Sunday, October 30, 2022

dance with my father

See that guy? That's my father. My father was the greatest Phillies fan ever! I mean ever! And he was the textbook Phillies fan as well. He loved them when they were winning. He hated them when they were losing. He watched Phillies games on TV and either cursed or cheered them, depending on how they were playing. He'd grumble and call them "bums." He'd cheer and proclaim "Never a doubt!" He'd fall asleep in the fourth inning and wake up in the eighth and start cursing (or cheering) right where he left off.

In 2008, the Phillies headed to the World Series for the first time since my father died. Just after my family and I watched those scrappy little bastards clinch the National League pennant, I wrote a piece for my illustration blog about my father and his relationship with his beloved Phillies. (You can read it HERE, if you like.)

Back in 2008, I was a rabid baseball fan. It was kind of strange, since I never had an interest in baseball when my father was alive. He used to take my brother to Phillies games at Connie Mack Stadium while I stayed home with my mom. As a family, we went to a handful of games on free tickets provided by my father's employer at the time. But, just a few years after my father's death, I suddenly developed an interest in baseball. My wife and I purchased a Sunday season ticket plan... and the games we didn't have tickets for? We never missed watching them on television. We even traveled to other ballparks in other cities. Our devotion to baseball lasted for nearly twenty years (or seasons, for the initiated)... until it was done. After we gave up our tickets, our interest in baseball waned. However, early in the spring of this year, while running through the hundreds of channels available from our cable provider, my wife stopped on a Phillies game and commented on how beautiful the ballpark looked in high-definition. So we watched. And we watched again the next night. We knew none of the players on the current roster, save for a couple of holdovers from the last game we attended a few seasons ago. Soon, we found ourselves buying tickets to a game, a result of looking for outdoor activities in the still-iffy clime of a post-pandemic world. Then we bought tickets to another game. And another. We traveled to Nationals Park in Washington DC. And we went to a few more regular season Phillies games. And our affection for this scrappy band of underdogs grew. At the beginning of the season, we knew none of the players. Now, names like Kyle Schwarber and Ranger Suarez are spoken with the same familiarity as Chase Utley, Steve Carlton and even Richie Ashburn.

My father saw the 1950 Whiz Kids, a scrappy bunch of underdogs who won the National League pennant on a tenth inning homerun by Dick Sisler on the last day of the season. Sadly, they got swept by the mighty New York Yankees in four games. My father saw the infamous "Phold of '64," when
that year's team of scrappy underdogs held a healthy 6 game lead headed to the close of the season. Unbelievably, they lost ten games in a row and finished in second place, just one game behind the pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals. My father saw those lean years of the 60s and the glory years of the 70s right up to the 1980 World Series — which the Phillies won, I might remind you. My father died on October 13, 1993, the very day that the Phillies — that year's group of scrappy underdogs — beat the Atlanta Braves, entitling them to another trip to the World Series.

Just a few hours ago, the current crop of players taking to the grassy diamond under The Philadelphia Phillies mantle won Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, securing themselves a spot in the 2022 World Series. This bunch of shaggy, swaggering kids aren't old enough to remember the soul-crushing home run that Joe Carter hit to seal the fate of their '93 counterparts. That doesn't matter. That's ancient history. This new generation of scrappy underdogs calling themselves The Phillies are going to the World Series.

And I can only think of how proud my father would be. My father, the greatest Phillies fan of all time.

(By the time you read this, two games of the 2022 World Series will have been played. My father would either have been cheering or cursing... just like you.)

Sunday, October 23, 2022

nobody does it better

See that thing? I don't know what they call those things where you come from, but here in Philadelphia, we call 'em "hoagies." Growing up in Philadelphia, I ate a lot of hoagies. A lot of hoagies. From a lot of different places. Some were good. Some were not so good. The good places received multiple return visits from the Pincus family. But for some reason, despite being satisfied by the offerings of a particular hoagie place,  we often sought other places to fulfill our hoagie hunger.

