Sunday, July 30, 2023

dumb boy

Do you think I'm dumb? I don't think I'm dumb. Sure there are plenty of things about which I am not knowledgeable. I will be the first to admit that. I'm terrible at math. I don't know the technical names for medical procedures. (My wife — with no medical training or background whatsoever — will happily inform me when such terms are mentioned in a movie or TV show.) I am not mechanically inclined. I don't know much about building things, as evidenced by the three screwdrivers and four hammers that make up our household set of tools. Same goes for the ins-and-outs of automotive repair. Aside from pumping my own gas, I am lost regarding anything that goes on under the hood of my car (It is called a "hood," right?) I can't cook and I can't sew.

I can, however, identify an episode Brady Bunch within the first 20 seconds. I can recognize an actor on a fifty year old episode of The Andy Griffith Show as the same guy who appeared (much older, of course) briefly in a Season 4 episode of Seinfeld. (I am referring, specifically, to prolific character actor Bill Erwin.) I can remember nearly every drawing I have done and posted to my illustration website. I can remember, with near pinpoint accuracy, the locations of almost every celebrity grave I have visited over the past several decades. Are these qualities I have included on my resume? No. Are these qualities of which I am proud? Yes. Embarrassed by... but proud. Some of this knowledge has resulted in a small collection of coveted trophies awarded at the end of a number of cruise ship trivia contests. It has also brought on jeers and dirty looks from those who can fix cars, do math and cook.

If you are my Facebook friend or perhaps follow my antics on Facebook, you know that each morning, I post a group of "death anniversaries" for that particular day. I go through several sources and select an assortment of famous names (and not-so-famous names). Then, I choose a photo from a quick Google search to accompany my post. Sometimes the post is illustrated by a drawing I did of that particular person. In other instances, I include a photo of the celebrity's grave, if it is one I have visited. I post between three and ten celebrity death anniversaries per day, depending on if it was a particularly moribund date in history.

Each of my posts gets its fair share of "likes,"👍 "loves," ❤️ "cares" 🥰 and sometimes even "ha-has," 😂 depending on the level of "belovedness" of the celebrity in question. Some of my connections will leave a comment, usually along the lines of "awww" or "I miss him/her" or, again depending on who it is, "good riddance!" (This is usually reserved for someone like Adolf Hitler or Charles Manson.) Every so often, someone will comment with a single, out-of-context line, stating the name of the person or the most famous character they played. As an example, on November 30, I acknowledged the passing of actor-singer Jim Nabors. I received comments from a few people that merely read "Gomer Pyle." Not "I loved him in Gomer Pyle" or "I hated him in Gomer Pyle"... just "Gomer Pyle." When I see comments like that, I stare at them for some time. Does the commenter think I don't know who he is? Does the commenter think he is doing me a favor by identifying a photo that I posted and found through a Google search? Does the commenter think.....? I have to stop myself from replying: "Yes! Yes! I know! I fucking know who Jim Nabors is! I posted this! I am not, nor have I ever, posted a picture and said "This guy died on this date in this year. I have no idea who this is. Please tell me." I pass on a lot of names that I don't recognize. I don't post their death anniversaries. I leave that to their families. If I really wanted to know who they were or what they did to make them famous, I'd Google it.

I have "friends" on Facebook that I do not know. I am connected to them via the common bond of death, cemeteries and old Hollywood. I am very, very well versed in those subjects. Very well versed. Sure there are people who know more than I do about those subjects. I have gotten information from them and I am thankful for the exposure to such information. I like information. I like to learn new things about the subjects in which I am interested. I don't like to be told things that are painfully obvious. If you have seen my Facebook posts for a period of time, you should be able to gauge what I know, what I don't know and when I am joking about what I know. If you can't tell, then just sit back and wait until you can tell. But, please — please! — don't talk to me like I am stupid.

Wanna be helpful? Instead of telling me that Bob Denver played "Gilligan" on Gilligan's Island, as though you are disclosing a long-protected government secret, tell me how to change the oil in my car.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

sunday will never be the same

My dad liked things a certain way.

