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Friday, July 6, 2018

City Safari Column: Philadelphia Free Press

    When a friend called and asked if I would like to accompany him to a Phillies-Washington Nationals game at Citizens Park in one of those all-you-can-eat-and drink VIP suites, I OK’d the deal despite the fact that I’m not really a sports fan.
    I like the Phillies from a distance, the same way that somebody might like to look at the ocean without necessarily wanting to swim in it.
   It is true however that once you’ve watched a baseball game in a VIP suite at Citizens Park, it’s nearly impossible to go back to sitting in the stands where there’s no protection from the sun and where the food is not free. My suite, for instance, came equipped with cheese steaks, sauerkraut hot dogs, chips, popcorn, all manner of drink plus brownies and untold varieties of ice cream; the kind of food that makes people happy and fat.
    The hot dogs were the best. As Humphrey Bogart once said, “A hot dog at the game beats roast beef at the Ritz.” This despite the fact that hot dogs contain pigs lips, ears, snouts, intestines and spleens.
   Who doesn’t have an opinion about hot dogs? “I need a little sugar in my bowl and a little hot dog in my roll,” Bessie Smith once quipped. Bill Maher, in a slightly dirtier frame of mind, once offered, “Meat is dirty. I wouldn’t touch a hot dog without a condom on it.”  
   About midway through the game, I decided to move from the interior of the suite to the outer section where there was a balcony seat. The dimming of the sun and the moving in of dark multi layered cumulus clouds with a decidedly El Greco cast turned me into a sky watcher, especially as the feint rumblings of thunder promised a coming downpour.
      That’s when I heard what sounded like a military style wake up call, the musical equivalent of “Charge!” 

   A queer little mobile cannon done up like a hot dog in a roll came roaring into the field. People cheered, there was a shooting sound, and before I knew it something was flying high over the field and headed towards me in a furious downward arc. It fell from the sky into the nest of my inner left thigh, hitting with a loud thump and a sensation I can only describe as stinging. The object then bounced off my body and landed under my chair. A man sitting to my right in a separate suite had jumped up and reached over in a futile attempt to intercept the fall.   
     The direct hit was nothing other than a Hot Dog Knighthood.
    “Do you know,” the man to my right said, “that only last week a woman was hit in the eye by one of these hot dogs.”
    But these hot dogs aren’t just any hot dog. They are triple mummy wrapped in a high tech “refrigerated” material and then excessively duct taped over additional internal layers of tin foil and conventional sandwich wrap. Unwrapping one of these things can take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes (you’ll need a pair of scissors). The wrapping alone gives it the force field of a small bomb when it hits you from the sky.  
   The stricken woman, Kathy McVay, had been sitting behind home plate had suffered a hematoma when the dog from the launcher hit her in the right eye. McVay, who became a media darling for fifteen minutes because of the incident, told a reporter,   "It just came out of nowhere. And hard. And then the next thing I know he shot it in our direction, and bam! It hit me like a ton of bricks. My glasses flew."
   It does happen that quickly, and it does land that hard.
   Luckily my glasses didn’t fly—I only suffered a few white wine spots on my summer kakhais -- but I had to wonder: why me? Later, a Facebook friend joked that the Phillie Phanatic had targeted me because the Phanatic was a Left Progressive and I was a former Left Progressive who walked away from a movement that I no longer recognize.
   Whatever your politics, these flying hot dogs are dangerous. I looked up McVay’s picture on various online news reports and was shocked to see the extent of the bruising on her face. I was disappointed when I read that the Phillies only offered her a simple apology and a free ticket to a game. McVay deserved something far better, like a week in Iceland or a check for 2500. Had she decided to sue the Phillies she would have walked away with a small fortune.
   If I can make a prediction, let me say that I think the duct tape hot dog launcher’s days are numbered and that soon you’ll read that the cannon has been put into mothballs.  
   This won’t prevent other things from falling from the sky. A Google search, for instance, revealed that in 2007 a family’s house was bombarded with 15 pounds of sausage that fell from the sky.   
   In an English town it once rained Starlings, and in Argentina in 2007 it once rained spiders.  In 2007 in Washington State, a grazing cow apparently stumbled and fell off a cliff and onto the roof of a car, almost killing the occupants. 
    In another United Kingdom incident from 2001, student soccer fans were hit with dozens of earthworms that rained down on their heads. Investigators said they had no clue where the worms came from because it was a sunny day with no planes or buildings nearby.

