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Monday, January 9, 2017

Coming in the Next Few Weeks: SHARIA WATCH US

                                        Coming in the Next Few Weeks: SHARIA WATCH US



Speech given at the Dangerous Words conference in Stockholm, October 2016
In 2016, we might assume that the most dangerous words we could utter would be words that are critical of Islam – and it would be a fairly safe assumption. To be critical of Islam, or even un-flattering, can result in death at the hands of the state in numerous Islamic countries – including countries from which thousands, if not millions, are now arriving in Europe.
Punishment for insulting Islam has widespread support from Muslims around the world. The death penalty for leaving the faith for example has support across North Africa and the Middle East that in some countries is above 80%. In the UK, a Channel 4 poll revealed that 78% of British Muslims believe that those exhibiting Mohammed cartoons should be criminally punished.
Writers butchered in Bangladesh, Christians jailed in Pakistan, bloggers lashed in Saudi Arabia. Vast swathes of the Muslim world, either by law or vigilantism, will not accept the expression of anything that reflects badly on Islam.
                                      PHILLY’S SANCTUARY CITY QUAGMIRE
                                                  THE LOCAL LENS


    Recently Mayor Kenney gave a talk at the Community College of Philadelphia and reaffirmed his commitment to keeping the city’s sanctuary city status intact. He joined with several other U.S. mayors in reconfirming the city’s commitment to “protect” (illegal) immigrants from possible deportation. The announcement came as a sort of clarion call in the wake of the coming Trump presidency which promises to prioritize issues related to illegal immigration.
   “I am hopeful, but cautious,” Kenney said about the coming Trump Administration. “I want everyone to understand that cities, including Philadelphia, have been the bastion of protection for minorities….for immigrants, and we’re not walking this back.”
      Strong words from a basically quiet man who doesn’t give the impression that he could slay a Goliath, be it on a mountaintop or in the halls of justice. The mayor also made it known that he would cooperate with President Trump in “anything that is positive.” The mayor added: “We’re not walking back on anything we’ve established to make our city progressive.” He then advised Philadelphians to “stick together.”
     But read the 662-plus comments on regarding this topic and you will get the impression that Philadelphians are far from unified on this topic. Most of the comments were critical of the mayor’s bravado in challenging the Trump Administration’s threat to cut off federal funding to the city if it does not backtrack on its sanctuary city stand. 
    In a nutshell, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) mandates that local police forces in American cities detain immigrants not in the country legally for up to 48 hours if they are arrested for a crime. The 2-day hold would allow ICE time to come in and deport the person(s) in question. Some mayors (there are 300 sanctuary city jurisdictions throughout the U.S.) have stated that they do not want their police departments to act as a deportation agency because they fear that doing so would put undue burdens on the department.
      Certainly, if I committed a crime my U.S. citizen’s status would not protect me from the police. It is doubtful whether anyone would hide or shelter me (my friends would tell me to own up and turn myself in), and in this age of camera surveillance and Orwellian tracking, an attempted escape 1940s style on a Greyhound bus to an obscure town in the American west, would be a futile task. Instead, I would be hauled out of my hiding place, marched into a holding cell, booked, and then forced to deal with the consequences.  The only “break” I would receive would be in the form of bail. If I received a prison term for my crime, the treatment I’d be subject to as a U.S. citizen, while not as bad as the abuses suffered by non-citizen terrorists in the notorious Geuanatmo prison, would still have elements of brutality. I’m thinking especially of the horrendous abuses in the U.S. prison system in the area of solitary confinement as shockingly laid out in a new book, Hell is a Very Small Place, Voices from Solitary Confinement (The New Press). .
     While the American penal system is a topic worthy of a separate column, I ‘d like to suggest to those mayors bent on preserving their cities’ sanctuary city status that, rather than “hide” criminals who are not yet citizens, they should instead devote their energies to reforming the U.S. prison system. That would be a far more productive thing to do.
     Immigration, after all, would not be the issue it is today if the system had implemented a means of checks and balances rather than amble along on an increasingly sloppy and haphazard path over the last 40 years or so.  Cautionary note: Every sloppy practice has a karmic downswing. The downswing here is that everyone who entered the country illegally years ago has had time to make the USA home, and in so doing they have completely forgotten about their status, in some cases married and had children, all of which complicated the issue tremendously because their kids are now “real” citizens while they, the parents, are not. 
      How does anyone untangle this mess, especially when the system is to blame for the quagmire? The system also includes employers who have used undocumented workers because they are cheap labor. Why hire the teenager around the corner who is going to get uppity every six months and ask for a pay raise, when you can employ a grateful non-citizen who doesn’t want anyone to know that he or she doesn’t have papers?
      Illegal immigrants, especially those of Mexican descent, are famously hard workers, and restaurant bosses love this fact. When nearly every restaurant in town is following similar hiring practices, before long all sense of illegality is lost as the practice of hiring the undocumented normalizes or “legalizes” like a common law marriage.  Eventually the point is reached where the “guilty” employers say something like, “Papers? We’ve never checked new hires for papers!”  The shock of a President Trump coming in and saying, “Oh no, you’ve been doing this all wrong for years, and it’s going to change,” is understandable, given the slow slide into false legalism.  
      Mr. Trump is on record as saying that he does not want to deport law biding   illegal immigrants with families but he wants to deport illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes.
     Part of the problem lies with politicians like Mayor Kenney who do not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants. 
      As I told a friend recently, if there’s no difference between the two classes of immigrants, if one is just as “good” as the other, then what’s the point of even having a national immigration policy? Why not just have open borders and scrap the whole citizenship thing? Whoever walks (or flies) across the border and enters the U.S. is an automatic citizen. Let’s make the USA like a big Woodstock where everyone can huddle happily under blankets and watch the sun rise.
  If we want a country like this, then let’s do it, but let’s also not pretend that we have to have a department to run immigration and then not pay attention to the rules we set up. 

