Sunday, March 25, 2018

it's a man's world

I was in Barnes & Noble yesterday, just to kill some time. Every time I go in to Barnes & Noble, I am surprised that it still exists. It's a big, cavernous maze of a building filled with hundreds and hundreds of books. Actual books in a time when most people a.) don't read. b.) if they do read, they read from a Kindle or some other type of electronic, paperless reading device. The fact that Barnes & Noble maintains a physical inventory, as well as trying to compete with the mighty Amazon with an online presence, is just plain baffling. Just ask Borders or B. Dalton about how futile a task that is. This past holiday season once again showed Barnes & Noble a reason to reassess its business model. Their sales were down considerably. In my stroll through the store, I discovered a glaring display that should make Barnes & Noble rethink more than its lagging income. Or perhaps one of its contributing factors. 

In addition to the numerous shelves of books, Barnes & Noble stocks a wide variety of magazines. Usually situated along the longest, continuously straight wall in the place, the magazine section, called "The Newsstand," features familiar titles like People, Rolling Stone, Us, National Geographic and others that still, inexplicably, print an actual copy in these days of immediate online information sources.

I filed past the in-store cafe, its many tables occupied by folks hunched over a keyboard or a cellphone, taking advantage of the free WiFi. The smell of brewed coffee followed me to the wall of magazines. Adjacent to the longest, multi-shelf magazine rack was a display highlighting a special sponsored issue of Time or Life or some other revered publication. Under the large "Newsstand" sign, the rest of the many magazines were grouped in sections identified by smaller signs printed in the branded colors of deep green and cream. "Current Events," was followed by "Family," where copies of Disney Princess sat cheek-by-jowl with Mad. The next section was labeled "Entertainment," where the latest issue of heavy-metal periodical Kerrang! was placed alongside several titles that sported some unidentifiable teens in torn clothes with glitter splashed across their sneering young faces. Laying on a riser in neatly stacked piles were issues of In Touch and Ok!, their colorful covers boasting someone I can only assume was a Kardashian. The next sections were the ones that made me stare in disbelief and then cringe.

The first section was labeled "Womens' Interests." On these tiered shelves was a collection of magazines whose subjects ranged from cooking to knitting to crafts then back to cooking. The covers showed either meticulously-styled beauty shots of fresh-from-the-oven, restaurant-quality entrees or pink and fuzzy, knotted yarn bunnies. There was pack after pack of similarly-photographed covers until it ended at the next section, one designated with a "Mens' Interests" sign. This section was filled with publications sporting muscular men flexing their rippling bodies in various poses, angry-looking guys tightly gripping a basketball alongside covers with malevolent-looking firearms spattered below matter-of-fact mastheads that read "GUNS." I looked around and I was actually the only person in the store looking at magazines. Surprisingly, there were no crowds of women with cooking utensils, wielding pinking shears trying to get past me. There weren't any buff gentlemen toting free weights and AR-15s, pushing me out of the way of the shelves. There was only me. Standing there. Disgusted.

In these times of equal rights awareness and inclusion and the recent #MeToo movement, aren't these labels a bit... um.... counterproductive? Especially, when this narrow-minded, exclusionary, antiquated mindset is being proliferated by a major retailer. Aren't magazines just magazines? Open to anyone's particular area of interest — regardless of sex, race or society's predetermination. I stood for a few moments — by myself — and shook my head in disappointment. I thought about how other big retailers displayed similar sexist labels. Instantly, the store layout of Toys R Us popped into my mind with its familiar "pink" aisle chock full of Barbie and her pals and accessories, noticeably separated from the thick and stocky action figures of popular wrestlers and rugged GI Joe. I know plenty of boys who have no problem playing with Barbie and GI Joe. I know lots of girls who love watching wrestling on television and enjoy make-believe with the likes of a miniature John Cena, as well as fashion dolls. Sure some Toys R Us stores showed some integration of the "boys" and "girls" toys, but there is a discernible "no man's land" between the two.

