Sunday, December 25, 2016

ain't that mr. mister

You know what I hate?

Okay. Okay. I know. I know. That list can get pretty long and I'd probably have you here all day. What I meant to say was: you know what occurred to me that I hate? Being called "Mister Josh." I actually don't care for "Mr. Pincus," but I understand that sometimes it's unavoidable, like when it's your turn at the doctor's office and the assistant sticks her head out into the waiting room and calls your name. Or when you're being addressed by an overly polite solicitor on the phone. Or — worse — when you think you're being cool and one of your son's friends says, "Good one, Mr. Pincus!" I usually tell them to call me "Josh," explaining that "Mr. Pincus" was my father. That's usually met with a forced chuckle and "Another good one, Mr. Pincus!" (I went to a concert to see a band with whom my son is pretty close. After the show, my boy introduced me to the band's guitarist. I congratulated him on the great performance and he shyly replied "Thank you, Mr. Pincus, " as though I just watched him in an eighth-grade Christmas pageant.)

A few years ago, a new co-worker was introduced to me on her first day. It was pretty obvious that this young lady was considerably younger than I am. I was probably old enough to be her father. Nevertheless, I smiled and shook her hand and she was escorted away to be presented to the next new colleague. Several days later, I had some interaction with my new co-worker. At the end of our work-related exchange, her parting words were: "Okay. Thanks, Mr. Josh." Those words shot up and down my spine like ice water. I quickly (and firmly... maybe too firmly) responded. "Please." I began, "You can just call me 'Josh.' Please don't call me 'Mr. Josh.' I'm not your mother's new boyfriend." She squirmed a little, returned an awkward grin and sort-of slunk away. Okay. Maybe that last part was uncalled for.

Remember those telephone solicitors I mentioned earlier? Well, they started calling me "Mr. Josh," too. I will sometimes answer my phone even though I don't recognize the suspicious number displayed on the caller ID. I offer a hesitant "hello?" into the receiver and am immediately greeted with a "Hello, Mr. Josh!" delivered in a vague, unidentifiable foreign accent. That makes me shudder. I have now decided that no matter what this guy is selling, proposing or pitching — I ain't interested. He turned me off within the first three words.

Recently, I went to the bank, something I have not done in years. Since I pay all of my bills online and my paychecks are automatically deposited electronically through my employer, I have no need to go to an actual bank. But, just this week, for reasons that are far too mundane to explain, I had to go to the bank. I had a day off from work and I was looking for something to do. At a little before 10 AM, I pulled into the parking lot and wandered in to an empty bank. Obviously, I'm not the only one who no longer goes to the bank. Two tellers were standing silently behind the high counter. As I approached, they both turned, smiled and asked, in unison, if they could help me. Being lazy, I chose the one closest to me. The further-away teller looked dejected as she turned her attention back to the busywork she was doing. I handed my check to be deposited to the young man on the other side of the counter. He confirmed that I was making a deposit. (I suppose the words "FOR DEPOSIT ONLY" in giant capital letters scrawled across the reverse of the check gave him his first clue.) I nodded in the affirmative. He tapped some buttons on some machinery that was out of my line of vision. I heard the whirrrrrr of a printer and the guy handed me a small receipt. Then, as I was folding the receipt into my wallet, he spoke. He spoke those words. Those jarring, cringe-inducing words.

"Anything else I can do for you, Mr. Josh?"

I glared at him and just said, "No." I should have said, "Yes. Don't call me 'Mr. Josh.' And tell everybody else in the world the same thing." But I suppose that would have been asking too much.

...or you can call me 'RJ' or
you can call me 'JJ'...
There used to be a comedian named Billy Saluga. He was popular in the 70s for a character that he created — a cigar-smoking, zoot suit-wearing, loud-mouthed gentleman called "Raymond J. Johnson, Jr." Saluga appeared on a lot of talk and variety shows doing his "Raymond J. Johnson, Jr." shtick. If you are not familiar with (or are too young to remember) his act, it went like this. He would introduce himself with his full name and someone would call him "Mr. Johnson." He would get flustered and explain "You can call me 'Ray' or you can call me 'Jay' or you can call me 'Johnny' or you can call me 'Sonny.' He would proceed to delineate every possible configuration of his lengthy moniker, ultimate ending with: "But ya doesn't hasta call me 'Johnson.' "

I laughed at Saluga's antics back then, but, after all these years, I finally understand his pain.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

people gonna talk

Well, it's December and winter has hit the Philadelphia area. On most mornings, I will wait for my train out on the open-air platform. On days that begin with temperatures in the low 20s, I reluctantly opt for the warmth that the small ticket office offers. I say "reluctantly" because I really have to weigh the situation. Sure, I don't want to stand out in the cold and freeze my ass off, but do I really want to subject myself to what goes on inside the ticket office?

The office (which is only open Monday through Friday from 5:45 a.m. until 11:45 a.m. — and not a minute past!), is tiny, cramped and in desperate need of a good refurbishing. It is a sad, nondescript room with high ceilings, dated, cracked linoleum floor tiles and dingy cream-colored walls. Two adjacent walls have wooden, slat-backed benches that can accommodate three people, if they are courteous enough to occupy their allotted space. Otherwise, those taking refuge in the ticket office are relegated to standing around, scattered haphazardly like prisoners in the exercise yard. The ticket agent — a gray-haired woman in a heavy fleece pullover (no matter what the weather) — sits in a separate little area behind a half-wall of glass. Small as it is, it seems to have been outfitted with all the comforts of home — a microwave and toaster oven, a radio, a small television, three wall calendars, two clocks that display different times and a plethora of snacks all neatly stacked on top of a filing cabinet that looks as though it has not been opened in decades. On cold weather days, such as today, the waiting area inside the ticket office can get pretty crowded, putting standing space at a premium. Most people wait quietly, rubbing their gloved hands together to generate heat. Others, though, choose to loudly engage their fellow commuters in some inane chit-chatty conversation.

Conversation one:
Commuter 1: It sure is cold this morning.
Commuter 2: Yeah, it sure is.
Commuter 1: My office at work is always cold, too. Summer. Winter It's always cold.
Commuter 2: Mine is always hot. All the time.
Commuter 1: Yeah. I guess it's always one or the other.
Conversation two:
Commuter 3: Oh! So, how are you?
Commuter 4: I'm good. How is Jacob?
Commuter 3: Jacob is at college in New York. How is Jacob?
Commuter 4: Jacob is good. Jacob has a new job.
Conversation three:
Commuter 5: Did you park your car in the lot?
Commuter 6: No, they're vicious in that lot. If you have a new car, it will get scratched in that lot.
Commuter 5: I don't have a new car.
Conversation four:
Commuter 7: Is the next train to Jefferson Station on time?
Ticket Agent: I think so. I'm not sure.
Commuter 7: Well, is it reported late?
Ticket Agent: I'm not sure.
Commuter 7: 
Don't you get some kind of report or notice?
Ticket Agent: No, not really.
Commuter 7: Aren't you in contact with someone somewhere?
Ticket Agent: Not really.
Commuter 7: 
So, you don't know when the train is coming?
Ticket Agent: Well, you can check the schedule.
Since the trains are usually late (my train has not been on time in ten years), the amount of time spent standing that close to this mindless, thoughtless, nonsensical rambling can wear on one's nerves. So, I have to decide which is worse: listening to this relentless blather or risk frostbite before the train arrives.

