November 30, 2002

The Best and Worst of the City of Brotherly Love

Arranged in Thoroughly Random and Unrelated Pairings

PHILADELPHIA - LOVE IT: Philadelphia makes shopping easy. For most things, anyway.

If you have a long shopping list and want the über-mall experience, head to King of Prussia Mall, just 15 miles from Center City. With The Court at King of Prussia and King of Prussia Plaza, the mall has, well, gee whiz, everything you might want, sometimes two of everything you want, including two Gaps, two Banana Republics, two AnnTaylor stores, etc., and more space devoted to retail sales than any other mall in the U.S., including the Mall of America. (Yes, I know, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., is a larger and more ridiculous space, but it is not as psychotically shopping-driven as the King of Prussia Mall. For now, at least, as I hear the MofA is planning an expansion.)

Seeking a more traditional mall experience? There is an abundance of malls in the suburbs: Willow Grove, Montgomery, Plymouth Meeting, Cherry Hill, Springfield, Oxford Valley, Christiana, and more I’ve probably forgotten or never heard of. And if you’re up for some outlet shopping, try the monstrosity called Franklin Mills, located in the far northeast reaches of the city.

Within Philadelphia, if you’re searching “up market,” hit Walnut St., if you’re in a “down market” mood, try Chestnut St. (One of a few notable exceptions to this classification is Lord & Taylor, at S. 13th St., between Chestnut and Market Sts. L&T occupies the famed former flagship home of the John Wanamaker chain, acquired in 1995 by May Department Stores Inc. from the now-imprisoned Alfred A. Taubman. And, yes, the organ is still there.)

The John Wanamaker Building

Center City, Philadelphia

Now the home of Lord & Taylor

Antique shopping? That’s Pine St., east of Broad St., or not-so-far-away Chadds Ford and New Hope, Pa. Want to feel young again? Venture over to the Walnut St. strip in the South Mid-30s in University City, near the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

Something unusual? Head for South St. or to Main St. in the Manayunk area. And for an old-fashioned “Main Street” experience, make the trek to Germantown Ave. in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood, or drive to nearby West Chester, Pa., or the previously mentioned New Hope.

[An Aside: Yes, the same New Hope, Pa., where Kennett Square, Pa., native and NBC News reporter and anchor Jessica Savitch perished in an automobile accident in October 1983. Savitch, who was once part of the “Dream Team” at Philadelphia’s WKYW, was the best. Okay, so she wasn’t such a great reporter when she went national, but she was treated like crap by her colleagues at NBC, not one of whom could read the news the way she did. Well, read the news like Savitch did until that time when she slurred her words and was about to fall asleep on camera or whatever, and there was a whole lot of chaos, and a quick break to a commercial, and I don’t know what was going on there, I mean it was like a 30-second spot or something, and what was her problem? (Although I saw this famous meltdown when it occurred not long before the tragedy of 1983, if any reader knows where I might find a video of this incident on line, I would appreciate his or her assistance.) I always thought the raspy voice of Savitch that I liked so much was the result of smoking too much, but it turns out it was from cocaine. A shame, really. Anyway, that accident in New Hope, that was like so totally not her fault. I mean, she wasn’t even driving! And it wasn’t her boyfriend’s fault, either. And drugs were not involved! It was just an accident. It was, like, dark, that night, and raining really, really hard. And I saw, with my own eyes, the section of the Delaware Canal they went into, and I might have done the same thing, especially if it were dark and raining hard. And her dog Chewy died, too! Isn’t that sad? I hate stories where the dog dies too. I mean, that’s always just so awful. Just rub it in, why don’t you? Go ahead, kick us when we’re down. Oh, and Savitch’s boyfriend died in the accident. He was driving. Martin something, I think, Martin Fischbein, maybe, from the New York Post, the Daily News maybe, I guess, if memory serves, I don’t really know, nobody talks about him much. (Post-publication note to readers: I switched to this voice for the fun of it, but also because I sometimes talk like this when I'm nervous but not feeling shy. When I'm nervous and feeling shy, I usually don't talk at all.)]

This clustering of stores -- a phenomenon that includes Liberty Place and Market East, both in Center City -- beats the insanity-inducing experience of shopping in Manhattan any day. And no sales tax on clothing!

