Sunday, December 25, 2022

revolution 9

I have become pretty active on Instagram. I've been active on social media for some time now, but recently Instagram has taken a big leap over my previously favored platform, the now-vile, politically-charged garbage heap known as Twitter. Sure, I spend waaaay too much time on Facebook (Hey! Who doesn't?), but Instagram has become more... oh, I don't know.... sociable?!?! I find it easier to post  and it's more receptive to creativity, specifically with its stickers and text and music accompaniments. I have been enjoying the enhancements that Instagram allows as far as posting my daily celebrity death anniversaries. And because I fancy myself as an artist (I know, some of you might debate that claim...), I'm always looking for new outlets for creativity. Plus, Instagram is the perfect forum to display my admittedly skewed sense of humor and my love of old television shows. So it's a win-win-win!

A few years ago, Instagram started this end-of-year thing where it allows — or even encourages — the posting of a nine-image collage consisting of one's nine most favored or "favorited" posts from the previous year. With the assistance of several third-party apps, a collage is created — available for downloading, posting and eager for comments. Other internet services have jumped on the "year in review" opportunity, with folks posting their annual granular breakdown of listening habits via Spotify, Pandora and other music-streaming platforms of which I don't use. (Yep, I still listen to the radio.) Instagram's "Best Nine" apps were clunky at first, but have since been reworked and a suitable-for-posting compilation is ready in just a few minutes.

I did mine for 2022 a few days ago and I am posting it here before I post it to Instagram. (Oooh!  JPiC exclusive content! And you don't even have to be a Patreon member!) In past years, I got just a random mish-mash sampling of disjointed and unrelated posts from the previous year. This year, however, I was intrigued by how spot-on my selections were. Of course, there are drawings. I suppose the majority of my Instagram posts are drawings. After all, I like to draw. But the five chosen drawings featured three dead celebrities and quotes from two that are still with us. If you have been following me for any length of time, you know about my affinity for dead celebrities and propensity to immortalize them in my little corner of the internet. Also two drawings are in black & white, two are in color and one is in limited color — a very accurate overview of how I work. 

In addition to the drawings, there are photographs. I post a lot of photographs on my Instagram account. A good portion of my photographs are freeze-frame screenshots if my television. I watch an inordinate amount of television and I see a lot of cool, interesting and unusual stuff (well... to me anyway) and I feel compelled to share them. In this year's "top nine," there are two pictures from television. One is from an old TV show and one is not. The former is a scene from a 1962 episode of The Andy Griffith Show. The scene features a young Barbara Eden, three years before her iconic role as the mischievous bottle-dweller on the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. I love to spot actors and actresses in unlikely appearances outside of a role for which they became famous. And I love to share them with the people who, like me, are fascinated by this sort of thing... all six of you. The other television photo is from a news report on CNN. I don't remember what the story was about, but I was startled by the fact that the reporter bore an uncanny resemblance to They Might Be Giants guitarist John Flansburgh. And that needed to be shared, too.

The two remaining pictures rounding out my "top nine" are a picture of our dining room table laden with a tempting array of home-baked goodies prepared by my wife, the celebrated Mrs. P. This picture, taken just prior to the onslaught of guests coming to our annual Night Before Thanksgiving Dessert Party, shows the results of a single day of baking (that's right! a single day!) and how Mrs. P makes it look so easy. (Spoiler Alert: It is not easy.) This photo is similar to other photos taken of past year's gatherings, however this one was snapped before our 38th one. These have been going on every year — uninterrupted, even by a pandemic! — for well over a quarter of a century.

The last picture is my favorite. It was taken at this past summer's XPoNetial Music Festival (presented by Subaru), a yearly outdoor music festival held over three days on the Camden waterfront — one of the few beautiful things about Camden, New Jersey. The picture shows me (uncharacteristically wearing a hat) with my two favorite people in the entire world — my wife and my son. And there's no one with whom I would rather spend three days out in the sun, listening to music and surrounded by thousands of people than these two.

I don't know why I was so taken by this little visual glimpse into the world of Josh Pincus. I just was. And, to be honest, it's hard to write a new blog post every week.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

pretzel logic

Recently, I was talking to a friend about our respective jobs. I noted that — after forty years — I finally have the job I was looking for. One that allows me to earn a living and not give it a second thought once I leave for the day. No pressure. No meetings. No bosses with nothing to do all day leaning over my shoulder. No unnecessary or unrealistic goals. No disruptive co-workers. Is it the best job I've ever had? (and I have had a lot!) No. That would be the first job I ever had.

