Sunday, February 26, 2023

poor unfortunate souls

My family has been fans of Disney for a long time. We have taken many, many trips to both US Disney resorts. We love the sights, the sounds, the overall experience. of just being there. This has prompted people — friends, family members, co-workers — to say: "Boy, I'd love to go to a Disney theme park with you guys!" Leading us to reply: "We are the last people you want to go to a Disney theme park with."

Aside from the rides, shows and other attractions, one of our favorite things to do at a Disney theme park is watch the other people. It's always a kick to see a family trudging through the park's walkways — a harried mom trying to wrangle an array of sugar-high children running in six different directions at once, while dad looks dour, figuring in his head how much this whole trip is costing him. We love to see folks who have no idea why they are there, aside from the fact that their neighbors came on a trip last summer and we can't have anyone outdo us! They misidentify characters. They ask directions to rides that are located at rival Universal Studios and they secretly discuss how their neighbors could possibly stand this place.

Then there are the "Disney Experts."These are my favorite group of Disney visitors. They are all decked out in their Disney finest — six lanyards, heavy with ready-to-trade enamel pins; a t-shirt emblazoned with the latest Disney character or some obscure Disney character long forgotten by the public; plenty of Disney themed accoutrements like socks, sneakers and, of course, those iconic mouse ears that you wouldn't be caught dead in anywhere else. These special Disney fans lead the uninitiated of their party through the parks, spewing all sorts of "inside" information and Disney trivia — most of which is slightly incorrect or blatantly wrong. To those unfamiliar, the majority of this information goes unquestioned, because — honestly — not a lot of people care enough to question. My family, however, enjoys hearing these self-proclaimed "experts" go off about locations of "hidden Mickeys" (look it up), tidbits about the construction of the park or little known facts about Walt Disney that they read on the ol' reliable internet. I have overheard everything from "Disney has snipers camouflaged in tree tops on the property, in the event of a serious security situation." to "Walt Disney is cryogenically frozen and his icy corpse rests beneath "The Pirates of the Caribbean" in a secure vault" to "The entire Haunted Mansion in Disneyland burned to the ground in the early 1970s." We've witnessed parents instructing their little ones to run up and give "Daffy Duck" a hug, while other groups of guests ask a Disney employee where "Harry Potter World" is. Once, in Florida, we were aboard one of the ferry boats that transports guests from the parking lot of the Magic Kingdom to the front entrance. As we made our way, another ferry was approaching from the opposite direction across man-made Bay Lake. The two vessels came precariously close to each other, prompting the ship's crew to scramble and sound alarms. During this incident, a particularly confident (and vocal) "expert" stated: "This is on a track. They can't hit each other." They are not and they could. We even made up a little song about the "Disney experts" that we covertly sang to each other when we encountered such a guest. We sang it often. It was very amusing. 

My wife and I have not been to a Disney theme park since 2017. My son, however, has taken two solo trips to Disneyland more recently. He reported that things have not changed and guests are just as misinformed as ever.

2023 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the Walt Disney Company. Aside from lengthy celebrations at their theme parks worldwide, a traveling exhibit will be making its way across the country, chock full of props and drawings and film clips and multimedia presentations honoring all things Disney. The exhibit makes its first stop in my home town of Philadelphia and last weekend — opening weekend! — my family and I attended. So did a bunch of "experts."

At the entrance to the exhibit, which snakes though a number of haphazardly-themed areas vaguely chronicling the history of the Disney Company, is a continuous film featuring Mickey Mouse (in a 1950s version of his Sorcerer's Apprentice garb) and a somewhat creepy Walt Disney, looking as though someone requested an AI generator to make a Walt Disney. The result is a little weird and sort of life-like, although they didn't get the hair quite right. Walt takes a minute or so to explain how his enterprise began and to never lose sight of the fact that "It was all started by a mouse." We know this because the queue line moved so slowly into the cramped, narrow first room of the exhibit, we got to see Walt and his rodent friend deliver their welcome message four or five times. (This little demonstration of technology has caused quite a stir on various social media outlets, with people voicing their "inside knowledge" about "how Walt would feel about this." Disney fans like to speak on behalf of the long-dead Walt Disney, confident that they knew him well enough to be qualified to express his personal sentiment... sort of the way Brian May speaks as though he is in regular contact with Freddie Mercury or how Republicans speak on behalf of Jesus.)

