I have neighbors who like to say, “Be careful” whenever I leave my house and head into Center City. The cautionary words annoy me. They anno...
What does it mean to talk like a Philadelphian? Unfortunately, having a Philadelphia accent doesn’t carry the same cache as having a Boston...
I’m sitting with Broadway diva, Ann Crumb, in her parents’ home in Media, Pennsylvania. This isn’t just any home. Beside me is Ann’s father...
Tom Trento, Director of the Florida Security Council , was in Philadelphia last year to showcase the film, “ The Third Jihad ,” and to shar...
The global economic crisis has put many of the world’s skyscraper projects on hold. In Philadelphia, architects Gene Kohn and Bill Louie of...
She's not in films, but she could be. She's the one on the left. The guy in the middle is my nephew Kevin and his wife Tiffany i...
MATTHIAS BADLWIN WAS A VERY NICE MAN Will the City--and his so-called friends-- uphold that ...
Why Not Philadelphia? By Thom Nickels, For The Bulletin 11/16/2008 Many questions have been asked about the proposed American Commerce Cen...
The first line of Allen Ginsberg’s HOWL reads: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...
THE BLACK MASS WITHIN VATICAN WALLS A recent US Catholic bishops meeting in Baltimore made a claim that there were far too few active Cath...
Saturday, February 21, 2015
City Beat February 2015
A Philly.com article on the ‘man bun’ got us pondering famous hair bun styles in history. Ballerina buns, Emily Dickinson’s schoolmarm look, Princess Leia’s French rolls, or messy buns with chopstick antennas. Most of the man buns we’ve seen have been on male model types who have little to loose by going ugly. The man bun is really a contrived look on a par with women who dye their hair blue. The rugged PECO worker or neighborhood FIOS installer would never think of doing his hair up like a French maid. Should this cosmetic blight be allowed to continue? Might we suggest fashionista vigilante action, such as gangs with hair scissors to send these knots flying?
One good job deserves another. This seems to be the philosophy of PGW’s VP of Marketing and Communications, Doug Oliver, who wants to be mayor. The sharply dressed “go to” smiley executive says he’s ready to be a consensus builder.” His photo and logo,”DO2015” has the pitch perfect ring of Nordstrom’s gift wrapping but is there anything inside the box? Running for mayor, it seems, is all about product. Lynne Abraham’s product is her legacy as former DA. The other contenders--Anthony “Tony” Williams, Nelson Diaz, Ken Trujillo,
(and possibly) Alan Butkovitz—make us think of cold oatmeal sans cinnamon
accents. It doesn’t help the city that Terry Gillen had to drop out of the race
due to a lack of funds, while lesser lights like Milton
Street continue to be bankrolled.
Was Joan of Arc burnt at the stake only to be stolen from the
? For some time now we’ve been
hearing stories of how developers shell out cash to neighborhood youths to get
them to climb to the roofs of old buildings and dismantle prized features. The gold Joan statue that
used to grace the portal above the Loraine’s front door was not a work of art
like sculptor Emmanuel Fremiet’s Joan on the Parkway, but it was stunning
enough. It can still be seen in old renderings and photographs of the place.
