Sunday, June 25, 2017

baby elephant walk

Mrs. Pincus, who is way more active on Facebook than I am, got a message from someone with whom she is not connected. "Brian Roadblock," my wife announced as she gazed at her phone with a puzzled expression.

The name was not recognized, at first, but within a few short seconds there was something familiar about it. And it jarred me.

My paternal grandfather died in 1970 when I was nine years-old. After his funeral, mourners returned to my house for a shiva, a traditional gathering of family and friends after a Jewish funeral. My house was packed with people representing my father's side of the family, most of whom I barely knew. My father was an only child. His father (my recently-deceased grandfather) was also an only child and my paternal grandmother was despised by most of her relatives (and rightly so). Later in the day, a young man entered my house. Everyone welcomed him as "Stan." He looked vaguely familiar although he was a total stranger. However, I noticed that everyone in my father's extended family knew him. Even my mother knew him. My brother — a recent Bar Mitzvah — and I scratched our heads and briefly discussed who this guy could be. As the day became evening and wound down to a close, guests said their goodbyes and offered their condolence to my father. When the house was empty of guests, my mother began to gather empty cups and paper plates that seemed to have lost their way to the trash. My father, never one to help with "womens' work," had settled himself in "his chair" in the den and lit up a cigarette. My brother and I confronted our parents.

"Who was that guy 'Stan' that everybody knew?," we asked.

My parents froze and exchanged "the jig is up" glances. They hemmed and hawed and cleared their throats. After stalling for way too long, my mom and dad sat us down and came clean.

My father was married before he married my mother in November 1955. His brief first marriage produced a son, Stan. My father had just divorced Stan's mother when he was fixed up on a blind date with my mother in February 1955. At the start of the date, my father made his intentions very clear. "I am just coming off of a divorce," he told his date (my mother) "and I am not looking for a serious relationship." My mother, a 30 year-old bleached blond doppelgänger for actress Barbara Stanwyck, was a free spirit and not looking for a serious relationship either. But something must have triggered ol' Cupid to pierce their collective hearts with his arrow of love, because they were married a mere nine months after that first date. In the early days of their marriage, my mom and dad took five year-old Stan on weekends, treating the youngster to a day at the zoo or the movies or out for an ice cream soda.  These outings were regular occurrences until 1957 when my mother gave birth to my brother Max. My parents no longer needed Stan to play the part of surrogate son. They had Max, who was their own. Meanwhile, my dad's first wife had remarried. Her new husband adopted Stan and his Pincus name was abandoned is favor of his "new dad's" sobriquet: "Roadblock."

In 1961, little Josh completed the new Pincus family. A larger distance grew between my father and Stan and the two rarely saw each other again. My grandmother, however, maintained a close and loving relationship with Stan, while constantly hounding and belittling my father and treating my mother like shit. She antagonized my mother on a regular basis, criticizing her cooking, her housekeeping, her child-rearing - her every move. My relationship with my grandmother could only be described as "cordial." Not particularly "grandmotherly." She was never warm or welcoming. I remember her playful insults, often referring to me as "bucktoothed."

But Stan! Stan was the "golden child." He was rewarded for being the first grandchild, often lavished with gifts and money and love. My brother and I, the products of the distasteful union between my father and that woman, as my mother was no doubt referred to in private, were treated cordially, never with warmth. My grandmother fancied herself "benevolent" when she offered my brother and me rusty cans of Borden's Frosted Shakes when we accompanied my father on a visit. She exhibited an affectionate and comforting rapport with Stan, while her demeanor towards the second round of Pincus progeny was as cold as the chest freezer from which she extracted those chalky commercial milkshakes.

It was quite a blow to learn that a) my father was married prior to marrying my mother, b) I had a half-brother and c) that semi-sibling's existence was kept a guarded secret for a decade. After my parents concluded their lengthy tale of familial deception, we all sat silent for a long time. My brother and I thought about the novelty of having a new found brother. It was pretty cool. All was forgiven for this little indiscretion (after all, there would be more indiscretions) and life went on.

