Masked Philly

Looking at how local Philadelphians have lived under the cloud of COVID-19

Masked Philly
We spoke to a number of notable Philadelphians who are keeping social distancing fashionable, in addition to letting us know how they’re handling all this. | Images provided

Barely two weeks into Code Yellow, and there’s a resigned cheer to being out and about, something of a Hobson’s Choice to the proceedings, especially considering the gravity of racist police and the necessity of protest in the wind.

The most prominent symbol of that coronavirus’ choice is the mask, the thin, sheath thing that separates us from COVID-19 danger, sickness and each other.

As of next week, Philadelphia and the rest of Pennsylvania celebrates a rotten anniversary: three months of quarantine, mask-wearing and finding ways to celebrate ourselves while contemplating protest and change.

I threw the question open to 24 names/faces in the city – what have you been up to since COVID-19’s start that you may not have been up to otherwise, where do you stand on the future of the mask, and what do you look forward to most when the masks come off? IF THE MASKS COME OFF.

Pax Ressler | Musician/actor

Being outside in Philly neighborhoods with thousands of protesters in masks has been a really meaningful experience for me. At the same time, folx are doing the vital work of speaking up and organizing to protect Black lives, everyone is simultaneously protecting the most vulnerable populations in our community by “masking up.” I see more masks at a Black Lives Matter protest than the grocery store. Wearing a mask to protect myself and my neighbors reminds me just how interconnected we all are. Making it through a pandemic means prioritizing the most vulnerable in our communities – and the mask is a huge symbol of that. I can’t wait to sing with a big group of people again. Loud, unencumbered, full-throated singing. Starting a choir might be the first thing I do after we’re through the pandemic.

Laurin Talese | Vocalist, musician 

At first I was completely gutted. I have to admit… My entire calendar for 2020 was decimated in a matter of days. So for like three weeks of the quarantine, I was not productive. Then one day I just woke up and decided that I would start doing things that I had always wanted to that I never had time to. So for the last two months, I’ve been taking French lessons via Audible, learning how to record my voice at home and writing new tunes. I’ve also been meditating and spending more time exploring the Fairmount Park System. One thing that I’ve noticed about the masks is that they mask your smile. On the flip side, the courtesy and conscientiousness on display when someone cares enough about you and themselves to wear a mask gives me a little hope in humanity. The first thing that I’m gonna do when I’m able to throw off the mask to wear lipstick again, and run to hug and kiss my friends and loved ones wherever they are in the world.

Adam Weiner | Pianist, front man Low Cut Connie 

I never thought I would strip down to my underwear in my bedroom and sing soul music to thousands of people on the internet, but here we are. It’s been completely cathartic and terrifying to put these performances together. Then again, it’s really been keeping me and a lot of fans activated during a challenging time. The mask? It can be really sexy. I’ll leave it at that. The first thing I’ll do when I can throw off the masks entirely? Kiss a lot of people.

Allan Lane | Publisher of Dosage Magazine, Hard Knocks Motorcycle Entertainment and SportBikes Inc Magazine, host of Life in the Fast Lane podcast 

I’ve taken advantage of the less-populated roads by riding my motorcycle as much as possible. I’ve really enjoyed the empty roads. I’ve also focused on taking better care of family, myself, my brands and businesses. When things slowed down, I committed myself to coming out on the other side of this in better position than from when it began. I dig the mask! I wear a helmet a majority of the time that I am out in public so covering my face is a non-issue for me. I’ll probably still wear the mask. It has my logo on it! Great marketing product.

Jennifer Hesser | General manager of One Liberty Philadelphia Observation Deck 

I walked a lot, and through so many parts of the city I had never been through in the past three years of me living here. I really enjoyed walking Kelly Drive up to Laurel Hill Cemetery. It has been encouraging to shop from US-based designers I was unfamiliar with…in particular I have loved the styles and patterns of Lele Tran (Philly designer!) and team at LA Facemasks (Los Angeles designers). The creativity and bright colors certainly makes wearing them more inviting. As soon as we can take off the masks, I am going to fly to Chicago for a visit to sit at a long dinner table filled with my family. I cannot wait to laugh in the same room with the people I love. 

