Still Calling

Philadelphia

Omar






My friend Omar killed himself. Many residents who grew close to him considered him family. They recounted his encyclopedic knowledge of film, his affection for pets and for walking dogs, and his repertoire of philosophical rants that some found incomprehensible. He was always smartly dressed in clothes rooted from donation bags left out front of…

Weirdenfreude






A couple of months ago, I wrote about making mead with my ex. I generally have refrained from writing about how we split up (Lord knows I did enough oversharing on Facebook at the time) but a Philadelphia news item appeared in my feed recently that stuck in my craw, triggering a new emotion I…

Philly Daily News editor Sandy Shea has tantrum






This is rich: As night follows day, I knew Monday’s sentencing of Congressman Chaka Fattah to 10 years in prison would generate a firestorm of comments implicating the Inquirer and Daily News in Fattah’s betrayal of the public trust. Sure enough, when Fattah’s sentence was announced, the Philly.com commentariat declared that both news outlets should…

Mummery

As someone who’s a big fan of “the old weird America” (most famously compiled by Harry Smith), I have complicated feelings about the annual Mummers Parade in Philadelphia.

The parade itself is a living piece of that old weird America, dating back to well before the first official parade was launched in the early 20th century. The people who make up the various clubs spend considerable amounts of time and personal funds on the endeavor: whatever else may be said about the Mummers, it is truly populist art and performance. And so, in that light, it speaks to me.

THAT SAID.

The racism and homophobia have to fucking stop. It’s making me, a person who is predisposed to like weird stuff the Mummers, start to not like them anymore.

I’m a guy who listens to and performs old time southern fiddle music: I have a high tolerance for insensitive material. But ya know, I don’t perform a song like “Run Nigger Run” publicly, I don’t break it out at jam sessions, and I would be appalled if it was played at a festival, even if the melody IS really catchy. Outside of very specific historic or academic contexts, that song has no place in the 21st century. It is a relic from when we were a worse people than we are now.

This shit? Not funny.

While the Mummers have recently become more inclusive and diverse, change is happening too slowly. For the past three or four years running, the parade has featured blatantly racist and homophobic themes (and this year outright gay-bashing) that simply do not fly with the greater public, and make Philadelphia look like a city of nitwits and mouth breathers to the rest of the world. It is simply AWFUL PR for our city, and as the population here skews younger and more educated, fewer and fewer people will go to the parade. If you’re a Mummer who cares about the tradition, it’s even worse: more and more people will come to the conclusion (as many already have) that the parade should be done away with entirely. At that point, Mummery will eventually be the same kind of relic, interesting as a specimen of an earlier time, but only to a small group of obsessives and academics.

But as a Philadelphia New Year tradition, it will be dead as a doornail. And it doesn’t have to be this way, at all.

New Year’s Eve: 2015 Can Go Jump in a Lake

“The easy way to survive is you don’t give up, right? I mean it’s just as simple as that. I never considered giving up.”

It has been a hell of a year, and overall I’d like to invite 2015 to go jump in a lake. A lake of fire. A lake of flaming dogshit. A lake of flaming dogshit and burning tires.

But I can’t entirely make that wish sincerely. Because as tumultuous and downright bad as 2015 has been, it’s also been a remarkably constructive and transformative year.

For example, back in February, I was de facto fired from my part-time job as a grant writer. I say “de facto” because, even though I was technically “laid off” and eligible for unemployment, because of the timing, my claim was declined. Twice. So I spent a lot of the year depending on handouts from family and friends. I owe you all big time.

It had taken me months to find this shitty job by the way, and it was miserable. The office was located at the intersection of Bartram and Island Avenues, one of the ugliest parts of the city. Most of the year, I biked 10 miles round trip to work and back, until the sheer exertion wound up exacerbating an old sciatica injury, putting the kibosh on my plans to run a marathon in 2015 (I’m healed up now, and training for 2016). I had no full-time access to a car (my trusty Subaru died late in 2014), so I started taking the trolley, which at the end of the line dropped me about a half mile from the office. A half mile of walking along what amounts to a small highway, with no sidewalks, across a bridge, and through a trash-strewn dirt path to the ugly, faceless building I worked in. It was hell. No one ever said “hello” or “have a nice weekend” or “wow, it’s totally downpouring out there, don’t you have to walk a half mile to the trolley, can I give you a lift?” Over the few months I was there, I brought in close to $50,000 but no one ever said so much as “thanks for doing a good job.” In fact, my boss took credit for the work I did.