After a few minutes, I always make the same decision. I weave my way through the close crowd and brave the cold.

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

My annual Christmas music compilation is available as a 
at or for a limited time.

This year, it’s a whopping 71 minutes worth of Christmas cacophony that’s sure to ruin your holiday celebration within seconds. You get two dozen eclectic Christmas selections plus a custom full-color cover with track listings – all for you and all for FREE! (That’s right! FREE!) 


(Please contact me if you have trouble with the download.)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

gotta serve somebody

Mrs. Pincus came across two Macy's gift cards in her wallet. My first reaction to this discovery was: "Who the fuck still shops at Macy's?" (I sort of answered this question around this time last year.) Well, we were about to find out, because after dinner last night, we decided to take a quick run up to the Macy's at Willow Grove Mall to use them.

Despite its close proximity to our house and the frequency in which I find myself in the surrounding area, I have not been inside Willow Grove Mall in years. Now considering it is eighteen days before Christmas, we easily found a parking space in the multi-level parking structure. We drove through level after empty level until we had our pick of spots near the Macy's entrance. Macy's was packed with merchandise, but not so much with shoppers. We headed straight for the kitchenware department, where Mrs. P could pick up a few small items to use as gifts or to possibly make a quick turnaround on eBay. The escalator, which cuts vertically right through the center of the store gave us a panoramic view of all three floors... and there were maybe a dozen potential customers roaming aimlessly around the aisles. Maybe less.

Mrs. P perused the shelves of the kitchen department and settled in front of a display of mini waffle irons. Mrs. P calculated the value of the gift cards and piled my open arms high with twelve little boxes, selecting different colors where available. I carefully balanced the boxes and made it to the cashier without dropping a single one.

Somewhere along the way, though, we must have entered into The Twilight Zone.

The large cashier desk was staffed by two older women each standing behind a small computer monitor. One woman, Marie, was helping a young lady who was arranging and rearranging a stack of toddler outfits on the counter. I swear Marie was moving in slow motion. She picked up each item, examining and admiring it before scanning the price tag. Janine, the other cashier, was resting her chin in her hand. Her elbow propped against the top of her monitor. Her eyes were half shut. I approached Janine. "Hi.," I said as I plopped my collection of boxed waffle irons on the counter. Janine did not return my greeting. In slow motion, she began to stack the boxes in a different arrangement. My wife told her that she had a gift card. Janine offered no acknowledgement. She didn't care. She scanned the first box at a painfully slow speed. If she was any slower, she would not have been moving at all. If they would have brought a mannequin over to process this sale, it would have been quicker. After Janine scanned three of the twelve boxes, she fumbled around under the counter and eventually came up with a large plastic bag. She meticulously placed two boxes in the bag and it ripped right down a seam. Janine emitted a disgusted sigh and muttered something that sounded like a complaint. She slowly removed the two boxes from the torn bag. She gathered up the defective bag into a large balled and searched for a trash can. She discarded the bag, reached for a fresh one and started the whole tedious process over again... and she still had nine more boxes to ring up. Midway through the remaining boxes, Janine stopped to have a brief conversation with another sales associate who walked past the cashier desk on the opposite side from where we stood. She also stopped to to comment on the toddler outfits that were still being rung up my Marie. Marie, of course, chuckled and commented as well. Mrs. P and I covertly exchanged glances. Was this really happening? Were we both asleep and having the same surreal dream?

Finally — finally — we were finished. The waffle irons were rung up, bagged and now, I was carrying them away from the cashier. As we walked away, we heard Janine engaging a co-worker in conversation while another customer stood waiting to make a purchase.

My issue with Macy's, when I ranted in last year's post, was the fact that merchandise was so expensive. Comparable items could be purchased at any number of stores for far less than Macy's was asking. Now that we found merchandise at a reasonable price, the sales clerks could not possibly have been less interested in interacting with customers. As a matter of fact, they behaved as though they would rather have been any where else in the world than working at Macy's. I can't figure out why Macy's even bothers with brick and mortar stores. They could very easily take their business to a fully-online entity. They would only have to maintain warehouses and stock help and not be bothered with sales associates who obviously don't want to be bothered themselves.

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

My annual Christmas music compilation is available as a 
at or for a limited time.

This year, it’s a whopping 71 minutes worth of Christmas cacophony that’s sure to ruin your holiday celebration within seconds. You get two dozen eclectic Christmas selections plus a custom full-color cover with track listings – all for you and all for FREE! (That’s right! FREE!) 


(Please contact me if you have trouble with the download.)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

freeze frame

There are two things I love: concerts and technology.

I have been going to concerts since I was a teenager, that means, for those of you keeping score, over forty years. I lost count how many shows I've been to. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I do not have every single ticket stub carefully preserved and filed in an intricate, cross-referenced filing system. I just have to rely on my memory and, so far, it has not failed me yet.

I remember taking a Kodak disposable camera to a Queen concert in 1978. In the glow of the stage lighting and from seventeen rows back, I snapped shot after shot of Freddie Mercury, pirouetting like a choreographed top across the stage. When I had the photos developed, I was disappointed in my photography skills when I viewed a stack of out-of-focus figures in washed out browns, reds and greens.

Years later, as technology advanced and improved, cameras got smaller and better. Now, I had a camera that was lightweight and could take thousands of pictures on a tiny storage disk. Plus, I was now able to shoot video, so I could watch my favorite bands perform my favorite songs over and over again. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, I could share my pictures and videos with the entire world. Of course, everyone in the world wanted to — no, needed to — see my pictures!

The last picture I took at a concert
and the band wasn't even on stage yet.
Now, I was going to concerts and staking out a prime spot stage side so I could record live versions of my favorite songs. I watched bands — bands I really wanted to see live — perform through a three inch by two inch screen. Then, when I got home, I watched my grainy video on my computer screen. Just hours earlier, I could have seen the actual band if I had just lowered my stupid camera. Soon, I wasn't even watching the videos anymore. It took me a while — too long of a while — to really get the absurdity of this situation.

