Sunday, December 31, 2023

if a picture paints a thousand words

I draw. I draw a lot. If you follow my online antics, you already know this about me. A little while ago, I decided to see if I could turn my drawing ability into some cash. I posted a little "ad" on my website offering my "alleged" talents to my alleged "legions of fans." For a small, reasonable fee, I will draw a portrait of the person of your choosing in that "Josh Pincus" style you've come to love (or revile, depending on your particular taste in art). I've been taken up on this offer a few times. More recently, I have branched out in the sticker and t-shirt business, but my portrait proposition has remained open and available.

On Friday morning, I was posting my daily celebrity death anniversaries (as one does) on Instagram. Then, as is my habit on Friday mornings, I posted my weekly "Dead Celebrity Spotlight." This is a drawing of a recent or not-so-recent celebrity, accompanied by a little story about why they were significant. Sometimes it's someone of worldwide renown. Other times, it's a long forgotten name, whose claim-to-fame endeavors are unsung and usually forgotten. Once posted, I get a smattering of "likes" and comments from a tiny, online faction who share my fascination with death, celebrities or any degree of combination of the two. As I settled back to finish a cup of coffee and figure out the plot points of the My Three Sons episode that was flashing across my television screen, a notification of a private Instagram message popped up on my phone. It was from someone with whom I was not connected. I get these a lot. After I post a photo of my son's cat, I will get inundated by unsolicited offers to become a "brand ambassador" for a line of cat toys. Just this week, I got a message from someone noting my affinity for singer Orville Peck and asking if I'd like to promote their similar-sounding songs. Both of these types of messages were deleted by me.

However, the message I received on Friday morning — the one that drew my attention away from a 60 year-old episode of the Fred MacMurray sitcom — asked if I was available for commissions.

I quickly responded that I was indeed and sent a link to the area of my website that details the steps to make one of my portraits your own. This person — who we'll call "Jimmy" — immediately and anxiously responded. He said he'd like me to draw his kids and sent me a photo of two young men standing on a driveway and looking like they'd rather not have their picture taken. I said I'd be happy to draw them once I received payment of $100 (the reasonable fee I mentioned earlier). I sent my wife's PayPal account info, reiterating that I would begin the drawing after I received payment. He asked for the PayPal user name on the account. I replied with an explanation that PayPal does not really employ "user names" like other payment apps and that the email address would be enough to accept payment.

He pressed for an account user name... somewhat relentlessly.

I spoke with Mrs. P, who assured me that — as I already knew — an email address is all that is required for PayPal payments. But, this guy Jimmy wasn't convinced. He pressed again and he pressed harder. Each of my explanations were met with an angry-toned "WHAT IS THE USER NAME" reply. Finally, Mrs Pincus logged into her PayPal account. She saw that PayPal recently added a "user name" that is essentially meaningless. It seems this useless addition was created to pacify those folks who were used to the "user names" associated with online payment upstarts Venmo and CashApp. I informed Jimmy of this new-found information and repeated the $100 fee and the proposed start time for his drawing. He asked if this was my first commission. I replied: "No. I have been doing this for forty years."

Then, I should have ducked to avoid the monkey wrench that Jimmy hurled at me.

"I am willing to support your artwork to the sum of $500," he said via text message in the Instagram app.

The biggest red flag began waving in my head! A red flag so big that it could bring the participants in the Indy 500 to a grinding halt. No one — and I mean no one offers five times the agreed-upon price to an artist whose name is not Picasso, Renoir or Dali. And especially one of questionable notoriety and named Pincus.

"Thank you," I quickly replied, "but $100 will be just fine. Please do not send more than $100 for a drawing."

"I am doing this willingly," Jimmy replied aggressively, "so don't worry about it, hun."

This sounded really, really fishy. "If you'd like me to do a drawing, please just send $100.," I repeated.

That was the last of our exchange. That was last night. So far, no PayPal payment has been received from Jimmy... nor do I think there will be.

The internet is filled with weirdoes. And they all know how to find me.

If you'd like a drawing and you're not a weirdo, you can contact me HERE.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

stop right there, I gotta know right now

Ever since I unceremoniously lost my job in Philadelphia, I have worked in New Jersey. It is not unusual for people from Philadelphia (and its immediate surrounding area) to work in New Jersey. As a matter of fact, Philadelphians consider New Jersey to be a suburb of Philadelphia. 