Just add sugar
He liked dinner as soon as he came home from work. (It had better be some kind of meat.) He liked a cigarette as soon as he got out of bed in the morning — even before be brushed his teeth or changed out of his pajamas. He liked to watch certain TV shows on certain nights. The FBI was a Sunday night staple. All in the Family (a show that my father viewed as a documentary) and Kojak were loyally tracked down and viewed on the various nights and timeslots in which they were broadcast throughout the lengths of their respective runs. In the morning, my dad liked a bowl of Kellogg's Corn Flakes with the sugar equivalent of six Hershey bars sprinkled liberally on top before the milk was added. (Why didn't he just eat Frosted Flakes? Two reasons. 1. My mom ate Frosted Flakes, therefore — in the mindset of Harold Pincus — it was a woman's cereal. 2. Those pre-sweetened flakes didn't have nearly enough sugar for his liking.) 

My dad was, by no means, an example of physical fitness. As far back as I can remember, his physique was that of someone smuggling a wok under his shirt. He got little to no exercise and smoked like a chimney. Despite this, before bed each and every evening, my dad would sit down at our kitchen table with a giant glass of chocolate milk and a Tastykake Chocolate Junior (two layers of golden cake cemented together with a rich helping of chocolate frosting and blanketed on top with more of the same) from a renowned local commercial bakery and — until recently — only available in the greater Philadelphia area. And he capped this pre-bedtime snack off with a couple more cigarettes to end his day.

Sunday mornings were something special, though. On Sunday mornings, instead of breakfast cereal poured from a box, my mom would cook breakfast. She'd fire up the stove and prepare scrambled eggs or pancakes or — if she was feeling particularly ambitious — French toast. But before my mom would pull a frying pan out of a cabinet, my dad would have to run his little Sunday morning ritual errand. He had to get donuts.

You know. Donuts.

? ? ? ? ?
See that picture at the very top of this blog post? Those — as far as I knew — were "donuts." If you went to the store to get eggs, you came home with a dozen little white things in a molded cardboard container formed to protect their fragile shells. Those were eggs. They could not be mistaken for anything else and they fit into  no other category. If you were tasked to go out and return with a baseball, you better come back bearing a nine-inch round, leather-clad sphere reinforced with 108 red stitches. Anything else would not be a baseball and you would have failed your mission. For young Josh Pincus, "donuts" were a specific thing. They were round, airy cake-like pockets stuffed with an overflowing abundance of viscous sugary jelly (Maybe grape, maybe raspberry. There was no real discernable fruit flavor.) and covered in a dense coating of clumpy powdered sugar, opaque enough to obscure any hint of yellow-gold pastry beneath. The jelly would seep out of a tiny hole at one end. To avoid getting squirted with jelly, you had to strategically place your first bite where that little "fill hole" was. That, my friend — and only that — was a donut. Those round things with a hole in the middle and covered with frosting and sprinkles? I didn't know what those were, but they sure weren't donuts. 

if you look like a girl.
On Sunday mornings, my dad would venture out to a nearby bakery to buy "donuts" and he would return with a plain white box sealed with several tight wrappings of twine. Once the twine was cut and the lid lifted, there were a dozen of those things I just described and they were donuts. On rare occasions, I would go with my dad to the bakery, where one of the stout Teutonic frauen would smile at me and offer a free cookie from their stock. "Isn't she cute?!?," they'd announce with an inflection reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich. That's right! "She!" My mid-1960s locks often led to being mistaken for a girl. But, I didn't correct them, fearing it would jeopardize this and any future free cookies. Munching my justifiably earned treat, I'd watch my dad point to the donuts in the case and instruct the Germanic abeiterin to fill a box with a dozen of them. I gazed at the other baked goods on display behind the glass-paneled cases. There were strudels, cupcakes and the giant tray of cookies from which my free one was chosen, along with other sugary bounty. Of course, there were those round things with frosting and sprinkles... but I didn't know what they were. I only knew we never brought them home. We came to get "donuts" and they — most definitely — were not donuts.