After the initial display depicting the early days of Walt Disney's little animation studio, the exhibit thankfully opened up into wider accommodations, allowing guests to wander around an open area and view the various artifacts safely presented behind glass. It was here I began to overhear the "experts" in full force. "Oh, that's 'Will Turner' from The Pirates of the Caribbean movie," one fellow announced, pointing to the costume actor Geoffrey Rush wore in his portrayal of the villainous 'Barbarossa.' Another articulated a long and convoluted explanation about how Walt Disney drew Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (a character that predates Mickey Mouse.) While the gist of his story was fine, he included details that he either made up or repeated what someone else made up.

Along the exhibit's route, there was a large window behind which a pair of beige pants are displayed on the bottom portion of a mannequin. A nearby placard explains that these trousers were worn by Walt Disney himself on an expedition to South America to gather information about the 1942 feature Saludos Amigos. A woman sporting glittery mouse ears and a large Mickey Mouse face splashed across her chest, proclaimed these to be the disembodied pants from the less-than-celebrated Pixar film Onward. No one in her travelling group objected, countered nor cared. They nodded and proceeded to the next item for perusal. My favorite comment of the evening from an "expert" was a young man, who had been spouting his Disney knowledge to no one in particular,  pointed to a display case and announced: "Oh my God! It's what's-his-face!"

There is a lot to see at this exhibit... and there is also a lot to read. The problem is, I don't believe a lot of the people visiting on this particular day had the patience nor ability to read every single supplied placard. Sure there are a lot of cool, instantly recognizable items on display. The glass slipper from the 2015 live-action retelling of Cinderella really needs no additional identification. Jimmie Dodd's, the host of the original Mickey Mouse Club, "Mousegetar" is neat to see, but I'd be surprised if the under-thirty crowd touring the exhibit knew what they were looking at. Other items were rather nondescript — a desk, a typewritten sheet in a frame, a drawing of a duck — without reading a paragraph describing why this is important. (A similar situation exists at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Without consulting a nearby plaque, that place is just room after room of old baseball equipment.)

At the end of the first half of the exhibit (yeah, it's big), there is a large wall decorated with the covers of albums from the archives of Disney's recording studios. One has the ability to call up timeless Disney music. This interactive presentation attracted those anxious to hear their favorite songs from High School Musical or Frozen II or the soundtrack of The Mandalorian, leaving tunes from Annette Funicello's stellar career and those from long-defunct Disneyland rides to go unplayed. 

The exhibit, in keeping to the code of Disney, ends at a gift shop. Visitors milled around the make-shift store, picking up Mickey Mouse this and Star Wars that. As a one-time collector of Disney memorabilia, nothing really appealed to me. Even here, the steadfast Disney "experts" misidentified characters, many of which they just spent the last ninety minutes learning about.

While I do not make recommendations, I will say that that I enjoyed the Disney 100 exhibit. I saw what I wanted to see, read what I wanted to read and overheard an evening's worth of unexpected entertainment. And once again, the Pincuses are the last people you want to attend such an exhibit with.

It runs through the end of August 2023 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

another auld lang syne

This story originally appeared on my illustration blog ten years ago. I think it's a good story and I like to revisit good stories because — face it! — some of the crap I write here isn't always worth the pixels they're written on. I am still confounded by anyone who isn't me reading my blog. And if you are one of the tens of loyal readers who have stuck with me, I sincerely thank you and I hope I haven't taken up too much of your time. 

A few notes... The "Randi" that we traveled to Florida with was written about HERE and her life took a decidedly weird turn. And the baby?  Well, the baby is 35 years old now.

Anyway, here's the story about a memorable New Year's Eve. I hope you like it as much as I endured to bring it to you.

New Year's Eve 1986 was the most memorable New Year's Eve for me — and nothing spectacular even happened. It was better than the New Year's Eve when I got stupid drunk and discovered true meaning in Side Two of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. It was better than the New Year's Eve that I dumped Linda Cohen just forty minutes after the ball dropped in Times Square. It was better than New Year's Eve 1999, when I still maintained that it was not the turn of the century no matter what eleventy gazillion people said. No, I will never forget New Year's Eve 1986 and even though I actually slept right through the clock striking midnight, I still remember it fondly it all these years later.

