Sunday, June 26, 2022

the bump

Before Disneyland and Disney World and even Great Adventure (and before they were absorbed under the Six Flags masthead), amusement parks with rides were exclusive to the seashore resorts... as far as I was concerned. Look, I lived a sheltered life, I suppose. I only got to see amusement park rides at temporary school fairs or on those dangerous-looking trucks that would roam my neighborhood on weekends and summer afternoons. But, if I wanted to experience real, live amusement park rides, I would have to wait for a day trip or an extended weekend stay in Atlantic City. My father, not one to travel, would occasionally (and often begrudgingly) take our family to Atlantic City. My mom, my brother and I would love to go. My dad didn't care what his family wanted and when he finally relented, he acted as though he had just donated a kidney.

I loved going to Atlantic City, specifically for the famous Boardwalk. There were games of chance and soft-serve ice cream cones and salt water taffy and arcades. Yeah, there was the beach and the ocean, but those I could have done without. The real draw was the (now long-gone) Million Dollar Pier, jam packed with rides set up much too close to each other, damning all fire safety precautions. Walkways between rides were strewn with a tangled mess of heavy electrical cables. This was long before the days of "lawsuits at the drop of a hat." You tripped and your kneecap became embedded with a zillion splinters? Get up and keep walking... and be careful next time! 

My brother loved the bumper cars. As an adolescent, he honed his future driving abilities on those compact, exposed electricity-powered little death traps. Being too small to ride, as determined by an official-looking sign at the entrance to the ride, I was relegated to watch through a chain-link fence as my brother deftly guided his vehicle through the clumps of other cars, avoiding bumps while delivering same to defenseless fellow riders. With my fingers curled around the fencing, I'd marvel as my brother would weave around the slick floor, slamming randomly into other cars, only to make a clean getaway before a retaliatory blow could be received. It was all in fun, though, and riders would laugh as they exited at the ride's conclusion.

If you've ever ridden the bumper cars, you always remember that one guy, right? The guy who gets stuck in a corner, next to some non-operating vehicles, unable to free himself. While other riders race and bump and laugh, this poor guy just rumbles back and forth for most of the ride's allotted time, until he is finally spotted by the ride operator who frees him and, while standing on the rear bumper, guides him back to the entrance, arriving just as the power shuts off and the ride is over. Three tickets! Wasted!

My brother and a couple of his friends devised a plan when they rode the bumper cars. A plan to enhance their own fun. Once situated in their cars, my brother and his friends would select a rider and target him to ruin his ride. They'd chase after him and taking turns pinning him in a corner, trapping him for the entire ride, denying him the fun of racing around the floor and bumping into other riders. One evening, after picking their cars, my brother and three of his friends pointed to one guy and pegged him as their victim. They didn't know him. They had no connection to him. They just looked around and pointed. The power surged through the vehicles and the ride began. The plan was enacted. The ride floor was dimly lit, bathed in blacklight, distorting any details of other rider's faces. But they zeroed in on their target and they pinned this guy in a corner. My brother first, then each of his friends — one at a time. Their "victim" said nothing, but his anger was apparent from his body language. He was hunched over the steering wheel and bobbed his shoulders each time his vehicle was rammed with a confining bump. My brother and his friends were giddy and gleeful as their underhanded plan unfolded. In the darkness, they could hear a few frustrated exhales, but most were drowned out by the loud Top 40 hits that were piped in through the tinny speakers mounted at the floor's corners. The ride ended. The power stopped, bright lights came up and my brother and his friends got out of their vehicles and made their way to the exit. Their chests were puffed out and they laughed in their achievement.

Until, they saw the guy they pinned.

He rose from his tiny car.... and he kept on rising. With the bright lights on, they saw this guy stood well over six feet tall. He was wearing a tank top and he had muscles. Big muscles. His muscles had muscles. And he was not happy. Not. At. All. He pointed an angry finger at my brother and his friends and hollered "YOU!" and the look on his face revealed his displeasure with three little punks ruining his ride and making him waste three tickets.

