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Friday, December 19, 2014

The High Rise Center City Stalker in the Katherine Hepburn Hat

The Local Lens

Published
• Wed, Dec 17, 2014

By Thom Nickels

My friend Lena lives in a big, lush Center City condo building with a 30-story high view of the city. The view from her living room window is anything but dull. She’s lived there peacefully for almost two decades—until she met the woman in the hat.

The woman in the hat, a building newcomer, is a woman of smallish stature and maybe 50 years old. She’s the type of woman who would blend anonymously into any crowd. At any local supermarket you wouldn’t look twice if you saw her picking over the broccoli and red peppers. If you spotted her at Dollar General or Family Dollar you’d think she was just an ordinary neighborhood lady out shopping for cheap rolls of toilet paper and paper towels.

Unstable people don’t always look crazy. Jeffrey Dahmer looked like a movie star. Ted Bundy, another serial killer, could have been a movie double for Anthony Perkins, the man who played the lead in Hitchcock’s Psycho.

As the Scriptures say, Lucifer can also appear as an angel of light.

The lady in the hat, to the contrary, has a huggable appearance, so much so that there’d be a battle among strong contractor types to open the door for her at any Wawa convenience store.

Lena recalls the night she was sticking a fork in her microwave cooked Idaho baked potato (her dinner at the end of a long day) when she heard someone pounding on her door. The pounding had the ring of an enraged parole officer or advance SWAT team member staking out a suspect.
"Who’s there?" Lena asked, her sing-song voice showing some signs of stress. "May I help you?"

The Idaho potato, safe in its skin, went cold as Lena peered through her condo’s security peep hole. She saw the smallish woman but could only see a portion of her face because the rest of her was hidden. Obviously, she had moved out of the perimeter of the peep hole. Not a healthy sign by any means. To an overactive imagination it might suggest a dangerous scenario straight out of the movie, Gone Girl.

The voice in the hallway might have been Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist:

"You’re smoking in there… smoke is coming into my apartment. You are speed walking all night… I can’t sleep. I’m calling the police. I am going to register a complaint!"

People—neighbors—have a right to complain about noises that keeps them up at night. On my own street, for instance, one sometimes hears neighbors raising their voices when there are problems with rambunctious pit bulls. Several years ago it was an all-girl riot, which I reported on in these pages. That was when ten or more high school girls were engaged in a massive street fight of hair pulling, screams, face slaps and ‘cheerleader’ style kicks to the shins. Although the rumble ended anticlimactically when the Alpha girls who started it all sped away in Daddy’s convertible, it left neighbors here wondering if heretofore quiet Mercer Street had become ground zero for a Philly version of West Side Story.

Center City high-rise "neighborhood" fights usually don’t begin with hallway rumbles but with zealous door poundings.
The woman at Lena’s door shouted her complaint several times so that all the neighbors would hear.
Lena remained nonplussed. "I… don’t… smoke….You have the wrong… apartment," she said.
"I’m calling the police," the woman screamed.

Had I been in Lena’s place, I would have been tempted to say, "The police won’t come anyway. They’re hanging out at Wawa in a group huddle." Honestly, when do the police do anything about domestic disputes?

I asked Lena why she didn’t open her door and engage the woman full blast. After all, wasn’t she afraid that a refusal to open the door would enrage the woman even more?

"How dare you talk to me through a hole!" I can easily envision someone saying.

Why not speak to the woman face-to-face? I suggested to Lena that perhaps she should have ‘humored’ the woman by inviting her inside for a bit of cold potato or a tall glass of Port. There must be some truth in that old clichĂ© about winning an enemy over with honey.

"I knew she was crazy from the start and didn’t want to engage her," Lena said, "I didn’t want to start any kind of relationship with her."

She had a point.

The woman’s accusation of speed walking seemed peculiar to me because speed walking used to be a popular women’s sport in Center City. It was often practiced in the 1990s as a substitute for jogging. The idea behind speed walking was to make your body look like it was running when in actual fact it was just walking faster than a stroll. The quick motion of the arms in contrast to the slow motion of the legs also gave it a comedic look. When I lived at 21st and Pine there were speed walkers all over the street.

"It’s positively Chaplinesque on this street!" visiting friends would comment.

Lena is more of a sleep walker than a speed walker; she’s slow and methodical in her movements.

"I do not speed walk," she said. "I’m not a road runner of any kind. The woman is nuts. Nuts!"
The big question, of course, was when the woman would return.

That question was answered two days later when another series of door pounds woke Lena up around midnight. The screams in the hallway referred to the same complaints: smoke and speed walking, in addition to "other noises that keep me awake." This time Lena did not bother spying at her through the peephole but stayed in bed until she went away.

"Tell management now," I suggested.

A few days later, Lena entered the condo elevator and pushed the 30th floor button before noticing that the smallish woman huddled in the corner of the elevator heretofore hidden by shopping bags was the woman in the hat.

Enter stage right: A film by Dario Argento or Brian De Palma.

Staring neurotic eyes framed by shopping bags kept their focus on Lena.

"I get off at the 29th floor," the woman said in a flat monotone.

"That’s nice," Lisa said, in Disney mode but secretly sweating bullets.

When the elevator opened at 29 the woman remained in the car, and at 30 she followed Lena out but walked down the opposite hallway. Lena went to her place and bolted the door but stood by the peephole to see if anything would happen. In a second or two she could see the woman pacing back and forth in front of her door. She was pacing and looking worried as if she was trying to decide what to do.

Lena, who rarely cries, felt a swell of emotion. She says she wondered how something like this could happen to someone who minds their business, is nice to neighbors and who has few if any enemies.

The next night, she was startled to hear the sound of someone trying to unlock her door with a key. Through the peephole, she could see the woman, still in her crumbled up Katherine Hepburn hat, fiddling with the lock in hopes of getting inside.

This story has an anticlimactic end.

The next day Lena registered an official complaint with management, only to find out that the woman in the hat had also lodged numerous complaints against her, among them making smoke, speed walking, and making strange nocturnal sounds.

Rationality finally prevailed, however, and the woman was given notice that she would soon be evicted. This process, however, could take some time.