I have loved Walt Disney World since I set foot on those magical grounds in central Florida for the first time in 1981. I took two great summer trips there with friends, followed by a honeymoon with my new bride a few years later. Although, my wife and I love the Disney theme parks and the surrounding attractions (read: outlet malls), the heat and humidity in the Orlando area in July can be uncomfortable. So, we decided to give a December trip a try. The notion of seeing the Magic Kingdom decorated for Christmas heightened our excitement.

The decision to drive the 990 miles to Mickey's Mecca was made without a discussion. Despite the fact that Mrs. P was just informed that she was six weeks pregnant, driving our car was still our preferred choice for transportation. We knew that with a family expansion, our next trip to anywhere would be way off in the unforeseeable future. So, my wife wanted one last long-distance hurrah behind the wheel before the responsibility of parenthood forces us to think rationally. Besides, she loves driving and I love passengering, so it's a match made in heaven — by way of  AAA.

We were joined on this trip by Randi, Mrs. P's longtime closest friend, who was Maid of Honor at our wedding and our choice for godmother to our pending offspring. While I made the arrangements for admission tickets and plotting a route for our journey (in the days before the internet and the GPS), Randi offered to take on the task of booking hotel accommodations near Disney World. A few days before our departure, Randi cheerfully reported that she had secured a hotel.

We loaded up the hatchback of our tiny Nissan with enough essential gear for three adults and we left the day after Christmas, which — as the calendar would have it — was the first night of Chanukah. My ever-prepared spouse packed a small menorah and enough candles to take us through Day Eight of the observance. Judah Maccabee would have been proud. Mrs. P navigated the car south on I-95 and we talked and sang and marveled at the quirky sights along the way (A Cracker Barrel every fifteen feet qualifies as — quirky — in my book). After a long day of driving (and an obligatory stop at South of the Border for God knows what reason!), we pulled into a roadside motel just north of Savannah, Georgia. We just wanted to stretch our legs, eat and sleep so we could arrive fresh and relaxed in Orlando the next afternoon. Plus, we needed to light candles for Chanukah's opening night. We grabbed a quick dinner at the restaurant next to our motel, returned to our room, kindled the holiday flames and hit the sack. We woke early the next morning and headed out to the same restaurant for breakfast. After our morning meal, we came back to find our room had been made up by the attentive housekeeping staff — beds made, fresh towels stacked by the small sink, carpets vacuumed, waste cans emptied. However, the remnants of the previous evening's Chanukah candles were conspicuously untouched. The matchbook lay in the exact same position in which it was left. The melted candle wax, now hardened, stood undisturbed — its frozen drips never reaching the nearly circular, solid puddle of paraffin below. Several unused candles were untouched, still balanced precariously upon one another, just as they had slid from the box eight hours earlier. We figured the chambermaids were horrified and mistook this display for some primitive ritual of black magic, wanting no parts of it. Perhaps they left the room extra clean as a peace offering.

After a full morning on the road, we took the Kissimmee exit on I-4 and began the search for our hotel. Since it was holiday time, the hotels along that stretch of US Route 192 were adorned in Christmas finery. Hundreds of lights twinkled from in and around artificial greenery and from under piles of fake snow, giving the otherwise temperate clime a faux-wintry fa├žade. The changeable signage below each lodging establishment's illuminated logo declared some sort of sentiment of the season. We passed numerous "Happy Holidays," "Seasons Greetings," and the occasional holiday-specific "Merry Christmas," all glowing softly with a welcoming radiance, regardless of the succession of angry "NO VACANCY" signs ablaze just a few inches below. Luckily, we had reservations. The procession of corporate resorts dwindled and we finally located our hotel. It was the last one on the strip before the multi-lane highway yielded to overgrown brush and heat-buckled macadam. The backlit sign proclaimed "Happy Birthday Jesus" in eight-inch high, right-to-the-point Helvetica Bold Caps. This was to be our home for the next five days.

I obtained the key and directions to our room from the office. I pointed to my wife and she pulled the car ahead in the direction of my outstretched finger. I turned the key in the lock (remember — this was 1986 in a technologically-deficient hotel) and the door swung open to reveal a plain room with two plain beds, a plain lamp and plain dresser and, as we soon discovered, a sink without running water. A quick call to the office (on the age-yellowed desk phone) told me that some work was being performed on the pipes and the water should be on in "a little bit." I was not familiar with the Southern chronological time-frame of "a little bit," so we had no choice but to stick it out and wait. After settling in and a casual dinner, we decided to turn in and get an early start tomorrow at the Magic Kingdom. I noticed that instead of a deadbolt and chain, our hotel room door sported a length of rubber hose nailed to the door jamb adjacent to the knob. (I shit you not!) Proper security was achieved by looping the hose around the door knob, followed by praying to the Lord Birthday Boy. I followed the procedure with the hose, but instead of prayer, I opted to slide a chair in front of the door. I put my faith in a heavy object rather than a magical Lamb of God.

