Sunday, February 23, 2020

state of confusion

Mrs. Pincus went to the local Walmart to pick up a few things in their grocery department. Elsewhere on this blog, I have discussed my "love-hate" relationship with Walmart. I love their incredibly — sometimes impossibly — low prices, but I hate the caveat of having to go to Walmart to get those prices. I believe that's what called a paradox. The customers and staff at Walmart are equally.... well, what's the nicest way I can phrase this?... moronic. I marvel at the level of stupidity I witness each and every time I visit Walmart. The customers all look like they just rolled out of bed, threw on the closest (and filthiest) Halloween costume they could find and headed out to shop. The employees all seem to be on their first day of work... wandering the aisles in a stupor, as though they were just dropped there from an airplane.

As long as Mrs. P was in Walmart, she decided to trek on over to the cosmetic department. Among the lipsticks and lotions and powders and such, she found a hook with a particular item that she wished to purchase. (Honestly, I don't know exactly what she bought. The reference to "lipsticks and lotions and powders" was just a guess on my part.) The hook that the item — Maybelline Eye Brow Something-or-Other — was on had a lock at the front of it. Who knew that this was such a hot property that it needed to be kept under secure lock and key.... like baby formula and Sudafed. But, sure enough, there it was and it was locked. My wife noticed that there was a small security camera mounted above the item that she desired. She waved at the camera and pointed to the locked hook, hoping that whoever was monitoring the camera would send someone over immediately. Then she remembered that she was in Walmart — land of sloth-like assistance. No staff member was monitoring anything. She looked around the department until she finally spotted an employee in a bright yellow, Walmart logo-emblazoned vest. She explained to the employee which item she wanted and that the lock on the hook needed to be opened. The employee instructed my wife to ask at the pharmacy counter for help. Someone there will have a key, the employee told her. Mrs. P dutifully went to the pharmacy and repeated her dilemma. The pharmacy employee told my wife that they do not have a key to any locks in the cosmetic department, adding that anyone with a yellow Walmart vest carries a key. Mrs. P offered a blank look, turned and set off to find the first Walmart employee... the one with the yellow vest.

Mrs. Pincus tracked the first employee down. The employee said she did not, in fact, have a key. She walked over to the hook with the eye brow makeup, confirming that this was what my wife wanted. Then, she tore the cardboard hole on the product's packaging. "Here you go.," she said with a smile, as she handed over the damaged package. "Well, I could have done that!," responded Mrs. P, "but I guess security would have come right over to me." The employee replied, "No. Probably not." Then she continued, "If you come in again and want to buy this, just tear it off the hook." Mrs. Pincus tossed the makeup in her cart and went to check out.

She selected a check-out aisle and put her soon-to-be purchases on the conveyor belt. The cashier picked up each item, passed them over the scanner and deposited them in a plastic bag. Mrs. P held the eye makeup in her hand, making sure it was the last item. She wanted to point out the torn package and to let the cashier know that the tear was not her doing. Mrs. P displayed the torn box and described the entire scenario to the uninterested cashier. Actually, the cashier reacted, saying, "Well, anyone in a yellow vest has a key to any lock in the store." The cashier wore a yellow vest. Mrs. P frowned. and countered, "The woman who tore the package was wearing a yellow vest." The cashier shook her head and answered, "That was a different yellow vest."

This evoked another blank stare from my wife.

As a footnote to this tale, we just returned from another trip to Walmart this afternoon. That one, however was not our local Walmart, but one that is thirty miles from our house. We picked up some fill-in items in their grocery section, including a package of Polly-O string cheese that retails at Walmart for $6.47. We had been issued a corporate coupon from Kraft Heinz Foods (Polly-O's parent company) for a maximum $8.00 off one package of Polly-O cheese. We took our selections to the self-check out. After I scanned the last item, I scanned the bar code on the coupon. The terminal beeped, prompting a yellow-vested employee to join us. She whipped the coupon from my hand and examined it. "Ugh!," she groaned with disappointment, "This is one of those 'eight dollar off' coupons!" She typed some numbers on the touch-screen and sighed. "I have to ring this at my register." She canceled our transaction, removed the receipt that was spit out and beckoned us to follow her to another cash register. She re-rang our entire order, hit some additional buttons and instructed me to insert my credit card into the card reader. It beeped when the chip had been fully scanned and the employee handed my wife the receipt. We exited the store and my wife read the receipt and laughed. "She took the full $8.00 off for the cheese instead of the actual price.," I was informed.