This happened easily fifty years ago. I think they are still running.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

the hardest cut

Last week, a man — who some might label a local legend — passed away. As far as legends go, this man's status was pretty slim. By trade, he was a mohel, a person trained in performing circumcisions in the manner dictated by Jewish tradition,. One does not have to be a rabbi or have any sort of religious training whatsoever. All you need is to apprentice with an experienced mohel, and like any other trainee — watch and learn. This man was an eighth generation mohel, learning from his father, who learned from his father, who.... well, you get it. In the Philadelphia area, this man was the "go-to" mohel for decades. Thirty five years ago, he performed my son's circumcision. He performed countless circumcisions before that... and since. So, if you consider the top choice of mohel in a city of 206,000 Jews a legend, well I suppose he is a legend. But, you have to admit, it's pretty slim criteria. 

My son was born in August 1987. As per tradition, arrangements were made to have his brit milah eight days after his birth, where he would be welcomed in to the Covenant of yada yada yada. This man — the mohel — would be at our house bright and early to perform his little ritual before a houseful of my family and friends. Our kitchen counter was laden with bagel and cream cheese and whitefish salad and other components of a typical Jewish brunch — all lying in wait until after the ritual was over. At 9:30, a silver Jaguar pulled into our driveway behind my wife's car, A dapper-looking man with a gray goatee, dark Ray Bans and a leather jacket excised himself from the low driver's seat. He clutched a weathered leather case closed to his hip as he traversed my front porch and entered my house. He doffed his coat and stuffed his glasses in his breast pocket. He called my wife and I over to a corner of our dining room and briefly outlined the pending procedure. As he spoke, he unzipped his case and removed some fearsome-looking implements. My unsuspecting son was brought in and laid upon a thick, vinyl upholstered pad on our dining room table. (For those of you who may be wondering or have been recent dinner guests at our home, no... we no longer have that table.) My friend Scott, a recent medical school graduate and now in the throes of an internship at Temple Hospital, jockeyed for a front-and-center position. Most everyone else took a step backwards, some observing the procedure through fingers laced across their eyes. It was over before you knew it, its conclusion announced by a loud shriek from the "child of the hour." Soon, everyone was noshing and kibbitzing and schmoozing, including the mohel, who grabbed a bagel. He stuffed the circular bread into his jacket pocket and put an arm around my shoulder, whispering, "Mazel tov! That'll be $250." I wasn't sure I heard correctly. He repeated himself, just in case I didn't. Honestly, I had no idea how much this would cost. (In 1987, $250 was a lot of money! A lot! I can't imagine how much it costs today.) Bewildered, I dashed off a check and handed it over. The mohel thanked me, took a bite of bagel and told me he was off to another circumcision, the second of four that day. As he revved up his Jag, my friend Scott asked if the mohel did anything else for a living, implying that moheling was just a side hustle. I answered: "He pulled up in a Jaguar, took 250 bucks from me for twenty minutes work, got a free bagel and went off to do three more of these... and his day is over before noon. Why would he do anything else?

Years later, when my son entered high school, he became friendly with a classmate named Alex. Alex, as it turned out, was the mohel's son. Around this time, my wife's cousin gave birth to her first son. Of course, as every good Philadelphia Jew knows, the mohel had to be contacted. The morning of the bris, we gathered at my wife's cousin's house. I believe this was the first bris my son attended since his own. In came the mohel, with his Ray Bans and leather jacket, although his goatee had gotten considerably grayer. After a few preliminary words of explanation for the benefit of the uninitiated, the procedure commenced. My son watched... and winced. The next day at school, he spotted Alex and said: "You won't believe what I saw your dad do to a baby yesterday!" My son received an eyeroll as a reply.

Needless to say, the ninth generation of moheling will have to continue elsewhere. 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

back in your own back yard

We had another of our famous (well, famous throughout our neighborhood, anyway) yard sales. A Pincus yard sale is a complicated undertaking. Mrs. Pincus, who was born under the zodialogical sign of the "cash register," has retail in her blood. She methodically, and with great conviction, gathers and catalogues and organizes a plethora of.... um..... items that have been accumulated in our house since the last yard sale. She supplements household cast-offs with a selection of stock from her eBay store (No, she won't sell your items. Don't even ask.) A week or so before our scheduled yard sale, our living room and dining room look like a mini Amazon warehouse, with various piles of boxes and crates and stacks of things in somewhat neat rows, waiting to be placed in a prominent spot on our lawn or driveway when the weekend arrives... and hoping to occupy that space for a short while, until a nominal amount of cash makes this stuff someone else's problem.... er.... dream come true.