After I had outgrown setting up a Kool-Aid stand on the cement apron of the driveway of my parent's house, I was recruited by my brother Max's friend Gerb to join the ranks of a little business enterprise he had started and was trying to grow. Gerb (that's pronounced with a hard "G") was a tall, lanky jovial guy with a giant shock of curly hair and a keen entrepreneurial mindset. Max told me that Gerb had a crew of kids about my age (that would be 14) set up in various, carefully selected locations throughout Northeast Philadelphia, selling soft pretzels. Soft pretzels are a staple food in Philadelphia, so they would — no doubt — sell like hotcakes! (Is that what they call a "mixed metaphor?") To this day, I still describe Philadelphia soft pretzels as "my kryptonite." Many people in the City of Brotherly Love feel the same.

Without even asking, Max volunteered me to join up with this little venture. Honestly, I didn't object. School was out for the summer and, at 14, I certainly could use a little extra money. After all, comic books and pizza didn't buy themselves. So, it was settled and I was officially among the gainfully employed. This was also my opportunity to help my brother out. He had been friends with Gerb for some time, but he didn't know his actual name. Everyone just called him "Gerb." Coincidentally, I went to school with Gerb's younger brother, who was also called "Gerb," but I knew that his real name was "Howard." I could only assume that the elder Gerb had a real name as well.

Early one summer Saturday, Gerb pulled up in front of my house in his tan Camaro. He honked the horn a couple of times and I bounded out of the house, ready for my first day of selling pretzels. I brought a big insulated jug of my mom's "world famous" iced tea to keep a potential mid-day thirst at bay. I also brought a peanut butter sandwich — in a bag stuffed in my pocket — that was in the process of being violently disfigured as I took a seat in the passenger's side of Gerb's car. Gerb — with a big grin on his friendly face — drummed on the steering wheel as he drove me out to my chosen spot. He explained the simple procedure of selling pretzels and how much to charge. "When someone asks the price," he began, "tell them 'four for fifty.' That way you have a better chance of selling four pretzels at one time." Always thinking, this guy Gerb! He gave me a stack of brown paper bags, the kind my mom would pack my school lunch in and the kind I was involuntarily mangling in my pocket at this very moment. I was instructed to fill a dozen or so bags with four pretzels each and have them ready to go for customers, the majority of whom I'd be doing business with through their driver's side window. You see, my little retail outlet was a card table set up on an eight-foot-wide median strip of a rather busy neighborhood thoroughfare.

Gerb pulled up to said median and set his four-way hazard flashers on. He hopped out of the car and I did the same, grabbing the flattened card table from the back seat. He popped open his trunk and removed a large plank of discarded faux wood paneling upon which rested a pile of soft pretzels, connected in the baking process in long rows, stacked on top of one another. I quickly extended the legs of the table and Gerb plopped the plank of pretzels on its surface with a thud. He jammed his hands in his pockets and extracted a fistful of change. "Here," he said, "this should get you started." He jumped back into his car and, as he drove off, he said, "I'll be back around three to pick you up. Good luck." And off he went.

And there I was.

I immediately started bagging four pretzels at a time, as I was instructed. Cars zoomed by me on both sides and it was a little jarring at first. Within a minute or two, a car pulled up and the driver barked, "How much?" in my direction. Startled, I meekly replied, "Um...four for.... um... fifty." I struggled as I tried to remember all of the simple directions Gerb imparted to me. "Gimme four," the driver said and he waved a dollar in my direction. I handed him a bag, took his dollar and fished two quarters out of my pocket from the supply of coins Gerb gave me. The whole exchange took about 60 seconds. Shit! This was gonna be easy!

And to be honest, it was.

In Philadelphia, pretzels practically sell themselves. Everyone in this city grew up eating them. For goodness sake, I loved them! They are delicious, convenient, easy to handle and available all over the place. And buying them from some kid standing on a median strip in the middle of Bustleton Avenue wasn't the least bit odd in 1975. That summer was great. Gerb picked me up every morning at my house and came by around three in the afternoon the collect me, the table and the empty hunk of paneling... because I always sold out. Always. The days were filled with an interesting assortment of characters, including my current Social Studies teacher (who, at first, scared me, but became a daily customer) and a driver from a nearby funeral home who stopped to inquire the price of my salt-and dough wares while transporting a casket in the back of his vehicle... with a long procession of funeral attendees behind him. I witnessed accidents, police chases, terrible drivers and even a fist fight. It was more excitement than a 14-year old could take.... and I loved every minute of it.