Barnes & Noble should take a hard look at their labels and a harder look at Toys R Us.... 'cause we now know where Toys R Us is headed.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

brothers in arms

One of my favorite shows has always been "Leave It To Beaver." Although the show debuted before I was born and completed its six-season run when I was 2, I happily watched it in reruns on local channels, decades before the Nick-at-Nite concept was hatched. The show was pitched as a warm family comedy, offering a glimpse into the problems faced by kids, followed by gentle lessons in parenting. Its goal was light humor, regularly shunning the broad slapstick of "I Love Lucy." According to co-star Tony Dow: "If any line got too much of a laugh, they'd take it out. They didn't want a big laugh; they wanted chuckles."

Lumpy, Eddie and Wally.
The one thing that always intrigued me about "Leave It To Beaver," was how the conflict was created in each episode. Most of the time, it followed the same formula. You see, Beaver (played by Jerry Mathers) and his big brother Wally (played by Tony Dow) were pretty good kids. They were polite, well mannered and respectful. However, their judgement was questionable. Specifically, their choice of friends. Both Beaver and Wally had friends who were total assholes. Every one of them. They were a pack of lying, conniving, two-faced con artists whose main goal in life was to make life miserable for the Cleaver brothers. Most famously, there was Eddie Haskell, Wally's slimy "best friend" played with oily creepiness by future LA police officer Ken Osmond. Eddie was always sucking up to Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver, only to mock them behind their backs. Then, he would invariably steer good-hearted Wally in the wrong direction when tapped for advice. Eddie would routinely convince Wally to hide a dent in the family car, to doctor a low grade on a test or to forge his father's signature on an important document. For some reason, perhaps as a testament of his loyalty to an undeserving friend, Wally would follow Eddie's direction and get himself in a bigger predicament that could have been avoided if he had only not listened to Eddie. By the episode's end, a humbled Wally would have to swallow his pride and own up to his actions, only to be forgiven by his dad, though Eddie Haskell's ass would remained unkicked. Wally's other friend, Lumpy (played by the late Frank Bank) was a typical, knuckle-headed dope who would jump off a bridge if Eddie Haskell told him to. Yet, Wally, a bright, popular, good-looking young man, somehow let his insecurities get the better of him and heeded every underhanded suggestion from Eddie and Lumpy, those sneaky bastards. Wally always forgave them for their bad advice and still came back for more.

Beaver, Gilbert, Whitey.... and Larry.
Beaver was also a victim of his lousy friends' double-dealing actions. Beaver's pals rivaled Wally's in every shifty and despicable way. Larry Mondello, Beaver's idiotic acquaintance was a sloth-like, slow-witted moron who led Beaver astray at the same rate that he stole apples from the Cleaver kitchen. This character was written out of the show in the third season when actor Rusty Stevens moved out of the Los Angeles area. His position as a bad influence was taken by Gilbert and Whitey, two minor characters that were given bigger roles. Gilbert and Whitey were just as weaselly and scheming as the departed Larry, repeatedly leading a naive and trusting Beaver down the primrose path. It was Whitey who famously dared Beaver to check if a giant steaming bowl on a billboard really contained soup. Instead of telling Whitey to find out for himself, Beaver climbed up a ladder, fell into the bowl and... well, it wasn't good. Parents were called, Beaver got in trouble and Whitey, that backstabbing little shit, got off scot-free. And Beaver still hung out with him and continued to take his advice. Gilbert convinced Beaver to make a funny face in a school picture, promising that he would as well. Of course, Beaver made a face and Gilbert didn't. Beaver got reprimanded and, as usual, Gilbert concocted some excuse that made it look like it was Beaver's idea from the start. And poor Beaver clammed up so as not to rat out his friend.

In addition to getting Wally and Beaver into trouble, these so-called friends were always borrowing money and toys and comic books and sporting equipment from the Cleaver boys. They mooched dinners by taking advantage of Mrs. Cleaver's hospitality. In the case of Wally, they moved in on girlfriends. In Beaver's case, they taunted him for having a girlfriend. These "friends" had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. So why did Wally and Beaver keep them around? There wouldn't have been a show otherwise. And that's what makes television television.

