Sunday, January 29, 2023

let me entertain you

It's no secret how much I love television. It has been claimed — though never truly documented — that I will walk into a darkened room and turn on the television before I will turn on a light. When my wife and I moved to our home in the suburbs, years before cable television was available within the Philadelphia city limits, I made sure that our access to the wonderful world of cable TV was secured before I called the electric and water companies for their services. Television took top priority.  I wasn't going to be nearly as entertained by watching water come out of our kitchen faucet or — as previously established — by flicking a light switch.

My affinity for watching television isn't anything new. I've been watching since I was a little kid and now, I go out of my way to watch a lot of those same shows that I enjoyed in the early 60s and 70s. Some are good and have stood the test of time, like the timeless, sophisticated humor of The Dick Van Dyke Show or even the topical fun of Barney Miller. Some, like Dennis the Menace and Car 54 Where Are You?, are just awful, but I watch them just the same because they give me a warm, nostalgic feeling. I understand that the generation after me doesn't share the same pleasure I get from a decades old episode of Family Affair or The Beverly Hillbillies. Or maybe I don't. I have tried to get my son to watch some of the shows that reside in a soft spot in my heart and memory. While he appreciates the enduring wit of Jack Benny and George Burns and even the broad antics of The Honeymooners, he cringes at Don Knotts' jittery ineptitude as the hapless "Barney Fife" on The Andy Griffith Show. ("Why doesn't Andy just fucking shoot that moron?" my son has asked. "That's the reason Andy doesn't carry a gun," I'd explain.)

My wife and I have found ourselves watching reruns of The Ed Sullivan Show, broadcast nightly on the Decades channel, one of the many retro programming networks available through our cable provider. Ed Sullivan, an uptight fellow with no discernable talent, snagged the top names in show business to appear on his show — a show that lasted an incredible 24 seasons. It was a staple on Sunday evenings, with nearly every household in the country tuning in to watch. Ed's formula for each episode was to present a wide variety of acts that would appeal to every member of the family. A singer, a dance troupe, a comedian and acts straight from the circus. Over the years, tastes changed and soon the top rock groups of the day were featured alongside opera singers and fully-staged scenes from Broadway musicals. In the 1990s, a syndication package of The Ed Sullivan Show was made available to re-introduce the show to a new audience. The package condenses the original hour-long shows into 30 minute compilations featuring the same variety of acts that made the show so popular. There is usually a singer of contemporary (for the time) fame, a current (again, for the time period) rock group, a comedian and some sort of novelty act, like a  magician, a tightrope walker or a couple of guys juggling flaming batons while switching top hats with each other. Some segments are in black and white, as it wasn't until 1965 that The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast in living, garish color.

We have enjoyed watching Ed Sullivan nervously introducing acts, mispronouncing names and clumsily greeting guests post-performance. We like seeing countless performances by The Supremes, amused by the obvious perturbed expression on Florence Ballard's face behind Diana Ross's back. We like seeing early stand-up appearances by a crewcut-sporting George Carlin or a fresh-faced Richard Pryor, along with forgotten names like Jackie Vernon and Guy Marks. We marvel at the appeal of two young ladies, on their backs, juggling full-size dining room tables with their feet or a genteel-looking Asian man diving headfirst through a tiny ring of blazing scimitars. Among these many episodes, Mrs. P and I discovered an act — one of Ed's trademark novelty acts — that we must have missed as children. (The show left the airwaves when I was 10.) It was a man by the name of Arthur Worsley.