Admittedly, I was sheltered as a young child. The most influential people I came in contact with were my parents. But, as I got older, I began to notice things. Things I never really noticed before. I noticed that other kids' dads ate pizza. (My dad did not.) I noticed that other kids' dads drank Coca-Cola. (My dad did not.) I noticed that other kids' dads never used the same words my dad used for Asian people and Hispanic people and even that one he regularly used for black people. I eventually learned that those round things with the hole in the middle and covered with frosting and sprinkles were also donuts... just another variety. But they were donuts, just the same.

I learned a lot from my father. Most of what I learned, he didn't teach me.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

and he keeps it out of sight

It is no secret that I love visiting cemeteries. Visiting cemeteries (without a funeral to attend) is something I have been doing for over twenty years. I been to many located all over the country, but, of course, I've been to the most in the Philadelphia area. My fellow cemetery enthusiasts (or taphophiles) have different reasons for cemetery visits. Curiously, none of them are specifically for funerals. Some like to see a particular style of grave marker, like those made of zinc (referred to as "zinkies") or cradle graves, used as planters or to designate the grave of a child. Others like to find unusual epitaphs. Still others seek porcelain portraits that adorn headstones, a practice that was popular in the 19th and early 20th century but has enjoyed a resurgence of late. My main goal on cemetery excursions is to locate and photograph the graves of famous people. "Famous" is a relative term. I've seen the  graves of actors and actresses, musicians and politicians, gangsters and sports figures and those of individuals who have made a notable contribution to society but whose name is unfamiliar. I am referring to people like Septimus Winner, who wrote a number of popular songs including Where Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone? and Listen to The Mocking Bird or Cesare Cardini, who invented Caesar salad.

Visiting cemeteries or "grave hunting" as it known by those within the hobby, is fun (if you're into that sort of thing), but it is, by no means, easy. It takes a lot of preparation, a lot of walking, a full charge on your cellphone and a whole lot of patience. Before I go to a particular cemetery, I check with, an invaluable website with mostly detailed information about the famous, the unsung and regular folks like you and me... except they're dead. I look to see if the cemetery I have chosen to visit has a map that I can print. Then I check for plot locations of the graves I'd like to photograph and I mark them off on my printed map. More recently, grave listings have included GPS coordinates, making grave hunting somewhat easier. Because Find-A-Grave relies on user input, sometimes those GPS coordinates are wrong. Very wrong. That's when frustration starts to set in. I have often found myself walking around in circles, criss-crossing the same 20 square feet in a cemetery, expecting a long-buried corpse to pop up from under a headstone and scream "Hey! I'm over here" while he waves me in with his skeletal hands. So far, that has never happened. What has happened, though, is I have returned to a few cemeteries to try — over and over — to locate that one grave that has eluded me. I have succeeded a few times. 

Rosetta Tharpe — Sister Rosetta, if you will — is interred in a cemetery just a few blocks from my house. I tried for years to find her brown marble headstone to no avail. Until a fellow taphophile helped me out with some easy-to-follow directions. I offered my account of that incident HERE.

Owen Wister, the author who defined the Western novel, is buried in nearby Laurel Hill Cemetery. I have been to Laurel Hill many times, both for community events (like a concert or a flea market) or just to wander through the graves. On each visit, I have tried in vain to find Owen Wister's grave. I even asked a fellow who claimed he was a volunteer tour guide. His confusing directions nearly had me tumbling down the steep banks of the adjacent Schuylkill River. But, just last year, my quest ended when I breached a heretofore unnoticed hedge to find the entire Wister Family plot, with Owen's weather-worn marker as the centerpiece, staring back at me in unspoken defiance. If headstones could smirk... (That adventure in chronicled HERE.)