The Loraine’s Joan disappeared sometime in the late 1990s. Divine Loraine
Has Latimer Street’s Pen and Pencil Club become the
of journalism? While it’s
true you won’t find the skulls of Damon Ruyan, Red Smith or George M. Cohan
behind any glass containers there, you will encounter a bevy of talkers who
have opinions on everything. While deadline-conscious journalists cannot afford
too many ‘till the wee hours’ boozy nights, “I just got off work” restaurant
workers and other nocturnal party animals can. The expansion of P&P’s
membership in recent years to include everyone but journalists has caused one observer
to write: “This place is a monument to the cigar-chomping,
typewriter-banging old-school newspaperman who hardly exists anymore (outside
Museum ).” We tend to think that when ‘theme
bars’ like P&P attain comfortable status quo institutionalization (a place where
politicians hold court and participate in panel discussions), it’s really time
for adventurous journalists to look for a living museum. Hollywood
We celebrated with Paul Stinke when the former
Terminal Market head announced
himself a candidate for City Council. Stinke’s impressive resume includes a
stint as Finance Director of the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation. His
family was on hand for the festivities. The 6’4” Stinke towers over nearly
everyone he meets, including his small stature older brother who introduced
Paul after Rep Brian Sims’ rousing opening speech. If we could make any
campaign suggestions for Paul, they’d go something like this: Up the amp in your
public talks. It’s okay to show some passion and to let your voice rise and
fall like ocean waves meeting the shore. (2) If you really want a seat on City
Council, you first have to win the hearts and minds of Mr. and Mrs. Philly Joe
Average, so go light on ideological references to lgbt activists outside the
“The Body of an American” at the Wilma had us coasting in confusing boredom for the first 25 minutes but when the play picked up we were on the edge of our seats as much as we were when we saw Gone Girl at the Roxy. Our wish was to let Blanka Zizka know how much we enjoyed the performance but we were told she was in
for a theater conference. The same
Wilma official told us that Blanka really didn’t want to go to Chile because she likes opening nights,
but in the end the offer proved too enticing. The Body of an American is an
intense, often uncomfortable look at what war can do to the human psyche. The
drama also inspired the Wilma’s large stable of (cliquish) 20 something actors
to break out into frenzied Whirling Dervish dancing towards the end of the
Friday, February 20, 2015
The Local Lens
• Wed, Feb 11, 2015
By Thom Nickels
A Philly.com article from January 5, 2015 focused on the so-called "man bun," which is, essentially, when a man does his hair up in a bun.
If this sounds strange, it’s because it is strange. Not because a man, or woman for that matter, doesn’t have the right to wear their hair anyway they want but because of what the average hair bun has come to symbolize for many.
Let’s consider famous female buns in history.
There’s the ballerina bun, Emily Dickinson’s schoolmarm bun, the Princess Leia French roll bun and the messy hair bun with chopstick antennae. Then there is the top-knot bun, or a bun that sits directly on top of a woman’s head like a corn muffin or an apple.
On most women, buns have a severe and restrained look because the hair is pulled back very tightly on the head. This "pulled back" look exposes the bun wearer’s face to undue scrutiny. Everything is accented, like big noses or large ears, but especially big noses because noses always look bigger when the face is not framed by free flowing hair. Free flowing hair often acts as an aesthetic distraction or enhancement and can beautify even the humblest of faces.
Regarding noses, I’m reminded of what writer/novelist Muriel Spark once wrote. The nose, she said, "is our tether between spirit and substance." She quotes Genesis: "the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul," then adds, "The first thing that happened to Adam happened to his nose. Therefore the nose is an emblem at once of our dusty origin and our divine."
Getting back to buns: The majority of women, it seems, wear buns when they don’t have time to "do" their hair; the bun is the end result of a hair emergency. Sometimes a bun can be a work-related necessity. Ballerinas, for instance, do their hair up in buns to avoid getting hair in their faces during performances. Yet this does not mean that they have to keep the bun look while traveling home on Amtrak or Septa.
The advent of the man bun, however, is proof positive that western civilization has not only "ended" but is now in that anarchic post-apocalyptic phase known as the Theater of the Absurd.
Why a man would want to put his hair up in a bun is one of those questions that cannot be answered simply. Is it because he wants lots of eye contact in the street? Or does he want to be known as the pioneer of a new hairstyle?
Most of the man buns I’ve seen have been on male model types who have little to lose by going ugly. In other words, because these men tend to be extremely attractive, they can afford to take gross liberties with their looks.
A balding man with bifocals who struggles with his weight might be advised to stay away from the man bun, because, as is the case with women with top-knot muffin buns, it will only showcase his physical imperfections.
To understand the perversity of the man bun, let’s quickly recap the recent history of male hair.