The next morning we were jarred awake by a sound. Not a phone ring or an alarm clock or even the sound of wrenches tightening pipes. This was a human sound; a human voice — or two. Through the paper-thin walls, we could hear the unmistakable tones of an argument, and a heated one, at that! It was coming from the adjoining room. While there was no denying that a bitter disagreement was unfolding on the other side of a few inches of plaster and wood, we couldn't make out a single recognizable word. Actually, we could make out four words. Four distinct words.  Four words that were used repeatedly and they came through clear as crystal as though the speaker were at a lecture hall podium. "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" burst forth in staccato rhythm.  Then, some muffled dialogue. Then, some more muffled dialogue, until the fervent crescendo of "shut the fuck up! Shut The Fuck Up! SHUT THE FUCK UP!" pierced the suppressed fracas again, cutting like a machete through softened butter. We were glued to the unseen action, momentarily stopping our preparations for rushing out to a theme park. Suddenly, the explicit (but subdued) sound of a slamming door signified the ruckus had ended. We laughed as we resumed getting ready to start our day. Making our way across the parking lot to our car, we wondered about the "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" family, surmising that if they were here, then they are on vacation and if they are on vacation, then — Dear Lord! — how did they behave at home?

It was odd being in Walt Disney World wrapped in a heavy jacket for warmth, especially after so many previous visits in shorts and T-shirts. Disney World draws tourists from so many areas and so many various climates, the mish-mash of clothing we saw was intriguing. While in a queue line for It's a Small World, we were flanked by a family in parkas (from Florida) and a family in Hawaiian shirts and clam diggers (from Minnesota). The weather was indeed brisk. While waiting for the next performance of The Country Bear Jamboree (re-programmed for the season as The Country Bears' Christmas Vacation), the three of us chatted and planned out our day. In front of us was a harried mother with a baby in the crook of her arm. A small boy, about 6 years-old, ran around her like a blur, screaming, flailing his arms, swinging on the ropes that delineated the queue area. The poor woman was exasperated, trying unsuccessfully to keep the child in check. In front of them were an older couple dressed in Christmas-y sweaters and knit gloves and a single woman roughly the same age. They were quietly talking, perhaps about finally being able to do all the things they hoped to, now that they had reached retirement age. As she talked, the single woman kept craning her neck over the crowds, obviously gauging the arrival of the missing member of their foursome. Soon, a smiling white-haired man, all sweatered and gloved and looking like a missing piece to this retired crew puzzle, approached. He held before him a cardboard tray with four neatly-arranged foam cups, wispy curls of steam escaping from their vented plastic lids. Balancing the tray, he slipped under the ropes, joined his party and began distributing the beverages. Suddenly, the gyrating 6 year-old flung himself forward, his outstretched arms knocking the man off-balance for a second. He regained his footing without spilling a drop, but was noticeably shaken by the unexpected shove. The boy's mother, now mortified, grabbed the youngster's arm with enough force to yank it from its socket and, with baby parked on her hip, pulled him out of line for a overdue lesson in "How to Behave in Public," complete with some hands-on reinforcement.  The two couples looked bewildered, as though they had entered a play in the middle of the second act. With pleading eyes, they silently sought an explanation from us, since we were close enough to bear witness. "Well," I offered, "maybe he was mad that you didn't bring hot cocoa for him."

To celebrate New Year's Eve, Walt Disney World had a veritable smorgasbord of festive events lined up. There would be fireworks and parades and marching bands and a giant mess to clean up the next day and, of course, thousands of people. We crammed as many rides as we could into that afternoon. Our plan was to leave the park, get a fast dinner, grab a nap and come back refreshed and ready for a long night of partying. I followed the "leaving the park" and the "fast dinner" part as per our arrangement, but when it came time for the "nap" portion, I got a little tripped up. Actually, I never woke up. Come to think of it, I don't think I ate dinner. Mrs. P and Randi did, or so they told  me when they came back to our hotel room after midnight to find me fully-clothed and zonked out cross-ways on the bed. The television was blaring with the harrowing story of a deadly casino fire in Puerto Rico and I still slept through the shouting reporters and the wail of sirens. Even the exploding fireworks (that I was missing) from the nearby Disney Resort weren't enough to stir my slumber.

