Sunday, May 26, 2019

poor poor pitiful me

My dear wife frequents a Facebook page devoted to our small suburban Philadelphia community. This page is sort of a community “town square,” where members can ask their neighbors for recommendations on home repairs or someone to cut their grass. They can look for their contemporary's experiences in local restaurants. The page has also been used to voice opinions about happenings in the neighborhood. The operation – and eventual demise – of a local co-op market was a hot-button topic for a while. I even fueled the fire when I weighed in with my “Monday Morning Quarterback” assessment of the entire situation. 

My wife has used the Facebook page to solicit packing material and boxes to supplement her burgeoning eBay business. On any given day, our front porch can be piled high with discarded cartons, Styrofoam peanuts and various other shipping paraphernalia... along with an abundance of assorted (and unusable) shit that should have been rerouted for collection on the donator's designated trash pick-up day. But, not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, Mrs. P happily accepts it all and just adds the useless pieces to our weekly trash. 

Sometimes, the page resembles an online yard sale. Household items are for sale from time to time or, in some cases, offered as donations. Items such as furniture or toys have been available for sale at a nominal – or sometimes exorbitant – fee. Other times, these items are just announced as “first come-first served” to be grabbed from the owner's front porch or “for curb-side pickup,” which has become a more popular practice. 

Recently, a new type of post has appeared. Not content with waiting for someone to offer goods and/or services for free, some folks have taken to brazenly asking for stuff, under the guise of being needy. Yep, they're just skipping the middle man to become their own self-sufficient charitable organization with a single beneficiary. Some requests, I suppose, are genuine – like the ones who find themselves suddenly unemployed and are having difficulty making ends meet until they can find a new source of income. These people have humbly asked for baby toys or a car seat or similar items to comfort a child who couldn't possibly understand that Mommy or Daddy are facing a temporary financial upheaval. Those are the cases that are heart-wrenching, if they are indeed sincere. (I don't trust anyone!) Others ask for wood scraps or leftover building material or surplus fabric for a possible craft project. I guess these requests are legitimate, although I have not checked out the price of pipe cleaners recently.... or ever. 

Yesterday, however, Mrs. Pincus brought this post to my attention. It started off innocently enough....
“Hello. I am in need of a new stroller for my daughter. Someone donated one to us about two years ago and has lasted for a very long time and gone through a whole lot with us. I do not have money to pay for a stroller so I am asking anyone who may have one who would be willing to donate to us. We are going to Disney World at the end of June...” 
SCREEEEEEEEEECH! What? You're WHAT? Are you fucking kidding me? You are going to Disney World and you're begging for a stroller? Disney World! Walt Disney World! In Florida? The most expensive domestic vacation there is? Where a single day admission price is over a hundred dollars? That Disney World? I just want to clarify your level of neediness. 

Where was I? Oh yeah... the plea continues... 
“...and I really need one to take with us. I am looking for one that possibly has compartments at the top by the handle, has a cup holder/place for snack infront od [sic] baby...” 
Hold on just a second there, sister! You lost me at “Disney World,” but now, your tale of woe has taken on the characteristics of a “refining your categories” Amazon search. 

“...folds semi easily and has a semi large storage at the bottom. I apologize I fell in love with this old stroller that's now falling apart. Looking for one that is very similar. Thanks so much in advance. I apologize for sounding so needy. I'm just really in need. I do have 2 other strollers I can not use and will be posting to give away for free. Thanks.” 
No shame. No shame at all. I hope this person read and re-read this post before clicking the “post” button. I can only surmise that someone who would have the nerve.... the cajones... the chutzpah.... the balls to feel fully within their rights to post this, must be doing so alongside Will Byers from underneath Hawkins, Indiana or from somewhere on the outskirts of Bizzaro World. 

Here's the post.
Let's break down the situation at hand and analyze it. After the shamelessness of making stipulations about particular storage areas and the ease of folding, this person apologizes for sounding needy, but justifies their neediness by adding an off-handed “I'm just really in need.” But then goes on to say that he or she is currently in possession of two additional strollers that could be given away. Two, I suppose, that just do not make the cut of the stringent list of features a proper stroller must include. I'm actually a little bit surprised that a list of acceptable colors was not provided. The sense of entitlement here is astounding.

