Sunday, June 26, 2016

we are each other

I met Mrs. Pincus in February 1982. I wish I could say differently, but, it was not love at first sight. As a matter of fact, she thought I was the most obnoxious person she had ever met and I was hitting on her girlfriend. But, soon, a spark ignited. We had a lot in common and we fell in love and the rest is Pincus history.

While we explored our common interests, there was one subject we decided was off-limits — music. We decided if we ever ran out of things to talk about, we would ask each other: "What kind of music do you like?" and that would pretty much be the end. We would have exhausted all there was to discuss between us. So, we never — in 34 years — asked the question.

But, of course, we knew. How could we not? I had records and tapes when we met and so did Mrs. P. Jeez! We even went record shopping together. We darn well knew each other's favorite band. Mine was Queen and hers was The Grateful Dead. We couldn't have picked a more opposite pairing if we tried. Queen, with its flashy stage show and multiple costume changes, was noted for its chameleon-like musical style falling somewhere between Led Zeppelin and George Formby. The Grateful Dead, on the other hand, was a group of tenacious, psychedelic 60s holdovers, purveying its inimitable brand of atmospheric opuses to the spacey delight of the most rabid and loyal fans in the history of modern music. I was taken to my first Grateful Dead concert one month after I met the future Mrs. P. I was bored and unimpressed. I took my bride-to-be to her first (and, to date, only) Queen concert a few weeks later. She hated it.

I went to a dozen or so additional Dead shows in the years following. Mrs. P, however, was spared prolonged exposure as Queen had eliminated North America from all of its subsequent touring schedules. Soon afterward, Queen's flamboyant chanteur, Freddie Mercury, passed away. Four years later, The Grateful Dead's iconic sage, Jerry Garcia died.

Then things got eerie.

Considering how different — how polar opposite — Queen and The Grateful Dead were, their fate took a very similar path. Very similar.

Liar, liar everything you do is sin
Immediately after Freddie Mercury died, the remaining three members of Queen laid low, shunning the spotlight after a tribute concert for their departed colleague. Bassist John Deacon retired from the music business entirely. Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor began to get a little antsy. Obviously they were not ready to call it a career. They had more music left in them. They soon teamed up with former Bad Company/Free singer Paul Rodgers and mounted a tour called "Queen + Paul Rodgers." They performed songs from the Queen catalog as well as hits from Bad Company. They frequently capped off their shows with the popular Free anthem "All Right Now." More recently, May and Taylor recruited American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert, a much younger vocalist with decidedly more pop-leaning talents, to fill Mercury's glittery shoes. At the same time, Brian May has been busily licensing Queen's music to every commercial entity that will wave a fistful of money in his direction. Queen songs have been featured in ads for PetSmart, Lay's Potato Chips, Diet Coke, The Gap and others. Brian May, taking the role as earthly spokesman on behalf of his late collaborator, has said (with a straight face), "Freddie would have approved of this." In the 25 years since Mercury's death, and despite several lucrative tours, there has been no new music attributed to Queen. They're just resting on their laurels.

He's gone, gone,
nothin's gonna bring him back
Faithful Dead Heads predicted the demise of their heroes in the wake of Jerry Garcia's death. Surprisingly, the band soldiered on, forming and reforming as "The Other Ones," "The Dead," "Furthur" and currently "Dead and Company," each version including a revolving roster of former members of the original, Jerry-less Grateful Dead, fortified with additional musicians. Their repertoire consisted of the 50-plus year Dead library of songs plus a number of familiar covers that had become concert staples. In a scene right out of the Mark Wahlberg film Rock Star, founding (and surviving) member Bob Weir once shared vocal duties with John Kadlecik, the leader of The Dark Star Orchestra, a Grateful Dead tribute band. Now, they are back on tour with the addition of John Mayer, a much younger guitarist with decidedly more pop-leaning talents. In the 21 years since Garcia's death, and despite several lucrative tours, there has been no new music attributed to The Grateful Dead. They're just resting on their.... well, you know.

It's interesting how two bands from different backgrounds with different musical directions ended up in such a similar situation. And, of all the bands in the world, my wife and I chose those two bands as our respective favorites.

The golden road to unlimited devotion. Funny how love is.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard

After much preparation, we had another yard sale at Chez Pincus this past weekend. In the days and weeks prior, a diligent and determined Mrs. Pincus gathered loads of items that she deemed no longer worthy of the Pincus Home Collection. The various household cast-offs were combined with a selection of surplus items from my wife's eBay store and the whole lot lay in silent repose until early Saturday morning, when we dragged every last piece out on to our front lawn and newly-paved driveway, where we arranged everything into a pleasing display. Pleasing enough to entice someone to get this stuff out of my life once and for all.