   .   Although there may be some Constitutional issues in disbanding sanctuary cities, President Trump could get Congress to approve a bill that cuts off funding for local police force in sanctuary jurisdictions.   
   The following is a short list (from Mother Jones) of what some major US sanctuary cities would lose in federal funds under a Trump presidency.
    (1) San Francisco would lose 1 billion in federal funding
    (2) Washington DC would lose 25 % of its city budget
     (3) Chicago would lose 10 % of its city budget or 1 billion
   (4) Denver would lose 175 billion
    (5) New York would lose over 7 billion
     (6) Los Angeles would lose 507 million
      Interestingly, Mother Jones does not list what Philadelphia’s loses would be, but perhaps Mayor Kenney knows what that figure is and he’s not telling. I have to wonder, however, if the mayor has given ample thought to what would happen to Philly if federal funds were withdrawn because the mayor wants to the city to be “progressive.” One question looms:  Will Mr. Trump’s withdrawing of federal funds for Philly have any effect on the mayor’s concern for poor inner city African American kids?
    For a city as addicted to state and federal subsidies as Philadelphia is, Kenney’s policy strikes me as being slightly suicidal. Philadelphia, like me or you, is not above the law. And that’s why I would like the mayor to put his challenging bravado away and think of the long term consequences of fighting Goliath.

      What is most troubling is the mayor’s refusal to differentiate between illegal and legal immigrants, especially since no one is advocating that the United States deport people who are here legally. In a way, our noble mayor is helping to whip up hysteria because he finds it politically advantageous to refuse to distinguish between the words ‘legal’ and ‘illegal.’
  It’s just not good policy to be in the business of scaring all immigrants.