Like most big cities of comparable size, Philadelphia boasted a namesake publication that came out on a monthly basis. Philadelphia Magazine was established in the very early part of the twentieth century, but its heyday was - arguably - the 1970s. During the middle part of the "Me Decade," Philadelphia Magazine presented itself as a scrappy, snot-nosed, street-wise voice of the city. They published hard-hitting, investigative pieces, exposing corruption in city government, criticizing policies and mocking the stately "old regime" of the city. I remember they ran an extremely unflattering piece about a prominent suburban Philadelphia doctor who was accused of over-prescribing dangerous diet pills. (My mom was the recipient of a couple of those prescriptions.) Philadelphia Magazine's acerbic editorial staff were regular critics of overbearing police chief-cum-notorious mayor Frank Rizzo. He didn't like to be criticized, leading the magazine to "poke the bear" even more. Philadelphia Magazine also took pride in its annual "Best & Worst of Philly" issue that hit newsstands every spring. In this double-sized issue, they would print their smug opinions on dozens and dozens of categories from restaurants and services to local newscasters and athletes.... and they'd pull no punches. If a butcher shop or dry cleaner was worthy, the staff of Philadelphia Magazine would lovingly sing their praises. However, they would just as readily disparage an establishment that provided a less than stellar product or below average service. Philadelphia Magazine had the power to make or break a business or to turn an entire city against a particular local public figure. My parents, like most middle-class residents of the City of Brotherly Love, hung onto every printed word in Philadelphia Magazine like it was the Gospel.

During one of my years in high school, Philadelphia Magazine deemed Greenman's Deli as offering the "Best Hoagie" in the city. This caused something of a mild outrage, what with ethnically-uniform South Philadelphia literally teeming with Mom and Pop hoagie shops. You can't swing an aged stick of sopressata without hitting one. How could some corner delicatessen in — gulp! — Northeast Philadelphia compete with any number of authentic Italian sandwich-makers within spitting distance of Passyunk Avenue? But Philadelphia Magazine defiantly stood by its decision, describing the cold-cut and veggie-stuffed sandwiches being akin to ambrosia on an oil-soaked long roll. As a long-time supporter of the underdog, my father loved reading this. Too timid to do it himself, my dad relished hearing about some high and mighty big shot getting put in their place. After finishing the lengthy article about what was good and what was bad in our hometown, my dad made a plan to partake of Greenman's Deli's hoagies as soon as possible.

When the weekend rolled around, I went with my father to Greenman's Deli. Sitting in the passenger's seat of his Dodge Dart, I gazed out the window at the unfamiliar surroundings. I couldn't remember ever being in this neighborhood before. My father rarely — rarely — drove out of his cocoon-like comfort zone, never venturing beyond the invisible confining barrier that was Cottman Avenue (a ten-minute drive from our house  no exaggeration). At the corner of Brous and Levick Streets was the very unspectacular Greenman's Deli. An illuminated sign reading "Greenman's Deli" below the familiar Pepsi logo proclaimed its territory. Its two windows were topped with removable letter signs. The letters were arranged into the identifying statement: "THIS IS GREENMAN'S." These signs, in direct contrast to the one over the door, featured the equally familiar Coca Cola logo. My father's grin widened as he parallel-parked his car just a few feet from their entrance. Inside the cramped store, we maneuvered down the small, narrow aisles filled with staple groceries towards the deli counter that spanned the rear. After scanning the large menu board, my dad told his selections to an older man in a white apron who scribbled notes on a folded brown paper bag with a thick grease pencil. Then, he set to work building... constructing.... erecting a series of enormous hoagies that would be the Pincus family dinner that evening. He stuffed impossible amounts of sliced deli meat and cheese between two golden-brown surfboards that, upon closer inspection, turned out to be hoagie rolls. The gigantic heaps of processed proteins were supplemented by piles of shredded lettuce, peppers, onions and tomatoes, along with generous sprinklings of spices and glistening splashes of oil. When completed, the man wrapped each hoagie in a length of butcher paper with the deftness of a Cuban cigar roller. My dad paid and we headed home with our bounty. That night, the Pincus family feasted like cold cut kings. I think it took me several sittings to finish my hoagie. And I remember it being really, really good. We returned to Greenman's only a few more times after that initial trip... because after a while, the senior Pincus fell back into his old "limited traveling" habits and we found ourselves getting hoagies from someplace closer. Some place not as good.