What Lena’s story illustrates is that perhaps landlords should check the mental health of a prospective renters with the same tenacity and enthusiasm with which they tackle their credit history. A bad credit report never put anyone’s life in danger, but an unstable person with money can be more dangerous than full fledged bankruptcy.

From The Chestnut Hill Local: The Work of Noel Miles (Legendary Locals of Center City Philadelphia)

Paintings by Miles (right) are currently on display in an exhibit titled “Philadelphia Artistry: The Forgotten, The Remembered and The Beloved” through Nov. 14 at the Bazemore Art Gallery, 4339 Main St. in Manayunk, owned by Lenny Bazemore (left).
Paintings by Miles (right) are currently on display in an exhibit titled “Philadelphia Artistry: The Forgotten, The Remembered and The Beloved” through Nov. 14 at the Bazemore Art Gallery, 4339 Main St. in Manayunk, owned by Lenny Bazemore (left).
by Len Lear
“There are starving artists all over the world, but my hero is Ai Weiwei, a prisoner in his own country of China. (Weiwei is a famous artist and political activist who has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese government‘s repression of democracy and human rights.) But he is not starving as far as his creativity is concerned. I believe you cannot starve creativity out of someone.”
This passionate comment was made last week by Noel Miles, 78, during an interview with the Local. A native of North Central Philadelphia, Miles moved to Mt. Airy 52 years ago after graduating with a fine arts degree from the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (later called the Philadelphia College of Art and now known as the University of the Arts).
A gentle, sensitive soul, Miles would be too modest to say so himself, but he might just be the most accomplished watercolorist in the Delaware Valley if not the east coast. His delicious paintings of Philadelphia landmarks ripple and surge with both delicacy and strength, turning stone and iron structures into living, breathing characters with dignity, character and profound feelings.
These paintings by Miles are currently on display in an exhibit titled “Philadelphia Artistry: The Forgotten, The Remembered and The Beloved” through Nov. 14 at the Bazemore Art Gallery, 4339 Main St. in Manayunk. Miles’ watercolors depict the evolution of Philadelphia from its industrial roots in what he calls the “Athens of America.”
Miles grew up near the Stetson Hat factory in North Philly and down the street from the once huge Phillies Cigar factory. It was an area with many Victorian brownstone houses when Miles was young. “Our house was three stories with coal fuel heating,” he recalled. “After a four-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, through the GI Bill I was able to attend art school.
“My great-aunt Ida was born in 1892; I always attribute to her my love of the aesthetic. I knew I would be an artist from early childhood. My junior high school had an art club, which I joined and where several teachers encouraged me to continue my desire to be an artist. I was lucky to have the best art teachers, Mrs. Perkins and Mrs. Hibbert, who gave me my first art history book, ‘Art Through the Ages,’ by Helen Gardner. At Dobbins School I also had outstanding art instructors such as Mr. Sam Brown, a former WPA artist and my mentor.”
A spectacular rendering of City Hall by Noel Miles.
A spectacular rendering of City Hall by Noel Miles.
In art school Miles studied with W. Emerton Heitland, one of the country’s foremost watercolorists, who supported Noel’s nomination to the American Watercolor Society in 1964, which allowed him to use the letters AWS after his name. (The society was founded by Samuel Morse, himself a painter and the inventor of the Morse Code.) Miles generally works in “pleine-air.” “I consider natural light and shadow a big factor in my compositions,” he said.
All of Miles’ working life has been spent in design and commercial art. For 13 years he was the art director for Channel 6. He also worked as art director for Channel 3, designing sets and logos. There was an occasional portrait commission done in oils, but the large majority of his work was done in watercolors. The presentation of one of his paintings to the Prince of Wales was a painting of the Academy of Fine Arts building. A painter himself, the British royal remarked to Miles that he was “not in your league.”
Miles has taught art courses at Drexel University, Temple University, the Art Institute of Philadelphia and Cabrini College. In celebration of the 100th birthday of Philadelphia’s City Hall in 2001, Miles collaborated with the city to create “The Splendors of Philadelphia’s City Hall: An Artist’s View,” a complete history of City Hall, which was the world’s tallest habitable building when it was completed. The volume is filled with more than 50 interior and exterior full-color images of City Hall, all created by Miles.
The current exhibit of his work was proposed as a joint venture after his friend, George Beach, a businessman and the first African American to own a public relations firm in Philadelphia, introduced him to gallery owner, Lenny Bazemore, who wanted to stage an event featuring local writer Thom Nickels’ recently published book, “Legendary Locals of Center City Philadelphia” (Arcadia Publishing).
A photo of Miles appears on the cover along with photos of opera singer Mario Lanza, author Pearl Buck and several other legendary Philadelphians. What does the future hold for Miles? “Beyond continuing to paint, I look forward to frequently visiting my Memphis-based grandson, who is 5 years old.”
I urge everyone who has ever admired the architecture of some of Philly’s great buildings to see this exhibit. More information at 215-482-1119,www.thebazemoregallery.com or @BazemoreGallery.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Father Charles Engelhardt: Priest Martyr at the Hands of "Billy Doe"


The accuser, "Billy Doe."

The last couple of weeks have yielded a lot in the way of colorful city news stories. .
   First, there was Vince Fumo’s Op-Ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer recommending that people not give money to the homeless because [as Fumo states] most of the homeless people begging on the street use that money for drugs. Saying “no” to the homeless, Fumo argues, will force them into shelters where they will be forced to see the light and, like Saul of Tarsus, be converted to a wholesome life of non drug use.
  (If you buy that argument, then you must also believe that Thanksgiving turkeys are related to Schuylkill River catfish).
      Then there was news of the tragic death of the Reverend Charles Engelhardt, 67, a Philadelphia priest serving the second of his 6 to 12 year sentence for accusations surrounding his molestation of an altar boy in 2009.