                         EDGAR ALLAN POE & OUR VIOLENT AGE


     The legacy of Edgar Allan Poe has become big business in Philly. Proof of this was evident during the Inaugural Poe Arts Festival at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site and the German Society this past October. For a mere $10 participants got to sample beer, food, watch performances and listen to talks about Poe. 
      Most readers will recognize Poe, along with Mary Shelley (Frankenstein) and Bram Stoker (Dracula, which was written in Philly), as one of the progenitors of horror fiction. Poe lived in Philly for about six years and spent the last 18 months of his time here with his wife Virginia, his mother-in-law Muddy and his cat, Catterina, in the (now) historic home at 7th and Spring Garden. While in the city Poe worked for a number of magazines although his journalistic run was sometimes rough because he liked to drink in the afternoon. This habit caused him to be fired from one publication although he was given a second chance when a man named George Graham made him editor of Graham’s Magazine.   
      When Poe aficionado Herb Moskovitz asked me to read adapted sections from Poe’s story, Murders in the Rue Morgue, to Poe house visitors during the Inaugural festival I was more than willing to oblige.
     On the night of the readings, Herb and I were stationed in Poe’s old kitchen, a fairly small room that barely held the groups ushered in by a guide to hear us read. In the dark room we took turns reading the adapted story, the only light a small flashlight clipped on the corner of our scripts.  The interest (and appreciation) expressed by the various groups that crammed into that small space was impressive and contagious, and made me wonder just what it was about Poe that attracted such a diverse array of people. While it’s possible that some in the groups that came to hear us read were well read literary types, I felt that most were actually general readers with an interest in Halloween horror as it related to a scary story by Poe they may have remembered from childhood, even though there’s nothing especially scary about Poe’s fiction.

      The gore in Poe’s horror fiction, the rolling heads, the stab wounds, the walled up victims unable to breathe, all of this is too outlandishly gothic to arouse genuine fright among most readers. Standing in dark kitchen, it became obvious to me that none of the visitors were really frightened but were more interested in hearing how Poe’s gothic sentences rolled off a reader’s lips on Halloween. The idea, after all, was to create an atmosphere where Poe seemed to be in every particle of dust floating in the house, even if the really frightening experiences would have to wait until everyone at the festival went home and caught up on the latest world and local news, where the real horror resides.