Saks Fifth Avenue is the only remaining isolated shopping outpost in the Philadelphia area. No worry, though. Located in Bala-Cynwyd, Pa., barely over the city line, it’s easy to get to from anywhere, regardless of your mode of transportation. Just try to clean yourself up a bit before you get there.

PHILADELPHIA - HATE IT: Missing street signs. It’s a fairly universal rule of urban life that the typical intersection has four corners. It would be helpful if the city of Philadelphia would make a point of ensuring that a sign identifying the intersecting streets appeared on at least one of these four corners. Granted, the average Philadelphian is more friendly, approachable, helpful, and knowledgeable than the average New Yorker, Bostonian, or Washingtonian, but sometimes there just isn’t an average Philadelphian around to ask for help. The most lacking street I’ve encountered so far: South St., no doubt about it.


An item in today’s mail informed me -- even before I opened the envelope -- that I have become an “Official Member” of something called the Handyman Club of America.

I’m honored. Really, I’m overwhelmed. Invitations like this don’t come along every day. Hell, invitations don’t come along every day. Groucho Marx never wanted to join a club that would have him as a member. As for me, the clubs I’ve wanted to join would never have me as a member. So when an unsolicited summons to participation such as that from the HCofA arrives, well, I’m flattered beyond words.

Included in my HCofA welcome package is a free drill bit guide. It’s a rectangular piece of white plastic that looks something like a stencil, measuring about 2 inches by 3.5 inches, with 29 holes of varying diameter, ranging from 1/16-inch to 1/2-inch, excluding two other holes, these presumably to be used to hang my drill bit guide on the peg board in my basement or garage shop.

I also received a membership card, certain to go into my wallet forthwith, and some really cool return-address labels, as well as offers to receive Handy magazine (Not available on newsstands!), access to the members-only HCofA web site (Sorry, you’ll have to find it yourself, or wait until you become a member.), a free My-T-Driver (It’s some kind of “multi-bit tool,” but I don’t quite understand it, even with the help of the free drawings.), free products and testing privileges, and club news!

I must act now, though, because if I don’t respond to today’s mailing, my membership in the HCofA will expire in 14 days. Typical. Let me join your little club but put a cut-off date on my membership.

What to do? I know one thing I can’t do, and that’s offer my membership to a friend or family member. I’ve been warned: “Your Handyman Club of America rights may not be transferred to others.” There are rights? What about responsibilities? Am I up to the task? Could I faithfully uphold the great traditions of the HCofA and live by its exacting code of conduct?

This is all too much. Frankly, I don’t know what I bought, or where, or when, or what I subscribe to, or once subscribed to, or what web site I visited that brought this on, but this is the most misguided mass mailing to come through here since the one about the girls with, well, never mind.

Although I own a toolbox, a gift from a sibling, its contents are used with an infrequency that has grown in recent years. And what I have used, I apparently have misused. Not long ago I learned I have been incorrectly deploying something called a “plain” or a “plane” as a substitute for a decent hammer. I’ve been advised that should I continue to do so, the plain, or plane, could become damaged, perhaps seriously enough that it cannot be put to its intended purpose.

Yikes! Sounds serious. And that intended purpose is . . . ?

As far as I’m concerned, a person needs just one tool: the telephone. There are families whose livelihoods depend upon my incompetence and while I may be one of the HCofA’s newest, albeit temporary, members, I’m not going to let those good people down now. Some of them have children!

Oh, but I am going to use the return-address labels HCofA sent. At least for the next 14 days.


If you happen to find yourself in southern Norway anytime soon, beware of drunken moose.

Oslo’s Aftenposten reports, “A warm summer has led to an unusual bounty from the region’s fruit trees. The sudden and early snowfall has left some fruit under snowy cover, while still more remains on the branch. This fruit is fermenting, and also a readily available and tempting source of food for the region’s moose.”

Judging from the concern of local officials, the typical moose is a mean drunk.

[Note: Linked article is in English.]

November 29, 2002

I wonder why one of the men who sandblasted the walls here on Thanksgiving Day (See “Someone Must Be Held Accountable: Part V”) thought it would be a good idea to then attach a hose to his compressor so that he could wash his truck. And wash it he did. Not far from my windows. Until well past midnight.


