The Local Lens
Published• Wed, Feb 13, 2013
By Thom Nickels
I’m with my friend Stephen, the Ice Skating Cowboy, and we’re headed across the Betsy Ross Bridge for Berlin, New Jersey, to attend the public portion of the funeral for Sally Starr. The viewing is slated to begin at 5PM at Costantino’s Funeral Home ("elegant but affordable") on the White Horse Pike, but we’re on the road plenty early, expecting huge crowds.
We arrive before the crowds, help ourselves to a giveaway photo of Sally, and then proceed into one of the Costantino reception rooms where every tabletop has a Sally photo spread under glass. The entire funeral home, in fact, has been transformed into a Sally museum. The staff, all serious-looking older men in suits, seem a little tense, expecting quite a night and God-knows-what. After checking out the photos, we head into the receiving room where Sally’s mortal remains (in a closed casket) form a kind of altar shrine with a large image of Sally on the casket top alongside sprays of flowers, candles, Sally’s cowgirl hat and a small end table holding her boots.
It is still too early for Sally’s family to gather in the receiving line, so we sign the guest registry and take a seat on one of the many folding chairs lined up for the actual service, slated to begin at 8PM.
My thoughts drift to Sally: born Alleen Mae Beller in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1923; adopted the name Sally Starr in 1941; the second eldest of five girls but one of seven children; considered the first highly rated DJ in the country; a talented announcer, writer and producer; started the Philadelphia-based ‘Popeye Theater’ in 1955, a 30-minute channel 6 variety show that included cartoons, live acts, western shorts, The Three Stooges, and guests like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Chuck Connors, Jerry Lewis, Jimmy Durante, Nick Adams ("Johnny Yuma was a Rebel"), and Chief Halftown.
Events begin to move fast at Costantino’s. A line near the guest registry is already out the door as former fans and mourners approach the casket and greet family members. Most of the people seem to be about the same age: 50s, 60s, and above. In many ways they resemble salt-of-the-earth types, like characters in a Nelson Algren novel: men in baseball caps, polyester suits, work uniforms, Elvis jackets, and women with long bleached-blond hair who look like Sally Xeroxes.
They keep joining the line although overall it is not a sad affair. There’s lots of talking and moving around—yes, the spirit of Love, Luck and Lollipops has made this a happy place. Occasionally somebody will kneel or bow before the casket, but almost everyone has a word or two to say to Sally’s only surviving sister, a small woman in a 1950s-style "DA" hairdo who somehow reminds me (dare I say it?) of Popeye. While extending my hand to Sally’s sister I can’t help but notice how she laughs like Sally; a very sweet woman, really. Beside Sally’s sister is a young girl about 10 or 11 years old. I ask a woman standing next to the girl who the girl is and I’m told, "Sally’s granddaughter."
Did I hear that right? I didn’t know that Sally had any children. After all, wasn’t there a 1984 Daily News column by Stu Bykofsky in which Sally was quoted as saying, "Unfortunately, I had polio and it affected me in ways that prevented me from having children." Well, let’s chalk this one up to mystery.
Returning to the folding chairs, I notice Ron Joseph, or RJ, former friend of Dick Clark and host of ABC-TV’s WFIL channel 6 RJ’s Dance Studio, a big thing in the 1970s (think "You’re My Honey Bee" by Gloria Gaynor). I also spot Chief Halftown’s son.
Chief Halftown (1917-2003), aka Traynor Ora Halftown, was a Seneca Indian from upstate New York. He hosted the longest-running children’s show in the history of television, also on channel 6. The Chief preferred to use the word "Indian" when describing himself, rather than "Native American." According to the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia website, the Chief began each show with "Ees da sa sussaway," Seneca for "Let us begin."
I notice the presiding minister and his wife standing by an open doorway. Culturally, these folks look very different than your average Philadelphian. It may sound like a cliché but they look like a younger version of Grant Wood’s famous painting American Gothic. I get a feeling of weirdness when the minister’s wife levels a steady gaze in my direction and then scans the room as if taking a psychological Polaroid. When Philadelphia jeweler Henri David walks in the room with his partner Paul Struck, Henri wearing a lavish mink coat, I notice that the coat is making an impression, but not in a Love, Luck and Lollipops way. It pays to observe people closely sometimes: as Henri exits the room a Constantino staff member whispers to the minister’s wife. I watch as the latter breaks into a smile rich in satirical intrigue.