I love Walmart..... almost as much as I hate it.

Oh, I'm with you, sister.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

let's forget about the stars

I must be a glutton for punishment. I continue to watch awards shows. I have watched the Emmys, although most of my preferred television viewing consists of shows that were produced in the 70s and most of the regular core cast members are long dead. I watch the Grammys, knowing full well that I will be unfamiliar with the names of performers and their songs and will be baffled by the hordes of adoring fans. I watch the Tonys.... well, I actually haven't watched the Tonys in years, since I am positive that I will have heard of none of the Broadway shows that will be showcased. Of course, I watch the Oscars.

Last night, I watched the three-and-a-half hour marathon that was the 92nd Annual Academy Awards... despite having seen only three films that garnered nominations. I will note that the three films were all animated films and one I had just watched a few hours prior to the evening's telecast. Two of the entries — Toy Story 4 and Frozen II — were both nominated for best song. I loved Frozen II while I was watching it, but, for the life of me, I can't remember a single song from it. None of them were nearly as catchy as "Let It Go," "In Summer," "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" (Jeez! I could name them all!) Toy Story 4 was also nominated for Best Animated Feature. Yes, I enjoyed it. Yes, the animation was stellar, but it didn't live up to the tear-jerking, gut-wrenching level of Toy Story 3, my favorite of the trilogy-plus-one... just my opinion. The third nominated film I saw this year was Hair Love, which was six minutes of pure joy that — goddammit! — brought me to tears. Aside from those, the rest of the nominees were totally unfamiliar to me. So, why do I watch? I watch these lengthy broadcasts for a four-minute segment that is shoved in just before the night's biggest award is presented —The "In Memoriam." Year after year, on awards show after awards show, this segment causes more anger and controversy than when a confused Warren Beatty proclaimed La La Land the winner of the "Best Picture" Oscar in 2016. 

As you might know, I love all aspects of celebrity deaths. I write about them on my illustration blog. I visit cemeteries where celebrities are buried. I report the death of a celebrity as soon as possible to my followers on Twitter and Facebook. At the end of each year, I even compile a list of celebrities that I don't think will be around to watch the ball drop on Times Square the next New Years Eve. So, I sit through each of these grueling tests of celebratory endurance just to keep the various Academies honest. I take these things pretty seriously. (Eh... who am I kidding? I don't take anything seriously!) I brazenly call out the glaring omissions on social media within minutes of the segment's end. And there are always omissions. I do this primarily for my own amusement. But, apparently, I am not alone. At 11:07 PM, Eastern time, I tweeted a brief list of stars that were left out of the 2020 "In Memoriam" montage. At the time of this writing, that post has 128 "likes" and 40 "retweets"... plus a number of comments. I even left some names out of my "left out" list for lack of space. And it looked like this....
These seventeen actors and actress passed away between the time of the last Oscar broadcast (which was actually later in February 2019) and the one last night. Each one was carefully considered (by me) for their celebrity status, career length and industry impact (also determined by me). I even left out a few deserving (but relatively unknown and unsung) names, including Joan Staley, Richard Erdman, Larry Cohen, June Harding, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, John Wesley, Rob Garrison, Josip Elic, Natalie Trundy, Alan Harris and Kevin Conway. (Feel free to Google any of these names.) The seventeen I chose to list were (again, my opinion) the ones who I felt deserved (by the unofficial standards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) to be included in the presentation. Some had lengthy careers. Others had short or unnoticed careers, but appeared in some pretty significant and iconic films.
Almost immediately, my tweet generated some reaction. Even before I tweeted, I saw this from a follower who knows me all too well...
The "In Memoriam" segment is a tricky thing for all awards shows. The folks who assemble these photo montages have under five minutes to please everyone. In an attempt to be fair to both fans and industry types, the segment has to include a cross-section of all parts of the business — on-screen, behind the scenes and really behind the scenes. They have to include a sampling of actors, directors, producers as well as publicists, marketers, set decorators, key grips, best boys, make-up experts, hair stylists, matte painters and a bunch of other positions I didn't know existed until I saw it printed in small, italic text under someone's smiling unfamiliar face that I couldn't identify. It's not all grand names from the Golden Age of Hollywood or that too-young shocker that blind-sided us last summer, prompting a "Wow! That was this year?!" reaction while shoving a fistful of popcorn into one's mouth. This year's tribute featured such notable passings as Doris Day, Peter Fonda, Robert Evans and Kirk Douglas, who died just four days prior to the Oscar broadcast, most likely throwing a monkey wrench into a completed presentation and causing a few last-minute edits. I'm sure a sound editor and a cinematographer were removed to make room for the Spartacus star and still keep it under five minutes. It is obviously a very tough job and someonesomewhere — will not be happy.