Well, this particular poster was not treated kindly by the people that frequent this Facebook group. A number of participants left comments berating the poster's audacity. The comments became worse and more graphic than the last. But, that's the purpose of Facebook, isn't it? It was created to bring people together, to interact with each other and to share thoughts and ideas. 

And to point on who's an asshole. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

when I paint my masterpiece

Let's get something straight. I don't draw for you. I draw for me. I draw purely for my own amusement. Sure, I have that little ad on my illustration website where I offer to draw a portrait for a nominal fee. But, be assured that I will be getting way more enjoyment out of it than you ever will. 

I have been drawing since I was a little kid. As would be expected, my style has changed considerably over these many years. A lot of that change, I will admit, has been forced. That's right. I make a conscious effort to change my style. Sometimes, it's based on another artist's influence. Sometimes I change out of boredom. I don't like to keep drawing things the same way over and over again. I like to see if I can draw differently. See? All for my own amusement.

I am also my own worse critic. I am very critical of my drawings. I have done thousands of drawings during my lifetime and I have probably thrown away a comparable amount to those I have shown to other people. I have posted over 1500 drawings on my illustration website since 2006. There have been many, many more that never saw the light of day because I didn't think they were good. I know I have posted some that aren't great, but the ones you've never seen? Trust me..... they were awful.

Along the way, I have done some drawings that have really pissed some people off. I know this, because they took the time to email me and tell me what a terrible, horrible no-talent hack of an artist I am. Some have told me that I have no business calling myself an artist. In some cases, I would tend to agree, but I have made a living in the field of graphic design for over 35 years, so I'm either doing something right or I have only worked for people who wouldn't know good art if it whacked them in the head. (There's another idea for a blog post right there.) One reader once emailed to tell me (and I quote): You suck as an artist too. Find something new to sketch like going back to trees, a-hole.


I actually love those sorts of comments. Sure, I like the praise and the ones that tell me how talented I am, but I relish the emails from folks who were so offended by something I drew that they were driven to put it into a lengthy message. Little do they know that its fairly difficult to insult me and my silly artwork. I don't take any of it seriously and, like I said, I have already critiqued it with more scrutiny that you can imagine.

In 2016, I began a feature on my illustration blog called "Dead Celebrity Spotlight." This sub-category combines three of my favorite things — drawing, dead celebrities and storytelling. Kicking things off on January 1 with a portrait of actor Edward G. Robinson, I have told the tales of over 200 folks who fit just two criteria — they're dead and they're a celebrity. And, believe me, "celebrity" is used in a pretty broad sense. I have done my very best to spin interesting stories of the famous, the not-so-famous, the unsung and the notorious. I have also tried to rush out a drawing as quickly as I can when a celebrity of note passes. Doing this usually entails a frantic drive home from work, my head filled with various layouts of how I will present the deceased subject. Then I bound up two flights of stairs to my third-floor drawing table, where I sketch out a quick pencil drawing. Then I ink it in with an appropriate weight of Micron or brush pen (that's art talk). Finally, I scan it to my computer, where I import it into Photoshop and color it (if I decide that color is appropriate for the subject). When the drawing and coloring are completed to my liking, I quickly research and write about the celebrity, trying to find an obscure anecdote or maybe I'll relate a personal experience. Then, I hit the ol' "Publish" button and it's posted. I will then cross-post it on my Facebook page and Instagram. (I've also gotten into the habit of making a little Instagram story with enhancements and music.... again, for my own amusement.) Soon, a small flurry of folks give me a "thumbs up" or a "heart" or even that little "shocked face" emoji in response to my drawing. Of course, there have been some who are so totally offended by what I have drawn or written, they feel compelled to let me know how badly I am shitting up the internet and my efforts would be better used elsewhere, besides a so-called "creative" capacity.

Case in point.....