People like Sue Shell Chrisco shouldn’t make me feel bad about how disorganized I am, and how much of a procrastinator I can be, but with this Letter to Heloise, published today, Sue’s doing a damn good job of it:

When I open my Christmas cards, I save all the envelopes, making sure each has the address on it. After the holidays, I address my Christmas-card envelopes for next year, using this year’s envelopes to go by. I put these in a place where I can have them at my fingertips for next year. It then takes just a few minutes to make changes or add new ones to the list.

I also go shopping the day after Christmas and make sure that I buy Christmas cards when they are at half-price. It’s a joy to get those cards out the first of December and know that the cards are ready to go. [Emphasis added.]

Gee whiz, Sue, why wait until December 1 to send the cards? It sounds to me like they could go as early as January 2.

I think this one left even Heloise speechless, as she offered no cheerful comment or rapturous praise in response.

I was particularly struck by this statement: “I put these in a place where I can have them at my fingertips for next year.” Amazing. If I want something I’m working on today to be at my fingertips a year from now, it will have to remain physically attached during the entire period.

And I still haven’t bought new plates and glasses.

November 28, 2002

I wonder who thought it would be a good idea to sandblast the walls of my apartment building on Thanksgiving Day?

November 27, 2002

You laughed at me -- All of you, I just know it! -- when I told you I rarely cook, that I lost my plates and glasses when I moved seven weeks ago, that I have almost nothing to eat in my refrigerator and my cupboards, and that I store my old tax returns and cancelled checks in my unused oven.

(Okay, as I admitted before, the thing about the oven is a lie, but it’s a pretty good line, I think.)

And now here comes world-renowned blogger Kim Osterwalder, named by The Guardian (Published in England!) as one of America’s very best -- “bright” and “intelligent” they said of her -- with her tales of Thanksgivings past, including the low-fat Thanksgiving (Hello?! Oxymoron, anyone?), her vegetarian Thanksgiving (Ditto that!), the traditional Thanksgiving, and her “all from scratch” Thanksgiving.

The last of these apparently led the inestimable Ms. Osterwalder to bake bread five days before Thanksgiving so she would have plenty of that crusty stuff that is used to prepare the stuffing.

Osterwalder, whose weblog is called Free Pie -- I just knew from the start that some corporation, probably General Mills or Pillsbury, maybe Sara Lee, was behind this entire guilt-trip-inducing project! -- says, “It was exhausting. It was the best food I have ever eaten anywhere. And I have eaten some good food.”

Well, Miss Kim, just go ahead and pat yourself on the back, but let me be the one to say that if you’re baking bread on Saturday for a meal on Thursday, it damn well ought to be the best food you’ve ever had! (Oh, and, um, Kim, are you sure you’re really that far from Philadelphia?)



Fried Bologna: When I attended graduate school, in the South, fried bologna was a regular feature on the breakfast menus of the university’s cafeterias and other eateries, as well as in various local establishments. This as if fried bologna were a fair, adequate, and reasonable substitute for bacon or sausage. By the way, removing the red string encasing each slice of bologna is, as best I could ever determine, entirely optional.

Spud Hats: Spud Hats are scoops of mashed potatoes -- actually, scoops of something more akin to Potato Buds -- topped with . . . fried bologna. You see, you probably don’t know this, but, regardless of whether the red encasing string is removed, when one fries a slice of bologna, a bubble, or hump, appears in its center, and that bubble, or hump, is the perfect place under which to slide a scoop of potatoes. Surprised you never thought of it yourself, aren’t you?

Potatoes, Generally: In many southern restaurants and diners, the question, “And how would you like your potato?” is a greeting not unlike “How y’all doin’?” Order coffee, and the waitress will ask, “And how would you like your potato?” Because, you see, the potato -- fried, mashed, baked, or boiled, but most likely fried -- “comes with.” Yes, it even “comes with” your coffee. Order a hamburger and fries and the waitress will ask, “And how would you like your potato?” Don’t be silly and respond by asking a stupid question like, “Well, French fries come with the hamburger, right?”, because she’ll say, “Yes, honey, your hamburger comes with French fries but how would you like the potato that comes with?” And at this point, whatever you do, don’t say “fried,” because, child, you have not seen French fries until you have seen the French fries that “comes with” the French fries that “comes with” your hamburger.

