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Friday, April 22, 2016

Great Valley Senior High School

My high school reunion is coming up in October and I’m making plans to attend. While I won’t reveal the number of years it’s been since I graduated from Great Valley High in Malvern, Pennsylvania, I will say this: it was a long time ago.  
   Some from my class have passed away; a few died in Viet Nam, and one died in a tragic motorcycle accident the summer following graduation. Other students seem to have disappeared or refuse to entertain the notion of attending a reunion.

     I can understand their reluctance. In high school you are not the person you later become in life. The high school experience can also leave deep wounds in a person, mainly because teenagers can be cruel. In a few cases the tendency to be cruel never “grows up.” I’m thinking of Janis Joplin’s return to her Texas high school for a reunion after she had become world famous. To Joplin’s shock and dismay, she found that her old classmates had not changed at all. She was still ignored and made fun of, despite her star status. 
    On my first day at GV I walked through a floor to ceiling window pane on a first floor stairway. The glass panel looked like an open thruway since much of the school was still under construction. Shards of glass rained down alongside me in all directions, the blood-letting spears narrowly missing me by centimeters. My high school years began with the crashing sound of broken glass.

   Were I a high school student today and experienced a similar scare, no doubt I‘d be ushered away to a safe space near the guidance counselor’s office where I’d be fed cookies and invited to watch a video of frolicking puppies. I’ve just described a real description of a so called safe space that can be found in many universities today, a lot of them designed for women who wish to retreat from the pressures of the campus “rape culture.” (The reality of that culture, of course, is grossly exaggerated.) At GV there were no safe spaces at all, just a quick check by a faculty member –“Are you okay?”—and then an acknowledgement that “You were a very lucky young man, now run along to class.”  

    High school Homeroom in those days had the appearance of a safe space but it was actually a place of occasional tension. The tension had to do with what happened after the class recited the Pledge of Allegiance.  Every morning a different student was required to read aloud a passage from the King James Bible. Catholics were excused from the readings because their version of the bible was the Douay Rheims. The Catholics refusal to assimilate in this one small instance cast them in a peculiar light. By marking themselves as “different,” many (but not all) were treated differently.  
     At GV there was no overt bullying but there was a subtle class system. The school was almost all white Anglo Saxon Protestant. The popular students were   cheerleaders, football players, gymnasts and members of various honor societies. GV’s cliques were unique in that a kid could be conventionally homely, fey or overweight and still be accepted as a part of the “in” crowd.  My group of friends hung out before homeroom around a large table inside a glass booth that we termed “the booth.”
    “The booth’ was not a safe space because we were not trying to run from reality or protect ourselves from students who appeared aloof to us.  If we had gone to any teacher then and complained about the presence of so many snobbish student cliques, we would have been told that Great Valley’s social class structure “mirrors the world.”  A teacher might also have told us, “If your place on the social totem pole seems low, then learn to pole climb.” 
    Today the concept of a student safe space is more of an ideological ‘no thought’ zone where students can escape reality and be protected from things that make them feel uncomfortable.  At Brown University, for instance, there’s that safe space for women when they experience too many “trigger” vibes from peers that threaten their beliefs, especially around feminist issues. The Brown room is the one with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play Doh, pillows and streaming videos of playful puppies. You might say the room is a throw back to kindergarten.   
    The hyper sensitive students of today are more indulged than they were when I was in school.  Many in the safe space world object to being exposed to people they disagree with.  Disagreements, especially in the political realm, are categorized as trigger warnings, meaning that the only way to deal with political opponents is to shut down dialogue. Social critics call this new crop of kids “grievance industry students, people who wrap themselves in the cloak of victim hood.”
   There were many times when I felt sorry for myself at GV, especially the time when a jock pushed into a swimming pool during the senior class trip, yet I never once thought of telling a faculty member that so-and-son pushed me into the pool. While the push may be seen as a form of benign bullying, the jock who pushed me also seemed to be asking that I stop isolating myself and at least make an attempt at group socialization. 