From my folding chair I watch RJ work the crowd, at one point prepping for another photo-op in front of Sally’s cowgirl boots. I’m thinking, "Hey, appear on TV long enough and life and picture-taking become inseparable, but it’s all good." In a scene to end all scenes, a man dressed up as Sally Starr makes an appearance, a site for sore evangelical eyes and a visual sure to get the preacher’s attention. We decide not to stick around for the reaction but head into the other reception room where there’s a full-fledged Sally party raging: in one corner a news team interviews a guy in blue jeans while elsewhere people look through a Three Stooges book. There’s a lot of commotion and eye straining because almost everybody is trying to determine who’s who underneath the facial ravages of time.
"Is that—?" I hear on more than occasion. "Is that him—really?"
The Ice Skating Cowboy and I end the night in a Jersey diner, the perfect after-Sally event, and then head home where I tell people about the "viewing."
One friend, who used to work at channel 6 and who knew Sally well, tells me that the reason Sally left TV was because the station fired her for chronic lateness. "They had to put Chief Halftown in there or show cartoons until she showed up." Not long after this, he adds, Sally walked into his office selling Florsheim shoes.
But everybody, it seems, has a story about Sally. Somebody even informs me that she used to frequent the bars in Kensington.
Celebrity is no insulator when it comes to experiencing life’s ups and downs. Nobody escapes down times. Sally was every bit as much a salt-of-the-earth type as the people who came to Berlin to pay her homage, so if she frequented the bars in Kensington for a while, more power to her. It’s no fun being a lonely porcelain diva idol stuck on a home mantel in a celebrity deep freeze.
That’s why Philadelphia loves you, Sally.
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Monday, February 25, 2013
The Local Lens
Published• Wed, Feb 20, 2013
By Thom Nickels
News of Pope Benedict XVI’s abdication traveled fast, but it didn’t take the chorus of those who have always called him a "Nazi" to jump in with more insulting one-liners. Suddenly, the field was crowded with anti-pope energizer bunnies spinning round and round with theories and predictions for the future.
In the Philadelphia Daily News, a regular columnist (a self-described fallen away Catholic) took the opportunity to offer herself as a candidate for pope. The sassy column was marked with all the predictable asides: as pope she would rock and roll, ordain women priests, throw out clerical celibacy, and lift a hundred and one other restrictions. From my point of view, a response like this is childish and reminiscent of an old MAD magazine "satire". The thing is, ex-Catholics either need to chill or go out and find good psychotherapists to help them stop spending the rest of their lives obsessing and being bitter about all things Catholic. The Daily News columnist wasn’t the only one to go over the edge. Everywhere you turned, whether on Philly.com, the Huffington Post, the UK Guardian comment site, or The New York Times, non-Catholics and ex-Catholics threw darts and arrows.
The publisher of Philadelphia Gay News weighed in with a blog on Philly.com, in effect calling Benedict XVI a "dishonorable pontiff". What is strange here is that the publisher was never an altar boy or a Catholic as far as we know, but in fact seems to take great delight in calling himself "old, queer, and Jewish," all fine things to be sure, but certainly not resume qualifiers when it comes to dabbling in Catholic theology or Church history. In his blog, the publisher arrogantly calls for the Church to reform and get its act together regarding its views on women and nuns. He also mentioned that the Church needs to do something about LGBT discrimination, which would be a good thing, but for me this was too little too late. He had already crossed the line when he stated, "This Pope leaves in disgrace not because of his religion, but because he is the single person in the Vatican who has been personally in charge of the vast Vatican cover up of child abuse for the last decade."
Is that so? Most experts pinpoint an earlier pontificate as doing little or nothing to stem clergy sex abuse, yet these critics never used the word "disgrace" or "disgraced" to describe the pope in charge then. Something like editorial damage control surfaces when the blog goes on to call Catholicism "an honorable religion", a necessary journalistic safeguard to ward off charges of anti-Catholicism. If this blog proves anything it is the continued demise of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philly.com world into the murky world of B-grade tabloid journalism.
