Sunday, May 27, 2018

now it's time to say goodbye to all our company

In the summer of 1980, I made my first trip to Walt Disney World.... and I didn't even want to go. 

I had graduated from high school just a year earlier and hadn't yet decided what I wanted to do with my life. My friends had all taken the expected educational path and were enrolled in college. But not me. I was working as a cashier at a clothing store as I pondered a suitable (and lucrative) direction for my career. I considered going headfirst into retail — except I hated it. I had been drawing since I was a child, but the thought of making a living at it was inconceivable. I had always heard of the proverbial "starving artist" and I didn't want that to be me.

My friends and I began kicking around ideas for a trip — our first collective vacation sans parents. As summer was approaching and the school year (at least for some) was drawing to a close, a vacation sounded like just the thing we all needed. We quickly dismissed a week in Atlantic City, as that was the "go-to" option we were compelled to take for most of our lives. We wanted to really go somewhere. Somewhere to which we'd never been. We all agreed on Florida, but where exactly in Florida was a point of contention among us. I voted for Fort Lauderdale, lured by my older brother's tales of flowing beer and bikini-ed girls. My friends Alan and Scott suggested landlocked Orlando, home of Walt Disney's variation on his "Disneyland" theme. I frowned at the idea. "An amusement park?," I whined, "I don't want to spend a week at an amusement park!" I was debated and cajoled until I finally relented. Little did my 19-year old self know that by agreeing to go to Disney World, my feelings for all things Disney were about to do a complete one-eighty.

I scraped together every spare cent I could and even had to borrow the last few dollars to purchase my very first airplane ticket. Soon, my friends and I found ourselves face-to-face with actual palm trees of which we had only seen pictured in geography books. Our rental car took us to the ritzy (in our perception) International Inn, dead center on the main drag of bustling International Drive in Orlando, a thoroughfare so exotic in our sheltered eyes that it boasted an International House of Pancakes at either end of the street. We were definitely not in Philadelphia anymore. We checked into our room, tossed our luggage where ever it landed and headed out to the first liquor store we could find. Unlike Pennsylvania, where the state-run Liquor Control Board holds a tight grip on the distribution and sale of distilled spirits, alcohol flowed freely and was as readily available as Coca-Cola (or in Florida's case — Mr. Pibb). And four rambunctious, uninhibited Yankee 19-year-olds took full advantage.

Twenty bucks including tax.
On our first full day in Florida, my friends and I stuffed ourselves with the fine offerings from Davis Brothers breakfast buffet (where a mere five bucks allowed me to eat more waffles in one morning that I had eaten in my entire life up to that point). We piled into our rental car and tooled on over to the Magic Kingdom, the only Disney theme park in Central Florida at the time. We made sure we each had our coveted two-day, all-inclusive Magic Kingdom "Passport" that we had purchased under the guidance of  the travel agent with whom we had arranged our trip. Yessiree! Our "passport" would allow full access to every attraction the Magic Kingdom had to offer without having to fuss with those pedestrian "letter" tickets. As we passed through the turnstile, our admission ticket was hand-stamped by a smiling young lady in a Disney-branded plaid vest and skirt. I began to feel a twinge of actual excitement breaking through my previous "vacation cynicism." This was pretty cool. And perhaps, I thought to myself, this place is something more than an amusement park. The combination of a loud, steamy tooooooot from an old-fashioned train just above our heads, the low tones of a unseen calliope, the distinctive rhythmic tinkle of ragtime piano chords, the scent of fresh popcorn and the sweet aroma of flowers was putting my senses into euphoric overload. A grin stretched across my lips as I scanned the free park guide map, trying to decide which attraction would be my inaugural foray into an eventual lifetime of Disney.... hell, I'll say it.... obsession. I raced with my friends up Main Street, weaving around the crowds, making a slight left toward the path marked "ADVENTURELAND" in decidedly primitive-looking letters arranged across a wicker arch that spanned the walkway. Jungle drums beat out an ominous cadence. Giant palm trees bent down, creating a cool, secluding canopy that effectively blocked out the gaiety on Main Street, a mere fifty or so feet away. We tackled The Swiss Family Treehouse first, making our way up and down the narrow rope-and-plank staircases that threaded through the enormous trunk. On first glance, the whole thing is quite impressive, but, when you realize that not a goddamn thing in the entire place is real — that's when it hits you just how impressive Disney World is. It was the kick-off of a surreal day filled with rollicking pirates and singing bears and spinning teacups and gas-chugging race cars and 999 happy haunts and eighty dolls singing small world after all.