Are you playing my advocate?
As it turned out, a lot of "someones" were not happy. The Twitterverse, as they say, exploded. I saw likes and retweets well into the night and the next morning. There was furious commentary, as well. Some was directed at the Academy. Some, curiously, was directed at me. Some folks questioned the AMPAS omitting Carroll Spinney (the puppeteer responsible for "Big Bird" and "Oscar the Grouch"), Robert Conrad (the star of TV's Wild Wild West) and Peggy Lipton (from TV's Mod Squad). I replied to these people that Spinney, Conrad and Lipton were primarily television performers and the Academy focuses first on an individuals contribution to film. A few people noted that young Cameron Boyce was unceremoniously "snubbed." I will admit, as a 58-year old, I was unfamiliar with Cameron's body of work when his death was announced in July 2019 at the age of 20. It seems the budding actor was a staple on Disney TV, appearing in three made-for-television films, a teen-centric sitcom and providing voice-work the the title character in the animated Jake and the Never Land Pirates. He was featured in small roles in just a few theatrically-released films, including two Adam Sandler movies and his debut in the horror film Mirrors. I explained to someone whose Twitter handle is "Geri.Aspergers | Cameron 💙" that Boyce was primarily a television actor and that is probably why he was not part of the 2020 montage. "Geri.Aspergers | Cameron 💙" was not satisfied with my reply. He countered me with "Please do your research on Cameron. He did so much in his 20 years of life than someone can do in a lifetime. He wasn't just credited for 2 movies so please do your research. It isn't fair. I know Kobe Bryant deserves it but he isn't even an actor and he was still included. Cameron was only 20 when he died and he did so much in his life." This person did not fully read my reply. (I hate that.) I didn't say that he was only credited with 2 movies at all. Then, I noticed that his Twitter profile picture was a photo of Cameron Boyce. This was going to take some "tough love." After doing my best to be as "matter-of-fact" as possible, I bluntly stated: "The Academy hates two things: Adam Sandler and horror movies. That covered Cameron's film credits and automatically eliminated Cameron from inclusion. Kobe Bryant was an Oscar recipient in 2018. Maybe I'm not the only one who should do research." I have not heard a response from this Twitter user. Perhaps he's in gym class or doing his algebra homework.

One of the most surprising omissions was Luke Perry, who co-starred in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon A Time... in Hollywood, which received a whopping ten Oscar nominations this year. Luke died in March 2019 and the role in the retro comedy-drama was his last. 

Michael J. Pollard was passed over, despite an Oscar nomination in 1968 for Best Supporting Actor in the beloved Bonnie and Clyde. He also appeared in the popular films The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, Dick Tracy and Melvin and Howard.

Billy Drago didn't make the cut either. He was one of those character actors that Hollywood loves. A menacing heavy, Drago played "Frank Nitti" in Brian DePalma's The Untouchables and a Western deputy in Clint Eastwood's Pale Rider. Just the association with two of the film world's heavy hitters should have been enough to have his name listed among the memorials.

Denise Nickerson's omission was also surprising. Sure, she was only in a couple of movies, but her portrayal of smarmy, gum-chewing "Violet Beauregard" in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was iconic and her appeal was multi-generational. Her July 2019 death shocked fans of the film, even forcing reflection on their lives and their youth.

The so-called "Awards Season" has come to a close with the Oscars. The Tony Awards are scheduled to be presented in June, so there is still a few months for famous people to die and still a few months for regular people to get mad. And next year's Academy Awards "In Memoriam" segment will forget to include Orson Bean (who appeared in Being John Malkovich and Anatomy of a Murder) and Paula Kelly (featured in The Andromeda Strain and Soylent Green).

You heard it here first.

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Sunday, February 9, 2020

harriet tubman's gonna carry me home

A few years ago, on a particular Sunday in the summer, I was looking for something to do. I realized that I hadn't participated in my favorite hobby — grave hunting — in some time. So, feeling especially lazy, I ventured just a couple of blocks from my house to a small cemetery behind the historical St. Paul's Episcopal Church, one I had passed at least a zillion times in the thirty-plus years I have lived in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. (I was so lazy, in fact, that I drove there despite it being so close to my house.)