When long hair first came on the scene, public reaction was not good. In the late 60s, high school students were expelled from school for refusing to cut their hair. Newspaper articles showcased debates on the "ethics" and "morality" of long hair on boys and men.
Long hair was associated with the Beatles and later with radical politics. It was a badge showing sympathy or identification with anti-war demonstrations and the 1960’s counter cultural movements. Animosity against long hair was intense; it bordered on outright hatred. Suburban home-dwellers, truck drivers, World War II vets, policemen and businessmen of every stripe heaped scorn and ridicule on long-hairs. Long-haired hitchhikers were sideswiped off the road, not hired or fired from jobs, or called fags or chicks. Intolerance ruled the airwaves.
Then, suddenly, long hair on men stopped being about politics. Yale-educated political conservatives with long locks began appearing on William F. Buckley’s "Firing Line." Those same truck drivers who used to run hippies off the road were now sporting hippie hairstyles. The same was true for those motorcycle gangs who used to castigate "peacenik" hippies. In the meantime, "dangerous" political radical types contented themselves with the retro-beatnik goatee.
Ira Einhorn, Philadelphia’s Earth Day founder and self-styled New Age guru, copied the long hair and beard styles of Abbie Hoffman and poet Allen Ginsberg. Einhorn, of course, was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Holly Maddux, in 1979, and became the target of a massive FBI hunt after he fled to France to escape prosecution.
Charles Manson certainly denigrated the long hair and beard look with his nefarious deeds.\
"The culture of hair is most obvious in the United States," writes French journalist Hadrien Laroche in his book, The Last Genet, about the famous playwright and novelist Jean Genet. Laroche quotes Genet on hippie hair: "Any style would do, apparently: long; medium length; with a fringe; straight; black and greasy; flowing; all over the place, brown and frizzy; blonde and curly…This fashion, carried to extremes and even beyond in England, was born in California and grew out of the American army’s reverses in Vietnam…"
The contemporary man bun is ideology-free. If one were to reduce the man bun to politics it would be the politics cosmetic provocation, something that proclaims, "I’m different," when in fact man bun men are more likely to be far more ordinary than guys walking around with hair styles you don’t notice.
To illustrate my point, picture a man, nothing internal to rebel against, as "normal" as one can be. He would be completely unremarkable from others on the street. The man bun solves this problem by deviating from the established "normal" look.
The man with the Iroquois haircut who hates the anonymity that working as a bank teller brings; or the man who tattoos his neck or forehead because he never made it as an artist and he wants to be noticed somehow, or any way possible.
One good thing about the man bun is that it toys with notions of androgyny, although in a contrived, unattractive French maid kind of way.
The Local Lens
• Wed, Feb 18, 2015
By Thom Nickels
The race for mayor has forced me to look over the field of candidates, as well as to ponder which person would be good for Philadelphia.
I wrote about Terry Gillen in this column before she dropped out of the race because of fundraising problems. It was unfortunate that this had to happen, as I genuinely liked Gillen despite the fact that many found her style to be formalistic and tight. At a small fundraiser I attended for her in Society Hill, I did notice that her campaign aides had a tight-lipped, robotic manner as if they were afraid to be too natural or animated.
Recently, I was found myself at another ‘meet the candidate’ night when I received an invite to attend Ken Trujillo’s State of the Union party in Center City. Trujillo, a former city solicitor, used President Obama’s speech as his campaign kick-off.
The Trujillo crowd was composed of mostly twenty-something people; this surprised me because I expected greater diversity in terms of age. Attendees nibbled on delicious thin crust pizza, soft pretzels and craft beer. Everyone seemed pretty excited to be there.
President Obama lorded over the party crowd on a big screen TV. As the president drove home certain points during the State of the Union– and the television cameras focused on John Boehner’s crestfallen face– the crowd went wild. Obama, obviously, was their hero. Meanwhile, I rank myself as a lukewarm Obama supporter, my opinion growing colder after the President’s disastrous Crusades comment.