The Turducken: A turducken is a turkey, stuffed with a duck, stuffed with a chicken. You really have to see it to believe it. And as for seeing it prepared, well, let’s just say the proverbial making of sausage pales in comparison.

A Conceptual Rendering of the Turducken

For More Realtistic, Even Graphic, Images, Take a Gander at This

Pepsi-Cola: Pepsico Inc., the company that makes Pepsi-Cola, these days is headquartered in Purchase, N.Y. The Coca-Cola Co., the company that makes Coca-Cola, is based in Atlanta, and as far as I know, it always has been. Southern pride notwithstanding, if you order “a Coke” in the South -- outside the chains with their nationwide contractual arrangements -- you will most likely be served a Pepsi. And if you think, as I do, that Pepsi is but a pale and sorry imitation of Coke, you will be sorely disappointed.


Tomorrow Jeanne d’Arc, of Body and Soul, and her daughter will join together in a longstanding family tradition of making butter for Thanksgiving dinner.

It will be only the d’Arcs’ second year of pursuing this ancient craft. But as Mlle. d’Arc emphasizes, they’re Californians, which would make their two-year tradition something like a 78-year-old ritual for real Americans.

It warmed my heart to read of this mother-daughter bonding activity. (I’m assuming it is, or has a decent chance of being, a bonding activity. The way many mothers and daughters get along, the whole thing could well turn into a disaster for both parties. And the butter.)

But I couldn’t help but wonder whether Mlle. d’Arc and her daughter had butter paddles on hand to prepare the finished product for the table.

Regular readers of |||trr||| know that I rarely cook. They assuredly do not know -- nor would they surmise -- that I own a fine set of wooden butter paddles, a treasured gift from a friend.

To these readers it will be no surprise that visitors to my apartment who, for whatever reason, happen to rummage through my kitchen drawers -- usually in search of a corkscrew -- are always amazed to find the butter paddles. And to this day not a single person has been able to correctly identify these essential kitchen tools.

Butter Paddles

The paddles are not, by the way, easy to find in stores, butter paddling having become something of a lost art. In fact, I’m not even sure Martha Stewart has shared the joys of working with butter paddles with her audience.

I have to admit, though, that I have yet to use my set of paddles to their full advantage. And my ability to turn a square piece of well chilled butter into a small, round, grooved, and tasty ball of delight pales in comparison with the mastery demonstrated by the pantry maids at Mrs. Clark’s estate, at which I worked (not as a pantry maid) during the summer of 1981 and where I first encountered these remarkable devices.

Maybe it’s time to dig them out again. I don’t have anything else to do tomorrow.


The front page of today’s Philadelphia Inquirer teases an article in the business section of the paper (“Drought’s Effect Hurts Commercial Bakeries”) with this:

Drought hurts the bakeries The shortage of rain that led to bad harvests is driving up the price of flour -- and, possibly a wide range of bakery products from pretzels to Oreos.

There’s flour in Oreos?

Made with sugar, shortening, and a whole lot of love

(And apparently a little bit of flour gets in there too)

[Post-publication addendum: Professor Pinkerton writes, “‘Oreos: Candy or baked good?’ Now we know.”]

November 25, 2002

The Best and Worst of the City of Brotherly Love

Arranged in Thoroughly Random and Unrelated Pairings

PHILADELPHIA - LOVE IT: The PSFS Building is one of Philadelphia’s many outstanding architectural achievements. I know this because I was taught this. In every survey course in 20th century American art, and certainly in any survey of American architecture, as well as any book on that subject I have read, the PSFS Building, completed in 1932, is cited as one of the earliest and best of America’s skyscrapers.

I have to admit that I did not accept this verdict until I moved to Philadelphia. Even the incomparable Roberta Bernstein, easily one of the two or three best professors of my undergraduate career, failed to impress upon me the masterful achievement this building represents. (In fairness, Dr. Bernstein’s survey course, in which I learned more about art than I ever would have imagined and more than I care to admit I have forgotten, was focused on painting and sculpture.)

Part of the problem, I believe, is that until recently, every photograph, without exception, of the PSFS Building I saw was taken from above, looking down from on high. This perspective not only does no justice to the PSFS Building, it makes the structure appear ordinary, pedestrian, even lacking. I know now that one cannot appreciate the PSFS Building -- originally the home of the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society and now the Loews Philadelphia Hotel -- without looking at it from street level, a view I have shared with the photograph presented here.

