Sunday, May 28, 2023

it's obvious

Twelve years ago, I was working in the marketing department in the main office of a national chain of an after-market auto parts supplier. I worked in a large room with a dozen other graphic designers, pumping out full-color newspaper circulars. It was a grueling process. We had to keep up with the various price changes and product switches from category leaders, along with the whims and fancies of several vice-presidents in charge of  "something or other." These guys would wander through the department and peer over the shoulders of my colleagues and me as we worked diligently on our computers, moving and adjusting our circulars, as per instructions determined in a weekly marketing meeting. In an effort to justify their jobs, a VP would — on the spot — instruct a particular artist to "change that block from red to yellow" ...only switch it back to red an hour later. This would occur on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis, forcing an artist to make a pointless change and carry said change across a dozen different demographic-specific versions. Things like changing the width of a dotted line around a coupon or flipping the positions of adjacent items in an ad were regular and anticipated changes... often made as the print deadline loomed closer. They were changes for the sake of change, mainly to reinforce the ego and control of upper management.

One day, one of my coworkers brought in a microwaveable meal for consuming in the noon hour. In the meantime, the package sat on his desk. It was a quick-serve bowl of pasta that had newly been introduced to the market. As artists often do, some of us assessed the package design and surmised a scenario for how it was created. The first thing that was noticed was a large out-of-place block on the otherwise well-designed package front that read "GREAT FOR LUNCH" in big, gaudy yellow type. The rest of the package featured a nicely-placed logo, a "beauty shot" of the fully-cooked product and a few small pictures of other available varieties of the same line. As a group, familiar with the modus operandi of a controlling VP — one who perceives himself as a "marketing genius," we figured that the design department at this particular company had just finished the final version of the packaging. Then, one of these VPs came by and insisted on the inclusion of the "GREAT FOR LUNCH" callout, reasoning that how else would anyone know it could be eaten for lunch. The designers had to scramble to change the design, staying late at the office to redo the design of every package in the line. Meanwhile, the VP went home at a normal hour and told his family: "I did marketing today!"

A dozen years later, I came across a similar scenario, leading me to believe...  nay, confirm... that some things never change and people "in charge" like to be in charge and like to let everyone know they are in charge. I ordered a box of foil wrapped, pre-moistened wipes to clean my glasses. After a few days, the package arrived. The box featured a clean, white design with the essential information presented plainly and pleasingly across the front of the box. The logo, the name of the product, how many wipes the box contained and a small row of icons indicating the various items on which the wipes could be used, besides eyeglasses. However, in capital letters in a spot of white space, were the words "IT REALLY CLEANS!" This was obviously the last-minute work of some corporate stooge who felt compelled to exercise his superior position over the lowly designers in the company's marketing department. "How will anyone know that this cleaning product really cleans unless we put it on the box?," he thought and, channeling Pharaoh in The Ten Commandments, he proclaimed "So let it be  written and so let it be done." Once again, a group of designers had to stay late at the office to implement ridiculous changes made by someone who has no business in the field of marketing.

Look, I don't claim to be an expert in marketing. I have, however, been exposed to bad marketing for over forty years. (To be fair, I've seen good marketing, too.) But, it seems that bad marketing is more wide spread. Hell, I worked in a marketing department for ten years under someone who didn't know shit from shit, yet she kept her job when I got let go.

I think that all of these so-called, self-proclaimed "marketing geniuses" should all meet for dinner at this place to discuss their various strategies.
After all, they must have the best food in town. The sign says so! Otherwise, how would people know?


Sunday, May 21, 2023

don't waste my time

I bought a new car this week. 

After serving me well for nearly 20 years, my trusty 2004 Toyota RAV4 flashed its "CHECK ENGINE" light at me for the last time. With squealing brakes and the need for who-knows-what-else, the time had come. I actually wanted to replace my RAV4 a few years ago, but supply chains were interrupted by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, leaving car dealerships with empty lots and salesmen with nothing to do. With the pandemic beginning to wane and cars slowly becoming more available, I convinced my wife to take a ride up to a nearby Subaru dealer to take a look around. This particular dealership was located just a few blocks from our house for over 30 years. When I finally expressed an interest in purchasing a Subaru, they moved to a larger facility about ten miles away.

Prior to visiting the Subaru dealership, I did a little online snooping and settled on the new Crosstrek, which is comparable in size to the RAV4. I didn't want anything too big. I was very used to the size and handling of my RAV4 and the Crosstrek seemed to fit the bill. At the dealership, I was shown the only available Crosstrek on the lot. I was offered a test drive and, after a couple of loops around the large parking lot, I was ready to fill out paperwork. The whole process went very smoothly. I made arrangements to pick my new car up on Saturday.

The next day (Friday), I called my insurance company to arrange for transfer of coverage from my old vehicle to my new one. 

When my wife and I got married, we got apartment renter's insurance from an agent in the Philadelphia suburbs. I had never gotten insurance for anything before, so I went to the insurance office where Ronald, the agent, spelled everything out for me. This was the only time I ever met my insurance agent. As the years went on, we added homeowners insurance when we bought a house, car insurance when be bought a second vehicle, life insurance as our family expanded. Unfortunately, we have had several claims over the years. Car accidents, weather-related damage to our home — all handled by our agent's assistant. She was pleasant, helpful and most of all, professional. Recently, our agent (who, again, I met one time) announced his retirement. He would be passing his clients along to another agent. Our new agent's assistant called to introduce the new office — and it was instant dislike. I don't know exactly what I didn't like about her, but I didn't like her. She was brash and overly friendly on the first phone call. She was also pushy, bringing up things like discussing rates and additional coverage. In almost 40 years, I never heard a peep form my insurance agent until I wanted something... and that was just the way I liked it.