Don't worry Wally, I won't ever let you down.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

make a circuit with me

I draw. I draw a lot. I have been drawing for a very long time. When I was a kid, every spare piece of paper, napkin, notebook, scratch pad and cardboard in our house was covered with the little scribbled pictures that sprouted from my imagination. For years, the only way anyone could see my drawings was to come in close proximity to the refrigerator in our kitchen, which, at times, resembled a magnet-adorned Louvre that also kept the family's food cold. My mother, the curator of the Josh Pincus collection, regularly rotated my drawings on the refrigerator door, carefully archiving examples from my earlier periods in order to display the latest in my portfolio. Of course, the bulk of those sketches were lost when my parents passed away and the contents of their house was dispersed. And by "dispersed," I, of course, mean "sent to a dumpster." Some of my post-adolescent works were salvaged, though. The body of work I produced during my four years in art school were housed in my basement for some time, until several drenching rainstorms and burst pipe rendered the entire collection soaked, mold-covered and, thereby, ruined.

Well, eleven years ago this month, I discovered a new outlet where I could put my drawings on display — the internet! As a regular contributor to Illustration Friday, an art blog that issues a weekly drawing challenge, I decided to gather all of my drawings in one convenient spot for all the world to see. That central location is Josh Pincus is Crying that you've all come to know and love... or loathe, as the individual case may be. In addition to the weekly Illustration Friday posting, I have supplemented the content with stories from my youth and seasonal illustrations (like the annual Inktober challenge, a month-long celebration of monochrome drawings defined by the inked line, computer-generated or otherwise). Sprinkled throughout my illustration blog is the subject matter which has generated the most buzz and has gained me a small (very small) following as well as a macabre reputation. Of course, I am speaking of my love — and borderline obsession — with dead celebrities. Portraits of deceased celebrities  — both globally famous and unsung — make up a good portion of the posting on my blog. Recently, I even created a searchable category called "Dead Celebrity Spotlight" for which I post a new illustration and accompanying story every Friday morning.

First contact.
Over the decade-plus that I have maintained this blog, I've been contacted by folks who share (or at least claim to share) a connection to the subject of several drawings I have done. The first, and most notorious in the annals of the JPiC blog, came in April 2008 when I received an angry email from a fellow who was quite offended by my drawing and tale of Peg Entwistle. Peg, a nascent young actress who faced disappointment in the early days of Hollywood, leaped from the top of the "H" in the famed Hollywood sign, plunging forty-four feet to her death. My accuser was critical of nearly every aspect of my drawing (he said I was "sick") and my story (he pointed out discrepancies in times, days and locations). He even accused me of plagiarism. Prior to his barrage of emails, I had never heard of him. I gathered information from creative commons sources and other repositories of royalty-free content. This fellow was not satisfied by my calm and civil replies. He threatened me with lawsuits while he spewed the filthiest of insults at me, my work and my skills. He eventually gave up, but I got a great story.

Second contact.
Soon after the "Peg Entwistle" incident (as it has come to be known), I was contacted by another angry reader who didn't care for my portrayal of session drummer Jim Gordon. Gordon, for the uninformed or non-readers of my blog, was a member of a roster of musicians collectively known as "The Wrecking Crew." This revolving group of instrumentalists surrounding a core group of members performed, uncredited, on thousands of hit songs throughout the 1960s and 70s. Gordon was also a member of Derek and the Dominos, the blues-rock band fronted by Eric Clapton. Gordon composed and performed the iconic outro on the the classic song "Layla." He also beat his mother with a hammer and stabbed her to death with a butcher knife. He currently resides in a psychiatric prison in Vacaville, California. Someone identifying herself as "Layla Gordon" emailed me to express her displeasure with my drawing and story about Gordon and his fellow Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine. "Layla" insulted my talent, corrected my knowledge, questioned my research and cursed my existence. I replied in the most polite and even-tempered manner, only to be subjected to salvo number two (and eventually three). I chronicled our exchange in another post on my blog and was soon contacted by a different woman, this one offering a more sympathetic tone. Emailer Number Two explained that my original antagonizer had threatened her in the same way she threatened me. This compassionate ally identified herself as the spouse of one of Jim Gordon's band mates and a quick Google search confirmed her claim. She also requested that I keep our conversation confidential. I guess I just broke that promise.