When Trujillo addressed the crowd, he surprised me when he said he was happy there weren’t any old people present. Obviously he didn’t see me in the crowd, unless I was the notable exception. Trujillo explained that political campaigns mean nothing and never get very far without the support of young people.
I’ve heard this sentiment before. When Eugene McCarthy ran for President in 1968, almost every smart young person in the country was pro-Eugene. McCarthy, however, lost in a landslide. The so called young vote had proven to be a liability.
At Trujillo headquarters, the heavily partisan crowd applauded much of what Obama said. It was much like all partisan crowds, Republican or Democrat, when the applause is as predicable as canned laughter.
While observing the crowd, I was reminded of the ideological loyalty I witnessed at the start of the Iraq War when I listened to a George W. Bush speech calling for an invasion of that country. I recalled attending a party at my sister’s house when I let a mild objection slip and the guests slowly turned and looked at me in a censorious way. Likewise, during the State of the Union speech, when a man in the back seemed to take issue with something Obama said he was subject to a collective stare.
The day after his party, Ken Trujillo withdrew from the mayor’s race, citing family issues but not going into specifics. What happened in the twelve hours between the end of the party and the fateful email from his campaign the next morning is any one’s guess.
Whatever happened, there were no "young people" to save him.
Continuing with the mayoral theme, a friend of mine, Riv, who happens to be black, told me that he thinks the city needs a white mayor this time around.
"The racial pendulum has to swing back," he said, "It will be good for the city. It’s a healthy thing to do."
My other black friend (we were three friends having lunch) agreed with Riv’s sentiment. Both friends discounted Anthony Williams, mostly because of Williams’ controversial and allegedly corrupt father, Hardy Williams, whose city legacy is anything but good.
"Is there an elected position Mr. Williams won’t run for?" one comment on Philly.com asked. "Other than former [retired] city employees, he doesn’t have to risk his other job to run for Mayor. And if he loses, he’s just raised his recognition factor. Only Jim Kenney has the most to lose by putting his money where his mouth is, resigning a cushy City Council job to run for Mayor. I just wonder what Williams thinks he can accomplish as Mayor, working ‘with’ city council is something he couldn’t do when he was part of the same City Council."
The three of us agreed that Jim Kenney is probably the best candidate and certainly a safer bet than the venerable Lynne Abraham who, as District Attorney, almost gave the police too much power and neglected to pursue police misconduct cases when they surfaced.
Riv pointed out that if Abraham were elected she would be Mayor Rizzo in drag. He was referring to the hard time that minorities had on the streets of the city when Rizzo was mayor. While it’s true that Rizzo’s obsession with law and order had its good points– and while it’s also true that he was very charming if you found yourself in his company; he once put his arm around me and invited me to lunch despite my writing not so flattering things about him in a Center City newspaper— he did overstep his bounds when it came to allowing the police to do pretty much what they wanted to do.
During the Rizzo administration, black and gay friends of mine were routinely rounded up on the streets and put in the back of police wagons for no other reason than they were walking in "suspect" sections of the city or that they looked "suspicious."
The level of police harassment that people dealt with back then cannot be comprehended today, as the police generally do not ride through the streets "collecting" people they don’t like and then making them spend a night in the Roundhouse before releasing them in the morning.
I don’t know what Rizzo was thinking when he allowed these things to happen but I don’t think that this sort of harassment ever helped fight real crime. It was a trying time. People were picked off stoops in Center City for tying their shoe laces at 2AM or for talking with their friends (post-midnight) in a city park. This was a time when Center City was like East Berlin; when people had a real fear of the police. On the other hand, this was also pre-September 11th, so one could enter City Hall and go to any floor on a whim, walk past the Mayor’s Office and say "hello," to His Honor, or even take unorthodox sightseeing trips into City Hall’s basement, which I did on many occasions with a City Hall worker as my unofficial guide.
Today, of course, there’s this perception that there’s far too much crime in the city and that a tough cookie like Abraham will fix that problem fast. But this isn’t what most of us who have lived through Philly’s East Berlin stage in the 1970’s want to see happen.