During the gathering process, Mrs. P posts ads in our local community's Facebook page, as well as local pages on the notorious Craigs List, specifically in the "Philadelphia Suburbs" yard sale section. We also hang signs all over the neighborhood.... and I do mean all over! Pre-sale, our front lawn displays large signs alerting folks of the coming sale. As soon as the first ad is posted, as soon as the first sign is tacked to a utility pole, the questions begin....
Come and get 'em!
Mrs. P got a Facebook message from one interested party. "Can you text me the addresses of all of the families that are participating in your 'Multi-Family' yard sale? I'd like to put them into my GPS." My wife politely replied: "Some people are not comfortable with having their address displayed and were content with just my address in the ad. If you come on Saturday, you will see other people on my block set up at their respective homes." This person was not content with that answer and pressed on with "Well, how many are on your block?" My wife politely responded to that question, too. Later in the day, another question arrived via Facebook, asking — specifically — about the types of records that would be available. Mrs. P replied, explaining that their are a variety of genres and artists represented. A follow-up from the questioner wanted a list of those artists, as well as a list of album titles... just to see if it was worth his while to drive all way the over from Glenside, which is a community less that five minutes from our house. I suggested that she tell this guy that we have a dozen Beatles "butcher covers" and tell him that they all sold for a dollar when he arrives. This is the reason that I don't answer "yard sale" related questions.
Yes, I know what you mean.

Another woman asked if we had one of those things that goes over a cabinet door to dry towels. My wife — again very politely — replied that we do not. The woman continued, explaining what the apparatus was and what she intended to use it for. "I have a lot of padded drying mats and I need a few of those things to drying my mats on." My wife — again, politely — explained that we do not have this item. She continued to tell of how she washes her kitchen utensils, pots, pans and dishes by hand and sets them out on these pads to dry. Now she needs something to hang the mats of so they can dry. For the third time, Mrs. P — politely — stated that we do not have this item she is seeking. (They are readily available, in a variety of configurations, from Amazon starting at $7.99)

Three bucks!
With the front of our house looking like the marketplace in Raiders of the Lost Ark (sans the big guy with the scimitar), the questions continued. People asked for specific items, as though they were browsing the internet, and we were their Google search. While the majority of people were happy and satisfied with our selection and prices (honestly, the stuff was marked really cheap!), apparently some things were not cheap enough for some people. A woman with a small child inquired about the $3.00 price of a brand-new, boxed inflatable swim ring. The woman did not want to pay three bucks for something that truly sells for twice that amount on Amazon or at a Five Below. Her accompanying child was none too pleased by the decision and she stomped off and continued to stomp along, arms crossed defiantly across her chest, as the woman perused some of the offerings at our neighbor's front lawns.

After a long day of wheeling and dealing, the crowds were thinning and the sun was no longer high in the sky. We began to slowly gather up the stuff that was strewn across our front lawn, still making ourselves available to any stragglers. We re-boxed and re-packed our unsold merchandise and relegated it to our back porch, where it will stay until our next yard sale. That stuff will, no doubt be joined by more items that we feel we no longer need.

Old Accomodating Eyes
is back.
Mrs. P casually began checking Facebook messages around 9:00 AM on Sunday morning. She received one sent through our local community's Facebook page. "Hi!," it began, "Yesterday was my daughter's graduation from college and we were unable to come to your yard sale. Do you have anything left? What kind of items do you have left? Would it be okay if I stop by to look or is the stuff all packed up?" I wondered if she phoned Elton John, explaining that she had an appointment to get her taxes filed on the night he performed at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on the final leg of his Farewell Tour... and would it be okay if she came down the next night and he could perform the show just for her? I wonder if Sir Elton would be accommodating?

There's a chance that we'll have a visitor to our back porch today.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

art for art's sake

For forty or so years, I have made my living as an artist. Over that period, the title has changed a few times. I was "artist," "designer," "graphic designer," "graphic artist," "desktop publisher," "desktop graphic design artist." These were all labels applied to me and my profession by non-artists for whom I was employed. But, for all intents and purposes, I was a simple artist. I took someone's poorly-explained concept and made it a tangible thing of beauty. As a matter of fact, I have had many employers drop a scrap of paper before me — riddled with childish scribbles and illegible hieroglyphics — and instruct me to "pretty this up." And, of course, I would. That's what I got paid to do.