The weather was on our side that day and the crowd was fairly steady, thanks to (no lie!) three hundred signs we stapled onto nearly every utility pole in our neighborhood. Mrs. P, wrapped up in her "I mean business" change apron, performed a nimble retail ballet, as she flit from one customer to another, answering questions, making change and — cha-CHING! — moving merchandise.

During the course of the day, I mostly just sat on my ass and watched. After emptying my living room and dining room of the piles of assorted "treasures," I decided that the actual sale was best left handled by my spouse, with her sharp business prowess and sweet interpersonal skills — two qualities in which I am sorely deficient. So, I sat. With a big cup of coffee in my hand, I parked myself on the edge of my porch and sat.

Look at this stuff...
Although I was content to sit silently, I knew that, since this was my house, I would be called upon to answer some questions about the items strewn about my property. So, unavoidably, I fielded an assortment of some of the most idiotic questions and comments. One man strolled up our front walkway, stopping before a narrow wooden bin filled with the remnants of our once-proud record collection. He withdrew a copy of a 1997 greatest hits release by the British ska band Madness. He held the album up for me to see. "Madness.," he chuckled as he read the printing on the cover, as though I couldn't read it myself. I offered a cockeyed, uncomfortable smile and thought, "I know, idiot, it's my fucking album." The man replaced the album, turned around and walked away.
...isn't it neat?

Another fellow picked up a glossy photo of Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler that my son had decided he could live without. This man, as if mimicking the "Madness" guy, showed the photo to me and pointed to it. "Mark Knopfler.," he said, and then put it back in with our album inventory and strolled away.

Wouldn't you think...
Since moving into his own house, my son has slowly (very slowly) begun to dismantle and pare down a twenty-plus year collection of stuff that had accumulated in his former bedroom. He has taken some mementos to his house, while others have been discarded and still others have been offered at one of our previous yard sales. One of those items, an acoustic guitar, was now perched on the cement steps that lead to our front porch. There were several inquiries about the instrument — an introductory model from the good folks at Sam Ash Guitars. One older gentleman in a tie-dyed shirt and a long, gray ponytail fastened with a schmatta to keep it in place, asked the price of the guitar and if he could inspect it. My son grabbed the zipper pull on the case and traced the zipper all the way around the shape of the bag until the guitar was revealed. "I haven't played it in a long time.," my son said as he removed the guitar from the case and handed it to the potential customer. The man peered down his nose at the instrument. "Looks like the bridge is gettin' pulled up by the strings. I can adjust the strings fer ya.," he said, his spindly fingers daintily turning the tuning pegs, his eyes under his furrowed brow focused on the oxidated strings, "I guess it hasn't been played in a while." My son rolled his eyes and whispered to me, "Didn't I just say that?" The man asked, "What're ya askin' fer it?" My son replied, "A hundred including the case. Interested?" "Naw," the guy answered, "I'll adjust the strings for you, though. Got any other guitars?" My son frowned with disgust and whipped the guitar out of the guy's hands and zipped it back up into the case. collection's complete?

In preparation for this sale, I went through my closet and whittled my wardrobe down to just the clothes I regularly wear. I made several large stacks of pants and jeans that I haven't worn in years or no longer fit me or both. The always-enterprising Mrs. P suggested we should put them out at the yard sale rather than just donating them to a local old clothing drop-off box. So, a bunch of my clothes now sat beside a bundle of bent snow shovels and a tall, narrow set of Ikea CD storage shelves that survived our flooded basement. Much to my surprise, a few men furiously unfolded and examined my jeans, each selecting several pairs for purchase at two bucks a pop. While I was happy to sell them, I felt it a bit unnerving that some dudes are now gonna be walking around my neighborhood wearing my pants. Pretty creepy, if you really think about it

What the guys go crazy for.
Throughout the course of the morning and afternoon, I think more people asked about the beautiful set of connected wooden auditorium seats that we have on our front porch. My wife found them in an antique store. They were rescued from an elementary school in Atlanta, Georgia (...or so we were told. Great antiques must have a great story attached to them) and ended up at our home. We did our best to block the chairs with boxes and empty bins, but still, people craned their necks for a better view and asked, "Oooh! How much are the movie theater seats." I offered the same answer to all, "They are bolted to the porch. If you want 'em, you have to buy the house."