Before the summer ended, Gerb decided to move on to bigger and better pastures. He sold his business to Jeff, another one of Max's friends. I wasn't too keen on this new guy. He seemed to only be interested in the money, as the first thing he did was raise the prices a full quarter. This cut down on business and angered those regular customers who had been paying less just a day before. One morning when he picked me up, I told Jeff that this would be my last day.

After that, I worked in a slew of jobs in retail stores for bosses who were assholes. After attending art school, I worked in a slew of jobs in my chosen field for bosses who were also assholes.

I still love pretzels though and, every winter, I wear this scarf to remind me how much I do.

Available from your pals at South Fellini.

By the way, Gerb's name was Rob.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

i've got a lovely bunch of coconuts

I was a picky eater when I was a kid. My father would often accuse me of only limiting my food intake to pizza. (To be honest, he wasn't that far off.) My mother would regularly accompany meals with all sorts of vegetables. With the exception of corn and potatoes, I would not eat the vegetables my mother tried to push on me. Potatoes, in any form, were just mere steps away from French fries... and I loved French fries. Corn... well, corn was corn and as that young man in the latest You Tube viral video has confirmed "It's corn!" But, those others....? Yeesh! I wouldn't touch 'em with a ten-foot fork. No amount of butter or salt or anything would get me to like string beans.

As I got older, my eating habits changed. Considerably. I ate salad, something I would customarily slide over to my mother's side of the table when dining in a restaurant. I ate broccoli, granted it had to be mixed in a spicy sauce and served with a plate full of other chopped up ingredients within the cozy and mysterious confines of a Chinese restaurant. I still pick sliced tomatoes off of a hoagie, but I will happily consume the lettuce and onion, an act unheard of when I was a child. My wife often marvels at my evolved eating habits, commenting, "Your mother would be so proud of you!" I'm pretty sure she would.

Almost a decade ago, I wrote a pretty disparaging piece about raisins and my dislike of them. I was convinced that there was a universal conspiracy to get people to eat raisins. Not to necessarily like raisins, just to eat them. I observed that raisins were covertly snuck into various foods in a effort to get them eaten. They had to be hidden in bread and noodle casseroles and cakes. The name of a particular dish could not include the actual word "raisin," for fear no one would eat it. So, things like "cinnamon rolls" were never identified as "raisin cinnamon roils." "Coffee cake" was similarly ambiguous about all of its components. Even for the tiniest amount of raisins, they'll say: "You can't even taste the raisins!" It's like the people who say: "I know it's a Jim Carrey movie, but you'll like it." It's still has Jim Carrey in it! Only "raisin bread" appears ballsy enough to put its most reviled ingredient first in its name. Obviously, that was for those other people. You know, the ones proliferating the whole "raisin agenda." But, I hereby rescind my stance on raisins. I like them. I eat them. I concede that they are not among my favorite foods, but I no longer gag when I discover one in a bite of baked good, nor to I make a little pile of them on the side of my plate when politely eating something that contains them.

However, there is one food I will never ever ever happily eat. They say " never say never." Well, I'm saying never. And I'm talking about you, coconut. Coconut is horrible! Just horrible. I know, I know. All you coconut lovers will disagree with me. Look, I've had coconut. I believe I am still chewing coconut I ate when I was nine. It is a taste and mouth sensation on the same level as root canal. No, I take that back. I've had several root canal procedures. Eating coconut is worse. I have become so highly sensitive to coconut that I can tell if someone said the word "coconut" while they were preparing a dish I am eating. When I was a kid and would return from a night of Halloween trick-or-treating, I would pull out all of the coconut based candy from my bag and try to make trades with my brother (he actually liked coconut - eeech!) If a trade could not be agreed upon — fuck it! — I'd just give him the goddamn coconut rather that have it mixed in with my nominal candy haul. When I took my son out for Halloween, I taught him to say "trick or treat" and "nothing with coconut." When he got a little older and developed an actual fondness for coconut (whose kid are you?), my days of ransacking his Halloween spoils had ended.

Not a cow.

A few years ago, based on the advice of a doctor, I began eating breakfast on a daily basis. This was a meal that I skipped for most of my adult life. But after a series of vasovagal syncopes, my doctor recommended that I eat breakfast every morning to combat the feeling of hunger during the day, thereby preventing future fainting episodes. So, every morning, before I leave for work, I pour myself a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee. Nothing extravagant and no actual cooking is involved. I always make sure there is milk in the house, a regular requirement that lapsed after my son moved out on his own. One day, a year or so ago, my son suggested that I switch to almond milk, citing its health benefits. He explained that dairy-based milk is passé. I was hesitant at first, but, once I tasted almond milk, I was hooked. The "unsweetened" variety has no discernable taste and, I believe, is lower in calories than the stuff that comes from mistreated cows. So almond milk it is... and has been for some time now.