    In some safe space school circles applauding a speaker is seen as a trigger warning because the sound of applause upsets some people. Rather than applaud, students are urged to snap their fingers, which is seen as non-offensive. The safe space mentality has also morphed into the belief that putting students of marginalized identity into positions of power, regardless of their qualifications, is the correct way to right past societal wrongs.   
    New York Times writer Judith Shulevitz sums it nicely when she wrote:  “…The notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer. “
   From the safe space of a glass booth students now want entire university campuses to be safe spaces, and so they attempt to bar speakers from campus because the speakers make them feel uncomfortable.  At Edinburgh University recently, a female student broke safe space rules when she raised her hand during a student council meeting. Raising her hand was seen as an act of aggression, and the offended (triggered) students wanted to ban the woman from the group although she managed to stay in when a vote was taken. The insanity continued when the poor female student was charged with violating another rule when she shook her head as someone was speaking.
     At Hampshire College a student group cancelled the appearance of an Afrofunk band when it was determined that there were too many white musicians in the band.
   At Yale University, the safe space student group went ballistic when their demand to ban certain Halloween costumes went unheeded by school administrators. The students were angry when one faculty member stated that “the students should be able to wear anything they want.”  Rabid protestors confronted the administrator and called him “disgusting,” insisting that he resign. The administrator kept his cool throughout the ordeal, which seemed to enrage the protestors even more. 
   A good university should be a battleground of competing ideas, a place where students can learn the art of civilized debate while respecting their opponents’ right to disagree, and even to have unpopular or hateful opinions. This is the purpose of education.  The purpose of education is not to ban or silencing all opposition, a la Vladimir Lenin.
  Why? Because first you ban, then you persecute, and then you liquidate. 



My Journalism 9/11

One of my scariest moments in journalism occurred on April 14, 2001 when I was the victim of a news tip that turned my life upside down. It was my journalistic Ides of March.  
      The tip came from a man I had known for several years. A resident of Center City, Steve’s hobby was to befriend as many Philly writers as possible. Steve and I became so friendly that he felt comfortable asking me if I would escort him home from the hospital after his various surgical procedures. An older man, Steve said he was a Hollywood screenwriter who adopted The Wonder Boys to film. He also mentioned another project, a Harry Potter film. The fact that he chose to live in Philly and not New York did not surprise me because there are creative types who like the relative quiet and comfort of smaller cities.
   . When I’d visit Steve he’d show me his film scripts and talk about the Hollywood stars he knew, such as Olivia Newton John, who gave him a big brown teddy bear that had a central place in his apartment. On one of my visits I hugged the bear and sang a few bars of, Hopelessly Devoted to You.

   Whenever Steve read a published article of mine, he’d ring me up and talk about it. This went on for several years. Then one day he called and said he had a story for me. “Are you sitting down?” he asked. He seemed a little shaken when he told me that the media had ignored the story that he was about to tell. “I’ve decided to tell it to you,” he confessed, “because your stuff reaches a wide audience.”
   The story involved the murder of a man in Washington Square.

   After Steve fleshed out the details of the story, I contacted my editor and related what I had heard. My editor agreed that an Op-Ed was in order, and so I wrote a piece that came to be titled, Painful silence makes the slaying of a gay man a double tragedy. The piece was published on Saturday, April 14, 2001, but by the following Monday all hell would break loose.
   Here’s what readers of The Inquirer read that day:
       About three weeks ago in Washington Square, just before 8 a.m., two men approached a couple walking in the park. Within view were people scurrying to
Work…What happened next would change many lives. One of the men pulled out a knife and demanded that the couple empty their pockets. The couple did as they were told; no doubt expecting the men would disappear once they got what they wanted.   
   But one of the robbers plunged the knife into one of the robbed. The victim fell, and the two criminals ran. When police and ambulance arrived, the injured party was taken to a nearby hospital where he fell into a coma. While this was happening, the victim’s friend went with police to search for the assailants.
   They caught one of them, but the man responsible for the knifing—by the following morning the charge would be murder—remains at large.