      Perhaps the strangest sky incident occurred in 2008 in Columbia when blood rained down on the residents there. When a parish priest was consulted he said that the blood was a sign from God that people needed to change their ways.   
       This of course reminds me of my Facebook friend’s statement that the Phillie Phanatic was gunning for me because I had the Left Progressive fold.  
   In a way, I’d say this fits right in with the current Maxine Waters political playbook.
Thom Nickels
Contributing Editor

Monday, June 18, 2018


      This year’s Philadelphia Fight AIDS Education Month opening reception and award ceremony at the Independence Visitor Center was a special event for many reasons.
       Philadelphia Fight, which offers primary care and research on potential treatments and vaccines, has been in operation since 1990. Philadelphia Fight was there when the AIDS crises in the city was at its height, and it has weathered—as Philadelphia Fight CEO Jane Shull commented in her opening remarks—a number of less than friendly United States presidents, from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. Shull added that Fight will even survive the term(s) of the current U.S. president.   
       While my political opinions may be different than Jane Shull’s, what she says has merit. The message of Philadelphia Fight cannot be lauded enough. This was made evidently clear at the organization’s annual award ceremony when the Kiyoshi Kuromiya Award for Prevention, Treatment, and Justice, went to Elvis Rosado, a case manager for Prevention Point Philadelphia. Rosado shared this year’s award with Lee Carson, the current Director of the Philadelphia Area Sexual Health Initiative (PASHI).

   Rosado, on accepting the award, seemed close to tears and said to him it was like winning the Pulitzer Prize. I had heard Rosado speak about Prevention Point Philadelphia last year at a presentation at the Port Richmond Library. His   talk at that time was robust and motivational.

           Shull began the proceedings with a detailed account of Kiyoshi Kuromiya’s life. Kuromiya was a polymath/activist, an extraordinary communicator and founder of Critical Path, which provided free access to the Internet to scores of people living with HIV in Philadelphia. He was also a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front-Philadelphia. GLF Philadelphia was much more than an organization dedicated to fighting for gay rights but its extended umbrella included outreach to welfare mothers and black civil rights issues. Kuromiya gave the first national speech on gay liberation at the September 1970 Black Panther Convention held in Philadelphia.
         This was no small task, because in those days the Gay Liberation Front was not embraced by most in the Black Panther party.
          As a young GLF Boston activist, I traveled to Washington DC for the follow up BPP Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention in November 1970 and witnessed first hand the divisiveness among the radical groups in attendance. GLF may have been embraced by Huey Newton, the BPP Minister of Defense, but Newton was only one Panther among many. The Washington DC convention was deemed a failure because it did not ratify the proposals worked out in Philadelphia
     Shull’s talk about Kuromiya reminded me of stories I heard about him through the years, like how good he was at reading Tarot cards. There seemed to be nothing that this Japanese American could not do. Kuromiya even joined a group of activists who attempted to levitate the Pentagon during the 1968 Democratic Convention. I also learned that he stood directly behind Martin Luther King when the latter delivered his “I have a dream” speech.
      Jane Shull’s talk did something else: it reminded me of the 2017 attack on her and Philadelphia Fight by a former Fight outreach worker who called on Shull to resign. The outreach worker sent an email to Fight employees on her last day of work accusing Shull of cultivating a “culture of intimidation” when it came to people of color. The worker charged the organization with denying pay raises and promotions to people of color.

         I tried to piece together these accusations with what I saw at the ceremony, and nothing fit. The grassroots, over the top racially diverse Fight reception could have been a movie prop for a leftist progressive utopia. It just doesn’t get any better than Philadelphia Fight when it comes to racial diversity, the polar opposite of the image Fight’s accuser attempted to conjure up.
           The heat against Shull in 2017 was so nasty that a small band of angry activists spotted her in the street and then followed (or chased) her into the lobby of a building where they then confronted her with bullhorn rhetoric and public shaming.
      The stunned look on Shull’s face spoke volumes—it was the picture of someone being bullied and harassed. After reports of the bullying attack went viral, critics of the gay and lesbian movement wasted no time in rhapsodizing: “Look how the LGBTQ community cannibalizes itself!”
        I felt even more empathy for former Philadelphia Director of LGBT Affairs Nellie Fitzpatrick when she was forced to resign after an event she attended at the Hard Rock Café was raided by the same activist group that approached Jane Shull.
         A You Tube video of that assault shows a startled and emotionally demolished Fitzpatrick trying to make sense of the encounter, as if she was trying to decipher the language of space aliens who had just kidnapped her.  Fitzpatrick was at the Café to receive an award as a trailblazer when the group, twenty strong with bullhorns, urged her to resign over a “lack of credibility.”
           “It’s a new political era,” one man screamed, meaning of course, if you don’t do as we say or believe what we believe, we will shut you down.
           Just shut you down and walk away. That’s the language of bullies.
           But shut down Fitzpatrick they did because in no time she resigned as Director of LGBT Affairs. The thugs got their way. This was one of the most shameful moments in LGBT Philadelphia history. Instead of sticking by Fitzpatrick, the “hidden” powers that be at City Hall arranged for her resignation. Fitzpatrick said during an interview:      
It was not my decision, but I was very happy to move on. My tenure with the office has come to its natural conclusion, and I am excited to return to the practice of law, which was always my intent, and to continue serving the LGBT community through new ventures. “