I missed welcoming the New Year for the first time in ages. So, why was New Year's Eve 1986 so memorable? It was the gateway to 1987; the year life changed for Mr. and Mrs. Pincus. In eight months, we welcomed something much better than a new year.

We welcomed our son.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

swinging school

In 1965, Bobby Rydell sang about some mythical institute of higher learning where "the chicks are kicks and the cats are cool." I had this 45 and I played it often. I knew Bobby was a fellow Philadelphian, but I wasn't quite sure which school he was singing about. There certainly weren't any "kicky chicks" or "cool cats" at any school under the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia School District that I attended. School was awful, filled with bratty classmates, rigid, humorless teachers and a curriculum that never got any better or any easier as I struggled my way through twelfth grade. And "swinging?" Ugh! You gotta be kidding me!

I did what I could to get out of going to school as often as possible. I played on my mother's sympathies, milking every little sniffle into the onslaught of the bubonic plague. I suddenly became a devout student of the Talmud when I overheard some of my classmates discussing some obscure Jewish holiday that I needed to observe at home, taking precedent over a typical day at school (preferably a day when a book report was due). My mom (as I later discovered) wasn't as gullible as I had thought. She knew I was full of shit with each and every excuse I employed. But, my mom didn't press me for good marks or perfect attendance. She knew the limits of my academic abilities. She also knew that a day off here and there wasn't going to cause any permanent damage to the person I would become. She picked her battles and putting up a fuss when I wanted to stay home from school wasn't high on her list. My dad, by the way, couldn't have told you what grade I was currently enrolled in at any given time. He left that stuff to my mom. My dad did the important things. He went to work. He came home. He smoked cigarettes and he watched television. Mostly sports.

My dad — and my brother, for that matter — watched a lot of sports on television. A lot of sports. If it involved a ball, a bat, a stick, a racquet, a club, some sort of padding and a final score, my dad was watching it. I was not. I had no interest. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I didn't know a field goal from a lay-up. I couldn't tell you the difference between an inside pitch and an inside straight. But, my dad could. He watched baseball in the summer, football in the winter and basketball and hockey in the spring (although, he did complain that hockey moved "too goddamn fast," but he watched it anyway). 

When I was a kid, Philadelphia sports teams were notoriously bad. The Phillies were bad. The Eagles were bad. The 76ers were above average when they had Wilt Chamberlain in the early 70s, but stunk again until they acquired Julius "Dr. J." Erving (I looked that up). The Philadelphia Flyers, though — that hockey team that moved "too goddamn fast" for my father — were pretty good. And in 1974, the whole city — hockey fans or not — cheered them on as they became the Stanley Cup Champions that season. Of course, the city celebrated by throwing the team a victory parade. It was held on Monday, May 20, 1974 — the day after the Broad Street Bullies defeated the Boston Bruins to take Game 6 and the series.  And it was a school day.

I'm in there somewhere.
Reports on the news determined the Flyers Stanley Cup Victory Parade had a bigger celebratory turnout in Philadelphia  than the announcement of the end of World War II. An estimated two million people lined Broad Street and stood in a shower of ticker-tape as their tough-and-toothless heroes smiled and waved as they rode past the crowds on the open backs of city fire engines. A series of speeches and presentations were offered at JFK Stadium, the venerable venue in South Philadelphia (now gone, with the state-of-the-art Wells Fargo Center in its place). All were welcome and the stadium was a madhouse. I should know. I was there. Yep. On a day that should have been taken up by another installment of seventh grade, I was screaming and yelling and cheering a bunch of guys who played a sport that I didn't watch. My mom gave me permission to skip school and accompany my brother and his sports-following friends to the parade.  Miraculously, he agreed to let me in his car. From the looks of things, a lot of kids didn't go to school that day. An awful lot.

On Tuesday, I went to school.