   What made the story a “double tragedy” was the fact that the victim had been so private about his life that his family, after flying out from the Midwest, was hard pressed to find out anything about their son.
 “The one of two friends remained tight lipped when the family wanted to know why their son didn’t know more people. The family had no choice but to take the body home for a private funeral.” The son of course knew many people, but because they were all gay, nobody was talking.
    After the piece was published I called Steve to see if he had read the Op Ed, but he seemed to have vanished.     
    Over the weekend various people called me to say how horrified they were that a murder of that magnitude had gone under the radar. In my mind, I was still “thanking” Steve for choosing me to be the one to break the story.
   The following Monday morning, as coffee brewed in my kitchen, my editor at The Inquirer called, his voice shaky as he announced that he had some bad news. He related how the Philadelphia Police had contacted the paper and reported that no murders had been committed in Washington Square area at that time, and that my Op Ed had some city detectives sweating bullets thinking that they had missed a major crime. Neither The Inquirer or your truly had called police to confirm that a murder had been committed before writing and/or running the story.
   The realization that my friend Steve had played a trick on me was devastating.   
     When my editor informed me that the newspaper had printed a retraction in the Monday edition, I ran around to the local 7/11 to get a copy. My heart sank when I saw the boxed headline on the editorial page:
                                             Murder report was a hoax
“…Reports of the crime were fabricated by a source on whom the writer relied in writing the commentary….The writer himself believed the report of the crime to be true, based on several interviews with a source who provided extensive details. …”
    I went home and headed straight for the telephone. Steve answered this time. My mood was up there with road rage drivers. .
    “There was no murder, Steve, the whole thing was a hoax,” I said as soon as he answered. “Why did you do this, Steve?”
   He kept calling me Tommy and seemed to regard the incident as humorous. “Why Tommy,” he added, “Why don’t you just tell your editor that you made the whole thing up?” I swallowed hard and reminded him of all the times I’d taken him home from the hospital, carrying his overnight bag and sitting with him in taxis then escorting him into his apartment.  Finally he told me that the story was from a new screenplay he was writing and that he just wanted to see if I would be convinced of its authenticity. “I thought I told you it was from a screen play,” he said, adding insult to injury.   
   After that conversation I never spoke to Steve again. And in the news story melee that followed, Steve would refuse to comment when reporters like Daniel Brook of City Paper and Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post called for comments. Steve literally vanished after that.       
         In the meantime, my Daily News editor called and left a message saying that he supported me and that what happened would not—not—affect my work with the DN.  I felt some relief hearing this even though he would come to break his promise. In a day or two I would need this editor’s feedback when Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz called me requesting an interview.   
     I wanted the DN’s editor’s opinion about how to deal with Kurtz, since a writer friend of mine cautioned me that Kurtz “could be a barracuda and make you look really bad in print.” The DN editor was not returning my calls, however, though I tried for a couple days before the dreaded Kurtz interview. When it became obvious that the DN editor had vanished, I went ahead with the interview. When the piece appeared in The Post, the DN editor magically surfaced but only to criticize me for me for what I had said to Kurtz. “You should have assumed full responsibility for what happened,” he said. “You never said those words,” Years later I would see this phrase over and over again repeated by seasoned politicians and others who had been caught in some kind of scandal.

                   I assume full responsibility. I assume full responsibility.

       Life was getting worse: not only had I perpetuated a hoax, but now I was seen by some as an arrogant son of a bitch who didn’t seem sorry enough.
   But I truly was sorry, and I thought I made that clear to Kurtz but somehow that sentiment never came through in his reporting.      
   Some months later, I was interviewed by Daniel Brook of City Paper.    

“These days, Thom Nickels is a busy man,” Brook wrote. “With the recent release of his new book,Manayunk (Arcadia Publishing), Nickels has been making the rounds on the local TV interview circuit. Thus far, he’s appeared on WCAU and KYW.