Overall, our sale was a success and we moved a lot of unwanted items out of our house. We held on to some things, storing them on our back porch for one more public offering at a future yard sale. Some items, however, had overstayed their welcome and were amassed in the back of my wife's SUV for donation and eventual tax deduction. But, the real lesson learned here is: "Boy, people are strange."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

they say the neon lights are bright on Broadway

I am no fan of live theater — plays or musicals. I know, it makes no sense, as I am a huge fan of live music (i.e. concerts). I don't know what it is. Actually, I do know what it is. I don't like the over-exaggerated movements and the shouting of dialogue and songs and actors trying their very best to upstage each other. (I wrote about my dislike for live theater here and here.) 

I am also no fan of televised awards shows. Despite my dislike, I have watched many of them. I've even stuck with most of them until the bitter, tedious end of a broadcast that usually runs well over its allotted time. For the most part, awards shows are long, sprawling, sometimes aimless marathons of self-congratulation and inside jokes, punctuated by celebrities — both big and small — who make it very clear that they should not appear before a camera without a script.

But, on Sunday night, I watched the 70th Annual Tony Awards. And I actually enjoyed it.

Dancing > interviewing
Because of my disinterest in theater, I was not familiar with any of the nominees, save for current media juggernaut, the unavoidable Hamilton. This year's festivities were hosted by James Corden, host of his own talk show on the Tiffany Network following Stephen Colbert. I have seen Corden's show a few times and, while I can say that his interviewing skills leave a lot to be desired, the guy is undeniably talented. He sings, he's funny, he's self-effacing and he's personable. Plus, there wasn't really anything on Sunday night.

I was surprised by how many shows I actually knew, mostly because the current Broadway season is fraught with revivals and musical versions of big-screen movies re-imagined for the stage. I was also surprised by how many actors I recognized — seasoned Frank Langella, enigmatic Michael Shannon, pixieish Michelle Williams, the lovely Jane Krakowski and that redheaded guy from Modern Family (a show I never saw, but I have spotted him in commercials). The brief musical highlights were energetic and richly produced, a stage full of original cast members giving their all, as though it were opening night once again. In between musical numbers, the cameras cleverly switched to the front entrance of the majestic Beacon Theater as the cast of a different current show performed a compact rendition of a song from a classic Broadway musical, much to delight of the crowds gathered on the sidewalk. (The young cast of Spring Awakening belting out "I've Got Life" from Hair was especially amusing.)

Love is love is love is love
I think what I enjoyed most was the heartfelt sincerity expressed by each and every winner in their acceptance speeches. The actors, actresses, directors and assorted "behind the scenes" people all seemed genuinely appreciative, grateful and humbled. Most fought back tears and some didn't bother to fight, delivering their gramercy through red-rimmed eyes and quavering voices. It was truly touching and emotional and very real. Everyone looked happy and happy to be with other happy colleagues. It was especially touching as it was hours after the massacre at an Orlando nightclub in which 50 people were senselessly murdered by a hate-filled miscreant with an assault rifle. It was an incident that hit close to home for a great many of the evening's honorees. Yet they felt the right thing to do, the only thing to do, was to celebrate life. They expressed their support for their fallen brethren, as well as their anger and frustration. There was an overwhelming feeling of love and camaraderie that was palpable to the home viewer.

The entire three-and-a-half hours flew by. It was joyous and sad and entertaining.

And real.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles

I have seen many interesting sights and scenarios in the short daily walk I take from the train station to the office building in which I work and back again at the end of my work day. Today, however, I witnessed something that could only be described as extraordinary.

After passing through the revolving doors that empty out on to the 16th Street sidewalk, I made my way towards the intersection at Market Street. Here, as I do every evening at this time, I would cross and head down the staircase that leads to the underground railroad station that offers train service to the surrounding Philadelphia suburbs. At the corner, a crowd of briefcase-toting men and women gathered and impatiently waited for the light to change, allowing pedestrian traffic to safely traverse the street. 

I stood in the center of the crowd. Above the horn honks and general city noises, I heard a distinctively male voice. And it was yelling. And it was a pretty loud yell. I looked towards the source of the yell and saw a low, silver, sporty-looking car waiting for the light to change. It boasted very dark tinted windows on all sides and its front bumper was well into the pedestrian walkway that was boldly painted on the blacktop. A man in an electric wheelchair was stopped directly in front of the car's bumper. He was close enough to touch the car's hood. And, taking full advantage of his proximity. he began to beat his clenched fists on the aforementioned hood. The man screamed indistinguishable words, emphasizing several sounds with another pounding on the car's front end. From the few words I could to make out, I understood that the car was blocking the wheelchair ramp that is built into the curb, denying the man unimpeded access to his sidewalk destination.