      The numbers of people who crowded the Poe house that night got me wondering if Poe’s writing somehow speaks to our age more than it did to previous generations. Is the increased violence in the world, from ISIS to the killings in streets of Chicago, the catalyst that helps drive some to bask, with minimal discomfort, in the lamplight of B-movie gothic horror?  Or is something else going on? Only a one act play written by Poe’s friend, George Lippard, captured the sense of true horror when it ended on the festival stage with one man slitting another man’s throat. Here, I thought, is an authentic contemporary link. 
      There’s no doubt that Poe, and the manufacture of his legacy, has become big business, but would Poe appreciate this fact were he able to come back to life?   
   Several years ago there was a Poe war of the corpses when Philly Poe scholar Ed Pettit challenged the curator of Baltimore’s Poe House, Jeff Jerome, when Pettit suggested in a City Paper article that Poe’s body should be moved from Baltimore, where it is buried, to Philadelphia, where Poe wrote many of his noteworthy stories. The implication here of course is that Poe’s Philadelphia experience was richer and more substantial than the experiences he gathered in Baltimore. Poe actually considered himself to be a Virginian, so in theory Richmond, Virginia might also have requested Poe’s corpse to be transferred there for reburial. One could chime for months about the relative merits of various resting places as they relate to Poe, but in the end arguments like this end up sounding like theologian Thomas Aquinas quibbling about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. As a former Baltimorean, I can tell you that Baltimore does have a foreboding feel to it—I even want to call it a creep element-- that Philly does not have.  For this reason it is a more fitting city than Philly for Poe’s earthly remains.
       Poe’s skyrocketing popularity has a kind of boardwalk quality to it, reminiscent of mass produced knick knacks and mugs sold in T shirt novelty shops. When a writer becomes so popular that his/her image winds up on jars of Nescafe and breakfast jam, the tendency for some is to not bother with the writer at all. Picture 10,000 people reading Harry Potter in a football stadium and you might understand why some readers would opt never to go to that stadium. You might describe over saturation like this as the ‘drink the Kool Aid’ literary equivalent of the celebrity-loving sheep that follow every bit of news about the Kardasians.  
      Heavily gothic literature with lots of blood spilling is often equated with teenage angst. Writing only about dark things is a little like dressing up 24/7 in dark Goth clothing, which used to be the fashion among teenagers. As in fashion, so in literature, it helps to accessorize and diversify.   
              Yet the mystique of Poe is powerful enough to seduce even the most resistant reader. This is why while in Poe’s kitchen I found myself running my fingers along the walls as if forcing a spiritual communion between myself and the writer. Standing in the dark knowing that this was once the room where Poe lounged, chatted or argued with his wife or mother-in-law, scolded the cat, suffered multiple hangovers or  dreamed up a new story ideas while running his fingers along the wall, was for me a Halloween bonus. After all, the kitchen in any house is where the most dramatic family events occur, and this was almost certainly true for the family Poe. 
      At some point during my time in Poe’s kitchen, I thought of the Walt Whitman house in Camden, New Jersey, another national literary shrine although far simpler in structure and allure than the Poe House but in many ways far more authentic. The Whitman house has not been remodeled but in fact contains the same humble furniture that Whitman used. While Poe’s sojourn in Philly was relatively short, Whitman’s stay in Camden was so long that it’s probable that a DNA expert could comb the place and discover, even at this late date, “pieces” of old Walt in the walls and floors. In fact, the unglamorous Whitman house comes close to replicating the standard small Fishtown row home.  
       It’s an understatement to say that Poe’s work is not universally appreciated. There are some critics, for instance, who say that it is vastly overrated.
        A poetry site, Poetry Snark, lists the ten most overrated poets of all time. Included in the list are Charles Bukowski, Ted Hughes, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Edgar Allan Poe. 
       The famed English poet T.S. Eliot once wrote:  “Poe as a man who dabbled in verse and in kinds of prose, without settling down to make a thoroughly good job of any one genre”  
            But all of this is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. To appreciate Poe doesn’t mean having to get stuck forever in Poe at the risk of ignoring other writers of greater or lesser importance, even if his mystique, however self indulgent in its dark gothic imagery, is far more seductive than the lives of most scribes.


Thursday, December 8, 2016



    The Legend of Georgia McBride on the Arden’s Arcadia Stage is so funny the play has been extended into December. Matthew Lopez’s rollicking musical farce about Casey (Matteo Scammell), a broke heterosexual Elvis impersonator forced to become a drag queen to provide for his pregnant wife, has sent Center City audiences into non-stop laugh track mode, Ditto van Reigersberg of Martha Graham Cracker fame stars as queen diva Miss Tracy Mills who teaches Casey how to lose the macho and take pride in his hidden femininity. Casey’s metamorphosis from wooden Marlboro man to a faux woman in sequins makes this one hour and 45 minute production seem much shorter. The somewhat contrived plot twists, such as when Casey’s wife, Jo (Jessica M. Johnson) experiences a meltdown after discovering her husband’s new profession (she later embraces Casey’s high heels) have so much charm and gaiety that we hardly notice their hackneyed roots.  

When a fish falls from the sky, you can either fry up some chips or ask the universe what’s up with the weather. In Andrew Bovell’s When the Rain Stops Falling (The Wilma) the effects of climate change forms the backdrop of a centuries old family drama delivered in Tom Stoppard time lapse fashion. While time juxtapositions can be tricky in a Tower of Babel kind of way, director Blanka Zizka has created a structurally elegant narrative that is really poetry in motion. Actors Keith Conallen, Nancy Boykin, Sarah Gliko and Steven Rishard deliver outstanding performances, while Matt Saunders’ set and projection design transforms the Wilma stage into a transcendental canvass that helps makes coherent what is in fact fragmentary.  While Wilma productions generally tend to err on the side of existential angst, When the Rain Stops is a work that once seen will not soon be forgotten. 