So, on Friday afternoon, I called our new insurance agent.

"Hi," I began, "This is Josh Pincus. We have several insurance policies with your office. I will be picking up a new car tomorrow. It will be replacing the 2004 Toyota RAV 4 that is currently on my policy. What information do you need from me in order to get coverage for the new car?" Pretty straightforward, huh? After all, I had to get back to work. 

"Pincus?," she questioned, "Oh right." She paused. "Is this an additional car or are you replacing one of your cars?"

Was she even listening to me? I repeated, "This will be replacing the 2004 RAV 4. Now, my wife has a 2018 RAV4. We are keeping that one."

"So not the 2018... right?" she said. Oh dear lord! Is she preoccupied with something else?

"Yes, that is correct. What information do you need from me?"

"I'll need the VIN number, the make, model and year. Oh and the sticker price."

"Well," I explained, "I won't have some of that information until Saturday when I pick the car up."

Suddenly, she sounded panicked. "Hmmm... if you could call the dealership now, they would have that information."

"I will get the car tomorrow. I can call you then."

She raised her voice a bit, sounded a tad annoyed. "We are not in the office on Saturday. It can just wait until Monday! Besides, you have two weeks to change the insurance over. You're insured in the meantime." She changed her desperate tone to one of calm in a matter of seconds. I  said I'd call back on Monday.

I picked up my new car on Saturday and gathered all of the proper information, readying it for my Monday morning phone call with my new insurance agent's assistant.

On Monday, between two projects I was working on, I called the insurance office for an exchange of information that I couldn't imagine taking more that a few minutes. The phone was answered by the same woman I previously spoke to and I identified myself again, reminding her who I was and what we discussed on Friday.

"I don't remember what you told me.," she said. "Let me start my computer." She fell silent. Then, she began to give me a real-time play-by-play of her computer's start-up procedure, describing how slow it was and questioning rhetorically "What's it doing now?" Then she began to ask about my weekend, quickly switching to making commentary about the Philadelphia sports teams disappointing performances over the past two days. I have work to do, lady! I don't have time to make nonsensical small talk with you.

Trying to move things along, I spoke up. "I have the VIN number and the other information you requested."

"Oh okay.," she said, "This is replacing which car again?"

I was losing my patience. I told her — again — the new car was replacing the 2004 RAV 4. "Can I give you the VIN number, please?'

"Yes," she said, "and when you come to a letter, use a word that starts with that letter so I don't make any mistakes."

I began. "J as in Joe. N as in Nancy. 6. 4. 3..."

She interrupted me. "What did you say after 'Nancy?'" OH MY GOD!!!!! 

I repeated the number again. Slowly. Enunciating each letter and number until I finished. She asked the purchase price and haughtily clicked her tongue in an inappropriate act of editorializing when I told her. She clicked again when I told her that we did not contract a loan or take advantage of any sort of financing. Finally, she was satisfied with all of the information I had supplied. She said she'd call if she needed anything else and we ended our conversation.

An hour or so later, I received an email with my new temporary insurance card. An hour after that, I received a phone call from my agent's assistant, asking if I received the email. I told her I did and that I even replied to her email. She said she had not seen a reply. I hung up the phone as she was telling me to enjoy my new ca—. (I clicked "end call" before she finished.)

When I got home from work, my wife told me that she had received a series of phone calls from another representative from our new insurance agent's office. This person was asking similar questions about my new car until my wife explained to him that I was taking care of everything with a different assistant in the same office.

I hope Ronald is enjoying his retirement.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

go down moses

Well, we just wrapped up Passover a couple of weeks ago. While Passover is not my favorite holiday, I can safely say that Passover is not my favorite holiday.

Growing up in the Pincus house, Passover meant that a box of matzo joined the ubiquitous loaf of bread on the kitchen table. My mom bought a jar of gefilte fish and, over the course of eight days, consumed the contents of that jar herself. There was no way in hell my father was going to let a morsel of that stuff cross his meat-and-potatoes tempered lips. Passover or no Passover, tradition of thousands of years or no tradition of thousands of years, Harold Pincus didn't change his daily eating habits for no one — not even the God of Abraham. My brother ate those macaroons from a can and avoided the bread. I enjoyed the fried matzo that my mom prepared. I watched as much of the annual airing of The Ten Commandments on television as I could. I think I even went to a seder at an uncle's house when I was very young. We probably left when my father just about had enough. And that was my Passover.

Until I met my wife.

Mrs. Pincus came from a very traditional Jewish background. Very traditional. (To be honest, compared to the way the Pincus family celebrated Jewish holidays, Pope Francis came from a more traditional Jewish background.) Mrs. P's family went all out, especially for Passover. They cleaned the house. They changed their kitchen over to all Passover dishes and utensils. They "sold off" their chametz (food that is not kosher for Passover) and they staged an elaborate seder on the first night of Passover, with an encore performance on Night Two.

My mother-in-law prepared food from scratch that would last for the duration of the holiday. She made soups with hand-formed matzo balls. She made brust (brisket) and chicken and an array of side dishes, most of which contained some form of matzo My father-in-law prepared his own gefilte fish, grinding real fishy fish and shaping the concoction into little oblong footballs. There were boxes and assorted packages of baked goods from a special New York bakery that my in-laws would travel to and make purchases, not only for their family, but for the families of their fellow congregants at their synagogue. Passover was a big deal. It was all new to me. I participated out of respect to my wife and in-laws, but I wasn't a fan.