Gotta have 'em.
At the end of my first taste of the immersive world of a Disney theme park, my friends and I made our way towards the exit, but not before an obligatory stop at The Emporium — the largest gift shop in the Magic Kingdom. Excitedly, I sorted through the bins and displays and racks of Mickey Mouse-emblazoned tchotchkes. I began grabbing everything! And I do mean everything! Buttons! T-shirts! Pens! Posters! Magnets! I started filling a shopping basket as my bewildered friends marveled at my behavior. They had never seen me so... so.. possessed, at it were. They also seemed curious as to why I was wasting precious beer money on black felt Mouse ears with "Josh" stitched across the back. When the dust finally cleared, I lumbered out of the store with several bags brimming  with all sorts of Disney treasures.

And that's where it all began. My hobby. My pastime. My collection.

I visited Walt Disney World many more times after my initial trip, including my honeymoon and a wintertime vacation when Mrs. Pincus was about six weeks pregnant. Actually, when I met the future Mrs. Pincus, we each had a small collection of Disney items from previous theme park visits. Her family had been to Disneyland in '68 and to Disney World just after its 1971 opening. When we married, our collections were merged in much the same way as her Grateful Dead albums were placed alongside my Queen albums, but without as much cacophony.

Each visit yielded more and  more Disney items added to "the collection." What had once been a little assembly of cute figurines, novelty buttons and a smattering of ephemera on a single shelf in a spare room now swelled to three full bookshelves and soon an entire room and it showed no signs of receding. Books and toys (still pristine in their packaging) stood meticulously positioned alongside vintage glassware and novelty lunchboxes, all distinct in their inclusion in the Disney canon.

Our Disney collection was expanding almost at the same rate as Disney expanded their theme park roster worldwide. Of course, we obtained items from Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong and the Shanghai locations, as well. My wife and I were always on the hunt for that elusive object that we didn't even know we were missing until we saw it. We had housewares and mugs and records and the much-sought-after "cast member" items... oh, all kinds of stuff. Guests at our house would smile, and yet, scratch their heads, pondering why two adults would have a roomful of kids' stuff. In their defense, it was a pretty good question.

Just before our son was born, the entire collection was moved (by me — in a single night) to a heretofore empty room on the third floor of the home we had purchased a few months earlier. Of course, we purchased a lot of Disney toys and related items for our new baby, as did family and friends who figured that he had no choice but to become a "Disney Kid." Our son E's room was subtly appointed with Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh, in both plush and plastic formats. We watched Disney video tapes as a family and E was a fan of cable TV's fledgling Disney Channel. As E grew up, he would often ask people whose houses we visited if he could see their "Disney Room." He just assumed that every house had one. His house did, as well as the standard living room, kitchen and bathroom, so why wouldn't they have a "Disney Room?" When his requests for a tour were met with confusion, I suppose that's when he figured out his parents were not like other parents.

Over the course of thirty or so years, between numerous vacations to Disney World, Disneyland, Disney merchandise outlets, Disney Stores, eBay auctions, flea markets and collector shows, our "Disney Room" grew and grew and grew. It became legendary among friends, relatives, friends of friends, coworkers and other acquaintances. At our yearly "Night Before Thanksgiving" dessert soiree, invited guests would climb the two flights of stairs to the third floor of our house and cram themselves into the ever-shrinking space in the center of the "Disney Room." With each passing year, the walls seemed to close in a little more and fewer people could fit in the room at the same time.
(click to enlarge... if you dare)
When my parents passed away in the early 1990s, I became concerned about what sort of mess my son would be left with when my wife's and my time on earth has run its course. I certainly didn't want to leave a house full of shit like my parents left me. While our house is way more orderly than the chaotic shambles my parents called "home" (and stocked with way cooler stuff), Mrs. P and I toyed with the notion of thinning out our household accumulations — including our beloved "Disney Room." With our 60th birthdays looming in the not-too-distant future, we really gave "liquidation" some serious thought.

