Sunday, October 29, 2017

shake that rat

I used to fixate on — actually, I still do — the uncomfortable fact that my parents took me to see The Godfather when I was eleven. This bothered me a lot. What were they thinking? What kind of parent subjects an impressionable child to that kind of gritty violence? Were there no babysitters available? Did they discuss this and conclude that, as responsible parents, this was an admirable thing to do? I even wrote a lengthy blog post about this a few years ago, so the people that I couldn't tell in person wouldn't miss out on some serious parent shaming.

A few nights ago, I was scanning the multitude of entertainment options available through my cable television provider. I stopped at Turner Classic Movies — one of my favorites — to see what they were offering. I scrolled through to the schedule and soon found myself viewing the movies that TCM reserves for the wee hours of weekend nights — a period they refer to as "The Underground." While most folks are fast asleep, Turner Classic presents films that fall into the category of "cult." Just after midnight on Saturday, such forgotten gems as Coffy starring an ass-kicking Pam Grier and Hillbillys in a Haunted House, a painfully campy romp that Jayne Mansfield turned down, are screened for the pleasure of insomniacs everywhere.

At 3:45 a.m., Turner Classic presented the 1971 thriller Willard, a heartwarming tale of an awkward young man who befriends a bunch of rats. This was followed by its 1972 sequel, the equally preposterous Ben, featuring a cast of every character actor the 1970s had to offer. An unexplainable wave of excitement shot through me and I instinctively set the DVR to record both movies. 

I hadn't seen either one of these movies in years! Decades! On Sunday morning, I set myself up with a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee and settled into the den sofa for a "blast-from-the-past" double feature. I remember loving these movies when I was a kid. Hey, what's not to love? It had Ernest Borgnine, excitable "Commander McHale" playing against his TV type (but not movie type, as he portrayed numerous assholes on the silver screen) as Willard's asshole boss. It had the eccentrically other-worldly Elsa Lanchester at the end of her illustrious career as Willard's mother, acting as though she didn't get the same script as the rest of the cast. There was lovely waif Sondra Locke as Willard's pseudo love interest and a supporting assortment of characters from TV including J. Pat O'Malley (Google him, you'll know him) and the delightfully daffy Jody Gilbert, who made a career of playing "Woman" or "Fat Woman" in 115 screen credits. With newcomer Bruce Davison (who has gone on to a five-decade career that included an Oscar nomination) in the title role, Willard was a typical 70s schlock horror film. It was a low-budget, zero production value, poorly-acted 95 minutes of dreck... and I loved it! Movies in the 70s were churned out with assembly-line regard. They followed trends and genres and there was very little originality. Actors wore, what seemed like, their own street clothes — or maybe costumes just mimicked the brightly-colored polyester fashions of the day. It certainly did not try to top Citizen Kane and that certainly was not its goal. It was just crappy entertainment and it delivered. 

Mom and Dad's guide
to parenting
While I watched and chuckled at the over-dramatic antics flashing across my television, remembering my first view of this film, something dawned on me. I saw Willard at a Saturday afternoon matinee at the Parkwood Theater in 1971. I was ten. Ten years old! I went with friends. My mom most likely drove us there in her lime green Rambler, dropping us off and providing me with a few dollars for popcorn and candy. She was well aware of what sort of movie Willard was, as our television was bombarded with ads for the movie. They must have caught Ernest Borgnine shilling on Johnny Carson's show, explaining how the stunts and effects were accomplished after running a promo clip for the audience. So, what was she thinking? Why would she allow a ten-year old to see this? This was not a film for a ten-year old! I should have been seeing Bedknobs and Broomsticks or Million Dollar Duck or The Barefoot Executive or any number of movies more suitable for a ten-year old. Not a movie where a pack of hungry rats rip "Commander McHale" apart right before your eyes. So, I shouldn't be surprised that, a year later, my parents thought it was a fine idea to take me to see The Godfather. After all, once I saw thousands of rats gnaw through a wooden door and attack the once-sympathetic Willard, watching a helpless James Caan get riddled with thousands of rounds of machine gun fire was nothing.... I guess. And that severed horse's head? Piece of cake.

Perhaps my Mom and Dad should have read a good book on parenting skills after they finished Mario Puzo's tale of "family."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

let's give 'em something to talk about

When I'm not drawing stupid pictures or writing rambling blog posts or exposing violators of the "Dude, It's Rude" policy on my daily train commute, I work as a graphic designer at a large chain of bakeries*. They have locations up and down the East Coast and recently expanded to the Midwest. My company employs many supporting staff in addition to the 400+ bakers that are the lifeblood of the business. After all, where would a bakery be without experts in flour and mixing and frosting?