"A bottle of beer, a bottle of beer"
Ed Sullivan (or his representatives) scoured the globe for acts to present to the American television-watching public. They came across Arthur Worsley in his native Great Britain. Worsley, a ventriloquist, was quite popular on British television, as well as a regular performer at The London Palladium. By the time he made his first of a dozen appearances on the Sullivan show, he was a pretty big name in many parts of the world. But Arthur Worsley was not an ordinary ventriloquist. Well, sure, he had a dummy — in this case — a pug-nosed little wiseacre named "Charlie Brown." And, yes, he made ol' Charlie "speak" while his mouth remained perfectly still. But, the true novelty in Worsely's act was how he — Worsley — stood silent while his dummy screamed and berated and abused him. Worsley himself barely spoke a word. Sometimes he didn't even look at the dummy, which made the dummy even angrier, prompting an even more virulent barrage of insults. The act would culminate with a meta take on the act itself. Charlie would explain that certain letters are difficult for ventriloquists to pronounce without moving their lips, the most arduous being the letter "B." Arthur's gaze would wander as Charlie would demand his attention and acknowledgment of the fact that "B" was particularly challenging to say without moving this lips. Then Charlie would spew, in rapid-fire succession, a stream of "B" words, all articulated and very understandable — while Arthur stood by with a disinterested expression on his face. The act concluded with Charlie repeating "A bottle of beer, a bottle of beer, a bottle of beer" over and over, eloquently enunciating each demanding "B" sound with no effort at all while Arthur's lips displayed nary a quiver — all to the delight of the theater audience. It was highly entertaining — and very funny. Over the years, Worsley did variations of the same act on The Ed Sullivan Show, all to similarly approving reaction. Ed Sullivan called Arthur Worsley "The Greatest Ventriloquist in the World." In reruns of The Ed Sullivan Show, Mrs. Pincus and I have seen the same "Arthur Worsley and Charlie Brown" act many many times and every time, it is just as funny as the first time we saw it.

We have told many people about this act. No one seems to remember it. Most people stare at us expressionlessly as our description of the performance evolves into peals of laughter, followed by embarrassed awkwardness. Recently, my brother-in-law (not that one, the other one) came over for dinner with my nephew Tish who is 14 years-old. Before and during dinner, Tish was totally captivated by his cellphone, barely participating in dinnertime conversation. Trying to engage Tish, I began to tell him about The Ed Sullivan Show reruns that we watch. Tish had never heard of the show, so I had to offer a short, sometimes disjointed, backstory of the concept of TV variety shows and who exactly Mr. Sullivan was. Tish seemed nonplussed by my explanation, having grown up in and spoiled by the era of Netflix, YouTube, TikTok and other on-demand, instant gratification outlets of entertainment. Once I was relatively satisfied that he had understood the gist of the "television variety show," I extracted my cellphone from my pocket and pulled up a YouTube clip of a grainy, black & white appearance of Arthur Worsley and Charlie Brown on The Ed Sullivan Show from 1960. I started the clip and turned my phone in Tish's direction. Initially, he looked at me as though I just told him I was about to give him a root canal. Then, with heavy-lidded eyes, he stared at the tiny screen in my hand as if he was watching paint dry. And his reaction to the clip was just about as enthusiastic. His already waning attention was lessening by the second. We didn't even make it to the classic "A bottle of beer, a bottle of beer" shtick. I had lost him. Tish had begun scrutinizing the wrought iron chandelier that hangs above our dining room table. I turned the clip off and The Ed Sullivan Show was not mentioned again.

The last new episode of The Ed Sullivan Show was presented on March 28, 1971. Citing lower ratings, a diminishing demographic and changing entertainment preferences, the show was canceled. I think I witnessed all of that at my dining room table.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

see ya later, alligator

Jerry Blavat passed away this week at the age of 82. Outside of the Delaware Valley, the name is meaningless. Although he appeared in a couple of movies and a memorable episode of The Monkees, Jerry Blavat's fame, appeal and rabid fan base extended only as far south as the Jersey Shore and north to a couple of places in the Poconos. But, between those narrow boundaries, Jerry was beloved. Very beloved. His popularity spanned generations. From his humble beginnings as a teen dancer on the original pre-Dick Clark American Bandstand to his regular summertime gig every weekend at his New Jersey nightclub "Memories in Margate," Jerry's original fans introduced the charismatic disc jockey and his unique on-air antics to their children and grandchildren. Those subsequent generations embraced Jerry. And Jerry embraced them right back.