Last year, I started a new job that takes me to Pennsauken, New Jersey. Every morning, I drive from my suburban home, on a route that snakes through Northeast Philadelphia, and right past Greenman's Deli. Before I began to take this daily commute, I hadn't seen Greenman's Deli in over forty years... maybe even longer. But now, I see it every morning.

And it's sad.

I pass Greenman's at approximately the same time every morning, give or take a few minutes. Sometimes it is open for business. Sometimes the protective security gate is down and locked tight in front of the entrance door.
The windows are dirty. A Dumpster overflowing with trash and flattened cardboard boxes sits just outside the door, next to an ancient ice machine whose painted graphics have faded and peeled over the years. When the security gate is up, the great neon-rimmed clock above the door displays the incorrect time. Sure, it's early in the day, but I have rarely witnessed a customer going in or coming out of Greenman's when sitting and waiting for the traffic light to change. 

I did a little online investigating of Greenman's. I found a bunch of reviews declaring new owners. Most went on to condemn the new management, some sadly and unnecessarily resorting to  a barrage of racist comments. Most also lamented over the steady and noticeable decline in the quality of their signature hoagies. Some cited stale bread, dry corned beef and a lack of vegetables. Others reminisced about the once-great product provided by the long-time, long-missed previous owners. A few reviewers touched on rude treatment from the current owners and staff. While there were some positive sentiment, the overall consensus was that the glory days of Greenman's Deli are gone and will, most likely, never return.

Luckily, there are still plenty of places to get a good hoagie.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

who's that girl?

This is a funny story, although the person who it is about probably won't think it's funny. I can only assume she has most likely long forgotten about it. I haven't, because I remember everything... especially incidents that are blog-worthy. And, if you really come down to it, everything is blog-worthy! So, out of respect for her privacy and the potential for embarrassment, I will do my very best to be vague about locations and other details that may reveal the subject's true identity. And, of course, I  have changed her name.

My son and I have been going to concerts together for years. My wife and I went to some concerts together before my son was born. A more happily married couple you will never meet, but because my wife and I don't exactly see eye-to-eye where our musical tastes are concerned, she was just as happy to have our son accompany me to concerts than have to sit thorough another band that wasn't the Grateful Dead. One evening way back in 2008, my son and I went to see a band at a fairly large concert venue in Philadelphia. The band was a pretty popular one and a local stop was sure to bring out their City of Brotherly Love faithful in droves. My son is employed at a Philadelphia radio station and has, on occasion, labeled himself a "minor local celebrity." Not to toot his own horn, but he isn't wrong. I have proudly witnessed radio listeners recognize him by either the sound of his voice or from seeing his face on the radio station's website or other social media platforms. Often, at concerts by bands that enjoy regular airplay on his station, his recognition increases. On this particular night, we had just entered the lobby of the venue, when a young woman approached us. She knew my son from a few radio station events and he politely introduced me to her. "Veronica," he said, "this is my dad."

"Really?," Veronica said and she demurely batted her eyes at me and smiled. She was older than my son, but considerably younger than I was. The three of us talked for a few minutes, until I fake-cleared my throat and mentioned that we should be making our way to our seats. My son told Veronica that we'd be going to another concert later in the week at a smaller venue in the city. She smiled broadly and told us that she had tickets to that show as well. She gave a dainty little wave and said "I hope I'll see you there." We headed off in different directions to our seats.

Later in the week, Mrs. Pincus and I went to the smaller venue along with our son for the aforementioned show. The place was pretty crowded and we claimed a tall bistro table on the open floor at which to stand. The three of us chit-chatted before the show began. Our conversation was suddenly interrupted when Veronica bounded up to our table. "Hi Josh!," she beamed and reached out and rested a hand on top of one of my hands on the table top. "So nice to see you again."

