Sunday, July 26, 2020

never before has a boy wanted more

As you probably figured out, I watch a lot of television. I love television. I've been watching television since I was first able to switch on that big, black & white number my parents bought to babysit me (I assume). Saturday mornings were filled with the cartoon antics of Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Underdog... as well as some forgotten favorites like Milton the Monster and Fearless Fly. During the week, I watched sitcoms, most of which I didn't understand. Sure the humor was broad, bordering on slapstick, but they were geared towards adults. The offerings on Friday nights on ABC, however, were made for a kid. 

The line-up kicked off at 8 o'clock with The Brady Bunch, followed by The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple and This Is Tom Jones, which was replaced by Love, American Style after the Welsh singer's swiveling hips fell out of favor with middle-age American moms (my mom included).

I was nuts about The Brady Bunch. Watching their unrealistic adventures was fascinating to me. The show presented a household that was like nothing I had ever seen, despite the fact that my brother bore a slight resemblance to eldest brother Greg. I enjoyed watching the kids interact. I liked the fact that Mom and Dad never really lost their tempers. It was simple and silly and I ate it up. Of course, as the kids got older, I got older. And like every other prepubescent boy I knew, I stared dreamy-eyed at Marcia Brady. She was beautiful. I especially liked the "Marcia-centric" episodes of The Brady Bunch — even the painful "Oh! My nose!" episode, because the ending tied everything up in a pretty Brady Bunch bow. Somewhere around Season Four, perennially troubled middle child Jan blossomed into a beauty, becoming a formidable rival to Marcia for my imaginary affections.

The final season of The Brady Bunch kicked off strong with the iconic "Adios Johnny Bravo!" episode featuring the Brady kids final performance on the show as a singing group. January brought the back-door pilot "Kelly's Kids," a "show-within-a-show" and a possible vehicle for Ken Berry, coming on the heels of the cancellation of Mayberry R.F.D. Just three episodes later would come the beginning of the end for The Brady Bunch. Season Five Episode 17 was entitled "Welcome Aboard," and introduced one of the most innocent, yet notorious, characters in television history — Cousin Oliver. Played by 10-year-old veteran actor Robbie Rist (he already had two network television appearances under his belt when he was cast as Carol Brady's nephew), "Cousin Oliver" was an unwelcome addition to the Brady household. First maligned as a jinx, attitudes were quickly changed when the family was awarded the grand prize (while on a tour of a movie studio), because they had an extra person in their group. It was obvious that the pint-sized character was introduced because the two youngest Bradys had outgrown their cuteness, despite attempts to keep 13-year-old, puberty-sprouting Susan Olsen (as Cindy) in youth-evoking pigtails. For the next five episodes, Cousin Oliver delivered punchlines or offered reaction shots that were previously reserved for Bobby. The series wrapped up unceremoniously and the Bradys (with the exception of Florence Henderson) were relegated to "typecast hell."

I grew up. Got married. Had a child. And I still watched a lot of television.

Just a few years ago, I became very active on social media, specifically Twitter. I tweeted about everything — music, current events, movies, even "off limits" topics like politics and religion. And, yes, even television. One of my tweets caught the eye of a one-time child actor living in California. I don't even think it was about television, but he responded. And I responded. And then we "followed" each other. And a bond was formed. It was Robbie Rist.... after all these years. We corresponded regularly on Twitter, soon discovering that we had a lot more in common that me being a fan of a show he was on forty years ago. We had similar tastes in music with affinities towards bubble gum pop, glam rock and throwback kitsch. I had albums by a couple of the dozens of bands with whom he was affiliated. (A DJ friend of mine once assessed that Robbie — at one time or another — was a member of every indie band in Los Angeles.) Although Robbie would disappear from Twitter for long stretches of time, he would reappear and our correspondence would pick up where it left off, without missing a beat. After a while, I stopped seeing him as just "that kid who played 'Cousin Oliver'."