From another quarter came this comment: "He’s quitting because he’s afraid they’re going to come and get him when they finally see that all the clergy sex abuse cases are his doing." This is what the so-called Latin Tridentine ordained priestess Sinead O’ Connor had to say. Talk about an oxymoronic excursion into Harry Potter-ville! Then there are the people who have been calling this pope a "Nazi" since his election in 2008 because as a young boy, while living under the thumb of his parents (as children do), he was made to join a local branch of the German Boy Scouts which had a connection to the Nazi party. Does this make the pope a Nazi? The answer, I think, is obvious. Name calling is cheap and it does nothing to address real issues. It sort of reminds of some of the comedians of my parents’ era, insult humorists like Don Rickles, when the only way to get a laugh was to come up with clever ways to insult someone.
As a member of an Orthodox Christian parish in Northern Liberties, I still feel very much a part of western Christianity. I know that many other Orthodox do as well. Many Orthodox Christians, in fact, honor the pope of Rome as a leader in a "sister church". With that said, I am a bit mystified when I hear progressive Catholics talk about how Pope Benedict "isn’t as good as John Paul II" because he doesn’t have rock star charisma that makes people want to do jumping jacks. If John Paul II was all style, then Benedict is all substance, books and authorship rather than hand-waving and stage appearances.
One source chalks up the pope’s resignation to an accident he had while traveling in Mexico City last year. According to Turin’s La Stampa newspaper, the pope hit his head on a sink in Leon, Mexico when he got up in the middle of the night. The accident caused him to bleed profusely. The Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper claims that the pope decided to resign soon after the accident. In the same report, La Stampa reveals that Benedict has a pacemaker and underwent a recent operation to replace the pacemaker’s battery. Critics have diabolically twisted this news to posit that it proves that secrecy lives in the Vatican because the Vatican didn’t come out and broadcast this information. They went on to ally this secrecy to twisted theories about clergy sex abuse. But why is the pope under any obligation to tell the world that he fell in a Mexican bathroom and hit his head? And why is the Vatican obligated to confess to the world that the pope got a pacemaker?
Progressive Catholics hope the new pope will be liberal and transform the Church into a "feel good" cafeteria where the Church and the modern world will be as one, while conservatives, like writer Christopher A. Ferrara, maintain that Benedict may have resigned because this means he will "avoid the dubious canonization of John Paul II and the simply absurd beatification of Paul VI."
Wow. Ferrara continues: "The steamroller driving toward those vexatious events, sweeping aside all reasonable objections, has suddenly been stopped dead in its tracks. Did the Pope abdicate, at least in part, to slow down John Paul II’s saint-making machine, which was threatening to canonize the Council of which Benedict himself (in his more candid moments) has been so critical? We may be permitted to think so." In a final wallop, Ferrara states, "At this very moment, the trickle of traditionalist critiques is becoming a torrent of criticism by respectable theologians of the mainstream, as the ‘spirit’ of the Council wanes while its disastrous effects become too obvious to explain away any longer."
People on the street are talking about the papal prophecies of Saint Malachy, which some theologians call a forgery but which others say have been eerily accurate. This prophecy indicates that the next pope, Peter the Roman, will be the last pope. Italian journalist Antonio Socci, whose bestseller The Fourth Secret of Fatima captivated European reading audiences for years, believes that the message of the Virgin Mary at Fatima in Portugal in 1917 revolves around a future pope who will be assassinated.
This is tough stuff, a far cry from the cheap summations of the axe-grinding "Don Rickles" columnists and bloggers.
Friday, February 8, 2013
The Local Lens
Published• Wed, Feb 06, 2013
My father was a football fan (he was a quarterback for Kent State), and over the years he converted my mother to appreciate the game. My siblings are "iffy" when it comes to football, although I do have a sister in Florida who likes to plan huge Super Bowl parties. "Any excuse for a party," as the very late Pearl Mesta might have said.
In the past I have very been anti-football, which isn’t a very tolerant attitude, really. I took pleasure in castigating people who sit for hours watching helmeted figures move back and forth on their TV screens. "Couch potato" I think is the correct label here. This year, however, I wasn’t thinking of couch potatoes as much as I was hoping that the Baltimore Ravens would win Super Bowl XLVII.
