Sunday, May 28, 2017

your mom threw away your best porno mag

I am on vacation right now, so I present a story that was originally published on my illustration blog in 2010. It is one of my favorite stories. If you haven't heard me tell it before, I think you'll get a kick out of it. If you have heard it before, you'll find it funny all over again.

My dad was a simple man and he loved simple things. He loved the Philadelphia Phillies. He loved breakfast at the Heritage Diner. And he loved pornography. 

I'm not talking about the occasional Playboy magazine that, as a nine-year old, I stumbled across hidden under some shirts in a bottom drawer or the lurid novel stashed behind the clothes hamper in the bathroom. Sure, my dad owned several copies of Playboy and Penthouse, but his tastes leaned towards the more — shall I say — exotic.  These weren't artful shots of lithe beauties, softly-lit and airbrushed to flawless perfection. I'm talking full-color, foreign-published, plain-brown-envelope, hard-core stuff. These tomes were filled with grainy photos of skanky women in various stages of undress, bent into impossible positions and inserting any one of a number of varied objects into any one of a number of body orifices. This was harsh and shocking stuff in the pre-Internet days of the 1960s. A thousand times more shocking than the sanitized material distributed by Hugh Hefner's fledgling publishing empire. 

My dad thought he was clever and wily and that only he had knowledge of his pornography collection. I can't understand how he could believe this while sharing a house with his wife and two young (and curious) sons. My father was terrible at hiding birthday gifts and his beloved Tastykake snacks  from his family and he was just as terrible at hiding his pornography collection. My mom used to joke that nothing could get past her, but my brother and I were not so sure she was joking. She knew about things that she couldn't possibly have known — from the whereabouts of a mysteriously missing cupcake to a failing grade brought home on a hidden school test. My father's porn accumulation was no exception. My mom was fully aware of my dad's explicit cache. On a semi-regular basis, while my dad was at work, my mom would gather up his X-rated stockpile. She'd load it into several heavy paper grocery-store bags until they were at the point of bursting. Then she'd cap each one with another inverted bag for extra security and privacy. She'd carry each bag, sometimes numbering four and five, to the curb and place them alongside our metal trash cans, where they would wait until the municipal sanitation department truck came for its weekly pick-up. After a few days, my father was obviously frantic. He would search for his pornography in the most casual and unassuming manner. My mom would smile silently and relish in his frustration. He couldn't very well come out and say to his wife, "Hey, where's all my pornography?" It was an unspoken ritual. They were both aware of what had transpired, but neither one would dare give verbal acknowledgement. 

One day, my mom decided the time was right to "clean house" of my dad's smut reserve. While my father was at work, she went from hiding place to hiding place and gathered the material up into the grocery bags. With the second bag securely capped on top of each bundle, she placed five or six of the obscenity-stuffed packages at the curb in front of our house. Soon, the trash collection truck appeared, slowly making its way up the block as the workers methodically emptied the neighbors' refuse into the truck's rear receptacle. When enough trash had filled the open cavity at the truck's posterior, one of the workers would pull a lever and the garbage would be compacted back into the large storage area that made up the bulk of the vehicle's size. Eventually, the truck rolled up to the Pincus curb. One of the workers ambled over to our trash cans, while the other hefted two of the paper sacks holding the lewd contents. He tossed them into the truck. They mingled with the coffee grinds and empty cans and the usual household discards as he returned to the curb for the remainder of the bags. After adding the last few bags to the repugnant mix, he decided the mass needed compacting to make room for the rest of our blocks' rubbish. He pulled the lever and the machinery roared to life, as a huge steel plate forced the garbage back into the depths of the truck's auxiliary stowage. Suddenly, under the pressure of the equipment and the sheer volume of trash, several of the bags burst, spewing their lascivious filling into the air. A cloud of vulgarity rained down. One worker realized what had happened and yelled "Stop! Stop!" as the other quickly disengaged the compacting switch. The two workers dropped to their knees and grabbed at the printed material that was now scattered in all directions, shoving it in their pockets and arranging it into neat little stacks. The driver climbed out of the cab to investigate and soon joined his colleagues in their pursuit of free porn. My mother watched, unnoticed from our kitchen window, as the trash collection was halted for a good twenty-five minutes, while the three sanitation workers reaped the spoils of hitting the erotica jackpot. When every last piece of my dad's collection had been retrieved, the truck continued on its way up the street. 

