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...
Saturday, February 21, 2015
City Beat February 2015
A Philly.com article on the ‘man bun’ got us pondering famous hair bun styles in history. Ballerina buns, Emily Dickinson’s schoolmarm look, Princess Leia’s French rolls, or messy buns with chopstick antennas. Most of the man buns we’ve seen have been on male model types who have little to loose by going ugly. The man bun is really a contrived look on a par with women who dye their hair blue. The rugged PECO worker or neighborhood FIOS installer would never think of doing his hair up like a French maid. Should this cosmetic blight be allowed to continue? Might we suggest fashionista vigilante action, such as gangs with hair scissors to send these knots flying?
One good job deserves another. This seems to be the philosophy of PGW’s VP of Marketing and Communications, Doug Oliver, who wants to be mayor. The sharply dressed “go to” smiley executive says he’s ready to be a consensus builder.” His photo and logo,”DO2015” has the pitch perfect ring of Nordstrom’s gift wrapping but is there anything inside the box? Running for mayor, it seems, is all about product. Lynne Abraham’s product is her legacy as former DA. The other contenders--Anthony “Tony” Williams, Nelson Diaz, Ken Trujillo,
(and possibly) Alan Butkovitz—make us think of cold oatmeal sans cinnamon
accents. It doesn’t help the city that Terry Gillen had to drop out of the race
due to a lack of funds, while lesser lights like Milton
Street continue to be bankrolled.
Was Joan of Arc burnt at the stake only to be stolen from the
? For some time now we’ve been
hearing stories of how developers shell out cash to neighborhood youths to get
them to climb to the roofs of old buildings and dismantle prized features. The gold Joan statue that
used to grace the portal above the Loraine’s front door was not a work of art
like sculptor Emmanuel Fremiet’s Joan on the Parkway, but it was stunning
enough. It can still be seen in old renderings and photographs of the place.
The Loraine’s Joan disappeared sometime in the late 1990s. Divine Loraine
Has Latimer Street’s Pen and Pencil Club become the
of journalism? While it’s
true you won’t find the skulls of Damon Ruyan, Red Smith or George M. Cohan
behind any glass containers there, you will encounter a bevy of talkers who
have opinions on everything. While deadline-conscious journalists cannot afford
too many ‘till the wee hours’ boozy nights, “I just got off work” restaurant
workers and other nocturnal party animals can. The expansion of P&P’s
membership in recent years to include everyone but journalists has caused one observer
to write: “This place is a monument to the cigar-chomping,
typewriter-banging old-school newspaperman who hardly exists anymore (outside
Museum ).” We tend to think that when ‘theme
bars’ like P&P attain comfortable status quo institutionalization (a place where
politicians hold court and participate in panel discussions), it’s really time
for adventurous journalists to look for a living museum. Hollywood
We celebrated with Paul Stinke when the former
Terminal Market head announced
himself a candidate for City Council. Stinke’s impressive resume includes a
stint as Finance Director of the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation. His
family was on hand for the festivities. The 6’4” Stinke towers over nearly
everyone he meets, including his small stature older brother who introduced
Paul after Rep Brian Sims’ rousing opening speech. If we could make any
campaign suggestions for Paul, they’d go something like this: Up the amp in your
public talks. It’s okay to show some passion and to let your voice rise and
fall like ocean waves meeting the shore. (2) If you really want a seat on City
Council, you first have to win the hearts and minds of Mr. and Mrs. Philly Joe
Average, so go light on ideological references to lgbt activists outside the
“The Body of an American” at the Wilma had us coasting in confusing boredom for the first 25 minutes but when the play picked up we were on the edge of our seats as much as we were when we saw Gone Girl at the Roxy. Our wish was to let Blanka Zizka know how much we enjoyed the performance but we were told she was in
for a theater conference. The same
Wilma official told us that Blanka really didn’t want to go to Chile because she likes opening nights,
but in the end the offer proved too enticing. The Body of an American is an
intense, often uncomfortable look at what war can do to the human psyche. The
drama also inspired the Wilma’s large stable of (cliquish) 20 something actors
to break out into frenzied Whirling Dervish dancing towards the end of the
Friday, February 20, 2015
The Local Lens
• Wed, Feb 11, 2015
By Thom Nickels
A Philly.com article from January 5, 2015 focused on the so-called "man bun," which is, essentially, when a man does his hair up in a bun.