I smiled, wrestled my hand out from under her hand and gestured towards my wife. "This is my wife," I said. "Susan, this is Veronica." Mrs. P smiled and politely said, "Hello." 

Veronica's eyes narrowed and her jaw fell agape. "Your wife?," she exclaimed, in a tone reserved for catching someone rifling through her purse. "You didn't tell me you were married!

"You didn't ask.," I replied. I found her accusation to be a bit of a head-scratcher, considering I wear a wedding ring and we were introduced by my son! 

Veronica frowned and stomped away into the crowd and, since I didn't see her for the remainder of the evening, was possibly avoiding me. I explained the whole scenario to Mrs. P and we shared a good laugh.

I have seen Veronica on occasion at various music-related events in the area. We would nod or otherwise cordially acknowledge each other. Veronica eventually married and moved out of the Philadelphia area. We are connected through the outreaching avenues of social media and even occasionally interact with a "thumbs up" emoji here and again.

Oh man... I hope she doesn't read this.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

washing dishes with my sweetie

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I certainly had my share of household chores. I would sometimes receive an allowance for completing my assigned tasks, but mostly my dad would forget. In his (and my mom's) defense, I was rarely denied a little extra spending money if I asked. I knew when I could ask and I knew when I  shouldn't... and that was a little game I played with my parents expendable income.

In the summer, at least once a week (when I wasn't gently reminded), I would fill this relic up with gasoline and push it all over our front and back lawns. This was a job that I inherited from my older brother once he graduated from household chores to employment in the "real" world. I didn't mind this too much. It was outside. It didn't take that long to complete. And sometimes, if the nearby Nabisco factory was in production, the air was filled with the delicious smell of baking cookies. It took my mind off that fact that I was cutting the grass, instead I mentally wandered through a magical world of 24-hour cookie ovens and stacks and stacks of Oreos and Chips Ahoy! (When I visited Walt Disney World for the first time, I was immediately taken back to this childhood scene as I passed the Main Street Bakery. It was only later that I learned that the wonderful "freshly baked cookies" scent was fake and Disney pumps it into the air to entice passers-by. Bastards!)

Every Wednesday evening, after dinner, I would wend my way around our house and empty the trash cans and wastepaper baskets in each room. (We called the trash receptacle in the bathrooms "wastepaper cans," but all the other rooms had "trash cans." I don't know why that was... but that's how The Pincuses lived.) Once that portion of the task was finished, I'd drag the big metal trash cans that rested at the side of our house down to the curb for collection the following morning. When I got home from school on Thursday, I would drag the empty cans back up the driveway to the side yard where they would remain until next Wednesday. (One day, there was an "incident" involving trash collection that you can read about here.)

While I was making my rounds on trash duty, my mom was doing what 1960s moms did. She was cleaning the kitchen. This was what society had deemed as "woman's work." My mom did "woman's work." Not happily. Not unhappily. She just did it. She did the grocery shopping. She did the cooking. She did the serving. And she did the cleaning up after dinner. Looking back, I remember that my mom always ate dinner last, sometimes just sitting down as my father was using a buttered slice of bread to wipe up the last drops of gravy from his plate before lighting an after-dinner cigarette (as opposed to the several "during dinner" cigarettes he enjoyed). My dad, my brother and I would exit the dinner table, leaving my mom to finish her meal alone and eventually clear the table and load the dishwasher alone, as well. (Boy, the Pincus men certainly were little shits!)