Inside the house, my mom chuckled to herself. She knew she had a great story that she wouldn't tell to me until years later. A story she never told my father.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

kicks just keep getting harder to find

When I was a kid, I wore sneakers all the time. They weren't fancy They were purely utilitarian. As a matter of fact, my mom used to buy them for me in the supermarket, from a hanging display at the end of an aisle. They were cheap, only a few bucks. They were generic, brandless hunks of canvas and rubber that we called "bobos." There was even a silly little rhyme about them that some kids made up, sung to the tune of Colonel Bogey's March from Bridge on the River Kwai. I went through a lot of pairs of bobos.

When I was in high school, I graduated to name-brand sneakers. No, not the up-and-coming leather models from Adidas and Nike. I was still content with the canvas and rubber versions, but now I was sporting the "Converse" name on my feet. They looked like the bobos of my youth, but they were obviously of better quality. They cost more so, ergo, they lasted longer. 

In 1982, I saw the teen comedy film Fast Times at Ridgemont High (right after I read the book). In a memorable scene, perennially-stoned surfer Jeff Spicoli (played by future Academy Award-winner Sean Penn in just his third screen appearance) slams a pair of black and white checkered Vans sneakers against his head to demonstrate just how wasted he is. From the moment I saw those Vans, I wanted them. I really wanted them. They were so cool. They were slip-on sneakers with no laces. Did I mention how cool they were?

However, I continued to wear my Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. And since I started wearing other types of shoes, I wasn't wearing sneakers as often, so my sneakers weren't wearing out as quickly and weren't being replaced as frequently. Then, Converse introduced a new line of patterns. Soon, I was wearing black canvas high-tops covered with little white skulls. I bought a pair of green camouflage sneakers and ones that featured bright red and yellow "hot rod" flames. I had a closet full of sneakers like I was Imelda Marcos.

After many years as a loyal Converse customer, I bought the greatest pair of sneakers I ever owned. They were bright orange with no laces! There was a thick elastic band under the tongue that kept them firmly attached to my feet. I wore those orange babies for years and years. I wore them on beaches from Atlantic City to the Caribbean. I wore them to outdoor music festivals. I wore them with and without socks. I wore them in the rain and in the sun. The were the most comfortable sneakers ever! But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Alas, the rubber soles got thin and began to pull away from the canvas upper. The canvas, too, was looking threadbare in a few spots. They served me well for years. But, sadly, I would need to buy a new pair of sneakers.

After pining for them for over thirty years, I finally purchased a pair of Vans. I had waited so long, that the black and white checkered style is now called "classic" by the manufacturer. I ordered them from the easily-navigable Vans website. When they arrived, I tried them on (but not in front of my orange Converses, so as not to make them jealous) and they were a bit too small. Vans customer service directed me to my local Vans store (in a mall I hadn't been to in years) and, in a transaction that lasted approximately ten minutes, I painlessly exchanged them for a pair that fit perfectly.

I have not had the opportunity to wear my new Vans. My wife and I are going on vacation in a few weeks. I may choose "break them in" on the white sands of the Bahamas. Or I may wear them around this weekend while running neighborhood errands.

I couldn't bring myself to throw away my orange Converses. Instead, I tossed them to the back of my closet, like a one-time great power hitter relegated to the bench late in his career. Maybe one day, they'll get called back to pinch hit.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

one more time

"I wish I knew how to quit you." — Jack Twist, Brokeback Mountain

Some people just don't know when to give up. I suppose my wife and I fall into that category, because Sunday night we found ourselves, once again, at Movie Tavern.

You remember our first encounter at Movie Tavern, the innovative, long-overdue concept theater that offers full restaurant service while you watch a first-run movie. Our initial experience was stellar and we anxiously anticipated our our next visit. Things went so smoothly, so flawlessly, that we could not imagine going to the movies any where else. 

