Sunday, December 29, 2019

oh no, I said too much

Last week, we got a new laminating machine at work. Without going into too much unnecessary detail, a laminating machine laminates (duh!), that is applies a protective barrier to the 54" wide sheets of self-adhesive vinyl that is an integral component of my job. 

One morning, I arrived at work to find an unfamiliar man assembling the new laminating machine in the warehouse area. I greeted him with a friendly "good morning" and he nodded in my direction, paying more attention to the task at hand. I opened the door to the Graphics Department and made my way to my desk. An hour or so later, the man wheeled the new machine into the graphics workroom to the space previously occupied by our old laminating machine. My boss and I joined him in the workroom for a training session. The three of us gathered around the new apparatus like the townspeople of Anatevka marveling at Motel Kamzoil's new sewing machine. The man — who resembled Mike Judge as he appeared in Office Space — nervously tugged at his company-required tie, cleared his throat and began his overly-rehearsed training speech.

Actually, before Mike Judge started, he asked: "Which one of you will be taking notes and which one will be taking pictures?" My boss and I looked at each other. Neither one of us had any plans for note taking nor could we imagine what part of the training would need to be preserved with photographic evidence. I obligingly grabbed a legal pad and took my cellphone out of my pocket, clicking open the "camera" app in the process. I suppose this little display of interest satisfied Mike Judge, as he commenced.

I was told to take this picture.
The tone of his instruction was very stilted. He spoke to us as though we were bewildered elementary school students who had never laid eyes on a commercial laminator before. In reality, our old laminator — the one my boss had been using for the last fifteen years and had just trained me to use — was still just a few feet away. He pointed to the buttons and dials on the control panel — explaining in repetitive detail — the purpose of each one. Several times, Mike Judge told me to "write that down" without specifying exactly what he wanted me to write down. He hefted a roll of laminating material onto one of the aluminum receiving rollers and fit it into the proper position. Again, Mike Judge stopped and asked, "Did you get a picture of that?" "Of what?," I thought to myself, snapping a picture of nothing in particular.

Suddenly, in the middle of threading the laminate through the specified path in the machine, Mike Judge turned to tell my boss and me that he was awarded "Salesman of the Year" and honored with his photo on the cover of a trade publication. (Laminator Monthly, perhaps?) Then he quickly switched back to "training mode." My boss and I silently exchanged confused looks. 

After he passed the material under and around several rollers, Mike Judge stressed the importance of safety regarding the operation of the machine. He explained that most accidents on this machine happen to women, because they are not paying attention to what they're doing — always talking and distracted by something else. He emphasized "women" in this statement. Once more, I traded an uncomfortable glance with my boss.

At the end of our training, Mike Judge told us that his company's machines are designed to accommodate people with handicaps. "Y'know," he expounded, "there are people in wheelchairs and some with amputated or deformed hands and arms...." I blotted out the rest of his sentence. I wasn't interested in where he was headed with this.

Mike Judge asked which one of us would like to take a spin at a solo run on the machine, he gestured to my boss first, deeming him the less experienced member of the graphics department. Actually, my boss has been employed here for over twenty years and I just started this job a few months ago. But, since I have white hair and am older than my boss, Mike Judge just assumed..... Once the confusion was cleared up and we each got a chance to demonstrate our prowess on the new machine, Mike Judge packed up his belongings — his narrow-minded, antiquated, inappropriate, sexist way of thinking — and headed for the exit.

Once Mike Judge was gone, my boss asked me, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Then he added, "Sure you are."

Sunday, December 22, 2019

book I read

Recently, as part of a promotion at the radio station that employs my son, E. was asked to select a few special books from his youth to share with the listening audience. He was at our house, wherein his childhood bedroom remains a veritable shrine, practically undisturbed since that traumatic day he moved into his own house several years ago*. His bookshelf is still stacked with a large library that reflects the progression of reading material collected throughout his formative years. Okay, we sold his bureau, desk and lamp at a yard sale, but still....

When E. was little, bedtime always included a story. I loved to read to him and he loved being read to. The nightly ritual was always the same. After a bath, E. would get into his pajamas and choose a book. Then he'd climb up on his bed, where we were joined by our cat Scarlett — without any sort of prompt or enticement. The two of them would settle in as I read the evening's selection, be it an installment from the "Curious George" series or a dose of Dr. Seuss silliness or any number of off-kilter volumes that Mrs. Pincus and I thought would tickle E.'s developing sense of humor or trigger his budding imagination.

E. browsed the spines of each well-worn (and well-loved) and picked out three books. Three books, I assume, that had special meaning to him and stirred pleasant memories from his youth. The first book was Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, a familiar book, popular since its publication in 1963. The version that E. chose, however, is translated into Hebrew and reads from right to left. (Curiously, the illustrations are mirror images of the original.) The second book was It Happened in Pinsk by Arthur Yorinks. This quirky tale concerns shoe salesman Irv Irving, who wakes up one day without his head. The story unfolds with nary a sense of panic, as Irv's wife fashions a new head for her husband out of a pillowcase stuffed with socks. E. loved this story and the "matter-of-fact" way it was told. I provided different voices for the different characters that Irv met in his pursuit of his missing head — much to E.'s delight. The third book was The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway. This implausible yarn presented in rhyme — addressed a terrible wasp problem in the fictional town of Itching Down. The inhabitants of the town constructed the title assemblage as a way to trap the pesky insects.

Of course, we read a lot of books over the years. We read classics like The Wind in the Willows and A Wrinkle in Time (which I remember being a lot better in my youth). We read a number of Roald Dahl's twisted tales, as well as the first Harry Potter novel, just after its publication. (I found it to be a Roald Dahl rip-off.) And we read a lot of silly stories about pigs and bears and other amusing characters. We enjoyed reading together. I like to think that it had a positive and memorable impact on E.'s development into the adult he has become. 