My grandmother passed away in 1995. She outlived my mother and my father. As a matter of fact, just after my father died, my brother and I drove to her apartment to inform her that her only son had died. When we told her the news, she scowled and angrily questioned, "Well, who is going to take care of me?" 'Cause that's the kind of person my grandmother was. Selfish, self-centered and self-serving. Except, evidently, to Stan and his family.

My grandmother's question was answered when my wife generously volunteered to tend to the old shrew's needs. Mrs. P did her grocery shopping (and was routinely castigated for her selections). She contacted a cleaning service to tidy up my grandmother's tiny apartment (there were repeated complaints about that, as well). She managed my grandmother's finances, writing checks for bills and making sure a positive balance was preserved in the account. That is until my grandmother accused Mrs. Pincus of stealing from her and had her unceremoniously removed from the account. 'Cause that's the kind of person my grandmother was. However, when my grandmother finally kicked, the eternally-nice Mrs. P single-handedly cleaned out and emptied her apartment of clothing, furniture and knick-knacks. She donated what she could. The rest she sold on eBay, splitting the consequential income evenly between our son and my nephew (Max's son), Curiously, Stan and his beneficiary family were noticeably absent from the "tying up loose ends" process. They showed up late for the graveside funeral that Mrs. Pincus had arranged, but displayed requisite somber facades nevertheless. At the sparsely attended ceremony's conclusion, Stan approached my wife with his young son attentively by his side. With a forlorn expression on his face, he asked Mrs. P if any of my grandmother's extensive collection of elephant figurines were in our possession. My grandmother was a lifelong, backwards thinking, narrow-minded, bigoted Nixon-loving Republican. She accumulated a vast assemblage of figures, in a variety of materials, all in some form of an elephant — the symbol of her beloved Grand Old Party. With nary an emotion, my wife reported that the entire contents of my grandmother's apartment was liquidated. Nothing remained. We all started towards our respective automobiles and we never saw Stan and his family again. That chapter of of our lives had ended.

Until a new, revised edition was released just this week — in Facebook form.

Stan's son Brian — now grown — took a shot in the dark and contacted Mrs. Pincus, tracing her though her married name and Philadelphia location. In his unsolicited salvo, he asked if she was the granddaughter-in-law of Molly Pincus and the half-sister-in-law of Stan Roadblock. Mrs. Pincus looked at the message for a long time before issuing a response. Finally, confirming her identity, she asked was there a reason for his puzzling inquiry. His near-immediate reply first expounded on his love for "his favorite great-grandmother" and their special, loving relationship. Then, he asked a twenty-one year old question: "I was wondering if you had any of her elephant figurines?" He explained that he began collecting elephant-related memorabilia in an effort to keep her memory alive. He would love to have one that actually belonged to her as part of his collection.

My grandmother's possessions — all of them — were sold two decades ago. I haven't given them or her a thought in twenty years. I haven't given thought to Stan and his family in as many years, as well. I get a bit steamed when I hear someone tell me what a lovely, caring woman my grandmother was. She was not. She was a vicious, vindictive, hate-filled, scheming troublemaker. I don't care what Brian Roadblock says. I voiced my opinion to my wife and asked her to take that into consideration when she decided to answer Brian's question.

Mrs. P responded. "The contents of Molly's apartment was sold over twenty years ago. I do not have anything that belonged to her. Although I appreciate your fond memories of your great-grandmother, please understand that it was a much different story with her other family. Molly treated my husband Josh, his brother Max and their families poorly. She was mean and nasty to both Josh and Max's mother and father, leaving us with less-than-fond memories."

We thought that would be it. The final final end of the story. But, alas, it was not. Brian sent Mrs. Pincus a Facebook friend request.

She deleted it.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

tell it like it is

Mrs. Pincus and I recently returned from our fifth cruise together. It was a relaxing, work-free week of kitchy shows, fun activities, forgettable excursions and stuffing our faces with food as though we were prisoners offered our final meal before lethal injections were administered.