The PSFS Building

12th & Market Streets, Philadelphia

From this perspective even one who knows little to nothing about the finer points of architecture -- or even the basic elements of architecture, a group in which I would include myself -- immediately recognizes the structure as a masterpiece, the horrendous radio tower now affixed to the top notwithstanding. And I am fortunate in that my place of residence affords me the opportunity to view the PSFS Building every single day.

PHILADELPHIA - HATE IT: What is with the litter?

At least 10, and perhaps as many as 20, years ago, or perhaps throughout that ten-year period, I recall Philadelphia having been referred to routinely as “Filthydelphia.”

I also remember articles in various publications making note of the fact that, at the time, Philadelphians were found via numerous studies to be more likely than the residents of any other major city in America to litter and, worse, to think nothing of doing so. (Sorry, Google it yourself. We’re going way back here, folks.) I’m pleased to say that conditions have improved markedly from those the media described in the past as well as from my own memory of Philadelphia during that era.

Nonetheless, Philadelphia has a long road to travel in this regard, though I do not blame Philadelphians entirely or exclusively for this shortcoming. To cite just one of the city’s litter-related shortcomings, I have yet to encounter a single street corner on which there is more than one municipally maintained garbage can, let along the four on each corner that are required to maintain the standards other urban Americans enjoy. (I am painfully aware of the scarcity of trash receptacles because I own a dog, and the last thing I want to do, three times a day, is bring that nasty bag all the way home, only to have to make an extra trip to my building’s garbage carts before heading upstairs.)

“If you build it, they will come.” Absolutely. And if you put out trash cans, people -- even Philadelphians -- will use them.


One of the most appealing features of weblogs is the creativity with which participants have applied toward naming their sites.

Just for the helluvit, I’d thought I might mention a few of my many favorites in this regard:

Easy Bake Coven

Free Pie

How Appealing

Interesting Monstah

Locust Eater

Monumental Mistake

Road to Surfdom

Shadow of the Hegemon

Sisyphus Shrugged

Stage Left

Uppity Negro

Wis[s]e Words

WTF Is It Now?

I’m sure I have missed many -- dozens, hundreds, even. If you would like to alert me to others that should be included on this list, please do so using the e-mail address provided under “Contact” in the upper left corner of this page.

November 24, 2002

Another test taken. This time to determine my religious affiliation.

According to the test, I should be a Christian Scientist, a religion with which the test has found I have an affinity of 100 percent. That’s not much of a surprise as I have been an on-again, off-again student of the subject for nearly 20 years.

The Mother Church

The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Mass.

Christian Science is followed by Mainline to Liberal Christian-Protestant, with an affinity of 90 percent, and Mainline to Conservative Christian-Protestant, at 88 percent. Well, there I am, running hot and cold, as always.

Catholicism ranked fifth, with a 69 percent affinity, tied with the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Pulling up the rear: Atheism/Agnosticism, at 16 percent. No surprise that.

And working up from there, Secular Humanism, at 20 percent (again, no surprise); Jainism, also at 20 percent (Where’s that damn dictionary?); Taoism, at 27 percent (my familiarity is limited to a passing glance at The Tao of Pooh some 30 years ago); and Theravada Buddhism, at 37 percent (And I still haven’t found that dictionary.).

November 21, 2002

The Best and Worst of the City of Brotherly Love

Arranged in Thoroughly Random and Unrelated Pairings

PHILADELPHIA - LOVE IT: Philadelphia is blessed with an abundance of beautiful, narrow, quiet, tucked away streets -- alleys, almost, which is what some of them are called -- that seem to pop up where one least expects them. Elfreth’s Alley, this country’s oldest street, its homes nearly demolished in the 1950s, by the way, is just one of many.

A View of Elfreth’s Alley, Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA - HATE IT: Other than Chinese restaurants, it often seems as if no one in Philadelphia delivers. The pizza place one block over, to cite a particularly jarring example, does not deliver. The deli around the corner doesn’t deliver. Nor does the dry cleaner. Nor the supermarket. The people at the liquor stores -- which are state-owned here, for reasons not clear -- won’t budge. The pet store doesn’t deliver. Rite-Aid doesn’t deliver. Nor McDonald’s, not even at breakfast. This is all either very, very strange, or I lived in Manhattan for too long.