Why and how did this happen?
Here's why I had a change of "football" heart: Steve Bisciotti, the majority owner of the Ravens, is a second cousin of mine. Steve is the son of my godmother, Patricia, who hails from my mother’s side of the family, the Irish Muldoon-Kelly-Tyrone County, Ireland-side. They were (and are) a huge Irish Klan that encompasses the Donohoe Funeral Home empire (yes, when you are a member of this Klan, your needs are taken care of pronto after death).
Anyway, some years ago there was random talk in the family about how relative Steve Bisciotti became a co-owner of the Baltimore Ravens. That was when Steve purchased 49% of the team in 2000, four years before he would purchase the remaining 51% and became majority owner. Since Steve has never been a boastful egomaniac type (he’s not about self-promotion), his Ravens partnership was mostly a quiet affair. Life being what it is, though, whenever anyone becomes prominent and powerful, "hiding" is rarely an option. Steve Bisciotti is now in the national limelight.
I don’t even think I met Steve until three months ago at the family funeral Mass for Patricia’s sister, Connie Davis, in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. It was there, in Saint Anastasia’s church, that I was finally able to put a face to the name. When Steve walked in to the very crowded viewing before the funeral Mass and signed the guest registry, there was a noticeable but discreet buzz in the church. Since I had a special message I wanted to deliver to Steve I decided that I’d wait until the buzz died down—which it eventually did, of course. After all, we were in a church, and the Bisciotti family takes their Catholic faith very seriously, as was reported in a recent New York Times article on Steve and his family.
"…But it is at Ravens games that the full snapshot of Bisciotti appears," The Times reported. "He has attended preseason games in shorts and flip-flops, and his closest friends — many of them from his youth — mingle in his box with his mother and an occasional priest, a reflection of his strong Catholic faith and his support of religious charities."
Let me backtrack a bit. As a college student in Maryland, I visited Steve Bisciotti’s father, Bernie Bisciotti (Uncle Bernie) in a Baltimore hospital with my own father, Thomas C., when Bernie was fighting terminal leukemia. My father had come to Baltimore to drive me home to Pennsylvania where I could prepare for another life venture: going to Boston to work as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Our visit with Uncle Bernie lasted just over an hour, but this was enough time to see that Bernie Bisciotti was an empathetic gentle giant of a man. As a nervous 19-year-old on the verge of doing something scary, I was used to untoward looks and disapproving comments from unexpected quarters (even from family), but not so with Uncle Bernie. In fact, the very opposite of that was true: Uncle Bernie’s attitude was one of real concern, support and acceptance. He seemed to be a listener, not a judger of "men." The fact that he was so calm and peaceful when he knew he was going to die soon impressed me as something rare.
When I approached Steve before the Mass, I told him about my meeting with his father so many years ago. I told him what I experienced with his father and how my memory of that visit has never wavered all these years.
I won’t bother to state Steve Bisciotti’s net worth (it is one huge fat cow!), but I will state that when people meet him they go away with the feeling that this is not a person who was born with a silver spoon. No family is perfect. There are "frailty sins" galore in every family, although the temptation to become "somebody else" when you become a major celebrity must be immense. In the end, however, I think that some of the stability in the Kelly-Muldoon Klan comes from the teaching ethic of its long-deceased matriarch, Nellie Kelly Muldoon, whom many family members continue to describe as something close to a saint.
Nellie’s story is too long for these pages, but I think you’ll understand when I say that the best teachers do not so much teach as show by example. The Bisciottis, thank God, are not the Kardashians.
The Local Lens
Published Wed, Jan 30, 2013
As a suburban Catholic grade school student, I’d sometimes visit the parish church during recess time and stand, my arms extended sideways, before the high altar. In those few short minutes I did my best to look like a statue: Rosary draped from my right hand, perfect posture, unblinking eyes. To the right and left of me were the real statues, behind me the high gold tabernacle. Once or twice while lost like this I’d see the crouching figure of a full-robed nun in the distant organ loft. For an instant, I’d try to make out who she was, since I knew all the sisters at Drexel Hill’s Saint Bernadette’s parochial school, but the nun in the loft never revealed herself.