My third "white whale" is the grave of composer Marc Blitzstein. While his name is not as well-known as his contemporaries, you no doubt know his music. Marc wrote the English lyrics for Kurt Weill's and Bertolt Brecht's renowned Threepenny Opera - the German version of The Beggar's Opera featuring the malevolent, knife-wielding antagonist MacHeath. You know that version of Mack the Knife made famous by Bobby Darin in 1959? Well, he was singing Marc Blitzstein's lyrics to the tune Die Moritat von Mackie Messer, presented in its original German when Threepenny Opera premiered in 1928. Marc went on to compose the critically-acclaimed The Cradle Will Rock, a so-called "agitprop" musical directed by Orson Welles and produced by John Houseman. The show, an eventual hit, was shut down on its debut performance by federal authorities citing its antigovernmental overtones. In his career, Marc Blitzstein was very critical and dismissive of his contemporaries, although he mentored a young Leonard Bernstein and formed a lifelong friendship with the future conductor-composer. In 1964, while on vacation in Martinique, the openly gay Marc (unusual for the time) solicited sex from a trio of sailors in a bar. The sailors accepted Marc's offer, but once they reconvened outside in an alleyway, they brutally beat Marc and left him to die. His body was eventually identified and returned to his hometown of Philadelphia for burial. A small marker decorates his unassuming grave in Chelten Hills Cemetery... a marker I have looked for over and over and over again. (Marc's mother, sister and brother-in-law are also interred within the same plot. Each grave has its own marker.)

Last summer, when I was headed out to West Laurel Hill Cemetery for a return trip (a long overdue follow-up on a trip a decade earlier), I stopped at Chelten Hills. This time, I was armed with newly-posted GPS coordinates. I figured that I would spend fifteen minutes tops, now that an outer-space satellite would be guiding me right to Marc Blitzstein's grave. With a Google Earth map on my phone and an automated voice telling me where to walk, I was led to a spot near a large tree that did not — I repeat DID NOT! — contain the immortal remains of composer Marc Blitzstein. I was in the unfortunate situation I had been in many times before. Standing in the middle of a cemetery — fucked! — because some moron doesn't know how a GPS works. I traced and retraced my steps so many times, if someone was watching me, they would have assumed I was drunk and aimlessly staggering among the dead.

Here was the problem...
See that red pin? Well, according to a Find-A-Grave user, that's the location of Marc Blitzstein's grave. Now, do you see that yellow circle? That is the actual location of Marc Blitzstein's grave. While following the walking directions, that electronic voice announced that I had arrived at my destination, when, in fact, I had merely arrived at a bare patch of grass that had been hit by a lawn mower too many times. I slowly walked around that tree and a few others like it until I gave up, got back in my car and drove West Laurel Hill, where I had a very easy time finding each and every grave I sought. The GPS coordinates were accurate there in every case.

A few months ago, I sent an email to the Find-A-Grave user that had posted photos of Marc Blitzstein's grave. I asked if he could shine some light on the location of the plot. This past Friday, my email was answered... first with an apology regarding the lengthy response time. More importantly, the user supplied a photo, detailed directions and an accompanying map showing the precise location of the grave sought. One I could not pinpoint among the pathways that snake through Chelten Hills Cemetery.

This afternoon, instead of watching the Phillies drop a heartbreaker to the Miami Marlins, I drove out the Chelten Hills Cemetery to settle my score with Marc Blitzstein. Chelten Hills is just a short drive from my house. I pulled into the entrance and drove straight to the first bisecting path. I drove right past the spot where I had trounced the grass flat just a year earlier. I made the first left, drove to the end of Section C and parked. I took three steps out of my car and - goddamn! - if there wasn't the plaque identifying Marc Blitzstein's grave, just as "Mr. Sowerberry" (the helpful Find-A-Grave user) had promised.
I had written about Marc Blitzstein on my illustration blog, with hopes that particular post would end with a photo of Marc's grave, one taken by me nearly in my own backyard. But it was not to be. However, thanks to the assistance of someone else who thinks there are more interesting pastimes than collecting stamps, this tale has a happy and satisfying conclusion.