My first class was math. I hated math. I have always hated math. I still hate math. And, to be honest, math isn't too fond of me either. My teacher was Mrs. Goetz, a nasty, cranky old martinet who looked like my paternal grandmother — a woman I could not stand. (Your grandmother? Josh! That's terrible! Oh yeah? Here's why...) When ever I mentioned this teacher's name, my mother would sing: "Whatever Missus wants.... Missus gets!" It wasn't until years later that I got this reference. As students filed into her classroom, Mrs. Goetz eyed each boy and girl with contempt, leaning forward and following with her gaze as each student took their assigned seat. She squinted and wrung her hands, like Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz trying to figure out how to get those ruby slippers off of Judy Garland's feet. Before a single integer was reversed or sine was cosined, Mrs. Goetz announced her displeasure with the amount of students who were missing from her class the previous day. She continued her tirade by insisting that everyone who was absent better have a good and valid excuse.... adding that "going to a parade for a hockey team" would not be considered a valid excuse. She spoke the phrase "going to a parade for a hockey team" as though Satan were whispering instructions in her ear. Still putting any mathematical information on hold, Mrs. Goetz ran down the class list — one by one — asking for reasons of absence. A majority of students — boys and girls — explained that they had attended a classmate's out-of-town Bar Mitzvah on Sunday and arrived home very, very late in the evening. They were much too tired and in no shape to attend school on Monday. Mrs. Goetz seemed to accept this lame-ass excuse, I suppose on the fear of repercussions from possible "religious persecution." She nodded to each student who offered the "Bar Mitzvah" reason. "I'll allow that," she muttered, as she made some marking with her pencil on the roll sheet. When she got to me, I was angry. I had already delivered the required note from my mother to my homeroom teacher. School policy didn't require that every teacher be given a separate note for each absence. This ornery old fuck was just being difficult for her own amusement. "Well," I thought to myself, "Fuck her! I'm telling her the truth!"

"Pincus!," she announced, "Why weren't you here yesterday?"

"I was at the Flyers parade." I said

Mrs. Goetz exhaled angrily. "That is no excuse! You get a 'zero' for the day!" Teachers have been using that "zero for the day" threat for years! It means nothing. Absolutely nothing. It doesn't follow you for the rest of your life. It doesn't play into job interviews or loan applications. It's just a stupid, manipulative device that teachers wield to make them appear to have some life-altering control over the course of your existence. Spoiler Alert! They don't. 

I hated math. I hated Mrs. Goetz. Mrs. Goetz taught math. (I can't believe I'm going to use this joke....) You do the math.

A few hours from now, the Philadelphia Eagles are going to play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII. There has been a lot of fervor over the Eagles for the entire season. Philadelphia is a sports town, specifically a rabid football town. Football always takes the forefront, no matter how good or bad the city's other sports teams are doing. I have heard the notorious "E-A-G-L-E-S" chant break out at a Phillies playoff game. Recently, Mrs. Pincus and I inexplicably found ourselves at a Flyers game. The Eagles were playing right next door. Midway through the Flyers game, "The Chant" erupted as word spread of another Eagles win. As the Eagles' regular season wound down, it became apparent that they had a shot at the whole ball of wax. The city was approaching a collective frenzy, as "The Birds" defeated every team they faced in the playoffs, securing themselves a spot in "The Big Game" — The Super Bowl.

There is a one-week gap between the last football playoff game and the date of The Super Bowl. In that time, several surrounding school districts have announced two-hour delays for the opening of schools on the day after The Super Bowl. Just a few days ago, the School District of Philadelphia followed suit and confirmed that its 217 schools will be opening two hours later than normal opening time on Monday, February 13. I'm pretty sure I heard all 124,111 students cheer from my home, just outside the city limits. While this decision does not affect me in the least, I am confounded by it. I cannot remember anything like this occurring in the history of the School District of Philadelphia. When I was an elementary school student, schools closed for Thanksgiving and Memorial Day. There was a ten-day break at the end of the calendar year that encompassed Christmas and New Years Day... and, if we were lucky, Chanukah fell within that time. If it didn't, well... tough. A one-week break covering Easter closed schools in the spring. Because of the unpredictability of Passover, Jewish students were on their own. A little parental convincing allowed for the first two and last two days of Passover to be taken off, while we ate peanut butter on matzoh during the days between. (If I told you that peanut butter is traditionally not eaten during Passover, you'd get that joke.) Sometimes we got Washington's Birthday (later combined with Lincoln's birthday to form the super holiday Presidents Day!) as a day off. Sometimes we got Columbus Day, too. Oh, and Veterans Day... we got Veterans Day off, prompting my father to lament: "I fought in the goddamn war and I have to go to work!"