     Where were Fitzpatrick’s allies? Why didn’t the bulk of the gay and lesbian community (who had no problem with Fitzpatrick) stand up and defend her? Pulverized into silence (for fear of being called a bad name), the community was largely silent, afraid to speak up against a clear cut case of harassment and bullying.   
    The group that attacked Shull and forced Fitzpatrick to resign was nowhere near the unified and harmonious Philadelphia Fight festivities that took place at the Independence Visitor Center.  Whatever beef this group had with Philadelphia Fight had apparently dissipated like last year’s dirty runoff sewer water.   
       When Shull made the remark that Philadelphia Fight has survived several “hostile” U.S. presidents, she could also have added, “And it also survived one hostile LGBT activist group.”
          Yes, I think it’s more certain than ever that Philadelphia Fight will survive them all.

         ---From The Philadelphia Free Press, June 13, 2018
                          City Safari by Thom Nickels

Sunday, June 10, 2018

 Taken In NYC, first New York City Pride March June 1970, Thom Nickels (beard,glasses, extreme right), Lee Robins (beard, glasses; left). I was then living in Boston-Cambridge and a member of the Gay Liberation Front, Boston.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Contemplating life down below along the Appalachian Trail, April 2018
                                       ICON Magazine THEATER MAY 2018
Catch-22. Curio Theatre Company presents the stage adaptation of Joseph Heller’s satirical WWII novel. Published in 1961, Heller’s (somewhat) overrated novel caused The New Yorker to remark: “[The novel] doesn’t even seem to be written, instead, it gives the impression of having been shouted onto paper.” Heller, who worked in military intelligence, never saw battle unlike Kurt Vonnegut, whose book Slaughterhouse Five remains the quintessential WWII classic. We can still look forward to seeing how Director  Claire Moyer spins Haller’s tale. 4740 Baltimore Ave. (215-921-8243) Until May 19, 2018.

Fun Home. The Arden showcases playwright Lisa Kron’s musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir about the not- so- funny story of Bechdel’s closeted gay father who committed suicide in 1980 a few months before Alison came out as a lesbian. Fun Home was awarded a 2015 Tony for Best Musical; a supreme tribute to Bechdel’s writing which has always been noted for its wry humor and erudition. Bechdel’s comics used to be relegated to the back pages of gay newspapers but now she’s right up there with Ellen.  Until June 24, 2018

Tell Me On A Sunday. A beautiful young woman (Julia Udine) moves to Manhattan from the UK in search of romance and fame. She finds love in the city that never sleeps but the love she finds never lasts for long. Although she learns to sing the blues away (the music is by Andrew Lloyd Webber) that doesn’t keep more bad love experiences from heading her way. After multiple romantic shipwrecks her heart hardens and cynicism causes her to pick up a whip and become a Manhattan Dominatrix, but even this fails to satisfy her. Udine is captivating as The Girl and a good cabaret singer as well—it’s easy to envision Tell Me as the perfect cabaret dinner experience—although a few of Udine’s notes seemed overly strident and brassy (but that’s Broadway for you).  At the post show reception Julia told me that she’s enjoying staying with her parents in South Jersey during the run of the show at The Walnut. “They cook me a lot of spaghetti and meatballs,” she said. After Tell Me, she’s due to take the lead in a big Leonard Bernstein tribute in Saratoga, New York.  Producing Artistic Director Bernard Havard told me that the Walnut is planning an exciting expansion and to stay tuned. Till June 10, 2018.
Magdalene. Colleen Hughes of Tribe of Fools delivered a stellar performance as Mary Magdalene in a monologue that spans the centuries. This clever script created by Rachel Gluck, Brenna Geffers and Colleen Hughes was a review of the (often secondary) role of women from the time of Christ to the countercultural 1960s. Hughes, trained in New York’s Stella Adler Studio of Acting, is a natural born story teller. Her empathetic delivery was enough to make this reviewer forget the work’s theological sinkholes. It was fun to hear Magdalene talk about her time with the apostles while the group chugged wine and danced together in Jerusalem. This fast moving, compelling and intense performance at the Adrienne Theater was unfortunately not very well attended but Hughes, undaunted, performed as if she was on stage before hundreds at the Kimmel.          
Fly Eagles Fly This comedy about frenzied football fans will be a 2018 Fringe offering. Wise psychologists write that sports fans should not see their teams as extensions of themselves. As a writer for the Miami Times once wrote,” [Football] Players are only in the city because they got a job there, based on how well they can do a thing, and the zeros in a franchise's bank account.” At the Louis Bluver Theater at the Drake.  September 7-22, 2018