Would you like the see the other cemeteries I have visited? You can find them HERE.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

running with the devil

This morning, my wife and I drove down to our son's house in South Philadelphia to feed his cat while he is away this weekend. The route we took from our suburban home was straight down Broad Street. As we drove though the stretch of Broad Street that bisects the campus of the hospital of Temple University, I glanced out the window and saw something that caught my attention. Emerging from one of the many hospital buildings was a family — Mother, Father and two teenage daughters. What intrigued me was their appearance. From their clothing, it was quite obvious that they were Amish. Dad was wearing a royal blue button-down shirt and black pants with black suspenders looping over his shoulders. He sported a wide-brimmed straw hat atop his head. The three ladies — Mother and the two daughters — all wore similar dresses. They were long and all fashioned from a single pattern of cloth. They each wore a white apron tied around their waist and a white kerchief tied around their head. Dad stood on the pavement in front of the building and surveyed his surroundings. He looked as though he had been dropped out of an airplane blindfolded and had just removed the blindfold. He scratched his jaw as he turned his head from left to right and to left again. Then, he raised his head and considered the multi-story cement and steel structures that surrounded him and his brood. The three women cowered behind him. They appeared to be lost. To be honest (and based purely on their appearance) they would seem lost in most environments that did not feature at least one barn and several cows. Yes, I managed to take in and assess this situation from the passenger's seat in a car traveling in the neighborhood of thirty-five miles-per-hour. Okay.... maybe I embellished a little.

The whole scenario reminded me of a story that appeared on my illustration blog in 2011. It was a funny story when the incident actually occurred (in 1993) and it was a funny story when I wrote about it (and even illustrated it) years later. It's still a funny story...

My son and I experienced Niagara Falls for the first time at the same time. My wife, whose parents took their three children on numerous family vacations, saw the renowned natural spectacle in her youth. I went on my last furlough with my parents at the age of seven, and Atlantic City, New Jersey is severely lacking in the waterfall department. When I became a father, I was determined to travel with my own family as much as time and money would allow. They would need not be extravagant, cultural excursions  just good, old-fashioned family fun time. So, in the summer of 1993, the three-member Pincus family loaded our typically-domestic minivan with suitcases and snack foods and headed in the direction of our neighbors to the North. 

Niagara Falls, in all its majestic aqueous glory, is truly breathtaking. However, after staring at an enormous wall of furiously rushing water, one’s sensibilities tend to shift from awestruck to bored to “I really have to go to the bathroom.” The Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce is obviously aware of this emotional phenomenon. That has to be the reason that one of the most glorious displays of natural wonder and beauty is surrounded by kitschy souvenir shops, wax museums, arcades, miniature golf courses, spook houses, fast-food joints and budget motels. The average traveler might be turned-off by such vulgarity but this was right up the Pincus family’s alley.

Once past the brief, yet friendly, interrogation by the international border patrol, we crossed the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls, New York and entered its bright and sparkly Canadian namesake on the other side of the Niagara River. As our son E. peered out of the backseat windows at the flashing lights and colorful building facades of frantic Clifton Hill, Mrs. Pincus navigated our Plymouth Voyager to the Quality Inn that would be our accommodations for several midsummer nights. We pulled into the Victoria Avenue driveway of the Quality Inn and my wife let me out by the front office entrance to check in. The motel was standard, no-frills lodging consisting of a two-story, horseshoe-shaped structure encircling a small in-ground swimming pool surrounded by unassuming chaise lounges and enclosed by a chain-link fence. The rooms were nondescript and served their purpose in cleanliness, convenience and affordability. 

Our first evening included a search for restaurant food that didn’t contain meat  evidently, a fairly difficult task in Canada. Afterwards, we strolled Clifton Hill, its surreal promenade alight with exuberance that spilled out of every open door and into the streets. E. was amazed and excited and we capped the night with a stop for ice cream before turning in. As we made our way back to our motel, we noticed a large group of Amish* teens  the boys in straw hats and dark vests with dark colored shirts; the girls in solid color dresses and starched white bonnets  heading in the same direction. As we walked, the population of the Amish youths steadily increased. When we reached the Quality Inn, the Pincus family proceeded to our first-floor room and the faction of Jakob Ammann‘s young disciples climbed the open-air staircase to the second story and retired to three adjoining rooms. 