On occasion, I have called E. — out of the blue — to ask if he looks back and has good memories of his childhood. Once he confirms that I am not dying, he answers "yes," and then realistically adds "for the most part." 

I'm okay with that.

*Don't bring this up to Mrs. Pincus

Sunday, December 15, 2019

sympathy for the devil

According to a recent news story, 49-year old Swati Goyal had just boarded a flight from Florida headed to Las Vegas. Just before take-off, a male flight attendant approached Ms. Goyal to explain that "the crew" had found the T-shirt that she was wearing offensive. He continued, expounding on her options — either cover the shirt up or leave the plane. At first, Ms. Goyal thought it was a joke. Ms. Goyal's husband thought it was a joke... until they spotted "a very angry-looking female flight attendant" standing nearby, glaring at the couple with her arms folded tightly across her chest. Ms. Goyal was dumbstruck. 

The male flight attendant then asked "Do you know what 'offensive' means?"

Ms. Goyal bristled. "Yes," she began curtly, "I’m a foreign-born minority woman. I know what my T-shirt means and my T-shirt is not offensive." The flight attendant reiterated. "If you do not remove or cover up your T-shirt, you will be asked to leave this airplane." Ms. Goyal eventually complied. Her husband was wearing several layered shirts, so she borrowed one and concealed the T-shirt-in-question behind some buttons and opaque cloth. Later, she commented that she had often worn the shirt and it usually evokes chuckles.

By the way, this is the shirt she was wearing....
Swati Goyal, it seems, is a proud atheist. She is a member of the Satanic Temple, which contrary to its name, does not advocate the worship of Satan. Actually, it does not even believe in a "Satan" figure. Instead, the Satanic Temple "encourages benevolence and empathy among all people, rejects tyrannical authority and advocates practical common sense and justice." The Satanic Temple sells these shirts as ironic commentary. However, it is an actual, recognized religion... just like yours.

Ms. Goyal clearly — and rightly — saw the demands of the staff of American Airlines as discrimination based on religion. After the flight landed, Ms. Goyal contacted American Airlines' corporate headquarters to complain about the treatment she received. The customer service representative listened quietly as Ms. Goyal spelled out her humiliation. Then, the corporate rep did not apologize, but referred to their policies for passenger conduct, citing the airline’s Conditions of Carriage position on “offensive” clothing. That position is: "not allowed," although American Airlines does not specifically explain what constitutes an offensive piece of clothing. I suppose they'll just know it when they see it.

This is a perfect example of everything I dislike about religion. I believe the basics of any and all religion is: "love each other" and "everybody get along with everybody" or some variation on those simple ideas. However, the followers of any given religion usually display vicious and condescending attitudes as they try to convince members of other religions that their made-up deity is better than your made-up deity. They readily dismiss beliefs that differ from their own, finding them "offensive" despite someone else having those "offensive" beliefs as the basis for their own religion. Considering that many religious groups are the object of so much prejudice, they practice an awful lot of it themselves.

I have seen a number of T-shirts that offend me, but I would never impede on anyone's right to express their beliefs, even if they don't gel with mine. On a recent cruise, I saw a guy wearing this shirt...
I find this shirt offensive, mostly because, as many military veterans have opined, the sentiment is misplaced.... and, contrary to popular belief, not everyone is a Christian.
I find this shirt offensive, as well...
Religion is a very personal thing. I would prefer if everyone kept it on a more personal level. Good for you that you love Jesus and all he has done for you, but isn't this display of gratitude best kept between you and your "higher being?" C'mon.... a little discretion goes a long way.

The shirt I find most offensive, is this one...
Ugh! I can't stand his voice.

Read more here:

Sunday, December 8, 2019

I wanna be a boss

Between my current job and the one that I thought would be the last job of my career, I worked at one of the shittiest jobs I ever had. It was a job that I took because, at the time, no one was exactly breaking down my door to hire me. I was 57 years old and, after being out of the job market loop for over a decade, I ran into a phenomenon that I never considered even existed — ageism. I was very discouraged and began to worry that I was, for lack of better word, "un-hire-able." 

Then, I got a call in response one of the hundreds of jobs to which I applied. I scheduled an interview and accepted a supervisory position at a small printing company that produced take-out menus. My official title was "design coordinator." I oversaw the design department, working closely with three graphic designers. One was a very talented, yet decidedly quirky, guy who sat in a darkened office just across the hall from me. The other two lived and worked in Ukraine and all of my communication with them was via Skype. The owner of the company was a slimy, deceitful man with no background in the printing business whatsoever. Within just a few days, it became apparent that his main business goal was to deceive and lie to his customers as much and as often as he could. Right before my eyes, I watched as he committed fraud on a daily basis. But, his business practice didn't really affect me. I got paid and I continued to do my job, adhering to the same work ethic that I maintained for thirty-plus years.

There was a staff of salespeople at this job. A bunch of commission-based morons who spoke to potential customers as though they had never used a telephone in their lives. This motley crew was guided by a sales director named Slick. Slick was a young man in his early 30s. He had a large ego and very little intelligence. He was what the kids call "a douchebag." He was obsessed with designer clothing, designer watches and designer cologne. He knew the best places to eat, the best places to shop and the best places to go on vacation. He spoke like an expert on all topics, although it was very obvious that he only had a feeble grasp of his subject and was just a spewing fountain of misinformation. Kind of like Wikipedia.

Do you know us?
Slick was convinced that he knew everything there was to know about everything. When he discovered new information (like something he just read on the internet), he proudly announced it, as though he was the first one to find out. One day, I heard him, in his office, listening to a number of Beatles songs in succession. After A few minutes, he popped into my office and asked me if I ever heard of the Beatles. I stopped what I was doing and looked up at him. I couldn't tell if he was joking or if he actually thought I had never heard of the Beatles. "Yes." I replied, "They're the band that Paul McCartney was in before Wings." My sarcasm flew right over his head. I realized that he had no idea who Paul McCartney was or what "Wings" was. He cocked his head and said, "Well, they got some pretty good songs." Then, he returned to his office.