Then, this past February, came the unthinkable. I lost my job. At 56, it was quite scary. Not knowing when my next employment would begin, my wife and I tightened our belts, swallowed our pride and started in on the bittersweet task of dismantling and selling off a lifetime — our lifetime — of Disney memorabilia. At first, it was hard. Very hard, as a matter of fact. I scanned the room and reluctantly cherry-picked a few nondescript items. A book. A die-cast car. A yo-yo. A doll. My wife, who has maintained an eBay store over twenty years, patiently schooled me on the ins-and-outs of listing items on the world's largest internet auction website. The first weekend of our "little project" was admittedly tough, but as the days went on, it was actually a freeing and fun experience. I began to gather up items with zeal. I was not nearly as discerning as I was when the project began. Certainly not as discerning as when I was originally buying the stuff. I was on a mission and that mission was clearing those shelves to both generate income and not leave an abysmal burden for our son. Every weekend afternoon, my wife and I sit side-by-side and list our prized possessions. And little by little, the room is noticeably emptying. For the first time in thirty years, I am able to see the backs of the shelves. Some surprising items are generating interest, while others — ones I thought would be most sought after — are ignored by what is obviously a new crop of collectors who don't share the same sense of nostalgia as Mrs Pincus and me. There is activity among DuckTales and TaleSpin items, a Disney cartoon that was popular when I was 26, so there's this "window of opportunity" for the older, more collectible pieces that may have closed when were were still happily admiring our accumulation. Nevertheless, the majority of our collection is selling at a fairly brisk clip.

Am I sorry to see the stuff go? Not nearly as much as I thought I'd be. As a matter of fact, as the weeks go on and more of our collection is sold, I am less and less concerned. Recently, my son had the opportunity to give the Disney Room a "once-over," grabbing stuff that he had singled out and desired over the course of his lifetime — stuff that, at one time, was off-limits to the touch of a child's hand. He took a mini Pirates of the Caribbean music box from Tokyo Disneyland that he had been eyeing for years. (Actually, my wife had to yank it from her eBay store, as it was already available for sale.)

If you have ever been to my house — I'm sorry — but the "Disney Room" is no longer accepting visitors. If there was something you saw on a shelf that you secretly wished you could own, now is your chance. Take a look at the Disney items available in Mrs. P's eBay store and auctions.

There's enough stuff to fill a room. But it's going fast.

Click here for a panoramic view....that no longer exists.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

meeting across the river

I hate meetings. Meetings are stupid, non-productive and a colossal waste of time. For the most part, they serve to give office dead weight somewhere to go to justify their coming into work everyday. At my last job, meetings were a daily event for a lot of my co-workers. Topics were discussed in a series of cliches and buzzwords, most of which baffled a lot of folks in my department. Corporate jargon was bandied about in cryptic cadence, often mixing up the mysterious metaphors — like "getting your cats in a row" or "herding ducks"— making them even more confounding. My close colleagues and I would exit those grueling marathons with absolutely no clue as to what had just transpired. We were clueless as to whether we were headed in the same strategic direction as a department.

But, there was always lunch, so it wasn't a total loss.

Years ago, I worked in the advertising department of a large, national after-market auto parts supplier (you probably know which one). I was one of a dozen graphic artists whose responsibilities included the production of the company's weekly advertising circular for the Sunday newspaper. These multi-panel broadsheets consisted of hundreds of items jammed into postage stamp-sized blocks arranged in large, colorful grids that were spread over four (sometimes six) pages. Every week, it seemed, the same items were featured in the ads but their positions were rearranged like a big Rubik's Cube. Before a new ad was composed, the production department (of which I was a part) would meet with the executive advertising team, as well as the product-line buyers, to discuss what would be included in the coming week's circular. The groups would assemble in a large, paneled conference room, everyone jockeying for position at the oblong table. Department members would do their best to sit together in order to compare hastily-scribbled notes. Sometimes, due to prior commitments, late arrivals had to find a seat far from their department colleagues, forced to "wing-it" on their own. These meetings were pointless because the same items were advertised over and over and, throughout the course of the week, the decisions made in the meeting were overridden by the "powers-that-be" who couldn't remember what they decided three days earlier.

One meeting in particular, I was able to grab a seat near the Vice-President of Advertising. The actual President of Advertising, curiously, never attended these meetings. As I recall, he was rarely even seen, usually spending his days behind a closed office door at the end of a hallway. On the rare occasion when he was spotted, he was only glimpsed for a few seconds as he carried a cup of coffee back to his office, his tanning-booth skin tone harsh beneath the overhead florescent lights. His "second-in-command" — a bespectacled, lanky gentleman who, I swear to God, was stoned off his ass every second of the day — led the meetings in his superior's stead. And there I was, seated to his right, the faint smell of marijuana between us (although that could have just been the power of suggestion and reputation). I was surrounded by others from my department, all waiting with a fresh page of a legal pad and our ball-points poised at the ready. The room began to fill up with buyers and assistant buyers, along with representatives from the pricing department. Minutes before the meeting commenced, my pal Steeveedee, a copywriter from the advertising department, rushed in looking harried and scanning the room for an available chair. He spotted one  in the far corner and snaked and shuffled his way through the crowded room to get to it. The meeting began. Buyers shouted for attention and the production team asked everyone to slow down with their directions as they feverishly jotted down instructions as quickly as possible. I watched Steeveedee arrange and rearrange papers and notes in his hands, a look of deep concentration on his face. 