If this sounds strange, it’s because it is strange. Not because a man, or woman for that matter, doesn’t have the right to wear their hair anyway they want but because of what the average hair bun has come to symbolize for many.
Let’s consider famous female buns in history.
There’s the ballerina bun, Emily Dickinson’s schoolmarm bun, the Princess Leia French roll bun and the messy hair bun with chopstick antennae. Then there is the top-knot bun, or a bun that sits directly on top of a woman’s head like a corn muffin or an apple.
On most women, buns have a severe and restrained look because the hair is pulled back very tightly on the head. This "pulled back" look exposes the bun wearer’s face to undue scrutiny. Everything is accented, like big noses or large ears, but especially big noses because noses always look bigger when the face is not framed by free flowing hair. Free flowing hair often acts as an aesthetic distraction or enhancement and can beautify even the humblest of faces.
Regarding noses, I’m reminded of what writer/novelist Muriel Spark once wrote. The nose, she said, "is our tether between spirit and substance." She quotes Genesis: "the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul," then adds, "The first thing that happened to Adam happened to his nose. Therefore the nose is an emblem at once of our dusty origin and our divine."
Getting back to buns: The majority of women, it seems, wear buns when they don’t have time to "do" their hair; the bun is the end result of a hair emergency. Sometimes a bun can be a work-related necessity. Ballerinas, for instance, do their hair up in buns to avoid getting hair in their faces during performances. Yet this does not mean that they have to keep the bun look while traveling home on Amtrak or Septa.
The advent of the man bun, however, is proof positive that western civilization has not only "ended" but is now in that anarchic post-apocalyptic phase known as the Theater of the Absurd.
Why a man would want to put his hair up in a bun is one of those questions that cannot be answered simply. Is it because he wants lots of eye contact in the street? Or does he want to be known as the pioneer of a new hairstyle?
Most of the man buns I’ve seen have been on male model types who have little to lose by going ugly. In other words, because these men tend to be extremely attractive, they can afford to take gross liberties with their looks.
A balding man with bifocals who struggles with his weight might be advised to stay away from the man bun, because, as is the case with women with top-knot muffin buns, it will only showcase his physical imperfections.
To understand the perversity of the man bun, let’s quickly recap the recent history of male hair.
When long hair first came on the scene, public reaction was not good. In the late 60s, high school students were expelled from school for refusing to cut their hair. Newspaper articles showcased debates on the "ethics" and "morality" of long hair on boys and men.
Long hair was associated with the Beatles and later with radical politics. It was a badge showing sympathy or identification with anti-war demonstrations and the 1960’s counter cultural movements. Animosity against long hair was intense; it bordered on outright hatred. Suburban home-dwellers, truck drivers, World War II vets, policemen and businessmen of every stripe heaped scorn and ridicule on long-hairs. Long-haired hitchhikers were sideswiped off the road, not hired or fired from jobs, or called fags or chicks. Intolerance ruled the airwaves.
Then, suddenly, long hair on men stopped being about politics. Yale-educated political conservatives with long locks began appearing on William F. Buckley’s "Firing Line." Those same truck drivers who used to run hippies off the road were now sporting hippie hairstyles. The same was true for those motorcycle gangs who used to castigate "peacenik" hippies. In the meantime, "dangerous" political radical types contented themselves with the retro-beatnik goatee.
Ira Einhorn, Philadelphia’s Earth Day founder and self-styled New Age guru, copied the long hair and beard styles of Abbie Hoffman and poet Allen Ginsberg. Einhorn, of course, was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Holly Maddux, in 1979, and became the target of a massive FBI hunt after he fled to France to escape prosecution.