Slick would often tell me that he regularly turns down job offers because he feels bad for the owner of the company for whom we worked. Slick was afraid if he left, the company would fold without him and he didn't want his coworkers to lose their jobs. He told me that he was planning to start a rival menu-printing company and would hire me to run his design department. I would do my work and let him talk, rarely interacting and just nodding my head every so often until he left my office.

The company was eventually bought out by a large printing company. Suddenly, my shitty job became a pretty good job. Our offices moved to a larger location at the new company. My boss was rarely in the office and Slick and his staff were moved to another part of the building where I was out of earshot of his inane observations. Alas, after a mere four months, the new company wasn't making the profit that they had hoped for and they had to make some staff cuts. My boss was tasked with laying me off. On a Tuesday.

This time around, the job search was much more encouraging. In just a few weeks, I secured a position at a very large company with a great group of coworkers. Just before I started my new job, I received a text message from Slick. He said that he believed it was a mistake to have let me go. He went on to say that he is fighting to get me back as soon as possible. Slick was in absolutely no position to "get me back." He had absolutely no connection to the hiring of any employee. I read over the text a few more times and replied that I had taken a job elsewhere.

And then I blocked Slick's number.

That chapter of my life is now behind me.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

if I'm not feeling any less sour

(Note: This post was written in July 2019. - JPiC)

From the moment I heard that Gilbert O'Sullivan was making a stop in Philadelphia on his current concert tour, I had to secure tickets. I don't know why. I certainly wasn't a huge Gilbert O'Sullivan fan.

Wait. Did I hear you ask "who?" If you did, then you must be under 50 years old.

Gilbert O'Sullivan was a British singer-songwriter in a long line of British singer-songwriters. Heavily influenced by his fellow countrymen, The Beatles, Gilbert O'Sullivan enjoyed much success in his native United Kingdom and a fraction of that success here in the United States. His biggest hit, "Alone Again (Naturally)," an ode to depression, spent six non-consecutive weeks at Number One in America in 1972. The follow-up, "Clair," a lovely yet borderline creepy ditty about Gilbert's young niece, peaked at Number 2 in 1973. A few months later, the upbeat "Get Down" hit Number 3. His next two singles charted in the low twenties and interest in all things Gilbert O'Sullivan sort of tanked by 1975. I had two of those singles and they occupied a proud place in may vast collection of 45s. But so did a lot of others.

So why was I so excited at the thought of seeing Gilbert O'Sullivan live in concert? I honestly don't know. A few of my Twitter pals – some of whom share the same nostalgic love for music from our youth – insisted I go see Gilbert O'Sullivan, touting his songwriting efforts as on par with Paul McCartney. (Full disclosure: National Lampoon, the great humor magazine, once asked in a faux Beatles trivia quiz: "When did Paul McCartney write Silly Love Songs?" The answer, of course, was "Between 1962 and 1985.") I obtained a pair of tickets and, to be honest, my wife was far less excited than I was. Far far less. "I know like two songs by him." she protested. "It'll be fun." I said with only the slightest hint of enticement in my voice. 

Last night was the show. And we went.

The venue, the beautiful World Cafe Live, my favorite venue in the city, was not packed. There were a number of folks in attendance, but I once saw The Pretenders in this same room and that show was packed! Jam packed! This night.... not so much. But I did notice that everyone there was easily 50 years of age and above. The stage was bare save for an electric keyboard, three guitars in racks and two chairs. As showtime approached more people filed in, including singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding (who now goes by his real name Wesley Stace and is currently a Philadelphia resident). 

Soon the house lights began to dim, a man walked across the stage from the backstage area. He sat down, picked up one of the guitars and began to strum. He was soon followed by a tall, lanky fellow with a huge mane of frizzy hair that would have been more suited to a much younger man. This was Gilbert O'Sullivan, looking considerably older that the boyish chap on the cover of his first few album releases. He took a seat at the keyboard and began to tap out a little tune tune that sounded like "Alone Again (Naturally)." As a matter of fact, for the next two hours over two sets and a twenty-minute intermission, every song sounded like "Alone Again (Naturally)." Was it good? Well, it wasn't bad. Was is boring? You bet. He capped off the first set with "Clair," but not before introducing every song with "This next song is interesting..." Gilbert sat on the stage and addressed the audience as though every song was a beloved masterpiece, loved the world over. In reality, I never heard of most of the songs that were played that evening. I have been to many concerts where I was not familiar with the bulk of a band's catalog, but these songs all sounded identical. There were either mid-tempo tunes like "Alone Again (Naturally)" or they were upbeat, pseudo-rockers like "Get Down." And, it appears that Gilbert O'Sullivan's body of work doesn't stray far from those two categories. 


My wife and I were in the overwhelming minority (once again). I have noted for some time that every band is someone's favorite band. And we were surrounded by Gilbert's entire Philadelphia fan base. There were loud sing-alongs coming from all sides. There were numerous folks mouthing the lyrics to each and every song that was played. Some even erupted in jubilant applause at the opening bars of songs that sounded to me like the opening bars of the previous ten songs. He told stories that evoked sporadic laughter and then played a familiar-sounding song. He ended the night with his signature song and then encored with "Get Down." Coincidentally, Mrs. P and I just heard "Get Down" on the Sirius XM "70s" channel and we simultaneously said "Oh, now I know three songs by Gilbert O'Sullivan."