Suddenly, I saw something I had only heard about. Something referenced in many books of religious worship and stories passed on from generation to generation. Something that is the basis for average men and women to be elevated to the exulted position of "Pope" or even "Saint." I watched, along with a stunned crowd of my fellow office workers, as the man slowly — but steadily — excised himself from his captive wheelchair. He rose up, gripping the armrests with his large, clamped hands. He removed his feet from the footrests and placed them flatly and firmly on the black macadam of the street. He stood. He actually stood. I think I heard an angelic choir lift their voices in jubilation. I swear the heavens opened up and a bright beam of light illuminated the formerly incapacitated gentle soul. Once a prisoner in that wheelchair, now he stood strong, certain and unencumbered. He walked with deliberate strides in the direction of the driver's side of the car as the crowd silently marveled at the divine exhibition on display right before our eyes. The newly-healed blessee opened his mouth. I expected words of praise and devotion and gratitude. Instead, I heard him holler: "You're in the fucking crosswalk, you motherfucking pussy."

A miracle indeed. Hallelujah.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

funeral for a friend

I've been to a lot of cemeteries, but I've only been to a handful of funerals. The cemetery visits are part of a hobby that has spanned almost a decade. I like to take pictures of the graves of famous people. (And — believe me — "famous" is a relative term.) I have been to over two dozen cemeteries to search for and chronicle the graves of the famous. On the rare chance when I find myself at a cemetery for an actual interment after a funeral service, I find myself wandering around the grounds, searching for the plot of a noble departed. 

Just last week, a dear friend of my in-laws passed away. I attended the funeral with my wife. After the service, we joined the procession to a nearby cemetery for the burial. We carefully navigated the narrow pathways in the cemetery, following the helpful blue arrows placed by the groundskeepers, and were directed to the plot. My wife pulled our big SUV along the side of the pavement, the passenger-side wheels just resting on the grass. I got out of our vehicle and looked around. The area looked familiar. Very familiar. The last time I was at this cemetery was in 1994, over twenty years earlier, for the unveiling of my father's grave marker. (Just after the first year of a loved one's passing, in Jewish tradition, mourners, family and friends gather at the grave site to ceremonially "place" and dedicate the grave marker. My father was not a follower of most Jewish traditions, but Jews of every level of observance usually participate in this ritual.) Just before the actual burial began, as more cars from the procession were snaking around the cemetery, I wandered off to find my parents' graves. It was weird how the surrounding were immediately familiar, despite the amount of time that had passed since my last visit. I recognized a low chain-link fence that separated the grounds from the backyards of the neighboring homes. I recognized the houses that jutted above the trees, in spite of two decades of growth. I slowly strolled along a line of flush-to-the-ground plaques, reading each Semitic name to myself. At the very end of the row, I came upon my parents' graves. Two small, sun-baked bronze plaques — unidentified and probably unnoticed for years. The last time I saw these plaques, my son (who now owns his own house) was entertained by Thomas the Tank Engine and my politically-rambunctious nephew was just a few months into this world. 

After my mother died, my father visited the cemetery regularly in the two years until he joined his wife in the adjacent plot. He would call me after nearly every visit and ask if I had been there yet. When I told him I had not, he would say, "When you're ready, you'll go." My desire to not go to my mother's grave had nothing to do with "being ready." I just never saw the point. What would I do there? How long was I supposed to stay? Ten minutes? An hour? I certainly wasn't going to talk to a gravestone. And, as far as I was concerned, my mother, most certainly, was not there. I was not going to jabber aloud about my day with an expanse of grass. After my father died and after his unveiling a year later, I knew it would be very unlikely that I would ever return for a visit. Unless I was at another funeral... and, sure enough, that's exactly what brought me back.

So, here I stood in a cemetery, a position in which I have found myself many times over the years. Once again, I found myself looming over a pair of headstones I had successfully  located. So, I did the only thing I instinctively knew to do. Something that I have done countless times in this same situation: I took a picture. Then I texted that picture to my brother, since I wasn't sure if he had considered himself "ready" for a trip to the cemetery.

Nevertheless, as the text exchange with my brother reveals, there's always time for a little dark humor in the "gravest" of scenarios: