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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Legendary Philadelphians

The Local Lens
Published• Wed, Aug 28, 2013
By Thom Nickels

What’s it like to be working on a new book, entitled Legendary Philadelphians?

For me it’s been a Philadelphia history refresher course. The purpose of the book, you see, is to profile over one hundred living or dead notable Philadelphians. Legendary Philadelphians will feature people from all walks of life—artists, athletes, business, entertainers, politicians, writers, social activists, and religious leaders.

Initially, I had an option to include a chapter on infamous Philadelphians, bad men or women who disrupted the social fabric in the city in a big way. Think Ira Einhorn of Earth Day (April 1970) guru fame who was a charismatic double-dealer who hobnobbed with the city’s power elite, including gullible politicians, until he killed his girlfriend, Holly Maddux, and stuffed her body in a trunk in his Powelton Village apartment.

But thinking about Einhorn’s exploits got to me: Do I really want the pages of Legendary Philadelphians to contain ugly, violent stories?

Why should men like serial killer Gary Heidnik or 1959 Manayunk school girl murderer Elmo Smith be included in a book that also profiles sports greats like Richie Ashburn? Or world famous opera tenors, like Fishtown’s own Stephen Costello?

So I kicked the criminals to the curb and concentrated on getting a photo of Ashburn through his son, Richie, Jr., who provided me with great shots of his dad.

Ashburn, born in 1927, was one of the most beloved sports figures in Philadelphia. He was a center fielder who spent most of his 15 major league seasons with the Phillies. Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, he was nicknamed "Putt Putt" by baseball great Ted Williams because he "ran so fast you would think he had twin motors in his pants." Somewhat superstitious, Ashburn slept with his bat because he didn’t trust league bosses to give him the same bat when the games resumed. Although the last year of his baseball career was spent with the New York Mets, he will always be remembered as a player for the Phillies. Ashburn died of a heart attack in 1997 in NY after broadcasting a Phillies-Mets game from Shea Stadium.

Another baseball great, Mike Schmidt, was the talk of the town for a good many years. Schmidt was a twelve time ALL-Star Phillies third baseman who won 10 Gold Gloves and who was named The Sporting News Player of the Decade for the 1980s. Who can forget Schmidt’s rock star’s charisma when he made his Phillies debut in 1972 at age 22? It was as if Mick Jaggar himself had donned a Phillies uniform. Screaming fans, especially girls, went into cardiac arrest over his Golden Boy good looks and athletic stamina. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, Schmidt showed great humility and surprised many when he told the assembly that his real foundation for living was not fame or glory but Jesus Christ. And no, we’re not talking about the curse word version of that name.

Growing up, I used to hear stories from my great aunt Dorothy about her friendship with Margaret Mack, the daughter of Connie Mack (1862-1956), or Cornelius McGillicuddy, Sr. Margaret moved to the Bala Cynwyd apartment complex where my great aunt lived shortly after Connie died in her Cliveden Avenue Germantown home. Her apartment was directly across from my great aunt’s, so as a boy my great aunt sometimes took me into Margaret’s apartment. Margaret was a tall and refined lady, intensely private, and she had a lot of photos of Connie and the family arranged throughout her place. In many ways, she was as quiet and reserved as her born-to-Irish immigrant father who was always referred to as a quiet gentleman with a peaceful managerial style. Mack was a benevolent manager. He did not impose evening curfews on his players and he was generous to a fault when it came to lending or giving money to players in need. Despite the machismo of the baseball, he disapproved of the use of profanity on the field and he wanted his players to be self-disciplined in their personal lives.

Mack managed the Philadelphia Athletics beginning in 1901, retiring at age 87 after the 1950 season. He was the longest serving manager in Major League Baseball history, and the first manager to win the World Series three times. He made the cover of Time magazine in 1927. After his retirement the Athletics were sold to Kansas City, making the Phillies the only baseball team in town.

How can you do a Philly notable book without mentioning Grace Kelly? Aunt Dorothy in the 1960s loved the fact that Princess Grace, a Catholic, seemed to be getting more press than the Queen of England, a Protestant, despite the fact that English royalty thought of Monaco royalty as second rate, "thrift store royalty."

