Sunday, June 27, 2021

when we was fab

I love The Beatles. I grew up on The Beatles. I certainly understand their influence and contribution to popular music. I am aware of their impact on pop culture and the innovations they introduced to the recording process. They were The Beatles, for goodness sakes!

I also have a sense of humor about pretty much anything and everything. Nothing is sacred — especially the things that you and I hold dear. The angrier someone gets when something they love is made the butt of a joke, the funnier that joke becomes. Exponentially funnier.

If you have followed me on various social media outlets, you are aware of my sense of humor and a series of running jokes which seem to infiltrate my assorted feeds on a regular basis. There's my nearly daily chronicle of Ambrose the cat. There's my documentation of the various food that literally litters the streets of my neighborhood — free for the taking.... while supplies last, of course. And, then there's my on-going disdain for Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.

Peace and luv.
Peace and luv.
I'm not going to explain the origins of my online feud with Mr. Starr. If you have to explain a joke, it immediately ceases to be funny. Just accept it. If you think it's funny, fine. If you don't quite "get it," maybe you will in the future... or maybe you just won't. That's okay. Move on. Maybe something not as subtle or esoteric will make you laugh. My humor runs the gamut from blatant to exclusive (as in "For my amusement only"). I'm sure, if you stick around long enough, you'll find something funny. Or not.

Recently, I reconnected — on Facebook — with a classmate from art school. I have not seen this guy since his graduation (he was a year ahead of me), save for the few times we ran into him at a local flea market where he was hawking used record albums from the confines of a dusty booth in the sweltering summer heat. I remember that he was a huge Beatles fan, Like HUGE! Like no other band mattered. No other band existed! As far as he was concerned, everyone shared his love of the Fab Four and no one knew as much about or cared as much for those four loveable mop tops from Liverpool. According to his recent Facebook posts, that still stands. Except now, it is over half a century since the band's last studio album and two of the band members have passed away. Plus, a lot of music has come out since the demise of the Beatles and an awful lot of people don't really hold them in such high reverence anymore. The ones that do are showing their age and showing the sad grip that they are trying to maintain on a youth that has long passed. They can't be content on just liking The Beatles and remembering the feeling evoked by their music. No, they must badger subsequent generations into loving The Beatles just as much as they do and denouncing the current crop of musicians as vastly inferior. That is their goal, their mission, their function as their own mortality looms large. The fear that no one will be left to carry the Beatles mantle is their motivation.

My new old Facebook friend doesn't like my playful ribbing of Ringo Starr. Not. One. Bit. He has commented with great fervor. He has berated me and justified Ringo's (alleged) talent. He has enumerated the Beatles drummer's numerous (debatable) successes. He has gone back to comment on months-old posts I made, long before we were connected. He had to make sure that every single post about Ringo was addressed and properly disputed.

Happy birthday.
Yesterday (June 18), was Paul McCartney's birthday. Not restricting my jibes to Ringo, I have made it an annual tradition to wish the celebrated bassist a "Happy Birthday" and accompany my greeting with a current photo of actress Angela Lansbury, to which Sir Paul, in his advanced years, bears a striking resemblance. It's funny... at least in my opinion. I have garnered many "thumbs up" accolades to these posts, so, obviously, I am not the only one who sees the similarities in the looks of these two British icons and I am not the only one who finds it funny.

My new old Facebook friend found this particularly offensive. Acting as the self-appointed official Keeper of All Things Beatles, he left a seething comment, in ALL CAPS no less, affording me a hearty "FUCK YOU." He addressed me by my birth name (the one he knew me by when we attended art school together, long before the advent of "Josh Pincus")... and he spelled it wrong.

I almost deleted the comment, unfriended him and blocked his account from seeing any more of my posts. But I didn't.

I couldn't.

This is just too funny.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

let's call this song exactly what it is

Four jobs ago, I used to ride the train every day to downtown Philadelphia. I'd see a lot of the same people at the train station (which is just a few feet from my suburban Philadelphia home). Of course, I didn't know any of these people. They were just commuters, like me, on their way to work. In my mind, I'd make up little stories about them to amuse myself while I waited for the train to arrive. I had a lot of time to let my imagination wander, as the train was rarely on time. 

There was one guy who I saw on an almost daily basis. I don't like to pass judgement on people (who am I kidding? yes I do!) whom I don't know. But, as human nature would have it, I formed an instant opinion about this guy from the moment I saw him... and I didn't like him. He always sported a smirk on his face and swung his large briefcase nervously as he expounded some long-winded explanation to a small group of similarly-dressed men in way-too-loud a voice.