Over the past twenty five years, I have attended more than my fair share of fan conventions. I used to collect autographed photos until I abandoned all forms of collecting. My wife and I sold off our 30+ year collection of Disney memorabilia and other mementos we had accumulated, in an effort to streamline our possessions as we approach the twilight years of our lives. Our basement walls are covered with framed evidence of a quarter century of meeting and greeting celebrities of varying levels of fame. Most were pleasant encounters with a few cringe-worthy tête-à-têtes in-between. This past September, I saw that the annual RetroCon, held in nearby Oaks, Pennsylvania, would welcome, as one of its guests, the celebrated Robbie Rist. Mrs. Pincus, who had grown weary of the autograph portions of collector shows, agreed to accompany me — as I already insisted that we go. I suggested that perhaps she could wheel and deal for some merchandise to sell in her eBay store and she was on-board.

We arrived at the massive convention center, situated just outside of Philadelphia, smack in the middle of nowhere, but visible from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Let me remind you that Robbie has never met me and never spoken to me. I, of course, like a host of other late period Baby Boomers, watched Robbie grow up, so I clearly have him at an advantage. We waded through the vendor tables, with the promise of perusing them closely on our way out. We made our way to the area where the invited celebrity guests had set up to meet fans and sell autographs. Sitting between Felix Silla (the original 'Cousin Itt' from the Addams Family television series) and a guy I never heard of was Robbie. He was a little older and a little grayer than depicted in some of his promo photos that decorated his table. But, then again, so was I. Robbie was putting the finishing touches on a signature for a young man in front of me. They were ending their conversation about Robbie's vocal contribution to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film franchise (He voices Michelangelo). I waited patiently. Robbie asked his young fan if he'd like to sign up for his mailing list and he presented a clipboard obligingly. I still waited patently.

Finally, it was my turn.

Robbie smiled and greeted me with a friendly "Hello." I picked up the clipboard and said to him, "I don't wanna sign up for your fucking mailing list."

Robbie by JPiC
Robbie coughed and his lip curled into an awkward grin. I smiled and relented, "I'm Josh Pincus, Robbie." This evoked a wide smile and Robbie hugged me. Robbie Rist! Cousin Oliver from TV! We talked and laughed. We introduced our respective spouses and talked more. I certainly didn't want to monopolize his time. After all, he was there to sell some pictures. I didn't want to impede on his commerce. Mrs. P and I excused ourselves with the promise of returning to say "goodbye" before we headed home.... which we did. And I also presented him with his very own "Josh Pincus" portrait.

Robbie is a good guy. Mrs. Robbie is a good guy, too. (Oh, you know what I mean!) We have remained in touch via various other social media outlets besides Twitter... with which Robbie has had a contentious relationship. It's just still a little weird because I used to watch him on TV when I was a kid.

And now he's my friend.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

any major dude will tell you

I am constantly surprised by the number of people who know me that don't really know me. I'm really not that difficult to figure out, as I'm not particularly deep or mysterious or enigmatic. I don't like extravagance. I'm honest and outspoken. I'm sarcastic. (Okay, I'm very sarcastic and that aspect of my personality has gotten me into trouble more times than I care to admit.) I don't like to make small talk. If I like you, I talk to you, if I have something to say. If I don't like you, I'll ignore you. I have no time for liars or bullshit. I have a pretty good sense of humor and I like to laugh. I find humor in almost everything, but I don't find everything funny. I don't particularly like scatological humor. I don't like mean-spirited humor. I like clever humor. I like mostly comedies and musicals and light-hearted entertainment. I don't like science-fiction, superhero or any "suspension of beliefs" plot lines in movies or television... unless it's played for laughs. When I take a trip, I like kitschy entertainment or some pop culture-type destination.

Pretty simple, huh? Especially, if you have known me for some time.

But, for some reason, I receive regular recommendations from people pointing me towards things that don't fit into the category of anything I like.