The glorious buffet aboard the Norwegian Gem.
As I said, this is my fifth cruise. I admit that I balked at cruising for many years until I finally gave in and — much to my surprise — I enjoyed the experience. Honestly, what's not to enjoy? Well, you'd be surprised by how many people do not enjoy themselves. In between numerous visits to the endless buffet and reclining on one of hundreds of chaise lounges, my wife and I met a couple who told us that this particular cruise was their sixty-first. That's correct! They are veterans of sixty-one cruises — with no signs of stopping any time soon. (They have another already planned for the latter part of this year.) The wife, Lil, told us about a website called Cruise Critic, sort of a exclusively for cruises. So, after a week of self-imposed cellphone deprivation (Internet rates on a cruise ship are ridiculously expensive, besides, it would've seriously cut into my buffet time.), I logged on to the Cruise Critic website to see what other people thought of the Norwegian Gem, the ship on which we sailed.

Look at this selection!
Now, I am well aware of how cruel the internet can be. People have no problem voicing their most vicious opinions in a public forum under the protective guise of internet anonymity. (As an example and a barometer, may I direct your attention to the one-star reviews of The Diary of Anne Frank on As I perused the reviews of recent cruises posted by vacationers whom, I assume, experienced a similar cruise to the one from which Mrs. P and I just returned, I was stunned. There were complaints about every single thing. The beds were too hard. The beds were too soft. The pillows were too hard. The pillows were too soft. There wasn't enough food available for my strict specialized lactose-intolerant, gluten-free, tree nut-sensitive dietary restrictions. The food was horrible. They ran out of food. They didn't have the right kind of Cheerios. The staff was rude. The other passengers were rude. The bartenders didn't know how to mix cocktails. The bartenders were rude. The bartenders were rude when they were trying to mix cocktails. The casino was too smoky. The casino wasn't smoky enough, The hot tubs were closed at 4 o'clock in the morning. The bitching went on and on. The more I read, the more absurd the complaints got. One, in particular, spun a tale about an abusive relationship that played out in the cabin next to the reviewer. Despite several complaints to security, nothing was immediately done to quiet the loud threats emanating from the paper-thin walls of his neighbor's cabin. Eventually, the reviewer related, the couple were separated and the husband was thrown into the ship's jail for the remainder of the cruise. (I seriously doubt that there is a "ship's jail.")

Look, I complain about plenty of things. Some things I complain about, I'll admit, are stupid. For instance, I marvel at how people lined up at the breakfast buffet give you the "look of death" for taking the last waffle from the serving tray, as though there aren't going to be ten more tons of waffles coming in about three seconds... and all week! But, I digress.

I've been on five cruises and, unless you've been forced to walk the plank or ordered to swab the poopdeck (heh! heh! poopdeck!), there is literally nothing to complain about. You're on vacation! You're relaxed! You're waited on hand and foot!  There are endless supplies of food! Endless! And many people (not me, but many people) are drunk for the entire week. What on earth (or sea) is there to complain about?

But, humans do what humans do best. And humans do love to complain.

And complain they shall.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

all the little birdies go tweet tweet tweet

I love to be a smart-ass and I love the internet, so that must be the reason that I love Twitter. Twitter allows me to combine my two favorite activities. (If Twitter opened an all-you-can-eat buffet, I'd be in heaven!)

Remember this day-long exchange I had with @speakyteeth, the cryptic handle used by Arlene Van Dyke, wife of beloved actor/singer/dancer Dick van Dyke? Then, there was this comment I made that could have led to the end of a friendship. And who could forget my tête-à-tête with @RoryBBellows1* who took it upon himself to come to the defense of local pseudo-lord Philly Jesus, when I aimed an electronic salvo at the self-appointed deity one summer afternoon in 2015.