In 2008, I saw Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. I was not familiar with most of the band's songs, but it was one of the best concerts I ever experienced even as a veteran of many, many concerts. I still (11 years later) talk about that show. Will I be talking about the Gilbert O'Sullivan show 11 years from now? Hmmm.... probably not even 11 hours from now.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

build a bridge to bring both sides together

Every day — twice a day — I pass the Lower Trenton Toll-Supported Bridge, that straddles the Delaware River between Trenton, New Jersey and Morrisville, Pennsylvania. No toll is collected from drivers crossing the bridge, making it one of just a handful of toll-free bridges leading out of the Garden State. Officially, the Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge is designated as part of US 1 - Business Route, however, US 1 - Business Route doesn't really cross the bridge. It's actually Route 32, but not until you are in Pennsylvania. The Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge has even been featured in a few movies, including 1954's Human Desire and 1988's Stealing Home. The real claim to fame for the Lower Trenton Toll-Supported Bridge comes from the somewhat arrogant slogan that adorns the southside span in seven-foot high neon letters. It reads "Trenton Makes The World Takes" and it is renowned (and even reviled) by those all over the Greater Philadelphia and surrounding area.

The Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge, which is known colloquially as the "Trenton Makes Bridge," opened on January 30, 1806, exclusively as a railroad bridge. It was the first railroad bridge in the United States to be used for interstate rail traffic. To keep up with the growing demands of railroad traffic, the bridge was rebuilt and reinforced four times over the years. 

In the spring of 1918, the Pennsylvania Railroad sold the bridge to state government of New Jersey and the tolls were removed. It was again rebuilt in 1928, after it was designated as an automobile traffic bridge for US Route 1. 

In 1910, the Trenton Chamber of Commerce ran a contest for a city slogan. Trenton, at the time, was a leading manufacturer of a multitude of goods, most notably steel, rubber, wire rope, linoleum and ceramics. New Jersey Senator and local businessman S. Roy Heath submitted the slogan "Trenton Makes The World Takes" and it was chosen as the winner. It appeared in brochures and on other printed material promoting the city of Trenton. In 1911, the slogan was affixed to the side of the Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge in large metallic letters. In 1917, the slogan was enlarged and illuminated with 24,000 incandescent lamps. In 1928, the sign and lights were removed and the bridge remained dark until an even bigger version was installed in 1935, this time the letters shone in bright glowing neon.

The sign and bridge, like much of the city of Trenton, fell into a dreadful state of disrepair. However, in the early 1980s, as part of a citywide revitalization, the sign was once again replaced with the biggest version yet In 2005, the sign received additional upgrades to lighting technology, including LED lights and multiple changing colors. More upgrades are scheduled as well.

Yet, as folks (like me) cross the adjacent Trenton-Morrisville Bridge (on the actual Route 1, where the toll is a buck), we still silently scoff at the boastful claim that the Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge makes on behalf of a once proud city. Because we are Philadelphians and that's what we do.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

all I want is a proper cup of coffee

Many years ago, Mrs. Pincus and I purchased a Keurig coffee maker and it was one of the best purchases we ever made. I love having a cup of coffee every morning, but brewing it in a coffee pot is time-consuming. The Keurig is easy to operate and very convenient. Sure, it's not exactly environmentally friendly. Actually, the single-serving patented K-cups are not recyclable. But, we are hoping that one day, they'll figure out a way to recycle them. (Honestly, Mrs. Pincus is more concerned about the future of recyclable K-cups. I don't really care.)

curse ya! curse ya! curse ya!
Recently, we had been finding a small puddle on our kitchen counter near the water reservoir of our Keurig. Thinking it was just an errant spill, it was sopped up with a paper towel. But, everyday there was a puddle again and, some days, the puddle was bigger that the day before. So, we started looking at new models of Keurig coffee makers to replace our current one, which obviously had seen better days. It still worked, but age had gotten the better of it.

Through some creative finances, including cashback incentives, reward points and discounts, Mrs. P managed a terrific deal on a brand new Keurig coffee maker. When she brought the new one home, I unpacked it and set it up in the spot on our kitchen counter, previously occupied by our old, leaky Keurig. I read over the new instructions, noting a few new features. The old Keuring sat on the counter, off to the side, its power cord coiled behind it like a dead snake. It silently awaited its fate. The ever-enterprising Mrs. P first suggested that it be stored with a collection of odds and ends on our back porch, waiting for the first nice day next spring, when it could be offered for second-hand purchase at our annual yard sale. But, Mrs. Pincus came up with another idea. She took a bunch of pictures of our old Keurig and offered it for sale on a few local "Facebook Yard Sale" pages. A brand new Keurig can run upwards of one-hundred-plus dollars. My wife put a twenty dollar price tag on it, with full disclosure of the water leak and she accompanied the post with a number of pictures showing our once-loyal Keurig from every possible angle, as though it was on a coffee maker "Wanted" poster.

...with diamond legs and handles
On Saturday, just a few days after Mrs. P placed the listing for our Keurig, she got a message from an interested potential buyer. The first thing the "buyer" asked was "Will you take ten dollars for it?" Mrs. Pincus frowned. "No, I will not.," she thought. These things are over a hundred bucks and this still works with a slight inconvenience. Hell, we were just using it last week. A quick swipe with a paper towel and your problems were solved. We began emptying the reservoir and only filling it with enough water to make a single cup of coffee. So.... twenty dollars was pretty reasonable. And from the pictures, one could tell it was in really good condition. The "buyer" countered at fifteen dollars. Not wanting appear as "the jerk," my wife sighed and consented to fifteen dollars. She then began making arrangements to meet the "buyer" on Sunday for the exchange. The "buyer" lives in Glenside, a small community not too far from our own small community. Mrs. P suggested the parking lot of a 7-11 that was midway between our two houses. The "buyer" agreed and a time a bit after noon was agreed upon. I loaded the Keurig into the back of my wife's car and she drove off to meet her "buyer."