From musicians to artists to politicians, all of Philadelphia is in the same boat when it comes to masking up and taking the necessary precautions as the city slows returns to a sense of normal. | Image provided

Gerald Veasley | Bassist, co-founder Jazz Philadelphia and currently steering his Philly Culture United, a group advocating for City Council to restore funding to the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund

I’ve started finishing reading books, including “Dare To Lead” by Brené Brown, “Black Faces in White Spaces” by Randal Pinkett and Jeffrey Robinson. I re-started writing a novel I had put away. I helped my wife with her beloved garden. And, I cook breakfast for us every morning and pray with her a lot. We have had more in-depth conversations than we’ve had in a long time. You know what I have grown to love about the mask? That I appreciate the ritual of paying attention to protecting others and taking care of myself.

The first thing I will do when we can all throw off the masks entirely is talk to one of my neighbors without cautiously measuring the distance between us.

Cristina Martinez and Benjamin Miller | Married activists and co-owners of South Philly Barbacoa 

Ben: We are so not prepared to answer this. We have worked seven days a week through the pandemic.

Cristina: I have no problem with the mask if they are protecting us. It is hard, however, to taste and smell in the kitchen, and hard to breathe in that hot kitchen with a mask.

Madalean Gauze | Musician, organizer, “Fuel the Fight” Volumes 1 and 2 compilation curator 

Besides making “Fuel the Fight 1 & 2,” I have been working on music, going for very long walks and trying to become better at cooking. I always wear a mask, but, I think the first thing I am going to do when I am mask free is give my family a big hug! I miss them all! I also want to go to a live show and see all my friends play live again. 

Ellen Tiberino  | Mosaic artist, teacher 

I have been working on my yoga practice with the downtime I have because I put on some weight during quarantine with the limited physical movement. I don’t hate the mask, really. I think they are part of our lives now. I like the one I have in the photo I took of myself – it’s one of my favorites because it is silken cotton so it is very breathable in the hot weather. The first thing I will do when the masks can come off is go out dancing; socially distanced, of course.

Chip Chantry | Comedian

I’ve been hunkering down, big time. I’m digging the new lifestyle. There’s a secluded spot behind our South Philly estate – 10 feet of concrete – where my wife and I can sit and hang out with the dog. And I’m not what you’d call a “reader,” but, now I sit back there every morning with some coffee and read the books that I should’ve read in high school. I’ve also been doing a lot of writing, and working on a new podcast with Mary Radzinski, because what the world needs now is more podcasts. As a comedian, I’m constantly talking to myself – running ideas – out on the street, walking the dog, etc. With the mask, people can’t see me doing it, so I’m not getting nearly as many looks as I used to. I’m low-key crazy now. I’m all for it. When the masks come off, I’ll eventually go back to my morning routine of kissing my mailman on the lips. But first things first – I’m going to Mr. Martino’s.

Danny Simmons| Abstract expressionist painter,  poet, founder and vice-chairman of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation and Rush Arts Gallery 

I go to Liberty Lands Park a few blocks away from my house and sit on a bench with a little plaque commemorating my dear Buddy sculptor Joe Brenman who passed away last year. It’s a very peaceful Zen moment of pretty much every day, and I do this when I walk my lab-beagle mix, Eli. I love all the creative expressions I see on many masks, and while I’m getting used to social distancing and wearing masks, nothing distant or virtual can beat human contact. A hug, a handshake, a kiss on the cheek is deeply embedded in our human DNA. I think the long-term negative effect of this no contact will be a gradual diminishing of our empathy for each other.

While some agree that wearing a mask is uncomfortable, the Philadelphians who spoke to us all agreed that when out in public, a mask is vital. | Image provided.

Andy Kahn | Pianist, composer, author, All-Star Jazz Trio member 

We’re cooking up a storm at home. My partner Bruce Cahan is the World’s Finest Chef. And I am the World’s Finest Cleaner-Upper. I haven’t cut my hair in 16 weeks! It has not been this long since 1992 after we took a trip to Italy. After seeing the wavy, gorgeous hair on all those Italian men, I figured I oughta see what my hair looks like at that length. A few years later, I went short which remained the style until Covid-19 arrived. I have spent most of my time quarantining at home, only going out to buy food and other supplies. When I do leave my home, I always wear a mask. It’s not the most comfortable thing, of course. But at least I know I’m doing my part to stop spreading the potential of this virus that has caused the pandemic which has gripped the world and is not showing any signs of letting go quite yet.