The man known as "The Geator with the Heater" was a fixture on Philadelphia radio across seven decades. He loved the music of his youth and he kept those doo-wop ditties and sentimental ballads alive in weekly broadcasts and live dance parties. He was a man of the people and a proud proponent of all things Philadelphia. He loved to meet his fans and entertain them with stories of his show biz connections. As chronicled in his 2011 autobiography, Jerry hobnobbed with the likes of Quincy Jones, The Four Seasons and The Isley Brothers. He served as Don Rickles' personal valet and was tour manager for Danny and the Juniors. He even stood as Best Man for Sammy Davis Jr. at his wedding. For goodness sake, Jerry's mom would make a traditional Italian dinner for Frank Sinatra when Ol' Blue Eyes was in town. 

Ask anyone in Philadelphia for a "Jerry Blavat" story and they will most likely have one. And ol' Josh Pincus is no exception. In the days that followed Jerry Blavat's death, anecdotes about the disc jockey came flooding across news outlets and social media. I will share mine...

One night, I was driving my son from my house in the northern Philadelphia suburbs to his house in South Philadelphia. It's about a forty minute trip, no matter which of several available routes are taken. On this particular night, I decided to drive straight down Broad Street rather than venture into always-iffy traffic on the notorious Schuylkill Expressway. As we approached the intersection of Broad and Vine Streets, a small car pulled up next to us, sporting a large embossed plastic sign on the driver's door. The sign read "Geator Gold Radio" and the station channel number in big block letters, along with a little caricature of Jerry Blavat. I said to my son, "I wonder who could possibly be driving that car with that sign?" The windows of the car were tinted, concealing the driver's identity. We chuckled and continued the conversation we were having. The car next to us kept the same driving pace and we ended up stopping at every traffic light at the same time. As we got to the circle around City Hall, the car edged towards the curb that flanks the fancy Ritz Carlton hotel. The door opened and  I slowed down to see who the driver was. And, sure enough, it was Jerry Blavat himself. I pulled up alongside Jerry's car and my son lowered his window and called out "Hey Geator!" Jerry, all smiles with his trademark Kangol hat perched backwards on his short, now-gray locks, approached my car. His hands were raised and he was making "finger guns" in our direction.

"My main man!," Jerry cheered. He reached out and patted my son's shoulder. He continued his rapid-fire greeting. "Look at you two! Like Heckle and Jekyll! Yes sir! Like Heckle and Jekyll!" He winked and thanked us for stopping, explaining he had to run off to a gig at the Ritz. He waved as he disappeared inside a side entrance. We sat for a minute and laughed. Then I pulled back into traffic to drive Jekyll home. Or maybe he's Heckle and I'm Jekyll. I don't know. Jerry didn't make that clear.

For ten years, Jerry Blavat has had a radio show on Saturday evenings on WXPN, the very same radio station that employs my son. Jerry stood within "shoulder-patting" distance of my son and did not recognize him as a co-worker, despite having crossed paths on many occasions. But, it didn't matter. When you were in the presence of Jerry Blavat, he was your pal... whether he knew you or not. He had pals all over the Delaware Valley and — as far as he was concerned — he knew every one of them.

And now, all his pals miss him.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