Our house did not have a basement or a separate laundry room. We didn't even have a dining room, as sometime in the swingin' 60s, my parents converted the designated dining room to a den, with a sofa, a chair for my father and a TV. That left our tiny 10' x 10' kitchen jammed with a clothes washer and dryer along with our family table and four chairs. Our house did have a dishwasher, though. It was a portable dishwasher with a butcher-block top that my mother put to good use. The dishwasher was on wheels, so during meal preparations, she'd maneuver it near the sink and chop up.... well, whatever it is that moms chop up when they make dinner. After dinner, and once the top was cleaned, my mom would put all the dinner dishes, as well as any pots and utensils used in preparation, into the depths of the dishwasher. With liquid detergent added somewhere inside, she'd extract a large garden hose-looking tube from the back and connect it to the kitchen faucet. For the next hour or so, the kitchen faucet was off limits! You want a glass of water? Get it from a bathroom! You want to wash an apple (like I actually ate apples! Ha!) Too bad! Again, use a bathroom sink or tough it out. My mom loved that dishwasher and, as far as the rest of the family was concerned, it was her dishwasher. After all, no one else in the family knew how to use it. We didn't need to. That was "woman's work" and my mom was the only woman in Chez Pincus.

Somewhere around the time I entered high school, my mom got a job in a women's clothing store. My dad was, at first, not happy about this development. My mom, however, grew to do whatever she wanted to do, regardless of my father's opinion... and my father knew it. Once my mom started working on a regular basis, family dinners became a thing of the past. Our freezer became stocked with TV dinners and other assorted meals of convenience. Pizza was a common dinner. While my brother and I would enjoy the cheese-laden pie my mom brought home from the pizza place next to her store, my dad would frown, grumble and make himself a cold-cut sandwich, smoke a couple of cigarettes and complain about how much he hated pizza, although I never ever saw my father actually eat a slice of pizza. 

Along with "mom-prepared" family dinners, other "mom" services disappeared. No more laundry. You want clean clothes? My mom gave one lesson in how to operate the washing machine and dryer. My brother and I paid close attention and soon we were doing our own laundry. My dad, the "breadwinner" (And breadwinners don't do laundry. They.... they.... win bread!) had no intention of washing his own clothes. He fought in World War II, ferchrissakes! He didn't defeat Hitler for the honor of laundering his own socks! My dad would often persuade my brother or me to add his dirty clothes to our batch. And, of course, we'd oblige. With family dinners a thing of the past, my mom's portable dishwasher was used less and less. It was only when the sink became an overflowing mess of plates and forks and the occasional pan (my brother figured out the secret of making grilled cheese sandwiches), that my mom would run the dishwasher. Still, no one else in the house knew how to load and operate the dishwasher. It was still my mom's thing.

When I got married, I wanted to be as helpful as I could be around our house. I wasn't going to be like my father, sitting back and watching my wife do all the housework while I smoked cigarettes and watched TV. (Well, I don't smoke, but I still had plans of watching TV.) I vacuumed and took the trash out and, briefly mowed the lawn... until we hired a guy to mow the lawn. As a matter of fact, we have also hired someone to clean our house on a regular basis. But there was still laundry! I had remembered the basics of doing laundry from the quick lesson my mom gave when I was a teenager. I made the offer to my new bride and, reluctantly, she let me take a shot at it. Our washing machine was much different that the one at my parent's house and the dryer...? The dryer had more buttons and dials and settings than the control panel of a commercial airplane. So, after I put one of Mrs. Pincus' favorite sweaters into the dryer, shrinking it to a size suitable for a Barbie doll, I was barred from laundry duty 'til death do us part. I wasn't about to ask to use the dishwasher.

Mrs. Pincus and I have been married for 38 years. In those 38 years, I have never loaded, closed, added detergent to, or operated the dishwasher in our kitchen. If someone came in, pointed a gun at me and ordered me to show them how to run our dishwasher, I would just shrug and tell them they might as well pull the trigger right now. I'd sooner be able to show them how to bake a cake... and I don't know how to do that either, but, I'm sure somewhere, there are printed directions. The dishwasher? Well, Mrs. P instinctively knows how to work it, just like she knows all the right questions to ask doctors and repairmen. She just knows. Good thing, too... 'cause I don't have those instincts. So, while I offer my (minimal) assistance in making salads for dinner, carrying packages from the car and carrying laundry (that I don't do) up from the basement, the dishwasher falls into the "appliance" category. As far as I'm concerned, when I was flagged from using the washing machine, I took that to mean all household appliances. 