That is, until our second visit. A few weeks after our phenomenal experience, Mrs. Pincus and I ventured back to Movie Tavern. This time, we were exposed to the real Movie Tavern, an unorganized, understaffed, chaotic system of mismanaged perpetual trainees. That evening ran like a textbook example of Murphy's law. Our dessert came out first. We got multiple entrees and appetizers that we did not order and, to cap things off, we were overcharged. A subsequent visit revealed that this was the norm and our first experience was the fluke.

We purposely steered clear of Movie Tavern for nearly a year. But, just this week, Mrs. P received a free pass from Movie Tavern for her May birthday. So, we went. Begrudgingly, but we went.

When I'm calling you...
With the entire movie-going population rushing to see the highly-anticipated sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy (a film I did not care for), my spouse and I opted instead for the live-action musical Beauty and the Beast. We purchased a single admission and surrendered Movie Tavern's birthday voucher for the other. Once ticketed, we entered the theater. A server greeted us almost immediately, although I could not understand a single word he said. He smiled, however, he mumbled his entire "welcome" spiel. We chose the "2 for $30" special that includes an appetizer, two entrees from a selected menu and two cookies for dessert. My wife and I follow the laws of kashrut and our house is strictly kosher. Out in the world, we eat as vegetarians. Actually, I am a vegetarian (a fish-eating pescetarian, if you want to get technical), but my still-carnivorous "better half" will not consume meat in restaurants. We selected the delicious-sounding deep-fried artichoke hearts. (Coincidentally, we just had these at another restaurant last weekend and, indeed, they were delicious.) Our entree choices were limited to only two that were vegetarian-friendly. We decided on portobello mushroom sandwiches, but were quickly informed by our server that they were not available this evening. Mrs. P expressed her disappointment. The server mumbled and pointed to the menu. I deciphered "pizza" from his muttering. We resigned to the flatbread pizza and again, we were told they, too, were unavailable. The server kept pushing the regular pizza, but we resisted. Losing patience, I decided to forgo the "special" and just get fish and chips. Surprise! Fish and chips were not available either. Our non-meat options were narrowing at the same pace as my patience. We settled on side salads and an order of meatless nachos to split. At this point, our server had disappeared. I pressed the convenient "call button" with which each seat is outfitted. The blue lights gleamed to tell me that my request for a server had been sent. We waited. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. Soon, a different member of the waitstaff arrived and apologized, cryptically, saying that our server was "otherwise occupied." Was he watching another movie? Was he getting a lesson in diction? Was he ever coming back? Our back-up server took our salad-and-nachos order and explained that the reason so many items were unavailable was they are transitioning to a new menu and would no longer be carrying some current offerings. Wow! Someone took the time for a little customer service.

Our food arrived after the theater had darkened and the coming attractions had already commenced. Eating a salad in the dark was an unexpected challenge. I was forced to consume some components that I would normally relegate to the far side of my plate. But, eating by the light of a flickering screen twenty feet away from me, I'm sure I swallowed a few otherwise shunned tomato wedges. Nachos are another story. I would not recommend eating nachos in the dark. Nachos, when shared with someone with whom you are close, are usually a "finger food." But, without being able to see what you're reaching for, nachos become a sloppy, gooey heap of unidentifiable individual ingredients. While gingerly reaching for the triangular silhouette of a corn chip, I stuck my thumb into a wet mixture of refried beans and shredded lettuce. As I navigated the morsel towards my mouth, I could feel rivulets of pico de gallo running down my chin. We had to wait until a daylight scene (of which there are few) or brightly-lit segment (like the famous "ballroom" scene, which in this version, is not especially luminous) in order to see how close we were to emptying our plate.

Midway through the film and our meal, our server stealthily slunk by and dropped off our check. When the movie ended, I had to track him down to pay. And then, he vanished with my credit card. A few other servers, who were clearing dishes and gathering trash, asked if we needed help. I said I was waiting for my credit card to be returned. They all offered the same reply: "Oh sorry. No problem." Each one echoed the same apologetic sentiment like a chorus of confessors. Finally, our server returned to the theater and handed me my credit card, repeating the "Oh sorry. No Problem." refrain. I got the feeling that the staff at Movie Tavern get a lot of practice apologizing, as they do it quite often.

As my wife and I walked to our car, I imagined this would be the last time we would make this trip. But, Mrs. P told me that earlier in the evening she tweeted "Why do we continue to subject ourselves to Movie Tavern?" and tagged @MovieTavern.

