The Trouble With Spikol

Room With a Crew

Giovanni’s Room is an essential resource for the community. And it needs your help.


Flea for Service

Quaker City Flea Market in the shadow of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge is more than a century old. Many of the items for sale on the outdoor tables look about that age too. On a recent Sunday afternoon, there are fragments of a Mister Potato Head; an Iron Butterfly album; an antique washboard; a painted plastic virgin and child; a pink violin; and a glass table with a naked mermaid pedestal. So many reverberations—tacky and urbane—of history.


Mad TV

Fox’s new “Mental” is about a psychiatric institution and its Patch Adams-style director. And it sucks.


Stella’s a Star

Stella Iliopoulos is sort of a local rock star. Although the friendly, petite 37-year-old was diagnosed with schizophrenia years ago, she’s managed to carve out a niche for herself on the ever-changing South Street—simply by going there a few days a week on and off for about 12 years. People there dig her. 


Confined for Now

Lars doesn’t want to be there, every day, sitting in that chair, feet splayed out at an odd angle. But he can’t go anywhere until he gets a new wheelchair and he can’t get a new wheelchair until he has a job and he can’t get a job until he has a new wheelchair. Got that?


Schizo-phrenzy’s Sour Humor

I remember when the first arcade videogame touched down in Center City, around 1979. It landed at 18th and Spruce at Day’s Deli, a diner/convenience store. The game was near the cash register so the cashier could chastise us if we shook the machine (which didn’t work the way it did with pinball) or cheat by feeding it Canadian pennies. A year later, its novelty was gone: Videogame parlors crowded Chestnut Street—with everything from Asteroids and Space Invaders to Galaga and Ye Olde Pinballe in the back.


Power and Dignidad

Last weekend I went to Absecon, N.J., to take a break from city madness. I had to regain some personal dignity. As a lifelong Philadelphian, I’d been on high alert during the weeks leading up to the World Series, and I sacrificed my dignity in countless ways. I talked about the Phillies to people who hated sports and thought me shallow for obsessing. I wore my special pink-and-blue women’s Phillies cap several times in public. I ran outside in my pajamas after the Phils won the final game and was so giddy, all the video I took for work looked like Cloverfield.

I’d also apparently become, in the words of my Vince, my partner, “one of those weird white West Philly ladies”—an observation he made after he saw me handing out candy on Halloween.

Sitting on the porch in my Phillies cap with an enormous bag of mini Snickers by my side, I thought I’d segued quite nicely from my day of parade mania into a weekend of election mania. That’s why I was saying to the children, “Now remember: When you grow up, you have to vote.” The parents hurried them away.

As soon as Vince said that, I saw myself anew—as a person who’d become infected with enthusiasm: for my sports team, my presidential candidate and for children dressed as ninjas who were willing to chat with me about it. It was time to get away.

Sadly, there was free wireless access at the Empire Inn on the White Horse Pike in Absecon. Instead of relaxing I ended up surfing pre-election coverage and watching Telemundo, which is where I saw Ken Trujillo, one of those ridiculously accomplished Philadelphians whose name you absolutely know although you don’t know why.

The former city solicitor, Trujillo is now, among other things, the first vice chair of the National Council of La Raza board of directors and chair of the board of directors of Congreso de Latinos Unidos. He teaches at Penn and was (perhaps unfortunately) named a Philadelphia Superlawyer by Philadelphia magazine.

But when I saw him talking on Telemundo about the Latino vote, I couldn’t remember all that. I just thought, “Ken! Hola!” It seemed lovely that he was at the Empire Inn with me.

Trujillo was talking about something I’d heard too little of from mainstream English-language TV—namely, that the Latino vote, because of sheer numbers, could be absolutely decisive this year. As if to emphasize the point, Telemundo aired numerous public service announcements encouraging Hispanics to get out and vote—not just to make a difference, but to make the difference.

It was inspiring, but sort of sad that there was a whole movement about change and hope and  making history that non-Spanish-speakers just weren’t privy to. There just hadn’t been a lot of crossover coverage.

This doesn’t surprise the Norris Square Civic Association’s Altagracia Oppenheimer, with whom I spoke when I went to the Towey Playground rec center on Election Day.

Towey is at Berks and Howard streets, just a block away from the El. Rosalinda’s Beauty Salon is on one corner opposite; across the street there’s the Ice Corner Grocery Store. The Spanish Christian Basketball League plays on the rec center’s shiny court, and many Latinos from the 18th Ward were coming there on Nov. 4 to vote.

Oppenheimer, wearing a “PROPERTY OF JESUS” T-shirt and shiny black jacket, sat on the bleachers near her brother-in-law, who was wearing a Phillies cap with—I should mention—the proper amount of personal dignity. In between greeting her neighbors, Oppenheimer said to me, “We Latinos have been neglected in this society for many years. But we finally have a candidate to bring us together.” She said Latinos were absolutely pro-Obama across the board, almost by necessity.

“We’re facing a crisis in Philadelphia,” she said. “But this is the City of Brotherly Love. We are together. We are Democrat.”

Oppenheimer has been an activist for 25 years. She was arrested countless times, most often during Rizzo’s reign. She felt Obama’s platform offered more resources for poor and working-class people, especially when it came to issues of health and wellness. “All Latinos are coming out today and voting for prevention and healthcare,” she said. She was so inspiring, I was ready to vote for her.

Her brother-in-law, who didn’t speak English, said it was only his second time voting in 20 years. Why now? “It’s different this time,” he said. “We need change.” He talked about the economy, and the cost of food. But he was reticent.

So I asked Oppenheimer if I could make a video of her speaking in Spanish—not to rally the troops, obviously, but to post on our website to try to brook some of the disengagement between traditional English-language media and the Latino community.


Narcotic Delusions

Every now and then I decide to clean out my bookshelves. Within about 10 minutes, I find a little gem I’ve forgotten about, and the cleaning is abandoned for a comfy seat on the couch. Other times, o…


Black Comedy

I got an email from my mother last week with the subject line: “We have a black president now.” It would’ve seemed a banal observation if I didn’t open the email, which read: “The word ‘shvartze’ is …


On Barrio Time

Though I’d like to pretend I go to Philly’s Centro de Oro for noble reasons—to see artwork at Taller Puertorrique�o or volunteer at the Kensington Welfare Rights Union—the truth is I have a secret …