I have since given up recording songs at concerts, Although the videos still remain on the internet, I removed the YouTube link from my website because I'm not posting anything new. Now, I just take one or two pictures on my cellphone during the first song and put my phone in my pocket for the rest of the show. I am enjoying concerts once again  — the way I used to.

If only I could get other people to put their phones away, too. They'd see what they are missing.

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

My annual Christmas music compilation is available as a 
at or for a limited time.

This year, it’s a whopping 71 minutes worth of Christmas cacophony that’s sure to ruin your holiday celebration within seconds. You get two dozen eclectic Christmas selections plus a custom full-color cover with track listings – all for you and all for FREE! (That’s right! FREE!) 


(Please contact me if you have trouble with the download.)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

life's no fun without a good scare

I have always been a horror fan. The problem with the current trend in horror is it's too stupid and formulaic. What happened to good writing and clever plot twists? Now it's all jump scares and gory images for the sake of exhibiting someone's special effects skills. Where is the stylized framing of Silence of the Lambs? Where is the suspenseful storytelling of Psycho? Even the original slasher films like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and even Friday the 13th had well-conceived back stories before they were milked dry by four hundred inane sequels.

Submitted for your approval.
Since movies were disappointing, I turned to television and there was plenty of promise. When I was in elementary school, I was permitted to stay up to watch the NBC horror anthology Night Gallery hosted by Rod Serling. It was my favorite show (at the time) offering short vignettes featuring a roster of popular television actors in roles outside of their comfort level. Then I discovered reruns of Rod's earlier show, the venerable Twilight Zone. I also watched The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Thriller. All of these pretty much followed the same formula — some better some worse — but all satisfied my horror cravings... for the most part. I even enjoyed the 80s revival of The Twilight Zone as well as the theatrical film.

More recently, my television series watching habits have been limited to the unlikely pairing of HBO's brutal and gritty gangster saga Boardwalk Empire and the mindless teen fluff of Nickelodeon's iCarly. Now that both of those series are out of production, I watch whatever is on, rarely going out of my way to catch a "must-see" program.

I saw early ads for a new series on Fox's cutting edge FX network called American Horror Story. It presented a clever concept for an anthology — a core group of performers and a single story per season, with the same group taking on different roles in a different story in subsequent seasons. The initial reception was positive and the show proved popular... no thanks to me, as I never watched. It wasn't until season four that I decided to give it a shot.

May I take this opportunity to acknowledge that I'm in the minority, but, give me my two minutes to bitch.

I settled in on that early October evening in 2014 to see for myself what all the buzz was about. As the opening scenes of American Horror Story: Freak Show began, I waited to be impressed... and to experience the thrill of being scared. A little over an hour later, I was bored, disappointed and a little annoyed. I found that the show relied too much on "looking cool," with its atmospheric shots, grainy filters and stark, creepy-on-purpose sets, and not enough time was devoted to story development. I thought the acting was stilted and not at all compelling. Even multi-award-winning actress Jessica Lange could hold my interest, especially when she delivered a cover of the 1971 Bowie classic "Life on Mars," as the anachronistic episode finale of a story set in 1952. I snapped off the TV and vowed never to watch this mess again.

Well, after skipping an entire season, I decided to give American Horror Story another chance. My son came over and we binge-watched the first two episodes of season six. The series had abandoned its standard TV drama format in favor of the premise of a reality show, complete with in-studio, after-the-fact interviews and reenactments. It was sort of a show within a show within a show with actors playing actors playing real people. I was interested. I found myself enjoying the tale as it unfolded. It was a unique take on the storytelling. I was hooked. Reluctant, but hooked just the same. I watched the next episode in its regular time slot. Three episodes in and I was still enjoying it. My son, however, warned me. He told me that series creator Ryan Murphy has this uncanny knack for losing interest in his shows as they progress. He tends to go in several different directions, never fully resolving all aspects of all storylines.

Sure enough, that observation was spot on

In the following weeks, American Horror Story: Roanoke became a veritable shit show. But I watched. I was committed. I was going to see this fiasco out until the bitter end. Characters were introduced and killed. Characters were introduced and forgotten. And the characters that we got to see on every episode were cartoonish, one-dimensional sketches only serving as a bag full of theatrical blood, ready to explode when the time was right... or not right... or whenever. The series morphed into a shrill, sprawling, mindless, contradicting, aimless mish-mash that I wanted to end. And soon. By episode eight (of a ten episode series), I just wanted it to be done. It became a chore to watch. I counted the minutes until it was over, like I was taking a test in high school. I began recording the episodes, so I could fast-forward through commercials, shortening my time spent watching this shambles. At last, the final episode was broadcast. I watched, emotionless. Numbed. Disinterested. And 41 minutes later, thanks to 4x fast-forward, it was done. I didn't care what happened to any of the characters  — which ones were alive, which were dead, which were in purgatory, which were.... whatever.

This time, I swear, I will never watch that series again.

Now, I'm sure there's a Twilight Zone rerun that needs watching.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

everybody's a good dog

I knew Shaun Fleming before I actually knew Shaun Fleming.

Jim and Tim (or is it Tim and Jim?)
When my son was younger, we loved watching cartoons together. I remember, three days before his fourth birthday, we planted ourselves in front of the television to watch the first glimpses of what would blossom into the phenomenon called "Nicktoons" on the hip kid-oriented Nickelodeon Network. My long-time love of animated entertainment was rubbing off on my boy and I couldn't have been happier. I introduced him to some of my childhood favorites, like Underdog and Hoppity Hooper. Together, we watched some of the newer offerings, like Doug, Rugrats and, much to my wife's chagrin, Ren and Stimpy. Nick's cross-cable rivals, The Disney Channel, wanted in on this animation thing. Sure, they are the undeniable leaders in the animation field, but breaking into the weekly cartoon thing was new territory. They tested the waters with The Proud Family, the first foray into animation produced specifically for The Disney Channel. They followed that with the action-adventure series Kim Possible. My son and I watched Kim Possible, with its cool, angular styles and pun-infused character names (Ron Stoppable, Will Du and of course, the title heroine herself). Among the many characters introduced during its four-season run were Kim's younger twin brothers, Jim and Tim Possible. The pair, while typical annoying siblings, were brilliant and often helpful in their sister's attempts to overcome evil Dr. Drakken, her nemesis bent on world domination. Jim and Tim were voiced, for most of the series's run, by teenage Shaun Fleming. Shaun had previously given voice to young "Tarzan" in the Disney series based on the full-length animated feature, Goofy's son "Max" in the Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas featurette and "Leonard," the owner of an unusual dog in the Disney/Gary Baseman cartoon Teacher's Pet.