A few days ago, a local TV news reporter got into some hot water when she was escorted from the audience of a popular Philadelphia comedy club for "loud whispering, heckling and drunkenness." In her intoxicated state, the young lady got belligerent and verbally abusive, prompting club management to summon the police. Thanks to in-your-hand, on-the-spot technology, the entire incident was captured on cellphone video and posted to various social media outlets online. Within minutes, the whole scenario swept the internet. We were treated to a front-row seat, as poor Colleen Campbell's career unraveled before our eyes. She slurred her words, She reeled around on the sidewalk. And, best of all, she spewed a stream of vulgarities at an extremely patient and utterly professional Philadelphia police officer. He remained calm and unfazed, even when she called him a "fucking piece of shit," referred to the entire police force as "fucking cocksuckers," and then ordered the officer to "lick my asshole." She was eventually arrested, charged with resisting arrest, criminal mischief, and disorderly conduct. It was revealed later that Miss Campbell was informed by her employer, WB affiliate Channel 17, that her reporting services were no longer required by the station.

The morning after the incident, in typical Josh Pincus fashion, I tweeted this little observation:
It was a joke, of course. Most of my tweets are jokes, placed online in good-natured, if sardonic, fun. It even got a couple of "likes" and "retweets," and that is the goal of every, red-blooded "tweeter," isn't it? Well, a few hours later, I received this reply from one @liljohnmac77061, a Twitter handle that leads me to believe that there are 77,060 other Lil John Macs also logged on to the social media micro-blogging service. John — I think — appreciated my original tweet, although he ended his reply with a backhanded provocation:
What? A non-sequitur election comment? My tweet had no political content whatsoever. As a matter of fact, I recently (after a tiny bit of scolding from my son) made a conscious decision to avoid any blatant commentary about the presidential election, its subsequent results and the sorry state of turmoil our country is experiencing — thanks to the unhinged dipshit that currently occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (except on weekends, when he's cheating at golf and wolfing down beautiful slices of chocolate cake at his resort in Florida). I'm not sure what prompted this guy to take a sucker punch at me on a tweet that had nothing to do with any political agenda. But, Mr. @liljohnmac77061 chose the wrong person to accost. Especially on Twitter. I returned fire — not with words — but with a single photo. One culled from a quick Google search:
Yes sir, that's a troll and it expressed my sentiment exactly. For those of you who are social media novices, a "troll," according to the good folks at Wikipedia, is "a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll's amusement." The website The Urban Dictionary puts it more astutely, defining the term as: "being a prick on the internet because you can." Well, @liljohnmac77061 was being just that. And to prove it, he responded to my photo with a photo of his own. This one, in fact:
Lovely. If this isn't an actual photograph of the rear window of his car, I wonder what he searched to find this image. No matter, without even thinking, I sarcastically offered this bit of encouragement:
Then, nothing. No further reply. No profanity-filled tirade. No meaningless threats delivered in tough-guy bravado emanating anonymously from the cloistered security of his tiny corner of the internet. Just dead air. Was it a retreat? Was he pondering the perfect comeback? Was he just dumbfounded by my rapier wit?

I scrolled through a column in my Twitter feed, listing all of the tweets in which I was mentioned. I thought, perhaps, I may have missed a response that got buried among the hundreds of tweets I blasts out in a day. (I am currently at 51,000 tweets and counting.) There was nothing from this guy. I resorted to searching his name on Twitter. My questions as to why this volley came to a hastened end were answered.
@liljohnmac77061 blocked me.

Mission accomplished. Another banner day for Josh Pincus on the internet.

* I would include a link, but it seems this guy's Twitter account has been suspended.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

something stupid

Philadelphia is famous for a lot of things. At the top of that list is, without a doubt, the Liberty Bell. Then there's.... um.... ah..... did I say the Liberty Bell already? Well, Philadelphia is also known for its indigenous foods, like cheese steaks, soft pretzels, hoagies and — the City of Brotherly Love's best kept secret — water ice (or as we enunciation-challenged Philadelphians pronounce it: "wooder ice").