Years ago, after planning yet another trip to Walt Disney World, a co-worker said to me, "Y'know where you should go? Yellowstone Park." "Really?," I replied, "Should I? And why should I go to Yellowstone Park?" He went on to explain — with dewy eyes — that there are beautiful trees and hiking trails and camping is available. I smiled and said, "I can see trees on my way to work. I can't see singing pirates on my way to work. And I bought a house so I would never have to sleep in the dirt." My co-worker frowned and walked away.

A former sister-in-law (it's hard to say which one since I've had so many) once told me, after she returned from a week at Hilton Head Island, "You should go to Hilton Head Island! You would love it there!" With a feeling of déja vu, I asked her to describe exactly what I would love about Hilton Head Island. With a wide grin and animated hand gestures, she told me about the golfing and swimming and biking and hiking opportunities that were abundant at the South Carolina resort. When she finished waxing poetic, I asked her if she ever saw me golf or swim or bike or hike in her life. My former sister-in-law frowned and walked away.

Are your recommendations based on things you like? With no consideration to what I like? Are you assuming if you like something, everyone must like it, because everyone is like you? I mean I've gotten dirty looks on cruise ships from fellow cruisers who are disappointed — even outraged — to learn that I am a Philadelphia male who doesn't follow football. Just because you watch football doesn't mean everyone watches football... believe it or not!

I've had friends tell me about movies that I would love! Movies about alien worlds and caped heroes straight from the pages of a comic book I never read. These lengthy synopses are usually followed by: "Oh, you should see it! You will love it!" I gently reveal that I don't care for science fiction or super hero themes in films... only to be interrupted with "Oh, but you'd love this one!"

I can instantly recognize whether or not I will like a movie or a television show within a very short time. I have given plenty of programming plenty of time to catch my interest. Most have failed. Believe me, I have been very, very open minded. Hell, I watched all three seasons of Stranger Things because I really, really wanted to like it. I hated all three seasons. I sat through twenty-five grueling minutes of Season 1 Episode 1 of HBO's hit series Deadwood before snapping it off in disgust and confusion. I had no idea what was going on, except for a lot of mumbling and gratuitous, anachronistic cursing. Just last week, I watched the beginning of the new revival of Perry Mason. I made it to the eighteen minute mark. I didn't like the original series and this new take was trying so desperately hard to be cool that I found it distracting. Like I said, I can be very patient. I watched the premiere installment of Jason Segel's AMC series Dispatches from Elsewhere. Sure, it smacked of science fiction and suspension of reality and everything else I usually dislike, but I enjoyed it very much. I found the characters and storytelling to be heartwarming and endearing. I even liked the payoff, where most people found it a letdown. But, I wouldn't dare recommend it to anyone.

I rarely offer recommendations for anything to anyone. Instead, I will tell of a movie or television show that I liked, but offer a self-protecting disclaimer of "I liked it, but I can't say that you'd like it." I know that my tastes are not everyone's tastes. I like a lot of movies that no one likes. (Phantom of the Paradise and Wild Wild West come to mind, but I'm sure there are more.)

Perhaps I would be more receptive to recommendations if they were presented with less urgency and insistence. Instead of "you would like this," maybe you should consider "I liked this, perhaps you would, too... but I can't be sure." I understand that people are excited about what they like and are eager to share, but you have to know someone really, really really well before you know what they'd like.

And, to date, no one seems to know me that well. I should work on that.

Maybe not.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

tv party

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I am an outspoken smart-ass who makes fun of everything. If you are a fan of my Facebook page, you know that I have an unnatural affection (or did I just spell "obsession" wrong) for dead celebrities and the anniversaries of when they acquired that dubious title. If you are a reader of my illustration blog — either new, occasional or loyal — you have seen my dark portraits of the unsung, the recently deceased and my skewed vision of the world around me.

But, if you only follow me on Instagram, you probably think I have lost my mind completely.