Shaun plants one on E.
My son and I also loved to listen to music together. I would play my old favorites for him and, as the years went on, he would expose me to some of the music that he had discovered. (Coincidentally, he stumbled across Queen, my favorite band in my high school days, without any prompting from me.) At a rapid pace, he immersed himself into all things music, seeking out new and unusual bands, and giving close attention to the most obscure of genres. Eventually, he would take his love for music to career level, landing a dream job as a DJ on a local Philadelphia radio station. Through his connections, in 2014, he met a band called Diane Coffee who had come to the station to promote their new album release Everybody's A Good Dog. E., my son, recognized the exuberant lead singer as the drummer for the indie rock band Foxygen. His name was Shaun Fleming. Yep, that Shaun Fleming.  E. sent me the Diane Coffee album and — without sounding too cliche — I was blown away. I had grown up listening to — and loving — a 70s music genre known as "glam rock." This was the collective label applied to a wide range of artists like T. Rex and, more famously, David Bowie. Diane Coffee was an updated homage to all things glam. Plus, peppered throughout the album's tracks were soulful grooves, torchy vocals and funky horns  — all coming together to form a totally unique, yet totally familiar, sound.

It wasn't until almost a year later that I was able to witness Diane Coffee live and in-person. In the tiny Kung Fu Necktie, a club located under the elevated subway in Philadelphia's revitalized Fishtown neighborhood, Shaun and his band Diane Coffee took the compact stage and gave the crowd a show that was jarring, electrifying and totally captivating. Shaun, his face streaked with glittery, 70s style rock & roll makeup, mugged for the crowd and delivered a multi-faceted performance in a multitude of styles and voices. He poured his soul into his every movement and exuded a joy that was palpable. It is a barometer of a show's success when you can see how much fun the band is having on stage. And Diane Coffee was having a whole lot of fun.

When the set was over, a very sweaty Shaun marched right over to my son and gave him a hug. My boy introduced me to Shaun. As he extended a hand, I gushed like a teenager, telling him what a big fan I was of the new album. He smiled. Then, surprisingly, a look of concern took over his face and he asked me, "Were we okay?" and he gestured towards the stage. "Oh my gosh!," I exclaimed, "You were incredible! How could you doubt your performance?" I was absolutely taken by his earnest and his self-doubt, considering what I had just witnessed. He thanked us for coming and then I got a hug, too.

In the weeks following that show, Shaun and I exchanged pleasantries via Twitter until I got to see the band again when they played the WXPN summer music festival. This time, in the festival atmosphere, he played to an audience unfamiliar with his band. Seeing the name "Diane Coffee," they may have been expecting a small girl in a peasant skirt with braided hair and and an oversize acoustic guitar. Instead they got the second coming of The Sweet (of "Ballroom Blitz" and "Fox on the Run" fame) in all their glam-rock glory. At one o'clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon, Shaun and his bandmates captivated the crowd and, as they say, blew them away. The set, which Shaun and his mates started in faux navy uniforms, quickly morphed, after a surprise costume change, into a full-on spectacle. Once again, after his set, Shaun was gracious and appreciative and just a regular guy.

E. and I got to see Diane Coffee just last week, as their cross-country tour brought them to Philadelphia for a weeknight show. Once again, the place was packed with anxious fans. Just before the band took the stage, my son snaked his way through the dense crowd to say "Hello" to Shaun, who he spotted standing at the side of the stage. When Shaun saw E., he threw his arms around him in, what we have come to know as his standard, warm greeting. Over the ambient crowd noise, I saw E. mouth "There's my Dad" to Shaun and point in my direction. A broad smile reached across Shaun's face and he waved wildly at me. We saw the first five or so songs of Diane Coffee's set (which were terrific), but, due to unforeseen circumstances, were unable to stay until the show's completion. The next day, I saw a tweet from Shaun, thanking his fan base for a wonderful, if lengthy, tour. I replied to Shaun and this was our exchange:

Not yet familiar with Shaun Fleming and Diane Coffee? Well, I can tell you this... he's a really nice guy. 

And a good dog.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

ten, twenty, thirty million dollars ready to be spent

In 1987, The Walt Disney Company began to, literally, print its own currency. For nearly twenty years, various designs and denominations of Disney Dollars have been available for patrons on an "even exchange" basis. In May 2016, Disney announced that they would cease production on Disney Dollars, although they would continue to accept them at their theme parks, hotels and select Disney Stores (meaning not the one you go to). With the convenience of gift cards, the idea of Disney Dollars had run its course. 

However, I maintain, that Disney has been printing their own money for years. Maybe not physically, but figuratively. Their combination of shrewd marketing, exploitation and branding coupled with the captive audience and tourist mentality, has made Disney a veritable money-generating machine.

They are the kings of selling you things you do not need. They excel in convincing you that the prices they place on merchandise and food is reasonable. Granted, most people on vacation (especially the people that Walt Disney World draws) pay very little attention to how much they are spending on a meal, so they will happily for fork over $12 for a hot dog topped with chili. (A chili dog at Sonic costs $1.99, just for comparison). One of my favorite restaurants in a Disney theme park is Redd Rocket's Pizza Port, tucked in a back corner of Tomorrowland in Disneyland. A slice of typical, no-frills, fast-food, no-toppings pizza costs $6.99. I can get an entire pie at a Little Caesar's five minutes from my house for five bucks. A whole pizza at Redd Rocket's is — brace yourself — thirty-three dollars. Go to any of these Disney eateries at dinner time, though. You'll see the lines are long and the place is packed.

Souvenirs is another area where Disney knows just how wide they can open a customer's guest's wallet. My first visit to Walt Disney World was in 1980. I was 19. I purchased a few mementos of my trip — a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, a few pinback buttons. Knowing my limited funds back then, I'm sure I was very careful not to overspend on souvenirs. Of course, in later years, when I was supporting the Disneyana monkey on my back (this one, I mean), I spent money in the gift shops like a drunken pirate on Caribbean shore leave. However, my selections were measured and I was very particular about what was added to my collection. But, Disney was counting on other tourists to spend blindly and without restraint. The fact that no one bats an eye at a $24.99 price tag on a giant faux-velvet Sorcerer Mickey hat shows the effectiveness of Disney's marketing power. After all, there's only one place and one place only you can wear a tall, blue, pointed hat adorned with two enormous mouse ears and not get strange looks. And you're never gonna wear it anywhere else. Ever. When you get home to your normal life and one day it's raining, you're not saying to yourself: "I better grab a hat." and then reach for the two-foot tall, fuzzy, star-spangled head covering to shield you from the downpour. And Disney knows it.