      Father Engelhardt’s attorney, Michael J. McGovern, called the priest “A beautiful and holy man. He was a true martyr.” Members of Fr. Engelhardt’s family (who were emotionally crushed that a drug crazed con artist looking to make a fast buck had destroyed the life of a good man), also knew that an innocent man had been persecuted.  .
    There have been many “true” clergy sex abuse accusations and convictions, but Fr. Enfelhardt’s case is not one of them. The unwavering crazies who believe any accusation of molestation just because the accused wears a collar, always put raw emotion above truth. One has only to check the out of bounds and hate-filled comments (many plainly, anti-Catholic) on Philly.com whenever this topic becomes a news story. On that site one can read comments ranging from, “Arrest all priests,” “Give every priest the chair,” to “The Catholic Church needs to be destroyed.”  
   At the time of Fr. Engelhardt’s death, the Pennsylvania Superior Court was hearing arguments in favor of a new trial for the priest based on charges that the original trial was riddled with “prosecutorial misconduct.”
   According to Ralph Ciprano in an article entitled “When Prosecutors Cheat,” Fr. Engelhardt’s original trial was filled with so many errors, misrepresentations and lies that the entire dog and pony show had to be redone. When presiding Judge Anne E. Lazarus agreed to hear arguments for a new trial, a flood of new information surfaced, information that previously had been kept secret or off the record.
  Here’s where it gets interesting.
    Originally, fast buck “Billy Doe” claimed that he was molested or raped by his sixth grade homeroom teacher, and because of this he became sick and missed a lot of school. Prosecutors at the trial stated that he missed 3 ½ days of school, but, as Ciprano points out, Doe’s report card shows perfect attendance.
    Furthermore, [again, according to Ciprano] when “Doe” first launched his civil suit against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, he was on record as telling his drug counselors that he did not have a history of sexual or physical abuse. He then reversed this earlier statement and produced a litany of accusations that could have come from a bad William S. Burroughs novel. That litany of events bordered on the fantastic and paints a picture of a boy who couldn’t even walk down the street without running into men who forced to do something against his will.

   This is what fast buck “Billy Doe” claims happened to him:

(1) He was abused at six years old by a pal
(2) He was abused at seven years old by a teacher
(3) He was abused at eight years old by an unknown man
(4) He was abused at nine years old by another unknown man
(5) He was abused again at nine years old by a 14 year old family friend

   The story doesn’t end there but, like Pinocchio’s nose, keeps growing.

      “Billy Doe” then tells the Philadelphia DA that he was molested or raped at ten years of age by Father Engelhardt and another priest, Father Edward V. Avery in a kind of “pass the human football” conspiracy. He said this despite the fact that the two priests, Fr. Engelhardt and Fr. Avery, weren’t even casual friends.
     The doped out druggie low life then made the claim that Fr. Englehardt told him just before the molestation that he was now ready “to become a man.”

    Ciprano reports that on the witness stand, Billy Doe made another wild-eyed claim when he testified that Father Engelhardt carried a black bag filled with pornographic magazines.

   (This, by the way, is a scene straight out of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch).

   , “Billy Doe” even dropped another name into the hat: His homeroom teacher, one Mr. Shero, who he says began abusing him when he turned 11.
  “Billy Doe,” who refuses to use his real name (what’s there to be embarrassed about if you are telling the truth?) went into abuse-fantasy overdrive when he was interviewed by the Archdiocesan Victim’s unit social worker, Judy Cruz-Ransom.
    Ciprano reports that Cruz-Ransom recalls “Billy Doe” as “faking tears,” and then telling her a long story about how he was raped for hours; how he was punched and knocked unconscious and even tied up Clint Eastwood style but not with rope or piano wire mind you, but with sacred altar sashes, and then—to add a film Noir flavor to this MGM epic-----he was strangled with a seat belt.
   “Billy Doe” didn’t say where the seat belt was from—a Nissan? Volvo?  —but he conveniently forgot to mention getting strangled and all his other violent claims when he gave an official report to the police. One has to wonder: Did poor Billy Doe hallucinate these violent fantasies while coming off crack cocaine?
  Or were they nightmares occasioned by an impassioned heroin withdrawal under I-95 while reading too much William S. Burroughs?

    In describing yet another prosecutorial blunder, Ciprano asks us to take a look at prosecution witness Leo Omar Hernandez, who stated at the trial that he was Billy’s “best guy friend” when they were both sophomores at a Christian high school in the Northeast. The prosecution presented Hernandez as a model witness, a “see no evil, do no evil’ straight arrow kind of guy who would make most mothers proud. Hernandez’s honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force and his life as a hard working family man was also played to the hilt.
   When Hernandez took the stand, he did admit that Billy had told him that at age 16 he was abused by a teacher and two priests.
   Although the jury heard that Hernandez dropped Billy as a friend because he was upset that he was getting too involved in heroin and other illegal drugs, what they didn’t hear was that Hernandez worked part time in all male exotic dance clubs in Philly, and that he had filed a civil case against his physician whom he says abused him sexually and got him hooked on opiates. Also left out was the fact that he had OD’d in Las Vegas and that he was had been in a love relationship with the defendant (in the civil case) who periodically injected him with synthetic heroin and other drugs.
   Because Hernandez’s secret testimony was never released to the jury, this added up to another prosecutorial mistake.
        Philadelphia DA Seth Williams, who was against a new trial for Fr. Engelhardt, was unhappy and angry when the process for a new trial began. Williams needed a sacrificial lamb to assuage public outrage over the number of abuse cases popping up all over the city.
       Fr. Engelhardt’s vindication now rests with the creepy drug boy who started it all. Perhaps at some later date “Billy Doe” will experience a pang of conscience and some remorse. When his winning “lottery” money from the civil case runs out, and when he’s hallucinating on crack again under the El, or close to death as an old man (if he lives that long), perhaps he will look back and consider the life that he destroyed when he was young, careless and half in love with evil.
     He may then begin to feel some anguish and want to rub the slate clean. Impossible? Stranger things have been known to happen.
   But for now, reports have him living the high life in Florida, surfing, swimming, and wearing glitzy gold jewelry while he takes in the high life under the shade (and glow) of palm trees and Pina Coladas.



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Metaphysical Boston

The Local Lens

Published
• Wed, Oct 22, 2014

By Thom Nickels

Whenever Halloween comes around, I think of my old friend Arthur.

