Sunday, February 27, 2022

after last night

My wife and I are often asked: "How did you two meet?" It's a story that we have told many, many times over the years — both separately and together. In a group situation, the story usually unfolds as though it's been rehearsed over and over again. We take turns interjecting a crucial piece of the tale, like we are reciting lines from a script that we have been performing on a nationwide tour. Well, this year — this month, as a matter of fact — marks the 40th anniversary since the night we met. So, if you've heard this story before or if you haven't, here it is in all its quirky, typical Pincus glory...

I was a student at a respected Philadelphia art school in 1982. Prior to enrollment, I was informed by my parents — the world's worst handlers of money — that if I chose to continue my education past the tuition-free arrangement of public school, I was on my own. So, just out of high school, I wandered — alone — into a bank and with no prior experience aside from a little savings account (complete with a bank book) I had in third grade, I dove headfirst into the uncharted world of student loans. After a lengthy explanation of terms, I signed a bunch of papers and, a few weeks later, I received a check for tuition made out jointly to me and the school. I would have to begin repaying this loan (and subsequent loans I would contract over the next three years) six months after graduation. I had a job as a cashier at at discount department store near my Northeast Philadelphia home, but I needed to find something a little closer to the Center City location of my new school. Well, I did — at my cousin's health food restaurant. While his establishment did a brisk lunchtime business, he was looking to open a few nights a week for dinner. With my beard, ponytail and bohemian "art school" attitude, I would fit right in — despite the fact that I ate cheesesteaks and meat-filled hoagies. Not exactly the expected diet of someone who would be serving tofu and various vegetable-based entrees to a bunch of hippie holdovers that comprised the restaurant's clientele. (This, of course, was years before I latched on to the vegetarian lifestyle I currently practice.)

Three days a week — Wednesday, Thursday and Friday — I would leave school a few minutes early and rush across downtown Philadelphia to my cousin's restaurant. When I arrived, I'd stash my bag of art supplies, don a green apron and dish out salads and brown rice and tempeh and any number of foods that, if I wasn't getting paid to handle, I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot celery stalk. The restaurant was cafeteria-style and from 3 pm to 9 pm, I'd force a smile on my face and dispense plates of meatless food for an assortment of patrons that ran the gamut from hardcore vegans (before the concept was popular) to the "what's this all about" crowd. At 9 on the dot, I'd lock the door and begin the clean up process. I'd wipe down countertops and tables and mop the floor, while my co-worker would wash the pots, pans and serving utensils in the upstairs kitchen. We had the process timed down to approximately 50 minutes, if we weren't distracted. And by "distracted," I mean cordially, but firmly, guiding any straggling diners out the door before the clock struck 9. 

On February 26, 1982, I was distracted... and my life changed forever.

It was a Friday and I was ready to go home. Around 8 pm, I attempted to get a jump on my regular closing time ritual by covering some of the food that had gone untouched with plastic wrap. The restaurant had been pretty slow since the "dinner hour" ended around 7. Suddenly, the front door swung open and three — ugh! — customers walked in. A tall, dark haired guy in a preppy sweater and two pretty young ladies. I was just a few months shy of my twenty-first birthday, and — truth be told — every girl was pretty, in my opinion. I had a lot of "one dates" with a lot of different girls. Admittedly, I was always on the prowl — as they said in the promiscuous 80s. Tonight, however, I was in no mood to flirt. I wanted to get home and three customers were now standing in my way.

One of the girls approached the serving counter and perused the array of offerings in the salad section and the adjacent steam table where the evening's hot entrees were displayed. She pointed to a container of shredded cheese sandwiched between a container of sliced bell peppers and one of julienned carrots. She smiled and asked, "Does the cheese have rennet?"

I looked at her. She was pretty, but — like I said — I wasn't looking to hit on a girl right now. I was anxious to lock up, mop up and hit the road. I wrinkled my face at her question and replied with five words that — I assume — charmed her like a Shakespearean sonnet.

"What the hell is rennet?"

She explained that she observed the ancient laws of kashrut — "keeping kosher" to you and me. If the restaurant was truly vegetarian, then the cheese would contain a vegetable-derived rennet, instead of the commonly-used meat-based rennet employed by most commercial dairies in the manufacturing of cheese. "Kosher?," I exclaimed, "I don't know anyone under the age of 80 that 'keeps Kosher!' My grandmother keeps Kosher, for chrissakes!" Slowly but surely, I was winning this young lady over.