ice ice baby

I have been to two professional hockey games in my life. The first one was in 1975. My father, who was (at the time) a main office executive for a chain of east coast of supermarkets, was given tickets to a Sunday afternoon Flyers game. In 1975, the Philadelphia Flyers were pretty hot stuff. They were the defending Stanley Cup Champions and they were the sworn enemy of every other team in the NHL. Tagged with the notorious (though fitting) moniker "Broad Street Bullies," the Flyers were a living punchline for the popular joke "I went to a fight the other day and a hockey game broke out." Because the Flyers were so popular, I watched with feigned interest when my brother would tune the game in at home. I had a Flyers T-shirt, but everyone in Philadelphia in 1975 had a Flyers T-shirt, too. But, I was not a sports fan by any stretch of the imagination, so I can't imagine why my father chose to take me instead of my more sports-leaning older brother, but he did and we went. I remember it was really, really cold inside the Spectrum, the one-time state-of-the-art multi-purpose venue where the Flyers played their home games. I had been to the Spectrum a handful of times prior to the Flyers game. I saw Alice Cooper's "Welcome to my Nightmare" concert a year earlier. I saw the folky pop group America play their greatest hits there and I saw Elton John give a high-energy performance... but I don't remember it being so cold at any of those events. Granted, there wasn't 17,000 square feet of ice at any of them, so that could have played into it. Watching the game, I remember being unable to keep track of the puck as it was fired all over the ice. I also remember having absolutely no idea what exactly was going on. I was there to see a fight. Just like everyone who goes to an air show doesn't really want to see planes fly. If they did, they would just go to the airport and sit all day. You go to an air show to see a crash... and, in 1975, you went to a hockey game to see a fight. On this particular Sunday, the Flyers did not disappoint. Somewhere during the first period, Dave Schultz, the Flyers' infamous left wing (nicknamed "The Hammer" and for good reason) got into a melee with Detroit Red Wings' center Dennis Polonich. After a few minutes of a stoppage of play to allow Schultz to pummel the living shit out of Polonich, the ice was cleared, Schultz entered the penalty box (a very familiar spot for him) and maintenance crews came out to scrape an amount of Polonich's blood off the ice. I don't remember the score, but I remember that.

This past Sunday, I went to my second professional hockey game,  putting a 48-year gap between the two games I attended. A lot had changed since I witnessed my first hockey game. First of all, the venue was the Wells Fargo Center, a new state-of-the art venue that is the current home to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Spectrum was demolished in 2011. The Flyers have retired the uniform numbers of several of the former players, some of whom I saw play in '75. Despite not being a hockey fan, I knew the names of every member of the 1975 team, as well as the coaching staff. Honestly, I couldn't name a single player on the current roster. Or any roster for the past ten years. (Okay, maybe Claude Giroux, who may or may not still be playing. Don't answer, because I don't care.) Why, you may ask, would I go to a hockey game? Well, I suppose, it's because my wife is a Dead Head.

While surfing around the internet, as one does, Mrs. Pincus discovered that the Philadelphia Flyers were having "Grateful Dead Night" at their game on January 8. We had attended a Phillies game last summer when they honored an upcoming concert by Dead and Company, the current incarnation of former members of the venerable 60s jam band still hanging on to a dream. Between innings, Grateful Dead songs were played over the stadium PA system... until they weren't (somewhere around the fourth inning).  Costumed characters of the iconic "Dancing Bears" frolicked with the Phillie Phanatic as sort of an afterthought. Mrs. P thought it would be fun to see what the Flyers would do "Grateful Dead-wise," so she bought tickets. A pre-game concert by local Dead cover band Splintered Sunlight was announced, as well as special "Dead" themed T-shirts for a limited number of special ticket holders. We bought those "special tickets" and they weren't cheap! A few days before the game, we got an email explaining that due to a pre-game conflict with the Philadelphia Eagles (who play right next door at Lincoln Financial Field and are playing much better than the Flyers are), the pre-game concert with Splintered Sunlight would be rescheduled for a Sunday in March. However, because the Flyers are playing so poorly this year and having difficulty getting people to fill the 20-thousand-plus seats in the Wells Fargo Center, we would be given (read: for free!) tickets to that game in March... in addition to the tickets we already held! 