Soon, the Pincus family expanded by one. My son, who went all through Jewish day school, became an expert in all things Jewish and very well-versed in all Passover traditions, leading certain parts of the seder year after year. I proudly watched, but still remained nonplussed at the whole Passover thing. I didn't care for the food and I didn't care for the eight-day interruption in my daily routine. Surprisingly, I was looking at Passover the way my father looked at Passover.

It's funny how things change when you get old. Older! I mean older!

2023 marked the third consecutive year without a traditional seder at my in-law's house. This is due to several factors. In 2020, Passover came just weeks after the entire world was shut down by the uncertainty of a global pandemic. Families sequestered themselves from contact with other family members out of fear, out of safety and out of concern. Mrs. Pincus and I sat at our little kitchen counter and ate matzo. Mrs. P braved the looming cloud of COVID-19, donning a protective mask and making her trip to the supermarket as quick and efficient as possible. Under the circumstances, she bought jarred gefilte fish. Her father had given up the lengthy process of making his own and he certainly wasn't going to re-start the practice during a pandemic. At dinner time, Mrs. P fished (no pun intended) a piece of gefilte fish from the jar and plopped it down on a paper plate. I looked at it. Suddenly, a wave of adventure washed over me. "I'll take a piece of that.," I said... much to my wife's surprise.

This year for Passover, in an effort to be less like my father and more like... like.... a mensch, I ate gefilte fish again. A few times, even taking more than one piece at a time. Of course, I drown that little beige lump in a generous helping of electric purple horseradish-and-beet accompaniment. Y'know, if you cover anything with enough horseradish, it can actually be palatable... provided you like horseradish. And I do. And gefilte fish really isn't that bad. It's an acquired taste that I guess —over the years — I have acquired.

Every year, when I try something at Passover I never ate before, Mrs. P marvels and says: "Your mother would be proud."

Sunday, May 7, 2023

we're off to see the wizard

Tired of searching through countless channels for something to watch, Mrs. P and I settled on a repeat showing of The Wizard of Oz that was just starting on Turner Classic Movies. Of course we have both seen The Wizard of Oz numerous times, but there is something comforting about watching the venerable film on real-time broadcast television (without commercials) that feels like a 102-minute visit with an old friend. (Honestly, there are some "old friends" that I couldn't spend 102 seconds with... but that's a story for another blog post.)

Although it was released 22 years before I was born, I am obsessively familiar with The Wizard of Oz. Most people my age share my familiarity with the film and have fond memories of its yearly showing on television. The reason for its cross-generational "beloved" status, I believe, is the fact that the storytelling moves along at a pretty brisk clip. Unlike the current crop of bloated, backstory-heavy, CGI-laden, three-plus hour films being churned out of Hollywood, The Wizard of Oz wastes not a second of footage. Every scene is meaningful and adds to the flow of the story. Perhaps, this is why so many "Oz-adjacent" movies were failures at the box office. They suffered from too much explanation of a subject with which the audience was already familiar. They were bogged down with unnecessary subplots that added nothing but time. As a matter of fact, in an effort to keep the film concise, a scene was cut from The Wizard of Oz after initial screenings. The producers felt a particular musical number slowed the action down. (This was the notorious "Jitterbug" dance sequence, clips of which are readily available on YouTube.) 

Even though I love The Wizard of Oz, watching the movie with me is akin to watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a Saturday midnight showing. I recite dialogue along with the long-dead actors. I comment on the action. I make up on-the-spot, smart-ass jokes and repeat tried-and-true ones from previous viewings... and I question some of the more peculiar and nonsensical things that occur. Yeah, I know that it's about a girl that travels over the rainbow via a cyclone and lands in a full-color world filled with talking scarecrows, green witches and flying monkeys (blue ones, too). That aside, there are lines of dialogue and action sequences that make no sense — even in the context of a fantasy story. I think the fact that it was made in 1939 and included some of the same snappy dialogue that was so prevalent in films of the era is part of the "problem" I have with The Wizard of Oz. But there are other things that, even after zillions of viewings, still don't sit right with me.

How old is Miss Gulch supposed to be? Clara Blandick (who played "Auntie Em") is 63. It can be surmised that she has known Miss Gulch for years. Auntie Em acknowledges that Miss Gulch owns "half the county," however Margaret Hamilton — obviously disguised by theatrical make-up and costuming designed to hide her age — is only 37 years old. And what sort of successful business venture allowed a 37 year-old to "own half the county?" And who owns the other half?

Frank times five.
When Dorothy stumbles across Frank Morgan as "Professor Marvel," the first of five roles he portrays in the film, he rifles through her belongings while offering the young girl a crystal ball reading. I find this very creepy. In true "fake psychic" fashion, he alludes to Dorothy's aunt. "Auntie Em!," Dorothy confirms. The good Professor corrects her, stating that the woman in question is, in fact, named "Emily." How does he know this? Her name is not written on the photo he finds in Dorothy's basket. Her full name could be "Emma" or "Emmaline" or "Embeth" or "Emmylou." Hell, it could even be a nickname for "Melissa" or "Gemma." What does this guy know? He didn't even get the reference Dorothy made about the "crowned heads of Europe" and that's painted right on his fucking wagon!