I don't work here.
One of the responsibilities in my job, in addition to producing long, wordy informational sheets detailing cake ingredients and regular newsletters informing customers of breaking news in the world of baking, is creating advertising for various publications. These ads are requested through a section of the company's intranet, on a page plainly labeled, "Advertising." Here, a selection of ad layouts is displayed. Once the appropriate design is chosen, a small form is filled out with pertinent information for getting the ad created (size, color limitations, recipients contact information, as well as the identity of the requester) and submitted. I, then, receive an automatically-generated email with the request. Shortly afterwards, using a set of previously prepared templates, I create the ad to the submitted specifications and send it off to the requester for review and eventual approval. Once approved, I send the completed, camera-ready ad to the publication and we are done. Simple? You'd be surprised.

Bakers are interesting people. They seem to believe that baking is the most important profession on earth. The also seem to believe that bakers possess a far superior intelligence than, say, police officers or barbers or postal workers or artists, for that matter. Somehow, working with hot ovens and proofing boxes makes them experts in all professions, regardless of any special training or years of experience other vocations may require.

Here either.
Recently, I received an indirect request from two bakers, via an email chain, on which I was copied. At no time was I actually addressed in the course of the correspondence. I was merely referenced and the fact that an ad was needed was discussed. Surmising that no official ad request was going to be made, I took it upon myself to be proactive and create an ad. Through an email attachment that I discovered on the third "go-round," I was able to find a spec sheet from the organization. The ad in question was for a small theater presenting their annual program of classical music. I chose an appropriate layout — featuring a photo of an orchestra — and prepared an ad to send to these two bakers for review.

I finished the ad, created a PDF (which is standard procedure) and sent it off, along with my regular accompanying email copy:
"Attached please find a PDF of the ad, as requested. Please review and reply with edits or your approval. Once approved, I will send this ad to the organization.
Thank you. Josh."
Within seconds of clicking the "send" button, I received a reply from one of the bakers. His single-line, signature-less correspondence read:
"Is this ad in black and white?"
I reread the ad specifications on the original solicitation from the theater (that was first sent to the bakers before it was attached to the email on which I was copied). Printed under the available ad sizes were the words: "All ads will be printed in black and white." I immediately and dutifully responded:

"Yes, according to the ad solicitation from the theater, all ad will be printed in black and white."

The baker replied with three words, and, what I interpreted as, an air of dismissive disgust:
"What a waste."
I wasn't sure how to take that. Perhaps the theater could not afford to print a program booklet in full color. It is a small community theater and full-color printing can lean towards expensive. I wasn't sure if his disdain was directed at me, as though I determined that this and all ads would run in monochrome. So, I just didn't reply. I just waited for the other baker who "requested" the ad to weigh in.

He did. Indirectly. He replied to a representative from the theater, informing her that a check would be sent by his assistant and an ad would be sent by "my colleague, Josh Pincus." (I'm a colleague. Whaddaya know?) I took that as an approval from Baker Number Two, so I sent the ad. All finished.

But not really.

Nearly two hours after I sent the ad to the theater, Baker Number One, once again, chimed in. He interjected:
"It appears we have no choice. I assume that none of you have a black and white TV."
It got no response from anyone on the original email chain. I honestly don't know what it means. What I do know is:
  1. I sent the ad to the theater
  2. I got receipt confirmation for the ad
  3. I will never be able to figure out bakers.

* If you have been paying attention, you know that I do not work at a bakery. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

welcome to the grand illusion

I actually wrote this post almost one year ago to the day. I just never got around to publishing it, Coincidentally, the holiday that I reference — and the subsequent annual celebration — just occurred this past weekend. It is interesting to note that the events that I describe were repeated nearly identically as they had a year ago. This leads me to believe that I could just publish this post every year, at this time, and save myself some writing.
My in-laws had an annual gathering at their house. The occasion was the holiday of Sukkot, a celebration that takes some explaining for the uninitiated. Luckily, I have written about Sukkot before, so you can find the explanation of the holiday here. It may not be the most accurate explanation but, after all, isn't that why you are here? To relish my inaccuracies? If wanted accuracy, you could just "Google" stuff. You're welcome.

Hours before the first guests arrived, my wife was busy in the kitchen. She coordinated a precision "assembly line" of trays filled with hors d'oeuvres. As one tray went into the oven another came out. With the indispensable help of my niece, the process of getting the food prepared for a houseful of hungry people became a regimented ballet. Mrs. P's cousin, an invited guest, even pitched in to plate appetizers and bring them to the serving table. Between the three of them, the place looked inviting and the food was stocked to the delight and appreciation of the multitude of freeloaders guests.

Then there was Simone. Simone was her regular self. She took great care in dishing out the few salads the she brought or prepared there. She sort of shuffled some items around on the kitchen counter, giving the illusion that she was actually doing something constructive or helpful. She checked the status of  the hors d'oeuvres baking in the oven exactly once before retreating to join the rest of the guests that she invited... never setting foot back in the kitchen to see if her assistance was needed.