To be honest, we were just looking for an excuse to see the inside of the Wells Fargo Center. Neither my wife nor I had been inside to see an event, except for a post-season sale of sports team merchandise held on the floor of the facility. We really had no intention of staying for the entire game. We are not hockey fans and don't expect to be hockey fans in the future. Our main goal was to check out the place, get something to eat and, possibly get a glimpse of Gritty, the most reviled mascot in the NHL and the second most popular mascot in the city. I had scanned the food offerings available at the Wells Fargo Center. Most were decidedly "meat-heavy." I am a vegetarian and my wife follows a strictly Kosher diet, so we had to look very closely at what was to be had for two people with specific dietary requirements. Surprisingly, there was quite a selection. Several concessions offered Beyond Burgers, the hit trend in meatless hamburgers. One stand had falafel (although it was closed for this particular game). A stand selling tacos and such had a mushroom and kale version that looked tempting but, we settled on something called a "Za’atar Cauliflower Cheesesteak." New this season, the Za’atar Cauliflower Cheesesteak was touted as a vegetarian-friendly alternative to the Philadelphia staple. Instead of thin strips of steak, a mixture of cauliflower and spices was the main ingredient, complimented by caramelized onions and harissa (a peppery condiment from the Middle East) Cheez Whiz. Now, before you stick your tongue out in disgust, remember, not everyone is you. Not everyone likes what you like. I happen to love cauliflower and I have actually had a similar sandwich at a little hole-in-the-wall steak and hoagie shop in Atlantic City.

We wended our way through a knot of typical Philadelphia traffic, parked and walked excitedly towards the Wells Fargo Center. Once inside, we passed through the obligatory metal detectors (where Mrs. P found a quarter on the floor!) and started our trek around the brightly lit concourse. Our seats were on the top level of the arena, but we were in no rush to get to them. We were having a better time seeing the sights, the excited fans and taking in the whole electric atmosphere. Near a free-standing souvenir stand (where Flyers sweatshirts were selling upward of a hundred bucks, a small table was set up with an array of Flyers logo items. My wife approached and asked the young man about the items. He smiled and began explaining all about purchasing Flyers season tickets. My wife politely listened to his pitch, nodding on and off as he ran down the various options and price points. I stood by silently. "Are you interested in purchasing season tickets?," he asked. My wife convincingly replied, "Sure!" She was not interested in purchasing season tickets. She was, however, interested in obtaining some of the Flyers promotional items displayed on the tabletop. As Mrs. P filled out an electronic form on an iPad, the young man turned to me and asked where our seats were tonight. I just pointed skyward. "Top section," I said with a sheepish frown. He dug into the pocket of his sport jacket and said, "How'd you like to sit closer?" He handed me two tickets for seats just behind the goal, in, what we would soon discover, one of the coldest sections in the place. Now, upgraded, we were off to find that faux steak sandwich.

We located First Line Steaks behind Section 110, just a section over from our new, upgraded seats. We approached the counter and ordered two Za’atar Cauliflower Cheesesteaks and two bottles of water. I was not convinced that the fellow behind the counter actually worked there. He stared at us expressionless as we ordered. We had to repeat our order several times before he fully grasped what we wanted, my wife confirming, "That's cauliflower, right? No meat." He did not acknowledge. He asked if we wanted onions, to which we both replied in the affirmative. He returned from the order pick-up counter with two cheesesteaks. Two of meatiest meat-filled cheesesteaks I have ever seen. It may have even still been "moo-ing." We looked suspiciously at the sandwiches. 

"These are cauliflower?," we asked in unison. 

He stared at us and said, "Cheesesteaks." 

"Yes," Mrs. P continued, "I understand. We wanted the cauliflower sandwiches."

I examined the sandwiches a bit closer and determined that they were filled with meat, with not a trace of cauliflower anywhere. "This is meat." I said, coming to an informed conclusion and pointing to the evidence.

"Huh?," shrugged the fellow behind the counter.

"Meat!," I repeated, slightly raising my voice. Mrs. Pincus, a bit calmer, added, "We wanted the cauliflower sandwich." She pointed to the illuminated menu above our heads, but I don't believe this guy could read. He went back to the pick-up window and had a few words with the man at the preparation area. He nodded towards us and may have even given us a confident wink. He scooped a big serving of what was definitely cauliflower into a long roll. With a shiny pair of tongs, he added long strips of browned onions and topped it all off with a ladle full of orange cheese sauce from a different dispenser than the other guys were using. The fellow behind the counter took the two original meat cheesesteaks and deposited them in a nearby trash can. 