The one you didn't see.
On Monday, May 13th, Doris Day passed away. I loved Doris Day. I loved everything about Doris Day. I loved her movies. I loved her singing. I loved her lame TV series in the 70s. I loved her interviews with a leering Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. I loved the fact that she just decided to up and abandon the spotlight in 1986 after the abrupt cancellation of her own talk show Doris Day's Best Friends. Doris Day was a top box office star throughout the 60s, an Academy Award-nominated actress and a Grammy-honored singer until she ditched her public life to spend her remaining days walking her dog through the gardens of the bed & breakfast she co-owned with her son (the late record producer Terry Melcher) in Carmel, California. I felt an obligation to pay tribute to her in the best way I knew.... by drawing her portrait.

When I got home from work on May 13th, I scoured the internet for the perfect picture of Doris Day on which to base my drawing. I went through dozens (not an exaggeration) until I selected one. I hurriedly did a line drawing from the photo and I frowned.  I didn't like it. It didn't look like Doris Day. I studied my drawing and I studied the reference photo and I came to the conclusion that pretty Doris Day is pretty difficult to draw. 

Nailing likenesses is not an easy thing. As an artist, you've got to focus on particular features to emphasize. Sure, Doris Day is remembered for her blond hair and her radiant smile, but a lot of actresses have blond hair and radiant smiles. Doris Day had unmistakable looks, but nothing specific. Nothing uniquely Doris Day stands out about Doris Day.

The one you did see.
I selected another photo and went through the same process. This one was a little bit better likeness, but I was still unable to capture her like I wanted. "Screw it!," I thought, "I'm coloring this one and I'll be done with it." I began the procedure of coloring in Photoshop. Layering. Lightening. Sharpening. Blurring. All the standard techniques I put into a Photoshop illustration. Usually, during this process, the likeness becomes more and more apparent. Usually..... but not this time. I just wasn't getting it. Mrs. P, whose desk and computer is a foot or so away from me, usually turns to take a peek at what I am working on and identifies my subject (if she knows who it is. Some of my subjects are pretty obscure) within seconds. Sometimes, however, it takes her a bit longer and she has to ask "Who is that?" This was one of those times. She remarked that I didn't quite capture Doris Day. And she was right.

But I wanted to finish and, despite knowing full well that this was not my best work, I posted it. When it showed up on my Facebook page, I received the expected reaction. Some "hearts." Some "crying" emojis. Even some "thumbs up," which I assume was for my drawing not an approval of the death of 97-year-old Doris Day. Then I got a comment from Wayne Buna.

I do not know Wayne Buna. He is just one of (at current count) 276 people who "like" the official Josh Pincus is Crying Facebook page. I can only assume that this group likes my drawings, my daily posts of celebrity death anniversaries and my overall skewed sense of humor. Wayne, as it appears, is not a fan of all of my drawings. Actually, Wayne fancies himself a qualified art critic. Wayne took one look at my illustration of Doris Day and was so outraged, so offended, he was prompted to let me know his true feelings, along with a professional assessment of my talent. Wayne — dear, dear Wayne — told me: "That sketch looks nothing like Doris Day. It's in poor taste."

You think I don't already know this, Wayne? I wrestled with this illustration for hours, as well as the one I did before it — the one you never saw. I realize that I didn't quite capture the sweetness, the allure, the appeal of the beloved Doris Day. I tried. God damn, did I try! I just couldn't get the lines on the page to duplicate what I saw in my mind. Sometimes that happens. It's the kind of thing that drove Jackson Pollack to drink and Vincent Van Gogh to cut off his ear. Is it a great drawing? No. I'll be the first one to admit that it's not one of my best. (Did you see the one I did of Amy Winehouse? I thought that was pretty good. And my illustration of obscure French actress Renée Adorée was one I personally liked.) But... in poor taste? I don't agree with that at all. I should know. I've done plenty of drawings that could be deemed "in poor taste," but the drawing I did of Doris Day? I don't think so. Back in 2008, I used to contribute to an illustration blog whose admin reprimanded me about this drawing I submitted. While I still maintain it is not in poor taste, the guy who ran the blog thought otherwise. But, come on.... my feeble attempt at trying to capture the essence of Doris Day was failed, sure.... but "in poor taste?" Please! (On Instagram, a friend commented on the unnatural look of Doris Day's cheeks in my depiction. "Squirrel cheeks" I believe were the words that were used. Okay! Okay! I get it!)