A little over twenty minutes later, she pulled her car into our driveway. She had a look of vexed disgust on her face.

"What?," I asked, my single word inquiry covering the entire realm of my curiosity. I spotted the Keurig in the back of the car, in nearly the same spot I had placed it.

Mrs. P explained, "I got out of the car. I opened the back door and took out the Keurig. I turned around, holding it in my hands. The guy looks at it and says 'That's not what I want.' I turned around, put it back in the car and drove away."

Then she added, "I don't have time for this shit."

Sunday, November 10, 2019

see the man with the stagefright

* * * * * * WARNING * * * * * *
This blog post contains personal opinions. My personal opinions, as a matter of fact. You may not agree with them and that's okay. Just understand that I am very opinionated and I have resigned myself to the fact that my opinions are in the overwhelming minority. Perhaps this disclaimer should begin every one of my blog posts...

I dislike Broadway musicals. I like some movie musicals — Singing in the Rain, Oklahoma!, The Music Man and any number of gala spectacles from the Golden Age of Hollywood. But there is something about musical productions on the live stage that just rubs me the wrong way.

When I was in sixth grade, my mother took me to a matinee performance of Hair!, the hippie culture musical that was as popular as it was controversial. I had the soundtrack album and I used to play it endlessly. I knew every word to every song, even if I didn't understand what a lot of them meant. (I'm sure my mom was a bit on edge to hear her ten-year old singing "Sodomy.") I remember my mom being scolded by a group of protestors outside of the theater for bringing an impressionable youngster to this "smut" as one angry woman with a picket sign deemed it. My mom, in typical "Josh Pincus's mom" fashion, stood her ground, telling that lady to "mind her own business" (in so many words) as we marched through the theater doors. I remember liking the show, but I can't remember too many details aside from the infamous nude scene occurred at an unexpected time and under the camouflage of bright strobe lights.

In later years, I saw Grease! (eh! it was okay), Beatlemania (it was an incredible simulation, he said sarcastically) and The Phantom of the Opera (I hated it). After that, I have pretty much avoided the theater. It's weird because I love going to concerts and seeing live music performed. But there's just something about musical theater....

That said...

Back in 2013, network television began the experiment of bringing live Broadway musicals to the small screen. Although, I don't like Broadway musicals, I do love me some television. So, I watched one of the first ones that was broadcast. This was an over-hyped production of The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood. I am not familiar with Ms. Underwood's career, aside from knowing that she was a winner on American Idol, a show that despite having never seen, I have already formed an opinion about.... and it is not a favorable one. I was familiar, however, with the film version of The Sound of Music, but not the stage version, which this particular production would mimic. It was, at best, uneven. Carrie Underwood appeared overwhelmed and not up to the role's demands. Broadway powerhouse Audra McDonald, as "Mother Abess," overshadowed her fellow cast members with her stellar vocals. The rest of the production was highly forgettable (remember... my opinion).

In spite of lukewarm reviews, NBC stuck it out and, a year later almost to the day, presented Peter Pan Live! — a shit show if there ever was one. Allison Williams, in the title role, appeared uncomfortable, displaying a "deer-in-the-headlights" expression for the duration of the show. She was featured alongside a slightly out-of-it Christopher Walken, who seemed to have lost interest midway into the second act.

These two misguided presentations were followed by even more attempts from NBC, (Hairspray! and The Wiz) standing firm as though they were going to continue with this until they got it right (and so far, they haven't). Fox, feeling they had a better handle on things, joined in with Grease! (jumping on the "titles that include an exclamation point" bandwagon), A Christmas Story and The Passion (a musical tale of Jesus's last days, which no one recalls watching).

I actually watched Fox's take on The Rocky Horror Picture Show, touted as an "event," a week before Halloween in 2016. I loved The Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was in high school, having seen well over one hundred audience-participatory showings. This ill-conceived presentation was doomed from the start. Of course, it would suffer from endless comparisons to the now-beloved low-budget (if somewhat dated) original film. The television version played out like Rocky Horror karaoke. The ensemble was obviously talented, albeit miscast (remember... my opinion). Their delivery of the songs, while certainly strong and loud, was soulless, passionless and — more importantly — lacking any attachment to the source material. The casting of Laverne Cox as "Dr. Frank N Furter," was an obvious grab for attention, but, in my opinion, it missed the mark (remember... my opinion). No disrespect to Ms. Cox. She is indeed a powerful presence with a dynamic voice, but having this character played by a woman misses a joke that is important to the campy nature of the plot (remember... my opinion).

Ever the glutton for punishment, I settled down last night to watch yet another one of these "live musicals for television." This time, the mighty marketing department at Disney threw its magical hat in the ring, as they presented The Little Mermaid as an amalgam of the original animated film and new sequences featuring a politically-aware, racially-diverse cast parading around on a freeform stage before an interactive live audience. The production itself was, for the most part, beautiful. It was chock full of the type of theme park "magic" that makes Disney Disney. However, those who have experienced the "Voyage of the Little Mermaid" attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida may have felt a twinge of déjà vu. The staging was very reminiscent of that show. Very reminiscent. On the plus side, the cast was very talented. "Ariel" was portrayed (on stage) by 18-year old Auliʻi Cravalho, who previously voiced the titular character in Moana. She was a formidable successor to the now-adult Jodi Benson who voiced the character in the original 1989 animated feature. Ms. Cravalho possesses the voice, appearance and persona that fits perfectly into the cookie-cutter mold of the current trend in Disney Princesses. Graham Phillips, looking fresh from the set of any Hallmark Channel Christmas movie, fit nicely into the part of hunky "Prince Eric." Single-named Jamaican singer Shaggy seemed unfamiliar with the role of stuffy crustacean chaperone "Sebastian." However, he turned in acceptable recitations of "Under The Sea" and "Kiss The Girl," employing his signature growl in each. (Subsequent reviews chided him for not wearing the "claws" of his animated counterpart.) Evil sea witch "Ursula" was played to the villainous hilt by Queen Latifah. From the moment she hit the stage, decked out in a white fright wig and patent leather tentacles, she was determined to steal this show right out from under everyone involved. TV staple John Stamos, as the real-life incarnation of cartoonish "Chef Louie," was determined to upstage even Queen Latifah's over-the-top performance. At times, the entire production seemed like filler between an onslaught of promos for "Disney +," the entertainment giant's new streaming service that launches in a week.