I imagined that the figure was the young nun with the beautiful eyebrows who I used to follow in the hallways and often go looking for during the longer recess at noon. One day, hot on her trail, I got my wish: she spotted me roaming the halls when I should have been in the schoolyard. With a triple click of her clicker, she announced, "Stay right there, young man!"
A little bit of heaven followed as I was able to observe her walking towards me, robe and veil flowing, a walking apparition. Expecting a scolding, I was dismayed when I saw the beginnings of a smile. When she suggested I should be out playing with the other children, I knew she recognized my affection for her.
Call it a little boy fixation, but the truth is, I grew up liking nuns. There was something in me that always wanted to please them, even the tough nuns with a penchant for twisting ear lobes (I had mine twisted on more than one occasion).
Transferred to another parish in the third grade, I repeated my high altar statue act in a heavily ornate Gothic church. The nuns at this parish were Saint Joseph nuns in high-top box veils and flowing habits. The St. Joe’s habit was so elaborate it resembled architecture; this seemed to go with the fact that you could always count on a Saint Joe’s nun being strict. When they weren’t talking about morality or the sinfulness of reading teen magazines and exposed female cleavage, they were telling students to "wipe that smirk off your face."
Can you imagine how far old-style St. Joe’s nuns would get in Philadelphia public schools today? In the old days, teachers could do anything to students, and parents mostly always deferred to teachers and nuns when it came to their kids. If you came home and complained about a nun-teacher, the first question parents asked was: "What did you do to deserve it?" Today the reaction would be quite the opposite, much like, "What did those teachers do to my sweet little Johnny?"
In those days I’d sometimes stay after school and help the St. Joe’s nuns carry their weighty book bags back to the convent after school. Being invited inside the convent was always a treat. It was there that I got to see the nuns pin back their veils and put on aprons while they cooked the evening meal. A nun’s secret life was endlessly fascinating—that is, until they got rid of their habits.
The new St. Joe’s nuns with their tiny cross lapel pins, stretch pants suits, and "hairdresser" hair just don’t have the same magic. I make no apologies: I want nuns to be nuns, not real estate CEO’s or women executives with dolled-up hair. About a year ago I had the privilege of talking to a modern St. Joe’s nun when I went to a friend’s Vesper memorial service at Rosemont College (the friend was Karen Lenz, a truly great woman who operated one of Philly’s two Catholic Worker houses).
At the reception I sat beside a neatly coiffed woman whom I assumed was a college administrator or bank executive. She wore an emerald brooch, amber earrings, and a silk scarf, as well as a perfume I’ve often smelled while walking through the women’s department in Macy’s. While slicing into a lamb chop, I asked the woman, "What do you do for a living?" When she told me that she was a St. Joe’s nun I thought of the old nuns in my parochial school with their towering headgear and veils. What a difference forty years makes.
"You’re really a nun?" I said. I looked in vain for a microscopic cross lapel pin that might indicate Sisterhood, but instead found the brooch that indicated Boscov’s.
Not long ago, when one walked the streets of Center City, the only women wearing flowing religious garb were Catholic nuns or maybe a few Anglican or Lutheran nuns. For years, I’d pass an Anglican nun in full traditional habit sitting in the concourse at Suburban Station asking for donations (this nun looked very much like Mother Katherine Drexel). While many Catholic women’s religious orders ditched the habit after Vatican II, many orders did not. It’s also true that some religious orders have returned to the traditional habit. It may seem odd, but surveys indicate that "secular dress" orders like the St. Joe’s nuns are experiencing a decline in membership, whereas convents where the traditional habit is worn are experiencing huge membership booms. The fact is, I’ve always believed that visual symbols are powerful because they relay a message.
Walk through Center City today and you’ll find that the only women wearing black flowing garb are Muslim women wearing burqas. These women do so proudly, unselfconsciously, unashamedly. Of course, if one wants to see traditionally garbed Catholic nuns one can always visit the Convent of the Pink Sisters at 17th and Spring Garden Streets, although you will never find these nuns on the street.