My commute to work is about forty minutes and, understandably, I have to cross a toll bridge. Actually, I have my choice of two bridges that span the Delaware River. My preference is the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, a nearly 100-year old drawbridge that, at any given moment, halts traffic to open up and allow passage of a ship. This operation can interrupt my morning and/or evening drive by up to a full hour. My alternative is the Betsy Ross Bridge, a more modern but less traveled truss structure built high enough that it doesn't need to open. Ships just scoot right under it and so far no ship has been too tall for passage. The Betsy Ross Bridge, however, is difficult to get to and out of my way. It also sports a toll of five dollars as opposed to the Tacony-Palmyra's EZ-Pass-discounted three bucks. Most mornings, I take the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. I subscribe to a texting alert system that lets me know when the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge is scheduled to open. If I get that message before I leave for work, I change my route and head, reluctantly, towards the Betsy Ross Bridge. If I get that text en route, well.... then I'm fucked.

Once I cross one of those bridges, I navigate towards Route 130 and soon I find myself at work. Route 130 is an 83-mile stretch of busy Interstate thruway of which I only employ a small portion. One day, while driving along the route I drive every morning, I saw the flashing light of a local police vehicle in my rearview mirror. I obligingly slowed down and pulled to the curb to allow the officer to pass. But he didn't pass. He pulled right up behind me. Panicked, I steered my car into the parking lot of one of the many businesses on Route 130 and shut off the engine. The police car came in right behind me and parked. The officer stayed in his car for a few minutes before approaching my car. In those minutes, I tried to think of what I could have possibly done to warrant a traffic stop. I wasn't speeding. It's kind of hard to speed on Route 130 that early in the morning. As far as I knew my brake lights were in working order. The officer appeared beside my car and I lowered my window.

"Hello, officer.," I said

"Good morning," he replied and he asked for my driver's license and car registration. He walked around to the front of my car and leaned down a bit. Then he returned to my driver's side door. "You don't have a front license plate." he said.

"Yes," I explained, "They are not required in Pennsylvania, where I live." He nodded. I went on to say that I worked in nearby Pennsauken, New Jersey and I was on my way to my job.

The police officer squinted at me and said, in his best "Sergeant Joe Friday" voice, "I ran your license and there is a New Jersey plate with the same number that was reported stolen." I didn't know how to reply. Obviously my license plate — a blue, yellow and white plate with "PENNSYLVANIA" printed across the top — is not now, nor has it ever been a New Jersey license plate. It does not look like, nor could it be mistaken for a New Jersey license plate. I decided on the best response... and that response was "Oh."

The officer examined my driver's license and registration for a moment or two before handing them back to me. He said, "Okay. Have a good day, sir." He turned on his heels and walked back to his car. He got in, fired up the ignition and sped away, no doubt on his way to break up a murderous and desperate crime ring in the Greater Pennsauken area. I started my car once he was out of sight. As I continued on my drive to work, I played the whole incident over in my head. My explanation of the lack of a front license plate to an officer of the law in a neighboring state just stuck with me. That is until I re-thought about his nonsensical reason for stopping me in the first place. Look up there. There is a side-by-side comparison of the current Pennsylvania  and New Jersey license plates. Can you tell the difference? If you can, perhaps a career in New Jersey law enforcement is not right for you.

Ever wonder why New Jersey is the butt of so many jokes? Wonder no more.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

jam up and jelly tight

By the time you read this, we will be in the throes of Chanukah... probably the seventeenth or eighteenth day by now — I kind of lost track. Chanukah, as you may or may not know, commemorates the... um... the... well, something ancient involving the Jews overcoming some massive obstacle only to come out of it with flying colors and go on to face another obstacle. Or something like that, I'm not a biblical scholar and I make most of this stuff up anyway. Besides, this story isn't a history lesson. it's the story of a particular business in my neighborhood.

There's a little bakery around the corner from my house. It's tucked away in an awkward spot, occupying the bottom floor of a block of houses the fronts of which face the street on the opposite side. The bakery looks like the basement access to these houses and, at one time, that may have been the case. But, now, it operates in a tiny space jammed with glass display cases that only allow for one of two customers in the store at a time. There is barely enough room for customers exiting the bakery to pass customers entering the bakery without bumping elbows or — worse! — upsetting wrapped boxes of recently-purchased baked goods.