Recently, an ongoing cacophony of uncharacteristic "clanky" noises coming from our 25-year old dishwasher let us know that we should probably start looking for a replacement before it is totally out of commission. Coincidentally, the ice maker in our equally-as-old refrigerator ceased working and, along with the various broken shelf brackets and cracked drawer guides, a new refrigerator would be a good idea, too. On Memorial Day weekend, Mrs. P and I wandered around the large appliance department at Best Buy and settled on a shiny new dishwasher and a shiny new refrigerator from the good folks at Samsung (makers of the TV in our bedroom and both of our cellphones.) Arrangements for delivery were made and in a few days, the Pincuses entered the 21st century of kitchen convenience. The refrigerator is a French door model with a through-the-door water and ice dispenser and a large drawer that houses a reach-in freezer. It is a far cry from the narrow, avocado green icebox in my parent's kitchen. The dishwasher, with its gleaming, stainless-steel front, has spacious racks and a cool flat shelf at the top for things like lids and spatulas that you don't want flying around during a cycle and smashing into your dishes.

On Day One with the new dishwasher, I don't know what possessed me, but I asked Mrs. Pincus to show me how to use it. I figured: "How difficult could it be? Technology has become simpler as time goes on, so the new dishwasher should be a snap! And sure enough, it was. My wife showed me what pieces she preferred go on the bottom rack and what should be placed in the protective top rack. She showed me where the detergent goes and how much to use. (First, she had to show me where the jug of dishwashing liquid is kept.) She explained the simple, silent, push-button operation. Then, just close the door and — BINGO! — magic occurs. A cool feature we discovered is when the cycle is finished, the door automatically pops open to help in the drying process.  

Mrs. P watched as I loaded the new dishwasher. She observed the way I squeezed the liquid into the little reservoir and snapped the lid of the compartment shut. I pushed two buttons — just two! — on the control panel, shut the door and the dishwasher whirred to life. Actually, it was pretty quiet. Next morning, after turning on the coffee maker, I emptied the dishwasher. I put our dinner dishes back in the proper cabinets, the glasses in their cabinets and the flatware in the correct drawers. There were a few items that, despite living in this house for nearly four decades, I had no idea where in our kitchen cabinets they are stored. I left them on the kitchen counter for Mrs. P to put away when she woke up. But — goddamn! — I acquired a new skill!

Now almost every evening, I fill and start the dishwasher and every morning I empty it and put our dishes and flatware away (except for the things I have no idea where they belong). Once again, I have chores.

Allowance, however, is still iffy.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

zombie jamboree

While attending the prestigious Parsons School of Design, 20-year old Robert Cummings from the tiny New England burg of Haverhill, Massachusetts founded a noise rock-heavy metal band called White Zombie. He chose the band name (it's the title of a Bela Lugosi movie) as a tribute to his love of horror films, kitschy pop culture and all things macabre and adopted the stage name of "Rob Zombie." The band's catalog includes songs like "Ratmouth," "Shack of Hate" and the lovely "Welcome to Planet Motherfucker," which, curiously, is rarely played at wedding receptions. He developed a persona to go with his new moniker (which he legally changed in 1996), striking an imposing figure in long, unkempt hair, intricate tattoos and conversation peppered with talk of horror films and characters. Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne letting this snotty little upstart slide still doesn't sit well with me.

I am no fan of heavy metal, especially those bands whose lead singer sounds like an angry Cookie Monster over a bone-rattling bass line. I honestly can't tell one band in the genre from another. I'm sure that the leather-clad faithful would say the same thing about the Laurel Canyon contingency, but that's why there's chocolate and vanilla. That said, Rob Zombie is a pretty popular figure among that interesting intersection where hard rock meets Freddie Krueger. He is a platinum album recipient and a Grammy nominee. Obviously, Rob is a creative guy with an expertise (of sorts) in music.