However, there was something missing.

The staging was clever and innovative. The cast was talented. The story was classic. And everything was dripping in Disney magic. Yet something was missing.



Sound familiar?

The Little Mermaid Live! suffered from the same thing as The Rocky Horror Picture Show Live! It was dead. Lifeless. Cold. Emotionless. It was Little Mermaid karaoke. They were singing the songs. Singing the words to the correct music, but it was... as the kids say... "meh." (Remember... my opinion). Twenty minutes into the first act, I caught Mrs. Pincus — a true lover of lavish musicals — fiddling with her phone, the unmistakable electronic "beeps" betraying her lack of attention.

"I lost interest." she stated after I nudged her to look at a particularly inventive effect. Those three words spoke volumes.

Shared opinion.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

down on the farm

I started a new job in August and my morning commute takes me on a lot of highway driving. When September rolled around, I noted that the billboards began to sport colors of browns, reds and golds, mimicking the changing leaves on the surrounding trees. The advertising had taken a noticeable slant towards autumn marketing, with ads for television shows debuting for fall, Thanksgiving offerings available at local supermarkets and pumpkin spice everything at local coffee outlets.

Most of the advertising is pretty standard and predictable, although I really wish the one for Dunkin Donuts read "Pumpkin at Dumpkin." That would make me happy, but I'm not about to pull off to the side of I-195 for a little bit of impromptu vandalism. That's just not me.

There is one billboard that has intrigued me since I saw it rise above the horizon just past the Big Bear Natural Foods store near the Route 13 exit, a few miles from the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border. I silently stare at it as I approach from the Northbound lane and I continue to contemplate its content long after I pass by, when I should be concentrating on the volume of traffic that surrounds me. The object of my — dare I say — obsession is a billboard for something called "Bloodshed Farms." As the Halloween season approaches, many so-called "haunted attractions" spring up in the area. Most of them have fright-inducing names like "Jason's Woods," which evokes the menacing killer from the Friday the 13th film franchise. (I don't think it's a reference to Jason Alexander, although that would be pretty intriguing, too.) "Bloodshed Farms," however, made me think — obviously. The words "Bloodshed Farms" filled my imagination with thoughts of a demented Green Acres of sorts. It makes me laugh to myself every morning. I found it funny enough to want to share it via Instagram. Because I pass the billboard most mornings at around 60 miles per hour, I cannot take a photo. Instead, I searched for a suitable graphic of Bloodshed Farms to post on Instagram along with a suitably "Josh Pincus" comment.... the kind you've come to expect from the Internet's favorite red-headed stepchild.

You see, Philadelphia is surrounded by a lot of rural farmland. There are several actual farms in the area that cheerfully offer tours for those curious about how milk, cheese and other dairy products end up on your kitchen table. When I was a kid, I visited a large orchard on class trips, where apples were grown and they produced apple-centric products right there on the premises. We often took my son to a nearby dairy farm, where he'd run through their annual "corn maze" and later we'd purchase fresh milk and cookies from their small convenience store. That's the type of dichotomy that "Bloodshed Farms" brought to my skewed sense of humor. So, I certainly couldn't keep that to myself!

In my search, I also found an ad for Bloodshed Farms offering their services to accommodate your private event, like birthdays, anniversaries and the like. This gave me more fodder for an even "smart-assier" Instagram post. So, I posted....
It reads: "Aside from a few weeks out of the years [sic], was it a wise business decision to choose "Bloodshed Farms" for the name of your establishment?  Is this the kind of place you'd expect families to bring their kids to see cows and horses? Do you expect schools to plan class trips to see how a working farm operates? Am I buying milk and cheese from "Bloodshed Farms?" And private parties and special events? C'mon guys..."
I tagged the Bloodshed Farms Instagram account in post... just for good measure. And then I went about my day.

Almost immediately, I started getting "likes" on the post, as well as a few comments including one from @jasperdyne, an art school pal of mine, who noted that the name stems from "Ol' Zeke, who got caught in the combine back in '86" and my son, whose claim of getting butter and eggs from Bloodshed Farms is suspect, especially when they're delivered by a hockey-masked driver. Mrs. Pincus had an entirely different take, explaining that she assumed Bloodshed Farms was a summer camp for pubescent girls. Bottom line.... everyone got the joke.

Except for Bloodshed Farms.

Later in the day, I was alerted of a new comment on this Instagram post. It was from Bloodshed Farms.... and they didn't seem too pleased with my making light of their serious business of seasonal fright. They countered my levity with this:
"No. This is NOT the kind of place we expect families to bring their kids to see cows and horses. We do NOT expect schools to bring children and see how a working farm operates. Do we advertise this? No. But we do get buses of kids from Lenape High School every year as well as trips by soccer and baseball teams, dance teams, and more. We even host groups from Bancroft earlier in the day before we officially open. You should really give us a try! :)"
They started off strong and indignant, making vague references to a local high school and then a special-needs facility. Their tone grew a bit softer as they signed off with a smile and half-hearted invitation for me to experience their brand of "farm living." I'm not sure that Bloodshed Farms fully understood that I was joking. But, if you operate an establishment that produces either dairy products or blood-curdling screams (at this point, it's still unclear), do you really possess the most sharpened sense of humor?
Maybe I'll ask this guy. He left the comment: "SMH....." (shaking my head)

Though he doesn't look like a farmer to me.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

keep Baltimore beautiful

Well, we just returned from yet another cruise — our second one this year. We sailed on the Carnival Pride. This was our first cruise that left from the port of Baltimore, the so-called "Charm City," a misnomer if I ever heard one.