I have my doubts. 
The table looked beautiful and, thanks to Mrs. P and my darling niece, the food offerings were never sparse. There were mini hot dogs in puff pastry, latkes, sweet and sour meatballs and their vegetarian counterparts (or so I was told) and much much more, including an array of baked goods for which my wife is renowned. At the end of the afternoon, as guests thanked my in-laws and said their farewells, Simone disappeared or faked an injury or some such other bullshit. Mrs. P cleared the serving table, with help from her father and even me. My spouse hand-washed the delicate dishes and loaded the dishwasher with the sturdier plates and utensils. I helped to put away what remnants of leftovers were, well, left over. Simone, spooned her salads back into their containers and loaded them into a bag to take to her home, along with a few bottles of wine that were brought by visitors. She barked for her immediate family and, as they say, "got the fuck out of Dodge,"

Mrs. Pincus made sure her parent's kitchen and dining room looked exactly as it did before a horde of of guests filled the house. Satisfied that everything was in order, we headed home. But first, we thanked my in-laws for hosting. I don't recall Simone doing even that.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I saw the harbor lights

Here's a fun fact: When the Food Network conceived the show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and offered hosting duties to Guy Fieri, they had to explain what exactly a diner was to the boorish, peroxide-blonde celebrity chef. He just could not grasp the concept, despite being a "restaurateur"* for over twenty years.

However, anyone who grew up on the East Coast — specifically in close proximity to New Jersey — is very familiar with diners and all they have to offer. Poor, derided New Jersey is home to the largest collection of diners in the world — a claim that is completely understandable. A drive through any small town (Jersey has a lot of them) will reveal scenery regularly dotted with gleaming chrome eateries. Diner menus are renowned for their encyclopedic proportions, offering page after laminated page of every possible configuration of meal from hearty breakfasts to full-course dinners (with soup or salad, choice of two vegetables and Jell-o or rice pudding for dessert) to late-night snacks. Even those watching their weight need not worry, as diners notoriously offer "lo-cal" versions of popular dishes. Diner owners seem to think that a hamburger served with peaches and cottage cheese constitutes suitable diet fare. Every diner offers pretty much the same, abundant selection and the same quality food. Not great, but somehow, comforting. After all, it's kind of difficult to screw up eggs or a tuna melt.

I have always loved eating in diners. They are a fascinating time capsule, a place where eras from the past remain a part of the present. What is really fascinating  is that, no matter where they are located, they are all pretty much the same. Same set up. Same decor, Same wait staff. You know what i mean. That teased-haired woman with the doily on her head and too much rouge on her cheeks, her voice roughened by years of cigarette smoke, her vocabulary peppered with lots of "hon"s and "sweetie"s and "not a problem"s. My dad's favorite diner was The Heritage, a place just a few blocks from our house. Our family ate there often. My dad ate breakfast there every weekday morning for decades, and after my mom died, he ate every meal there. The Heritage had a waitress that fit that description. As a matter of fact, all of their waitresses fit that description.

This past summer, Mrs. Pincus and I took regular drives to and from Atlantic City. Sometimes, we went to spend a day on the beach. Sometimes, we went to take care of other obligations. One evening, we were driving back home to Philadelphia. As we drove, we discussed our options for dinner. Growing weary of pizza and sandwiches from Wawa (we love 'em, but...), we decided to stop at one of the many diners that we usually pass on our routine transversing of Route 30. The narrow, mostly two-lane, highway that is Route 30 snakes through many small towns — Pomona, Absecon, Egg Harbor City, Chesilhurst, Elwood, Hammonton — in Southern New Jersey. For a lot of these tiny burgs, the only place to eat is a diner. Just ahead of us, between a church and an Auto Zone, we spotted the soft glowing neon of the Harbor Diner. But this time, we stopped.

There's a light....
The Harbor Diner is pretty unspectacular. It's chrome-clad exterior is similar to a thousand other diners on Route 30 and throughout South Jersey. Inside, the faux leather booths, silver-flecked Formica counter and other characteristics were, again, as nondescript as any other establishment in its category. A young lady grabbed two hefty menus and directed us to a booth along the front of the narrow building. We scanned the numerous offerings for something that did not include meat. On most diner menus, the vegetarian-friendly options are plentiful. I decided on an entree from the typewritten dinner menu that was attached with a clip to the pre-printed menu, expanding the selections by at least 30. The waitress — another young lady who bore all the signs of evolving into the waitress I described earlier — deposited glasses of water on our table and asked if we were ready to order. My wife ordered a lettuce and tomato club sandwich, an assemblage that sometimes requires a bit of explanation and garners strange looks when it is made clear that no bacon is to be included. However, our waitress scribbled the order on a pad without so much as a blink. I ordered grilled salmon and was promptly informed that salmon was not available. I settled, instead, for fried flounder, a diner staple and a point of misty reference from my youth. I ordered fried flounder at The Heritage Diner more times that I can remember. A short time later, our food arrived. It was typical diner food and it was good. Really good. Afterwards, Mrs. P got rice pudding to take home.