Arthur is a poet and a mystic, and in the 1970s he had some very scary visions of the future.
It all started when Arthur was a parochial school student. He would sneak into the church during recess, stand in front of the altar (with rosary beads) and pretend that he was a statue.

"I remember standing like that, arms extended out and frozen in the air, feet planted firmly on the ground as if I was cemented in a pedestal. I didn’t care if anyone walked into church and saw me, although sometimes I got the feeling that one of the nuns was looking at me in the choir loft."

When Arthur was 10 years old he contracted double-pneumonia and almost died. He was hospitalized for weeks. Out of the hospital, he spent a lot of time in his parent’s bed where his mother looked after him. On the bedroom wall in front of him he says he kept seeing the outline of the Little Flower, or Saint Teresa.

"I kept sitting up in bed, convinced that the saint was appearing to me," he said, over coffee in a Dunkin Donuts. "I kept seeing her outline on the wall. As a kid, I never told anyone about this. I didn’t want them to think I was crazy."
Like so many young people, Arthur had become an atheist by his late teens.

"I believed that spirituality and religion were crutches for the weak, for those people who couldn’t face up to the harsh realities of life. I had no time for people who need fairy tales to give their life meaning. You had to find your own meaning in life. That was the challenge."

Life, according to Arthur, was a meaningless affair. The bad and good things that happened to us were just the random arrows of fate. In the end, it meant nothing. When we died, we turned into dust or cabbage. We might as well have never been born.

Life changed for Arthur when he was 22 and working as a bellhop in a fancy Utah ski resort. At the time Arthur was working with another bellhop, a much older fellow who lived in a tent in the mountains and read esoteric spiritual novels. Arthur dubbed his co-worker a loser, especially when he started to talk about the I Ching, a tool used for divination that is originally from the Western Zhou period of China.

"I mean, here’s this weirdo who lives in a tent, a complete career failure as far as I was concerned, someone who had been defeated by life and by life’s demands; here he was telling me what I should read, and acting like he had some special knowledge to impart. The funny thing is, although I hated his lifestyle, I knew that he knew things that were hidden to me, and so that’s why I said yes the day he offered to give me an I Ching reading."

The words of the I Ching startled Arthur: "You are about to experience a great shock, a shock that will change your life as you know it."

Arthur remembers how the words of the reading sent a chill up his spine yet he still dismissed it as "garbage." After all, why take as valid the predictions of a man who can’t even find decent housing?

Arthur says that soon after the reading he made plans to travel back to his home city of Boston, but that as soon as the plane landed at Logan International Airport he knew that he had made a mistake.

"The city seemed bleak and dreary. There was a feeling of unfriendliness in the air. For the first time since leaving home at 18, I felt afraid, really afraid."

Where was this feeling of dread coming from?

Arthur says he stayed with an old girlfriend but that things were not good. Some time earlier he’d been obsessed with her and now that awful feeling was re-emerging. He put off looking for a job because he didn’t know what to look for or where to go.

"I felt as if I was in new skin. It was almost as if on the plane from Utah I had entered The Twilight Zone," he told me.
Luckily, a neighbor found Arthur a job in a book packaging warehouse.

"The job was hell," Arthur remembers. "Between sorting out my feelings for my friend and trying to do what was expected of me at work, I slipped beneath a crevice. Something in me had changed."

Some weeks before Halloween, Arthur says that he began to see and hear things he’s never seen or heard before.
"I was not doing drugs—I’ve never done drugs, but I felt I could see beneath people’s faces and into their character. One night when I was sleeping on my ex-girlfriend’s sofa, I was awakened by her in a panic. The smell of gas was in the air. She said the gas oven had been left on and that when she came in the smell of gas was everywhere. She asked me if I had turned it on and I said no. I would never want to hurt myself or other people."

A little later, he says he began to hear noises from the radiator that seemed to correspond with his thoughts.
"If I thought something in the form of a question, the radiator taps would seem to answer. I’d ask a question, and the radiator would respond."

Things got even stranger when he began to see shadows on the ceiling. They were vague outlines, hooded figures. Arthur says he even got the impression that a person had hung himself in his ex-girlfriend’s bedroom. He says he saw the shadow of the noose in the middle of the door frame.

His ex-girlfriend assumed he was playing an early Halloween joke on her, but when Arthur insisted he was not joking, they agreed that they should separate.

Arthur found a room in the historic home of a famous Civil War abolitionist, Charles Sumner, on Beacon Hill’s Hancock Street. Hancock Street was off the beaten track, on Beacon Hill’s outer edges. When Aurthur lived there in the 1970s, the Sumner house was owned by a widow who lived there with her daughter. They were an odd mother and daughter pair— the mother was polite but distant, but there appeared to be something wrong with the daughter. The girl had a habit of suddenly appearing from behind doorways and then staring at you. She was also eerily quiet with large eyes and a pale face that made you think that she had just gotten over an illness.

Arthur says he was the only roomer in the house at the time. His room was on the second floor and had one window that faced the back lots of a number of Beacon Hill properties. The view from the window also had an old industrial look because he could see parts of a water tower.

"The year was 1974, but the view from that window could have been one from 1875, and on foggy, overcast days I’d get the feeling that I had stepped outside time," he said.

The furnishings in the room included a large antique closet (which looks like it could have been used by Senator Sumner), a lone sink in the corner, an antique dresser and an elaborate bed with a headboard.
Arthur says he’d come home from work every night, hoping that the daughter was locked away doing homework but more often than not he’d catch a glimpse of her walking from one room to another. He’d pick up his mail on the table in the foyer and then head upstairs.

One night, as he lay in bed relaxing, Arthur started to see "stuff on the ceiling," like an image of himself as the reincarnation of his great uncle, who died in 1942. When he saw his grandmother’s face, he was taken aback when her face turned into a wild kaleidoscope of many other faces, her past lives he assumed. Arthur, who prided himself on his atheism, didn’t know what was happening.

Things started to really roll when he envisioned a vase of roses on the mantelpiece, and watched as they swayed in the direction of the one rose that limped or dropped in the opposite direction, as if sick. He watched as the group of roses would come to the sick rose’s rescue, swaying in its direction until they "pulled" it to health with something like a love vibration.

