Sunday, December 30, 2018

where to now, st. peter?

It was inevitable. I'm just surprised it took this long.

On Wednesday evening, December 19, members of the Elkins Park community gathered with members of the board of the Creekside Co-op and voted to close the struggling business at the end of the day on Saturday, December 22 — three days before Christmas and six years after it first opened its doors. Everyone in attendance was sad. After all, this was the death knell for a community experiment that many looked upon with great hope. However, as I had mentioned in a previous blog post (from three years ago), it was destined to fail from Day One.

Please! Don't misunderstand me! Despite my negative attitude towards the co-op, I really wanted it to succeed. I did. But, it couldn't. It was run by a group of folks whose heart was in the right place. Until, of course, that heart shifted to be come a chip on its shoulder.

The co-op floundered because it couldn't quite decide what it wanted to be. Did it want to be a gourmet market? A community gathering spot? A convenience store? It wasn't sure. I do know what it wasn't. It wasn't a co-op. Sure, you could become a member, but, unlike a true co-op, no one was required to put in a certain amount of work time. Membership fees entitled members to the peace of mind that comes from knowing you are supporting a business that is poorly run. Oh, and once a month, you could choose a day to receive 5% off of your shopping order. Aside from those meager "benefits," the co-op offered nothing of substance to members. The place was chock full of salaried employees who didn't necessarily live in the community, something that sort of defeated the purpose of the co-op's mission. Plus, and perhaps even more astounding, at the conclusion of the meeting that decided the co-op's demise, a collection was established to help meet the final week's payroll for the co-op's forty-five employees. Forty-five! That place should have run comfortably and effortlessly with less than half of that staff. I feel bad that folks were losing their jobs in the thick of the holiday season, but, if the co-op management had been more realistic, their final decision would have affected far fewer people.

But that was the problem with the co-op. The whole deal wasn't fully thought out. Before they sold their first jar of sun-dried tomatoes or smashed their first avocado, the co-op board purchased the building, instead of renting. Once the doors finally opened (after a lengthy, delay-filled three years), the co-op chose to stock some of the same products one could pick up for less money at one of the three supermarkets within close competitive distance. They opened for the business day well after the foot traffic had passed their locked front doors on their way to the train station, thereby losing potential "grab and go" breakfast business, as well as missing the boat on commuters picking up something to take to work for lunch.

In the six years of the co-op's existence, I never received a flyer, a coupon, a sample, or any sort of enticement letting me know that they were open for business. Twice, I remember stepping off the train after my evening commute and spotting a young lady in a co-op apron offering a tray of tiny tidbits to my fellow riders. After two consecutive days, she was never seen again. On the handful of times I reluctantly breached the co-op's doors to pick up a small container of milk to tide me over until I could make it to an actual supermarket, I was never asked if I was interested in becoming member and never told how beneficial a membership would be.

I never found the co-op welcoming. I never found the employees friendly. I always felt like I was an outsider at a party where I was not on the guest list. Well, now that the party's over, visitors to the co-op's Facebook page are already speculating on what's going to move into the vacant space. While they are making many wild and totally unrealistic suggestions, a few have proposed that another local co-op — a successful one —  absorb our co-op.

And that, my friends, is why the co-op closed.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

in my midnight confession

I grew up in a Jewish household. To me, that meant we didn’t drag a tree into our living room every December, we didn’t dress up in our finest clothes on a late Sunday in April, and we didn’t believe that Jesus was "Our Savior" — whatever that meant. (Who thought, at four years old, I needed saving?) Despite the majority of my friends and classmates also being Jewish, we weren’t denied participation in Christmas card and gift exchanges at school and dyeing Easter eggs every spring. It also didn’t stop me from enjoying another practice associated with my communion wafer-munching friends — the visit to Santa Claus. 

