Hey, Philly. How’s your quality of life, that special, increasingly unusual, soon-to-be unattainable thing where you can exist without being jostled if you so desire and not-so-neighborly people don’t get to pee on your doorstep at will?
I ask because after the city smartly and correctly slowed down racist stop-and-frisk practices, a three-month pilot program in Northwest Philly ordered by a federal judge furthered that wise cause, weirdly, seconded that emotion, and made it so police can no longer stop people from urinating in public as of Aug. 1. (Why Aug. 1 and why, singularly Philly’s Northwest corridor is as arbitrary as it is ridiculous.) Funny thing is, most of the court orders sound solid – why should a cop stop you from smoking dope or holding open liquor containers on the street like they allow in New Orleans? People are high and drunk all the time. Why not make it convenient? The peeing thing though, that riles me probably even more than the gear-grinding roar of a thousand ATVs barreling down Broad Street, and the fact that all the Philly cops are allowed to do when confronting a racehorse-like pee-er is say, “move along,” as if we are eternally grumpy old neighbors stuck in a comic strip like Mr. Wilson or Marty Burns. (Expect flashy, hand-crafted “Move along” T-shirts to hit Etsy by the time this column goes online.)
Considering that most of Philly, from downtown to uptown, smells like a million Porta Potties after their habitues have eaten raw asparagus and drunk red wine vinegar during the already sweltering 90-degree heat of June’s mid-spring, I was really hoping they could keep the always-active, live-streaming, lyrical-flowing street urination in Philly to a minimum. And so, I’m pissed.
And speaking of exploiting the most annoying quality of life issues for political or financial gain: the Washington Avenue billboard for Philly Fireworks. Like the old Chris Rock joke about crack sales (“Drug dealers don’t sell drugs. Drugs sell themselves. It’s crack. It’s not an encyclopedia”), firecracker users need no provoking or advertising. Stupid nuisance and the rush of low expectation sells itself.
Arts in Philly. Moving beyond COVID and quarantines, you’re still fucked. Since this mayor can only have one good thing on his budget agenda at a time, this session finds Kenney proposing a budget with only $10 million in cultural spending for the next fiscal year – famously including just $2 million for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, $2.1 million for the Mural Arts Program, $2.04 million for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, $500,000 for the African American Museum, $470,407 for the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy and certainly some cold hard cash in a black leather Tom Ford valise for Jay-Z for bringing Made in America to Philly just because Hova asked, and why not? Anyway, the $2 mil for Philadelphia Cultural Fund is an insult. Like bringing only $50 to Steak 48 while wearing a tube top insulting. We know David Oh, at-large member of City Council and the chair of Council’s Committee on Global Opportunities and the Creative/Innovative Economy wants Kenney to tuck into its still unused $1.4 billion of federal stimulus cash for at least $45 million of a total arts bailout, and is proposing as much this week. Bravo. Now let’s see how far that conversation gets.
Crime of the week
Crime o’ the week: the verrrrrrry slow-moving carjacking of a DiBruno’s customer at its homespun Italian Market cheese salon on Sunday by two guys looking for more than rare capicola. Considering that Ninth Street on a Sunday is a crowded mess, balanced against a block filled with vendors, customers and burning barrels, and that the jacked car couldn’t have moved more than two miles an hour, it’s a weird one. That said, maybe the Italian Market Business Association will bring back the private rifle toting armed guards that it did in 2020 between COVID quarantine and spring’s boarded up protests.
Philly in NYC
Expect Philly’s Geoff Gordon to be part of the August NYC in Central Park “welcome back” to live everything in celebration of that city’s reopening. Music biz producer and executive Clive Davis will help organize the talent, (eight “iconic” stars performing a three-hour show for 60,000 attendees and a worldwide television viewership) and Gordon’s East Coast division of Live Nation will run the entire game, tentative for Aug. 21, according to the New York Times. Mayor de Blasio is part of this too, but fuck him. He’s worse than Kenney.
The mundane is fun?
Headline of the week: “The mundane is fun again with reopening,” went the Inquirer on Sunday, before going on to tout Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” and Wrigley’s gum commercials. Odd time warp, that. Plus, the “mundane” is never ever “fun,” unless one’s tedium always includes popping Molly, riding unicycles without pants and listening to old Nicki Minaj mixtapes, loud. Then again, if Celine Dion and Wrigley’s gum commercials from 1974 are your thing, maybe…….
‘Summer of Soul’
A pre-recorded talkback with first-time film director, top Sundance documentary seller of all time (plus the 2021 winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s film fest) and Philadelphia native Ahmir-Khalib Thompson is the totally cool kick off to this year’s PFF SpringFest with Quest’s “Summer of Soul” being the opening night film, June 11, at the PFS Bourse Theater. Having already viewed Questlove’s look at old footage from 1969’s Harlem Cultural Festival in all its Black glory, it’s a stunning piece of history, culturally and cinematically.
Masked Philly: Christopher Kearse
In Icepack’s continuing saga of asking mask-donning local celebrities what they’ve been up to, beyond the pale, during C-19 – from lockdown to the current, heightened reopening and still-evolving unmasking – I reached out this week to Christopher Kearse. Famously, Kearse is the chef-owner and heavy metal head behind the intimate, molecular gastronomical palace, Will BYOB, which commenced the East Passyunk Avenue Restaurant Renaissance 20 years ago, THEN revived Old City 2.0 with his hearty, sensuous Franco-inspired Forsythia dining-and-drinking boite on Chestnut at 2nd.
Sure, Kearse and Forsythia got hit hard with the pandemic’s quarantines, so Chef Chris found himself developing and re-developing in so many ways: an already jacked fitness lover, Kearse simply got more pumped. With no less than 44 tattoos in a pre-COVID mode, Kearse got new ink in new places. His motorcycle – he loves that bike as much as he does his 98 house plants, and 700 cookbooks. “I repotted all of my house plants, learned how to work on my motorcycle, figured out how to play the entire Black Album by Metallica on guitar, and got to hang out in New York City quite a bit,” says Kearse.
It is, however, on a more existential level that Kearse existed through the pandemic; “not a sense of abandonment; but a more cerebral reassessment of priorities and what’s worth spending time and headspace on. Pursuit of excellence? Always. Carving a unique culinary space? Absolutely. But reassessment is more about finding life balance and finding peace in well-being than fast bikes and ink. More Zen than abandon. I had a lot of time to reevaluate my life and myself in general. I learned to truly love myself and appreciate my strengths and accept my shortcomings. I felt like life and the world in general was moving way too fast to stop and smell those roses. Then I asked myself, do these roses even smell so good? I’ve been working in the industry for 22 years now and it’s the first time I had this much down time.”
With all that, Kearse was not about to sweat the mask.
“Life’s hard enough, so I didn’t try to make a big deal about the mask. It was just a temporary annoyance, and sometimes a discomfort. But I have other things to really worry about, ya know? Working out while wearing a mask was challenging at first, but I’d rather have to wear one than not have gyms open.”
BRAVO. Feel the burn.
As for Forsythia, Chef Kearse and the revival of normalcy and new culinary seasons a la spring and summer 2021, Chris will get a fine chance to expand the menu, and have fresh French adventures.
“A frosé machine is being talked about by Jen (Forsythia’s general manager) and Tomas (Forsythia’s lead bartender). I’m really looking forward to bringing back more canapés (my favorite part of the menu, fun tapas-style dishes, how I like to eat). We’re also looking forward to the return of happy hour.”
I’m personally looking forward to his foie gras and hearing him play Metallica back-to-front, but that’s another story.