But ya know, I’m actually grateful that fucking cunt (I don’t use that word as a pejorative very often, but my boss earned it) fired me. Because after writing grants for a decade, I never want to do it again. I hated my job. And while it took forever, I found a new job that dovetails nicely with my work as a musician: stagehand work (and big thanks to Mike Aruajo for putting the idea in my head).

With unemployment came an inability to afford my Obamacare premiums, which doubled this year. It was one thing when I was paying less than $80/month and had an affordable co-pay, but at nearly $200/month with a smaller subsidy I simply stopped paying my premiums, tax penalty be damned. But when I finally decided I needed to do something about getting right with the government, I found out that I qualified for Medicaid. And ya know what? MEDICAID IS FUCKING AWESOME. Way better than my expensive “silver plan.” Obamacare is a half-measure, a step in the right direction. We should be fighting for Medicaid for EVERYONE.

While I was unemployed -and before stagehand work- I found that there was only one way I could make any money at all, and that was on tour with April Mae and the June Bugs. We spent a lot of time down south last year, especially in Alabama, where the real Muscle Shoals rhythm section praised my playing and told my bandmates to hold onto me; and Tennessee, where I met Dave Mustaine, who loved our band and my bass playing so much he invited me to his studio to drink beers and hang out. No brag, just fact. And it was on that trip when I made a decision I’d been dithering about for years: to cut the cord and move out of Philadelphia. As I type these words, my house is nearly completely empty, and about to go on the market. I’m on tour January-March, and by April, I’m bound for Nashville (with a side trip to Guatemala).

My mom died this year. There’s really no bright side to that. I’ll just add these few related items. Mom got diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, metasticised in her pelvis, in late July. She died on September 26 after a brief hospital stay. I was VERY lucky to have agreed to drive her to her physical therapy appointment the day before she checked into the hospital. A one hour round trip, just my mom and me, bullshitting like everything was normal (my mom never liked to dwell on her illness). That was a fucking GIFT, and I am so grateful for that.

Also, while she was on her deathbed I was able to make her smile, despite the fact that she was unconscious and under sedation. Mom’s death coincided with the Pope’s visit, and man oh man: she loved Pope Francis almost as much as she loathed the Republican Party. So when the nurse told me I should talk to my sedated mom even though she couldn’t respond, I told her all about how the Pope’s address to Congress not only made John Boehner cry, the man resigned within 24 hours. As I told her about this, Mom, gripped my hand and was clearly listening. When I got to the resignation, her lips turned up in a smile. It was probably the best thing I have ever done for anyone, and hopefully paid off a lot of karma.

2015 was the year I finally finally FINALLY accepted that Philly isn’t fun for me anymore. A lot of that is due to ripples from my awful breakup three years ago. I could go into finer detail, but for now I’ll just say it led to me dropping out of Fishtown Beer Runners and the Philadelphia brewing scene. Don’t get me wrong: Philly is a fun town. And West Philly Runners MORE than made up for the loss of Fishtown Beer Runners (seriously, y’all are the best running club in Philly and anyone who says otherwise can go suck a pile of dog balls). But with the shadow (and often the physical presence) of my ex everywhere I wanted to be, my city became a hell of a lot smaller and a hell of a lot less fun. I had hoped that over time this would have dissipated, but it has not. [NB to the ex: your beer fucking sucks and everyone knows it. Your/our friends make fun of it behind your back. I know, because they’ve invited me to try your beer simply to experience just how awful it is, and we ALL laughed when I spit it out. Sorry not sorry, but it’s embarrassingly bad. Did you learn nothing at all the whole time we were brewing together?]

So as 2015 -a truly shitty year in so many ways- disappears in the rear view mirror, I’m looking forward to a truly remarkable 2016. I’ve got stage hand work lined up in Nashville, through two firms. I have friends in my new home already scouting for places to live, housemates, jobs, and gigs. I have tour dates lined up with April Mae.

So be it resolved for 2016: I’m gonna be nicer to people and do everything better than last year. I’m gonna run farther, literally and figuratively. I’m gonna run a marathon. Gonna make new friends. And I’m gonna rock harder than I’ve ever rocked before.

As the Big Man once said, “Born to lose, live to win.” That’s me in 2016.

And now, let’s have some more Motorhead.