Before I venture out to explore a cemetery, I have to do a little preparation. I scout the grounds with an online map (when available) and a quick search on my favorite website Find-A-Grave, an invaluable resource for the novice gravehunter (and there are a surprisingly large number of us). The results of my search actually left me a bit embarrassed. I have lived in this small, but historically significant, community for most of my adult life, and was not remotely aware of its impact in the development of our country. 

I had passed a sign outside the church that identified one of the buildings as "Jay Cooke Hall." I had no clue who Jay Cooke was. I assumed he was a founder of the church. I don't remember his name coming up in history classes. A bit of research convinced me that my high school history teachers were sorely lax in their duties of educating their students. Jay Cooke was, indeed, a prominent member of the St. Paul's Church congregation, but he also financed the Civil War for the North. Without his contributions, the Civil War would have had a much different outcome. I also found the graves of folks whose surnames grace many street signs and buildings in the area. It's pretty cool to discover that neighborhood landmarks were not just arbitrarily named by a land developer, but were chosen to honor those who shaped a community.

Since my visit to the cemetery at St. Paul's Church, I have looked at the building differently each time I drive by. The Gothic architecture, I learned, was the handiwork of Horace Trumbauer, one of America's premier architects, who constructed additions some forty years after the church first opened its doors to parishioners. Trumbauer also designed a number of residences and commercial buildings in and around the Philadelphia area, including the nearby Keswick Theatre, the main branch of the Philadelphia Free Library and Philadelphia Art Museum, which was a collaborative effort with another architectural firm. 

However, I was still ignorant to a key piece of American history that is buried beneath the church's façade.

At the beginning of 2020, my wife was scrolling through Facebook and came across an announcement for an hour-long seminar about the history of Cheltenham Township, the governing body that Elkins Park lies within. The presentation was hosted by St. Paul's Church and the speaker was a teacher at a local elementary school who, we later found out, did extensive research about the community after wondering why this stuff wasn't taught in school. How pragmatic! I marked my calendar and on Super Bowl Sunday — of all days! — Mrs. Pincus and I walked over to the church for a little schoolin'. I had been wanting to see the inside of the church building for some time and this was the perfect opportunity. Plus, it saved me from lengthy conversion classes.

The main sanctuary is beautiful, boasting high graceful arches, carved wooden augmentation and thirteen stained glass windows created by Tiffany Studios. A portable movie screen was set up in the sanctuary with the first slide of the presentation shining brightly upon it. We took seats among a handful of folks and soon the teacher welcomed everyone. She was excited, enthusiastic, if not a bit tongue-tied here and there. Her presentation was very informative, revealing numerous facts to the crowd — for the first time, by the collective reactions. Of course, she began with Jay Cooke, expounding on the fact that, besides being a financier, he was an ardent and fierce abolitionist. He harbored and transported escaped slaves in the basement of his Elkins Park estate. When he conceived and built St. Paul's Church, he made sure that the plans included tunnels and sanctuary that became a stop on the Underground Railroad system. The teacher noted Cooke's close friend and prayer group colleague Lucretia Mott. Mott was a Quaker who campaigned extensively and tirelessly for the end of slavery. She was also a vocal proponent for Women's' Rights, alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (with whom she eventually fell out of favor). Mott's family leased land in Cheltenham to the Federal government to be used as a military training camp for freed slaves wishing to join the United States Army in the Civil War. Called "Camp William Penn," it produced many African-American only regiments, where other training camps banned enrollment by ex-slaves. The teacher told of the prominent Widener Family, the Elkins Family and other familiar names recognized immediately by the current community, as well as notable visits by Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman.

When the seminar concluded, guests were invited to descend a set of narrow stairs and navigate an even narrower tunnel beneath the church. We followed the now-forming queue and made our way to the staircase. We passed the actual preserved desk where Jay Cooke wrote and signed numerous war bonds in 1862. The stairs emptied into an impossibly narrow passageway that snaked awkwardly until it revealed a boxy room whose floor was strewn with pale yellow straw. In one corner was a pile of makeshift bedding in an obvious recreation of the accommodations offered to those seeking freedom via the Underground Railroad. The tableau was, at the same time, chilling and inspiring. Just knowing that we were walking the same path that so many walked towards the long, frightening and often dangerous road to freedom gave reason to pause and take in the moment. The group slowly shuffled past the room, minding our steps in the darkness, until the lead person reached the next set of stairs and we began to make our ascent back to the main room.