When traveling with Aunt Dorothy in her cream colored Chevrolet Impala, she’d drive up to the Kelly home in East Falls, practically slam on the breaks, and exclaim, "There’s where Grace grew up! Her father was a common brick layer! Can you imagine?" Together we’d examine the grounds of the house as if hunting for tell tale signs: a lock of Kelly’s hair or a mash note from Alfred Hitchcock on the lawn. Aunt Dorothy’s penchant for the living legend came to a head when the princess herself appeared at a special Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, and happened to be standing near the cathedral doors. Aunt Dorothy, situated nearby, extended her gloved hand to the Monaco icon, apparently touching a portion of her tweed jacket. Her well meaning "Hello, dear Princess," was greeted with a cold Medusa stare. "I gathered from that," Aunt Dorothy reminded me many times after that, "that it is not permissible to touch royalty—ever!" Even, of course, royalty of the thrift store kind.

Research for the book provided some surprises, such as when a friend asked me if I knew about another Philadelphia great, Agnes Repplier. "Agnes who?" I said, thinking of Agnes of God.

Agnes Repplier (1855-1950) was an essayist and the author of a number of books, including In Our Convent Days (1905), about her days at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Eden Hall, in Philadelphia’s Torresdale’s section. As a girl she was quite mischievous. She was expelled from both Eden Hall and the Agnes Irwin School for perceived frivolities. Later, when she started to write, a Catholic priest suggested that she should stick to the essay form rather than write fiction. The formula worked. Repplier has been described as a shy Catholic version of Ralph Waldo Emerson. She knew all the big names of her day. Walt Whitman remarked that, "She strains for brilliancy, tries hard and harder and hardest until she gets her wit just where she wants it." Novelist Henry James, whom Repplier introduced to Philadelphia audiences for the first time, said that he liked Repplier, "for her bravery and (almost) brilliancy". (A little bit of a put down there, to be sure). Repplier is buried in the churchyard of Saint John the Evangelist Catholic church at 13th and Market Streets in Center City.

Philadelphia has more notables than can possibly be contained within 128 pages. The question--: who to include and who not to include—has not always been an easy question to answer.

An old 1960s edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer contains an old society column written by then Society Editor Ruth Seltzer, who chronicled the daily doings of the city’s Social Register set. The column contains a photo of a Miss Emily Bache of Center City, dressed to the nines in pearls and wearing a hat that would rival any worn by the Queen of England. Miss Bache is shown enjoying a delicious steak dinner at The Athenaeum. The photo caption reads that she is not only an Athenaeum shareholder, but the great-great-great granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin.

While it may sound like stretch to go from Richie Ashburn to Miss Emily Bache, as a famous film noir voice over once remarked, "There are eight million stories in the Naked City."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hanging Out with East Lancaster County Gun Folks

The Local Lens
Published• Wed, Aug 14, 2013
By Thom Nickels

I’m sitting with Betsy, a gregarious talker with long blond hair, at the 16th Annual Gun Raffle in Eastern Lancaster County. We’re inside the clubhouse, which has the feel of a large log cabin. In many ways the place is a trip back in time because it reminds me of the Chester County Boy Scout cabin I used to attend as a Scout. Betsy is sitting in front of a pitcher of beer. She’s also smoking. A number of other people in the clubhouse are smoking as well. While not a smoker myself, I don’t mind the secondhand smoke. "We’re in redneck country," I tell myself.

The redneck reference is what my brother used when he invited me here. My brother, an avid believer in the 2nd amendment, joined the club this year and wanted me to accompany him to the raffle. "You’ll enjoy it," he said. "You may find something to write about." He prefaced his remarks with a disclaimer: "You know, a lot of the people who go to the raffle are rednecks." Since I pride myself on being able to get along with different types of people, I told him that I would be fine. Rednecks are people too.

"By the way," he added, "there’s a large buffet, plus all the beer you can drink."

While not a beer drinker, I did consider bringing a bottle of wine. "Wine," as Benjamin Franklin once said, "is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy."

As with any raffle, people sell chances and then there’s a drawing. At this raffle, however, there would be many drawings with many different prizes, including cash, a large bank-vault-style safe, and state-of-the-art guns. Even though I had a lot of questions about the gun raffle—would the event open with a hundred gun salute?—I decided that I wouldn’t ask my brother too many questions. Sometimes it’s best to not say anything but just go and see.