When Mrs. Pincus booked this trip, she arranged for an overnight stay and a shuttle to the cruise terminal through an online service called "Park Sleep Fly." (Wasn't there a serial killer with that nickname?) We packed our luggage and headed south on I-95 towards the Best Western BWI Airport Inn & Suites. For around a hundred bucks, they offered a room for overnight, parking for our car for the week we'd be away and shuttle service to the pier — plus a complimentary breakfast in the morning. Sounds good? Yeah..... we'll see.

We followed the directions as the indispensable Waze app guided us to our destination. Exiting I-895, Mrs. P navigated through what can only be described as a seedy-looking neighborhood, eventually arriving at our accommodations situated in a small courtyard at the end of Belle Grove Road, just past two auto body salvage yards.

The first thing I noticed as we pulled into the parking lot was the distinct lack of "Best Western" signage and branding. Nowhere was there any indication that this hotel was part of the Best Western chain. The backlit sign at the street very plainly identified the place as "BWI Airport Inn and Suites" The front of the building bore no signs at all. I found this strange and a bit suspicious. We parked and entered the building at the lobby. It looked like a million hotels we've seen (and passed) along the I-95 corridor, but still, not a single "Best Western" anything in sight. There was a large seating area opposite the front desk that was obvious used for the included breakfast in the morning. Mrs. Pincus confirmed our reservation with the slutty-looking blond behind the desk. We were informed that the cost of the shuttle was not included in the final price of our stay. Mrs. P quickly scanned the confirmation that she had printed out and we reluctantly paid the additional charge. The woman behind the desk rattled off a list of convoluted instructions regarding the timing and meeting area for the shuttle the next morning. She handed my wife a small cardboard portfolio with our electronic room keys and disappeared into a back room. Mrs. P and I exchanged silent glances, knowing full well that neither one of us was certain as to where and how we were to be taken to the pier tomorrow morning. We dragged our luggage over to the elevators.

The elevator arrived. We entered. The door closed. The inside of the doors were decorated with large, full-color graphics of the Baltimore Orioles — which were defaced with angry, jagged gouges obscuring the smiling visage of the familiar Oriole logo. The doors opened at the seventh floor and we followed the directional wall signs to our room. A pile of trash — two greasy pizza boxes, several Coke cans and some unidentifiable crumbled paper — was on the floor next to the small utility room that housed two vending machines and a commercial ice maker. The pile remained for our entire stay.

We found our room and Mrs. P swiped the plastic key card in the lock. A little green light above the knob flashed. I opened the door. The first thing I noticed was a black backpack sitting on the floor under the lone window. The lights were out. The beds were made. The room appeared clean and unoccupied... except for the backpack. Again, Mrs. Pincus and I exchanged bewildered glances. I slowly approached the backpack and gave it a gentle nudge with my foot. Mrs. Pincus exclaimed in horror, "What are you doing?"

"I'm checking to see if something is in it.," I replied, although I was quickly cut off by a stern "Don't touch it!" from my wife.

We decided that the removal of the backpack was the responsibility of a hotel employee. Still with our luggage in tow, we retraced our steps to the elevator (passing the trash pile along the way). Back at the front desk, we encountered a new member of the hotel staff. This woman was dress in a more professional manner and wore a name tag that identified her as the manager. The blond who greeted us earlier was nowhere in sight. Mrs. P told the manager of the strange backpack in our room. The manager listened and immediately asked if we'd like a different room.

"No," Mrs. P answered, "We just want someone to remove the backpack."

A fellow from the maintenance staff was summoned and he accompanied us to our room. Once inside, he fearlessly approached and grabbed the backpack. "Anything else?," he asked with a smile and without waiting for an answer, he grabbed the remote control for the television off the desk. "Let me make sure your TV works.," he said, and mashed a few buttons on the device until the screen lit up. We thanked him as he exited our room.

As night fell, Mrs. P and I ran through our dinner options using Google for nearby restaurants. Across the street was a Checkers, whose neon sign inexplicably flashed "Gheckers" from a side window. Next to that was a Dunkin Donuts. We ruled out both of theses choices, settling instead on hoagies from a nearby Wawa, the beloved Philadelphia convenience chain that has expanded down the east coast. I got directions to the closest Wawa. As we walked to our car, I spotted two young ladies exiting our hotel from the rear of the building. They were prancing towards a car parked in the corner of the parking lot. Both were dressed like stereotypical prostitutes you'd see in any episode of any police show on television in the 70s— short, tight skirts, sparkly tops, fishnet stockings and impossibly tall platform shoes. Glances were exchanged for a third time.

No microwaves for you.
The Wawa was a short drive from our hotel, but located in an equally sketchy neighborhood. We ordered from the touch-screen kiosk, just like at our hometown Wawa. While we waited for our order, a woman, possibly inebriated, burst in and approached the associate who was assembling our sandwiches. She loudly asked if they had a microwave that she could borrow, an odd request, in my opinion. The Wawa associate waved her off and continued with our order as the drunk woman staggered out of the store. More silent glances were exchanged. After dinner, we watched television and then went to sleep.

The next morning, we packed up our stuff and headed down to the lobby. The lobby and breakfast area were bustling with activity. Folks were milling around — assembling a morning meal from the array of items set out by the hotel. Aside from the usual fare of coffee, bagels, cereal and yogurt, there was a self-serve waffle iron and a contraption that dispensed pancakes that looked like it was designed by Rube Goldberg.