Sure, there are other options for baked goods in the area. Several nearby supermarkets have full in-store bakeries whose selling floors are twice — or three times — the size of the little bakery. The main draw of the little bakery is its kosher certification. There is a fairly large Orthodox Jewish population in my neighborhood and a kosher-certified bakery is an integral part of their day-to-day life. The little bakery prepares traditional baked provisions to meet the needs of this specific faction of the community. They bake and sell cookies, and cakes and other assorted pastries. Every Friday morning, the cramped shelves are packed with golden challah breads to be used as the centerpiece for familys' Shabbat dinners. On special holidays, hamantashen and taiglach are prepared to aid in the celebration of Purim and Rosh Hashanah respectively. As tradition dictates, the bakery offers sufganiyot — jelly-filled doughnuts — for the marathon that is Chanukah. As a special treat for my in-laws, Mrs. Pincus stopped by the little bakery to pick up some sufganiyot for her parents' dessert. She even secured a couple for us, as well as a couple of themed and decorated cookies. (I think there were supposed to be menorahs, but I was not fully convinced.)

Now, one would think that a small, specialized, neighborhood bakery would be run by a friendly, avuncular, gregarious character greeting customers with a smile and a cheerful demeanor and well as a grateful sentiment for browsers and purchasers alike.

One would think.

The guy that owns and operates this little bakery is a belligerent, angry, nasty, condescending jerk who berates his customers and loudly complains about his employees — in front of his employees and his customers. He's the last person you'd imagine as someone would own a bakery. A bakery! A place where cookies and cakes and happiness are sold! 

Mrs. P entered the bakery on Friday morning. She walked into a tirade from the owner. He stood behind the tiny service counter, blocking the doorway to the working bakery room behind him. He was barking ultimatums to the few customers. As his staff was busily stuffing jelly-filled sufganiyot into boxes, the owner defiantly announced that he would not make jelly doughnuts again until next Chanukah, adding that it's too difficult. My wife asked him, "If someone wished to order 500 jelly doughnuts in July, you wouldn't make them?" He frowned and scowled and growled, "No! No, I wouldn't! They are just for Chanukah!" Mrs. Pincus, who after years of hanging around Josh Pincus, has become something of an instigator, continued to needle the bakery owner. "You make hamantashen throughout the year, not just for Purim." The owner frowned again and grumbled, "That's different!" and he trailed off with no real answer to my wife's question.

A young lady in an apron appeared with a large tray of cream-filled doughnuts. As she fitted the tray into the glass display case, the owner warned, "The cream-filled doughnuts are only for people who placed orders! If you didn't pre-order them, you can't have them!" He put heavy, threatening emphasis on the end of that statement. Mrs. P eyed the cream filled doughnuts and asked the young lady if all of them were already spoken for. The young lady shot the owner a dismissive "side eye" and asked my wife if she would like one or two. Mrs. P asked for one jelly-filled and one cream-filled. She also requested a half dozen of the questionably-shaped cookies. As Mrs. Pincus paid, the owner continued voicing his displeasure with his business, his employees and the hand that life had dealt him. He waited on a customer and licked his fingers to assist in the opening of a paper bag to fill with baked goods.

After our dinner that evening, I made a couple of cups of tea for my wife and I. Mrs. P sliced the securing tape on the bakery box to reveal the goodies she had purchased that morning. The box contained two cream-filled doughnuts, not one jelly and one cream as was requested. Cream was smeared along one of the inside walls of the box, a result of a poorly-packed and unevenly-balanced packing job. The cookies were also defaced with excess doughnut cream.

The doughnuts and the cookies weren't especially good.

Neither is the bakery owner.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

hot diggity! dog ziggity! boom what you do to me

Every July 4th, I park myself in front of my television and watch the Annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. Why am I obsessed with this annual summer holiday event? Well....

I don't know.

The contest began in the early 1970s, although a Nathan's marketing promoter named Morty Matz told of an impromptu contest held at the famed Coney Island hot dog stand in 1916. The alleged first contest was held between four men boasting over who was the most patriotic. They decided that eating hot dogs - America's beloved main dish - would prove their love of country. The story went on to claim that the contest was judged by then-popular entertainers Eddie Cantor and Sophie Tucker. However, in 2010, Matz revealed that he had made the whole thing up.