Happily, Mrs. Pincus — my biggest fan — came to my defense. She called out Mr. Buna, citing his comment as uncalled for and demanding to see if he could do any better. As the time of writing this blog post, Mr. Buna has not answered the challenge.

Well, another celebrity had died since Doris Day's passing, plus I have a bunch of ideas for more drawings in the queue. This little episode will all be forgotten soon enough. Unless, of course, someone doesn't like my take on Tim Conway....

That illustration is dedicated to you, Wayne.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

stand in the place where you are

My wife and I find ourselves in the supermarket quite regularly. We eat a lot of salad and fresh vegetables, so we must keep replenishing our stock. That stuff doesn't have a long shelf life and, honestly, the salads we make are pretty big. 

We live in close proximity to several large supermarkets, each one equally convenient, however not as equal in the products that they carry. The one that is closest to us – Acme, a subsidiary of the Albertson's grocery chain – does not carry bagged, shredded red cabbage. I love red cabbage in my salad and the amount that is included in the pre-bagged “Classic Salad” mixes (as offered by Dole and Fresh Express) is not sufficient to satisfy me. Acme is also lacking in other products, such as low-fat salad dressing. (I know. I know. I am very particular about my salads.) So, more often, Mrs. P and I find ourselves in the produce section of our local Giant supermarket. (Giant is the name, not a commentary on its size. It is no bigger that any other supermarket near us.) 

Giant has a beautiful produce section, with offerings that Acme never carries (including bagged, shredded red cabbage). Until a recent remodel rectified the situation, the Giant store was poorly laid out, with aisles running perpendicular to other aisles. There were aisles that did not run the entire depth of the store,  and aisles that ran part way across the store, making shopping a tedious and exhausting task, forcing the poor disoriented shopper (me) into feeling like a lab mouse caught in an impossible maze experiment. Well, they straightened out and simplified the floor plan, plus they introduced “Marty.” Marty is a robot that roams the aisles of Giant. That's right – a robot. Marty is a sleek gray plastic piece of equipment standing 6-and-a-half feet tall and outfitted with scanners and – inexplicably – a large set of googly eyes. Marty's mission is to identify spills and obstacles that may impede on a shopper's in-store experience. Marty glides almost silently through the store, moving slowly enough so as not to startle the elderly shoppers and to enable the curious to snap a quick selfie. Marty has been programmed to not bump into carts or shelving and nor will it block the aisles. 

Although that problem at Giant has not been fully resolved. 

One of the reasons I don't care to shop at Giant is an on-going phenomena among a large percentage of their clientele. It's a phenomena I have been subject to on nearly every visit to the store. It seems every single time I go to Giant, someone is blocking every single aisle. I have never encountered this at any other supermarket besides Giant. There always seems to be someone standing in the dead center of any given aisle with their shopping cart strategically positioned so no one can scoot around them on either side. This shopper is usually rifling through a fat cardboard folder of coupons or craning their neck in confusion while considering a display of products on a top shelf ten feet away. The other infuriating scenario is when folks saunter to the end of an aisle and stop. Just stop and ponder. Ponder which way to turn. Ponder what items are still remaining on their shopping list. Ponder which items they missed in the aisle that they almost exited. Ponder the speed at which the Earth rotates as it makes its way around the sun. Who knows what they are pondering. I just know they are not pondering getting out of the way. That one they got all figured out. 

