from the lawn. It was a nice night out just the same.

*One bottle each! No outside food, forcing guests to partake of thirty-dollar pizza and sixteen-dollar beer — in addition to the outrageous thirty-dollar parking fee! 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

if sugar was as sweet as you, honey, sugar just couldn't be bought

Every summer, my wife and I attend a three-day music festival, assembled and hosted by what is arguably the greatest radio station in the Philadelphia area. Sprawling across Wiggins Park, a natural amphitheater on the Camden, New Jersey waterfront, the XPoNential Music Festivalis a glorious communal celebration of listeners sharing and rejoicing in their love of music and their affection for member-supported WXPN. The fine folks at WXPN spend nearly a year scouting out and securing commitments from an eclectic mixture of performers representing a diverse cross-section of music — from searing guitar-driven rock to sweet acapella harmonies and everything in-between. Just like the station itself, there's something for everyone. For the past several years, the evenings have been capped off by a headliner of "superstar" proportions taking the stage of the Susquehanna Bank Center, a large venue just a short walk from Wiggins Park. Last year, Beck and indie darling Ryan Adams performed. The year before, it was alt-rockers Wilco and folk granddaddy Bob Dylan. You get the idea.

In addition to a weekend full of great music and (sometimes) brutal sunshine, the festival offers a variety of businesses the opportunity to sales-pitch concert-goers and entice them with free samples and logo-emblazoned tchotchkes. Over the course of three days, one can score shot-size bottles of iced tea, single-serving cups of ice cream and a cup of "chip" and salsa (that's correct — a single chip) along with fistfuls of branded keyrings, guitar picks, sunscreen and bag clips. Mrs. Pincus loves to visit the different booths, schmooze with the vendors and pick up some of the freebies.

"Uh, yeah... we got one of those."
The festival's major sponsor is Subaru, the yuppie-friendly automobile company. Subaru boasts a huge booth decked out in misting fans, phone charging stations and funky couches. The latest model of Subaru SUV is available for inspection and answers to your questions are supplied by any number of fresh-faced young salespeople, all sporting big smiles and their Subaru-logoed finest.

My wife learned, through an overheard conversation, that Subaru owners are offered special perks just for being Subaru owners. Now, I maintain that Mrs. P is the nicest person that ever walked this earth. She is sincerely sweet and charming, however, she does get a kick out of seeing what her charm can get her. On Friday evening, the first day of the festival, Mrs. P began her friendship with the folks at the Subaru booth. I saw her talking and smiling at a young lady holding a stack of new model brochures. Soon, my wife joined me in a free sample of on-premises-made guacamole from the Whole Foods booth, adjacent to the Subaru set-up. Suddenly, the young lady from Subaru tapped my wife on the shoulder and covertly informed her that the wristbands for the exclusive "Subaru owners" area would be available on Saturday afternoon and we should definitely stop back. When the young lady strode away, I asked Mrs. P why that girl thought we own a Subaru.

"I told her how much we love Subaru. I never actually said we own one. She just assumed...," Mrs. P smiled that same charming smile.

On Saturday, day two of the festival, Mrs. P ingratiated herself with a good-looking fellow who looked like late surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku. Based on how he carried himself, he obviously was in some sort of managerial capacity with Subaru. Mrs. P began telling him about her conversation with the young lady on Friday. She made a point of mentioning the young lady by name and repeated her sentiment about our love for all things Subaru. Duke smiled and reached into a storage section of the booth and produced a couple of black Tyvek wristbands with a repeated Subaru logo pattern. "These," he explained, "would permit you access to the Subaru VIP area at the Susquehanna Bank Center. They have a buffet and drinks. It's just a way of saying 'thank you' to our loyal Subaru owners." We happily accepted the wristbands and thanked him.

I headed back to our chairs to catch a performance by indie Tex-Mex rockers Calexico. Midway through their set, Mrs. P joined me. Once again, she was smiling. She fanned out three tickets for the Subaru VIP section of the reserved seating area. Duke had come through again. Our regular festival passes included standard lawn seats at the Susquehanna Bank Center. Reserved seats are additional. Free seats, however, are welcome bonus. As evening fell, we found ourselves in the Subaru VIP area eating salad and chips and cookies (we're vegetarians and non-drinkers, so we skipped the buffalo wings and beer, although the other guests happily chowed down) while we mingled among actual Subaru owners. Mrs. P passed on the tickets herself, opting to let me, our son and our friend take the seats. She said she would just hang around the VIP area and meet us after the show. When we had enough of headliners My Morning Jacket, we vacated our seats and returned to the Subaru VIP area. Mrs. P said she had to say "goodbye" to her "friends" and shook hands with a group of guys (guys I never saw before) who were smiling and laughing while bidding her "adieu." Once again, there was evidence of that "Mrs. Pincus" charm.

Sunday, day three of the the festival, brought more surprises at the Subaru booth. Although Duke was unable to secure reserved seats, but he gave us a Subaru t-shirt as a consolation. But later that evening, when we met up with him at the Subaru VIP area, he produced a pair of reserved seat tickets after all. "Here," he laughed, "for my favorite Subaru owner!" It was already late in the show, so we politely declined the offer. We were about to make our exit anyway, so we thanked Duke again for his generosity and hospitality.

As we made our way to the parking garage, I think Mrs. P was already planning for next year's festival. Maybe she'll sweet-talk us into playing a guitar solo with one of the bands.

presented by Subaru