So, the actual date of the first Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest was July 4, 1972. It received little to no fanfare. The following year, a fourteen-year old boy won the contest, but due to a nationwide meat shortage, the gluttonous contest was downplayed and eventually denied by Nathan's that it ever took place.

But, Nathan's was determined to make this contest a media event, generating interest as well as  business. They were successful, with the contest gaining national attention in the mid-1990s. Under the regulating eye (or mouth) of the IFOCE (The International Federation of Competitive Eating), the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest has grown to become the "Super Bowl" of competitive eating events. In the early 2000s, the contest was dominated by Takeru Kobayashi, a cocky, young Japanese citizen who would swoop in on July 4th and down over four dozen hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. Kobayashi did this for six consecutive years until 2007, when upstart Joey Chestnut consumed an unheard-of 66 frankfurters to unseat Kobayashi. Since then, Chestnut has won the contest handily, out-eating his competition by dozens. In 2021, Chestnut wolfed down a whopping 76 hot dogs and buns in ten minutes to set a still-standing world record. There's even a separate women's competition held just prior to the men's event. In past years, diminutive Sonya Thomas, a sweet young lady who looks like a stiff breeze could knock her over, has eaten 45 red hots to earn the coveted "pink belt" of glory. She has since relinquished her title to up-and-comer Miki Sudo, who holds first place status in other competitive eating events like tamales, buffalo wings and spare ribs.

But why.... why? .... am I fascinated by this event? I haven't eaten a meat hot dog in almost twenty years. When I did eat hot dogs, it wasn't more than two or three at one sitting... and certainly not under a time constraint. I think it's the way the contest is presented that I what I enjoy most. First of all, it is broadcast on sports network ESPN as though it is a real sporting event. It draws thousands of spectators who pack the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Brooklyn's Coney Island to cheer on their favorite eater. The faux pageantry is hosted by the charismatic George Shea, the co-founder of the IFOCE. George is a character, setting the stage for the tongue-in-cheek attitude that contest exhibits. Sporting a straw skimmer, George announces each contestant with a lengthy, often-exaggerated, mostly-nonsensical introduction worthy of a heavyweight boxer or a Greek god. Once the competition begins, he offers play-by-play that rivals Monday Night Football and sometimes sounds like the narrative of a Dr. Seuss book.

The competition itself is downright disgusting. Hand-held cameras provide close-up coverage of every bite, gulp, teeth gnash and swallow. Participants are permitted to dunk the hot dog buns into their choice of liquid (usually water of lemonade). This provides added splashes and sloshes that heightens the excitement. The visuals are so "in your face" that the camera lenses are often splattered with bits of hot dog buns, specks of meat and even a little sweat. Not only do you feel as though you have a front row seat, you actually get a "hot dog's-eye-view" of the action. It's frenzied and fun and — in a word — barbaric. The whole thing plays out like a modern take on the Christians being fed to the lions (with the Christians being hot dogs, in this case).

So every July 4th, while folks are enjoying a day off from work, a family get-together, a backyard barbeque, or perhaps a day at the beach, I can be found gazing at my television at high noon, watching a bunch of guys prove their self-worth by jamming dozens of hot dog into their gullets for a shot at a few minutes of fame and glory... all while trying not to choke to death.

What better way is there to celebrate America?

Sunday, December 3, 2023

get it right the first time

I recently wrote a story about an age-old incident that has been lingering over my family for years… actually decades. The details of the story – as I recall – have been hotly debated by my brother and me. Since we are the two survivors of the story in question, that debate shows no signs of being resolved. The other two main characters in the story – my mother and my father – have since passed away, so, in the waning years, this tale has been reduced to a “he said-he said” among siblings. Not wanting to stir up an argument with my brother, I have been very careful not to bring up this incident in his presence, as my version of the story differs greatly from his. So, I have told my take to my family over the years and – with no other account for reference – that’s the version they have come to know and believe. I published this story on It’s Been a Slice, with the comforting understanding that my brother never reads my blog. He has better, more productive, things to do than read about my antics in cemeteries and my overblown analysis of The Partridge Family. Knowing that my brother wouldn’t see my “official” published narrative of the notorious Pincus Family “cake-dropping” incident, I was free to make my version the version among the handful of followers who read (and inexplicably look forward to) my posts every Sunday morning. 