In the cabin, while sharing a beer with Betsy, we listened as she told us scathing tales about her past. Some of the facts were hard to digest. Despite her past experiences, Betsy said she was proud to have a new husband and that overall she still took pleasure in being able to outwork a lot of men when it comes to farm labor and chopping wood. "Feel these," she said, making a muscle.

Seated at the open bar beside the cigarette and lottery machines, a bearded man in a railroad cap, a bottle of bourbon sticking out of his back pocket, stared off into space. At another table I noticed an Amish farmer in suspenders with a traditional "bowl" haircut drinking a draft. Seated behind him was a younger Amish man, a dead ringer for actor Matt Damon. There were no Amish women present.

"Wow," I said to Betsy, "I didn’t know the Amish drank beer."

"I got a hundred Amish stories for you," she said, winking.

When the sumptuous buffet opened, long lines formed through the cabin and out the clubhouse door. There were couples in western gear, grandmother types in 2nd amendment T-shirts, "ordinary" looking fathers and sons, mothers in half-mullets, teenagers, and sunburned young men who looked like they were ready to party. No doubt about it, this was the place to people-watch, but the real deal was outside in the large field surrounded by tall trees. The slightly overcast gray weather made it seem like early fall, and with the smoky smells coming from the barbecue pit, the atmosphere became high hickory country, perfect for someone like me who needed this escape from city life. The arrangement of tents in the field, including a music tent where a live band cranked away Eagles tunes, gave this gun raffle a festival concert feel.

As gun raffles go, trying to spot the guns, or even one gun, was difficult. I don’t know what I expected to see, people going around shooting birds out of the sky or taking turns playing William Tell, but whatever it was, I was way off. Throughout the day I saw only one gun. This was an (unloaded) raffle gun that was being carried about as a display item. If you had come to the raffle not knowing what kind of raffle it was, you’d never guess it had anything to do with guns. A beer festival or a reunion of Lancaster County locals seems far more likely.

The beer trailer located in the middle of the field was twice the size of a camper with a number of self-serve spouts, making refills as easy as getting napkins from a dispenser. It was mesmerizing watching festival old-timers, men in beards and women in long country hair, going around meeting friends and acquaintances. Here, truly, was a portrait of rural America.

Betsy, on her fifteenth or sixteenth beer, seemed to be holding up well as she canvassed the field. Coming up behind my brother and I, she asked, "Hey, how you guys holdin’ up?" We told her we were getting a kick out of the band’s rendition of Hotel California. Earlier, when she had spilled some food on her chest in the cabin, she excused the mishap by pointing to her breasts and saying, "I guess they were hungry." She followed this comment with howls of laughter.

Midway through the event the band began to stir up the party juices of a few older ladies who, at least on the surface, had a "church lady" look. But don’t let looks deceive you. I watched as one grandmother bolted from her chair and proceeded to shimmy against a picnic table bench, while another granny type swayed her hips the way she probably did when partying at age twenty-five. A little later, I watched a guy with a shaved head explode in ecstasy when he spotted a buddy. With an exuberance fueled by numerous beers, he raised his arms, slapped the air, and made several Wolfman Jack howls before collapsing on the ground. So much for drunk macho!

Meeting Hans the Amish guy was the high point of the day. With his bowl-shaped haircut, short beard and suspenders, Hans was selling raffle tickets while balancing a beer and keeping track of his three small children who would occasionally gather around him and tug at his sleeve. I’d never actually spoken to an Amish person before, except at the Reading Terminal market when ordering food, but that doesn’t count. Watching Hans, it was obvious he knew a lot of the non-Amish, or English, as quite a few people seemed to be seeking him out. What was interesting to me was the fact that Hans was drinking his beer in such an open fashion. He also had no qualms about going to the trailer for additional brews.

Coincidence brought me face-to-face with Hans. How could I resist asking him about the beer? I asked him if the Amish had changed their rules about alcohol. "Aren’t there taboos against it?" My brother blanched. "Oh no," he said. "You didn’t ask him that." But I did, and Hans didn’t seem to mind. He smiled and said that if an Elder were around he’d certainly disapprove, but that ultimately drinking a couple of beers wasn’t that much of a big deal. "You’d be reprimanded, but only lightly," he said.

When Hans’ brother appeared on the scene, I thought I was seeing double: same blond hair but no bowl cut and no suspenders. Hans’ brother, it seems, had probably never joined the Amish church after Rumspringa, so he stood little chance of being shunned. So here he was having a good time with his brother’s family.