Third contact.
In March 2008, I spun the grisly tale of Edward Hickman, a 20-year-old disgruntled bank employee who abducted, murdered and dismembered his boss's 12-year-old daughter. Hickman was tried and, despite one of California's first "insanity pleas," was executed at San Quentin Prison in 1928. I admit I told the story in lurid detail, but that's how I do things when I feel the subject warrants it. It's that "life ain't always pretty" philosophy that inspires me sometimes. Nearly four months after I published that story, I was contacted by another Edward Hickman, first with comments left on the post, then via email. This Edward claimed to be the murderer's nephew. He actually complimented my drawing of his relative. He also alleged that his uncle was remorseful of his actions, a claim I could not corroborate in all of my research. A month or so later the younger Edward reached out to me again, asking for a high-resolution image of my drawing. I happily complied and made a few bucks on the transaction.

Fourth contact.
In 2012, I briefly chronicled the life of Max Manning, a beloved sixth-grade teacher at a school in southern New Jersey. Manning, unbeknown to his devoted students, was a star player in the Negro Leagues in the 1940s. A victim of racial discrimination at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, Manning ended up pitching for the Newark Eagles. His stellar on-field performance helped the Eagles overcome the mighty Kansas City Monarchs to win the 1946 Negro League World Series. With no chance of playing in the segregated big leagues and faced with the responsibility of providing for his family, Max walked away from baseball. He attended Glassboro State College on the GI Bill and graduated with a teaching degree. He taught at Pleasantville Elementary School for 28 years until his retirement. The summer after I published Max's story, I received a comment on the post from Belinda Manning, Max's grown daughter. Belinda admitted that, during a bout of insomnia, she "googled" her father's name and was directed to my blog. She praised my rendering of her dad and lauded my account of his life. Belinda maintains her own blog where she expounds on her family history and the history of the Pleasantville/Atlantic City, New Jersey area. She also touches on instances of social and racial injustice.

Fifth contact.
Back in October 2017, as part of my "Dead Celebrity Spotlight" series, I wrote and illustrated another hard-luck story. This one was about Leona Gage, a hopeful actress and disgraced beauty pageant contestant. Leona led a sad and troubled life, filled with tough breaks, poor decisions and bad advice. Just yesterday, I got a comment on the blog post. It was just three words: "That's my mother." Then, the same fellow sent a message on my Facebook page. His Facebook message was a bit longer. It read: "You drew an interesting picture of my mother Leona Gage. Thanks for the story." I replied with a thank you and then spent the next twenty or so minutes engaged in a sweet and insightful conversation with him, touching on my love of the Golden Age of Hollywood and my penchant for cemetery visits. Soon, he was revealing insight into his mother's life that were not present in any article or clipping I uncovered in my research for the original piece. I researched him a bit and discovered that, based on his uncommon last name and the fact that I made no mention of his father's name in my story, this guy must be who he says he is. After all, if you're going to make a "claim of fame," why would you reference someone so obscure? I thanked him for the information and for his kind words about my artwork.

These little encounters are a testament to the power and reach of the internet. I suppose it also confirms that there's always someone, somewhere, who'll read and react to stuff I write.

Maybe you'll see a loved one depicted in a JPIC drawing before too long. Who knows? Wait.... I know.

You can get you very own Josh Pincus is Crying custom portrait.
CLICK HERE for details.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

tell me are you a Christian, child?