Since I have been sequestered in my house for nearly... what are we up to? ..... seventeen weeks, I've been looking for things to do. Sure, I do my best to help around the house. I bring the dirty laundry down to the basement when asked. I gather and take the trash out to the curb on Tuesday nights for pick up on Wednesday morning. Then I bring the receptacles back up to our driveway. Every Saturday, Mrs. Pincus and I sweep and clean the house (mostly) from top to bottom. I even got the hang of using a Swiffer, that ingenious cleaning implement I've seen guys effortlessly guide around their spotless apartments on rather-effective television commercials. I still find myself waking up daily at 6 AM, just because of the routine I'm used to. I make myself breakfast, then park myself in front of the television. Ah, television. My friend since I was a child, television is reliable and always ready to entertain with something new or something comforting and familiar that I've seen a zillion times and can watch a zillion times more. And now, since the advent of cable, on demand and streaming services, I am never ever without something to watch.

Daytime television is strange and I'm really not sure who is its target audience. There's a lot of news. There's also game shows, soap operas, talk shows and reruns of "classic" TV shows. That's where I come in. But, based on the commercials wedged between the programming, I would like to think that I am too young to be the demographic... but, alas, I am probably not. I don't think I need a reverse mortgage, a smoother-to-insert catheter or a pillow that's endorsed by Jesus himself. But, television thinks otherwise. I just want to watch the television shows that entertained me as a child and teenager. Stupid, mindless, nearly plotless episodes of programs from a time devoid of real problems. Sure, I lost my job six weeks into this harrowing pandemic, but Beaver Cleaver losing his first baseman's mitt seems like a more pressing issue.

My typical weekday finds me shoveling Honey Nut Cheerio-s into my mouth to the accompaniment of a forty year-old episode of The Partridge Family on retro broadcaster Antenna TV. Next, my preferences lead me to The Beverly Hillbillies, then My Three Sons and two — count 'em — two episodes of Leave It to Beaver, all courtesy of the wonderful Me-TV network. Then, I grab the remote and switch to TBS, where I'll catch back-to-back showings of Seinfeld (yes, I know. The celebrated "show about nothing" doesn't quite fit into the same realm as the aforementioned sitcoms, but, I remind you that Seinfeld broadcast its last "yada-yada" 22 years ago.)

Now, I am faced with a choice. I can watch Friends, a show that on recent viewings has proven to be inconsistent in its humor and uncomfortably sexist, misogynistic, racist and homophobic than I remember. Or I can watch The Lucy Show, a mid-Sixties attempt by Lucille Ball to ride the popularity of her ground-breaking I Love Lucy, but without the comedic benefit of Desi Arnaz, William Frawley and Vivian Vance. I have seen every episode of the "classic" 50s sitcom more times that I can count. For the longest time I hated it, until I realized what I hated about it. It was Lucy. The other three stars were hysterical, evoking genuine organic laughter. Lucy, however, was so incredibly annoying and unfunny as compared to her co-stars, she made the show unbearable. Why do I choose to watch The Lucy Show, then? Well, the first three (of its inexplicable six) seasons featured Vivian Vance... and I love Vivian Vance, just for the simple fact that she remained loyal to Lucy for so long, considering Lucy's treatment of her (weight demands, second billing). By season four, Viv had had it and left the show. Despite that, Lucy had a lot of big name, show-biz connections and she managed to get every one of her friends to appear in some stupid scenario or make-shift showcase for their particular talent. I like celebrities and Lucy knew how to get 'em.

After The Lucy Show, I stick with Decades network for two episodes of The Donna Reed Show and Petticoat Junction. Sometimes, I'll switch to Dennis the Menace and Hazel, but I always come back for the gentle heartwarming adventures of my personal favorite Family Affair. By this time, it's afternoon and I'll watch The Middle, a recent sitcom which my wife and I discovered late in its original run,  but found to be very funny. Or I'll draw a picture in our third-floor office while an episode of the Nickelodeon teen sitcom iCarly plays in the background. (Don't knock it. The show, created by former actor wunderkind Dan Schneider, is chock full of clever humor that appeals to parents as well as kids.)

