I have neighbors who like to say, “Be careful” whenever I leave my house and head into Center City. The cautionary words annoy me. They anno...
The Local Lens Published• Wed, Oct 23, 2013 By Thom Nickels When I ran into my friend Eric in Center City recently, he said he wanted ...
What does it mean to talk like a Philadelphian? Unfortunately, having a Philadelphia accent doesn’t carry the same cache as having a Boston...
Tom Trento, Director of the Florida Security Council , was in Philadelphia last year to showcase the film, “ The Third Jihad ,” and to shar...
I’m sitting with Broadway diva, Ann Crumb, in her parents’ home in Media, Pennsylvania. This isn’t just any home. Beside me is Ann’s father...
MATTHIAS BADLWIN WAS A VERY NICE MAN Will the City--and his so-called friends-- uphold that ...
She's not in films, but she could be. She's the one on the left. The guy in the middle is my nephew Kevin and his wife Tiffany i...
The global economic crisis has put many of the world’s skyscraper projects on hold. In Philadelphia, architects Gene Kohn and Bill Louie of...
In Philadelphia’s Morris House at 225 South 8th Street, I extend my hand to Julie Morris Disston, whom I am meeting for the first time. The ...
Why Not Philadelphia? By Thom Nickels, For The Bulletin 11/16/2008 Many questions have been asked about the proposed American Commerce Cen...
Friday, December 19, 2014
ICON MAGAZINE City Beat Column December 2014
We spotted people falling asleep during Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn at the Wilma, and wondered how this could be given the play’s good reviews. Things got worse when, at intermission, some audience members walked, proving that even critically acclaimed works can generate nay sayers. Can a “juxtaposition of feminist theories with messy human desires” ever be funny? How about a comic version of Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics or Simone de Beauvior’s The Second Sex; would these be immune to walk outs and audience narcolepsy? Rapture’s stellar record-- a 2013 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama--suggests that nobody should be nodding off, even if the play would have benefited from a 30 minute dramaturgical cut. The promotion around Rapture was stellar, however: postcards advertising the play could be found all over town: in
restaurant and pizza parlors, and on random city buses and trolleys. Center City
The Barrymore Awards used to go on for hours, so that by the time it was over you had Charley Horses in both legs and one, big primal urge: to tie a long scarf around your neck Isadora Duncan-style and drive off in a fast convertible. This year’s Award ceremony was much better (and shorter) than in years past, though we discovered this only after deciding not to attend. We didn’t want to sit through hours of theater minutia, like Award for Best Theater Usher Wearing Blue Contact Lenses, etc., etc. We’ll get our Barrymore act together in 2015.
We marveled at all the tall hunky Israeli furniture guys in pointy European shoes at the grand opening of the Cella Luxuria Furniture superstore at
1214 Chestnut Street.
Deputy mayor Alan Greenberger said he saw some furniture there he really liked,
while HughE Dillon worked overtime photographing the city’s furniture
subculture elite. The five floors of beds, sofas, desks and bookcases meant lots
of styles and options, from modern minimalist to warehouse-rustic to the
comfortably traditional. The Bauhaus style configurations on the first floor
included an orangutan- colored recliner that had us thinking of the beach
chaise lounges in Wildwood’s Doo Wop motels. Brulee Catering, Zavino Wine Bar
and Pizzeria and Abbey Biery Cake Design provided the food. Since the bartenders
told us that red wine was banned from the serving queue (it stains furniture),
for a fix of deep, rich color we had to turn to Kory Zuccarelli’s lavish
photography, which was featured on the walls.
Philadelphians may love
with its “meet me at the goat” ambience, but for out-of-towners like Connie
Willis (who came here to three years ago to land a job in broadcasting), the
picture’s not so pretty. Willis’ bird’s eye view of the Square from her fifth
floor apartment enabled her to see more rats than goats scurrying from bush to
bush. She was soon calling Rittenhouse Ratinhouse Square,
though she later dropped that after the furry creatures were exterminated. She
added another name soon enough, -- Rittenhouse Dog Park—because everyday from
her bedroom window she saw Chaplinesque replays of people putting picnic
blankets on sections of grass that moments before had been a dog toilet: German
Sheppards, Greyhounds, dachshunds, poodles and boxers would squat, and then
after their owners dutifully bagged, another cycle of picnickers would sit directly
over the spot, on and on all day long-- from picnic to poop to picnic and then
back to poop again. Those without blankets would relax directly on the soft, fertile
grass, never suspecting (or caring) that dogs had been there before.
We spoke with filmmaker Nancy Kates, whose film, Regarding Susan Sontag, had its
premier at the Jewish Museum. The effervescent Kates describes meeting Sontag
years ago at a Meet Susan Sontag Night
on the campus of the .
Kates, who had been struggling with a paper on Jackson Pollack, found the
artistic answers she was looking for in Sontag’s essays in Against Interpretation, but when she went to tell Sontag this she
says that the diva looked at her “with utter disdain,” as if she were thinking,
“I have better things to work on than helping a hapless undergrad.” Sontag, of
course, could be hot or cold. We felt the cold years ago when Sontag spoke at
the Free Library on University of Chicago Sarajevo and
greeted us with a slightly hostile bark when we attempted to speak to her at
Everybody’s an expert on architecture these days. Philly.com’s stories on proposed buildings in
and elsewhere generate
hundreds of inflammatory and passionate comments from readers who want their
opinions to count. We related this fact to Radical Traditionalist architect Al
Holm recently when he called to say that there were few registrants for an
upcoming ICAA-Philadelphia seminar at the Center
City . “How do we get the word out?”
he wanted to know. “Does anybody care?” We suggested he try and recruit the
passionate readers of Philly.com whose online comments often get censored or
deleted because they don’t know how to handle all their pent up architectural
The Local Lens
• 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 cliché 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.
Monday, November 24, 2014
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
The Local Lens
• 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.
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
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 café 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. Dilworth
We hear that the Philly Police are riding dirt bikes on the remote, wooded paths throughout
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 Pennypack
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
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. Mutter Museum
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.