Charles Manson certainly denigrated the long hair and beard look with his nefarious deeds.\
"The culture of hair is most obvious in the United States," writes French journalist Hadrien Laroche in his book, The Last Genet, about the famous playwright and novelist Jean Genet. Laroche quotes Genet on hippie hair: "Any style would do, apparently: long; medium length; with a fringe; straight; black and greasy; flowing; all over the place, brown and frizzy; blonde and curly…This fashion, carried to extremes and even beyond in England, was born in California and grew out of the American army’s reverses in Vietnam…"
The contemporary man bun is ideology-free. If one were to reduce the man bun to politics it would be the politics cosmetic provocation, something that proclaims, "I’m different," when in fact man bun men are more likely to be far more ordinary than guys walking around with hair styles you don’t notice.
To illustrate my point, picture a man, nothing internal to rebel against, as "normal" as one can be. He would be completely unremarkable from others on the street. The man bun solves this problem by deviating from the established "normal" look.
The man with the Iroquois haircut who hates the anonymity that working as a bank teller brings; or the man who tattoos his neck or forehead because he never made it as an artist and he wants to be noticed somehow, or any way possible.
One good thing about the man bun is that it toys with notions of androgyny, although in a contrived, unattractive French maid kind of way.
The Local Lens
• Wed, Feb 18, 2015
By Thom Nickels
The race for mayor has forced me to look over the field of candidates, as well as to ponder which person would be good for Philadelphia.
I wrote about Terry Gillen in this column before she dropped out of the race because of fundraising problems. It was unfortunate that this had to happen, as I genuinely liked Gillen despite the fact that many found her style to be formalistic and tight. At a small fundraiser I attended for her in Society Hill, I did notice that her campaign aides had a tight-lipped, robotic manner as if they were afraid to be too natural or animated.
Recently, I was found myself at another ‘meet the candidate’ night when I received an invite to attend Ken Trujillo’s State of the Union party in Center City. Trujillo, a former city solicitor, used President Obama’s speech as his campaign kick-off.
The Trujillo crowd was composed of mostly twenty-something people; this surprised me because I expected greater diversity in terms of age. Attendees nibbled on delicious thin crust pizza, soft pretzels and craft beer. Everyone seemed pretty excited to be there.
President Obama lorded over the party crowd on a big screen TV. As the president drove home certain points during the State of the Union– and the television cameras focused on John Boehner’s crestfallen face– the crowd went wild. Obama, obviously, was their hero. Meanwhile, I rank myself as a lukewarm Obama supporter, my opinion growing colder after the President’s disastrous Crusades comment.
When Trujillo addressed the crowd, he surprised me when he said he was happy there weren’t any old people present. Obviously he didn’t see me in the crowd, unless I was the notable exception. Trujillo explained that political campaigns mean nothing and never get very far without the support of young people.
I’ve heard this sentiment before. When Eugene McCarthy ran for President in 1968, almost every smart young person in the country was pro-Eugene. McCarthy, however, lost in a landslide. The so called young vote had proven to be a liability.
At Trujillo headquarters, the heavily partisan crowd applauded much of what Obama said. It was much like all partisan crowds, Republican or Democrat, when the applause is as predicable as canned laughter.
While observing the crowd, I was reminded of the ideological loyalty I witnessed at the start of the Iraq War when I listened to a George W. Bush speech calling for an invasion of that country. I recalled attending a party at my sister’s house when I let a mild objection slip and the guests slowly turned and looked at me in a censorious way. Likewise, during the State of the Union speech, when a man in the back seemed to take issue with something Obama said he was subject to a collective stare.
The day after his party, Ken Trujillo withdrew from the mayor’s race, citing family issues but not going into specifics. What happened in the twelve hours between the end of the party and the fateful email from his campaign the next morning is any one’s guess.
Whatever happened, there were no "young people" to save him.
Continuing with the mayoral theme, a friend of mine, Riv, who happens to be black, told me that he thinks the city needs a white mayor this time around.