The job to which I referred — the one that was the destination of my train ride — was working at a mid-sized law firm. While my position didn't require me to interact with lawyers regularly, I did have several encounters with attorneys over the course of the dozen years I worked there. Some of them — not all — were arrogant and nasty. The ones that fit into that category all exhibited the same hubris in their conversation, demands and actions. Sure, there were plenty of lawyers who were nice and personable, but still, there was this over-arching air of "I am better than you" that one could feel hanging heavy in the course of any verbal exchange — no matter how brief or lengthy. In my personal experience, I concluded that those who attended law school were convinced that the certificate they received upon graduation assured expertise in the field of law — as well as every other profession. Even ones in which their course of study did not cover. I don't remotely profess to know anything about the legalities of anything, but I have had attorneys point out all the things I was doing wrong in graphic design.

The guy at the train station, I discovered via a long-time friend and travelling companion, was a lawyer. I revealed my instant, though admittedly baseless, dislike of this guy to my friend. My friend vehemently dismissed my assessment of the guy, telling me, "No! You've got him all wrong! He's a sweetheart!" Granted, my friend is an eternal optimist, always seeing the sunny side of pretty much everything. She likes everyone. I can't understand how we've been friends for so long.

Sometime after my friend's reprimanding of me, I overheard the train station guy again. It was tough not to overhear him, as he spoke loudly. Very loudly. Way too loudly for the other person in his conversation. He spoke as though he was addressing the entire train station assembly. Perhaps he was. All he was missing was a podium. He spoke of how he was running for a position on the local school board and talked about all of the plans he had once elected. 

(Get ready for another opinion)

I have lived in my house for 35 years. I love this neighborhood, but there is a very elitist attitude among some of the more  — shall we say  — "affluent" citizens. Their houses are bigger than mine. Those big houses sit on more property than I own. And their "say" in local matters is more influential than mine. This little coterie likes to serve on committees and tell other people what to do. Makes 'em feel important and a contributor to "the greater good" — their own personal "greater good." The train station guy is one of those "I like to serve on committees" people. He won a spot on the school board and, subsequently, became the head of the school board of my district.

I don't take the train to that job anymore. As I mentioned, I have had three jobs since then, so I don't see the train station guy anymore. Until this week.

It's graduation time and, as head of the local school district, the train station guy offered some words of inspiration to the high school graduating class of 2021. Clad in an honorary cap and gown, a pair of comically-large glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, the train station guy delivered a speech in which he quoted — although misinterpreted — from a blog post by an acknowledged hero of his, Professor Heather Cox Richardson, a professor of American History at Boston College. The train station guy related anecdotes about abolitionist Frederick Douglass, saying that Douglass had a "pretty good position" relative to other black slaves.  He also said that his escape to freedom in 1838 was — and I quote — "ridiculously easy." The majority of the student body of the high school is African-American. Murmurs rumbled through the audience and graduates as the words echoed through the public address system. The train station guy is just another white guy in a long line of white guys who don't know when to shut up about things they don't know about. Oh... wait.... there isn't any subject they don't know about.

A very short time after his speech, an official announcement from the school board was released. It explained that the train station guy was stepping down from his position as school board head. It also related an apology for his insensitive expression and inappropriate use of the forum. The story made local, national and international news. A YouTube video of the commencement ceremony was edited and carried a newly-inserted disclaimer at the beginning.
I can't understand how the speech got as far as being actually spoken. Didn't the train station guy run it by a few close friends or family members or colleagues or anyone who isn't white before saying "Yeah, this sounds right. This is what I'll go with."? In all of the wisdom which he flaunted at the train station, couldn't he see the insensitive and hurtful nature of the words he deemed appropriate for a high school graduation speech? I suppose not.

But it looks like my first impression of him was spot on after all.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

easy like a sunday morning

I think I started watching CBS Sunday Morning, the venerable weekend extension of the CBS early morning news program, when my son was in college. We'd wake up early on Sunday and watch together... surprisingly on his suggestion, not mine. I'm not sure why a 20-something year-old would want to watch a show that was obviously geared to an older audience, but, who was I to argue. So, we watched. Together.

At the time, the show was hosted by the avuncular Charles Osgood, who was well into a decade of hosting after taking over the reigns from the equally-avuncular Charles Kurault. Osgood was a friendly, folksy fellow, nattily dressed in a comfortable tweed suit and a hand-knotted bowtie at his throat. He introduced relatable tales of regular folks tending to home gardens or feisty grandparents who had formed a rock group or proud World War II vets being honored by their small-town neighbors with a very homemade-looking parade. It was ninety minutes of a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. There was weather and fun facts interspersed among the stories, as well as a not-too-heavy editorial, a movie recommendation and maybe a humorous piece or recognition of a notable passing. The whole thing was capped off with a nearly-silent bit of footage of some wildlife cavorting in their natural habitat, like coyotes in the desert or penguins waddling across a snowdrift. Credits would roll and I'd change the channel, interrupting a scowling Bob Schieffer as he announced the day's topic of Face the Nation.