I was wrong. And it turns out, I was wrong about a lot of things. 

The pre-disagreement
Pincus Boys
My brother Max, four years my senior, has been enjoying the life of a retiree. He goes to the gym. He reads. He plays card with other retirees. And every once in a while, he casually peruses Facebook. Last Sunday, while wading through the political posts, speculation on the Eagles’ chances of taking the Super Bowl and notifications of the birthday of a long-forgotten co-worker, my brother came upon a photograph that piqued his interest. It was the stock image of a smashed cake that I used to accompany my story of the afore-mentioned incident. Seeing my name associated with the picture, he figured I must have written about "the incident." 

So, with plenty of time on his hands, my brother clicked on the link, arrived at my blog and read my most recent entry. 

I don’t think he was
angry. I think he was more confused, if anything. You see, he never thought there was any sort of disagreement over how the events played out. As far as he knew, the story happened one way – the way he remembered it. He never knew that I had a completely different memory of the incident and that I had been telling my version for years. 

Well, Max was about to take matters into his own hands and set the record – and his brother – straight. 

As the time stamp confirms, I published the post on my blog bright and early on Sunday morning. 5:00 o’clock AM, to be exact. Somewhere around lunchtime, I received an alert that a comment had been left on my blog by one “Max Pincus.” I held my breath and thought: “I can’t believe he read my blog. He never reads my blog!” Admittedly, there were a few stray butterflies doing loop-de-loops in my stomach as I began to read my brother’s rebuttal. 

Here is Max’s statement. Read along with me… 
Your blog certainly is amusing. Unfortunately, it also happens to be inaccurate. Here is what actually happened... 

I was asked to pick up a birthday cake, although I do not recall whose birthday was being celebrated. Once I got the cake, I returned home in my white 1963 Buick LeSabre, which cost me $325 and got about eight miles per gallon. As always, I parked on the street directly in front of the house. I got out of the car with the cake, took a few steps and somehow dropped the damn cake in the street. 

My mother -- NOT my father -- saw me park the car in from the of house and was on her way outside to greet me. When she saw what I had done, she pretty much lost her mind. She bounded across the lawn to confront me and began screaming -- in a loud enough voice to attract the attention of several neighbors (who gladly will confirm my version of the story) -- "How do you drop a cake? How is that possible that you dropped the cake?" She bent down and picked up the smushed cake out of the street, then began pushing it into my arms, all the while yelling, "Show me how you drop a cake. I wanna see how you dropped the cake." As I made my way into the house, Mom was following close behind, loudly requesting a demonstration of how I managed to drop the cake. 

Fortunately, for the sake of everyone's sanity, my mother was laughing about the incident before she went to sleep that night.

One final note: The notion that my father, who I do not recall being present when I lost my grip on the cake, "knelt down and awkwardly gathered up the cake box in his hands" is absurd. I never saw him clean up a mess of any kind, regardless of the circumstances. Ever. 
I’ll tell you this. He makes a darn good argument. Darn good! With the finesse of a seasoned attorney (he is not), Max presents a detailed description, complete with specific bits of information and precise chronology. He even cites possible witnesses who could corroborate his story if, say, this thing went to trial. Honestly, if it did go to trial, I might be brought up on charges of perjury. 

We agree that a birthday cake was purchased, although neither of us recall who was the honoree. We also agree that said cake was indeed dropped and that Max was indeed the party responsible for the cake’s unfortunate date with gravity. After that, our stories split and split wildly. 

I will say, however, that Max’s story does make a lot of sense. I can absolutely envision my mother’s behavior as my brother describes – at first furious and then jovial as time pacified her anger. I also wholeheartedly agree that my father would never ever make any sort of attempt at cleaning anything up. Ever. That was women’s’ work and it would cut into his cigarette smoking time. Max also elaborated on the subsequent reaction of a neighbor. I could picture that happening, too. 

One of my mother’s favorite adages was: “The six most important words you could ever say were – I admit I made a mistake.” My mother was a very smart person. I will happily – and humbly – repeat those words with respect to my brother. 

Hey, I'm sure I’ve been right about other things. I guess.