"Oh!," sighed Mrs. Pincus, "That's a shame."

"Huh?," shrugged the fellow behind the counter.

My wife pointed in the direction of the now-discarded steak sandwiches. "What a shame you had to throw those away.," she clarified

"Oh," shrugged the fellow behind the counter. (This fellow shrugged a lot!) He pushed our two cauliflower sandwiches towards us and plopped two $5.25 bottles of water right behind them. We found our way to our seats and I passed out the fistful of napkins I grabbed, as I knew this would be a messy undertaking. I was right, but — boy! — was it good. Yes, my friends, it was actually very good

Soon the lights dimmed and starting players were announced. Gritty made his first appearance to a mixture of cheers and boos. The players skated around the ice. The Zambonis smoothed out the playing surface while two scantily-clad young ladies — wielding snow shovels — scooped up loose ice crystals, mostly for show. A horn blew and the game began.

And, within seconds, I lost interest. I didn't recognize a single name on either team's roster. The action moved way too fast for me to keep tack of who had control of the puck. I don't know anything about hockey, but I could tell — I just had a feeling — that the poor Flyers were definitely being out-played. Gritty came to visit our section, messing with some fans, relaxing in an empty seat (there were a lot to choose from) and posing for pictures. But, it wasn't enough to keep us there for the whole game. We left midway through the last inning..... I mean period. And not a single mention of the Grateful Dead was made by anyone in an official Flyers capacity.

We have one more game to go.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

what's the story, morning glory?

Would you ask this guy a question? Does this guy look like he wants to answer your questions? Does this guy look like he wants to engage in nonsensical chit-chat with someone he does not know? Does this guy appear to be in any mood to listen to your inane inquiry about something he is purchasing that is none of your goddamn business? Know your audience, my friends. Read the room.

My wife, who has been in the retail business for many years, has this uncanny ability to spot an item that she knows she can turn into quick cash. From a mile away, her senses will draw her to something that, with a little examination and quick calculations, she knows is a good item to sell. Aside from her regular suppliers, Mrs. P often seeks out after-holiday sales, clearance events, as well as the random going-out-of-business sale to buy items that others couldn't sell. She will also do the "leg work" and track down rare and hard-to-get items (limited editions and regional issue stuff) as sort of a service for her loyal customers. And when she buys, she buys big, sometimes filling up several shopping carts with merchandise. Stores are happy to get rid of the stuff, to make room for more stuff that they will price too high and start the cycle all over again. Other customers, who don't buy nearly in the quantities that Mrs. Pincus does, are fascinated to watch someone stock up in the clearance aisle. And, even though it is none of their goddamn business, feel it is perfectly within their rights to ask my wife what she intends to do with all this stuff. Mrs. Pincus — who I maintain is the nicest person on the planet — answers these questions cheerfully, happily and with such utter bullshit that her fellow shoppers are satisfied. They will smile, shake their heads, click their tongues and move on — totally forgetting what they were just told because... honestly.... how is their life affected by what my wife — or anyone else, for that matter — is buying.

I have accompanied my wife on "buying trips" on several occasions. I must physically bite my lip when someone asks (and someone always does): "Oh! So much stuff! What are you going to do with all of this stuff?" And most of the time, each word in this question is dragged out to way more syllables than they normally contain. Mrs. Pincus will reply with a story of a youth group or a kindergarten class or early stocking stuffers (no matter what time of year it is). I, on the other hand, must wander off to another aisle, otherwise I will give a patented Josh Pincus-style smart-ass explanation, resulting in a sneer from the questioner or my wife or (often) both