 “According to Nickels and another source who declined to be named, “Steve” claims to have written major Hollywood screenplays like Wonder Boys under the pen name Steve Kloves. Indeed, Steve Kloves is the big-name Oscar-nominated screenwriter who adapted Wonder Boys to film. His latest project, a movie version of Harry Potter, is due out this Thanksgiving. But according to two sources City Paper contacted, one at Warner Bros., which is producing the Harry Potter movie, and another at Creative Artists Agency, which represents Kloves, Steve Kloves isn’t a pen name. He’s a real person, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and kids…”

   Steve, meanwhile, had always told me that his wife had died in a plane crash.
    To this day I cannot hear an Olivia Newton John song without being reminded of how I was duped by a man who had a teddy bear in his living room.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

My Featured cover essay on Agnes Repplier in the American Catholic Studies Journal


     Her life and career spanned many important periods in the nation’s history: the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, the closing of the Victorian Age, her meetings with Walt Whitman, Edith Wharton and Henry James, as well as living through two World Wars, the Korean War and witnessing the rise of the Soviet Union. Whatever the epochal event or calamity, the “Dean of American essayists” was there to write about it and her changing country.  She also managed to do so by balancing a worldly intellectual life (including sharing a toothbrush mug of whiskey with poet Walt Whitman) while remaining a devout Catholic, a fete which must have been a spiritual tightrope at times given the strict ‘disposition’ of pre-Vatican II Catholicism.

       If Repplier’s religion caused her to experience any stress within literary circles, she kept it hidden. Throughout her life the essayist whom The New York Times would call “The Jane Austen of the essay,” not only kept the faith but managed to win the praise of an acerbic wit like Dorothy Parker. By contrast, it would be difficult to imagine a devout Catholic writer doing a similar thing today, given the polarizing effect that social issues have on what it means to be devout.  

Saturday, April 2, 2016

ICON Magazine City Beat March 2016

                 City Beat March 2016

The Philadelphia Antiques and Art Show will invalidate T.S. Eliot’s warning that “April is the cruelest month.”  The half century old show, April 15-17, will be held at the Marine Parade Grounds at The Navy Yard. This is not Grandma’s old “stuff” but will feature 58 dealers with English, Asian and Continental material dating from the 17th Century. The vast array of artifacts includes period furniture, decorative and fine arts, silver, textiles, jewelry, Native American art, antiquarian books and prints and 20th Century contemporary art. Guests will view a side exhibition on items that dealers collect and attend special lectures with speakers like Ellie Cullman, rated by Architecture Digest as one of America’s 100 top designers, and Nancy Moses, former director of the Philadelphia History Museum and author of Lost in the Museum: Hidden Treasures and the Stories they Tell. Moses will explore the shadowy world of museum politics and how museums care for works of art that are locked in storage.  Co-chaired by Ann Hamilton and Nancy Kneeland, PAAS is presented by the Haverford Trust Company. The gala preview Party on Thursday, April 14 is another reason why this year’s show will be the best in decades.     

We had high hopes for the Headed to the White House exhibit at the National Constitution Center, but after a walk-through we pinched ourselves: Is this the same NCC that produced the magnificent Diana: A Celebration exhibit in 2009, and The Life and Music of Brice Springsteen in 2012? As Janis Joplin once crooned, “Baby, it just can't be.” While Headed offers wide screen newsreel clips from old Democratic and Republican conventions and 300 campaign buttons from 1832 onwards, is this enough to interest adults? Most of the displays at this “family friendly” exhibition are child interactive. Translation: Stick your mug in the face holes on the stand up images of past presidents (then stick your tongue out); vote for the best president ever (!); create your own campaign commercial, or walk in a campaign manager’s shoes. Perplexed viewers wondered if NCC’s dumb down approach pointed to a merger with the Please Touch Museum. Isn’t mixing adult interests with interactive exhibits for kids the kiss of death for museums? Despite our admiration for NCC President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen, we feel no dazzle for this Mister Rogers road show.