This curiously-named hometown favorite, for those unfamiliar with the frozen concoction, falls somewhere between a sno-cone and a Slurpee. But not quite. It is usually eaten with a spoon, or as true Philadelphians know, a pretzel. Most of Philadelphia's numerous neighborhoods have a single-location vendor that sells water ice to its loyal citizens. Each neighborhood is fiercely proud, even snobbishly partial, to its own purveyor of the icy summer treat. While water ice (sometimes called "Italian ice," but never in Philadelphia) dates back to the nineteenth century, Bob Tumolo, a former firefighter opened up a small water ice stand called "Rita's" (named after his wife) in the Philadelphia suburb of Bensalem in the summer of 1984. Soon, his product's popularity allowed him to open three more locations and, eventually, he began franchising his business. Today, Bob's vision boasts over 600 locations, spreading the one-time Philadelphia exclusive to a nationwide audience. Despite its current corporate status, Rita's is still pretty popular among local residents. 

My wife numbers herself among those in Rita's customer base. A longtime water ice aficionado (and purist), she will only order "chocolate" when given the choices available on Rita's extensive menu, in spite of such tempting flavors as "tangerine," "kiwi strawberry" and "cotton candy." She subscribes to Rita's "special offers" via their smartphone app and receives coupons and discounts throughout the summer months. Recently, Mrs. P was emailed a coupon for a free regular-size water ice in celebration of... well, something like the first day of spring or the end of winter of some other made-up occasion. Bottom line: free water ice awaited. 

Simple enough.
We drove over to our neighborhood Rita's and I hopped out of the car with the printed coupon in my hand. I descended the few steps to the line of order windows and a smiling young lady appeared in one of the open frames.

"Hi!," she welcomed, "Can I help you?" Friendly enough. I presented my coupon and said, "I'd like a regular size chocolate with a lid on the cup, please." The coupon itself was short on words, just the necessary verbiage to instruct the employee that this piece of paper was to be exchanged for a regular-size water ice in a flavor of the customer's choosing. As a matter of fact, the phrase "Free Regular Ice" were the largest words on the thing, dwarfing the remaining line — "in the available flavor of your choice" — by several dozen point sizes. The counter girl read the coupon, smiled again and asked, "What size? Regular or large?"

I slowly replied, "Regular, please." I gestured towards the coupon in her hand. "I believe the coupon is good for a regular size." She looked at the coupon in her hand. "Oh. Right." She wandered off to the large freezer that houses the supply of water ice to fill my simple order.

Soon, she returned. She placed the chocolate ice-filled cup on the counter, its contents held neatly in place with a plastic lid snapped tightly to the waxed paper rim. "Would you like a lid?," the young lady asked. I looked at the lid firmly attached to the cup. She looked at the lid firmly attached to the cup. "Oh. Right.," she said, with no inflection, "I mean would you like a spoon?"

"No thank you." I said. I grabbed the frozen cup and headed for the car.

A week or so later, Mrs. P got another coupon for a free regular-sized water ice, this time for her birthday. We followed the exact same routine. When we arrived at Rita's, the same counter girl was waiting.

"Hi!," she welcomed, "Can I help you?" I presented my coupon and said, "I'd like a regular size chocolate with a lid on the cup, please." Just as she had asked before, she asked again: "What size? Regular or large?" I replied, just like I did before: "Regular, please." I gestured towards the coupon that I had just handed to her. "I believe the coupon is good for a regular size." She looked at the coupon, this one as simply worded as the previous one. "Oh. Right." She wandered off to fill my order. When she returned, the cup displayed a large, rounded mound of chocolate water ice rising nearly a full inch above the rim. The counter girl jammed a long, plastic spoon into the surface of the ice, sinking it deep into its cold center. The chances of getting my requested lid on this thing were slim. I didn't even bother to ask. "Would you like a spoon?," she asked before interrupting herself  with an "oh" when it registered in her brain that she had already provided a spoon. She offered a monotone "Thank you" and disappeared back into the employee work area. 

When I returned to the car, my wife was obviously about to ask about the lid. I stopped her with a stream of disgusted muttering under my breath. "No lid!," I spat, "A spoon that I didn't ask for, but no lid." Mrs. P laughed, shrugged her shoulders and took a big lick of water ice.

I guess that's the important part.