Even after my son moved out — first with roommates, then to his own house — we continued to watch CBS Sunday Morning together, making our comments to each other via text messages instead of a nudge on the sofa. We'd offer each other observations about Charles Osgood's piano playing (of which there was a substantial amount) or the antics of prairie dogs popping in and out of holes in the sunbaked Badlands of South Dakota like a real life Whack-a-Mole game. 

Suddenly, Charles Osgood announced his retirement, handing the mantle over to regular correspondent and former NBC Today Show host Jane Pauley. At first, we were, of course, disappointed in the pending departure of Charles Osgood. The guy had served the show well, but he was 83. He earned the pleasure of retirement after a long and illustrious career. As longtime fans of the show, we felt Jane Pauley was a fine choice to continue the tradition of gentle stories to accompany our coffee and (sometimes) schmeared bagels — not that CBS ever asked our opinion. On October 9, 2016, CBS Sunday Morning opened with a smiling Jane Pauley at the helm.

It was all downhill from there.

Within the first few weeks of Jane Pauley taking over as the host of CBS Sunday Morning, the show began to take on a noticeably different tone. Where the program once steered clear of most things political — leaving that subject to be dealt with during the weekday news reports or by the talking heads on Face the Nation — they were now kicking things off with some serious, often trouble-invoking, piece about the turmoil in Washington. The reports would run way too long and way too in-depth and seemed out of place in the Sunday morning timeslot usually reserved for a gray-haired woman offering a lesson in canning your own fruit. or a wizened gent carving bird-shaped whistles from the wood of a tree that grew in his front yard, recently felled by a thunderstorm. I, like most of the audience who tunes in to CBS Sunday Morning, come for a respite from spin doctors and other members of the politico. Soon, even non-political stories took on political characteristics, especially when every new episode led with a story about the COVID-19 pandemic. Sure, it was important, but information real, usable information — about the pandemic could easily be obtained by any number of other outlets. CBS Sunday Morning went from being an oasis to being part of the glut.

Then, more changes in mood crept into the program. It took on a very elitist and condescending tone  a very uppity, very exclusive, very clique-y, very white (if you will) attitude. It's target audience was becoming very clear. Sure, I understood who the show was geared towards in the past, but now there was no mistaking the show's intent. It now featured regular cooking segments hosted by the Queen of Out-of-Touch Lifestyle, Martha Stewart. Comfortably sauntering around a kitchen that is bigger than my house, Ms. Stewart offers impromptu instruction for preparing some French-named dish using exotic-sounding ingredients that she grows on her farm — you know, just like the one which you grow your exotic ingredients.

Most of the stories contain interviews with white people by white reporters. If, on the off chance that a person of color is the focus of a report, it is assigned to a black reporter or it is treated like a quaint little novelty, as though this portion of society is something that regular viewers will never ever experience outside of the setting for a movie or, possibly, the very segment they are watching. Steve Hartman does a weekly report — a feel-good story about people just being nice to one another. The subject is usually someone who is down on their luck or suffering from some sort of ailment. I can just imaging the typical home viewer watching and thinking: "Oh, those poor people. I'm glad they don't live near me."

Recently, they brought in Ted Koppel, a one-time respected television journalist. I thought Ted had retired years ago, and, by the content of his reporting, he should have. His reporting style is dismissive and his reports are condescending. He is resting on his thirty-year old laurels and those laurels are no longer applicable to today's issues. But, no one, apparently, has the guts to tell Ted this. Instead, he treats the current story — the one on which he is reporting — like it pales in comparison to the sorts of thing he covered in his heyday. 

Even their lighter pieces carry the same, overarching attitude. Recently, I saw a piece about how Wayne Coyne and his band The Flaming Lips are dealing with the pandemic. Coyne and company have been together, in one form or another, for around thirty years. The band was presented as a bunch of upstarts that CBS just found out about. However, a week later, Crosby, Stills and Nash were showcased as though they are the most relevant band on the planet. (Spoiler alert: They are not.)

All during the pandemic, the Sunday Morning staff felt that America — especially their target audience — craved a weekly check-in with Jim Gaffigan. Gaffigan, a popular comedian who tours regularly, was sidelined during the pandemic, like the majority of his fellow performers. Gaffigan took this time to film his innermost feelings about how much he dislikes his family. This became a weekly thing. A thing I don't believe I asked for.

I will watch pretty much anything on television, including shows I hate — Gilligan's Island, I Love Lucy, Mork & Mindy. Last Sunday, I snapped off my weekly viewing of CBS Sunday Morning in favor of mopping our kitchen floor.