Once Dorothy gets to Oz, she meets the true villain of the story. No, not the Wicked Witch of the West, but Glinda, the so-called Good Witch of the North. This seemingly sweet and nice, pink-clad fiend is the first citizen of Oz that Dorothy meets... and within seconds, she insults the poor girl. "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?," she innocently asks. Dorothy answers that she is not a witch at all, adding that "witches are old and ugly." Glinda giggles and tells Dorothy that she herself is a witch. An astonished Dorothy, wishing to be cordial to her greeter in this unfamiliar land, says, "I never heard of a beautiful witch before." Glinda replies, "Only bad witches are ugly!" So... if she asked Dorothy is she was a good witch or a bad witch, that means she hadn't quite determined if Dorothy was beautiful or ugly, knowing full well that she was a good witch and therefore beautiful. Glinda still required confirmation of Dorothy's "witch" status because her level of beauty wasn't good enough for Glinda. Later in the film, she makes it snow on Dorothy and her companions to counteract the effects of the poppies designed to put the crew to sleep... knowing full well it would rust one of Dorothy's friends. In the film's conclusion, she announces that Dorothy could have returned home to Kansas at anytime, that she always had the power. When questioned "why didn't you tell her?," Glinda smugly replies "She wouldn't have believed me?" Did you even bring it up and let Dorothy decide? For goodness sake, you told her there was a wizard at the end of the yellow brick road and she believed that! Dorothy begged to go home for nearly two hours and you never, ever mentioned that a couple of clicks on her new shoes could provide that in "two seconds." (Those are your words, Glinda!) It's funny when Glinda's "traveling bubble" shows up in the final scene at the Emerald City, the Scarecrow points and says "Here's someone who can help you." Glinda? Really? She hasn't been helpful yet!

When Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, she tells him that the crows in Kansas would be frightened by a talking and dancing Scarecrow. He asks: "Where's Kansas?" Dorothy explains, "That's where I'm from" and the Scarecrow doesn't press her for more information. "That's where I'm from" doesn't answer his question. That was pretty rude! Oh, wait... he doesn't have a brain. Fuck him. He probably forgot the question anyway.

Dorothy's initial meeting with her three traveling buddies in Oz culminates in a similarly melodic song, each specific about what the characters seeks from the Wizard. The Scarecrow and the Tin Man's renditions are seamless with their dialogue and work as a plea to convince Dorothy that they should be included on her journey to the Emerald City. However the Cowardly Lion awkwardly sets his song up with the introduction "I just gotta let you know how I feel" even though they have already decided to take him with them to the Emerald City... but.... he sings anyway.

Why does the Wicked Witch of the West have gripper tape wrapped around her broomstick? Does she use this in case a pick-up game of stickball breaks out on the yellow brick road or among the Winkies at her castle? Are there sporting goods stores in Oz? This is a pretty specialized item to obtain. Sure they have metal buffing services, hay stuffing services and a beauty parlor at the Emerald City, but gripper tape? That's a big ask. They could probably order it, though.
Speaking of the castle, when Dorothy is held prisoner by the Wicked Witch, brave Toto escapes to alert the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion of her location and her predicament. The intrepid trio make their way into the castle and Tin Man begins hacking at the wooden door of the room where Dorothy is imprisoned with his ax. From the other side of the door, Dorothy announces: "Hurry! The hourglass is almost empty?" referring to the timekeeping device the witch left as a reminder of her fate. However, Dorothy's rescuers have never seen the hourglass. How come they don't stop and question: "What hourglass?" You didn't say anything about an hourglass! What are you talking about? Are you still tripping from the poppies? I thought the snow took care of that?" Nope, they just continue to break the door down. When they finally get to Dorothy, not one of them points and says: "Oh! That hourglass!"

In the final scene, Dorothy is saying her tearful goodbyes before she heads back to Kansas with the Wizard in the hot-air balloon he absconded from the Omaha State Fair. She says goodbye to the Tin Man who tells her his new heart is breaking. She says goodbye to the Cowardly Lion who acknowledges that he would have never gotten his courage if it weren't for Dorothy. Then she turns to the Scarecrow and — right in front of the other two — she tells the Scarecrow that she will miss him most of all. The Tin Man and the Lion can hear you, Dorothy! We can all hear you! That is pretty insulting! After all, what exactly did he do that the others didn't? Geez! Worst of all, the goddamn Scarecrow doesn't even say a word! He doesn't thank her for her assistance in getting a brain. He doesn't even say "goodbye." I guess being named "Interim Wizard" went right to his newly-gifted brain!

So, finally, Dorothy is going home. But, Toto jumps out of Dorothy's arms to chase the Oz equivalent of a cat. If you watch carefully, the balloon just doesn't "up and go" without Dorothy. No, the Tin Man continues to unravel the docking rope and barely makes an attempt to pull the balloon back down... even though he is still holding the rope! It is obvious that he selfishly wants Dorothy to stay in Oz. Only he knows why.

I didn't even bring up curious lines of dialogue, like "Here, have some cruellers" or "You're more trouble than you're worth one way or another" and, when Dorothy asks a castle guard if she can have the witch's broomstick after melting their tormentor, he replies, "Yes! And take it with you!" Well, of course, she going to take it with her! She doesn't just want to hold the witch's broomstick, she wants a murder trophy.... like a serial killer.

Oh! And what about that bucket of water! If you know that water will melt you, why are you keeping open buckets of it around your castle? You are just asking for one of your disgruntled employees to dump that bucket on your head after denying a perfectly reasonable vacation request. The witch should have banned all open containers of water from her castle. She knew about the magical powers in her sister's shoes, but didn't think leaving buckets of water all around  her castle was a bad idea.

One more thing.... Where does the red brick road lead to? 
Oh look.... I can watch The Wizard of Oz anytime I want! I think I'll watch it now.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

people are strange

When I'm not visiting cemeteries, drawing silly pictures or leaving smart-ass comments on Facebook, I lead a pretty normal life. I got to work during the week and save those aforementioned activities for the weekend... except the smart-assing part. That I do on a daily basis. I work in the design department of a large commercial printer. My job keeps me busy pretty much all day, leaving very little time to interact with my co-workers.... and that is just fine with me.