Last week, after seeing that the current supply of almond milk was running low, I added it to our running shopping list. During the day, Mrs Pincus went to the supermarket and purchased everything on said list. The next morning, I began my daily ritual of turning on the Keurig, getting a bowl from the kitchen cabinet, getting cereal from a different kitchen cabinet and grabbing the carton of almond milk from the refrigerator. I grabbed the newly purchased almond milk, removed the safety seal and poured an amount over the waiting Honey Nut Cheerios in my bowl  just like I've done on countless mornings. I picked up the bowl and mug and headed upstairs for some classic TV reruns before I left for work. I plopped myself down on the sofa, flicked on the TV and put the first heaping spoonful of cereal in my mouth.

Something was..... off.

I looked in the bowl. Was the cereal stale? Had something gotten into it? Was this the same cereal I had yesterday... because it tasted okay then. Was the milk bad? Was it past its printed expiration date? I sniffed the bowl. I'm not sure was result I was expecting. I sure looked okay. I tasted it again. Yep. Still tasted... off.  I went downstairs to the kitchen to check the carton of almond milk. I bounded down the stairs. I opened refrigerator, removed the new carton of almond milk and examined the label. just under the word "almond" was the phrase "coconut blend." It was mocking me. I could vaguely hear that phrase laughing at me with the maniacal fervor of Cesar Romero's "Joker" from the classic Batman TV series. "HA! HA! HA! YOU CONSUMED COCONUT, YOU UNSUSPECTING FOOL!," it said, as I pictured Romero's lavender-gloved hands clapping with glee and his pancaked face grinning with malevolent accomplishment. And like a dejected Batman, whose arch-villain had just gotten the best of me, I silently fumed. I went back upstairs to  reluctantly  finish my breakfast.

That vile almond-coconut milk blend lasted about ten days. I was determined to use it up. Throwing it away would have been childish. I toughed it out. I hated it. Every minute of it. But I poured it over my cereal every day until the carton was empty. Every day, its repulsive taste of coconut ruined my cereal, filled my mouth and laughed like the Joker. But I was going to show coconut that I was the better man. And when the final drop of almond-coconut milk blend fell from the plastic spout into my bowl, I had won. It didn't kill me. It made me stronger.

And a little nauseous.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

liquored up and lacquered down

I don't drink alcohol. I used to, when I was much younger. I never used a fake ID, like a lot of my contemporaries. To be honest, I didn't think it was necessary, as the legal drinking age in New Jersey was 18 when I turned 18... and New Jersey was just a short drive and a ten-cent bridge toll from my house. Prior to that, I drank in several New Jersey establishments that almost never asked to see anyone's ID. As long as you laid low and didn't draw any attention to yourself, an underage drinker, like myself, could happily be served all the cheap beer they could consume. And — save for a few harrowing, cringe-worthy incidents — my friends and I knew our limits.

In the summer of  1979, I turned 18. Just after graduation from high school, a couple of friends and I spent a few days in Atlantic City. After securing a room in our favorite shitty rooming house, I headed out to make my first legal purchase of alcohol at a liquor store. My friend Alan would not turn 18 for another month and my friend Scott had to wait until the following January, but Josh was here to make sure their alcohol consumption was free-flowing  and uninterrupted. We approached the front entrance of Chelsea Liquors and I pulled open the door. Alan and Scott stayed behind, peering through the glass of the front window like two puppies waiting for their owner to return with treats. Chelsea Liquors was a long narrow store with a main aisle flanked by cases of beer and bottles of hard liquor. I slowly strolled along the aisle grabbing two six packs of Genesee Cream Ale (a favorite beverage at the time) and made my way to the counter at the rear of the store. Two older men, around my father's age and looking just as stern, stood on the other side of the counter giving me the once-over as I dropped the beer on the faux Formica countertop. One of the men muttered, "ID?" and I confidently pulled my little wallet from my back pocket, extracted my driver's license and presented it to the man to silently answer his inquiry. In my mind, I puffed out "Read it and weep, motherfucker. As of yesterday, I have graced this planet for eighteen years." In reality, I said nothing, as I was too nervous to form any words. Besides, no words would never make it past the enormous lump in my throat. The man examined my license from over the top of his glasses. He looked at me, at my license, at me again... then handed my driver's license back to me. I paid for the beer, grabbed my purchase and began to make the thirty-five mile walk back to the front door. I half-expected to be chased or have sirens go off or have the front door suddenly get blocked by automatic bars descending from the ceiling like in a James Bond movie. But — no — none of that happened. I was legally permitted to purchase alcoholic beverages in any amount under the laws of New Jersey. And that is exactly what I did. And from that point forward, I did it a lot.