At my parish church, St. Michael Archangel Orthodox church in Northern Liberties, I had my first interaction with an Orthodox nun from the famous St. Martyr Princess Elisabeth Monastery founded in 1999 in the Minsk region of Russia. This particular sister was touring the States to give a lecture on the work of her convent and school, a boarding home for children and adults with special needs, and a homecare facility for mentally challenged children. The sister in question wore a full, traditional habit, standard operating procedure for nuns in the Eastern Church.
The same might be said of the Dali Lama, who travels the world dressed as a Buddhist monk, and who has never gone to Brooks Brothers, Macy’s, or Boscov’s in order to be outfitted in secular clothing or jewelry of any kind so that he can "fit in" and disappear.
May potato salad fall on your head if you were one of those who believed the Maya calendar “prophecy” about the world ending on December 21st.
We’re thinking of the gathering that took place at Stonehenge—that collection of 5,000 year old time clock rocks on Easter Island---on December 21st by assorted New Agers who believed that the end was near.
Some wore colorful Peruvian hats, while others dressed as white WICCA witches in capes and leotards. The leotard people danced like Shiva goddesses as the sun came up, a celebration tied to the end of the 13th Baktun Mayan cycle. Various men in the crowd donned Viking or Plains Indian costumes. Others wore nothing special but you could see them looking skyward in a worshipful way as the sun rose. Generally, there was a wide mix of reactions in the Stonehenge crowd to the world not ending. Many hugged one another as others looked tearfully into the sun.
One man bowed his head and then reverently placed the palms of his hands together in imitation of the Dali Lama. We had to wonder if he even knew to what or to whom he was praying. No doubt he was channeling the general mishmash: the sun, the good vibes, the big crowd around him, or even Stonehenge itself (all those cool rocks, etc.).
Speaking of rocks, we always get emails from the Union League of Philadelphia that Newt Gingrich is coming to town. Last year’s announcement concerned the former Speaker being awarded the organization’s prestigious Lincoln Award. Gingrich has always fascinated us. Liberal on some issues (like gay marriage), he can stun with sudden reversals into right wing territory. While we thought it odd that our request to cover last year’s award ceremony was turned down (Gingrich didn’t want any press present, we were told) we had high hopes in late 2012 when we got another email announcing another Gingrich visit. Once again, we were told: “Gingrich doesn’t want any press present.” While we’re not quite ready to throw in the towel, we do have to wonder why the venerable League keeps sending us (the press) emails when Gingrich doesn’t want the press present. This is pretty strange stuff and makes about as much sense as those Stonehenge people pretending to be the Dali Lama.
The 1970s great crossover film, Emmanuelle, took the world by storm. It featured Dutch beauty Sylvia Kristel. Emmanuelle followed the misadventures of a married couple in Thailand, and was a popular hit in Philadelphia’s old Center Theater at 16th and Market Streets. While the film at the Center brought in sailors, businessmen, and even family physicians from the Main Line, it did not have the crude following (or flavoring) of films in old Philly theaters like The Apollo and The Studio, both hardcore XXX Mafia-run cesspools where nothing was left to the imagination, and where patrons were sometimes beaten by management. Although the Center was demolished years ago to make way for Willard Rouse’s One Liberty Place, we’re sure there’s still “Kristel vibrations” in the ground there despite her death from cancer last year at age 60. For most Americans, Kristel was a soft porn queen but in the Netherlands she was the international star of more than 60 films. That’s why we were pleased when we saw Kristel in the Museum of Art’s Live Cinema screening of the films of Manon de Boer featured in the exhibition Live Cinema/Manon de Boer: Resonating Surfaces—A Trilogy, in which Sylvia appears in a 39 minute full face monologue-memoir talking about her life in Paris, Los Angeles, and New York. The Live Cinema Trilogy runs through February 10th.