While the Center City theater world tends to steer clear of populist plays like The Road: My Life with John Denver,” (billed as a “rare glimpse of the man behind the music”), Driving Miss Daisy or Jesus Christ Superstar, it does cater to plays about politics, personal alienation, the meaning or truth and all things  post-apocalyptic. City dwellers, in fact, love to be intellectually challenged when they are not in a Martha Graham Cracker mode. Consider InterAct Theatre Company’s 2017 Marcus/Emma (working title) at The Drake’s Proscenium. Marcus/Emma will mash together the legacies of anarchist Emma Goldman and black nationalist leader Garvey “to spin their legacies in the desperate hope of regaining prominence in our increasingly inequitable society.”  But is ‘inequitable’ really the correct word here? Will Marcus/Emma be an onstage continuation of the 2016 election? Perhaps it’s time to reach for an axe and head over to the 11th Hour Theatre Company at Christ Church Neighborhood House for its January production of Lizzie, a rock’ n roll retelling of the life of Lizzie Borden. Watching Lizzie take an axe and give her mother forty whacks might be this season’s perfect post-election cathartic release. If an axe isn’t your thing, try 1812 Productions opening of Jennifer Child’s play The Carols (with Mary Martello and Anthony Lawton, till December 31) for an oddball comedy about a trio of sisters and a jobless Catskills comic.  

  The Lantern Theater’s production of An Iliad is a tour de that captures the spirit of theater’s storytelling roots in 100 intense non-stop minutes. It also showcases one of Philadelphia’s best actor’s, Peter DeLaurier, as The Poet, an eternal voice who relates the story of Achilles and Hector at Troy from a script that includes masterful and funny contemporary asides. While the text (written by Director Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare) could be shortened, the power of An Iliad will keep your eyes focused on DeLaurier. If you see nothing else this winter, make sure you head to The Lantern before the play closes on December 11, although the production is likely to be extended.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The "He's Not My President" Litany



    The country’s exhaustion with the 2016 election hung in the air like a fog when I went to vote at the Firehouse at Aramingo and Belgrade Streets. It was near 10 in the morning but the firehouse was empty. Gone also were the usual sidewalk canvassers who hand out sample ballots. The scene was so quiet I wondered if the firehouse was even still operating as a polling place. Even during boring primary elections, the firehouse had always been alive with activity, but not today.
    I entered the sleepy firehouse and headed to the area where the voting booths are located when a woman appeared out of nowhere and asked if I was here to vote.
    That’s a strange question, I thought to myself.  “Yes, I’m here to vote,” I replied, “I’m not a firefighter.”
   She handed me a sample Republican ballot just as a Democratic operative emerged from the shadows with a sample Clinton ballot. I didn’t inquire why they weren’t outside on the sidewalk meeting and greeting people (it was a beautiful day, after all), or why there weren’t a multiple campaign posters and sample ballots pasted to the firehouse walls. When I got to the registration table, I signed in and voted and when I left I noticed that I was still the only voter in the place.
    After voting, I removed the I Just Voted sticker from my jacket lapel and went about my business. I ran into a few neighbors. Maria from across the street was rushing to vote for Hillary, while Joey, holding his newborn son, announced with pride that he had just voted for Trump. Meeting these neighbors reminded me of the sermon I heard in church the Sunday before about the importance of voting. It wasn’t a partisan sermon, of course, just a friendly reminder of our civic duty.