I started this job two years ago, after being unemployed for a year due to massive layoffs brought on by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. After applying for numerous employment opportunities, a New Jersey printing company took a chance on a 60 year-old graphic artist with over forty years of experience in the field. My day-to-day responsibilities are, by no means, unfamiliar to me. I have done this sort of work at many different places throughout my career. To be honest, it's pretty mindless work — which is okay. At this point in my life, I don't need to impress or dazzle anybody with my innovative design ability. I just need a weekly paycheck and to not think about my job between 4:30 PM on Friday and 8 AM on Monday. So far, this job has fit the bill.

Like I said, I have very little interaction with my co-workers. I suppose they are all just as busy as I am. Besides, I greatly dislike obligatory office chit-chat. For nearly a year, I did my work in a large office with two other desks that remained empty most of the time. One desk is occupied for the last hour and a half of my shift by a guy who works until midnight. He nods when he comes in a three o'clock and I nod when I leave at 4:30. Other than that, nothing. I don't even know some of my colleagues' last names.

Sometime last year, a guy from another office in my department was moved to the empty desk in my office. His name is John or Joe or... actually I'm not sure what his name is. He is very quiet, kind of awkward and usually has a cockeyed smile across his face, like he just remembered the punchline to a joke he heard a few days ago. At our department's holiday party last year, I heard his voice for the first time. And — boy! — did I hear it. He went on and on and on about some comedian's routine that he saw on television. I don't remember the comedian, but John (or Joe) repeated every single word of this guy's routine. He even picked up where he left off after being interrupted by a waitress asking for drink orders. There was no shutting this guy up! After waaaay too long, he finally concluded his word-for-word account of this comedy act — which was neither memorable nor funny. After that, I don't think I heard him speak again.

Well, now, he is my office mate. His desk is situated sort of to my right and sort of back against the wall about eight or so feet away. In my peripheral vison, I can see him bobbing his head, I suppose, in time to whatever he is listening to through the wireless buds tucked into his ears. Every so often, he stands and lifts his convertible desk, working on his feet for several hours, Once in a while, he chuckles to himself or has brief — very brief — conversations on his desk phone. These conversations — as least from my end — include John (or Joe) saying — almost giggling: "No. No. You have the wrong number." (I realized that the owner of the company is also named "John" (or Joe) and he must be getting a lot of calls for the owner.)

A few days ago, John (or Joe) spoke.



Around 10 AM, as I pressed my face closer to my computer screen to get a better view of the artichoke I was clipping in Photoshop (ask a graphic designer), I heard a startling burst of foul language. I turned my head — just slightly — to see John (or Joe) bent over a pile of color proofs of the ad he was working on. This guy, who during the days and weeks, rarely opens his mouth, was now spewing a barrage of obscenities as though he was a longshoreman with Tourette's Syndrome who had just dropped a bowling ball on his foot. It was jarring. I listened as his tirade continued to erupt for what seemed like many long minutes, but was probably only a few seconds. And then he stopped. He sat down and continued to click his mouse and look at his computer monitor. But those words were still echoing in my ear... and my memory. I replayed it over and over in my head. It was surreal.

A few days have gone by and John (or Joe) has remained quiet. He still bobs his head, but he hasn't issued a curse word. Yet.

A new week starts Monday.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

silent night

In 1995, the Pincuses took their first trip as a family to Walt Disney World. I had been to the Florida resort with my friends as a teenager, and Mrs. P had been with her family as a child, but this was our first time as the proverbial "Mom and Dad and Son." The first of many.

On my first visit as a rambunctious teen, my friends and I stayed at a hotel just outside the sprawling 27,000 acres that Walt Disney and his company purchased under assumed company names way back in the 1960s. We couldn't possibly afford the high rates charged by the (then only) three hotels on Disney property. For almost a quarter of the cost of a stay at a Disney hotel, my friends and I enjoyed five glorious days of as much debauchery that four sheltered Jewish kids from Northeast Philadelphia could muster.

My wife and I spent our honeymoon at Walt Disney World. We also stayed at a hotel outside of the resort, as the cost of an official Disney hotel was still waaaay out of the price range of a couple of newlyweds. On two subsequent trips, again, we booked rooms at non-Disney hotels.

By the time we decided to take our son to experience the wonders the Walt Disney Resort had to offer, Disney had opened nine additional hotels to join the Contemporary, Polynesian and Golf Resort/Disney Inn/Shades of Green, the three original on-property hotels. Of those nine, eight of them were still out of our price range. One, however, was surprisingly affordable - the new All-Star Resort. Labeled "a value resort," the All-Star offered room rates just slightly higher than the popular hotels that line nearby International Drive. The price seemed fair, considering the amenities that were included to guests staying at a Disney hotel. Free on-property transportation, free parking at the theme parks and that signature guest service that Disney is famous for. We booked a room at the All-Star Music Resort which had just opened at the end of 1994. Each of the five "hotels-within-a-hotel" is themed to a different genre of music. The d├ęcor is over-the-top, with giant icons complementing each specific type of music. The buildings sport enormous saxophones and drumkits and conga drums, along with colorful music notes on the walkway railings. We chose to stay at the "Rock Inn," with its neon jukebox entrance way and huge speakers cleverly concealing stairways which allow access to rooms for those not wishing to use the usually crowded elevators. It was exciting to actually stay at a Disney hotel, after years of hearing about how wonderful the staff and accommodations were.

...and now, for the "brutal honesty" portion of this blog post.