On a summer trip my wife made with her family to Walt Disney World, she bought two water-filled spray bottles, each topped with a small battery-powered fan and embellished with Disney characters, for her nieces, to keep them hydrated during the blistering Florida heat. Those things, available in a non-Disney version for a few dollars, cost $18.00 each. My brother-in-law, fully aware of their price tag (because he wouldn't spring for them for his kids), would not allow his daughters to bring the bottles into the park, for fear they would get lost or damaged. The bottles remained safely in a bag in their hotel room and never saw the light of day since the time of their purchase. As a matter of fact, they haven't been seen since 2012. But, Disney! Disney had a gain of thirty-six dollars for an item that, based on volume, probably cost mere pennies to manufacture.

Look, this is certainly not a knock against Disney. I am a huge fan of the media giant. I admire their creativity, their cleverness and especially their marketing prowess. I marvel at the people who whine and complain about how expensive it is to swing a vacation to Walt Disney World, and then, once they get there, hand over their hard-earned cash with nary a thought. Disney is doing their job and that's answering to their stockholders. It is possible to have fun on a Disney vacation and not come home ready for the poor house. You just have to put a little thought into your planning, stick to a budget, consider purchases with: "Do I really need this?" If you're still moaning about the high prices of admission, food, lodging, and souvenirs... nobody is forcing you to go. Not even Disney. You may think they are, but that's called "marketing."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

vote for me and I'll set you free

Please forgive the rambling nature of this post. I mean more rambling than usual. I wrote this mostly for my own relief, as a carthasis after what I can only describe as a harrowing night. — JPiC
I voted in ten presidential elections and only picked the winner twice. But, honestly, a change in president has only affected my life — my personal life — once. Sure, there have been taxes and inflation, but those things would have occurred no matter who became president. You see, in 1981 under the Carter administration, I was enrolled in a four-year art school on a full, government grant for my first year. Therefore, in the first election in which I was eligible to vote, I cast my ballot for Mr. Carter for purely selfish reasons. He got trounced by Ronald Reagan, who proceeded to take the funds set aside for my art career and use them to purchase a bomb to blow up the Commie that was hiding under America's bed. With no support or encouragement from my parents, at 20 years old, I wandered into a bank and arranged for a student loan to cover my tuition for the next school year. I repeated the procedure a few more times until I graduated. I incurred a debt that I paid off, in monthly installments, over the course of ten years. So, aside from writing a check every month for $81.00, someone new in The White House really hasn't caused any upheaval in my life.

I admit I was a bit wary when Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992. After all, he was a young, cool guy who wore Blues Brothers shades and played the saxophone on late-night television. He was undeniably different from the forty-one stuffy men that preceded him. Those guys — the Reagans and the Nixons and the Eisenhowers — were my Dad's candidates. They were stiff, rehearsed, humorless guys whose dour visages would look right at home in the center of a piece of currency. But, Bill Clinton had a mischievous smile and a ton of charisma. He was both relaxed and commanding and, with a booming economy, he made the country feel comfortable. However, it was after Clinton's second-term win — when he defeated Bob Dole — that, I believe, things started to go to shit. Bob Dole was the ultimate sore loser. It was uncomfortable to watch Dole's "He's not my president!" behavior. But, again, it really didn't affect my day-to-day life. I still went to work. I was more concerned with the well-being of my family and, as always, just figured politics and the country would take care of itself... as selfish as that may seem.

I watched eight years of a George W. Bush presidency that evoked the good ol' backward-thinking Republican ways of my narrow-minded father and my narrower-minded grandmother. I saw the beginnings of a military conflict that was right out of the pages of George Orwell's 1984 — a battle against an unclear adversary that still rages on to this day. But, again, since a military draft had not been reinstated (besides, there was a huge amount of young men anxious to serve) and, since I was too old and my son was too young for military service, this, too, did not really affect my life on a personal level.

When Barack Obama became president, I truly believed that we had finally broken though and shaken off the clutches of the "old guard." By "old guard," of course I mean the government run by my father's old-white-guy Republican party. I figured that since, finally!, the President of the United States was a guy my own age (President Obama is exactly one week, to the day, older than I am), I was now part of the majority in the country and the president, as it had always been, was a reflection of the majority.

On Tuesday night — Election Night — I watched, in disbelief, as the progressive, visionary America that I saw blossom over the past eight years crumbled under a venomous blanket of hate, bigotry, xenophobia and unfounded fear. There was regular evidence that racism and hatred was alive and well in our country, but I was shocked that it has been allowed to be brought to the forefront by a bullying, prejudiced, uninformed, misogynist con artist. Like the Piper Piper of Hamelin, he played the right notes and stirred up the vermin that was hidden under the rocks and in the dirt. They followed his lead and they heard what they wanted to hear, ignoring the parts they didn't understand or didn't want to examine more closely. Say what you will about Mr. Trump, but the guy knows marketing. He successfully peddled his brand — a smoke-and-mirrors brand of gold-covered shit — and the right people bought it and happily ate it up.

And now the piper will be the next president, undoing everything that was accomplished over the past decade. I am thoroughly disappointed in my country.

Once again, the outcome of a presidential election may not affect me personally, but it will affect a great many people in this country — people of color, Latinos, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, women, immigrants, the disabled. Over the past eight years, I have met and become close to people that fall into those categories and it makes me sad for them. So, I take it back. This presidential election has affected me. In my effort to become less selfish, the results of this election makes me feel sorrow, anguish and fear on behalf of some people that I love.

Plus, it makes me embarrassed in front of the rest of the world.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

I buried paul

Thanksgiving at my house always included one timeless ritual. After my mom fussed over the turkey, we all took a seat around that long, utility table that was set up in the living room to accommodate the extra dinner guests. One by one, my mother would bring out each component of the meal — the fried onion-topped string bean casserole, the Mrs. Paul's frozen sweet potatoes piping hot from the oven, the big bowl of canned corn, the hot Pillsbury crescent rolls. My dad would rev up the electric carving knife and slice off thin, but crooked slices from the golden-brown turkey breast. The various serving plates would make their way around the table and each guest would load his or her placesetting with a generous portion of Thanksgiving fare. The meal would begin and, invariably, my dad would soon lift the dish containing a glistening cylinder of dark purple jellied cranberry sauce and, after cutting a chunky piece for himself, point the thing in my direction and, just like every year, say those same words to me: "Do you want cranberry sauce?"

Of course, I didn't. I never wanted cranberry sauce. Ever. I'm not quite sure what it was about the cranberry sauce that made it so unappealing. It could have been the fact that it maintained the shape of the can, even after the can had been discarded. It could have been the color — that dark reddish-purple that gave the side dish a somewhat visceral appearance... sort of like an internal organ. I can't vouch for the texture, though, because that stuff wasn't making it anywhere near my mouth. I would always answer my father's inquiry with: "Have you ever seen me eat cranberry sauce? This ain't gonna be the year I start." As the years went on, I believe my father got to the point where he knew I didn't want any cranberry sauce. He was just taunting me.