    Later that day I went into Center City on a work assignment, then met a friend for coffee at a new café, Toast, at 12th and Spruce Streets. Toast is a nice place. It’s quiet and laid back, there’s no loud music so you can hear yourself (and others) talk. Since it was Election Day a wide screen TV had been placed in a central place so that customers could keep abreast of the news. The set channel was MSNBC where talking heads were running commentary on the results of a number of exit polls. Every exit poll gave Hillary a sizeable advantage, so by my second cup of coffee I was pretty much thinking of Hillary as the next president. After all, poll after poll had her ahead, so how could so many experts be wrong?  
    In Toast my friend admitted that he was mad at himself for not registering to vote. He told me that he was beginning to regret not registering because he was feeling the stirrings of political passion. “I’m suddenly feeling the itch to vote but I can’t do anything about it,” he said, shaking his head. I pointed a finger at him and told him he was a heel for not registering. “I know,” he added.  My friends are at least honest if not perfect.   
      I’ve heard people give all sorts of reasons why they don’t vote, the dumbest of which I think goes something like this, “Well, Mickey Mouse and Jack Parr never voted, so why should I?” Singer Joan Baez once told me during an interview that she refuses to vote because it’s all a charade and there’s never a legitimate choice anyway, so why bother. “It’s tiresome and exhausting that we have to go through this show every four years,” she said. While I’ve always loved Joan Baez, I can’t quite figure out this logic although I didn’t tell her this at the time.   
    In the café, people kept coming in and checking the TV screen, eagerly taking note of the exit polls. The exit polls certainly indicated that this would be an election without surprises. When I left the café and headed into the neighborhood again, I checked to see if the firehouse was still empty. There seemed to be a little more activity there, but not much. 
   After dinner, I set up camp in my study and prepared for a long night of election return watching. Almost immediately it became apparent that Hillary Clinton was in trouble. I dismissed this as a temporary glitch but when the trend accelerated I knew the nation was in for a surprise. This election was going to be America’s Brexit. After all, every national poll had Clinton ahead by 3 or 4 points sans the odd polls that had Clinton ahead by one point then Trump ahead by one point. Everyone had assumed that Clinton would win, certainly everyone in Philadelphia where the Clinton vote was so overwhelming even Sherlock Holmes would be hard pressed to find a core group of out and proud Trump supporters. “Philadelphia is in its own bubble,” as I told a friend who was mourning Clinton’s loss the day after Election Day. “Philadelphians were so staunchly pro Clinton the bubble kept them from imagining an alternate political universe.”
     Every news source in the country, from The New York Times on down, indicated that Clinton had it in the bag. A few news sources pointed to a Trump win, as did a large number of psychics and Tarot card readers who predicted a big surprise on Election Day. This surprise, they said, would shock the nation. I dismissed both the pro-Trump Tarot readers and the Clinton-biased mainstream media as drowning in wish fulfillment.  
   When Trump was declared President-Elect, I knew the polls and the media had screwed things up. How could so many professionals have preformed like clueless amateurs?  

      After Trump was declared the winner, protestors started hitting the streets, with many proclaiming that the President-Elect was not their president.
       When I heard this chant I had an attack of déjà vu.
       How many times have I said this to myself during my decades as a voter? And yet here were people in their twenties saying the same thing but for the first time.
   “Richard Nixon is not my President,” I said as an antiwar demonstrator and conscientious objector in 1972.
   “Ronald Reagan is not my President,” I said in 1980 when Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter.
   “Ronald Reagan is still not my President,” I said in 1984, when Reagan defeated Walter Mondale. 
    “George H.W. Bush is not my President,” I said in 1988, when he defeated Michael Dukakis.
     “George Bush Jr. is not my President,” I said both in 2000 and in 2004, but especially in 2000 when the Florida chad recount vote had the nation in turmoil.