Ed Fong’s E-Moderne Gallerie continues to impress. At his masterful Floating Ink: A Visual Feast of Contemporary Paintings from China exhibition we watched an ink painting demonstration in the lower gallery. Later, Fong walked around and urged everyone to get a drink. “Where’s your drink? Come on, live a little! Get a drink!” At other city galleries the reverse is true: Lite bites have been replaced by pretzel sticks and miniscule wine pours. The change mirrors New York’s stingy art scene where guests pay for wine and are lucky if they get one potato chip. The DiVinci Art Alliance (“Where art is Genius”) shares Fong’s view that a great art opening should go beyond pretzel stick logic. This may end because at a recent (terrific) group photography opening there we heard that a Di Vinci pretzel advocate is calling for a downsizing.  



Laura Krebs Miller, VP of Cashman and Associates, invited us to the opening of the rehabbed 12 story AKA Rittenhouse Square in Center City. Generally we are not impressed with rehab makeovers, especially the “art” that winds up on the walls. New urban living spaces are the opposite of French salon style: no books stacked on coffee tables and no bookshelves, as if contemporary design was only about the installation of the latest tech savvy wide TV screen. AKA bucked this trend with decent art (sketches in small frames), and homey rooms recalling an earlier era. The big bonus that evening was a rumor that Ed Rendell would be drop by, so we looked forward to congratulating him  on his condemnation of Mayor Kenney’s sanctuary city mandate. When the ex-governor didn’t show, we spotted City Councilman Mark Squilla. Squilla’s City Council bill to give police the right to approve or deny licenses for musical venues, caused us to get handfuls of pasta salad in preparation for a face throw but we regained our composure when the sighting proved to be false.   

ICON Magazine City Beat Column, April 2016

    City Beat April 2016

If Mayor Kenney gets his way, Philadelphia may have the most expensive soda tax in the world.
Kenney wants to raise the tax to an unprecedented 3 cents per ounce in order to fund that ambiguous money sucking vortex known as “the schools,” namely his pre-K plan for low income students. Philadelphia’s tax on sugary drinks, if approved by City Council, would be the most expensive in the nation, raising the cost of some large bottles by three dollars. Sweetened iced tea will also be affected as well as mixed fruit drinks, which after Kenney’s tax would cost almost 4 dollars a bottle. City Hall is on a major brainwashing campaign to convince the public that Pre-K is essential and worth extra tax dollars. The Mayor’s Office of Communications has been sending out missives announcing endorsements of the sugary drink tax, but we are not impressed by the names on that list.

    Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez wants to provide municipal ID cards for illegal immigrants. These ID cards would provide access to city services; allow illegal immigrants to file police and fire reports, open bank accounts, get gym discounts and museum memberships. Cross the border illegally and you are rewarded a gym membership! It’s about time we broke the law so that we can finally get a coveted Planet Fitness card. Sanchez’s bill has the support of the mayor, who sponsored a similar bill in 2013.  

  A recent headline caught our attention:  30 Vetri Employees Lose Job after Immigration and Background Checks. Marc Vetri sold his Vetri Family business to Urban Outfitters, Inc. in November of 2015, never suspecting that the new owners would discover that 30 of his employees had entered the country illegally and working for his company. Vetri expressed shock at the Urban Outfitters purge and said, "We wish all these workers could continue to work for us.  They're so loyal, and they're hard workers. Some of them have been over to my house, and I bring my kids to their houses for play dates. It's very sad."  


The 2016 Saint Patrick’s Day Parade honored the martyrs of the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin.  Jane Duffin, Editor of The Irish Edition, gave us VIP passes to the reviewing stand where we spent 3 hours gazing at the back of Mayor Kenney’s head. The mayor was in front of us at ground level on a single chair, his presence inconspicuous at first. No security detail, no entourage. He blended into the scenery as if he were “Mr. Joe Average,” a far cry from the previous mayor who was always on a public ‘peacock strut.’  Once people discovered the mayor’s whereabouts, shouts of “Hi Jimmy!” filled the air. When a loud ceremonial gun went off, the blast caused Jimmy to lose his balance and fall off his chair. Dazed, he looked in our direction, shook his head and laughed. “I thought for a moment it was an execution firing squad!” he exclaimed, relieved that he wasn’t on the ground. It was ironic that no photographer was present to catch this rare moment, but we saw and heard it all. We like Mayor Kenney’s good humor (despite our criticisms of some of his policies), and were quick to tell him that we would do anything to protect him. 