I have vivid memories of accompanying my Mom to one of several large department stores in the pre-mall days of the 1960s. The store's toy department was jammed with all the latest offerings to fulfill a child’s appetite whetted by Saturday morning commercials and the thick Sears Wish Book. Just past the aisles of colorful playthings was an area gaily decorated with twinkling lights and pine garland and speckled with oversized red velvet bows and piles of fake snow. In the center sat a raised platform covered with more fake snow surrounding a great throne on which sat the seasonal fat man himself. Several holly-decked pylons connected by candy-striped rope designated a queue line. Excited children chatted and fidgeted as they waited their turn to greet St. Nick and impart their requests for gifts. 

My mom directed me to join the line while she made arrangements with the "elves" operating the huge tripod-supported camera for a photographic record of my encounter with Santa. (Although I’m sure he did, I don’t recall my older brother joining us for these yearly excursions. Obviously, he got wise to this scam at an earlier age than I did.) I patiently waited for my chance to tell Santa what I wanted. I knew that we didn’t celebrate Christmas, didn’t have a Christmas tree and especially didn’t have a chimney or fireplace, but I never made the connection. All I knew was: if you wanted presents, this was the guy to ask. A smiling little girl in white tights and a plaid coat climbed down from Santa’s lap and happily skipped away. A college-age young lady in full elf uniform waved me in. My moment in the spotlight had arrived. My mom stood by the platform's exit ramp and beamed. I’d fix that in a few minutes. 

The kind-faced Santa looked down at me perched on his red-flocked lap and asked if I had been good this year. My four-year old mind assessed the question. As if any four-year old would fess up, I answered that I not only had I been good, I’d been very good. Then, he asked the most important question, the one I was preparing for. 

"What would you like for Christmas?," he smiled. I wrinkled my brow and bent my tiny mouth into a frown at the "Christmas" reference. But then, I raised my head proudly, cleared my little throat and replied. 

"My very own roll of Scotch tape." 

Santa stared, perplexed. "What?" he asked in a puzzled tone. 

”I want my very own roll of Scotch tape.,” I repeated. (Okay, I thought, the guy's old. Maybe he didn’t catch me on the first go-round.) Santa looked over my shoulder at my mother. My mother frantically looked around for a place to hide. She glanced back at Santa with a "that-is-not-my-kid-on-your-lap" look on her face. Santa looked at me again and saw the I-am-not-shittin’-around look on my face. With disbelief, he stammered as he echoed my request. 

"A roll of Scotch tape?" 

 I confirmed. 

"Nothing else?," he asked, somewhat hopeful. 

I stared back at Santa with my own disbelief. "Nope.," I said. Why on earth would I want anything else, I thought. I’m talking Scotch-fucking-tape, my chubby friend! Do you have any idea how much fun I could have with my very own roll of Scotch tape? 

The bewildered Santa smiled, nodded, handed me a candy cane and sent me on my way. I joined my mom who was busily trying to hide her embarrassment from the other mothers."Did you just ask Santa for a roll of Scotch tape?," she asked. "Yep. Of my very own." 

Mission accomplished. My mom and I continued walking through the store.
I'm dreaming of an adhesive Christmas.
This story originally appeared in a slightly different form on my illustration blog in December 2010.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

looking here and there, looking everywhere

Every year, for the past thirty-three, my wife and I have hosted a dessert party the evening before Thanksgiving. The gathering is warm and friendly and the guest list has evolved considerably over those three-plus decades. The only people who have been in attendance at every one are Mrs. Pincus and yours truly. 

In preparation for the annual event, Mrs. Pincus bakes everything that is served to our guests. Everything. By herself. Occasionally, I have been asked to retrieve a canister of flour from a high cabinet or to run down to the basement freezer for another bag of chocolate chips. Otherwise, I am a spectator in the kitchen. Mrs. Pincus is like a fine artist and a warm oven, a Kitchen-Aid mixer and a counter full of ingredients make up her palette. She spends an entire day (and sometimes a few hours the morning of the party) whipping up a vast array of the most tempting baked goods this side of Sara Lee.