I asked Hans about the business of shunning, and whether his brother experienced any trouble from the family when he joined another church. "Not at all," Hans said. "Everything is good. My brother is treated like everyone else in the family. We don’t always shun. It depends on the family and the community."

At that point my brother brought up the show Breaking Amish. Hans made a face and said not to believe half of what happens there. The conversation ended when someone came up behind Hans and snapped his suspenders.

My brother went away from it all in a very good mood because he won one of the raffles, a prize worth over 300 dollars. It seemed like the day had been a success, although I was surprised when Betsy told me that she doesn’t even own a gun because of something that happened to her very early on. "I don’t like guns—I hate them, in fact—but I like coming here. This is one fun party."

On the way home in my brother’s car we passed Hans and his kids in their horse and buggy. He didn’t see us, so we couldn’t wave, but I had to wonder if he’d bump into an Elder who’d notice beer on his breath when he arrived at the farm.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Robert Mapplethorpe, Philly Police Entrapment, Fireworks and The Oval

ICON Magazine City Beat August 2013

At the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Sensing Change preview (July 2013-May 2014), we not only learned what happens when artists and scientists investigate the environment but we were also reminded what can happen when art and politics collide. Fellow Sensing Change traveler Kathy Foster (Senior Curator of American Art, PMA) introduced us to Judith Tannenbaum, Associate Director of Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art during the Robert Mapplethorpe, The Perfect Moment exhibition (December 1988-January 1989). The ICA retrospective included 175 Mapplethorpe photographs of flowers, orchids and nude S and M gay male bondage images. We attended the 1988 exhibit and recall the long lines then especially the families with children who seemed as blasé as Please Touch Museum goers. Fresh from a showing at the Whitney Museum in New York, The Perfect Moment accumulated rave reviews before heading off to the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center where there was an implosion. Nine members of a Congressional Grand Jury entered the exhibit on opening day and issued indictments to the CAC and its director, Dennis Barrie. Cincinnati police closed the museum but not before ticket holders chanted slogans and hounded the cops with boos. Although a court action voided the closure, the exhibit’s third destination, the Corcoran Galley of Art in Washington D.C, never materialized thanks to a Jesse Helms imitative that threatened to end National Endowment for the Arts funding. The Corcoran, caving into pressure, cancelled The Perfect Moment, an action Foster says she found so cowardly she had no choice but to write a letter of protest to the Corcoran powers that be. Tannenbaum, meanwhile, was quoted in the national press, as saying “We are in the middle of a national political battle,” an understatement to be sure although much less so today thanks to men and women of her caliber. But while obscenity in art may no longer raise high the roof beams, the totalitarian urge to legislate morality still runs high in a society that purports to be “advanced” in many ways.

Consider, for instance, the recent Philadelphia police entrapment procedures against 6 johns in the Kensington area. While we’re sure that none of the sassy, gum smacking female officers posing as under-the-El hookers would recognize the name Mapplethorpe, we wonder if they felt a pang of conscience knowing the whole thing was a ruse just to rack up arrest numbers. Isn’t this called entrapment? What’s worse, the PPD notified the press (Icon not included) to be on hand for some great photo ops as the still-shaken arrestees were marched to the fingerprinting table. Philly’s DA, Seth Williams, a devout Catholic, is said to be eager to beef up his john school so that these men can be taught the value of monogamy and the danger of STD’s. In an age when people are gunned down in Old City after a night of clubbing, does an “illicit” orgasm under the El really matter? Never mind that a john school conjures up images of undergrads in bow ties being taught by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, or heady lectures (sic) by reformed prostitutes (in San Francisco they’re called sex workers) mouthing the au courant line that prostitution always exploits women—except, perhaps, when these same women are in dire need of food or money. We may be naïve, but we thought that Philly Vice was a thing of the past. Sgt. Joe Lanciano of Citywide Vice told that he had every right to arrest the johns, via entrapment, because, well, “This is not a victimless crime.” In Orwell’s masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, two and two equals five…