   I’ve grown tired of saying this but the scary truth is that the United States is not a total democracy but a Republic. This means that the states cast their votes for President through the Electoral College. This means that very often half of the country is going to get a president they don’t like or agree with. That’s the way it goes in a Republic. It’s like the ups and downs in a marriage when both spouses have to give and take, concede, negotiate, compromise and make sacrifices on behalf of the other. George Bush Jr. may not have been “my” president, but he was still president of the United States, and he still mattered.
  Likewise, President Obama was still the president of all the birther conspiracy theorists and all the “He’s a closet Muslim” fanatics.  
      That’s why when I hear protestors say that Trump is not their president, I say, welcome to the club, folks. You now know what it means to be an American. I tell them to dig in their heels and get ready for decades of feeling this way because the results of national elections are not always going to agree with your views. The upshot is that you’ll get through this with a little bit of effort but setting cars on fire and promising to shut down Inauguration Day only raises the black and red flags of anarchy.  
    It’s good to be reminded that the United States is not a banana republic where you can just dispose of a leader because you object to his (or her) political views.  




The Porch, a Fishtown Tale

    A little known film, The Porch, about life in Philadelphia in the year 1955 surfaced recently. A friend announced its discovery when he found it among his old VHS tapes. The film, as it turned out, seemed to be in fine condition. While I had never heard of The Porch, I was very curious to see what it portrayed.
    When my friend, Zorro, started the film I could see right away that the production qualities were not the best. The images in this old black and white film had a faded, bleached out look.
  The Porch opens with a row house patio scene. At first it’s not clear where the patio is located. I assumed it was South Philadelphia but on closer inspection I was pleased to see that it was somewhere in the Riverwards. In an almost modernist way, the camera focuses on just the empty patio and keeps rolling although there is no action. Finally, we see a cat running from one end of the patio to the other. No doubt this pet or feral is chasing a bird. After this nothing happens for a while until a Mummer, decked out in feathers and a cape, struts in front of the camera.
    The Mummer’s cape is far humbler and simpler looking than today’s Mummer’s costumes. The Mummer has a heavily painted face and dances from one end of the patio to the other.  All of this happens without any music. He just keeps dancing and dancing, going forward and backwards and then twirling around in this very small patio where occasionally you can see the rooftops of other row homes in the area.  

   What struck me initially was that there was no dialogue. I wanted a script, a story but even as the film progressed there were only a series of kaleidoscopic images, namely of women lying in the sun. Who were these women? Some of them wore head bandanas and looked like Rosie the Riveter. It became clear that they are women of the neighborhood, mothers, daughters and grandmothers, the women of 1955.
     Suddenly a narrator’s voice is heard.
   “The sun is warm and life is good,” he says. The voice belongs to John Facenda. When the camera pans skyward a Budweiser billboard pops into view, and then Facenda’s voice resumes. “In Philadelphia, there’s always something to make you stop crying.”
   The thing is, nobody in the film was crying until a baby in a cradle appears on screen. The baby was indeed crying, shaking its little fingers while crunching up its nose and moving its head from side to side. Once again, Facenda’s voice is heard.  “You’re crying…well, you may have your reasons but think of all the fun that lies ahead.”   
   “These were really optimistic times,” I said to Zorro. “They had no idea that Vietnam War was just down the pike. Or that the assassination of a future President was in the wings. It’s good we don’t know what the future holds.”
    I no sooner said this than the images on screen seemed very familiar to me. Yes, by God, I was really seeing Aramingo Avenue in 1955, but not only Aramingo Avenue but East Huntingdon Street, Richmond Street and many smaller streets in my immediate neighborhood. The camera seemed to be on a topography tirade as it scanned the inside the old paint factory that stood at Huntingdon and E. Thompson. There in front of me were workers in endless assembly lines.  More close-ups of the streets—all meticulously spotless without a shred of litter, mind you— then that Mummer guy appeared again and proceeded to dance up towards York Street, twirling and twirling until he disappeared like a dot on the horizon.
      O Poor Mummer, I thought, where are you now?
       The camera then panned Lehigh Avenue where I caught a glimpse of the houses I still see standing today. I recognized windows and doors. There seemed to be a lot more parking spaces in 1955 and people were better dressed. No sweat suits and baseball caps. The women wore hats and many of the men wore baggy jackets and ties. Sometimes the suits were so baggy the men looked like clowns.
       Life seemed so formal then.
      To my dismay, a Strawberry Mansion bound route 39 Peter Witt SE car appeared on Huntingdon at Richmond Street.  Ah, the beauty of Richmond Street prior to I-95! Children played on the stoops of the row houses there as Chrysler New Yorker’s and a Chevrolet Bel Air and Corvette slowly drove by. In two years, the highly eccentric looking Ford Edsel would make its way down Richmond. How many people in the Riverwards would buy an Edsel?
   “Everything was ruined by I-95,” Zorro observed.  
    The Route 39 appeared again, stopping to pick up two women in long dresses. Were they going into Center City to visit Horn & Hardart or Stouffer’s? A man in a bowler hat wobbled into view from a side street--did he just leave one of the bars along Lehigh Avenue?—just as two kids in a homemade co-cart came barreling around the corner, almost crashing into a lamppost.
   Above a small corner store I spot a Camel cigarette ad, and beside that is a faded billboard featuring Marilyn Monroe.
     A Cadillac Convertible passes in front of the camera with an Adlai Stevenson for President bumper sticker. That’s when I remember that the country was gearing up for the November 6, 1956 presidential elections, when Dwight D. Eisenhower would beat Stevenson by almost 9 million votes.  The 1956 election was the last presidential election in which both major candidates were born in the 19th century.