Not included in this story.
We got clarification of the procedure for the shuttle. A woman with a clipboard scurried in and out of the lobby, checking off names and gathering groups together. A ten-seat mini van pulled up outside and folks were instructed to file in, leaving their luggage for the driver to pile up in the back storage area. After a bit of confusion and misinformation. Mrs. Pincus and I were directed to the van and soon we were officially off. Within twenty minutes, we were dropped off at the pier.

We cruised.

At the mercy of a bungee.
A week later, we returned from the sunny Caribbean to Baltimore, which was experiencing a heavy downpour. After a fairly simple debarkation process, we claimed our luggage and started towards the designated shuttle area. Trudging through the maze of people waiting for the departing cruise, we maneuvered to the small bus shelter where we spotted some families we recognized from our hotel (and a few we actually spoke to on our cruise). Our waterlogged colleagues told us that they had been waiting for some time, even after a call to the hotel assured them that "someone will be there in a few minutes." A familiar ten-seat mini van pulled up and our group hustled to find seats inside. Once our luggage was loaded, the driver struggled with the sliding side door, grinding it uncomfortably along its track, forcing it to close. His efforts were unsuccessful. Finally, he asked the husband of a young lady (we watched her sing a karaoke version of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" a few nights earlier) to grab and attach the free end of a rubber bungee cord to the inside door handle. This was as suspicious as the backpack in our room. The driver hit the gas and ascended the on-ramp of I-895. As the van gained speed, the sliding side door slid open — first an inch, then a few more — kept in check only by the flexible restraints of the bungee. The karaoke girl clutched and pulled her husband closer.

The shuttle lumbered into the parking lot of the Best Western BWI Airport Inn & Suites. A neon yellow emergency vehicle — its top lights blazing — was parked under the carport at the buildings entrance. Two men in reflective vests stood by the ambulance's rear doors. Mrs. Pincus and I — the first ones out — quickly collected our luggage from that back of the shuttle. We found our car at the rear of the building..... and got the hell out of Baltimore.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

tangled up in blue

I am on vacation this week, but please enjoy this story from my illustration blog originally published in 2013. The topic of my father came up recently and I was reminded of his penchant for stretching the truth.
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!”
Marmion by Sir Walter Scott

My dad was a liar. And not a very good one.

In the long ago days before the internet, when facts were a little tougher to confirm, my dad made up shit left and right. He loved to tell of how he cut school as a child and sneaked off to a Phillies game. He claimed he witnessed a no-hitter, but couldn’t tell anyone because he’d get into hot water for skipping school. He loved telling that story. Years later, after a minimal amount of “Googling,” I discovered that the entire tale was fabricated.

By trade, my father was a butcher. He was employed by a local supermarket chain for many years, until he worked himself up to the corporate level. A suit and tie replaced his bloody apron as his regular work attire. At this new level, he was rubbing elbows with (in his eyes) the “upper crust” and was entitled to be included among the attendees of an annual corporate executive convention and banquet. My mother, at the time, established herself a little business of transporting neighborhood children to kindergarten at the nearby elementary school. For a mere three dollars per week, she’d stuff twenty toddlers into the open space of her station wagon and — seat belts be damned! — deliver them to their preschool. A little jostled and shaken-up, but relatively safe. My father, however, had told his colleagues that his wife was otherwise employed. He had told them that she was a teacher. But, he did not corroborate his deception with my mom. She was not embarrassed by how she earned her pay. (She was proud, as a matter of fact!) So, while mingling at a pre-dinner cocktail hour, my mom was confused when my dad’s boss asked what subject she taught. With a look of momentary bewilderment, she corrected the man, explaining that she was not a teacher. My dad was livid, despite not briefing my mom on the bullshit he’d been shoveling at the office for the past eleven months.

When my son was born, my wife and I continued the Jewish tradition of honoring a deceased family member by naming a newborn in their memory. My son would be carrying on the symbolic names of my wife’s beloved grandfather and my beloved maternal grandmother. The official naming was done at the brit milah (circumcision ceremony). During the proceeding, the mohel (one who performs a circumcision) announced our child’s Hebrew name to the small congregation gathered in our home. My father’s mother leaned in to my dad and asked who our baby was being named for. Then she asked who my older brother was named for. My dad replied, “Max (my brother) was named for Pop (meaning my father’s father).” This, of course, was not true. My paternal grandfather was still fourteen years from meeting the Grim Reaper when my brother was born. Jews just don’t that and my father knew it. He also knew he was lying to his elderly mother.

My father became very sick very suddenly in October 1993. Actually, he was sick for a long time, he just didn’t let anyone know — so, it was sudden for the family. My father was keeping company with a very nice woman who filled the void in his life left by my mother’s passing two years earlier. As my father drifted in and out of consciousness in a hospital bed, my immediate family — my brother Max, my wife and myself — entertained my dad’s lady friend’s future plans. With sparkly eyes, she spoke of arrangements and promises that my father made — how they would marry in the new year, how she would move in with him. She continued to explain that my father justified the enormous amount of money still owed on a thirty year-old house was due to a second and third mortgage being obtained in order to pay for my art school education.

“Whoa!,” I interrupted before another word was uttered, “I paid for art school. Me! No one else!”

We all stared at each other across the little semi-circle we had formed in the hospital hallway. “What else did he tell you?,” Max asked. She had been told by my father that he was a partner in the current supermarket in which he was employed (he wasn’t). The place had just experienced a devastating fire and he was concerned about the cost of rebuilding (it was not remotely a concern of his).

We were dumbfounded. After 36 years of lying to my mother, my dad had the opportunity to make a fresh start in a relationship. Instead, he chose to continue on the path that he was used to.

I love and miss my father. He taught me a lot, but he had no idea how he was teaching me.