The other mayoral candidates didn’t register much interest with us. Nelson Diaz, for instance, failed to stir any passion, but Jim Kenney did, despite the fact that, sadly, Anthony Williams has been cited by "journalists" (not this journalist) as the front runner.
We concluded our discussion with a mention of Michael Nutter’s mayoral style. The three of us agreed that that style can be broken down this way: Because black people, traditionally and historically, are still relatively new to the reigns of American political power, black elected officials generally exhibit a more formal style when they govern; formal meaning slightly more rigid and by the book.
Riv put it this way:
"When Ed Rendell was mayor, he’d swagger into a news conference or an event with his constituents with Midge, his wife, and a small jazz band in tow, always clowning, always casual and informal and yet always serious underneath. This doesn’t happen with Mayor Nutter and it didn’t happen with Mayor Street. What we have here is formality, or the mayor’s entourage– all those suited men and women traveling with the mayor in line processions where acts of spontaneity are alien."
I knew what Riv was talking about, as I’ve often noticed Mayor Nutter’s entourage, that procession of second lieutenants who surround him like a Philly version of the Swiss Guards.
With the Democratic National Convention coming to Philadelphia in 2016, this would seem to be the time for a substantial change. Ignore Bob Brady’s endorsement of Anthony Williams, and think of Jim Kenney.
Vote for a new city and a new attitude.
Saturday, January 24, 2015
The Local Lens
• Wed, Jan 21, 2015
By Thom Nickels
I don’t like to hang out in places where politicians and their friends rule the roost. When there are too many political-types in a room the atmosphere gets thick and tense.
Politicians can be genuinely insincere despite the face they like to wear. A casual conversation with a politician can be stilted because the things they say are usually carefully measured and controlled. What you wind up with during conversations like this are approved sound bites. To get raw, unadulterated feelings and opinions from a politician you’d first have to have those opinions sanctioned by their public relations machine and staff. This is necessary because the politician has to be sure that what he or she is saying is the right thing. On a human scale, this makes for a lot of insincerity.
Despite feeling this way, when I received an invitation to hear former Reading Terminal head Paul Steinke announce his intention to run for City Council-at-Large, I headed over to the Field House on Filbert Street to be a part of the event.
While on my way to the Steinke kick-off, I happened to fall alongside a young family walking with their young children near 11th and Market Streets. The family seemed to be rushing as if they were late for something. The mother, in fact, paced out ahead of her husband with one of the children running on her heels.
"Where’s the fire, lady?" I said to myself as we all crossed an intersection at the same time. But when I heard the mother say, "Here’s the Field House!" I knew they were going to the Steinke event. What I didn’t know (but would discover later) was that the father of the family was one of Steinke’s brothers. When this fact came to light I thought how lucky Paul was to have the total support of his family.
When I attended Nutter-for-Mayor events years ago it always amazed me that there were still so many people around who believed that "our" candidate— the "right" candidate– will change the world and that Utopia would be right around the corner when he or she wins. People keep holding on to this myth despite the fact that once these politicians get elected they inevitably fall short as their Utopian dreams come crashing down to earth. Still, we like to delude ourselves with the fanfare of political campaigns: the shiny candidate buttons or colorful placards to put in our windows.
At the Field House sign-in table there were Steinke candidate buttons and placards galore. Political-types in suits and name tags smiled like morticians. The room was crowded so it was hard to move about easily. I recognized a number of people— political faces I’d seen in years past at rallies or at City Hall events. I watched their lips move as they talked to others in attendance. TV crews readied their big cameras as some in the swelling crowd bought beer at the bar. A small table off to the side (but hidden by a portion of the crowd) offered pizza and pretzels. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the small table until the end of the rally, so my evening was a mix of politics and a growling stomach.