That's when I decided to be an asshole.

I inconspicuously withdrew my cellphone from my pocket and sent a three-word message to Steeveedee's number. I slowly and deliberately typed the fourteen-letter message and hit the "send" button.

"Go fuck yourself" it read.

In a few seconds, I watched Steeveedee fish in his pocket and extract his phone. I watched as he looked down at his phone over the tops of his glasses and pressed the buttons to retrieve his messages. I watched as his eyes darted across the tiny screen of his phone as he read my message. I watched as his cheeks puffed out and he bit his lip to stifle, what was obviously going to be, a very loud and hearty laugh. I watched as Steeveedee closed his eyes to regain his composure and then glanced around the room for — who else? — me.

And there I was — smiling and holding back a laugh myself — when his eyes finally landed on me.

I still hate meetings, but I sure liked that one.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

I always love my mama

Ann Jarvis was a Sunday school teacher in Taylor County, West Virginia in the late 19th century. One particular Sunday, Ann closed her lesson with a prayer, offering: "I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it." Ann's daughter, Anna, found great inspiration from her mother's words and devoted her life to her mother's honor and sentiment.

After college, Anna briefly joined her beloved mother in the church, working as a teacher, but soon she pursued an opportunity that brought her to Philadelphia. Anna found success as the first female literary and advertising editor at the Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company. Later, she became a shareholder in the Quaker City Cab Company, her brother's business. Although she was over three hundred miles away, Anna remained close with her dear mother, corresponding regularly by mail. When Anna's father passed away, Anna convinced her mother to move to Philadelphia and she did so reluctantly. However, Ann Jarvis's health was in a steady decline, forcing Anna to devote the majority of her time to taking care of her ailing mother. Ann Jarvis died on May 9, 1905 at the age of 71. Anna was heartbroken.

Three years after her mother's death, Anna arranged for a memorial service at her mother's church in West Virginia. Anna could not attend, though she ordered five hundred white carnations to be distributed to all in attendance. Anna, herself, spoke at a simultaneous ceremony held in the auditorium at the John Wanamaker Department store in Philadelphia. Anna's heartfelt words brought the crowd to tears. The day — May 10 — was designated as the first official Mother's Day. On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a congressional resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. Anna was extremely protective of the holiday and took its celebration personally.

Save it, you ungrateful jerk.
In subsequent years, Anna fought tirelessly and viciously against the apparent commercialization of Mother's Day. She brazenly expressed her disgust with the floral, confection and greeting card industries. She publicly railed against making sentimentality a commodity, announcing: "A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother — and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment." Anna staged protests against the celebration of Mother's Day. In 1943, she organized a petition to officially rescind Mother's Day. However, her efforts came to an end when she was mysteriously placed in a sanitarium in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Executives from within the flower and greeting card industries paid the bills to keep her institutionalized. Anna Jarvis died on November 24, 1948. She never married nor did she have any children.

Now, call your mother and tell her you love her.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

I won't back down

This is a story of resilience, tenacity and resourcefulness. And, if you're not careful, you may even learn something.

First, the learning part of this story. As spring tries to emerge from a winter that just doesn't want to loosen its icy grip, Passover, the harbinger of the vernal equinox and the Jewish holiday that commemorates.... er...Pharaoh and Moses and plagues and letting my people go... concluded just last week. In preparation for Passover, my family has always observed  and practiced the traditional rituals associated with the holiday. Over the years, we have become more lenient and relaxed in some areas, but Mrs Pincus remains firm on cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom, ditching everything in the refrigerator and restocking it with food that is certified "Kosher for Passover." For those who are not familiar with the "rules" of Passover, or keeping kosher, besides the basics of "no pork, no shellfish and no mixing meat with dairy" which apply all year long, Passover foods are like starting fresh. They are prepared and are kept clear of non-Passover foods. Plus, depending on your family's specific, sub-ethnic heritage (now, it gets really gets complicated), some foods — like corn, peanuts and rice — are strictly forbidden during the eight day observance. To make things more confusing, some foods are "Kosher for Passover" all the time and their packaging is so labeled.. (Yeah, it took me a while for the concept to "click," for me, too.)