Look, I know I was a picky eater when I was a kid. But, I got to be more culinarily adventurous as I became an adult. My wife regularly remarks "Your mother would be proud of you." when I swallowed a forkful of string beans or popped a sushi roll into my mouth. Even the baked beans I avoided as a child have become a required accompaniment to hot dogs (well... the veggie hot dogs I now eat).

Last year's Thanksgiving dinner was the best one in recent memory. It was my son, my wife and me gathered around our beautifully-set dining room table. Just the three of us, something we never had the opportunity to experience in our many years as a family. It was lovely. Mrs. P forwent traditional turkey and made a Tofurky for her two vegetarians. She also made from-scratch cranberry sauce that looked more like this...
... than that slimy-looking stuff that slides out of a can. It looked delicious and it tasted delicious. (I was reminded of a favorite episode of All in the Family from 1975. The Bunkers are having Thanksgiving dinner at Mike and Gloria's house next door. Archie asks his daughter for cranberry sauce. Gloria proudly displaying a bowl filled with something that looks like the photo above, says, "Sure, Daddy. I made it myself." Archie frowns and says, "Don'cha have the real kind that slides out of a can?" Disappointed, Gloria exclaims, "Try it!" Archie, still eyeing the bowl with contempt, replies, "I'll have some later on my ice cream.")

So, a few nights ago, Mrs. Pincus made vegetarian hot "turkey" sandwiches. I have fond memories of them from my youth. My mom would often make the real (re: meaty) thing for our family. My dad, a butcher by trade, would never stand for "pretend meat." But, Mrs. P,, while still a carnivore, will partake of "fake" stuff every once in a while. So, we each covered our plates with two pieces of bread and several slices each of LightLife® Smart Deli™ Veggie Turkey Slices. Mrs. P mixed up and heated a pot of Serv-a-Gravy®, the most meatless of gravies available. (It is, essentially, brown water. But, it is delicious brown water!) While, my wife was busy at the stove, I opened up the cabinet in our kitchen where we keep canned goods and perused the options. I found a can of creamed corn, usually reserved for Mrs. P's corn fritters. Hiding behind the corn, between a surplus can of cannellini beans left from the last time my wife made vegetarian chili and a stack of canned salmon, I found a can of Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce. I stared at the can for a few moments. Then, I extracted the can from its resting place. "How about we have some of this, too?," I said, waving the can over my shoulder in the direction of my wife standing by the stove. She turned to me and laughed. "Really?," she said, smiling, "Oh, your mother would be so proud of you."

I thought of all the things I have accomplished in my life. I'd like to think that eating cranberry sauce would not be lumped together in the "pride department" with graduating high school, getting married, buying a house and starting a family. But, you know... I'll take it.

And, guess what? That thick plug of jellied cranberry sauce was pretty darn good. I actually look forward to having more on Thanksgiving.

To make up for a lot of missed opportunities.

(I realize that I wrote about cranberry sauce around this time last year. You can read it here. Although, the story above contains similar elements to the tale of a year ago, I did not consult my previous blog post before I wrote this one. I suppose cranberry sauce has just weighed heavily on me all these years.)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

big boss man

I just caught the late 4:45 train for my evening commute home.

SEPTA's train service (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) has been running poorly all summer. In 2006, SEPTA purchased one hundred and twenty. brand-spanking-new new Silverliner V railcars for two-hundred and seventy-four million dollars. The cars were manufactured by the relatively-young Hyundai Rotem company of South Korea. SEPTA chose to purchase the cars based on Hyundai Rotem's undercutting all of the competition. The train cars experienced massive delays in production and delivery. But, better late than never, the cars were finally delivered and soon were gliding on the rails all over Philadelphia and its suburbs.

Until June.

A routine inspection discovered numerous fatigue cracks on the support trucks of every single Silverliner V in SEPTA's system. The beautiful new trains were immediately pulled from service and SEPTA began a frantic scramble. Timetables were altered, trains were borrowed from neighboring cities and delays were insufferable. All summer long, daily commuters have experienced nightmares in travel time and over-crowded train cars. SEPTA employees have been extra surly and belligerent. Another bonus to make the experience even more pleasurable.

If you follow my Instagram account, you know that it is chock full of pictures of people taking up more than their fair share of allotted space by placing their bags, backpacks, briefcases, food or any number of other items on the empty seat next to the single seat that their fare permits them to occupy. SEPTA has introduced the "Dude, It's Rude" initiative, reminding riders that one fare entitles them to one seat. Most people ignore the rules. Some even get testy when asked to move their stuff to accommodate another passenger. The policy is not remotely enforced by SEPTA on-board employees.

Now, with over-crowded trains, seats are at a premium. Yet, I still see many commuters spread out across two, or sometimes three, seats with their personal effects.

Today, on my ride home, I was joined by a man in the seat facing mine. With my messenger bag perched squarely on my lap, I silently read my book until the train pulled up into my station. This gentleman, my seatmate, sported a SEPTA employee badge dangling from a SEPTA lanyard around his neck. He wore a dark dress shirt and an expensive looking tie. This let me know that he was not a rank-and-file "train guy." This guy was a "main office executive" type. No sooner did this guy plop himself down in the seat opposite me, his knees bumping into mine, did he drop his bulky backpack on the empty seat to his left. He absentmindedly draped his beefy arm across the bag, blocking any access for another commuter to take a load off. He pulled a cellphone from his pocket and squinted as he thumbed the screen.

A representative of SEPTA blatantly breaking the rules that his company introduced. Average commuters are expected to follow the rules. SEPTA employees, especially the upper echelon, should lead by example, especially with limited seating available. I looked around and noticed there were people standing in several places throughout the train, gripping handrails and seat backs to steady themselves.

Disgusted, I rose from my seat as the train approached my stop. I grunted an "excuse me" and the guy swiveled his knees to make an exit path for me.

I stepped on his foot on my way out.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

take the long way home

One Friday evening in September, Mrs. Pincus and I did something we haven't done in a long time. We went to a Phillies game. Considering we were Phillies season ticket holders for 18 years, you would think that going to a hometown baseball game would be a regular activity for us. Since we gave up our ticket plan three seasons ago, we have only been to a few games in the subsequent seasons, although we haven't paid admission for any of them. Friday's game was no different. We were guests of the law firm that, most generously, keeps me gainfully employed.

Though we were once avid baseball fans, we have not watched a game in several years. Seeing how the Phillies are doing so poorly this season, we express no real interest in the game, opting instead to pay closer attention to the free food that came with our deluxe suite tickets. So. as the game entered the late innings with a tie score, my wife and I decided to call it a night. I didn't remotely care about the outcome, as the Phillies are currently in a so-called "rebuilding" period, which is Major League Baseball speak for "We suck and aren't making any trades to better our team as long as we are turning a profit." We said our "goodbyes" to my co-workers who remained and headed we out to our car.