Anyone who has ever met Paul Steinke knows that he’s a "go to" nice guy. The Northeast-born Philadelphian is smart and accomplished. People like Steinke because he seems to be a genuinely humble man despite his accomplishments. He was the Finance Director of the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation as well as the first Executive Director of the University City District. He was also the head of the Reading Terminal Market from 2001 until 2014 when he resigned to run for City Council. At the Reading Terminal Market, Steinke’s tenure has been nothing short of phenomenal. He brought the market into the 21st Century and out of the doldrums of leaky ceilings and the smell of mildew to its current status as one of the top city markets in the country. Steinke also seems to have the ability to talk and listen to many different types of people. He’s not a business-only-type of candidate. If there are traces of arrogance in his personality, he keeps them well hidden.
At the event’s start, Representative Brian Sims of Philadelphia County addressed the crowd in his confident, humorously prickly style. He mentioned Steinke’s accomplishments while advising those in the crowd to pick up a placard and applaud vigorously at the right moment.
Sims had commented that introducing Steinke was like introducing a movie star and as Steinke came on stage he looked like a Kennedy clone or an actor in a Christopher Isherwood drama. The crowd applauded when the candidate took the mic and then listened attentively as he began his speech.
Kool-Aid was not passed around.
Steinke talked about the historic importance of Philadelphia, Independence Hall, the Constitution and all of the fine historic events that happened here.He then enumerated his positions on a number of issues, both local and national.
As the first openly LGBT candidate for City Council, Steinke had yet to play the sexual orientation card although this fact was (appropriately) mentioned by Sims during his introduction. It is doubtful whether anyone in the room had not been aware of this fact but it came out like fireworks at the end of Steinke’s speech when he thanked a number of LGBT activists for making his candidacy possible. He even mentioned the name of Frank Kameny, a Los Angeles based activist who left an important legacy in the area of LGBT civil rights.
At this point during the proceedings I was thinking a number of things.
My first thought was to send a message to Steinke and suggest that he "up" the volume and amplification in his public talks. After all, when making a speech, it is perfectly okay to speak up and show some passion and let your voice rise and fall like ocean waves meeting the shore.
Then I might suggest to him that if his talents are to grace the corridors of City Hall, perhaps he should first concentrate on winning the hearts and minds of Mr. and Mrs. Average Philadelphia and not focus too heavily on obscure (from a mainstream point of view) ideological personalities like Frank Kameny.
"After all, Paul," I might say. "As composer Ned Rorem once said, ‘It’s not Walt Whitman’s sexuality, but his universality that made him beloved throughout the globe.’"
COMMENTARY: We are all Shane Montgomery
• Wed, Jan 14, 2015
By Thom Nickels
We are all… Shane Montgomery.
Why am I saying this? Let’s start at the beginning.
Shane Montgomery disappeared after a night out with friends that included a stop at one of Manayunk’s most popular hangouts, Kildare’s Irish Pub on Main Street.
While I’ve never been to Kildare’s, I know that there are scores of places like Kildare’s all over the city.
At 21, Shane Montgomery was still a kid, a boy with some "man growth" but essentially still in adult formation mode. At age 21, few of us have a firm grip on reality, even if many 21 year olds pretend that the opposite is true.
Being 21 is not easy. For most 21 year olds, for instance, the tendency is to judge the world, our friends and family, harshly.
I’m not saying that Shane Montgomery judged anybody, but at 21 he undoubtedly found himself in that "almost mature" formation space described above.
When I was Shane’s age I was often in hyper critical overdrive. When I look back on those days I sometimes feel a little embarrassed. Was I really so critical and arrogant?
The twenties is a time when emotions and mental attitudes go up and down like an erratic seismograph. At that age we are on the hunt for what mature philosophers call a centered personal equilibrium.
Shane Montgomery lived in Roxborough, Manayunk’s next door neighbor, so Kildare’s on Main Street probably had a home turf feel for him. When Shane’s friends (and cousin) left him alone at Kildare’s, they probably thought nothing of it. Being alone in a bar is not necessarily a bad thing. People sometimes go to bars alone to meet a special someone because that’s harder to do in a group situation.