A week or so later, we stopped at the Harbor Diner. This time we were with our son and his girlfriend, returning from a relaxing day on the Atlantic City beach. Our family was greeted by the staff of the Harbor Diner as though we  were regulars. We ordered and we all enjoyed our choices. It was a good meal, nothing spectacular or exotic. Just good food at ridiculously cheap prices.

Cluck and Z with Murphy on the side
A few weeks went by and, once again, Mrs. P and I found ourselves at the Harbor Diner. This time it was late, nearly 11 PM. We looked over the menu and decided to have breakfast nine hours early. Mrs. Pincus ordered sunny-side up eggs, toast and home fried potatoes. Strangely, the preparation of the eggs required a bit of additional explanation. The waitress asked if my wife if she wanted her sunny-side up eggs "over easy." My wife smiled and clarified, "No, sunny-side up." The waitress nodded without further expression and jotted something down on her little pad. I ordered a mushroom-cheese omelette and its standard accompaniments. When our food was brought out, I promptly took a picture of my classic-looking platter and posted the result on Instagram. Google Maps, into which I am automatically logged on, asked If I wished to post my photo to the gallery created for the Harbor Diner. I happily accepted, uploaded my photo and then dug into my late dinner/early breakfast.

A few days later, I got an alert from Google. Someone had a question for me about the Harbor Diner, based on the photo I posted, no doubt. I clicked the notice and this eloquent, astute dissertation popped up:

I read it. And reread it. And reread it again. Technically, it wan't a question. Obviously, this fellow was disappointed with his visit to our newly discovered. eatery. Even after several run-throughs, I was still confused by this poor customer's sentiment. His anger seemed to have totally obliterated his ability to use punctuation, save for a set of misplaced ellipses. That aside, I sort of surmised that he saw a young lady (presumably a waitress, although he does not make that clear) smoking in the "ketchen," which I understand to be the area where the food is prepared and not the late creator of the popular.Dennis the Menace comic strip. His food was "diff" and "cold," which, unless it was ice cream or gazpacho (which I do not believe they offer), is unacceptable. Actually, I'm not sure was is acceptable, as far as "diff" is concerned. He concludes by saying that he is paying for this kind of service and he would go there "agian" (sic).

I was saddened by Mr Google "M"s convoluted rant cum complaint about the Harbor Diner. I cannot speak for Mr. "M," (actually he can barely speak for himself), but I know that I will happily return to the Harbor Diner, if given the opportunity. 

Perhaps next summer. Perhaps next week.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

get right with god

I'm going to start my own religion. Would you like to join and become a follower? My religion, for which I have not yet chosen a name, will teach love. Love for everyone, no matter how you look, how you think, what you wear, or who you love. Everyone will be treated equally. There will be no leaders. We will all help each other.

This religion will teach kindness and charity. Sure, other religions claim to teach that, but they don't. We will be polite and non-judgmental. We will never berate or belittle you for the choices you make, as long as they are not harmful or impede upon anyone else's choices. We will teach politeness and tolerance and humility. 

We will have no dietary laws or rules about what sort of garments you should wear in order to make your prayers more effective. Hell, we won't even have prayers, so you needn't worry! We won't have specific houses of worship, either. You can practice love and kindness everywhere, as you should anyway. Religions have rituals that make sense to the followers and appear goofy to everyone else. We won't have to worry about that. We'll have none, unless you want to hop on one leg or clap your hands. We won't mind or judge.

We won't have any reverence for any imaginary "higher being" that allegedly controls everything. If such a being existed, there would be no starvation or sickness or hatred. Offering prayer and sacrifice to this imaginary being obviously does nothing because all of that strife is still as prevalent as it has been for thousands of years. We are on our own and we have apparently been going about it all wrong. I suggest a worldwide movement of peace and love. Sure, other religions claim to preach the concept of love, but they do not. They teach love among their followers while mocking followers of other religions.

With the exception of natural disasters, every single problem in the world has a basis in religion — wars, hatred, bigotry, violence, animosity, racism. What happened to "Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Man?" Or is that only during Christmas? I sit here writing this on Yom Kippur, while, around the corner from me, there are synagogues stuffed with hypocrites who believe that fasting and chanting in Hebrew will allow them to atone for their sins. Sins they will go right back to committing after they've shoved a bagel in their maws at sundown.

So, whaddaya say? Wanna join me? What have you got to lose? Don't want to join me? That's okay, too.

See? It's working already.