We met internationally renowned photographer Tony Ward at the Philadelphia Sketch Club’s annual Photography 2013 exhibit. Ward, the author of six books like Orgasm (2002) and Obsession (1998) once sold one of his prints in Paris for $18,000. Ward, as the exhibit’s Juror, had to pair down 208 submissions to a slim 118. While Best of Show winner was Bruce Kravetz, one of the artists selected, Tom McKean, a Chester Springs native, can trace his roots back to Thomas McKean (1734-1817), a delegate to the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Meeting McKean, we were taken aback at the uncanny resemblance between him and Thomas, so we were not surprised that McKean’s entry, Obama Rally (which did not win any prizes) had a political theme. We were glad that McKean didn’t take the easy way out and photograph a nude woman. It’s not that we don’t love nude women, but considering that so many of the photographs on display were just that, it got us thinking that Philly could use a Robert Mapplethorpe of its own. Great photography is gender variant photography: old women, young women, amputees, men and old men——not only Penthouse centerfolds or the photographer’s girlfriend. The absence of male nudes was conspicuous, causing us to wonder if the absence had something to do with the quirky biases of Philly photographers. We asked Ward about this and he said what we expected him to say: “These are the submissions we received,” though he agreed with us that that maybe the conservative tenor of the city is to blame. He did point out the existence of one male nude on the far side of the room, but it was a sorry consolation prize and didn’t measure up to the old days of ICA and Judith Tannenbaum.

We’re glad the 4th of July is over, because there’s nothing more depressing than the sound of fireworks going off five days in a row. But while fireworks may be loud and disruptive, the latest craze to hit America is even more annoying: historic battle reenactments. Fed up with at home video war games, adolescently-stunted adult men are not only reenacting the Battle of Gettysburg (it was the 150th anniversary this year), but every war under the American umbrella, including Vietnam. While the sight of grown men feigning gunshot wounds or bullets in the head and then moaning in agony might be some folks’ idea of “history coming alive,” to us it’s just plain silly. To duplicate war accurately there must be blood and guts aplenty, blown off heads, empty eye sockets as well as loin and genital pulverization. Oh yes, and don’t forget the animal slaughter and the aromatic smells of body parts. It’s scary to think that the same overgrown boys who brought us Gettysburg and Revolutionary War stagings are now trying to bring Vietnam to the backyards of rural and suburban America. In Ithaca, New York recently a regiment of self-proclaimed Vietnam War reenactors were rushed out of town when they kidnapped a local girl because “Charlie” was coming, and when they raided a local nursing home, filled with real Viet Nam vets, claiming that the Commie’s were on a nearby hill.

The business of constant busyness has invaded the once sedate, Parisian atmosphere of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Where once it was fashionable to lounge on benches, or sit under a random tree, now it will become mandatory to use your time constructively. Philadelphia Parks and Recreation has announced a new plan for Eakins Oval, the section of the Parkway closest to the museum. In place of Proustian reverie, there will be programs like art classes, a kite bonanza, storytelling sessions, fire prevention lessons with real fire trucks, as well as bicycle riding lessons for adults, sandboxes, and a beer garden (good). In addition, there will be yoga classes for six week old precrawlers (“Moms will need to bring a yoga mat”), and yoga for seniors. Add to the list chess tournaments, claymation demonstrations and Ferko String band struts, and you have a mini vacation rolled up into a tiny city space. With all this busyness, where does one go to relax? Relax as in sit by a waterfall and do nothing; relax as in sit in a park without feeling the urge to jog or work up a sweat prior to the work week with its own sweat rites. At the Oval’s opening ceremonies, Mayor Nutter, in his Lacoste best, joined other city brass in dark suits. They chatted amongst themselves, making us think of a Masonic picnic. “What’s your take on this?” we asked a local artist, busy munching on an iced Mango pop. “You know, it’s all rather ambiguous,” he said. “Why can’t an oval be just an oval?”

The summer’s top art draw is The Art of Jerry Pinkney (June 28-Sept. 22, 2013) at the Perelman Building. By all means catch these illustrations of lions, mice and a look inside Gustav Mahler’s head. Pinkney’s world is a one way ticket to childhood, especially the Little Red Riding Hood series in which the male wolf dresses as a granny and can be a stand in for a slightly darker world. At the Pickney preview we had hot dogs and wine and spotted a thoroughly animated Timothy Rub in a rare social moment, laughing it up like we used to see Anne d’Harnoncourt do in more carefree days.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Zimmermann and Martin: What happens when two jackasses meet

The Local Lens
Published• Wed, Jul 31, 2013
By Thom Nickels

Two weeks ago, the name Trayvon Martin was repeated so often I was seeing the hooded seventeen year old in my sleep. Then, when the jury of eight women acquitted George Zimmermann of second degree manslaughter, the names of both men became an incessant buzz. The only way to escape the loud chorus would have been to leave the country or hide out in the mountains, but even then you probably would have heard violent echoes.