Amber Miller | Program director and midday host for the new ALT 104.5 iHeartMedia Philadelphia

It’s silly, but, the thing I was most focused on when home during quarantine …  I organized my sock drawer. It’s amazing the sense of Zen achieved from such a small accomplishment. And I have loved all the extra time that I’ve been able to spend with my dog Matilda. When the masks come off, I can’t wait to run a big race like Broad Street…BUT, I will absolutely be wearing a mask for as long as needed, the slight discomfort and inconvenience is necessary and the responsible thing to do.

Eric Jaffe | Drag performer, theater director 

I started performing a weekly one-person show every Saturday, called Digital Drag Brunch, where I make brunch at home, sing lots of songs, and am able to collect digital tips. Through this I’ve been able to donate to The Philadelphia Artist Fund, The Minnesota Bailout Fund and the Philly Bail Out Fund, as well as pay other out of work artists directly. Aside from drag, I have I have been trying to stay connected to the queer community, help others as much as I can, and to use my voice and privilege to speak out about ending systemic racism. I think it’s important to wear masks when out in public. It’s obviously an adjustment, but, it seems like the best way to keep yourself and others safe. When the masks come off, and I think that it will happen, or at least I am very hopeful, I will prance through the gayborhood from bar to bar in my best drag hugging friends, kissing strangers and dancing up on whoever I want!

Dan Matherson | Owner, Repo Records 

I live in South Philly, walking distance from Repo, in a new house I bought on Ninth Street like six months ago. I always wanted to have exposed brick in a house, my son is home and he just graduated college, and doesn’t have a job yet, so I put him to work and we took down like 300 square feet and over 100 years’ worth of plaster leading up to the steps. If you don’t know what it means to take off plaster from an old wall, it’s quite a job. That’s something I never would have done otherwise… pull out hammers chisels and screwdrivers for a three-story, four-bedroom house with its old original wood staircases.. intact.

Rich Cohen | Guitarist, Dixy Blood 

I was able to concentrate on getting a record finished that was otherwise on hold. I have been cooking a lot and learning new cooking techniques, which I’ve been enjoying. I do mind the masks, especially as it gets warmer. My glasses fog up and it’s sometimes not easy to breathe. That being said, I have no problem complying with the CDC recommendations. I think masks are here to stay unfortunately, at least for the next few years, or until there’s an effective vaccine. Who knows how that will go? Of course, some people will never wear them, some people will always want to wear them. Scary times, indeed.

VINCINT | Singer, songwriter 

Life in a pandemic sucks, as we all can agree. But, masks and social distance are what we have to do and we’ll make the most of it. I’ve been drinking a lot of wine, eating a lot of food, not working out – that’s my favorite part. …. I changed homes during the quarantine. I needed the change of scenery from where I was living; to be somewhere more peaceful and brighter. And it worked out. I don’t mind the mask. I’ve been using scarves, and different things. It sucks when I run, but you have to do what you have to do. When we’re allowed to take off the masks – and that day will come – the first thing I will do is leave America for a little while. I am overwhelmed, would love to travel, and always wanted to take my mother to France. She hasn’t been to a lot of places and I would like to change that.

Sancho Pistolas co-owner Adan Trinidad says all this time stuck inside has made him quite the handyman around the house. | Image courtesy: Adan Trinidad

Adan Trinidad | Executive chef and co-owner of Pistolas Del Sur and Sancho Pistolas

So far during the quarantine, I did a ton of work in my basement. Painted and power washed my backyard. Plus, I really enjoyed getting to know my neighbors out on the stoop. I enjoyed listening to Mia Johnson play live music outside. I think that I know that I absolutely hate the mask. It’s needed, but it’s really hard to look cool. Also, it’s really hard to taste food while preparing. But it is the reality and new normal now so I have one I am most comfortable with. The first thing I’ll do when we can ditch the masks is go to a bar with friends, do a shot of whisky, and eat some food that is prepared for me, instead of by me.