A little while ago — I forget exactly when, since  the concept of time is no longer relevant — I began using the magic of the Xfinity remote that works with my X1 advanced enhanced cable service (that I pay waaaaay too much for) to pause live television. I have been watching so much old TV that I have begun to see current celebrities in small, unassuming roles in forty and fifty year-old shows. Respected actors have popped up in comedies and Westerns. Familiar TV stars show up long before their fame exploded in a role to which they became so closely associated. Then, there's the same small group of actors whose names are forgotten (except by me) but whose faces are instantly recognizable in the dozens of roles they've played in dozens of shows. 

So, I regularly pause the show I'm watching, snap a picture (or two) of a particular celebrity and I post it to Instagram, to share with the world... or at least those that share my special brand of insanity. I have seen a number of actors in unlikely roles, like Jack Nicholson as a panicked father of a lost baby in The Andy Griffith Show or Angie Dickinson in full Native American makeup and costume in an episode of Gunsmoke. Mrs. Pincus has even joined in, tracking the guest stars in shows that she watches but I just can't sit through. Kathy Garver, "Cissy" from Family Affair, in Big Valley was a  great recent find. 

I even get requests from followers. Just today, a guy asked for a scene from a particular episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. I get "likes" from relatives of the star in question... and sometimes the star herself, as proven by a "like" from Morgan Fairchild on a recent post acknowledging her appearance in Mork and Mindy. See? I'm not alone in my madness.

Now, if I can only figure out a way to make this little hobby profitable. Before someone has me committed.

Follow along and join the my fun.... josh pincus is crying on Instagram.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

living in the past

When my son was little, he loved to go to the supermarket and check out what was new. If any product had a bright "NEW" banner splashed across the front of the package, my son wanted it. He fancied himself the unofficial taste-tester on behalf of the food-consuming public. Whether it was a cereal one week (or even a new variety of a favorite cereal) or a snack or drink the next, he wanted to be the first to sample it. His testing often yielded different results. The more common outcome was that the product was deemed "yucky" and was never to darken our kitchen again. Sometimes, the product in question would receive a favorable rating by my son. He would request a subsequent purchase, even before the initial supply had been depleted. This was often tricky. An immediate return trip to the supermarket to purchase the product would be made... only to be met with a rethinking of the test conclusion, leaving a surplus of said product to go uneaten, then stale, then trashed. Or.... if we delayed our next trip to the market to buy more, the particular item was no longer being manufactured, because of the opinions of other self-appointed taste-testers across the country. Some foods, like the recently reintroduced Dunakroos were winners from the start. A self-contained serving of cookies and frosting in which to dip could you go wrong? But, purple ketchup? What on earth was Heinz thinking?

This ritual was not new to me. I was guilty of putting my mother through the same consumer demands when I was a kid. And the products were just as weird.

In the late 60s through early 70s, I was enrolled in a Philadelphia public school. The student body was culled from surrounding neighborhoods filled with middle-class families who couldn't afford to live in the "ritzier" suburbs. The classroom sizes averaged an overcrowded thirty-five students and each grade was made up of two or three classrooms. Lunchtime was an unruly free-for-all, with exasperated adult "lunchroom monitors" trying their best to wrangle students and maintain something that resembled order. The lunchroom could have easily been mistaken for a rodeo by an unaccustomed visitor. There was an area of the lunchroom where food could be purchased. Each month, a mimeographed menu was sent home, listing the upcoming menu choices. The food prepared by the cranky, hair-netted women who comprised the lunchroom staff, as I recall, was horrible. There were offerings like pizza made from hamburger buns, pre-formed Salisbury steak and something passed off as "shepherd's pie," that presented itself as a pre-digested bolus with stray peas, carrots and mashed potatoes as the only identifiable food components, and those were, at best, iffy. I, along with most of my classmates, brought my lunch, so as not to be subjected to that slop.... and that's being nice.