"The racial pendulum has to swing back," he said, "It will be good for the city. It’s a healthy thing to do."
My other black friend (we were three friends having lunch) agreed with Riv’s sentiment. Both friends discounted Anthony Williams, mostly because of Williams’ controversial and allegedly corrupt father, Hardy Williams, whose city legacy is anything but good.
"Is there an elected position Mr. Williams won’t run for?" one comment on Philly.com asked. "Other than former [retired] city employees, he doesn’t have to risk his other job to run for Mayor. And if he loses, he’s just raised his recognition factor. Only Jim Kenney has the most to lose by putting his money where his mouth is, resigning a cushy City Council job to run for Mayor. I just wonder what Williams thinks he can accomplish as Mayor, working ‘with’ city council is something he couldn’t do when he was part of the same City Council."
The three of us agreed that Jim Kenney is probably the best candidate and certainly a safer bet than the venerable Lynne Abraham who, as District Attorney, almost gave the police too much power and neglected to pursue police misconduct cases when they surfaced.
Riv pointed out that if Abraham were elected she would be Mayor Rizzo in drag. He was referring to the hard time that minorities had on the streets of the city when Rizzo was mayor. While it’s true that Rizzo’s obsession with law and order had its good points– and while it’s also true that he was very charming if you found yourself in his company; he once put his arm around me and invited me to lunch despite my writing not so flattering things about him in a Center City newspaper— he did overstep his bounds when it came to allowing the police to do pretty much what they wanted to do.
During the Rizzo administration, black and gay friends of mine were routinely rounded up on the streets and put in the back of police wagons for no other reason than they were walking in "suspect" sections of the city or that they looked "suspicious."
The level of police harassment that people dealt with back then cannot be comprehended today, as the police generally do not ride through the streets "collecting" people they don’t like and then making them spend a night in the Roundhouse before releasing them in the morning.
I don’t know what Rizzo was thinking when he allowed these things to happen but I don’t think that this sort of harassment ever helped fight real crime. It was a trying time. People were picked off stoops in Center City for tying their shoe laces at 2AM or for talking with their friends (post-midnight) in a city park. This was a time when Center City was like East Berlin; when people had a real fear of the police. On the other hand, this was also pre-September 11th, so one could enter City Hall and go to any floor on a whim, walk past the Mayor’s Office and say "hello," to His Honor, or even take unorthodox sightseeing trips into City Hall’s basement, which I did on many occasions with a City Hall worker as my unofficial guide.
Today, of course, there’s this perception that there’s far too much crime in the city and that a tough cookie like Abraham will fix that problem fast. But this isn’t what most of us who have lived through Philly’s East Berlin stage in the 1970’s want to see happen.
The other mayoral candidates didn’t register much interest with us. Nelson Diaz, for instance, failed to stir any passion, but Jim Kenney did, despite the fact that, sadly, Anthony Williams has been cited by "journalists" (not this journalist) as the front runner.
We concluded our discussion with a mention of Michael Nutter’s mayoral style. The three of us agreed that that style can be broken down this way: Because black people, traditionally and historically, are still relatively new to the reigns of American political power, black elected officials generally exhibit a more formal style when they govern; formal meaning slightly more rigid and by the book.
Riv put it this way:
"When Ed Rendell was mayor, he’d swagger into a news conference or an event with his constituents with Midge, his wife, and a small jazz band in tow, always clowning, always casual and informal and yet always serious underneath. This doesn’t happen with Mayor Nutter and it didn’t happen with Mayor Street. What we have here is formality, or the mayor’s entourage– all those suited men and women traveling with the mayor in line processions where acts of spontaneity are alien."
I knew what Riv was talking about, as I’ve often noticed Mayor Nutter’s entourage, that procession of second lieutenants who surround him like a Philly version of the Swiss Guards.
With the Democratic National Convention coming to Philadelphia in 2016, this would seem to be the time for a substantial change. Ignore Bob Brady’s endorsement of Anthony Williams, and think of Jim Kenney.
Vote for a new city and a new attitude.