In the week or so prior to the first day of Passover, my wife makes a trip to a supermarket about thirty minutes from our home. Sure, most supermarkets in urban areas stock an aisle with big boxes of matzoh, glass jars of gefilte fish and matzoh ball soup and a few shelves of Passover baking mixes that are just terrible enough to make one vow to just refrain from consuming any Passover cake the next year. The Shop Rite that Mrs P goes to has a rather large and varied selection of Passover foods not available in the average "let's accommodate the Jews for a week" section of our local Acme Market. The temporary Passover department is adjacent to the extensive Kosher section that opened to cater to a pocket of ultra-Orthodox Jews that reside nearby. Among the regular stock of kosher groceries is a packaged meat and cold cut display, many of which is clearly labeled "Kosher for Passover and Year Round Use." Bingo! That's the stuff! Mrs. P scooped up several packages of pastrami, corned beef and salami — all to be enjoyed by her and her meat-eating parents. I am a vegetarian. She filled her shopping cart with other Passover-certified items and headed to the checkout  lane. When she got home, and began to unpack her purchases, she noticed that one package of corned beef was not vacuum-sealed, its contents a pale, sickly beige. It looked small and drawn as it sat awkwardly in its unnerving ballooned package. Mrs. Pincus frowned. She shuffled through the many plastic grocery store bags and located the receipt, making a mental note to return the meat after the holiday was over.

Well, Passover finally ended. I think it may have even run a few days longer than usual. Anyway, after Mrs. Pincus got the kitchen back in order, she threw the suspect corned beef in a bag, grabbed the receipt and we headed out to the Greater Northeast, a misnomer that has attached itself to the far northern tip of the Philadelphia city limits, not far from where I grew up.

We parked and with determined steps, Mrs P bee-lined straight for the Customer Service desk. She presented the receipt and the debilitated package. She pleaded her case to the disinterested young man on the other side of the counter. Suddenly, he seemed to focus on the "Kosher for Passover" legend on the label. Immediately and without listening to another word from my wife, he grabbed a nearby phone and paged a manager. Within seconds, a gentleman in shirtsleeves and a necktie appeared at our side. He interrupted Mrs. P's explanation with a very rehearsed "We are not taking returns on Passover merchandise." And then he grinned a shit-eating grin. Mrs. P furrowed her brow and took it from the top. She patiently (and I mean with the patience of Job) explained that this corned beef, as well as other items, are labeled "Kosher for Passover" all the time. Items that this very store sells all year long. Items that this store stocks at this very moment. The necktied manager with the shit-eating grin nodded and said, "I understand, but we are not taking any returns on Passover items." He continued grinning. Clearly, he did not understand.

Mrs. Pincus began again. Slowly and carefully, she repeated her points. Mr. Manager had obviously lost interest, but stood with his head lolling to one side and pretended to listen. This time, he allowed her to finish before repeating his mantra about not accepting returns on blah blah blah blah blah. Mrs. Pincus was beginning to get a bit tense, much in the way one would get debating important issues with a turnip. I stood a few feet away from the building confrontation, but when my wife mentioned — again — other items bearing the "Kosher for Passover" designation all year round, I took it upon myself to run over to the Kosher deli section and bring back a current package of the same corned beef brand we were returning. And I did just that.

I gave the freshly-picked package to my wife and she waved it in the managers direct, pointing out the words "Kosher for Passover" emblazoned on the label. "My husband just got this from your shelf. If I bought this and returned it tomorrow, you wouldn't accept it?," she asked. With his familiar robotic inflection, he repeated, "We are not taking returns on Passover merchandise." This time, he added that we were welcome to come back tomorrow and speak to the store manager. The store manager? Who the fuck was this guy the whole time. Mrs. P squinted at his name badge. Oh, the assistant manager. "but he won't take the return either.," the assistant added.

"Look," Mrs. Pincus growled thorough clenched teeth, "I am not leaving until I get a refund or a store credit or something." And she meant it. I've known her for 35 years. Oh, she meant it alright. The manager... I mean assistant manager sighed and reluctantly picked a store gift card off a rack. "Okay," he said, "I'll give the amount on a gift card, but I am going to get in so much trouble for this." He loaded the card with the refund amount. Seven dollars and ninety-nine cents. That's right. The assistant manager quarreled and quibbled and disputed over less than eight bucks. Speaking of misnomers, that "Customer Service" sign hanging over our heads was a blatant one.

The next day, my wife called the store to speak to the actual manager. He was receptive, respectful and attentive. First, he apologized profusely for the behavior of his staff. Then he expressed his appreciation of the explanation and said he would be enlightening his staff with this new information about the labeling of Kosher foods.

Guess who'll be the recipient of his first lesson?