Soon, she was joined by the man and the other young lady. The trio asked some more questions and eventually made their dinner selections. They explained that they were headed to a movie and didn't want to be late. Once they chose a table in the otherwise empty seating area, I made sure that they didn't stay one second longer than they had to. Uninvited, I took a seat at a nearby table and struck up a conversation. I started with the obligatory "How is everything?" before moving on to questions about the movie that was in their plans. Then, assuming that the "rennet" girl was a few years too old for me, I relaxed my "let's hurry this along" strategy and asked the other girl for her phone number... just like that. She frowned and refused. The "rennet" girl, however, asked if I had an older and taller brother. "Hmm....," I thought, "she's not with this guy after all." (In reality, she had grown up with the male member of their party and always figured she would marry him one day. However, until that time came, she was open to other possibilities....) Coincidentally, I do have an older — and yes, taller — brother. I happily accepted her hastily scribbled phone number to deliver to my brother.

I made a few additional smart-ass comments to the group as they finished up their dinner. Actually, my intention was that my commentary would help in hurrying them along. A little before 9, they gathered their coats and belongings and headed for the door. But not before the "rennet" girl told me that I was the most obnoxious person she had ever met. She wasn't the first person to tell me that. She wasn't even the first person that day.

Early Saturday morning, I called my brother to tell him I got the phone number of a girl for him. My brother was in a long-term relationship with the woman who is currently my sister-in-law. But the Pincus brothers were the Pincus brothers and — prior to the meaningful and solemn commitment of marriage — anything was fair game. He did ask a favor of me, though. He requested that I call this prospective girl first and explain that he was going to call. He hated to go through the awkward formality of jogging someone's memory. What if they couldn't remember giving out their number or even the entire encounter at all. He wanted that all out of the way, leaving plenty of time to ply the patented Pincus charm that won over so many defenseless members of the fairer sex.

So, I called her. She answered the phone and I launched right into identifying myself. "You know, the obnoxious guy from the restaurant." She laughed... and that began a lovely, natural and engaging conversation that lasted three hours. Three hours! Finally, I told the "rennet" girl — Susan — that I would not be turning her phone number over to my brother. I would like to ask her out myself. She accepted and a date was planned for the following Saturday. By December of that year, we were engaged to be married.

... and it all started when Susan walked though the front door of that restaurant. 

Footnote: One of our early dates was to my brother's 25th birthday party. This was the first time Susan met my brother and other members of my extended family. Later in the evening, Susan confided to me that if the original plan of events had transpired and she, indeed, went out with my brother, that would have been the last time any member of my family ever saw her. Oh, Susan and my brother get along just fine... just not in that way.

And the two other people mentioned in this story? Well, the have both been written about elsewhere on this blog.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

everybody loves somebody sometime

This is a stupid story. I know, I know. I should probably preface every story I tell on this blog in that manner. Okay....I mean this is another stupid story. 

I have been very active on social media for well over a decade. My activity waxes and wanes between platforms. Sometimes I'll go for long stretches posting fervently on Twitter. Then, for no discernable reason, I'll lay off of Twitter in favor of Facebook or Instagram... only to return to Twitter. And then the cycle starts again or sometimes rearranges itself. It is not planned. It just happens. More recently, I post simultaneously on all three major platforms. (No, I have no plans to joins the ranks of Tik Tok. You're welcome.)

If you have been a follower of mine for any length of time (and why wouldn't you be?), you know that I post celebrity death anniversaries on a daily basis. Each day, just after I finish up a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, I search the internet and post four or five photos of particular celebrities who passed away in a past year on that particular corresponding date. I get some "likes" each day... and that's pretty much it until the next day, when it starts all over again. I have been doing this for years, adding to the commemoration as more celebrities pass away. Often, my "Instagram Memories" remind me that I have used the same photo of a particular celebrity on more than one occasion. 