He saw other things, of course, some of them too strange to list here: the coming of AIDS, the shift of the earth’s poles (that some think is happening now), and even visions of crashing airplanes and terrorists.

Today, Arthur is a fairly well adjusted individual. He works hard at his job, cultivates an array of healthy friendships and has a full life. While he no longer "sees" spirits, he sometimes thinks about that unique experience on Boston’s Hancock Street, when he was "shocked" out of a complacent, material existence.

Thanks, partially, of course, to a "loser" in a Utah tent.

ICON Magazine October City Beat 2014



ICON Magazine October City Beat 2014



 .
On Facebook,we were surprised to see that a good many people summed up Robin Williams’s death this way: Yes, it was a very tragic thing, but ultimately it was his choice, and we have to respect that. The opinions were stated as if suicide was just another life option—to smoke or not to smoke; to book a flight or rent a car.  It’s your choice to jump in front of the El, swallow two bottles of sleeping pills, or dart out into the middle of traffic. As good citizens, we have to respect “choice,’ though it would be best not to jump from a tall building and hit a pedestrian on the sidewalk. 
Suicide as a choice didn’t hold much water with our 95-year-old great aunt, the last survivor among her circle of friends, and a lady who felt very much alone in her rooms at Roxborough’s Cathedral Village. "Every depression, every misfortune," she’d often say, "is like going through a tunnel. You come out the other end. You don’t want to end things when you’re still in the middle of it because acting too soon would be the greatest tragedy." While she would often joke about taking her own life-- like jumping into the Wissahickon Creek near the Valley Green Inn –-everyone knew that that she was bluffing, the result of a temporary depression that played touch and go with her like an intrusive, annoying fly.


    Although the Valley Green Inn was built in 1850, the roots of the Inn can be traced back to Revolutionary War days when the inn was a hostelry to wayfarers and vagabonds. In 1875, the inn was known as I.D. Casselberry’s Valley Green Hotel. For more than a hundred years the Inn kept its interior integrity intact, but something happened recently to prick up our ears: a home and garden design team “updated” the look of the dining room, so now the place has the look of a restaurant in Williamsburg  or a Disney period room in Orlando. We feel no affection for these “upgrade” design wreck-o-vators.     

  We visited the new Dilworth Plaza on opening day and noticed armies of vested Plaza cheerleaders distributing Plaza-info brochures. The concerted effort to “force” people to like the new design seemed conspiratorial at first. Then there was the ear splitting jazz passing for music which made it difficult to hold a conversation. Yet just as we were about to critique the plaza’s small multiple fountain sprays (arranged like a city garden watering system), we stepped back and noticed something marvelous: how the open space in front of City Hall frames the building in a way we’ve never seen before.  It was clear how the old plaza’s cumbersome maze of multiple steps leading to levels, bi-levels and sunken, rotting urban “gardens,” hid much of the building’s beauty. The new design makes City Hall breathe, even sing. The effect is reminiscent of those great, open European spaces in front of palaces and cathedrals, although the groupings of chairs arranged randomly in front of the plaza cafĂ© caused us to ask: Are they for cafe paying customers only?  And what about the uncomfortable looking thin cement wrap-around bench that had us wondering where (and how) fat people would sit. While ardent fans of the new look, if we could change one thing it would be to retrieve the Emlen Etting sculpture, Phoenix Rising, created to honor Richardson Dilworth and installed in front of City Hall in 1982 but moved to an under appreciated spot near Society Hill Towers.

We hear that the Philly Police are riding dirt bikes on the remote, wooded paths throughout Pennypack Park in the Northeast. What are they looking for? Presumably, they’re on the hunt for suspicious activity, which can mean anything these days: hiking with a pointed walking stick, bird and deer watching, reading Thoreau under a tree, or slipping into a pair of Yoga pants behind a bush. Does being legitimately idle in this society now mean sitting among hundreds of people in a controlled greenhouse environment like Rittenhouse Square? Is it now a possible criminal offense to be seen roaming as a solitary in wild places off the beaten track?

We heard Thomas Dent Mutter biographer, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, speak at the Mutter Museum but left the talk and reception knowing only two things about Philly’s most eccentric physician: that he invented aneasthia (ether) and the concept of a recovery room after surgery. What we did learn was a lot of stuff about the author: how many grants she won, how the Wall Street Journal loves her book, and how a section of her book was published by The Atlantic. The author’s mother (a nice woman) also wanted us to know that it was her wish that one of those wealthy Long Islanders reading the Journal’s review of Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine might offer to produce Cirstin’s screenplay on the same topic—“Plus, you know,” Mom said, “She was on NPR’s Marty-Moss Coane this morning.” The author’s highly unconventional presentation included readings by slam poet friends, and even a slam poet/military paratrooper who really looked more like an accountant. When we introduced ourselves to Cristin afterwards, she smiled and said if we wanted to interview her, we should give our card to her marketing person. After we did that, we never heard from anyone in the Aptowicz camp again.  




   The pompadour mystique has always been high on our list, so like most film buffs we were early fans of Eraserhead, a visually enriching film that tends to stay with you, even as its meaning tends towards the elusive. Lynch stumbled into film as a student at PAFA, influenced by the work of David Cronenberg and Dino Laurentiis. His TV series, Twin Peaks, once hypnotized the nation, but then something happened. He seemed to fall in love with his pompadour, and began to immerse himself in things like Sthapatya Veda architecture with its gold Kalash domes. He founded the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness Based Education and World Peace, and after becoming an advocate for TM was once heckled and almost booed off the stage when his cohort and guru, Raja Emanuel, wanted the audience to repeat, “I’m a good German who wants to make Germany invincible. That’s what Adolph Hitler wanted. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do it. He didn’t have the right technique.” Lynch then sprung into damage control and called Raja “a great human being.”  About his movie Dune (1984), Siskel of Siskel and Ebert once remarked that it is “a story confusing beyond belief—I hated watching this film. It’s an unintelligible film.” Ebert added that the film’s “amazing sets are totally senseless.” The best thing about Lynch is his unpretentiousness and his connection to Philly, especially when he was a starving artist and when local art gallery owner, Rodger La Pelle came to his financial—and emotional-- rescue.      