I don’t cook. Or at least I rarely cook.

I’m a man, damn it! (Proof here.) And therefore I am a hunter-gatherer by nature -- or by stunted development or maybe out of sheer laziness.

In my refrigerator you will find Coca-Cola (Uh-oh, down to eight cans!), a jar of salsa, two take-out Chinese boxes, and a few slices of really not that old and probably still edible sausage pizza.

My cupboards contain tortilla chips (I have chips and salsa . . . I see a meal taking shape here.), a pile of little packets of soy sauce, hot mustard, and duck sauce (And I don’t even like duck sauce!), Maalox, Tums, and dog biscuits. The dog biscuits aren’t mine, I swear, not even in a pinch.

In the oven are my tax returns going back 10 years, along with at least a dozen boxes of cancelled checks. Okay, not really, but the stuff about the refrigerator and the cupboards is true, and the wasted space of an empty oven does kind of get on my nerves.

I don’t even own a microwave.

Let’s face it, if you get hungry at my place, you’re going to have to go out and find something to eat.

Anyway, today I realized I don’t have any plates or glasses, the box containing these items, considered everyday essentials in most homes, apparently was lost in the move.

I’m kind of disappointed. I’d had those plates for 18 years. And the glasses were a real find: big, tall, heavy, and just the right size and shape. I’d had them at least five years.

Oh, did I mention I moved in here seven weeks ago?

Seven weeks without plates or glasses. Do you think you could last that long? You would have noticed well before this, wouldn’t you?

November 20, 2002

Over the weekend I received a message on my answering service that clearly was not intended for me, but, gee whiz, it was fascinating.

All I can say is that there’s a man somewhere in Philadelphia who’s in for a great big surprise soon.

Let’s listen in:

Hello, Mr. _____, this is _____.

I want to come in and talk to you. I got a closing on this house today, so you know I’ve got the house, I got the car.

And the next thing I’m going after is his retirement fund and his savings plan and I think I will need your assistance with that.

And then, you know, I will file for divorce.

So if you could call me back at (215) ###-#### sometime today because, you know, as of the closing this afternoon, I will have the financing to take care of you financially and I just want to set everything in motion

Thank you very much. The phone number is (215) ###-####.



I mentioned here once that I kill plants -- and bonsai trees -- with alarming ease and frequency. (“100 Things About Me.” See numbers 59 through 61.)

At one time I had 12 bonsai. I now have one.

Actually, the remaining bonsai is what’s called “a grove,” meaning there are several trees growing in the same pot, in this case three.

They’re quite beautiful.

They’re also, I’m ashamed to say, desperately clinging to life.

I was thinking today that it’s one thing to kill a plant, but it’s another thing entirely to kill a bonsai. After all, they aren’t plants, they’re trees.

I’m a tree killer.

I kill trees.

I’m a horrible person.

November 19, 2002

Okay, so a bunch of webloggers took this test -- one of those online quizzes that’s designed to reveal this or that about the test taker, most of them, as you probably know, deal with various elements of human psychology -- and shared their results.

This particular test, called The Gender Test, from Spark, apparently is designed to determine whether the test-taker is a man or a woman based on a series of seemingly irrelevant questions.

According to results collected by Jeanne D’Arc of Body & Soul, the test’s accuracy is decidedly mixed.

Anyway, I thought, what the hell, I’ll take the test too.

It turns out I’m a man. The results say so, “with 86 percent accuracy.”

Glad that’s settled.

I wonder what, if anything, I would have written about this had the results turned out differently.

I guess we’ll never know.

November 11, 2002

Why are Berlin authorities trying to shut down the only remaining bratwurst stand at the city’s famed Brandenburg Gate?


And why did I have to travel all the way to the Cape Town Independent to learn this?

It’s surprising the stand will be ordered closed despite Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s widely known penchant for bratwurst and his claim to being Berlin’s foremost expert on this culinary delight.

I know one thing for certain: Helmut Kohl would never have let the matter even be discussed.

November 07, 2002

Do you ever wonder sometimes whether everyone else in the world, somewhere between the ages of 18 and 25, was given a manual that provided all the secrets to getting the most out of life, but that you overslept on the only day you were allowed to pick up your copy?

No? Well I do.