My wife has been operating an eBay store for — gosh! — I don't even know how long. Years ago, when she first started, I used to help pack the merchandise that she sold. That was a long time ago and the process of running an eBay store has evolved into — well, closer to running an actual store. And Mrs. Pincus runs things in much the same way she ran her parents' general merchandise business in a Pennsylvania farmers market for many years. She has a designated day for listing, a designated day for packing and specific times to take shipments to the post office. However, due the the global reach of eBay and her participation in international sales, Mrs. P has been unable to limit the hours dedicated to answering customer (including potential* customer) inquiries. She regularly checks email and quickly replies to any and all questions. I have awakened in the middle of the night to see my wife's face illuminated by the glow of her cellphone. "What are you doing?," I'll groggily ask, knowing darn well what she is doing.

A lot of  questions regarding the items that my wife has for sale can easily be answered by reading the listing a little further past the title. Mrs. Pincus routinely answers questions about an item's size, color and other components — all of which are included in the brief description a mere mouse-scroll below the title and photo. But — as we have come to learn — people don't like to read. They like to be read to. Rather than exert a little investigative effort (very little), they like to be told by someone who has done the investigating for them (commonly known as "Let me Google that for you"). However, not every question can be anticipated. Mrs. P does her darnedest to include every possible measurement, every shade of every color and every piece of pertinent descriptive information, but, sometimes you get that one question that results in a good head-scratching.

Recently, Mrs. Pincus offered a plastic novelty magnet in the familiar shape of a bottle of Heinz ketchup for the reasonable price of $7.99. Feeling extra generous, an "or best offer" was added to the price.  Dated 1982 and manufactured by a long-defunct company called Arjon, this cute little magnet would be a welcome addition to anyone's novelty magnet collection (and before you ask — yes — there are plenty of folks who collect novelty magnets). One such collector contacted Mrs. Pincus with a two-part question about the Heinz ketchup magnet. The first part was "Would you do a 'Buy It Now'?" This is a feature that a seller can set up to enable a quick purchase for a price that is agreed upon by both parties. Mrs. P does this quite often. Part Two of the query was a bit more..... unusual.

"Are you a Christian? We are." This was followed by a little smiley face comprised of a colon and a closed parenthesis.  

Mrs. P was taken aback. Of course, she wants to sell this stuff. That's why it's on eBay in the first place. Of course, she doesn't want to lose a sale at the cost of offending a potential buyer. So, Mrs. P replied in a firm and diplomatic way — way more diplomatic than I would have been.
Like most folks who freely promote their religious beliefs as though they were discussing the weather, they are either convinced that everyone shares their beliefs or they feel they are doing the Lord's work, convincing a lost lamb to join the comforting fray. Either way, it is always a losing argument, usually met with cheerfully narrow-minded reasoning and unwavering commitment. They will never ever see the other side of the argument. There is no "other side," as far as they're concerned. This case, of course, was no different, as this revealing response shows:
First comes the sermon, the stirring message of reaffirming faith and back-handed enticement into the ways of their dogma. Then, back to business, because — well, they obviously want that magnet. (perhaps as an offering). But they also feel a divine obligation to save another poor soul from the fiery grip of Satan. So, they offered four bucks on the magnet. Mrs. Pincus politely declined the offer, hoping that this exchange would now continue as a business discussion, but she knew it would not. She replied, attempting to make her position clear. 
But, as expected, they were not finished. They would not rest until our eternal, everlasting spirits were fully accepted into the Kingdom of... of.... Everlasting Acceptance. Their parting salvo was phrased this way, still mixing business with religion to their very last breath... er, offer
By the way, if you'd like, the beautiful 1982 Arjon Heinz Ketchup magnet is still available on eBay. 

Shipping is extra. Religion is too.

*A potential customer is anyone who asks a question about an item, though hasn't necessarily made a purchase... or has even hinted at making a purchase. Mrs. P has learned to treat every inquiry as a paying customer. Who knows? The goal is to get them to end up as one.