Now that LGBT has gone mainstream, where do old lgbt activist go to die? We’d like to be able to say anywhere, from Roxborough’s Cathedral Village, Center City’s Watermark, to Ann’s Choice in the Northeast, all posh locations for people with money. The John C. Anderson low income apartments for seniors currently being built at 13th and Spruce Streets will be more than lgbt friendly. Life there will certainly not echo the homophobic refrain we heard in the 1970s when we tried to rent a room at the nearby Parker Hotel and a desk clerk screamed, “Two men, two beds!” While low income housing for senior citizens doesn’t inspire visions of life on the QT (don’t look for a photo spread of The Anderson in Philly Style) it will inspire a sense of security for residents, even if “old people” are stereotyped as being beyond sexual desire. When we last visited Cathedral Village (everybody has an old auntie) we noticed a randy crooner pacing the dining room ISO an opposite sex date. The staff, immune to the fellow’s carousing, got us wondering if they’d exhibit the same nonchalance with an lgbt resident. We’d certainly like to think so. Still, it’s good to see a building named in honor of John Anderson—a gay City Councilman during a time when there was no future for out politicians in Philly. Anderson, who died of complications from AIDS in 1983, was not out, so he could never tell then Mayor Frank Rizzo to cool it when the latter had the PPD round up gay men near the construction site. We call this ironic, because if anyone had told the arresting officers then that in the future there’d be a gay and lesbian senior home on this very spot, they probably would have had two handcuffs slapped on them instead of one.
The death of disco was one the saddest things ever to befall modern culture, if only because dancing in public since then has never been the same. (Ellen DeGeneres rap style dances to Kanye West tunes make us think of cartoons). The opening of the Ten Six Club (1709 Walnut Street), site of the old The Walnut Room, which closed its doors this New Year’s Eve, promises to bring back the instant dance party with what new owners Beckham and Daspasquale call 1960s British mod meets 80s and 90s dance club music complete with beaded drapery topped with a pink, gold and black color décor. Serendipitously timed with the release of David Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, The Ten Six Club proves that everything old is new again, even, perhaps, the return of ten inch platform shoes.
This brings us to the terrible melee at 2nd and Chestnut Streets in the wee hours of January 13th when a crowd of beer-fueled yahoos began kicking and punching a white car and a man lying in the street. Old City used to be a nice place, but today (at least on the weekends) it can turn into a magnet for crime, violence, and unsolved murders. We weren’t looking to get mugged or beaten, however, when we took Septa from Society Hill Towers to Alexey Kats’ Architect Salon & Gallery, former home of AxD Gallery, to see John Baccile’s new photography show. Baccile, only 24, works part time at UPS and does his artwork on the side. We noted him last year when he had his first solo exhibit, “Signs and Wonders,” at Café Twelve. At the Architect Salon we enjoyed watching Baccile walk around photographing the crowd as his mother, Barbara, told us: “John works very hard. In many ways, he is unique, and it is great to know that at age 24, he doesn’t have a single tattoo.” We like it when people, especially artists, go their own way.
What’s a Sunday in the city without joint art openings at the Sketch and Plastic Clubs? The big show was the Sketch Club’s Annual Domenic DiStefano Memorial Works on Paper Exhibition where Philly watercolor artist Noel Miles, former Art Director for the Philadelphia Daily News and Action News, won the 2013 John Geizel Watercolor Award. (Watch for an exhibition of Miles’ watercolors at Drexel University in 2014). We helped Miles celebrate his day with fluff omlette specials at Center City’s unpretentious Midtown restaurant, a place we love because the waitresses there call you ‘hon,” and because it is one of the favorite eateries of Philly actor Frank X.
Taking the down elevator into the murky world of city politics can be like doing the Tango with Dante, but here’s what we came up with: former City Law Department attorney Mark Zecca is running for the Office of City Controller in the May 13, 2013 Democratic Primary. With the scores of audit questions concerning City Controller Alan Butkovitz’s handling of the city’s finances, a Zecca candidacy feels good. We worked with Zecca years ago when Las Vegas Casino magnet Steve Wynn tried to buy the Maxfield Parrish Dream Garden mural in the Curtis Building in order to ship it to one of his Vegas casinos. Zecca impressed us then with his approachability. Unlike certain former PA governor’s, with Zecca there seems to be a real “there” there.
Other news: Head over to the Lantern Theater (10th and Ludlow Streets) if you want to see mother/daughter angst at its height. In The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a play by Martin McDonagh, Mary Martello, winner of five Barrymore Awards, plays Meg Folan, the seventy-year old mother of spinster-to-be, Maureen Folan, played by Abington Friends School teacher, Megan Bellwoar. In this story of a mother and daughter living together in the green fields of Ireland, there’s more twisted synergy than
broken Irish brogue.