There are basically two types of people who visit Disney theme parks. There are those die-hard, avid Disney fans who are just enamored with anything and everything the company does. Sure, they are, at times, critical of some decisions, but, all-in-all, Disney is their "happy place" and being at a Disney resort is the best place to be. Then, there are those who go to a Disney resort because their neighbor went to a Disney resort and we can't let that son-of-a-bitch and his family do something that we haven't done. This faction of vacationers follow the crowds like lemmings, taking in as much "experience" as they can so Dad can brag to his co-workers that he was first in line at Space Mountain and how much the whole goddamn thing cost him, but, y'know, it was worth it, y'know, for my kids. However, during the trip, they complain about prices and service and waiting in line and point their kids in the direction of Daffy Duck to take a picture that they will never look at.

When Disney made staying at an on-property resort more affordable for the "working class Joe" who wished to take his family to "that place that everyone talks about," they opened themselves up to a different group of society. One they weren't exactly prepared for. Going on vacation can be a joyful , yet stressful, undertaking. Sometimes the line between "joy" and "stress" is blurred, resulting in loud, boisterous behavior exhibited by folks who are used to staying at a fleabag hotel in Wildwood. Sometimes people forget where they are and forget simple decorum. Some people forget that there are other people in this world. Some people just don't care.

On Night Two of our 1995 Walt Disney World trip, we arrived at our room — tired after a long day at the Magic Kingdom. It was past midnight by the time our bus dropped us off at the All Star Music stop located at the main building of the hotel. We still had a ten minute walk back to our second floor room in the Rock Inn, which was situated near the rear of the property. Already dragging and with an exhausted eight-year old in tow, Mrs. Pincus and I were blocked from direct access to our room by a dozen or so teenagers playing soccer in the hallway. They were loud and aggressive and had no regard for the late hour or any other guests. We did our best to maneuver through the young men and women. They made no effort to allow us passage. We managed to get into our room and Mrs. Pincus was pissed. I readied our son for bed, while Mrs. P stormed off to the front desk, once more navigating through the impromptu soccer match going on outside our door. About 30 minutes later, my wife returned. After voicing her dismay about the lack of proper chaperones for this young group and Disney's failure to maintain guests safety, she received an apology, along with instruction to pack up our belongings. Disney would be moving us to a different room (in the closer-to-the-bus-stop Calypso building) and discounting our final bill for the inconvenience.

I have not been to a Disney theme park since 2017. After nearly annual trips, we, as a family ventured to other destinations. Then, our son moved out on his own and Mrs. P and I began taking cruises as our preferred form of vacationing. Then, of course, the world fell under a pandemic, cancelling or severely limiting everyone's vacation plans. Despite not actually visiting a Disney theme park, I have kept up with the numerous changes going on. Not just exciting new rides and innovative dining options, but policy changes. Disney has implemented a reservations system and a virtual queue policy and all sorts of nuanced protocol that has taken a lot of the spontaneity out of a Disney vacation. I understand that things evolve and it is someone's job to come up with a "better way" for everything. Sure, it takes some getting used to for stogy old traditionalists like me, but I understand the need.

Just this week, however, it was reported on a Disney fan website that new signage has been popping up at the Disney All-Star resorts. Over the years, the All-Star resorts has become the designated hotel for visiting marching bands, cheerleaders and other youth groups performing or competing at Walt Disney World. The signs gently state: “Hey there, Musicians! We hope that you are enjoying your stay! Please remember that quiet hours are between 11:00 pm and 8:00 am.” Yep, Disney has to remind guests to behave themselves. Guests who are paying $185 per night have to be reminded — via printed, publicly-displayed signs — that they should be respectful of other guests at the hotel. On the Walt Disney World website, there is a lengthy list of "dos and don'ts" for guests considering a stay at the resort. The list includes things like "no firearms or other weapons" and "no fireworks." I honestly don't understand why this policy has to be stated.

Who am I kidding? Of course I do!

What has happened to people? What has happened to respect for yourself and your fellow human? Why do adults have to be told how to behave and why to they have to be told to monitor the behavior of their children? The folks at Disney should be concerning themselves with the newest technology for making your theme park experience thrilling, fun and memorable. They should be concocting inventive menus at their restaurants and original souvenirs for their gift shops.

Teaching and maintaining discipline? That's your job.

(Yes, Steve, I know you would never go to a Disney theme park. I know.)

Sunday, April 16, 2023

big boss man

I officially entered the "working world" just after I graduated from art school in the spring of 1984. Yeah, I had jobs before that, but my actual "career," if you will, actually began with a series of freelance jobs in the summer of that year forebodingly immortalized by George Orwell. 

In early 1985, I was hired as the art director for a small, but popular, chain of ice cream stores in the Philadelphia area. My boss was a slick, slimy, fast-talking, deceitful, underhanded, arrogant piece of shit named Len. He was the first in a long line of asshole bosses that I would work under for the rest of my life. Len would ignore me most of the time, preferring to keep himself busy with a Pac-Man machine that was tucked into a corner of the employee breakroom. For a good portion of the work day, Len and his two puppet vice-presidents would hover in the soft, colorful glow of the video game — placing bets, cursing loudly and smoking cigarettes. The breakroom was just a few feet from my tiny workspace and I found it difficult to concentrate over their raucous behavior. Every so often, Len would barrel into my office, stinking of nicotine, and order me to bring everything I was working on down to his office at the other end of a long hallway. So, dutifully, I would carry an awkward armful of tracing paper and sketches and scribbled ad copy down to his office, where I would neatly arrange everything on a large wooden table opposite his huge desk. I would begin to point out and explain each ad concept or signage idea, gesturing to drawings I had made as a visual aid. After a few minutes, I would catch Len glancing around the room, looking everywhere but at me and my make-shift presentation. Then, he'd interrupt me and say, "I wish I had more time to teach you the marketing business." He'd follow that by feigning a headache and begin rubbing his eyes. "We'll have to continue this another time." he'd say, waving me off in the direction of the office door. I'd gather up all my stuff and leave. This little ritual would occur every few weeks. I worked for Len for a little over a year until I was let go.