Among the pies and tarts and brownies (two kinds), Mrs. Pincus will include her old stand-by and perennial favorite – gingerbread men. Except Mrs. P makes 'em in the shape of bears instead of humans. However, she doesn't use a cookie cutter. She uses a cardboard template that actually predates our holiday parties by a few years. Mrs. P rolls out the homemade dough, lays the thin cardboard bear on top and, with the point of a sharp paring knife, follows the perimeter of the guide until she meets the point at which she started. She removes the stencil and places the bear-shaped dough on a cookie sheet alongside his previously-cut dough pals. (This year, I got to decorate the pre-baked treats with chocolate chip eyes, noses and buttons.) Then, they get popped into the oven for a secret amount of time and come out as deliciously-whimsical tawny cookies.

In the down time, while several pies are in the oven, Mrs. Pincus and I adorn our house in a overlay of Thanksgiving embellishment. We have a big plastic bin filled with earth-toned table runners and mantle scarves and little themed knick-knacks depicting pilgrims and Native Americans. There are twinkly light sets and rustic plaques and every year we place them in the same spots around the first floor of our home. At the risk of tooting my own horn (of plenty), our house looks very attractive and inviting in late autumn, especially when enhanced by our collection of holiday tsochkies. A house full of people have let us know how much they enjoy this yearly soiree – at least that's what we think they have told us. It's hard to understand some folk when their mouths are stuffed with two kinds of homemade pumpkin pie.

After the last guest has left, we begin the tedious task of cleaning up. We have thankfully received help from some friends who hang around later, but the wrapping of breakables and gathering of the tiny novelties is reserved for Thanksgiving morning, when Mrs. Pincus and I have the house to ourselves. This year, I picked each and every little figurine from the fireplace mantle, along with fistfuls of felt oak leaves and stashed them in the dedicated bin with the coiled light sets and die-cut place mats. At the end of my collecting, I had a wad of tissue and an empty box lacking one Hallmark Donald Duck dressed in a black frock and a silver-buckled Puritan hat. I looked every where... and I mean everywhere.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, Mrs. Pincus was rifling through her recipe box for her trusty bear template. And it was nowhere to be found. She scoured the shelf in our kitchen coat closet where the recipe box resides when its not being employed to dispense the secrets of pecan pie or Bubbie Elka's pinwheel cookies. Mrs. P frowned – not unlike the missing bear's expression – and said, with a great deal of disappointment "Someone stole my bear!"

"Oh, come on," I reassured, "who would want to take that?"

Realizing that she was accusing one of her guests of the theft of something they probably didn't know existed, Mrs. Pincus continued her futile search. After too long, we abandoned the hunt. In the days and weeks following Thanksgiving, however, my wife still casually opened drawers and looked behind things that she had looked behind a million times. Nothing. No bear.

November turned into December and the weather has become increasingly colder. This morning, I decided to finally forsake my denim jacket-and-hoodie ensemble in favor of my heavy pea coat and knit gloves. I opened the coat closet in the kitchen and began scanning the various specimens of outerwear stored within. I passed a few coats I still wonder why I am hanging on to until I came across the navy blue woolen ulster that I hadn't seen in nearly a year. I put the coat on and closed the closet door.

It wouldn't close snugly.

I opened the door again and assessed how I had disrupted the arrangement of hangers. I adjusted  and readjusted them and tried the door again. It still wouldn't close correctly. A little more rearranging was necessary and maybe I had to kick my winter boots to the rear of the closet floor. I looked down at the errant boots. Suddenly, against the side wall of the closet interior, I spotted the AWOL bear, its forlorn face staring at me in silent relief. I crouched down and picked the bear off the closet wall. I placed it on the kitchen counter where Mrs. Pincus would surely see it later when she came downstairs.

Now that one mystery in the Pincus house is solved, I will move on to the next one.

If you were at my house the night before Thanksgiving this year... and you took my Donald Duck, please bring it with you next year. No questions asked. There may even be some pie in it for you.

Or a gingerbread bear.

My annual Christmas music compilation is available as a FREE DOWNLOAD at for a limited time. 

 This year, it’s a whopping 82 minutes of pure Christmas wonderment that'll have you wondering why you downloaded it in the first place. But, as long as you did, why not share it with your family and friends. It's guaranteed to make sure they don't overstay their welcome. 