We thanked the teacher and the representatives of the church for hosting the afternoon session. Mrs. P and I found the door we used to enter the maze of a building and started home. I thought about how much history is just a few steps from my home. I thought about how much of this knowledge is unknown to my neighbors and how much time they have wasted worrying about trivial things (like what will move in to the empty building that once housed the neighborhood co-op). Do they realize — or even care — about the history of other — more significant — buildings in the same proximity? I'm not so sure.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

don't box me in

 * * * DISCLAIMER *  *  * PLEASE READ! * * *
Let me start off by saying the opinions expressed in this blog post are mine and mine alone. Don't not let my angry rants and annoyed disposition reflect poorly upon anyone with whom I share a household or their comparably friendlier and way more grateful character. These are my feelings and my feelings alone. Also note, that I run the risk of getting myself into some serious trouble by what you are about to read. — JPiC


Mrs. Pincus has operated and maintained an eBay business for a very long time — around twenty years. (Before you ask, no, she will not sell your items for you.) She spends a good portion of that time packing and shipping items to customers. Packing and shipping those items requires a lot of packing material and packing material costs money. More than you would think. So, for years, we have saved every box, padded envelope, strip of bubble wrap and Styrofoam packing peanut that we received from our own shipped purchases. Of course, this is not nearly enough to cover the volume of shipped items that Mrs. P's eBay business generates. Corrugated boxes, padded envelopes, bubble wrap and packing peanuts need to be purchased on a regular basis. And like I said, that can get expensive. Always looking for a way to cut expenses, Mrs. P began asking friends and neighbors to save their boxes and packing materials. We would either come and pick them up or they could drop them off — anytime of day or night — on our front porch. This was great. Folks looking for a place to dispose of unwanted or excess boxes, lengths of bubble wrap and loads of Styrofoam peanuts now had a place to dump them. For years now, we would arrive home to be greeted by a porchful of various sizes of boxes and bags with bubble wrap and foam packing peanuts. We were happy and appreciative and all was right with the world.

We specifically ask for small boxes, as Mrs. P sells mostly small items and large boxes are of no real use to her. On the off chance that a big box is required for a particular shipment, Mrs. Pincus usually has no trouble finding one. But, small boxes were what we were looking for. We are sincerely grateful for the small boxes, but the large ones are just discarded, chopped up and flattened for inclusion in our weekly recycling. Still, we receive a lot of large boxes. An awful lot of large boxes. Despite putting the word out that we do not need large boxes, we get them anyway.

In addition to the unneeded large boxes, we have discovered a wide variety of things on our front porch that do not remotely fit into the "packing materials" category. Among a large number of packing lists and invoices (that contain loads of personal information), we have also found the items that were originally shipped in these boxes, like makeup, bags of nuts, bolts and screws and other odd and unidentifiable pieces of assemble-it-yourself furniture. Once, we even found a package of unused syringes. Recently, we found a credit card laying at the bottom of a carton under some sheets of bubble wrap. After tracing the name on the card to a shipping label on one of the empty boxes, Mrs. P called the person, only to be told that the card was canceled and we could cut it up and throw it away.

Which brings up another point....

We have found trash dumped on our front porch. Yes, actual trash, like used napkins and tissues, wrappers from candy bars, used paper cups, greasy fast-food restaurant bags, boxes filled with crumbs and shreds of torn shrink wrap. Sometimes, trash is mixed in with a grocery bag filled with newspaper, but oftentimes it's just a bag of someone's trash. Plain old trash that someone is giving to us in the name of benevolence.

Yes, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Yes, it really is. But, come on. We are not the township dump. We just want your small boxes, bubble wrap, Styrofoam packing peanuts and even the result of documents that went through your paper shredder. (No, we're not going to piece together microscopic strips of paper to gets your personal information. We can get that from the invoices you leave in the boxes.) All we ask is that you assess the practicality of what you are leaving on our front porch. Ask yourself: "Is this useful for packing or is this trash?" If it has the remnants of food hanging off of it, it's trash. Please take it down to your curb on your predetermined trash pick-up day.

Mrs. Pincus really appreciates what you do. And, on Trash Collection Day, so do I.

By the way, if this snowman head is yours, you can come and pick it up at my house anytime.