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Sunday, November 9, 2014

ICON Magazine October City Beat 2014

ICON Magazine October City Beat 2014

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

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

  We visited the new Dilworth Plaza on opening day and noticed armies of vested Plaza cheerleaders distributing Plaza-info brochures. The concerted effort to “force” people to like the new design seemed conspiratorial at first. Then there was the ear splitting jazz passing for music which made it difficult to hold a conversation. Yet just as we were about to critique the plaza’s small multiple fountain sprays (arranged like a city garden watering system), we stepped back and noticed something marvelous: how the open space in front of City Hall frames the building in a way we’ve never seen before.  It was clear how the old plaza’s cumbersome maze of multiple steps leading to levels, bi-levels and sunken, rotting urban “gardens,” hid much of the building’s beauty. The new design makes City Hall breathe, even sing. The effect is reminiscent of those great, open European spaces in front of palaces and cathedrals, although the groupings of chairs arranged randomly in front of the plaza 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.

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

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

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

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

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