For the record, my criteria for "celebrity" may differ from yours. I like to seek out forgotten names that may not have the wide-spread recognition. I like actors who are known for one obscure role (like Dwight Frye or Kasey Rogers... Google 'em) or a sports figure who holds a unique, but insignificant, record or distinction (like Red Sox third baseman Ted Cox, the only player in Major League Baseball history whose first name and last name rhyme with the team he played for.) I find these folks more interesting than the typical US President, Academy Award-winning actor or Hall of Fame ball player.

On September 27, 2013, actress Phyllis Davis passed away. She was an actress with a respectable, but admittedly unremarkable, career. She appeared in a couple of grindhouse-caliber "women in chains" films, as well as a few more mainstream, yet equally forgettable, pictures. On television, she guest starred on Magnum PI, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. She is best remembered for playing Robert Urich's "Gal Friday" on the crime drama Vega$. She was the one who wasn't Judy Landers.

Every September 27, I post a photo of Ms. Davis along with a reminder of the year she died. She joins Metallica original bassist Cliff Burton, author William Safire and publisher Hugh Hefner, who all died on September 27 — though all in various years. As we know, everything on the internet, stays on the internet forever. So every so often, one of my posts gets a "like" months or even years after its original upload. My annual posts commemorating the "deathaversary" of Phyllis Davis garners a barrage of "likes" on a regular basis years after the fact and — time-wise — no where near September 27.

It's weird.

Every so often, for several days in a row, a years-old post of Phyllis Davis will get a dozen different likes from a dozen different accounts. If I click on one of these accounts, they either have no posts of their own or their account is designated as "private." 

What is it about Phyllis Davis? Was she a good actress? Eh... she was okay, but nothing special. Was she attractive? I suppose. But she seems to have this rabid cult following that unearths itself like seventeen-year cicadas, but on a more frequent cycle and with an affinity for 80s TV supporting actresses.

I watch a lot of "classic" TV — mostly shows that originally aired between the 1960s and the 1980s. I have spotted Phyllis Davis in many episodes of these shows — from her brief appearance as a harried neighbor (in a brunette wig) in an episode of Adam-12 to her roles in four different episodes of The Love Boat. When I see Phyllis Davis, I wonder if her loyal legion of "Davis Heads" relish her screen time, bowing with a reverence and admiration usually reserved for the likes of a Sarah Bernhardt or John Barrymore.

Or maybe all those "likes" are just from a bunch of bots.

Who knows?

Sunday, February 13, 2022

you ain't no friend of mine

Boy, I sure had this uncanny knack for choosing jerks to be my friend. Not all of them, of course. I had some pretty good friends when I was a kid. But there were certainly some people I numbered among my friends that — today — makes me question my choices.

Just after I finished elementary school, there was a shuffle among the next stop in the path of higher learning. The high school had eliminated seventh grade in an effort to alleviate the problem of overcrowding. My brother — four years my senior — had gone right from elementary school to high school when his time came. Me? Well, the School District of Philadelphia had to scramble to find a place to put my entire graduating class, as well as our counterparts from at least three more elementary schools. The School District was in the process of building something called "a middle school," that would offer Grades 6 through 8. But, construction was slow and the building wasn't ready for the new school year. So, for seventh grade, my classmates and I were sent to a new school for one year, where we were mixed with other students who would be experiencing the same School Board miscalculation. We were sent to a school well out of our comfort zone that may have been in another country, as far as we were concerned. (In reality, it was just twenty minutes from our elementary school.) 

At the completion of seventh grade, the new school opened its doors and I was thrust into a classroom with another new bunch of kids from other schools. These strangers would be my eighth grade classmates, whether I liked it or not. One of the students was Aaron Goldman. Aaron was a jerk. I still — to this day — can't figure out why I hung out with him. We had relatively nothing in common. He lived far from my house. My other, long-time friends didn't like him. He seemed to go out of his way to toy with trouble. He smoked in eighth grade, purely to appear "cool." (It didn't work.) He always had some kind of "school contraband" hidden in the deep pockets of his faded US Army jacket (Something else he sported in an effort to appear "cool." That, too, failed.) One day, he'd produce a switchblade from his jacket pocket. Another day, it would be firecrackers. Always something he knew he shouldn't have... but, of course, that's why he had it. 