As my career as a full-fledged graphic designer continued and evolved, my bosses grew increasingly difficult and infuriating. I had one that stood behind me and kicked my chair while I worked. At one job, while my immediate supervisor was wonderful, her boss was a terror. She would scream and stomp and demand... for no apparent reason, as the department ran smoothly and efficiently... except for her. At my next job, the owner of the company was a wealthy, out-of-touch guy who appeared gracious and charming, but was, in reality, a calculating, shifty, ruthless know-it-all who ran his business like a cheap conman. He lied to customers. He lied to suppliers. He lied to everyone. When he would review ad layouts I had done, he'd pick up a red pen to make corrections before he even glanced at the ad. Oh, there were going to be changes because he was the boss and that's what bosses do. They change things that don't need changing to constantly show they are in charge. I worked for him for a little under three years.

My next job was in the advertising department of a national retail company. This was a huge corporate setting, with multi-level management — a true example of the proverbial "corporate ladder." Weekly sales meetings were hours-long affairs with category managers duking it out with advertising executives, while the poor rank-and-file (me and my colleagues) scrambled to write down everything that transpired in order to produce an ad. When there wasn't a meeting, it appeared that the "higher-ups" in the advertising department had little to nothing to do. They would often be seen wandering aimlessly through the hallways of the company headquarters or sitting behind their massive desks staring off into space or sometimes even dozing. In the busy production department where I worked, we would often play a little game called "Walk Me Through Your Day," in which we would wonder what exactly these guys do with themselves all goddamn day. How would they keep busy and how could they justify their obviously large salaries? I didn't have a clue. One Advertising VP would often stumble into the production department and amiably attempt to "shoot the shit" with a roomful of frantic graphic artists on tight deadlines. We concluded that this guy was always high at work.

I worked in the marketing department at a law firm for nearly a dozen years. While I certainly had my share of day-to-day complaints, I genuinely liked that job. My boss was great... for a while. After a few years, her superior was replaced by a belligerent loudmouth man who made her workday a living hell. His noxious demeanor could be felt throughout the entire department and morale was at an all-time low. One day, he crossed the behavioral line with the wrong person and was escorted off the premises. His replacement was a shrewish hellion with a superiority complex who took an instant dislike to me. My boss, however, cozied herself up to the new marketing manager and the two of them were thick as thieves — turning herself against me in the process. In the meeting where I was let go, my boss — who at one time I considered to be my friend — sat silently as my work and my attitude were attacked and insulted.

So here I was, 56 years old and back on the streets, looking for work. I was getting too old for this. After six weeks of collecting unemployment, I got a job at a small company that printed take-out menus for restaurants across the country. After a lifetime of working under the watchful, sometimes unjustifiably suspicious, eye of a boss... I was now in my very first supervisory position. I was officially the "Design Coordinator" and my staff consisted of three graphics designers. One worked at a desk across the hall from me, where he sat in a darkened office and produced beautifully-designed menus. He had little to say and gave off a very menacing vibe. I would assign work to him and he would silently listen to my brief instruction — never questioning, never nodding. He'd take the paper work from my hand and it was just understood that I would get the first drafts of designs when he was damn good and ready. I never gave him a deadline for fear he would kill me if I did. The other two artists were in Ukraine. That's right. Ukraine. I never met nor saw either one. We corresponded via Skype and exchanged assignments by FTP file transfer. The process took a bit of getting used to, but it worked fine. It was understood that I was their boss.

I made the conscious decision to be a different kind of boss than those I had worked for in my past. I believe I truly was. I allowed my staff to create at their own pace. I offered no criticism unless it was asked for. I offered no assistance unless it was requested. I never ever asked "What are you working on?" or "When will this be finished?" I sometimes made a list of current projects in order of priority, but never did I make unreasonable demands. I figured that these people were adults and they were hired based on their ability. They knew their jobs and didn't need someone to constantly tell them what to do. They knew what to do. And I let them do it. 

To be honest, that company was barely keeping itself afloat. Every day I came into work, I thought would be the last day. After a year the company was purchased by a larger commercial printer and suddenly this shitty little job became a really good job. Until the new owners didn't see the monetary return on their investment they hoped for and I was let go.

In my current job, I'm back to being a staff artist. I am no longer in a supervisory position. That's just fine. I know what is expected of me. I do my work and no one leans over my shoulder. My immediate boss is my son's age.... and he's got his own work to do.

And I really don't think about who my horrible bosses are irritating today.

Well.... maybe I do a little.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

what's the use of anything

I was a terrible student. Yeah, I passed all of my classes from elementary school through high school, but only barely. My report cards mostly displayed "C's and the occasional "B." An "A" was a rarity for me, usually being awarded for art, a subject I would make my career, but teachers treated as "indoor recess." When someone (such as myself) showed a modicum of artistic ability, an otherwise indifferent teacher would mark an "A" because.... eh... what the heck. Maybe they'll be the next Picasso. (Spoiler alert: I was not.) So, aside from art classes, I was an average student. Not bad. Not something to brag about, but not bad. Just average. How I managed being "average" was actually an accomplishment. I hated homework and avoided it any chance I could. Sometimes I just wouldn't do it. My parents rarely questioned me regarding homework assignments. My father was more concerned about who ate the last Tastykake Chocolate Junior and my mom wanted to know who put the carton back in the refrigerator with an eyedropper's worth of milk left in it. Homework was not high on their "who did this" list. As far as my teachers went, I would either get a "zero" for that assignment (which I later discovered is bullshit) or I'd get a one-day extension. Sometimes, "one day" was all the motivation I needed and I'd knock something out and turn it in a day late.