   We went to the Cashman and Associates party celebrating the Public Relations’ firm new digs at 232 North 2nd Street. A very pregnant Nicole Cashman made random appearances throughout the 5 plus hour event. We met photographer Andre Flewellen, The Tribune’s Bobbi Booker, Fox 29’s Good Day Show co-host Mike Jerrick. We also spotted Sharon Pinkenson before heading downstairs to the Cashman basement, a cozy den and library where we wanted to spend the night.   

We offer a final good-night to truth teller Tony Auth, whom we had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with months ago at artist Liz Osborn’s house. Although lionized (after death) in The Inquirer, two years ago Auth was forced out of the same newspaper when things there turned sour, confusing and right wing. Auth told us then that an editorial cartoonist of his [controversial] stature would stand no chance of being employed there today. As for The Inquirer’s stepchild, Philly.com, Auth frowned and said Philly.com was run by well connected but clueless twentysomethings with zero experience in journalism.  
   
       
In an interview with a psychologist before her death, Joan Rivers confessed that the life pain she’s struggled with most has to do with feelings of personal betrayal.Her husband Edgar’s suicide — secretly planned, and a shock to her — was a betrayal that she says she still hasn’t gotten over. She’s still angry with Edgar for this act of duplicity. She explains how Edgar made good-bye videotapes to family members, and before he went off to kill himself, told his daughter Melissa that he’d see her the following day. He told my daughter a lie, Rivers told the psychologist, and now I am worried for her. She will grow up thinking that every man is a liar. And when Edgar died he left me with a fabulous mansion, but I was alone with no show and no contract, and I was miserable.If anybody knows Joan Rivers, it is Melissa. Melissa became the new Edgar, the caretaker, the tower of strength behind the scenes. And Joan, the talented perfectionist, was undoubtedly impossible to live with. “Imagine being under her scrutiny all the time,” a friend of ours commented a day after Rivers’ death. “Imagine the pressure and intense stress of that.”


Philadelphia's Lack of Public Toilets

The Local Lens

Published
• Wed, Nov 05, 2014

By Thom Nickels

I doubt whether there’s a man or woman in the City of Philadelphia who hasn’t felt the need to use a public restroom while out on the town. It can happen while shopping, clubbing or while taking a casual ride on the subway.
When you have to go, you have to go.

But finding a spot "to go" is not easy, especially when "Restrooms for Customers Only" signs seem to be everywhere and "going" in public can be a risky endeavor.

When I was in college, I remember how scandalized my parents were when one of my cousins, then at an Ivy League university on a scholarship, found himself in some trouble while in Center City with friends. Apparently they’d been bar hopping on a Friday night when nature called. Walking down a deserted street very late at night, this relative of mine decided to sneak a leak in a remote back alley where a number of dumpsters acted as a barrier between him and the sidewalk. Unfortunately, what he thought was a safe space instantly proved to be in the eye of a nearby policeman who had been surveying the desolate scene from inside a squad car with its lights out.

My cousin, the straight "A" scholarship student, was arrested.

Outraged at the queer injustice of it all, his parents raised high the roof beams, got an expert lawyer, and had the case thrown out.

Now, what my cousin did in the cloak of darkness in an obscure alleyway– away from all prying eyes– was nothing compared to what I used to witness in Center City in the mid 1980s, especially along Chestnut Street near 12th and 13th.

At the time, there was a homeless woman, affectionately called The Duck Lady, who would quack like a duck when she wasn’t asking for money. She was a benign old soul, as sweet as they come and people generally liked her. Rumor had it that she was from an old Philadelphia moneyed family and that once she had lived in a big house before tragedy changed her life. The tragedy, whatever it was, left her penniless, and she wound up on the streets. Soon after that she began quaking like a duck. It was actually Tourette’s syndrome, although next to nothing was known about Tourette’s at that time. The wealthy family connection was also false; she was merely a bag lady with a mental illness.

Stories of The Duck Lady circulated for many years. She became a Center City legend. She’d turn up at art openings and various public events, walk around and quacking. People usually asked if she needed anything, although sometimes getting a straight answer from her was difficult. With real ducks you just feed them bits of bread, but with The Duck Lady people just gave her things: sweaters, designer dresses, new boots, hand bags and sneakers. She was a favorite among the hippie/bohemian crowd in West Philadelphia’s Poweleton Village. In some cases these circles adopted her as a mascot.

The Duck Lady’s fans realized she was losing it when in the middle of a weekday afternoon at 13th and Chestnut Streets she pretended that the sidewalk below her was a commode. She proceeded to do the "porta-potty" deed among scores of startled pedestrians some of whom screamed and covered their eyes. There may have been police in the area when this happened, but whatever the case she was not hauled away. I think had she been hauled away there would have been a small riot.

"Leave the Duck Lady alone!" I can hear the crowd chanting, even if, frankly, the future looked bleak for her if this behavior became permanent.

In Europe there are many public bathrooms. However when I was in Paris several years ago I was shocked to discover that hundreds of men line up in a row and openly relieve themselves late at night along the Champs Elysees. French pedestrians on the street were oblivious to the sight. No one seemed to care. Even police officers looked the other way. Unlike the scene in American cities where late night "goers" at least attempt to hide, on the Champs Elyees all the men had become like Philadelphia’s Duck Lady.

I thought about what the reaction would be if something like this happened on a mass scale in Philadelphia. For one thing, each and every one of these would be given a one hundred dollar fine, which of course would be entirely appropriate if only because "going" should not be an orchestrated event, like a Jay-Z concert.

But honestly, what’s a gentleman or lady to do if there are no public restrooms?

"South Street is the city’s second most visited tourist area," Councilman David Cohen told Philadelphia City Council way back in 2004, "yet there are no public facilities available for all these tourists."

The situation remains the same in 2014, although there’s no reason why Philadelphia cannot do what almost every European and Canadian city has done: install retractable urinals and toilets that are invisible during the day but quite obvious at night during the peak after-bar hours.