In April 1975, shock-rocker Alice Cooper was bringing his Welcome to My Nightmare Tour to the Philadelphia Spectrum to promote his current namesake album. I loved Alice Cooper and I owned a few of his albums including the malevolent concept story of "Steven," the main character in the songs on Welcome to My Nightmare. A few of my friends had already attended concerts. My brother, at 18, was a veteran of many Spectrum shows. I asked my mom if I could go to see Alice Cooper. My mom — a cool mom before such a thing was acknowledged — agreed, on the condition that I could purchase my ticket with my own money. It took some scraping, as $6.50 wasn't easy to come by for a 14 year-old. My mom was gracious enough to provide a ride to the South Philadelphia venue on the night of the show. She would even give dinner to my fellow concert-going friends.

I went to see Alice Cooper with three companions, one of whom was Aaron Goldman. On the night of the show, parents dropped their sons at my house a little before dinner time. My fellow 14 year-olds filed in and took a place at the Pincus kitchen table. My mom doled out huge helpings of spaghetti, generously covered in her homemade spaghetti sauce. My mom loved to make her own spaghetti sauce and it was one of my families favorite dishes. For my brother's Bar Mitzvah, my mom asked her brother to address the invitations, as he had beautiful, swirly, calligraphic handwriting. Her brother agreed, and requested a meal featuring my mom's spaghetti sauce as fair compensation.

My friends dug right in. My mom supplemented the meal with a big loaf of crusty Italian bread from a local bakery. Midway through the course of dinner, my mom asked each of my guests how everything was.

"Great, Mrs. Pincus" was the reply from my first two friends. I, of course reiterated the sentiment, as I had dome many times before when my mom served her "famous" spaghetti sauce. When it came to Aaron's turn, my mom repeated the question: "How is everything?," she asked.

Aaron didn't even look up from his plate, He continued to shovel gobs of spaghetti into his sauce-stained maw. "Eh... I've tasted better.," he said. He actually said that — out loud — to my mom. My other two friends — my actual friends — froze. The room was silent. My mom frowned at me and said nothing. As a matter of fact, nothing was said from that point on. We got into the car in silence. We drove to the Spectrum in silence, When we arrived at the Spectrum, my mom briefly instructed us where to meet at the show's conclusion. 

And my mom drove away.

After eighth grade, I sort of lost touch with Aaron in high school. I saw him in the crowded hallways, but he had a new set of friends — ones that smoked and wore Army jackets and carried concealed switchblades and tried to be cool.

Years later, when my wife and I needed some small home repairs, someone recommended Aaron. He was now in the handyman business. Our phone number was forwarded to him and he called. He left a voicemail outlining his services, but explaining that he really wanted to do home inspections. (We didn't need a home inspection.) He ended his recorded message by saying: "I bet your daughter is growing up real fast. Hope to hear from you soon."

I have a son and Aaron didn't hear from me... soon or otherwise.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

you wanna be starting something

For years, my father kept his family entertained with stories from his youth. Well, maybe not my mom so much. After all, she had heard all of them long before my brother and I came along. Well, maybe not my brother so much, as he really had little time for my father and his brand of semi-believable mishagas. So, in reality, my father kept me entertained with stories from his youth.

I have often mentioned my father's propensity to "stretch the truth" in nearly everything he said. He told great stories, but later in life, I came to discover that a good 95 to 99 percent of what he said was total fabrication. So the real difference between my dad and someone like Stephen King — besides the money and fame — is everyone knows the stuff Stephen King writes about is made up and he makes no effort to say otherwise. Well, that and the fact that Stephen King is a published author, many times over, as a matter of fact. Well, back in the early 70s, my father had hoped to change that.

selections from the
Dad Pincus collection
My father was a voracious reader, although his choice of reading material was questionable. He would go back and forth between nationwide best-sellers, usually purchased in paperback form from a bookseller in a nearby discount market who sold books months after their initial release at a huge reduction in price. I would sometimes get outdated comic books and Mad magazines there, while my dad stocked up on an assortment of books that he would no doubt breeze through in the coming weeks. My dad read The Godfather and a number of Ian Fleming books about super-spy James Bond. In between, he'd sneak in several thin tomes with lurid covers featuring scantily-clad, voluptuous femme fatales pawing subserviently at the feet of some muscular, T-shirted hulk. They had slightly suggestive titles like I'm for Hire and Sinful Sisters and my dad tried to hide them from his impressionable sons — unsuccessfully, I might add. 