   We missed the memorial celebration for West Philly artist Joseph Tiberino at Dirty Frank’s although we hear that the bar was so packed a passerby might have thought the drinks were free that day. Artists from all over came to honor a city legend who along with his long deceased wife, Ellen Powell Tiberino, came to be known as “The West Philly Wyeths.” The Ellen Powell Tiberino Memorial Museum was founded in 1999, several years after Ellen Powell’s death from cancer at 54.

The tragic death of Colin McGovern, 24, stabbed to death in Rittenhouse Square during a fight over a hockey hat, should be a warning to students who like to ‘bar hop’ through Center City in drunken groups. McGovern was with friends at 3 AM when he said something provocative to 40 year old Steven E. Simminger because he didn’t like the hat he was wearing. Simminger did not take the high road, said something back, and then the two wound up fighting until McGovern wound up dead. Moral: Urban psychopaths  come in many guises, so its wise to curtail beer-fueled snarky comments when you come across a solitary misfit in your travels. Expect the unexpected if you throw caution to the wind.   



Friday, April 1, 2016

Mayor Kenney, the Invisible Man.

     A stroke of Irish luck landed me a Saint Patrick’s Day Parade VIP pass and a spot on the official Parkway reviewing stand. The ‘luck’ in this case was meeting Editor Jane Duffin of The Irish Edition the night before the parade and being told that she wanted to give away two coveted passes, one to me and the other to Marita Krivada Poxon, a local writer and author of  Irish Philadelphia (Arcadia Publishing).
  A VIP pass puts you smack on the reviewing stand with a host of dignitaries, namely city judges, politicians, Irish dignitaries, and the parade’s Grand Marshall. The reviewing stand, which stood some ten feet off the ground, was made of wood and had a partial roof. Seating capacity was about thirty folding chairs. A hospitality tent filled with a variety of lunch foods, coffee and soft drinks stood nearby. The theme of this year’s parade was the heroes of the 1916 Easter uprising.
     Parades, generally, have never rocked my world: twirling batons, drums, high school marching bands, tasseled hats, little princesses in tin foil crowns, and small children waving flags just isn’t my idea of excitement. All of that changes, however, when you view a parade from a height of ten feet and when the passing bands stop and perform directly in front of you and the judges.  
    After watching the parade for a while, I felt something stir in my blood. It was the thought that how most of the people passing in front of me probably had direct links to the Irish that built Philadelphia. After all, there were labor union contingents, electrical workers, police and firefighters, fathers and sons, trombone players (some three sheets to the wind), singers and schools of toddlers (in Jeff hats) trying to dance traditional Irish dances. All were “lost” in the transcendent world of… The Parade.