   Then, in a very shocking scene reminiscent of contemporary behavior patterns, a man and a woman appear out of a house on Richmond with Eisenhower signs and proceed to chase after the Cadillac Convertible. They appear to be shouting slogans when one of them drops their sign as both manage to jump on the trunk of the Cadillac. They pound the car furiously with their fists. The Cadillac breaks, then speeds up, then breaks again in an attempt to throw them off the car. Eventually the motion does send the couple sailing across Richmond Street where they land in the gutter, unhurt but apparently dazed.

  “Election animosity is as old as the hills,” I mumble, as Facenda’s voice suddenly emerges, pleading for tolerance and unity.    
    By now I am very engrossed in this film, and ask Zorro why it’s never been shown on public television. The Porch isn’t even on You Tube, as far as I know, and it might even be virtually invisible except for random showings by private collectors.

     Perhaps the most eerie thing about The Porch is that so many of the characters who appear in the film, especially after the political attack scene, closely resemble the faces of neighbors and people I see today walking in the area.
    “Really, they seem to be the very same people,” I said, lurching forward in my chair and pointing to a face that was a dead ringer of a local business owner.
      “It can’t be him, Zorro said, “The film is from 1955.” But sightings of duplicate people only increased after this, and they really mushroomed when the camera panned a shopping crowd scene near Girard Avenue.  That’s when the huddled masses on the street going about their errands were none other than the very people I see every week in the Riverwards. I spotted Citizen’s Bank employees, Washington Bank employees, Stock’s Bakery employees and more, all of them in 1950s dress and going about their business as they do today, 70 years later. “They’re living two lives at once,” I told Zorro, “one in an archival film and the other in 2016.”
   “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” I muttered, reaching for the popcorn.
    I really flipped when I began to see the faces of the neighbors on my street.
   “How is this possible?” I said to Zorro.
         I soon stopped asking how this was possible but started to wonder how I could step inside the film to find out what was going on.  Certainly such a thing was possible. I knew I had to find a way to do it in order to warn these folks about I-95 (“Don’t let them build the wall!”) and to tell that fanatical Eisenhower couple that their fighting was not needed because Eisenhower would win anyway.
  But this would only be the beginning. I’d have a lot of other news and predictions to deliver even if nobody wanted to hear about the future.  
     Once again the camera panned the face of the baby in a cradle. The baby was still crying and moving its little hands as John Facenda repeated, “The sun is good and life is good.”  



Monday, November 7, 2016