Let’s Just Not Have Public Schools

Via Atrios, I often wonder why we have public schools at all in Pennsylvania, considering we obviously don’t want them.

Adding to the financial strain on school districts, the Department of Education has said it will withhold portions of gambling revenue to those school districts that have stopped making payments to charter schools because of the impasse.

The gambling money – the only state money flowing to districts during the stalemate – is normally used by districts for property-tax relief.

Education officials are now skimming off a portion of that funding to pay charters. In a statement, they said that Pennsylvania’s charter-school law states that if a school district doesn’t pay its charters, the state “shall” deduct that amount from “any and all” payments to the district.

“While Gov. Wolf and [Education] Secretary Pedro Rivera recognize the unfairness of this provision and believe it should be changed, the department must follow the law,” education officials said in the statement.

Also, too, the Superintendent of Philly Schools, William [S]Hite, is now “out of patience” with “Source4Teachers”, to which the district contracted out its substitute teachers, to the tune of $34 million. S4T promised a 75% fill rate and at a lower cost -someone calculated that it was something like $7.00/hour after all is said and done- which it has never even come close to meeting. So now we have this:

Hite Wednesday reiterated earlier statements, saying he had put Source4Teachers “on notice.”

“It has to be corrected ASAP,” the superintendent said of the firm’s low fill rate. “If not, we have to think of other options.”

Hite said he does have a target date by which the company has to meet standards or face losing its contract, but he declined to identify it. He said he was monitoring the fill rate on a weekly basis.

He said the immediate push was a “call to action” to find more qualified candidates willing to accept substitute positions. Recent retirees have been contacted, as well as current staff – the district has asked teachers to help recruit qualified subs.

So it looks like Hite’s reconsidering the old way of doing things, which like DUH, but the bigger question in my mind is what happens if he cancels the contract with S4T? I mean, does the district get the $34 million back?

[NB: In one of my more recent bouts with unemployment, I contacted S4T and applied. They wanted me to pay for my own background check, which is a $58.00 expense. And maybe that’s not a lot to you, but for an unemployed person, that’s a significant chunk of change. So I never completed the application. In recent weeks they’ve been emailing me asking me to come in for an interview, but I don’t respond because I make a lot more money doing AV work and substitute teaching is the kind of thing only desperate people do… the kind of people who can’t afford to part with $58.00 for a criminal background check.]

ALSO, TOO, and from the same article, we get THIS tasty little tidbit:

[Shite] also said he was not comfortable with the number of nurses in city schools. Three schools have no nursing services at all; another 16 have only sporadic coverage.

“I haven’t been comfortable with that in some time,” [S]Hite said.

So maybe another couple of kids die. But don’t worry, our man has a solution if things get REALLY bad:

He said the district’s move to explore privatizing some health services was still on the table, and would proceed only if it would add to existing services, not take anything away from schools.

…because privatizing substitute teachers worked so well. And our various experiments with schools for profit, dating back to before I even moved the Philadelphia 16 years ago, have also been such stellar successes.

Why bother even having schools, I’m beginning to ask. Just put the kids in jail or sell them to the scrapple factory.

That Was Then, This is Now






Back in 2010, I wrote a well-received piece about preserving the SS United States. One of the main beefs with the proposed new casinos has been location. I used to work in Fishtown and drove past the Sugarhouse site almost every day and saw the potential problems: too close to residential neighborhoods, too small streets,…

Philly on the Defensive

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Oh brother. Here we go again: someone wrote an article about why she’s leaving Philadelphia, and the knives come out.

Late last fall, in the blink of an eye, I fell out of love with Philadelphia… I grew up here. Philly did a lot of growing up, too.

But in one instant, pushing my daughter’s stroller down Front Street on a particularly brilliant autumn morning, I stopped in my tracks and said aloud: “I don’t want to be here anymore.” I no longer wanted to raise my child in the city, a realization that was as crystal clear as it was heartbreaking. My utterance was an apology, and also a promise.

We’ve been here before.Back in July someone wrote a similar article for Newsworks, and holy shit you would have thought she called for the US Army to drop napalm on the city and then nuke it into a glass parking lot. I’m too lazy to look for the actual links, but Atrios had a snide remark or two and Philebrity had a few things to say as well.