Avram Hornik | Restaurant owner-operator 

While on quarantine, I managed to put a vertical wall herb garden in my backyard, which is something that I had wanted to do for years, but never actually had the time to do. That was my one big pandemic accomplishment. I do not like the mask, actually. I live in a neighborhood where I know and am friendly with the people around me. You look at people, thinking you might know them, but then you have to stop and be sure. It makes it all kind of awkward, I’m looking forward to the masks coming off completely, so that stop and chats can reoccur. That’s why we live in a city in the first place – the casual friendships with the people you see and pass every day. I really miss that. 

Katherine Gilmore Richardson | Philadelphia City Councilmember

For the first time ever, my children and I started a home garden project and we grew scallions. My children and I were both so excited to watch the scallions grow so high. All of my kids will be in school next year, so I want to try to spend more time with them. My office organized weekly Pop Up Pantries with the Share Food Program. Every week we distribute 40,000 pounds of fresh food. Finally, when driving around, if I see groups of individuals without masks, I stop the car and give out masks! The young guys in my neighborhood think it’s hilarious. (From having to wear the mask) I have an even greater amount of respect for our essential workers who have to wear masks all day. For summer, I like disposable masks. When the weather was cooler, I liked the cloth masks. Either way, we must wear a mask. My mask protects you, your mask protects me. Until we get a vaccine, I believe we will be wearing masks so we have to make the best of it. 

Michelle Gillen-Doobrajh | Owner and buyer Tildie’s Toy Box on East Passyunk Ave.

Since we’ve been spending all of our time at home during quarantine, my husband, our two daughters and I planted a garden on our rooftop. We’re starting to harvest a few of the vegetables. Wearing a mask definitely takes some getting used to, but it’s important for everyone’s health and safety. I’ve purchased several handmade cloth masks for the whole family from Miss Demeanor, a shop a block away from Tildie’s, and find the wire piece around the nose really essential to having it stay on and fit well. You definitely want one that’s cute when it’s on your face for the entire day, and fun patterns make it easier to convince the kids to wear one as well. I’m definitely looking forward to the day when we can say goodbye to masks and see all the kids smiling as they come into the shop. And they can see me smiling back. I’m also looking forward to not having to convince my kids to wear one every time we leave the house.

Liz Zimmerman | Vocalist, theater producer 

During the three months of quarantine, I cut up silk fabric from JoMar that has been my curtains for years and became a full-time mask maker. This is me living my 20-year old dreams. The mask I’m wearing is a Lounge Lizard Designs original by me. I’m on Etsy. I hate having to wear them, but they can be so fun and expressive. The first thing I will do when free of them is wear my MAC Ruby Woo lipstick every day for a week.

Joey Leroux | Co-founder of Beyond the Bell Tours

I spent quarantine time biking to the ultimate social-distancing destination in Philadelphia: the whispering benches in Fairmount Park. It’s a very cool quirk in the park! You can hear each other loud and clear from anywhere on the bench. Great spot for the wonder of it, not so great for a private conversation. Masks? I like the privacy of it; I don’t like the heat. As soon as we can all take off the masks, I will walk around eating an ice cream!

Philly publicist Kory Aversa says he’s been able to spend a ton more time touring the city with his rescue pup, Otis. | Image courtesy: Kory Aversa

Kory Aversa | President and publicist, Aversa PR 

I’ve been stuck home, alone, with my quarantine buddy and best friend, Otis, my Great Dane mix rescue dog. We started to take a walk every day, intimately exploring our new neighborhood after moving to Northern Liberties. I also am terrible at keeping plants in the house but decided to give a real effort and set-up my roof deck garden. Wearing a mask is such a necessary thing right now, but I found it difficult as I have a big beard and barbershops aren’t open yet to get them trimmed.

My friend and artist Elissa Kara at Nice Things Handmade made me my mask using a custom print I picked out – and since she knows I needed extra room made the cut to accommodate my beard – and she made it reversible for all those times I have to leave the house for PR but want to change up my look. When masks aren’t needed anymore, I simply want to smile and interact with everyone. I also love reading the facial expressions of others. I feel we have lost one of the avenues of communication since masks became needed – we can hear people’s words but not see their excitement, joy and energy behind the masks. I miss seeing that.

  • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

    A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.