On occasion, on a weekend evening with nothing to do, a friend and I would borrow my mom's car and drive across the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge with our destination being the reliable old Roger Wilco liquor store, a long-time fixture on Route 73 just over the Pennsylvania-New jersey border. Here, we would purchase a single quart of Ortlieb's Beer for eighty cents and return to my Philadelphia home to consume it. The whole deal,  including the 10 cent bridge toll in both directions, cost a buck. Not bad for a little Friday night entertainment. Yeah, yeah, I know, crossing state boundaries with alcohol is strictly verboten. But it was the 70s. We were stupid and, most importantly, we never got caught.

On the night before Thanksgiving 1983, I stopped drinking. By this time, I had reached the legal drinking age in Pennsylvania and took full advantage of the situation. My friend Scott and my friend Sam decided that we would see how much alcohol our bodies could tolerate. We found ourselves at the bar of The Dickens Inn, a British-themed pub in the historic section of Philadelphia. Here, we downed a few beers while we engaged in conversation with a couple of British sailors who were stationed on a ship docked on the Delaware River. We tried our darndest to keep up with their drinking, but our lightweight Northeast Philadelphia Jewish sensibilities were no match for their hard-drinking, seafaring ways. Soon, the bartender began plying us with shots of peppermint schnapps and beer chasers. Those sailor literally drank us under the table. I say "literally," because that where I ended up — under the table. To be more accurate, I wound up on my ass at the bottom of a flight of stairs. I was carried out of the place by Scott and Sam and loaded into Scott's car, but not before I was warned: "If you puke in my car, you are walking the rest of the way home." To Scott's satisfaction, I waited until I got home to throw up my guts. And with a houseful of people arriving for Thanksgiving the next day, I managed to crawl out of bed just as the last guests were leaving. I missed dinner while I prayed for sweet death to alleviate the throbbing in my head.

And I officially retired from the ranks of drinkers.

A few nights ago, Mrs. Pincus and I hosted the 38th annual "Night Before Thanksgiving" dessert party at our house. Over the years, the guest list has changed considerably from family to friends to our son's friends, most of whom seem to enjoy the festivities and being included more that anyone else. My son and his friends like to drink alcoholic beverages and, in recent years, I have purchased whatever was requested. This year, my son asked for a selection of Downeast hard cider, something I had to write down for fear I'd forget what I was looking for when I went to the liquor store. Since I work in New Jersey and pass the aforementioned Roger Wilco on a daily basis, I would pick up this Downeast stuff on my way home. A day or so before the party, I pulled into Roger Wilco's parking lot. I grabbed a shopping cart and entered the store. The place was enormous. Of course, I had not been inside since I purchased that eighty cent bottle of beer over forty years ago. There was an entire other room filled with Home Depot-like shelving stocked with beer, ale and cider in colorful packaging. It was very overwhelming. I asked a salesperson for the location of Downeast cider and he led me down an aisle past a few shelving units, pointing out the small boxes on an eye-left shelf. I would have never found it on my own. I loaded three 9-packs (who ever heard of a 9-pack?) into my cart and went back to check out. I snaked my way through the queue line and up to a young lady at a cash register. She greeted me with a half-smile and I placed the three boxes on the counter. Then, to my surprise, she asked me for ID. "Excuse me?' I said, knowing damn well what she just asked, but I needed to hear it again. I am 61 years old. I have a head full of.... well, not full.... but what's left of my hair is white. And sparse. And thin. Unfazed, she asked again. "ID," she said. I tried to stifle a laugh as I pulled my wallet from my back pocket and fumbled to remove my driver's license. Suddenly, I was transported back to Chelsea Liquors and that guy peering over the tops of his hornrims at my Pennsylvania-issued identification. That lump in my throat had even returned. I passed my license to the young lady — who couldn't have been older than twenty-one. Without even looking at my license, she handed it back to me and said "Thanks," punctuated by a snap of her chewing gum. Just like all those years back in Chelsea Liquors, I thought to myself: "ID? ID? Young lady, I am nearly as old as this building!" But, of course, I said nothing. I paid — a lot more than two six-packs of Genesee Cream Ale cost. I put my purchases behind the back seat of my car. Crossing the state line with alcohol is still illegal, though. 

But are they really gonna stop an old guy who doesn't drink?