But a football game? Really? What sort of example does this set for impressionable (and already entitled) children? I think the school boards are making a mistake with this one. Students' education has already been impacted by a worldwide pandemic. Do they really need to interrupt their school day because of a football game. Do they expect every student will be watching the game? Is it required to watch the game? If, by chance, the Eagles win (and they are the favorite), will schools be closed again for the obligatory celebration parade? Again, this decision has absolutely no bearing on me, my family or my life, but... seriously. Philadelphia has had other winning teams before. Jesus, the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017 and Philadelphia public schools opened at the same time they always did... providing there wasn't two inches of snow on the ground. I just think this is wrong. Very wrong.

Mrs. Goetz is probably spinning in her grave... assuming she is dead.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

back in time

Actual, unretouched photo of Facebook

Well, I blocked another one.

In 2008, I reluctantly — very reluctantly — joined Facebook. I really had no interest in connecting (or in some cases, reconnecting) with names from my past. And anyone I wanted to currently interact with, well... I just did. I'd call or text or email. I didn't need to know what they were doing every second of the day. I didn't need to see a picture of the sandwich they had for lunch or the bowl of soup they were about to eat before their dinner's main course. I didn't need to see a picture of their kid not wanting to have his picture taken. And, by the same token, nobody was particularly interested in the day-to-day minutia of my life. Nor did I see the point in sharing.

But things change... right?

Now, my days and nights and hours in-between are filled with many of the things I just listed. My Facebook feed is filled with photos of sloppily-decorated cakes and wide expanses of unmarked highways and pictures of rash-cheeked children that I have never met and who, most-likely, never want to meet me. In addition, I read dozens — no, make that hundreds — of examples of misinformation, incorrect movie quotes, inaccuracies about historical events, skewed, opinionated and largely irrelevant commentary regarding how good a particular restaurant's hamburgers are and which classic rock groups suck. Yes sir! Facebook is a swirling, bubbling, stinking, festering, garbage-filled shithole. And.... I'm here for it!

Against my better judgment, I accepted many, many Facebook friend requests from a number of high school acquaintances, as well as some that went back to my elementary school days. Of course, those little schoolmates of mine — the ones I ran around with at recess, in addition to the ones who taunted me with contentious catcalls of "Jew!" and "Kike!" — are now approaching Medicare age and have, no doubt, faced the joys and adversities that life dealt them. And now, letting bygones be bygones, we share stupid jokes and silly pictures and sanitized memories. I have also become "friends" with folks who, to be honest, I do not remember from my youth. These are people with whom I have a dozen or so mutual friends but, for the life of me, I have absolutely no memory of meeting them, interacting with them or even ever hearing their names before. I had to look a couple of them up in my high school yearbook (after dusting it off) to try to jog my memory. Even then — nothing.

One woman — I'll call her "Terri" — sent me a friend request, which I accepted. We allegedly went to high school together. There were 1100 in my graduating class and I only knew a fraction of them. Her recent photos on Facebook showed a woman who, I would have guessed, was ten years my senior. She did not look familiar at all. When I tracked her down in the pages of my yearbook, she looked nothing like her recent pictures and still she did not ring a bell. In the days and weeks that followed, I saw lots of photos of her dog and her "amazing" husband. More pictures of her dog (whom she identified as her "best friend," leaving her "amazing" husband to occupy second place ...or maybe lower). I saw pictures of celebratory dinners at Olive Garden and IHOP (where the food is "amazing." As "amazing" as her husband was not made clear). Terri would regularly post memes about how dreadful Mondays are and how Friday is almost here, baby! I caught glimpses of her filthy house when the real focus of those pictures was her "amazing" son, who appeared to be less-than-excited at having his photo splashed across Mom's Facebook page and who did not exactly fit my vision of "amazing." I found Terri's posts to be annoying, while at the same time, highly entertaining. 

But, alas, Terri had to be blocked. And not for the reasons you might think.