When I first entered the working world, I used ink and a pen and markers and actual paper. When computers entered the scene, I balked at first, but now, a mouse and a monitor are my go-to "tools of the trade." I have been plying my "craft" (ha ha! what a bullshit phrase!) in the realm of pixels for the past 30 years. Over that time, I have designed everything from simple forms to elaborate displays for trade shows. I have also created countless logos for a wide variety of businesses.

Nearly every artist will tell you, we sometimes obsess about design. It doesn't always come easy. It is work. It is hard work. Sure, it can be enjoyable, but getting that perfect design is a process. And artists look for inspiration from anywhere it can be found. Because we are always looking and observing and scrutinizing our graphic-embellished surroundings. We also take note of bad design. I mean poorly conceived, poorly executed, just plain lazy design. That type of design can be spotted a mile away. While a client may be impressed and satisfied by such a final product, other artists — who understand the process — know the lack of effort that goes into a bad design. Sure, the client's word is the final word, but an artist knows when his best efforts (and worst efforts) have been passed off for the sake of earning a buck.

I worked for a company in Pennsauken, New Jersey for a short time. On my commute from my suburban Philadelphia home, I would pass a building just before I made the turn into the small industrial park where my job was located. As I approached the intersection to make the turn, I studied a logo plastered on a sign just outside this building. The building housed an auto auction and the logo was hideous. It was garish. It was "in your-face." It screamed "WE ARE A FUCKING AUTO AUCTION AND WE HAVE CARS!" It was probably just what the owner's of the business wanted and the artist that created it probably knocked it out between quarters while watching a football game on a Sunday afternoon. It looked like it was picked out of a book of t-shirt designs at one of those airbrush places on the boardwalk of a seaside resort. Every day, I stared at this logo — angrily — as I crept towards the intersection to make a right-hand turn. As someone who has been designing logos (some good and some admittedly bad) for four decades, I was insulted that this logo was displayed prominently, in full view for the public to see. It was not that far removed from that spiky "S" that decorated everyone's three-ring binder in high school. You know, that easy doodle that everyone could do, but still looked impressive and cool. It infuriated me every morning. I would pass it and think to myself: "That is one ugly logo."

Well, I lost the job in Pennsauken and started a new position near Princeton, New Jersey. My new commute would take me north in The Garden State. I would no longer pass the auto auction and its horrible logo. At my new job, I worked with art directors from international companies to create innovative and sophisticated designs to be used at business-seeking tradeshows. It was a new and exciting experience in my career and the eight months I spent with that company were the best of any job I had held previously... until the bottom fell out of the trade show business when the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic forced humans to practice social distancing under the threat of sickness or even death. With trade shows a casualty of the coronavirus, that business shut down and I had to seek employment elsewhere. 

After a year, I landed a job back in Pennsauken, right next door to the place I had worked previously. My morning drive to work — once again — took me past the auto auction and its heinous logo. On my first day of my new job, I passed the auto auction and became infuriated all over again. There it was! That logo. That horrible logo! I would see it every morning. It was unavoidable. I was being punished for.... something, I suppose.

One morning, traffic was particularly heavy and slow on Route 130. Cars moved at a snail's pace, inching along, as we approached some unseen blockage in the flow of traffic. As I moved my car closer to the intersection to make my turn, I spotted three fire engines occupying the right-hand lane, forcing traffic to merge into the left lanes. The fire trucks were shooting streams of water on the fire-damaged wreckage of the auto auction. The building was now reduced to a steaming, smoky pile of unrecognizable rubble, dotted with charred girders poking out amid the burned bricks and twisted rebar. I joined in with the car-confined group of rubberneckers, crawling past the scene, curiously surveying the aftermath of the previous evening's fire. I, however, took specific notice. The sign with the logo was gone, an obvious victim of the 4-alarm blaze. The walls that also had once displayed the logo were now demolished, laying in scattered piles among the other debris.

I eventually made it to the intersection and I made my usual right turn. I also gathered my thoughts for an alibi, in case I was questioned.