On my most recent visit to Giant, I left my wife at the deli counter to peruse the various cold prepared salads. I told her I was just going to hop over to a far aisle and grab a jar of sliced roasted red peppers (another favorite salad topping of mine) and I'd be back in a second. On what should have been a ten second quest, I was held up no less that five times by shoppers standing at a dead halt at the end or middle of an aisle for no discernible reason. People just stopping dead in their tracks, as though they were trapped in quick-drying cement. These people have no regard for other shoppers around them. Other shoppers who don't lead a life of leisure that allows for a casual stop-and-start stroll though a bustling market. There are people who don't want to make a trip to the market like a trip to a museum. A lot of people want to get what they need and get on their way. That is the beauty of self-serve markets and the concept that brought them into existence in the first place. You want to stop and think about your next supermarket purchase? That's fine. Just do it off to the side and have a little consideration for someone who doesn't share your (and The Eagles') philosophy of “Take It Easy.” 

When I finally returned with my jar of roasted red peppers, I related my tale of woe to Mrs. Pincus as we made our way up to the check-out area. As you would expect, I prefer the self check-out lanes – except when I get behind someone with an issue or a problem or something they didn't mean to purchase. This time, though, we were lucky and it was smooth sailing. We quickly scanned our items, bagged them and paid. I gathered up our bags and we started for the exit. 

Only to be blocked by an emergency meeting of the Old Man Giant Door Blockers Union Local 101. I believe it is usually held RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE ONLY STORE EXIT! 

Sunday, May 5, 2019

dead of night

I'd like to imagine that Orville Peck rode into town on a chestnut stallion, his well-worn duster flapping in the wind behind him. Flanked by his band mates, their various instruments strapped to the haunches of their respective steeds, Orville sat tall, gripping the horn of his saddle, his face obscured by his signature fringed mask, his gaze steely upon the hazy neon of the sign affixed to the Broad Street wall of the Boot & Saddle. In my imagination, that's how Orville Peck arrived to kick off his first tour as a headliner. But, I'm pretty sure he just pulled up in an Uber.

A few months ago, my son, a DJ on a local Philadelphia radio station, sent me a link to view a video. He's done this many times before, in an effort to expose me to new and "off the beaten path" music. I clicked the link and, with the opening twang of a big country guitar, was immediately transported to a stark landscape illuminated by harsh red light. And there was Orville, a curtain of white leather fringe covering his nose and mouth from beneath a black mask and wide brimmed ten-gallon hat. A mouth from which an ethereal voice emerged — equal parts Roy Orbison and Chris Isaak. But there was something dirty and a bit malevolent about the video. Something cheap and profane and grimy. 

I loved it.

Orville Peck came to Philadelphia to do an interview at the radio station where my son works. He strode into the building all decked out in his cowboy finest — mask and all. He answered the questions that were posed, although his answers seemed to suggest he had his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. He was engaging and polite and he posed for pictures with some staff members. He was mysterious and otherworldly. And he never broke character. And that's what Orville Peck is.... a character.

That night, my son and I went to see Orville at the Boot & Saddle, a tiny venue teetering on the border of Center City and South Philadelphia. The evening's performance had been sold out for weeks. We took a prime spot stage side and waited for Peck and his band to begin. From the darkened stage, that familiar twangy guitar announced the opening of "Dead of Night." The band then plowed though every tune featured on Pony, Peck's debut release. Lit by dim blue and red spots, he spun dark tales of heartbreak, drag queens, abusive relationships and odes to the seedy side of life. He was riveting, captivating and he had the room in the palm of his hand. He did, however, get playful and the mood briefly lightened when he and keyboardist Bri Salmena traded verses on the 1971 George Jones-Tammy Wynette duet "Something to Brag About." Orville ended his set with another cover, this one "Fancy," a sorrowful lament written by Bobbi Gentry, but made popular by Reba McEntire. And he never bothered changing the point of view or gender.

Afterwards, Orville met his fans and gleefully posed for pictures (including one with yours truly). He was gracious and appreciative and personable.

I can't predict how Orville Peck's career will progress. Will he become a huge star and sell out stadiums? Doubtful. Will his next album be as intriguing as his first? Who knows? Will he even be "Orville Peck" the next time he comes around? That remains to be seen. But, for the moment, was he an evening's worth of entertainment? You bet.

Mask and all.