As we have already established, Facebook is a disgusting, squalid wasteland brimming with volatile and extreme opinions on every subject from healthcare, government, television, music, life, parenting... you name it, someone on Facebook will gladly offer their opinion on it, whether or not it was requested. And, of course, no one — and I mean no one! — apologizes for their statements, especially if they have been proven wrong (sometimes just a short Google query away). There is more "doubling down" on Facebook than in Las Vegas

Most of the memes that Terri posted were benign, filled with unauthorized usages of Peanuts and Disney characters accompanied by a message about working or family or — gulp! — some vaguely religious sentiment. But recently, Terri crossed the line. Say what you will about your political convictions or some wild conspiracy theory. I will even let a thinly-veiled anti-Semitic remark slide by. But what Terri did was... was... downright unconscionable! She posted a blatantly inaccurate meme referencing Back to the Future, the globally-acknowledged, indisputable Greatest Movie Ever Made.

Now, I've seen my share of memes using stills from the beloved 1985 science-fiction comedy starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. They range from a bewildered Doc Brown and the single line "Great Scott!," which can be used as an all-purpose response to any number of astounding statements made on social media to more topical takes on the COVID-19 pandemic and uncanny similarities between future Biff Tannen and a certain 21st century president. In 2015, a new batch of memes flooded the internet displaying a wide array of manipulated dates on a screenshot of the digital readout of the DeLorean time machine featured in all three films of the trilogy. As every true Back to the Future fan knows, Marty McFly left present day 1985 on October 26. He landed in the 1955 of his parents' high school days on November 12, just prior to the "Enchantment Under the Sea Dance." (You know, the one where George and Lorraine had their first kiss.) In the final scene of Back to the Future, Doc Brown, in his now-ultra modernized DeLorean, returns from the future with a warning to Marty and girlfriend Jennifer. The teens hop into the time machine, their destination being October 21, 2015 because, according to a rattled Doc Brown, something has to be done about their kids! For the few who do not have these events committed to memory (you know who you are), a quick Google search will confirm everything — dates, sequence, everything! However, any idiot with rudimentary Photoshop skills can produce a somewhat convincing version of that iconic shot of the DeLorean dashboard with the dates of their choice. And because most people take what they read on the internet as gospel (despite multiple warnings), these fake images are passed off as real and a vicious cycle begins. I thought that everything would have come to an end when the actual October 21, 2015 came and went, with numerous news outlets proclaiming the real-life arrival "Back to the Future" Day and even USA Today reproducing the newspaper front page as featured in Back to the Future II. But no! It was not to be. The inaccurate memes kept right on coming, thanks in part to a rogue website that allows visitors to plug in any dates they like to create their own version of the DeLorean control panel.

Did you jump ship?
Well, obviously Terri didn't know about this Back to the Future custom generator. Instead, she used a poorly-doctored version where some of the numbers weren't even digital numbers. They were plain old Arial. She posted her little wrong picture with the comment "As a die-hard Back to the Future fan, this is pretty cool." The picture displayed the date January 22, 2023 and the explanation "Today is the day the Marty arrives in the future." I saw this and began to fume. I couldn't restrain myself and I left a comment. Look, say what you will about the Bible or the government or the way I live my life, but don't you dare — dare! — mess with Back to the Future! "Terri," I began, "while this may be cool, it is wrong. Marty arrived in the future on October 21, 2015." Look, I may not know much. I cannot do math. I don't understand astrophysics. I don't know what goes on under the hood of my car. But — goddammit! — I know the entire series of events in the remarkable life of Marty McFly as though I experienced them myself. And I know that not only did Marty arrive in the future on October 21, 2015, but that the year 2023 plays no part in any of the three Back to the Future movies.

Terri, replied to my comment, saying: "In the second movie, he goes to 2023. They say it in the first one." What? What does that even mean? And that, as a matter of fact, was my reply to her nonsensical attempt at clarification. Almost instantly, I received a private message from Terri. She said:" You know everything. Please don't bother me any more."

No apology. No "are you sure?," leading to a continuing open dialogue allowing either of us to present evidence and prove our respective points. Nope! The internet won't have any of that! The internet would prefer that we behave like spoiled children who have just been told they cannot stay up another 30 minutes to watch a TV show they've seen a hundred times. The internet wants us to solve disagreements with name calling, sarcasm, insults and ultimatums. The internet encourages us to hold our breath until we turn blue and take our ball and go home. I am 61 years old. I stopped acting like a child when I stopped being a child.

But, this is Back to the Future we are talking about. Terri had to be blocked. What choice did I have?