I live about 16 miles from the Phillies' South Philadelphia ballpark, about a twenty-five minute drive. There are several different routes we could take to our home just over the city limits in the glorious northern suburbs, but our preferred route is straight up Broad Street, the main North-South thoroughfare that traverses our fair city. Broad Street (Philadelphia's placeholder for 14th Street.) bisects a variety of neighborhoods as it makes its way out of the city, where it picks up Old York Road as the continuation of Pennsylvania State Route 611. Once out of the ballpark's lot, a left turn deposits you in a knot of concrete roadways leading in all directions. One ramp inclines towards the Walt Whitman Bridge, where anxious New Jerseyites jockey their way out of Philadelphia. Another access ramp leads toward I-76 and Packer Avenue, where drivers can choose between traveling West or South of the city. We, however, aimed for the local lane of Broad Street.

At the southern end of Broad Street the neighborhood is a mix of longtime residents, mostly of Italian descent, living alongside young "hipsters" looking for the "Center City experience," but have been priced out the the Center City dwellings. Further north, the area is full of bustling commerce and nightlife, with clubs and restaurants spilling their patrons out onto the sidewalk. Circling City Hall, Broad Street cuts through the recently-updated and heavily-patrolled campus of Temple University. But just beyond Temple is the ominous reaches of North Philly, a neighborhood that has been a thorn in Philadelphia's side for many, many years. Broad Street in North Philly is fine, usually packed with pedestrians and traffic no matter what the time of day. But, a few blocks in either direction off the main drag lies a frightening landscape of boarded-up houses, abandoned warehouses and desolate lots strewn with trash and discarded, picked-over automobiles. Shootings and drug deals and carjackings in North Philly are regularly presented on the local news

On our way home from the Phillies game, Mrs. Pincus and I were diverted off of the security of Broad Street by a team of municipal workers who decided that 11 PM was the ideal time to pave the street. Forced to make a left into the uncharted territory, we cautiously cruised towards 17th Street. Where Broad Street is illuminated by the eerie orange glow of the high-pressure sodium lamps that line the sidewalks, the outlying streets are dark and foreboding. Silent silhouettes of condemned homes loom large at each dimly-lit intersection. The tiny streets — their surface dotted with cracks and broken chunks of paving — twist unevenly through block after congested block. Although we did not pass a single person walking the streets, we still had a very uneasy feeling until we managed to find an access back to the brightly-lit familiarity of Broad Street.

Although I was born and raised in Philadelphia and am very familiar with most of the city, there are small pockets of remote neighborhoods which are totally foreign to me. Maybe it's because, as a child, it was instilled in me that those sections were "bad neighborhoods" and should be avoided at all costs. However, as we navigated through the unfamiliar streets of North Philly, I saw that people lived in some of the houses we passed. There were obvious lights on in windows shrouded by curtains. There were families watching TV and tucking their kids into bed. And here I was — just feet from a front door that had welcomed someone's extended family member for Thanksgiving — and I was fearing for my life. I caught myself being stupid and narrow-minded. My fear was really based on nothing. I thought about the possibility of someone driving past my house and thinking the same unfounded thought.

There is no moral to this story, except maybe not to be so quick to be so judgmental. Y'know... that "book by its cover" thing.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

keep your hands to yourself

What the hell is the matter with men?

Recently, there has been a lot of talk and accusations and speculation in the news about the behavior of men. This "hot button" topic was ignited by the actions of one particular man who is seeking the office of President of the United States. He has been recorded, both on audio and video, happily bragging about his exploits with women. It seems — at least the way he tells it — that he could see no difference between whether his advances were welcome or unwelcome. I don't wish for this to turn into a political commentary. As a matter of fact, I have purposely steered clear of any sort of political content on this blog, save for this single post during the current campaign season. Instead, I wish to address the outrageous behavior I have witnessed from men in the workplace... and how, as a man, it horrifies me.

Years ago, my wife's friend was married to a man whose behavior could be deemed as "unsavory." He worked as a copier repairman, a job that required him to go from office to office to service out-of-commission copiers. I have worked in many offices and encountered many copier repairmen. Our interaction was usually limited to a cordial "hello" when they arrived, followed by direction to the copier in question. Then, an hour of so later, he'd return, straightening his tie with toner-stained hands and asking for a signature on his work order. And that's it. He's out of your life until the next time the copier acts up... and even then there's no guarantee that the same guy will show up. Well, the guy we knew was fired from his job for sexual harassment. It seems he made an inappropriate comment to a secretary (a woman he did not know) at an office where he was not an employee. I can't figure out how the opportunity arises to have a conversation with someone in a workplace in which you are a guest — let alone — breach the conversation with a lascivious remark. He managed to get another job at a rival copier repair company and — wouldn't you know — he was fired again for the exact same offense, but at a different office!

At my last job, I briefly worked with a department supervisor named Mike. Mike was an intense, frenetic bundle of nervous energy. My position, at the nation's largest after-market auto parts retailer, was in the production of the company's newspaper advertisements. I worked in a large room of cubicles with ten other artists, all doing the same thing — and that was preparing multi-page circulars for newspaper distribution. Due to the breakneck pace that needed to be maintained, we employed the services of a number of artists who worked as outside contractors (or freelancers, if you will). One morning, Mike was sitting with a female freelancer at the cubicle just behind mine. He was explaining how he wanted a particular ad composed. After she bristled several times at Mike's leering usage of the word "sweetheart," she bolted from her desk when he placed an uninvited hand upon her exposed knee. The young lady stormed in the department head's office and, in a hail of obscenity-laced shrieks, she made it clear that she would never set foot on these premises again. Mike was reprimanded, though not firmly enough. Within a day or two, he was the object of several grievances from a number of other female employees, including one long-time production artist who was subjected to Mike delivering a lengthy instruction while his eyes laser-focused on her chest. Once again, Mike was chided for his behavior, but not fired. He allegedly attended sensitivity classes, but I noticed no change in his demeanor. Eventually, Mike pushed a male worker too far and the guy — who bested Mike in the height department by nearly half a foot — had to be restrained. Mike quit the next day.

At my current job, a man in an executive position regularly spoke in derogatory terms about women (as well as various ethnic and religious groups). Almost immediately after taking the job, he began to use the foulest of language and make the most inappropriate comments at the most inappropriate times to the absolute wrong people. He also (so I heard) made unwanted physical contact with a few female members of my department.