Our next day was spent doing all the activities that tourists at Niagara Falls do. We donned disposable rain gear for the famous, yet drenching, Maid of the Mist boat ride. We retained our slickers for the equally waterlogged tour of the tunnels behind the Horseshoe Falls. We snapped photos along the guardrails protecting us from the hundred foot drop to the churning river below. Our whirlwind expedition sapped our collective energy, so we retreated to our motel for a rejuvenating dip in the pool. We hurriedly changed into swimming attire and started toward the small oasis in the middle of the parking lot. I laid claim to several recliners and accompanied my wife and son in the humble, water-filled cement tank. A few laps and splashes later, we were toweling off and relaxing. 

Soon, two boys emerged from the second floor rooms where the Amish family had disappeared the night before. They joined the small congregation of hotel patrons at the pool and commenced to splashing and cavorting and doing the playful things boys do in a pool. While the usually sheltered youngsters amused themselves, two attractive, bikini-clad young ladies sauntered across the parking lot from the far end of the hotel property. Their sights were set on the same midday refreshment the swimming pool offered their fellow guests. The girls idly chatted to each other as they dropped their towels on some chaise lounges on the opposite side of the pool and absentmindedly kicked off their sandals. The two Amish boys froze in mid-movement, their bodies rigid, their eyes transfixed. The young ladies — unaware that their every move was being observed and tracked by two innocent and bewildered 12 year-olds — continued their conversation. It was obvious that these two young men had never, ever, in their short lives, witnessed anything that remotely resembled the figures now on display before them. The female members of their traveling contingency sure as hell didn’t look like these… these…. females. Suddenly, one of the girls rose from her seat and strode to the edge of the pool. The boys’ eyes widened. The young lady pointed her leg and slowly and precariously dipped her toe into the water. At the exact same pace, the two boys slowly and precariously backed out of the water, never once taking their gaze away from the girl. It was as though Satan himself had chosen this small, man-made body of water to cool off his cloven hoof. The girl lazily stirred the water around with her extended leg, then withdrew it and patted it with a towel  never once glancing in the boys’ direction. By the time the young girl returned to the seat by her friend, the two boys were, no doubt, on their knees in their room praying and repenting for whatever they had done to have been subjected to the Devil’s temptations. 

Sometimes, vacations yield more sights that just the ones for the average tourist. And that works on several levels. 

* For over fifty years, my wife’s family owned and operated a general merchandise store in a farmer’s market located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish population, so we are well-acquainted with their practices, observances and attire.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

fishin' blues

On Father's Day, my son took my wife and I out for sushi — the traditional Father's Day meal.

To be honest, I only started eating sushi a few years ago. The thought of raw fish was not exactly an appetizing concept to me. It was only on rare occasions that the thought of cooked fish was something I would happily and voluntarily consume. As a vegetarian (actually a pescatarian, for those of you keeping score), my "fish" preferences are limited, because in addition to being a vegetarian, I also loosely follow the guidelines of kashrut (keeping kosher). I do this not so much for religious reasons, but more out of respect for my wife who follows the stipulations in a much more stringent manner. According to the  rules of hashgacha (Google it, if you're that concerned), shellfish and certain other varieties of seafood are off-limits on a kosher diet. So when I decided to "take the plunge" and subject myself to the wonders of sushi, I was limited to the all-vegetable selections first. Once I found those to be palatable, I ventured on to the ones topped with a slice of salmon or tuna. Eel, shrimp and octopus — common ingredients in traditional sushi — were off the menu for me. I don't think I would have eaten them anyway. Didn't matter, as I was surprised by how much I liked the sushi I had eaten. So, along with broccoli, cauliflower and gefilte fish (as mentioned in previous posts), a new item entered the JPiC diet that would surprise my mother.