November 06, 2002

According to a brief test at Marshmallows & Bile -- Those are two different things? -- I’m Thomas Jefferson, or at least maybe I was at some point.

Unlike my recent pigeonholing as “The Simpsons” character Comic Book Man, this I can live with.

Mrs. Turnbull would be so proud.

[Note: Thanks to Ann Salisbury of Two Tears in a Bucket for bringing this quiz to my attention.]


The Best and Worst of the City of Brotherly Love

Arranged in Thoroughly Random and Unrelated Pairings

PHILADELPHIA - LOVE IT: Philadelphia’s financial district is small and insignificant. Visitors who are not aware of its location could walk right through what is called the financial district and not realize they had done so. The presence of the financial services industry, while greater than most people probably think, is not readily discernible. Investment bankers and portfolio managers are not lauded in the local media, idolized by the general population (nor the city’s social and cultural elites), nor fawned over in the city’s restaurants and nightclubs. Or at least not anywhere that matters.

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A Portion of the Philadelphia Skyline at Dusk

PHILADELPHIA - HATE IT: Philadelphia is where parking garages and parking lots go to die, or to live forever, or something, I don’t know what. I doubt there is a major city in America where above-ground parking garages and street-level parking lots occupy as much space in the core downtown business district as they do in Philadelphia. If you can’t find a parking space in Center City Philadelphia, you deserve to spend the day in your car.

November 05, 2002

Overheard, today, November 5, 2002, in a modest restaurant in the Wash West neighborhood of Philadelphia, the speaker, a young woman of college age:

“I really have to get going. I have to study for my Costumes & Props exam tomorrow.”

What a lame excuse. If she had been ditching me, I would have been highly offended.

November 04, 2002

The premise sounds almost surreal: Invite Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” to speak with “media critic” Howard Kurtz on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

Okay, so it wasn’t exactly a case of “Art Imitates Life.” Instead it was more like “TV Takes on Real Life,” TV in the person of Stewart and real life, if one could call it that, in the person of Kurtz. And TV won. Hands down.

Below are excerpts from the preliminary transcript of the show, which aired November 2 [Note: Section headers, in bold, are not from the transcript.]:

KURTZ: Jon Stewart, welcome.

STEWART: Thank you, sir.

[. . .]


KURTZ: You’re going to be on live election night with “Indecision 2000,” live on election night . . .

STEWART: We’re probably not going to go with 2000. We’re going to go with 2002. We’re going to stick with the year that it is now. [“Indecision 2002”]

[. . .]


KURTZ: What did you make of the sniper coverage? Were the media trying to scare people?

STEWART: I thought it was the media’s finest hour, the sniper coverage.

KURTZ: Finest hour?

STEWART: Absolutely, by watching the 24-hour news networks, I learned that the sniper was an olive-skinned, white-black male -- men -- with ties to Son of Sam, al Qaeda, and was a military kid, playing video games, white, 17, maybe 40.

KURTZ: They really nailed it, didn’t they?

STEWART: I thought they did great. And I thought it was really responsible to put them on. I thought CNN, MSNBC, FOX, did a great job putting on -- you know what they should’ve called the coverage, “You know what I heard?” and just have people randomly showing . . .

KURTZ: What should happen to all of these experts who came and filled the airwaves with all of these predictions that turned out to be completely and totally wrong?

STEWART: Well, it’s not their fault.

KURTZ: It’s not their fault?


KURTZ: Shouldn’t they have to resign from the talking head society?

STEWART: Shouldn’t CNN have to pay a penalty for putting them on the air? You’re Paulie Walnuts. You’re vouching. You brought a guy in, and you put him on the air and you vouched. You said, “No, Tony, this guy, he’s good people, he’s credible.” So whatever they say, I mean, they’re called profilers.

If you watched the coverage, you would have thought that that’s what the police do, is they literally have two guys sort of almost like psychics sitting around going, “What do you think he is?” “I don’t know, maybe he’s white, maybe he’s black. Maybe he’s with al Qaeda, maybe he’s Son of Sam.” They’re actually following real leads.

I don’t understand the idea of -- you know I heard a guy talking -- actually on your show -- saying, “Well, the public really wanted information. They had a real thirst for information. So because we didn’t really have that much information, we had to just speculate.”

KURTZ: We made it up.