Home of (National League) Champions
Today, Mrs. Pincus was otherwise occupied with a more pressing responsibility and her plans to visit the Team Store at Citizens Bank Park were sidelined. Citizens Bank Park is the home of the 2022 National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies. And, although they didn't win the World Series, an awful lot of merchandise was produced for Major League baseball's beloved Fall Classic. A good portion of these time-sensitive items are taking up precious selling space in the souvenir store and, come spring, anything related to World Series 2022 is as dated as the Revolutionary War. However, not everybody feels that way... and Mrs. Pincus knows it. There are specific items that appeal to specific collectors and those collectors don't always have access to the items they seek. So, not wishing to miss out on a good deal on stuff she can sell, Mrs. P sent me to the ballpark store as her "buying agent." I was instructed as to what merchandise to buy and in what quantities to buy them. I followed the directions I was given, although, left on my own, I would answer any extraneous questions in the manner in which I saw fit. Oh.... there would be questions. There always are.

At the store, I filled up a plastic shopping basket with a large quantity of different designs of baseballs, all emblazoned with the logo of the most recent World Series, as well as the logos of the Phillies and that other team from Houston that actually won the series. My basket was kind of heavy, as it was piled high with a large number of baseballs. A very large number. I made my way to the closest cashier and placed the basket on the countertop. The cashier began counting out the baseballs and ringing up my purchase.

The store only had a few customers. It was two weeks after Christmas on a Saturday afternoon at a ballpark where the next scheduled game was to occur in four months. Not exactly the makings of a big shopping day for baseball memorabilia. One of those customers took her place behind me in line.

And, here it comes...

She was a short, bleached blonde with a curled-lip sneer already plastered across her face. She cleared her throat, and with nicotine-addled vocal cords, croaked out her inquiry regarding my purchase.

"What are you going to doooooo with all those?" 

Approximate location of her house
She pointed a tobacco-yellowed finger in the direction of my now half-empty shopping basket. This woman was typical South Philly. I could picture her setting up two lawn chairs to secure the parking space that her grandson dug out after a recent snowfall. I could imagine her strutting in her living room in front of the television, a four-inch ash hanging off the end of her cigarette, while the Mummers marched across the screen. I could almost hear her defending the New Year's merrymakers for their God-given freedom to wear blackface and make fun of Asians. In my mind, I could see her coming down the front steps of Our Lady of Get the Fuck Off My Front Stoop after attending Christmas Eve services. I may have seen her on the six o'clock news excitedly celebrating when the city was forced by a court order to remove the wooden box that encased the statue of noted enslaver and historical oppressor Christopher Columbus for nearly two years. I'm almost positive that before she got to the store to question me, she had a PBR and a couple of Marlboro Lights for breakfast. And now, she was very concerned about why I was buying 60 baseballs... and my answer better be a good one.

"What are you going to doooooo with all those?"

I turned slightly in her direction and said, "Play baseball."

She sneered more. She wasn't finished. "Are they real baseballs or are they those foam things?" Why are these baseballs of such interest to this woman? 

"I sure hope they are baseballs.," I replied. I looked at her. She was holding a t-shirt on a hanger and a baseball cap, both sporting the familiar Phillies "P" logo.

"What are you going to do with those?" I asked in a monotone as I pointed right back at her.

"Wear 'em!," she answered indignantly. My question, nearly identical to hers, seemed to have insulted her.

She scooted behind me when the other cashier called her over. As she passed behind me, she muttered "Sorry I asked." The three words were dripping in sarcasm.

I didn't see this woman monitoring the purchases of anyone else in the store. I saw a man carrying a Phillies jersey. He wasn't questioned. A woman and a young girl were buying a plush figure of the Phillie Phanatic. They weren't asked to explain their future plans for the toy once they got home. Just me. I was interrogated. I was cross-examined. My intentions were probed by the unofficial representative of Major League Baseball Purchases - National League East Division. And what exactly was she going to do with the information gathered from her little third degree? Do I have a detailed file in some cabinet somewhere south of Ritner Street?

When I left the store with my paid-for purchases, I spotted my personal inquisitor getting into a car that was illegally parked.