   From this sea of salty, ruddy faces some stood out as leprechauns while others towered in height, their white hair signaling a glimpse of lost Irish aristocracy.  The performers were vying for high marks from the panel of judges, which included two Roman Catholic nuns in religious habits, a rare sight indeed. 
     I stood on the edge of the platform and noticed a man’s head at the tip of my right shoe. The man was standing in a corded off grassy area about the size of a small alleyway. It was more of a restricted pathway for Fox News technicians but this man did not look like a technician. He wore a tailored suit and his demeanor was calm and composed.  I suspected it might be the mayor because his hair had Kenney’s familiar salt and pepper look, yet his torso seemed too thick.  I had always assumed that the new Irish mayor had a slender, string bean kind of body, yet as I continued observing him, namely when he turned his head in the direction of the oncoming parade, I thought I saw the distinctive Kenney nose. “Yes, that’s the mayor,” I said to Marita.
     But what kind of mayor stands alone without security or an entourage? Mayor Nutter was famous for his entourage, serious looking men in dark suits with plugs and wires in their ears.  Today, however, people were walking past the mayor as if he were an on- call sound technician, a plain Mr. Joe Average from Bridesburg. But since nobody was recognizing him, I began to have doubts. “Maybe it’s not the mayor,” I said to Marita, but immediately after saying this, the man in the suit would turn his head again, and the same Kenney nose would come into view.
    “That’s definitely Kenney’s nose. It is the mayor, yes it is but why is he so invisible?”
    I watched as more and more people walked in front of Kenney, all of them blissfully unaware that he was the mayor. I calculated the time until people did begin to notice: twenty minutes or so. 
   Then I spotted an Asian woman in sunglasses walk up to Kenney and give him a hug.   I recognized the woman as City Council member, Helen Gym. I recalled her face from campaign photographs, especially the photo of Gym raising her fist in a “Power to the People” salute while posing with Kenney for the ‘Sanctuary City’ signing right after his inauguration. Because they were barely 3 feet away from me, I studied their interpersonal dynamic. Gym was doing most of the talking…a lot of talking, in fact.  She barely came up to the mayor’s shoulder. Their conversation lasted about fifteen minutes, and then Gym left although I never saw her walk away because Marita was busy introducing me to a retired city judge. My eyes were also focused on teams of Irish dancers and the sound their heels made when they came down hard on the portable wooden dance boards. Gym’s hug-filled conversation, however, seemed to open the floodgates, because soon after she left other people began to come up to the mayor, most of them old political buddies. Then I heard a “Hi Jimmy!” from a woman in one of the marching bands. She was walking along carrying a baby. After that a tall man rushed at the mayor from the body of the parade and said, “Hey, Jimmy, congratulations.” Kenney seemed to take it all in stride. Perhaps the pressures of City Hall had already ended the mayoral honeymoon. 
   At one point the mayor backed up tight against the edge of the platform and into the point of my shoe. He looked up at me as if to check out whose shoe it was, and that whoever was behind him wasn’t poking him with something. Somebody had given him a beautiful green shirt that was folded as neatly as a flag that he placed on the edge of the platform, near my shoe. Every so often the mayor would glance sideways as if checking on the position of the shirt, or to see that it was still there. Twice when he left the small passageway to talk to somebody in another area, he’d come back and quickly eye the shirt. It seemed to me he that he was afraid that it might get stolen.
   Eventually I saw that someone had brought him a chair. It was one of those plastic cafeteria chairs but higher than most. The mayor was now sitting down so that his back was not smack up against the platform. A few times he’d look up at Marita; since he had met Marita before so he was able to give us both of us a nod. Somewhat later we would exchange a few words, parade cursory stuff, but at least it gave me time to introduce myself.

    Parades, unfortunately, often harbor loud noises, explosions or ceremonial gunshots, and this parade to Saint Patrick was no exception to the rule.
    A very loud ceremonial gunshot roared like fireworks over the heads of the crowd, causing the mayor to jump off his chair in what looked like an instantaneous spasm of panic. The chair wobbled and would have fallen to the ground had not the mayor caught it just in time. He braced himself against the chair, and then looked up at Marita and me, smiled, and said, “I thought it was an execution firing squad!”
   Yes, Mr. Mayor, we can only imagine the stress that being in a high position brings, especially given the violent and unpredictable state of the world today. Expect anything from anywhere, especially when it comes to violence, whether you’re in Miami, Newark, and Wilmington or… Brussels. Ironically, none of the roving, obsessively clicking photographers caught the mayor’s jump from the chair on camera, only Marita and I had seen the look of instant panic on his face.
     Come to think of it, I’m glad that the obsessively clicking photographers were otherwise occupied.
   All in a day’s work, as they say, although I did manage to tell the mayor that “we,” meaning Marita and I, “would protect him.” God knows how we would do that, but at least it felt like something nice to say. 
    The mayor stood in front of us for a good three hours, and when he left officials thanked him for spending so much time at the parade. Former mayors, apparently, were not as generous with their time, but then, Mayor Kenney is Irish.
     At the parade’s conclusion, the mayor’s security detail finally came into view: a wired man in a dark suit and another city official in uniform. Perhaps they were seated in mini chairs under the platform out of our view all along, hiding under the boardwalk as it were.
   The mayor, of course, was careful not to leave his beautiful green shirt behind.