Yesterday, they responded with a private message offering their patented apology and complementary admission and thirty dollars in food vouchers for a return visit. Hopefully, I won't get another blog post out of it,

Sunday, May 7, 2017

this is the house we used to live in

We've been what you call "suburbanites" for over thirty years. That means we make our home just outside of a big city. In our case, the city in question is Philadelphia, the "City of Brotherly Love" and the fifth largest city in the United States. Recently, my wife had an errand to run that took her into Northeast Philadelphia.

For those not from the area, Philadelphia encompasses 142 square miles and is comprised of a bunch of neighborhoods with clear boundaries delineated by streets or natural framing like rivers (and Philadelphia's got two big ones running right through it). Some of Philadelphia's neighborhoods are well-known outside of the city. Places like Society Hill, Italian Market and Old City have gotten exposure in movies and television. But there are smaller areas with colorful and somewhat puzzling names (like Graduate Hospital*, Strawberry Mansion and Fishtown) that are only a few blocks in diameter, but whose inhabitants fiercely defend the borders with pride.

The area known as Northeast Philadelphia, or "The Northeast" to locals, is situated in the far, far reaches of the Philadelphia city limits. It's a fairly large section, devoid of personality but overflowing with cookie-cutter housing developments and faceless shopping centers. Among a smattering of boast-worthy facts, Northeast Philadelphia is the birthplace of yours truly. I grew up there. Went to school there and, when I got married, got the fuck outta there as quickly as my legs could carry me. When my father passed away in 1993, I sold his house and, from that point forward, did my very best to avoid The Northeast as much as possible. As executor of his estate (Ha! "Estate," as though my father was John Rockefeller! He died in debt and left the house in which I grew up a shambles!), I was required to sit alongside my attorney at the settlement after we took the first offer on the house. I sat silently across a large table from the gentleman who was purchasing my childhood home. During the proceedings, I was asked about the origins of a lien on the property that was filed in 1977. I smiled, cleared my throat and explained that, at sixteen years-old, my parents were not in the habit of discussing their financial obligations with me. Then, the imminent buyer expressed his dismay at the current structural state of the house. "It's in worse shape than we originally thought.," he lamented. I shrugged my shoulders as I signed the last legal document. "Oh well," I smirked.

In the years since my father died, I have only ventured back into the old neighborhood a handful of times and those were handfuls too many. A great many of the houses and business have been reconfigured, though most have been boarded up or torn down. The Northeast has become a faded ghost of the charmless region it once was.

When my wife was out on her errand, my cellphone buzzed with the arrival of a photo she sent to me. I tapped the icon on my phone screen and an image popped up that did not look at all familiar.
But before I could reply with a question, she quickly sent me this photo:
Along with the caption: "This lady lives at your house now."

Wow! This was a picture of my parents' house. My childhood dwelling. The first Pincus homestead. I didn't recognize it. The last time I saw it, it was painted a faded avocado green, the result of my brother's handy work in his teen years. It didn't have those bay big windows or that fancy front door. That little patio is also a new addition... just like the cement "lady" on the lawn.

I tried to conjure memories from my childhood and that house. I remembered the many times I pushed a lawn mover across that grass, while the smell of freshly-baked cookies from the nearby Nabisco factory enveloped the neighborhood. That was pleasant. But then, I remembered riding my bike to a neighborhood sandwich shop to get lunch for my mom and me. While I was inside, some older kids stole my bike and the ones who didn't participate in the theft stuck around to spit anti-Semitic slurs at me. I remember getting pummeled with snowballs on my way home from the school bus stop. I remembered the time Dougie Piller shot me in the back of the head with a BB gun.

I quickly tried to think of fonder memories. And suddenly I realized that those memories all happened at my current house. The house I share with my wife and, until recently, my son. All of my really great memories — my happiest memories — were created over the past thirty years. Not that my childhood was unhappy. It was just.... eh. Average. Uneventful. My adult life just overshadowed my childhood one-hundred fold. That's not bad. That's good.

My elementary school seems to have made improvements, as well.
It's funny, because when I was a student there, hate felt right at home.

* the name sticks although the actual hospital closed ten years ago.