There were several components of my school lunches that I remember distinctly. There were trendy products that, like my son's enticement in later years, were very irresistible to me. My lunches would usually include a sandwich and two snack-type foods. The sandwich alternated between bologna (usually that assembly-line Oscar Mayer stuff from the yellow plastic "easy seal" package that was never easy to seal) or peanut butter and jelly. When I was 10, the standard, everyday peanut butter was replaced by a new product called Koogle. After being assaulted by commercials between Saturday morning showings of The Funky Phantom and Archie's TV Funnies, I asked — no demanded — my mother to buy Koogle, Kraft's take on peanut butter. It was like regular peanut butter, but it was flavored! How did nobody think of this before? Koogle came in banana, cinnamon, chocolate and vanilla varieties. It was available in jars that were smaller than other peanut butter packages that, I'm sure, was a nightmare for grocery clerks trying to stock shelves. Koogle, if I remember correctly, was awful. But, I ate it because I begged my mother to buy it and television told me it was delicious. I ate it just to hold up my end of the "being a kid" bargain. My lunch would also include a foil-wrapped Drake's Yodel, a chocolate covered cake roll similar to Little Debbie's Swiss Rolls. Yodels were great, but the best part was trying to see who could flatten the foil wrapping the cleanest and bring it back to its most original pristine state, getting out all of the folds and wrinkles, until it looked as though it just came off the roll at the factory. (Hey, we didn't have cellphones or Nintendo Switch.) If I was lucky, my lunch would also include a foil packet of Shake-A-Pudd'n and a plastic cup in which to "shake-a" it. With the simple instruction to "just add water," kids were promised an envy-inducing treat in just a few shakes. Plus, the actual activity of shaking was somehow perceived as fun itself! Again, I remember that no amount of agitation would allow Shake-A-Pudd'n to achieve the consistency of the pudding you'd get to cap off your meal at a diner or off the kid's menu at that fancy restaurant your parents took you to. However, at any given time, there would be a dozen small children scattered throughout the lunchroom, performing their closest approximation of the hula in hopes of creating a restaurant-quality dessert. The real goal — I believe — was to make the pudding-less children jealous.

The new product appeal was not limited to school lunches. Oh no! My mornings would start with a big bowl of Sir Grapefellow or some other unnaturally-flavored, overly-sweetened breakfast cereal that couldn't possibly have been good for me. When I got home from school, I would plop down in front of the television with a box of Tid-Bits and shovel those cheese-flavored choking hazards into my mouth until dinnertime. If my mom wasn't cooking that night, my evening meal would be one of a selection of Libbyland frozen dinners specifically formulated for kids. That meant I could choose from the "Pirate Picnic," which featured a foil pan that held a mini hot dog in a mini bun, a small serving of dog food that claimed to be "sloppy Joe," French fries, corn and chocolate pudding or a "Safari Supper," offering the main course of fried chicken and a side of spaghetti and mini-meatballs, along with the standard-issue corn, fries and pudding. The problems with these meals were numerous. The hot dog bun became rock hard under the same oven conditions needed to heat the corn and fries. The pudding, which, theoretically, should have been served chilled, was also subjected to the same heat as the rest of the meal's components. Plus, the decision to include corn, potatoes and pasta in the same meal was questionable — both by the Libby Corporation and by responsible parents. The actual appeal of the Libbyland menu wasn't the food (surprise!). It was the activities that were printed on the box that, with a little creative cutting as instructed by directions on a tiny section of the packaging, created a colorful holder for the foil pan once it was removed from the oven. The food was secondary to the minutes of fun provided by that box. Nevertheless, I still forced that pudding down my throat.

Now, I am less discerning about my grocery purchases. We buy what's cheap. We buy store-band equivalents of national brands... except for ketchup. That's still Heinz... although current, healthier-leaning eating habits preclude any food that requires ketchup. But, cereal, crackers, salad dressing.... all store brand. And my "advanced palate" doesn't know the difference, where my wallet does.

Only now do I appreciate and understand my son's interest and excitement in new products. He was just carrying on a family tradition.