Quite a number of people, upon hearing the news that Shane had drowned in the Schuylkill River, offered theories as to what they thought may have happened to him.
Some suggested that he may have accidentally fallen into the river because he was drunk, while others offered the bizarre theory that he was a victim of a so called Smiley Face serial killer.
One off-the-wall theory even suggested suicide.
Shane, the rumor went, had drowned himself in the river because his family was unhappy after he told them that he was gay. This rumor is obviously bogus because had it been true a friend or two of Shane’s would have known this fact long before his parents did. Nothing like this ever came up in the investigation.
What is significant for me is the love and loyalty shown by Shane Montgomery’s family as divers spent almost 2 months searching for his body.
The television news reports were painful to watch, especially the clip of his mother speaking to reporters after his body was found near the Manayunk Brewery.
The magnitude of his parents’ sorrow indicates that they felt only unconditional love for their 21 year old son.
Most of us have encountered risky life situations where we could have wound up as a fatality.
Whether this means stopping your car on the side of a busy highway to change a flat tire, and then getting hit by a passing car; or waiting for the 15 bus outside the Gold Coast bar on West Girard Avenue in Fishtown as that January 3rd shooter fired a gun, wounding two men, and then (for the purposes of this column) innocent bystanders—you or I-- who happened to be standing nearby.
Or how about narrowly escaping (or not escaping) getting hit by a car while crossing Aramingo Avenue?
In some ways, we are all Shane Montgomery because unusual coincidences, like being at the wrong place at the wrong time, can alter our lives forever.
This is true even for those of us who take great pains in avoiding possible mishaps and disaster.
Consider the following family story I heard over the holidays.
My sister-in-law recounted how her fear of flying got her to talk my brother into taking the train, and not the plane, to Florida for a family trip. For my sister-in-law the train appeared to be a much safer mode of transportation despite the fact that the train ticket cost three times what it cost to fly.
Feeling confident that she had life’s unexpected disasters minimized, she packed her husband and two kids into a southern bound Amtrak train, not in the least minding the fact that the sleeping berths for the four of them were very small.
While the first leg of their journey went smoothly, something happened after the train left Baltimore and Washington and headed further south.
As the train crossed a highway, the road toll gates stopping traffic failed to go down and the train hit a car or two, killing one of the drivers. My brother’s wife and kids were thrown out of their berths as smoke poured into the train. For a time they had no idea what would happen to them.
Would they live? Would they die?
By avoiding the "dangerous" airplane, my sister-in-law had experienced a possible loss of life by taking the safer ("I’m being extra cautious") train.
People say about poor Shane: Why didn’t he go straight home? Why didn’t he leave Kildare’s with his friends? Why this and why that, but when we’re really living life or in the throes of a party with favorite friends, we rarely think that one inconsequential choice made along the way will lead to tragedy and death.
I remember the time I hitchhiked near Paoli when I was Shane’s age. With my thumb out standing on the side of the road, I was happy when a Volkswagen stopped to pick me up. But no sooner was I inside the car when the driver looked at me and growled, "We’re going straight to hell!"
What a relief it was when I discovered that the threat was a joke, but what if it had been real?
Suppose the driver had driven me to an isolated part of Chester County and disposed of me in serial killer fashion?
Would my family and friends have asked why I went into a strange car? Why I couldn’t see that the driver was dangerous? And why I just didn’t walk home?
When you’re 21 you don’t think of death as something that could really happen to you. Death is an abstract idea, more remote than watching a Good Year blimp flying out over the ocean and into the horizon.
Any number of things could have happened to Shane Montgomery that night-- small inconsequential events, like taking the train instead of a plane, that somehow put him along the river’s edge and led to his untimely demise.