STEWART: Right. Which seems insane. That’s like saying, “You know, the kids were real thirsty, and we didn’t have any water, so we just gave them beer, because we figured that would work.”

KURTZ: Well, you’re right. The cable folks who put these folks in front of the camera have to bear some of the responsibility.

STEWART: Not some, all.

KURTZ: All right.

STEWART: Not some. They bear all of the responsibility. You cannot -- I’m not even sure what the reasoning was behind just putting people on who didn’t know anything.

I mean, you know what was my favorite part was the hand wringing. People would do this, “Now, I know that we’re not supposed to speculate, you know, obviously, people are nervous and it would be irresponsible to inflame passions by speculating . . . Seriously, though, do you think it’s terrorism?” . . .

Unless you know the guy’s name, don’t say anything. Unless you have information, rather than speculating -- unless you could say, like, “Oh, the sniper? Yes, it’s John Muhammad, I think.” Unless you know that, shut up, say nothing.

[. . .]


KURTZ: You’re not a news junkie?

STEWART: No, honestly, I leave probably CNN on mostly all the time. Although the networks are not really meant to be watched all the time, which I realize now.

KURTZ: When did this come to you?

STEWART: As I was pulling my hair out! . . . Watching the same footage over and over again of nothing.

But I do keep CNN -- I mean, Fox, let’s face facts, is a relatively cynical undertaking, to begin with.

KURTZ: Because?

STEWART: Well, it’s basically, it’s taken the AM-radio mentality and labeled it fair and balanced just to upset you guys.

KURTZ: A lot of people watch.

STEWART: Of course, a lot of people watch. A lot of people watch wrestling. A lot of people watch -- you know, you could put on porn, and I think a lot of people would watch it.

But I think they call it fair and balanced just as kind of a dig. I mean, it’s not. It’s clearly meant to be more ideological and more opinion-based. They took the paradigm of AM radio. By the way, I enjoy what those guys do. I find it fun to watch. It’s just not a news network. . . .

But the thing about CNN is, you guys actually say you can depend on CNN. That’s why I’m more upset with you than I am with them.

KURTZ: You hold CNN to a higher standard.

STEWART: Exactly. I expect that from [Fox]. From you guys, I’m upset -- what I don’t understand is why you guys, with the talent and the credibility, would want to take a page out of their playbook. . . . Why would you go louder when you could go smarter?

[. . .]


KURTZ: I have a theory about this, which is, you’ve been doing this for so long, to sit in front of the big anchor desk.


KURTZ: But you’ve come to think that, “Well, gee, maybe I am kind of a journalist. I can do this.”


KURTZ: “I could host ‘Crossfire.’”

STEWART: Well, yes, you could host “Crossfire.” What’s that got to do with journalism? I mean, that’s just a couple of knuckleheads. The promo for that is Bob Novak in a boxing outfit. For God’s sake, somehow I don’t imagine Edward R. Murrow ever putting on the satin robe and going, “I’ll destroy you.”

[. . .]


KURTZ: I went to one of your tapings this week.

STEWART: Yes, you did.

KURTZ: And I can reveal -- can I say this?

STEWART: By the way, I didn’t care for the heckling.

KURTZ: All right. I can reveal that all those -- you go to those live correspondent reports standing in front of the capitol, out in North Carolina.

STEWART: That’s exactly right.

KURTZ: They’re right on the stage there with you.


KURTZ: Isn’t that kind of dishonest?

STEWART: Our budget is to the point where we can only afford the picture of North Carolina. We can’t actually afford the trip. So we put them in front of a just a green screen of that.

KURTZ: So you don’t, you’re not confusing yourself with a quote, “real journalist”?

STEWART: No. You guys are . . .

KURTZ: You’re just making fun . . .

STEWART: You guys are confusing yourselves with real journalists. . . . Instead of putting on shows like “Crossfire” and “Gotcha” and “I’m Going To Kick Your Ass With Tucker Carlson” and “Let’s Beat Up The Short Guy.” That was just one that I . . .

KURTZ: I’m glad you’re at least watching so much CNN, Jon.

STEWART: I am watching it constantly. It’s driving me insane. Make the ticker stop. You’re in the middle of a damn sniper story, and all of a sudden underneath it, you know, “Liza Minnelli’s first VH1 show to air.”