That should explain things fairly well.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

think about your troubles

I live in a small suburb of Philadelphia, the sixth largest city in the United States. (We used to be fourth, until people started moving to Houston and Phoenix.) A filled-to-capacity Citizens Bank Park could hold over twice the amount of people who call Elkins Park home. I told you it was small. Elkins Park boasts some of the highest property taxes in the area. Surrounding municipalities have much lower taxes because of the amount of businesses in those areas. Elkins Park, however, has fewer businesses, thus higher taxes are employed to take up the slack. If the overly-discerning "powers-that-be" would allow more businesses to open, then perhaps our taxes would drop to a more reasonable level.

As Hamlet said: "Ay, there's the rub..."

Businesses and business owners in Elkins Park have an uncanny track record. So many have opened, floundered and eventually failed, despite their best efforts.

Wait. Did I say "best efforts?" I meant "no efforts."

In recent memory, it seems every new and hopeful business has followed the same business model. The first decision, after signing whatever necessary paperwork allowing a business to open, is "when should we be closed." There is a small area — catty corner to a train station on the regional rail line — that one would deem a veritable gold mine for any business, but, alas, the can only ring up sales if their doors are open. Most of the stores — a book store, a coffee shop, an Italian restaurant, a clothing boutique and "sort of" co-op — are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. This is not a welcoming sight to those coming off the train after a long day at work, hoping to pick up a quick cup of coffee or a fast browse through the clothing racks  on their walk home. Instead, foot traffic is subjected to locked doors and darkened windows. And these businesses wonder why they fail.

An ice cream store opened in this block adjacent to the train station. It was the perfect spot for an ice cream store. They had a walk-up window where one could order hot crepes along with the standard sundaes and pre-packaged frozen novelties. They had small tables set up on the sidewalk where you could relax while you enjoyed your dessert, perhaps sharing some conversation with a neighbor.

Except, this particular ice cream store opened its doors to customers in the middle of December 2018. Sure that particular winter was light on typical weather, but, nevertheless, opening an ice cream store six months before anyone is thinking about ice cream is not the best business decision. This was followed by more "head-scratching" decisions. Within weeks of opening, the ice cream store decreased its operating hours, cutting Mondays and Tuesdays off of its schedule. This adjustment caused the first blemish on their establishment. You see, the hours were etched into the top panel of their glass entrance door, just below their folksy-looking logo. To convey the change in hours to protentional customers, a blank piece of paper was taped over the top two etched lines of text. It looked terrible. Then, to make matters worse, one day the bottom glass panel erupted in a large spidery shatter with long cracks reaching out towards the metal door frame. The owners made the decision to never fix this.

Soon summer came and they were ready to face the real onslaught of the ice cream hungry public. They still kept their abbreviated hours, despite the change in season. They even began to open later in the day and lock up earlier — sometimes as early as 8 o'clock, right around the time folks would be finished dinner and ready to embark on a stroll around the neighborhood... perhaps for some ice cream. 
They changed their menu often and displayed their bill of fare with the all the elegance and care as someone offering guitar lessons or moving services to the patron of the corner laundromat. It was sloppy and dirty and unbecoming of a place that wants your business. It was a reflection of how much interest the owners really had in appealing to customers and making sure those customers returned often.

As their first summer came to a close, the ice cream store announced they would be closing for the winter. They posted a handwritten sign in their window thanking everyone for their support and a promise of reopening in March.2020. Well, we all know what happened in March 2020. The ice cream store reopened for a week before shutting down again, this time for an amount of time to be determined by a global pandemic. The ice cream store reopened later in 2020, with all sorts of safety measures in place — masks, touchless payments, social distancing, the whole shebang. The even had  a guy playing guitar and singing into a way-too-loud PA system to the two people seated at the sidewalk tables. 

They braved another winter and re-emerged at the start of 2021 with hopes of thriving as the pandemic slowly subsided. Then in April, the ice cream store announced that they would be shutting their doors for good at the end of May — but prior to Memorial Day weekend. They thanked their small loyal fanbase. They also offered the business for sale, promising to keep things  running until the final day.

They didn't. They have been closed since the first week of May, their lights out, their chairs stacked up on tables, their cracked front door locked tight. However, their Facebook page touts new milkshake flavors for this weekend as well as live music. 

The typical prospective Elkins Park business owner thinks owning a business involves opening your front door and watching the customers roll in. They do little promotion, little advertising and little caring. And 
— worst of all — they begrudge customers for not being customers. "After all I did!," they lament.

But — surprise! — they have rescinded their announced closing and will remain open for business. However, after posting their new business hours beginning June 1... their doors were locked tight on that date.

If you are considering opening an ice cream store (or any sort of business), just do the opposite of everything you just read. You're sure to be a success.