 You get twenty-eight eclectic Christmas selections featuring a mix of obscure artists giving up on their dreams of stardom and popular artists committing career suicide. These holiday tunes run the gamut from weird to really weird plus a custom full-color cover with track listings – all for you and all for FREE!
(That’s right! FREE!)

Sunday, December 9, 2018

and all that it's supposed to be

Back in the summer, I won free tickets to a couple of shows in the area by spinning a big carnival wheel that was set up by a concert promoter at the Xponetial Music Festival (presented by Subaru). In September, Mrs. Pincus and I used our first set of free tickets to see 60s holdover Arlo Guthrie at the venerable Keswick Theater in the nearby hamlet of Glenside, where he delivered a surprisingly entertaining performance. He and his band did all the songs you'd expect Arlo Guthrie to do ("City of New Orleans," "Mr. Customs Man," that pickle-motorcycle song and a sprawling recitation of "Alice's Restaurant," complete with video accompaniment) and turned in a pretty good show. And, of course, it was free, so... no complaints.

Last night, Mrs. P and I went back to the Keswick, to see Rufus Wainwright on the 20th Anniversary tour of his first two albums. I can name two songs by Rufus Wainwright (maybe three, if you count covers) and I own none of his albums. I didn't even know that his debut was released twenty years ago. But, I don't dislike him. I just wouldn't call myself a "fan." And free tickets are free tickets, so...

First, let me offer a bit of a confession. Two days before the Rufus Wainwright show, I went to see guitarist JD McPherson bring his holiday show to the somewhat grungy Underground Arts in North Philadelphia, a venue that is more "underground" than "arts." JD and his band are touring in support of his stellar new release, a rocking Christmas album that would stand as a great record on its own, even without the sardonic Christmas references. I have seen JD McPherson several times before and at the conclusion of each show, I still can't figure out why this guy isn't a huge star.

So, in the satisfying afterglow of Wednesday night's concert, my wife and I filed through the metal detectors at the Keswick and were guided to our seats by one of the attentive ushers, all of whom would look more at home behind the counter of a Woolworth's in 1940. The Keswick opened its doors on Christmas Day 1928 and a lot of the staff appears to have been present as witnesses to that big event. The theater is currently undergoing a tediously-slow renovation, so the plain plastered walls and bare-bones stage are a bit of a stark distraction. I'm sure the place will be beautiful thirty years from now when the improvements are completed.

My wife and I were in the definite minority, as the crowd showed great enthusiasm for Rachel Eckroth, the opening act. Rachel, a member of Wainwright's band, served up a group of atmospheric tunes played on an array of synthesizers. The voice distortions and otherworldly noises emanating from her musical instruments likened her performance to a kid who just got a Casio keyboard on Christmas morning and was learning all the cool stuff it could do. Plus her songs were boring.

This picture is not blurry.
You're falling asleep.
After a short break, Rufus Wainwright and his band took the stage and busted out "April Fools," the opening track from his self-titled 1998 release – and one of the two songs I knew coming in. Well, I thought, this may not be too bad. I have been to many, many concerts where I was not at all familiar with the artist's catalog and still had a great time. (A September 2017 show by Austin indie rockers A Giant Dog comes to mind.) Rufus soon departed into the sleep-inducing mire of a slew of draggy, wordy, mid-tempo songs, all delivered in the slurred vocal styling that has become his signature. I found myself dozing, only to be awakened sporadically by the thunderous applause of the local Rufus Wainwright fan base – people who probably paid for their tickets – showing their approval.

Rufus's stage banter wasn't exactly riveting either, as he first acknowledged two young boys sitting stage-side and related an incoherent anecdote about taking his own daughter to concerts. Then, he stammered out a story about touring with his mother (the late folk singer Kate McGarrigle) with a very loose reference to being in Pennsylvania and the pay-off being an insult to fans of folk music.