In addition to general daily homework assignments, I loathed long-term assignments. These were known as "projects," and the expected result was some sort of poster or diorama or model. With those, because of the artistic aspect, I could get away with minimal information and heavy on the "pretty." But, if the project was something like a book report.... well, I was fucked. Book reports meant you had to read an actual book. Although things changed considerably as I got older, I hated reading when I was young. And reading a book?... for pleasure?.... yeeesh! But I did them. I read short books and copied lengthy passages from them as part of my book reports. The night before my book report was due, I'd panic and beg my mom to take me to Woolworths to get one of those clear report covers with the plastic spine that slid on to secure the pages inside. My reports were usually only three or four pages long (well, part of a fourth page, anyway). And I'd — more often than not — get a "C" on them. This went on all through elementary school. I can't remember a single one of the books I read.

After elementary school, there was a whole restructuring with our school district. My friends and I were assigned to seventh grade at J. Hampton Moore, a school well out of the cocoon we all lived in. Moore was far off from our little corner of Greater Northeast Philadelphia. Moore was in the same neighborhood as Roosevelt Mall, a place I only went with my mom on weekends. It was near Northeast High School, the crosstown rival of George Washington High, where my brother went. (Northeast wasn't really "crosstown," but to twelve year-old Josh, it may as well have been in another city.) Due to the restructuring, my friends and I were thrown together with other students from other elementary schools that were completely foreign to us. For six years, I was in classes with the same 30 to 35 kids. Suddenly, there were strangers among us.... and we were strangers to them.

New school or not, the homework assignments were the same. And just like in elementary school, "projects" were looming over me as well. Oh, yeah! Seventh grade didn't forget about ":projects." If anything, book reports became more difficult, requiring more preparation and in-depth commentary. My seventh grade English teacher was a very cool guy named Mr. Butler. Mr. Butler resembled, and seemed to have patterned his wardrobe after, Clarence Williams III, the ultra-cool co-star of the syndicated cop show Mod Squad. The first half of seventh grade English involved plays and acting and other forms of creative expression. I wrote a couple of plays for my classmates to perform and I acted in a few as well. As a natural show-off, I was a total ham and I really enjoyed it. The second half of the semester was brutal. It became an actual English class, chockfull of sentence diagraming and vocabulary tests and.... you guessed it.... book reports. When the first book report was assigned, I asked Mr. Butler if we could speak privately.

Paul McCartney, three years after the split of the most popular and influential band in rock and roll history, had released a solo career-defining album at the end of 1973. Spending six weeks in post-civil war and cholera-infested Lagos, Nigeria, the former Beatle, his wife Linda and guitarist Denny Laine (late of the Moody Blues) recorded a number of tracks that would become Band on the Run. Despite shitty recording equipment, getting held up at knifepoint and two members of Paul's fledgling band Wings quitting, the threesome soldiered on. Paul handled the bulk of the instruments, tackling bass, drums and most of the lead guitar work. Linda added her best keyboards and Denny supplied rhythm guitar. Paul wrote songs of freedom and escaping, possibly as a dig at the trapped feeling he felt in the waning days of The Beatles. In the month and a half they spent in Lagos, Paul had a bag full of lyrics stolen from him. He butted heads with hotheaded Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti. Kuti accused Paul of exploitation and stealing African music. (Paul graciously shared his music with Kuti, showing that he was not appropriating native music.) At one point, Paul suffered from bronchial spasms that Linda thought was a heart attack. But, Band on the Run was released and it was a worldwide hit, selling millions and receiving critical acclaim.

I bought Band on the Run and I loved it. And that's what I wanted to talk to Mr. Butler about.

I approached Mr. Butler's desk, waiting for the last of my classmates to leave the room at the end of class. "What did you want to talk about?," he asked, his eyes inquisitive as they peered over the tops of his dark glasses. (Yes, he wore dark glasses in class. I told you he was cool)

"About the book report...." I trailed off, gathering my thoughts and my courage. "Can I do a book report on an album?"

Mr. Butler looked at me... expressionless. Then, in spite of those dark glasses obscuring my line of vison, I swore he rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Pincus!," he sighed, "An album? Like a record album?" He was thinking. "Uh... okay.," Mr. Butler conceded. Then he added: "But it had better be good."

"It will be! Thank you, Mr. Butler." I left the classroom with a smile.

When I got home, I listened to Paul McCartney's Band on the Run. Sure, I had done this nearly every day since I bought the album at Korvette's, but this time was different. This time, it was for school! I listened closely. I read the lyric sheet. I followed along with the lyrics as the songs played. I listened to side one. I listened to side two. I analyzed the songs in my head. I reread the lyrics. I tried to make some sense out of the often cryptic, often nonsensical lyrics. I wrote notes — actual notes — as though I was doing an assignment for real! Finally, I began writing my "book" report. I wrote an introduction paragraph. I broke my report into paragraphs discussing each song, its possible meaning and how it fit sequentially into the album as a whole. Each of the nine songs on the album warranted a paragraph or two. I finished with a summary of the entire album and my thoughts on my listening experience. I carefully wrote out my report. I slipped the pages into one of those clear report covers with the plastic spine that slid on. I put it carefully into my schoolbag.

The next day, I proudly handed it in to Mr. Butler, plopping it down on the pile of other clear plastic bound book reports authored by my classmates. I did it. I convinced a teacher to let me do a "book" report on an album and I handed it in. I was very, very proud of myself. Very proud, indeed.

I got a "C."