The funniest thing about the present article is the comments. Your typical Philly.com trolls love to go on and on about how awful this city is -the high taxes, the poverty, the race and ethnic groups they don’t like, the schools, etc etc- but the minute someone says “I’m moving somewhere else”, boy oh boy. Suddenly, Philly’s the greatest place in the world, and anyone who doesn’t recognize that is a hipster millennial who’s probably not from here anyway and doesn’t know anything about this city so don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out loser.

That’s some classic Philly right there: we get to talk shit about our city, but the minute you move on to greener pastures, you might as well be excommunicated.

More Thoughts on the DA Mess






Sorry-not-sorry for harping on mess DA Seth Williams seems to have created for himself, but the more I think about the consequences -“sensitivity training” for his three employees- the more I think this is a mistake. Frank Fina, Patrick Blessington and Marc Costanzo simply have to go, simply as a practical manner. Here are a…

Seth Williams’ “Sensitivity Training” [UPDATED]

If you worked just about anywhere, you have been handed an an employee manual. In that manual is a set of policies and guidelines about everything from dress code to breaks to time off policy to email use. And every single one of these manuals has SOMETHING in there about appropriate behavior at work: specifically, you’re not supposed to use company email for personal use, and you’re certainly not allowed to use it to look at pornography or any kind of questionable material, or to share it with your colleagues. In fact, in almost every office I’ve ever worked in, sharing porn on company time will get you fired.

So that’s why I’m not buying District Attorney Seth Williams little sit down with Philly Magazine:

I assume white people are recovering racists. I am a recovering sexist and a recovering misogynist. I think that we all have growth to do and growth to make. I asked people, I talked to these people. I know Frank Fina and Pat Blessington and Marc Costanzo. Could they in the heart of their hearts have things I don’t know? Yeah, I don’t know what’s in the heart of everyone.

Except that Williams DOES know what’s in their hearts:

How bad could the emails be? Well . . . pretty bad. “FW: New Office Motivation Policy Posters,” read the subject line of an email that Fina sent from his government account on May 21, 2009. Attached were several images. “Take advantage of every opening,” read the caption of one photo, which showed a woman having anal sex. “Making your boss happy is your only job,” read the caption of another, showing a pants-less woman on her knees, performing oral sex on a man.

A 2011 email from Fina to his colleagues included a collection of fake nude photos of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. “Rainbows: Not as gay as you might think,” read the subject line of another photo series, showing a woman in striped underwear and stockings.

Some of the images were racially offensive, like one that showed a white man carrying a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken as he appears to struggle with two black men. “Bravery At Its Finest” was the caption on that one.

Fina was on the receiving end of plenty of emails, too, including one in 2009 titled “Men in Training” that showed a little boy looking into a little girl’s underwear.

That Williams claims to be a recovering sexist and misogynist matters very little to me. What matters is that he’s got several powerful men on his staff who have undermined respect for and trust in the district attorney’s office. Women who work there now get to think of Fina as “the guy who’s into anal sex”. And women who go to the DA’s office when they’re crime victims have to consider whether people like Frank Fina and Pat Blessington and Marc Costanzo are going to take their cases seriously.

When you represent the public, you are held to a higher standard. As gross as justice Seamus McCaffery may be, I have more respect for him for stepping down honorably, because he recognized that he’d disgraced both himself and his office. He lost credibility. Fina et al have already lost theirs: Seth Williams is quickly losing his.

UPDATE: For the city’s top lawyer, Seth Williams sure doesn’t know what the city’s legal policies are regarding sexual harassment and prohibited conduct. I direct you to Section C (h/t to Glomarization

Display of publications anywhere in the City’s work place such as:
displaying pictures, posters, cartoons, calendars, graffiti, objects, promotional materials, reading materials, music or other materials that are sexually suggestive, sexually demeaning, or pornographic
; exceptions will be considered in situations where nudity or sexually explicit language is necessary to convey a message important to public health and/or safety;

a picture will be presumed to be sexually suggestive if it depicts a person of either sex who is nude or seminude and/or who is posed for the obvious purpose of displaying or drawing attention to private portions of his or her body;

displaying or publicizing, in the work environment, materials that are in any way sexually revealing, sexually suggestive, sexually demeaning or pornographic;

displaying signs or other materials purporting to segregate an employee by gender in any area of the work place (other than rest rooms and similar semi-private lockers/changing rooms);

production, transmission or display of any sexually explicit material electronically via, fax, e-mail, or any other similar mode of municipal communication; or

possession of such material in a manner that they might be seen by others.

Seth: do something about this. Your credibility is sinking like a rowboat filled with anvils.