The Maids. February’s dismal weather caused me to miss Jean Genet’s classic tale of two sisters staged by the Ira Brind School of Theater Arts at the University of the Arts. The two night engagement came and went too quickly.  A larger city theater should think about staging a Genet play in 2019.

  ICON MAGAZINE: There are many ICONS on the vast cultural iconostasis, but this ICON is no more. 

                                         ICON MAGAZINE
                                          1992   -   2018

Les Miserables

When I headed to the Academy of Music to see the Victor Hugo-inspired Les Miserables I had high hopes that I’d walk out onto Broad Street three hours later with a smile on my face despite the fact that age has taught me that the French Revolution was anything but good.

   That “great” revolution, after all, caused 30 years of bloody warfare throughout Europe. And while it may be fun every summer to walk in stilts or impersonate a French baguette or even don drag to become a high wigged (and very blonde) Marie Antoinette and throw butterscotch Tastykakes to the thousands gathered around Eastern State Penitentiary, when all is said and done you’re still playing a child’s game far  removed from life.

   A “real” revolution, of course, would have all those July 14th revelers running and screaming for their lives. But time heals all historic wounds so that even the worst violence in history when played out on the contemporary stage becomes as pain free as a cruise to the Caribbean

   Consider Christopher Hibbert’s history, “The French Revolution,” published in 2012.

Do you want to see the heart of an aristocrat?” asked one assassin, opening up a corpse tearing out the heart, squeezing some blood into a glass, drinking part, and offering the rest to those who would drink with him. ‘Drink this, if you want to save your father’s life,’ commanded another, handing a pot of ‘aristocrats’ blood’ to the daughter of a former Governor of the Invalides. She put it to her lips so that her father could be spared. Women were said to have drawn up benches to watch the murders in comfort and to have cheered and clapped as at a cock fight.

   While nobody drank blood from corpses on the Academy stage, there were two people sitting beside me holding little flasks of bourbon. Vivez la vie pleinement, as they say. When it came to gunshots and people dying, the show’s music anesthized the illeffects and eventually got me thinking that literally any tragic event in history when reconfigured as a musical, could become a kick ass stand up and applaud extravaganza.  
    Including, of course, a futuristic epic about Jim Jones and Jonestwon in which Peoples Temple devotees line up and dance like The Rockettes while awaiting their turn at the Kool Aid stand.  If nothing is above satire, as I think Swift once quipped, then what could pssoibly be ‘above’ a Broadway musical ? 
    Hugo published Les Miserables in 1832 and the book
 was derided by critics. But what do critics know when
 it comes to commercial success? The 2012 Hollywood musical
 starring Ann Hathaway was satirized as Les Insufferables
 and Les Painful. Gawker also panned the film for its “phony
 happy ending,” while film critic Anthony Lane destroyed
 the movie, saying: “I screamed a scream as time went by.”  

  The Academy’s Cameron Mackintosh production had breathtaking stage sets that appeared to be matted 3 dimensional cinemascope veils in multiple colors. The battle scenes rivaled Yul Brynner riding in his chariot in The Ten Commandments. Fantastic visuals, yes, but as for understanding a word of the musical, that’s another story.  The actor-singers might as well have been a Tower of Babel cacophony, human voices saying something, but what? Les Miz, with its onstage cast of dozens (and dozens) was a cornucopia of song masquerading as dialogue. Sadly, this Les Miz was yet another case of a Broadway musical obfuscating language.

  But then there was another irksome surprise. A ten year old soldier boy raises his middle finger during a ferocious, ugly battle in a defiant ‘screw you’ gesture and shouts something bombastic as his adult male compatriots fall over dead.  To my astonishment, the audience howled at the boy’s manly verve although I could only see it as a contrived ‘Stephen Spielberg’ moment. 

   Happily, Les Miz was saved by the brilliant second act which had a smaller number of characters onstage. Finally—and thank God--every uttered word sung or otherwise, flooded the Academy with absolute clarity.  

Thom Nickels