One of his favorite mainstream authors was the prolific Philip Roth. Roth was a best-selling author who wrote a book in 1971 called Our Gang. Although Roth reminisced about his childhood in other novels, I don't believe that was the topic of Our Gang. Nevertheless, I do think that it was my father's inspiration. My brother had just received a manual typewriter as a gift. He hoped it would serve to help his schoolwork appear more impressive, but actually, my brother was a budding writer, and he eventually made it his chosen career. (A career, incidentally, from which he recently retired.) One day, my father announced that he was going to write a book. Now, my father often made "announcements" and rarely followed through. He would announce "This weekend, we will paint your bedroom!" and, come Saturday, we'd go out to a local hardware store to purchase a few gallons of neutral-colored paint (we had no input into the color selection). So far, Dad looked as though he was "gung ho" on this project. When we got home, Dad would put on his "painting costume," which consisted of a paint-splattered shirt and pants (I have no clue where these came from and how they became paint-splattered) and a canvas painter's cap that he picked off the counter of the hardware store as we left. He'd parade around in his duds, announcing his plans on how to tackle this venture. Then, he'd grab a paintbrush, swipe a few haphazard brushstrokes in the middle of a wall.... and leave to go smoke a few dozen cigarettes. And read. He'd go read. My mom, my brother and I were left to cover his half-assed efforts and finish the room ourselves. So when Dad Pincus "announced" that he was going to write a book, we had heard it all before and were less than enthused. But, true to his word, he sat down at my brother's typewriter and, with no previous writing or practical typing experience, he began to bang on those keys, single finger style.

Among the tales my father liked to spin, were stories about growing up in West Philadelphia — decades before Will Smith's behavior sent him for a rehabilitative stretch under Uncle Phil's watchful eye in Bel Air. At the time, West Philadelphia was a working-class, predominantly Jewish neighborhood and the majority of my dad's pals fit into that category. He knew guys whose family ran the local candy store or car repair. My dad's father drove a trolley. But, despite their blue-collar lifestyle, they had their share of interesting adventures... according to my dad. There were scraps at school and antics on the playgrounds and trips to the nearby Jersey Shore. The stories would sometimes change details, depending on how my father felt during a particular retelling. Each one of his friends had a colorful nickname. There was "Sarge," so named because he dressed as a soldier for Halloween one year. There was "Hook," who had a rather prominent nose. My dad was given the nickname "Pinky," an obvious play on his surname. Sometimes it was lengthened to "Pinky McGee" for no apparent reason. I loved hearing about my dad's friends and the origins of their various monikers. And secretly, I was hoping to — one day — read my dad's completed book.

My dad selected the perfect title for his memoir-in-progress. It was to be called "No Sand Tomorrow." This was a reference to an oft-told story about a group of my dad's friends spending a weekend in Atlantic City. While cavorting on the beach, one guy — who they called "Dopey," stemming from his reputation for being not-too-bright — pointed to a posted sign and questioned its wording. "Does the beach get regular deliveries of sand?" he asked aloud. His friends appeared puzzled and they asked their pal to elaborate. He pointed to the sign and read what he interpreted as its message. "It says 'No Sand Tomorrow'," he stated. His colleagues approached the sign-in-question from the back. When they all silently read the sign, they simultaneously burst out laughing. The sign said "No Sand Throwing" and it confirmed tagging their friend as "Dopey" was right on the money.

A good portion of the day was spent typing and retyping this story. When my dad decided that he was able to properly convey this tale from his youth in a way that achieved both sentimentality and humor, he yanked the page from between the typewriter's rollers and read it to his family... over and over and over again... each time as though was reading it for the first time. Then, he retired to his bedroom to smoke and read.

Don't bother checking Amazon or Barnes and Noble or your favorite local used book reseller. You won't find a copy of No Sand Tomorrow anywhere. It never made it to publication. Actually, it never made it past that single paragraph. The rest of my dad's book was puffed away in the smoke of countless Viceroys and forgotten in the jumble of the many chapters of some pen-named hack churning out erotic sagas in a dimly-lit room.

My dad was just a guy who liked to announce things he never intended on finishing.