Somewhere along the way, Rob decided to make movies. While I am not well acquainted with his music, I have seen Mr. Zombie's films. Well, not all of them... and the ones that I have seen, I haven't seen all of them all the way through. I watched his notorious House of 1000 Corpses alone. Was it great? I didn't think so. It had its moments. Filled with a troupe of players that would go on to appear in a number of Zombie's subsequent productions, House of 1000 Corpses came off as a loving homage to the cinematic career of William Castle, the so-called "King of the Gimmicks," who made a slew of movies in the 50s and 60s. They were low budget, questionably-acted affairs that were creepy enough to evoke chills and silly enough to evoke laughter. The late Sid Haig as the malevolent clown "Captain Spaulding," grimaced and mugged and did what Sid Haig did best. Zombie even got Academy Award-nominated actress Karen Black to join in the fun. The story was campy and silly and the blood flowed in rivers. Zombie knows his audience and, among those particular circles, it is viewed as a classic. The follow-up, The Devil's Rejects, was — in my opinion — unwatchable. This is based on the fifteen minutes I did watch. The Devil's Rejects ditched its "black humor" approach in favor of a presentation of what has become known as "torture porn," a cringe-inducing genre championed by director Eli Roth. I never got to see how The Devil's Rejects ended or even progressed... and I don't care.

Zombie contributed a faux trailer to Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse epic, among entries by the afore mentioned Roth and Edgar Wright. Zombie's Werewolf Women of the SS was a funny title with a half-hearted, poorly-executed, instantly-forgettable concept tacked on. I saw it when I saw Grindhouse, one of Tarantino's weaker efforts.

I saw Zombie's foray into the realm of animation in The Haunted World of El Superbeasto. I only subjected myself to this because my friend April Winchell voiced one of the characters and the style of animation was reminiscent of  Tex Avery and John Kricfalusi (of Ren & Stimpy fame). I never made it far enough to hear April's voice acting. I made it approximately ten minutes — five less than I lasted for The Devil's Rejects.

Glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to watch Lords of Salem, Zombie's 2012 take on the spooky world of witchcraft. Starring Zombie's wife Sherri Moon Zombie, this mess was a convoluted mish-mash of creepy for the sake of creepy. All of the boxes were checked — a mysterious recording, a coven of naked witches, weird neighbors and a thin plot tacked on as an afterthought. The current Mrs. Zombie has been cast in ten films to date — nine of which were directed by her husband. She is the motion picture equivalent of Yoko Ono, Linda McCartney and Patti Scialfa. While her acting ability is questionable, her husband is indisputably famous. I stopped my on-demand viewing of Lords of Salem about halfway through with the intent of watching the conclusion at a later time. I did. Three weeks later. Don't ask me what this movie was about. I don't remember. Oh, and I saw Zombie's remake of Halloween. I hated it.

For years now, Rob Zombie has been threatening promising to bring The Munsters to the big screen. Zombie claims to be the beloved 60s sitcom's Number One fan. If he was truly the Number One Fan of the series, he would have let it be. Instead, he announced that he had written a full script and was scouting actors and locations. As expected, Zombie's fan base, chock full of head-banging horror fans — too young to remember The Munsters in first run and only familiar with reruns, remakes and reboots... the last two dubious in their own right — were unsurprisingly ecstatic. "Rob Zombie's Munsters will be great!" they proclaimed on social media. Of course, the overwhelming majority of fans, tired of Hollywood rehashing and "reimagining" their childhood, were rightfully leery of the undertaking.

Zombie's progress on The Munsters was chronicled in great detail across social media. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook were alight with "behind-the-scenes" photos and "script leaks." There were shots of make-up tests and stills of the iconic Munster homestead as it would appear in the pending feature. The film's stars were soon announced with Sherri Moon Zombie (of course) in the role of "Lily Munster," level-head matriarch of the family. Jeff Daniel Phillips would be portraying the childlike "Herman Munster." Phillips, whose previous work includes a caveman in a series of GEICO commercials and a subsequent TV show based on the ads, is a regular player in the loose Rob Zombie repertory company. Rounding out the cast is Daniel Roebuck, a busy character actor who gives his all in every role he takes, big and small. (I wrote about Daniel here.) 