Although he was reprimanded many times, he was not let go. I speculated (as had been the case with Mike) that filling his position was a long and grueling process. It was a procedure that the company did not want to undertake again so soon. So instead of doing the right thing, they just stuck it out with this guy until they could no longer take it. He was eventually removed for reasons that were never made public. One morning he was there and, late in the day, he wasn't.

I have been in the workforce for a little over thirty years. I have always maintained a cordial working relationship with all of my coworkers. I made sure, however, I never got too ingratiated on a personal level. I remained friendly enough to achieve the common goals as set by our employer.

I have had many female immediate superiors. I actually prefer working for a woman than a man. Women, I have observed, are harder and more dedicated workers, while men, for the most part, are egotistical blowhards who are more concerned with wielding authority than actually accomplishing the job at hand. (There are some women who fit this model, though they are few and far between.) Over the years, I did gain "work friends" — some of them female — that I have kept long after I left the company that brought those friendships to be. I like them very much, but I am still a bit uneasy hugging them.

I will say, however, that I have always been very careful with female coworkers. In my personal life, I am not a "hugger." I am not comfortable hugging anyone who is not my wife or my son. It's nothing personal. I like many people that I just won't hug. I admit that it can get awkward, especially since my wife has no problem being "huggy-kissy." In the workplace, I have always been very careful not to touch a female co-worker in any way. I will not (nor have I ever) compliment a female coworker on clothes, hair, jewelry... anything. I fear that any — any — innocent contact or attempted compliment could be misconstrued and jeopardize my employment status. You never really know how someone is going to react, so, as they say, "better safe than sorry." Very sorry.

It is a revealing reflection of current attitudes that, for the first time in the history of the United States, a major political party has nominated a woman as their presidential candidate... and the man she's running against is disgusting.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

no time left for you

We had another yard sale. This time, we went in a slightly different direction, offering more household items and less items from Mrs. Pincus's eBay store.

After spending the week filling our living room to overflowing capacity with a vast selection of items, we plastered the neighborhood with signs announcing the date and time. Early on Saturday morning, we arranged the stuff on our front lawn and driveway in such a way as to avoid another possible lawsuit. Then we waited for customers,

Meanwhile, our neighbors across the street, set up their own offerings on their lawn, They were the ones who first proposed the idea of a yard sale to my wife a few years ago. Rae dragged a few items down the long walkway that bisects their front lawn. She set a large, plastic storage bin upside down near the sidewalk as an improvised tabletop and placed a few small items on its bumpy surface. She pulled up a folding chair and also waited for customers.

Our lawn soon began to draw a few people whose attention had been distracted as they strolled down our street. However, I glanced across the street to see that Rae was nowhere in sight. Instead, the plastic bin was now filled with the items that once graced its base. A hand-written sign reading "FREE" was taped on the container's side, Rae's yard sale had lasted approximately four minutes... and that was being generous with the time. I imagined that her calendar was marked on this particular Saturday with a five minute block allotted for "YARD SALE" — including set-up time. I'm certainly not faulting her. Some people just don't have the patience for retail.

Or to sit with a lawn full of their shit.

Monday, October 3, 2016

sunday morning coming down

The Jewish New Year is upon us again. In years past, this was a pretty big deal around the Pincus household. But, more recently, as my view of religion has waned, it has become just another day. My wife, however, still chooses to embrace the traditions in which she was raised and I fully support her wishes. 

As in past years, my in-laws are hosting dinner for the first evening of the holiday. (I'm not sure how many days this one rages on for. Two, maybe three days.) Right now, as I write this, Mrs. Pincus is busy in the kitchen, baking some of her specialty treats to serve at the meal's completion. In addition to Mrs. P's homemade baked goods, she likes to have another traditional holiday.. um... dessert gracing the table — the esteemed taiglach.

Taiglach is a collection of small balls of baked dough, sometimes called called mandlen*, boiled in a sweet honey syrup, then mixed with nuts and dried fruit. The mixture is either distributed into small paper cups or piled high into a vague pyramid and pulled apart with the fingers... those fingers then brazenly licked accordingly to remove any remaining remnant of honey. And it often looks like this...
Sort of appetizing, in a quaint, old-world, peasant kind of way. I tasted it once, many years ago, around the time I had my first introductions to a lot of Jewish traditions of which I was not previously aware. It was a strange mingling of flavors, some of which I could not quite place. It was not bad. It just wasn't good and I chose not to partake of any more. My wife and her father gobbled it up as though it was manna. Perhaps, to them, with their long association with the dessert, it was. Me, however... I took a pass.

This morning, when my wife woke up, she remembered that she did not purchase a taiglach for this year's dinner. In her opinion (which I would hotly contest), it would not be Rosh Hashana without a big ol' taiglach occupying a special place on my mother-in-law's linen-covered (then clear-plastic-covered) holiday table. Quickly, she called a bakery (yes, these things are purchased in a bakery) around the corner from our house to see if they still had taiglach left, what with the rush for holiday baked goods at hand. The good folks at the bakery said they were well stocked. Mrs. P asked if I would pop over (a little bakery humor there) and pick one up. I got dressed, pulled on a pair of shoes and hoofed it over the the bakery, which is within walking distance from our home.

Situated in a compact, basement-level space behind a strip of commercial properties, the bakery is accessible by a narrow set of stairs that can only accommodate one person at a time — either entering or exiting. I allowed two gentlemen gripping bags of bagels and a woman carrying some sort of dry-looking cake to pass before I descended the steps into the bakery. The lit glass display cases were full of beige and crumbly baked goods, none which appeared the least bit appealing. A display of plastic containers, not unlike a corner deli uses to package a pint of cole slaw, were stacked high atop tall refrigerated case. The containers were identified by a cardboard sign with a single word scrawled across it — "Taiglach." I examined the display more closely. These things didn't remotely resemble any of the taiglach I had seen in the past thirty years. They, in fact, looked more like the leftovers of a big serving of sweet and sour soup from a Chinese restaurant — dark brown, thick and packed with beans and other unidentifiable ingredients. I exited the bakery and called Mrs. Pincus.

"They have some stuff that they are calling taiglach," I began when she answered the phone, "but it doesn't look like any taiglach I've ever seen."

She asked me to describe it and I related its similarity to Asian soup. She laughed and asked me to buy it anyway. I said I would, with the caveat that when I get it home, she may not say, "What the hell is this?" when she sees it.

I went back into the bakery and made my purchase. I took the bag containing the possible taiglach from the bakery lady's hand and proceed home. When I got home and pulled it from the bag, Mrs. P didn't seem as upset or confused as I had been, considering it looked like this...
... not the symmetrical, gooey sculpture we were both used to.

It doesn't really matter. I have no plans to eat it anyway.

* no, not the musical instrument, the "soup nuts."