The band returned to the stage after a brief intermission. They enthusiastically launched into "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk," the other Rufus Wainwright song I knew. Then, Set Two took the same path we saw in Set One. It sunk back into that familiar dirge-y ebb, each line of each song dispatched at the oozing pace of an overturned jar of molasses. Mrs. Pincus and I exchanged silent, eyebrow-raised glances in the darkened theater. At the conclusion of the next song, we quickly gathered our coats and made a break for the exit under the camouflage of a standing ovation.

In my forty-plus years of going to concerts, I can say, with some level of confidence, that this was the single most boring show I have ever attended. Not a complaint, mind you, because the tickets were free.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

hey joe

I would categorize myself as a "casual Three Stooges" fan. I don't hate the Three Stooges, like a lot of people. I actually like the Three Stooges. I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to study the TV listings to find when the next showing of a Three Stooges short would be, but, If I came across a Three Stooges short while scanning the channels, and I knew there wasn't anything else on (like The Andy Griffith Show)... I'd watch it. However, I don't quote the Three Stooges. I don't argue about how funny they were. I don't call anyone "Porcupine" or say "Soitenly!," but I've enjoyed the Three Stooges in my day.

You know what I don't like about the Three Stooges, though? Joe Besser. I can't stand Joe Besser! 

After joining his brother Moe and friend Larry Fine for a second stint with the famed comedy trio, Shemp Howard died unexpectedly in a taxi cab on his way home from attending a boxing match. Although the Three Stooges were now into their third decade of slapstick merriment, the boys were not ready to hang up their monkey wrenches. According to the contract he signed with Columbia Pictures, Moe had approval of any new addition to the group. Actually, he pitched the idea of just he and Larry continuing as "The Two Stooges," but Columbia executives had other ideas. They recruited studio contract player Joe Besser to round out the threesome. Besser was already an established comedic actor, with roles in feature films, as well as part of an ensemble of actors on The Jack Benny Program and The Abbott and Costello Show on the radio. As the newest Stooge, Besser made the decision to refrain from imitating Shemp or the beloved fan-favorite Curly. Instead he relied on his established character of the high-strung, easily-irritated, tantrum-throwing whiner that had proved popular throughout his career. Besser also had it written into his contract that he would accept limited physical abuse from the other Stooges. Since "cartoon violence" was a staple of the Three Stooges repertoire, Larry Fine graciously offered to take the brunt of Moe's wrath. Besser's tenure with the troupe lasted two years. 

After his departure from the Three Stooges, Joe Besser tended to his ailing wife, but soon joined the cast of The Joey Bishop Show, a sitcom that ran on NBC. Besser played Joey's inept and excitable superintendent for four seasons, a role that, by no means, expanded on his minimal talent. Besser moved on to guest roles in many sitcoms and eventually lent his distinctive voice to animated cartoons. He passed away in 1988 at the age of 80.

I never understood Joe Besser's appeal. His character was more annoying than funny. Okay, maybe someone thought he was funny, but that type of negative character didn't have a long-term, endearing quality of — say — mischievous Harpo Marx or childlike Lou Costello. Joe Besser was brash and disruptive and... not funny. 

Before both members of the "Joe Besser Fan Club" launch an all-out attack on me, I cite "Stooge-a-Polooza" TV host Rich Koz (otherwise known as horror-move host "Svengoolie"). Koz often apologized on the air before showing Three Stooges shorts featuring Joe Besser. During the show's tenure, Koz received more than a few letters from viewers expressing their outrage over his airing them.

Find me one person — even a rabid Three Stooges fan — who likes Joe Besser. You can't! And if someone claims they actually enjoy Joe Besser's work — well, they're just craaaa-zy!

My annual Christmas music compilation is available as a FREE DOWNLOAD at for a limited time. 

 This year, it’s a whopping 82 minutes of pure Christmas wonderment that'll have you wondering why you downloaded it in the first place. But, as long as you did, why not share it with your family and friends. It's guaranteed to make sure they don't overstay their welcome. 

 You get twenty-eight eclectic Christmas selections featuring a mix of obscure artists giving up on their dreams of stardom and popular artists committing career suicide. These holiday tunes run the gamut from weird to really weird plus a custom full-color cover with track listings – all for you and all for FREE!
(That’s right! FREE!)