Monday, January 5, 2015
the City of Kleptomaniacs? Consider
which has seen a lot of foot traffic since 1789, when it was built by Judge
William Lewis. Since 1930, The Committee of 1926 has safeguarded the
mansion’s antiques and fine art, including the collection of dolls from the
1926 Sesquecennitial. But where there are collectibles, there are thieves.
During one Philadelphia Museum of Art-sponsored tour an antique sugar snipper went
missing from the dining room (some say this happened because the tour guide
neglected to walk behind exiting visitors). On another tour, somebody pocketed
a sterling silver soup latel after which the mansion got smart and fish-wired all
the silverware to the dining room table. Earlier this year after a local preservation
group held an event there a number of items came up missing: a brass letter
holder with a shell design that had been used as a paper towel holder in the
bathroom, extra rolls of toilet paper and a bowl filled with artificial
strawberries. Is there a link between
historic preservation, a love for old buildings and the kleptomania gene? Strawberry Mansion
Growing up in an Irish family is not for the weak of heart. In John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar at the
we found ourselves in rural
watching the Muldoon’s and Reilly’s duke it out. Shanley, the Pulitzer Prize
and Tony Award winning author of 23 plays performed in 17 countries, grew up with
a mother who claimed that she was “not affectionate.” (In interviews, Shanley often refers to his
mother as “a pill”). Many of Shanley’s plays are from family experiences, most
notably “Doubt,” inspired by a relative’s experience with a priest convicted of
child molestation. Outside Mullingar
is the story of a man and woman who need years of prep time before declaring
their love for one another. ‘Slow recognition’ like this was evident when we attended
a recent Irish themed panel discussion at the Pennsylvania Historical Society. When
many in the lecture hall grumbled because they couldn’t hear the panelists, rather
than complain they left the hall early (and politely) for the post-talk
reception. Perhaps shy Irish of this caliber need a high voltage shot of Jewish
Yenta Forwardness, a Dame Edna shouting, “We can’t hear in the back! Speak up!”
When we met celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck several years ago in Atlantic City, there was so much fanfare you’d have thought that an ex-President was in the room. As fellow journalists clamored to devour Mr. Puck’s latest creation—Flat Iron Steak with Peppercorn Sauce and Blue Cheese Butter—we found little difference between Puck’s creation and a “normal” Beef Kebob found in many Asian eateries. An equal comparison, in fact, might be how blogging has come to be seen as its own profession on an equal par with serious journalism, rather than as a sideline or adjunct pursuit. The city’s celebrity diva chef of the moment is Jose Garces. Garces has taken dining out to new heights: the pre-paid ticketed meal and so-called beverage-pairing, even though the latter seems nothing more than an excuse to raise prices. We prefer the classic standby: red with meat; white with fowl or fish or, better yet, whatever is affordable. An ex-chef once gave us his reasons to be wary about artsy food presentations: “The fancier the dish, the more hands and fingers have prodded, massaged, sculpted, squished, felt up, poked holes in, infused or otherwise violated your dinner. Hand and fingers, after all, have a history of (going in and out of) the darnedest places.”
We chatted with our friend
who went to
Greensgrow Farms in Fishtown to shop for a Christmas tree. Greensgrow started
out as a simple lettuce farm but has since grown into a multi-tiered organic
food and farm industry with “mobile markets,” a nursery, and gift shop with T-shirts.
Traditional no frills Regina or even Iowa Farming is light years away from Greensgrove’s
“transubstantiated” world where farming is an Agri-religion with esoteric
antecedents like medicinal herbs, cultish followers and hydroponic lettuce
machines. “I always felt a lot of snobbery there,” Lancaster County confesses. “Their
Christmas trees were $45.00, which seemed unusually high to me but I thought,
well, maybe they are hydrophonic miracle trees with medicinal benefits.” In the
end, Regina went into Port Richmond and bought an even better, forest grown
(traditional) tree for twenty-two dollars. Regina
Café Twelve’s new ownership has much of its old gay clientele going to other cafes. Maybe it’s the influx of droll Drexel students who seem to be turning the place into a school cafeteria, or the “lap top”
Street gym bunnies who text for hours there that’s
chasing away the former occupants.
Growing Up Irish is Not for the Weak of Heart