Now, I have some questions.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

i can't go for that

I am a rule follower and a direction follower. I just am. It's just in my nature. I am irritated by people who see posted rules or understood societal policy and think to themselves: "Well, that doesn't mean me, of course. That means everyone else." I have known plenty of people who have blatantly ignored rules or instruction. One guy I know drove the wrong way down a one way street, while saying with a smile "It's okay." I have had a constant battle with people parking their cars several feet into my driveway (sometime even fully across my driveway). I often wonder, do they get out of their car, assess how they are parked and think: "Yeah. This is okay." ? I suppose they do, because I have witnessed the evidence regularly for almost forty years.

Rules are not a bad thing. They are what separates us from lower forms of life on this planet. We, as humans, have the ability to understand and follow rules. The animal kingdom has more primitive rules. If a lion doesn't like what another animal is doing, he just bites his head off. Humans, I think, are more reasonable than that.... but not by much.

It makes me crazy when people don't follow directions. Even simple ones. I don't know if it's because they don't read directions or they don't understand directions or they just don't feel the directions apply to them. (Hang on.... I'll make my point shortly.) Social media is the biggest forum for direction ignorers, Facebook specifically. Facebook is filled with folks who just look at the pictures, disregard simple directions and ask questions that could easily be answered if they would just go back and read instead of commenting first. You know, open your ears and shut your mouth.

(Okay.... here comes my point.)

Yesterday, I posted my annual JPiC Death Pool list. For those of you who have known me for some time, you are aware of my somewhat ghoulish fascination with celebrities, especially dead celebrities. I draw them. I visit their graves. I read about them and I report when a live celebrity becomes a dead celebrity. This actually began as a little race among a few friends to see who could report on a celebrity death the quickest. Since then, I have become a "grim reaper" of sorts, sometimes accused of having an inside connection with the Pale Rider himself. But — I swear — that's not true.

For many years now, I have compiled a list at the end of the year enumerating a select group of celebrities that I think will pass on in the coming year. It is not a "wish list." It is not a "hit list." It is not a "death wish." It is none of those things. It is merely an extension of my interest in all things celebrity.  When I first started doing this, I just shared it with friends, family and those who I thought might be interested. Since the advent of social media, my list sharing has become more widespread. I began posting my year-end list on Twitter and Instagram and — ugh! — Facebook, the armpit of the internet.

Facebook is the great equalizer. Everyone with access to a computer, smartphone and an opinion has the same voice as you on Facebook. And rules? Unless the mysterious watchdogs that quietly monitor subversive Facebook activity deem your particular post "offensive" and throw you in "Facebook jail," pretty much anything goes. There is limited reading on Facebook. People like to look at pictures and will read maybe the first five words of a post.... then begin to comment. They have already formed their opinion based on a picture, a headline or four or five words. So, when I started posting my Death Pool list, I accompanied my post with a bit of information that, foolishly, I thought will be informative. Invariably, it is ignored. 

For the past couple years, my Death Pool introduction has included this wording:

As I have said in previous years, this is in NO WAY a "wish list." THAT would look totally different. This is not a vendetta. This is merely a prediction with no insight or merit of any kind. Once again, please don't question my choices.
• Please don't tell me to add a name.
Please don't ask me to remove a name.
• Please don't comment with an "OH NO!"

This is MY list. If you don't like my choices, I encourage you to make your OWN list.

And for the past couple of years — including this year — the comments have included people telling me who to add, people questioning why I included a particular name as well as several "OH NO"s. Right off the fucking bat! Doesn't anybody read? Doesn't anybody follow direction? 

I have a friend who owns a business. In his business, he has had to hire employees and he uses a custom job application. The nature of his business requires understanding and comprehension of sometimes intricate and complicated, multi-step procedures that have to be read. The job application (that he designed) is fairly lengthy, with lots of long questions and many, many lines on which applicants can write a detailed answer. However, at the very top of the application is a paragraph of instruction. The last line of the paragraph reads: "Please ignore all of the previous instructions. Just write your name on the first line and leave the rest of this application blank."

Guess how many qualified applications he has received?

Please follow directions. Thank you.

Oh, and in case you are interested, here's my 2023 Death Pool list. Happy New Year.