It makes sense to me: If you don’t want tourists and urbanites to go in public then provide public restrooms!
In 2012, The Philadelphia Daily News reported on the lack of public restrooms in the Italian Market area. The paper quoted many restaurant owners who said that they would not allow the public to use their "employee only" restrooms. Exceptions to the rule might include extreme hardship cases, like a mother and child in distress, or that one-in-a-million customer with a good "Please let me use the bathroom" line.

Ordinarily Italian Market customers are told to go to the public restrooms at the Capitolo Playground at 9th and Federal. Unfortunately, the Capitolo restrooms are usually closed at night and locked up during the day as a protection from vandals.
Many Philadelphia public restrooms have been closed because of a vagrancy problems. It’s not uncommon to hear that once reliable city restrooms in gas stations or mini-markets have been closed because the owners were tired of having them vandalized. Rather than constantly fix up the destroyed property, the owners opted to simply close them. As a result, everybody suffers.

Finding a public restroom is a little easier in New York City.

New York City has 468 subway stations but among those stations one can find at least 78 subway restrooms open to the public. 78 may not be much compared to what NYC had in 1940, 1,676 public toilets, but it trumps Philadelphia.
There are no public restrooms on any of the stops along the Broad Street subway or the Market-Frankford El, minus the improved facilities at the Frankford Transportation Center and the terminal at 69th Street. But at the hundreds of small stops in-between there’s nothing but a waiting platform and a private restroom for employees only.

Philadelphia on New Year’s Day, especially along the Broad Street concourse during the Mummer’s parade, attracts revelers who line up the way they do in Paris. While the police discourage such behavior, the sheer numbers of law breakers makes handing out tickets impossible. The presence of porta-potties lately has helped relieve that situation.
Under the Rendell administration, the city tried to install self-cleaning public restrooms in the city but the deal fell through when the city and the manufacturer couldn’t agree on how they were to be funded.

But can a major tourist attraction like Philadelphia afford to wait any longer?

The Chinese may have the answer. The city of Beijing installed 7,700 public toilets in city streets because their government feels that all travelers should find a toilet within an 8-minute walk in the business area.

After decades of inaction, in late 2012, Philadelphia did install a pilot pay toilet near City Hall; complete with a self-cleaning apparatus and piped in music. The structure proved too good to be true. The pilot program simply vanished.
Perhaps if they had skipped the music and stuck to essentials the project would have worked.

Gritty Literature (Or Life Under The El)



Gritty Literature (Or Life Under The El)

Weekly Press
• Wed, Nov 05, 2014
By Thom Nickels
Contributing Writer

While researching my new book, Literary Philadelphia, Greg Gillespie of Port Richmond Books lent me two novels by two Philadelphia novelists, now long dead and not well known to the general public.

The first novel, Steps Going Down, by John T. McIntyre, published in 1936 by Farrar & Rinehart (New York), got my attention because McIntyre has always been known as a Noir writer, meaning a writer who describes the gritty side of life, as in the city’s underworld. ‘Noir’ might also be described as the gritty truth underneath a mainstream sugar coating: the life of petty criminals, drug dealers, streetwalkers under the El, small time mobsters, or the unstable drama inside dingy bars filled with cigarette smoke, suspicious characters, and of course lurking danger.

McIntyre was born in Northern Liberties and left school at age 11 to work full time. For a while he was a freelance journalist with The Philadelphia Press. He wrote over 20 books most of them "Noir" or crime novels but some had a conventional slant. A "Noir" novel might also be called ‘B fiction,’ as in ‘B’ movie.
One ‘B’ movie that comes to mind is the 1965 exploitation film, "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" directed by Russ Meyer and starring Tura Satana, about three strippers who wreck havoc and violence on a young couple they encounter in the desert, and who then kidnap a wheelchair-bound old man as they attempt to seduce the man’s sons for the family money. Although there’s some redemption in the fact that all three bad girls come to a bad end, it takes a long time before this happens.

McIntyre, who was Irish Catholic, manages to weave elements of his Catholicism into the most sordid of his stories. While one chapter may describe how the main character falls in love with a streetwalker, in another chapter he presents a small paragraph about the Virgin Mary.

Consider this passage in his novel, Steps Going Down where characters Gill and Hogarty are having drinks in a sleazy El bar, where "there was noise, and smoke, and the smell of drink in the place…the floor sloppy with spilled beer…the walls grimy with the rubbing of many a loafer’s back [as the] cash register rang and rang":
In this section, Gill tells Hogarty that sometimes when he sees what he sees (as in pretty awful stuff), he says a prayer to the Blessed Virgin.

"She has a far-reaching voice in Heaven," Gill tells Hogarty. "And God Himself is always hearkening to her. More poor souls have been saved from despair through her than you can put to the credit of all the saints and martyrs in all the far depths of the heavens."

As if this nod to religiosity wasn’t enough, Gil and Hogarty begin to talk about the Annunciation and the biblical city of Nazareth.

But after that, it’s a jump to a house of ill-repute on Sixteenth Street in Center City.

"Lola only bothered with those who were substantial when she was going good….Her trade usually dressed at night: tails, top hat, Inverness. Quite the thing. Everybody dressed. Lola had been something to see…"

Curious to know a lot more about McIntyre’s life, I headed over to Temple University Archives to examine McIntyre’s documents and manuscripts. Oftentimes when a famous writer dies, his or her papers are turned over to a university. There they are archived and labeled for researchers and biographers. In McIntyre’s case, I was able to go through quite a number of boxes, some containing business papers, such as rent receipts, bank correspondence and statements, while other boxes contained personal effects like personal telephone books, correspondence, and rejection letters from publishers.

Although McIntyre published a lot in his lifetime and was very successful, when he shopped his work around he got his fair share of bad news.

Most of the rejection letters came from the Macmillian Company, a New York publisher. On March 15, 1943, his novel "Gun Smoke Along the Nueces," was turned down. In May of the same year, "Murder in the Mist" was rejected, the letter signed by a Lisa Dwight Cole, an Associate Editor there. Then, in November, he received a rejection letter for his book "O Land of Milk and Honey." In 1948, a Macmillian editor sent back his novel, "Some Days in the World," and apologized for keeping it so long. "We are very much chagrined at the length of time we have had your manuscript."