After many, many months of teasing, it was confirmed that Rob Zombie's self-proclaimed labor-of-love masterpiece would debut on the Netflix streaming service in the final week of September 2022. Scores of folks who had never seen a frame of footage began the debate. "It'll suck!" and "It'll be great!" and everything in between were splayed across the internet until premiere time arrived. I admit, I was curious. I asked Mrs. Pincus if she had any desire to watch it. Admittedly, she was not a fan of the original show, but she offered a non-committal answer. "I'd be happy to sit next to you on the sofa while you watch it.," she said. Well, it wasn't a "no."

So, I (we) watched last night.

Remember when Hollywood remade The Flintstones as a live-action movie? Sure it stunk, but we all got a good laugh and a feeling of satisfaction when John Goodman made his first appearance in that familiar spotted orange one-piece and bellowed his first "Yabba Dabba Doo!" Well, I wasn't afforded that satisfaction. Jeff Daniel Phillips, who I barely remember from Lords of Salem, is, by no stretch, a big enough name to warrant the "oh isn't that funny" reaction reserved for Warren Beatty as Dick Tracy or Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams. Sherri Moon Zombie seemed to have conceived her entire portrayal of "Lily," after only watching the opening sequence of the TV Munsters. ("Yeah, that's all I need to see. She makes a lot of hand gestures and says 'oh!' a lot. I got it. Besides, my husband is directing this picture!") Only Daniel Roebuck treats his character with respect, thoughtfulness and insight. He is doing a dead-on Al Lewis pastiche. Sadly, the material he is given to work with is subpar. The dialogue is uninspired and lazy. I found the entire production lacking in humor or scares or any sort of combination of the two. Was this supposed to be a comedy? Was it a horror movie? I'm not sure what the goal was. I'm not sure that "superfan" Rob Zombie knew where he was headed. It's nothing. It's a bunch of Rob Zombie's friends saying a bunch of words that Rob Zombie wrote. Everyone (with the exception of Daniel Roebuck) is phoning it in... on a  ten-year old cellphone with a shattered screen and one blinking power bar left. 

But, oh, I stuck with it. I don't know why. I think I silently hoped it would get better. It didn't. As a matter of fact, it got worse. I kept waiting for Eddie or Marilyn* to show up, two important pieces of the TV show's central cast. They never did. Granted, the story was framed as a prequel to the events depicted in the series. But, that's like making a big screen version of Laverne & Shirley and leaving out Squiggy and Carmine Ragusa. (Gosh! I hope no Hollywood producer read that.) 

Someone online compared Rob Zombie to a modern-day Ed Wood. They cited his penchant to use the same group of actors in his films, his questionable choices and slap-dash style of storytelling. The difference between Zombie and Wood is Zombie's film's have zero "warmth." Ed Wood was trying his very best to be like his hero Orson Welles. Unfortunately, Ed Wood didn't posses a sliver of Welles' talent, creativity, innovation, production values or acting ability. But, he tried. With shoestring budgets, Ed Wood did his darndest to make — in his eyes — meaningful pictures of merit. Of course, he failed miserably, but he created unintentional entertainment. Zombie, on the other hand, is his own hero. He is also happily entrusted with substantial budgets. The Munsters is estimated to have cost nearly $1.5 million. His sets, while deliberately grungy, are actual movie sets. He has shot films on foreign locations. (The Munsters was shot primarily in Budapest.) However, it is money that has been squandered. Zombie wishes to make films that "look cool," but not necessarily "are cool." His scripts make sense to him, but he leaves out important details that  allows the audience to follow along. Without giving anything away, there is a plot hidden somewhere in The Munsters. It's about ten-minutes worth of hackneyed story buried under 110 minutes of garish lighting and smoke machines.

If I can offer a bit of praise to Rob Zombie's The Munsters — for a movie whose source material was in black & white, it sure was colorful.

Note: This should be taken as neither a recommendation or discouragement of Rob Zombie's The Munsters. You may like it. I did not.

*Pat Priest, one of two actresses who played "Marilyn Munster" on the TV series, makes a short cameo in a voice-over. She is not seen onscreen.