In the short amount of time since I began eating sushi, I didn't exactly seek it out. The scenario has been pretty much the same. I either discovered it as one of many offerings on an all-you-can-eat buffet (either at a casino or on a cruise ship) or I got it from a take-out station at a market or — oddly — a pizza place that I happened to be in. The place that my son took us to was neither of those. This place was an honest-to-goodness sushi only restaurant... and I don't think I had ever been to a sushi only restaurant.

Kura Sushi is a chain straight from Japan. If you are reading this and you live in California, you are lucky enough to have nearly twenty Kura locations from which to choose — a dozen of them in the Los Angeles area alone! If you are reading this on the East Coast, then the Kura location near you is the Kura location near me. The Philadelphia location just opened a few months ago and my son has been there quite a few times already. He figured Father's Day was a good enough time to introduce his "recently adventurous" parents to what is fast becoming his favorite restaurant.

And, honestly, it's hard not to love this place.

Kura is no ordinary sushi restaurant. Upon first glance, the place appears very sterile with small booths situated in the center of the main room. Between the lines of booths run two conveyor belts, upon which a wide variety of sushi selections are silently delivered. Once you are seated, just pick your favorites from the seamlessly never-ending parade of sushi as it quietly glides by your table. Each selection is "announced" by a sign explaining what dish will follow on two plastic-domed serving vessels. If this piece of sushi piques your interest, simply grab the exposed edge of the plate accessible through as small notch cut out of the plastic dome — at which point the dome pops open and the plate is yours! You may add soy sauce, wasabi or pickled ginger (my favorite!) if you like. When you're finished that plate (or even if you're not finished), you start the simple procedure all over again. When my son explained the process to me, I immediately thought "Wow! the plates must really pile up on the tables!" But, alas, the good folks at Kura have that problem licked. 

Every booth is equipped with two unusual components not found in most conventional restaurants. First, there is a large touchscreen mounted just above the conveyor belts. This serves as a menu, as well as a source of information for each available sushi offering that whizzes by your table. With a few taps on the screen, you can find the ingredients of each piece of sometimes unidentifiable sushi. For the impatient, each sushi dish can be ordered straight from the unseen kitchen, arriving with a whoosh! on a separate conveyor belt just above the communal one — the ordered plate stopping miraculously right at your table. Drinks can be ordered from the touchscreen, too. Soft drinks as well as alcoholic beverages arrive by — get this! — a robot! Yep! A robot, whose electronic eyes wink as it spins around, revealing your drink order on its rear shelves... ready for you to remove and  transfer to your table. That's right. I said a robot!

The other feature at your table is a slot into which you deposit your empty plate once you've eaten the delicious contents. My worry about the possibility of "plates piling up" on the small table was alleviated once my son pointed out the small slot at the end of a short, metal incline and its purpose. But the "self-bussing" of your table doesn't end there. No sir! As plates are fed into the little slot, the touchscreen displays a running tally of how many plates have been accepted. Once the total reaches 15, a vending machine, behind the screen just out of immediate view, dispenses a small, round, non-descript capsule containing either stickers or a keyring charm or a cable tie or another cute novelty. The novelties feature little anime characters, most of which change on a monthly basis. And the prizes keep coming with each fifteen plates finished. When the touchscreen isn't serving as a menu or a research tool or a plate counter or a prize distributor, it entertains guests with short cartoons centering on characters trying to steal Kura's coveted recipes.

For a long time, I have joked about waitstaff at restaurants condescendingly asking patrons: "Have you been here before?," as though the concept of going to a restaurant is something totally unfamiliar to humans in a city the size of Philadelphia. My answer has usually been (delivered with a certain amount of palpable sarcasm), "Not here. But I've been to restaurants before and I kinda know how they work." Upon entering Kura, my son politely asked me to put my smart-ass comments on hold. I would soon find out that this place didn't work like any other restaurant I had ever visited. In reality, the robot that brought our drinks would have probably ignored my snide remarks anyway.

This was a Father's Day to remember. Actually, the day after Father's Day was the more memorable... because all I could think about was sushi.