While very much aware of Zimmermann’s violent past, I also know that even "violent" people can walk into dangerous situations and become "victims" themselves. Then there’s this question: What happens when violent people meet other violent people? Or, more importantly: What happens when two violent jackasses collide?

The polarizing racial nature of this case (trumped up by the media and by our own president) compels people to take one side or another. On one hand, you have those who swear that racial profiling and racism motivated Zimmermann to follow and/or shoot Martin. Conversely, there are those who see Zimmermann as just a town watch guy doing his job. Both views have lost touch with the fact that Martin never did have a "sanitized’ image (or record), and Zimmermann, at least according to his police record, can never be described as reasonable and just.

Polarization like this begs the question: Who’s your bogeyman, Martin or Zimmermann? Of course, since Martin is dead, shot by Zimmermann, much of the emotional empathy (in the quest for justice) rests with the victim. Still, this does not necessarily mean that Zimmermann is a monstrous Cyclops, if only because he could have been acting in self defense.

Let’s back up a moment, please.

At the conclusion of the OJ Simpson trial I happened to be with a friend in his place of employment, when the jury’s verdict was announced. My friend, who is white, worked with 30 African American women who had been following the case so closely there was a television in the workroom. Based on the evidence, my friend and I were convinced that OJ was guilty. Not because he was a black man but because he appeared to be a scoundrel and was on record as having previously abused Nicole Simpson. (OJ could have been Irish, Scotch, or of Lapland descent, it didn’t matter to me.) Throughout the trial, it was obvious that there was a big racial divide among Americans: blacks siding with OJ either because he was black or because the LAPD had a terrible record on race relations.

When the jury announced OJ’s acquittal, the women in that Verizon room stood and cheered. The cheering went on for a long time. The sporting event nature of the reaction was disturbing. It was as if the women in the room had willfully refused to look at the evidence. It was, as one might say today, a quintessential Al Sharpton moment.

In the Zimmermann case, the protests focused on the fact that Martin was unarmed and that an armed, much older Zimmermann, shot and killed him. The extenuating circumstances and findings of the chief investigator didn’t seem to matter: if you have a gun and you shoot, you are automatically guilty.

There will always be those who will say that Zimmermann had no choice but to shoot Martin in order to save his life—just as there will always be people who will say that Zimmermann, the Cyclops, attacked Martin, an angelic teen boy who was mistaken for a thug.

Zimmermann was a short and overweight man—soft and spongy like a gingerbread man, as some have remarked-- not strong by any means, while Martin was his physical opposite. Zimmermann, in fact, suffered a broken nose, two black eyes and deep lacerations on the back of his head. Investigators were able to determine that he shot Martin from a distance of eighteen inches, which suggests that he did not shoot Martin after he was able to free himself from the younger man’s hold. It was also concluded that the screams heard on that pivotal phone call were, in fact, Zimmermann crying for help.

This does not change the fact that what is said before a fight is of great importance when discussing guilt or innocence. Some people commit murder every time they open their mouths: they can slash their victim with words that cut like a sword; they can demolish character, issue insults, and otherwise reduce their verbal victim to pitiful mincemeat, but if the victim of their taunts happens to be mentally fragile, unhinged, or a person of little self discipline when it comes to controlling their temper, there can be ugly consequences. A streetwise youth of seventeen is unlikely to take insults of this caliber like an understanding Mother Teresa but in fact is more likely to start throwing punches.

This is what seventeen year olds do, unless they are what some call advanced old souls.

Was Zimmermann cocky and mouthy? Did he tell Martin to take a hike, but in not such nice language?

Or did Martin begin the exchange by throwing out a nasty word or two of his own?

Somebody started the first verbal altercation, which in turn mushroomed into the beating on the sidewalk and finally, into a gunshot killing.

It was an awful tragedy, one that perhaps could have been avoided if somebody had taken the high road and walked away. What we have here, I think, is a case of two hot headed jackasses with a penchant for violence who crossed paths…and collided.