McIntyre probably rejected the phrase "we are very much chagrined" as a spine tingling language abomination.

In 1944, McIntyre sent a letter to his friend, Alfred Lunt, asking for money. McIntyre had just been fired or laid off from a job because business wasn’t doing well. He wrote, that "just two minutes ago I was told that I was through at Street & Smith’s, business conditions being what they are, etc." The letter was painful for me to read because I knew what was coming. "I hate to ask in times like these," McIntyre continues, "but could you possibly send me some money? Every cent I have will be the money I’ll get this Friday. We’re in damned desperate straits here as it is and this thing will make it just so much worse." McIntyre ends the letter by requesting "some letters of introduction to men who rate in the publishing business."

In another box I found an interesting exchange of letters from a Cooperstown, New York banker replying to the novelist’s request to purchase back records of a newspaper called the Saturday Star Journal.

Apparently McIntyre wanted to know how much the bundle would cost, and the banker puts the fee at $300, far too much money for the cash-strapped author who then offers the banker a counter offer of $175. The banker replies that, "I am not inclined to accept the offer for them of $175 but would be willing to lower my price somewhat. If you wish to make an offer of $225 for the lot, let me know and I will consider it." It’s all very bureaucratic and unfeeling, the banker obviously looking down at McIntyre from his high financial perch. Then, one month later (March 11, 1941), everything changes. The banker sends a handwritten note to McIntyre refusing the writer’s latest offer, but you can feel that something isn’t quite right. Why a handwritten letter? The letters pick up again in August, when the banker sends McIntyre another handwritten note although it is not on the bank’s letterhead. The writing is very disconnected looking and sloppy, as if the writer had a broken hand. "I went to the hospital April 10th for a severe operation," the banker says. "I am writing to ask you if you are still interested in my Saturday Star Journals and if your previous offer for them still holds good. Your offer was $175.00 for the Star Journals and $50 for the Dime Libraries." We don’t get McIntyre’s response, though I imagine he felt some sympathy for the Second National Bank official who was no longer sounding high and grand. Two weeks later, the two men conclude the deal, and McIntyre gets his bundle.

A sad discovery in another box was a 1951 document detailing the writer’s funeral expenses from the Oliver Blair Company: Gray cloth covered casket; silk lining; pillow; old silver extension bar handles; crucifix and services, pine case…$410.00."

I left Temple Archives feeling as if I’d met McIntyre in person. In fact, I found myself thinking of him for the rest of the day.
Another one of Greg’s books, Old Booksellers of Philadelphia (copyright 1891) by A.P. Brotherhead, contains descriptions and editorial comments about the city’s many booksellers since post colonial times.
Among the entries, I found some curious descriptions of old booksellers that probably wouldn’t see the light of print today.

There’s bookseller Apley, who had a shop on Chestnut Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets, circa 1879. Brotherhead writes, "He was a man of about fifty years of age or thereabouts; he might have been older, but his dirty and ragged appearance made it difficult to say how old he was. He always looked dark and sallow. His features were not repulsive to look at, but they had that miserly cast which at one glance caused him to be a marked character. The windows of the store were so thick with dirt and rubbish that is was difficult to see the titles of the books."
Then there was Duross, "a specimen of the rough, gruff Irishman; a rough diamond—though he had kindly impulses, and to those who knew him, he was a good fellow. His old store was in the Arcade near to Apley’s. Mr. Duross died at an advanced age."

Brotherhead lets loose on a man named Hugh Hamel "who had risen from a mere peddler of books, and by dint of perseverance, collected them as a junk dealer collects his rubbish. He was probably the most ignorant of all the old booksellers in this city. At one time he could not write his own name. He was in appearance a thick-set, low-looking, vulgar Irishman; and it is to be regretted that the latter years of his life were as much devoted to stimulants as to his business."

In other words, Hamel was a drunk.

Bookseller Scanlan was "…a clear-headed and conscientious man, an Irishman by birth…an earnest man with very strong Roman Catholic views on religion. Though seemingly tolerant to others who differed with him, yet below the surface you could see mirrored the Catholic of the middle ages."

Brotherhead’s skeptical view of the Irish is perhaps understandable given the temper of the times. At no point, of course, does he say anything untoward about the ‘English’ or ‘Scottish’ booksellers. He tends to keep that professional.
The third book from Greg was novelist Richard Powell’s The Philadelphian (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York), published in 1956 and later made into a film, The Young Philadelphians, starring Paul Newman and Robert Vaughn, among others.

Powell was the vice president of one of the largest and oldest advertising agencies in the country, N.W. Ayer & Son, on Washington Square. This seventh generation Philadelphian once wrote that he would never have started to look "objectively and analytically at Philadelphia if I hadn’t worked on a Philadelphia newspaper, and if I hadn’t married a girl from Cleveland who began questioning the Philadelphia institutions and beliefs and attitudes which I had accepted as a matter of course."

Some of those attitudes, of course, had to do with the class structure of the city (old families versus immigrant new families, like the Irish). In Powell’s novel we can see that in the relationship between Irish immigrant Margaret O’Donnell, who arrives in Philadelphia from Ireland in the spring of 1857 and finds employment as a maid with the very Anglo Saxon Protestant, Mrs. Clayton, whose husband is a bank official. When poor Margaret becomes pregnant from a one time roll in the hay with Mrs. Clayton’s Harvard law school son, she’s quickly told to vacate the premises and paid a handsome sum to care for the baby, a baby the Claytons do not want because of Margaret’s station in life.

Mrs. Clayton, however, does visit poor Margaret to assist in the birth of the baby. She does this in a humble city rooming house, where she tells Margaret (in between labor pains), "You’re a little Irish bog trotter who thought you could come over here and be a queen. Only it’s not that easy."

Later, while holding the new baby girl, she tells Margaret one more thing: "You Irish girls with your hot young bodies. As if all you had to do was wave them at a man to get anything you want."

Powell’s novel gets better and better, by the way.