Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Moshulu: once sailed the ocean blue

moshuludeck
There was a time when this great ship, with soaring masts and sails, braved raging seas and circled the world.
Today it sits anchored, moored, tethered, docked, in Philadelphia.
There are tides where it floats but the ship is stagnant.
I know how it feels. It serves as a lesson.

Its example while on its face tragic and stifled, is not all that bad.
There are perks to actually reaching a destination.

moshulu banquettable

A life of adventure offers scenery and change, but usually the accomodations are quite sparse. Spartan even.
It is not till a traveler arrives that abundance can be enjoyed. I mean, why go anywhere if you don’t want to be where you end up?
The Moshulu once capsized off the coast of Norway. I think it is doing much better today.

moshulusmores
If you are going to sit still you should do it in a nice place.
The Moshulu has agreat view of the Ben Franklin bridge and the city lights that reflect in the water after sunset. Not too shabby.
I’ve eaten there. The dessert is worth whatever they charge-
moshulucheese
but the price of dinner far outpaces the food.
Sometimes I wonder if the ship ever wishes for the days when Eric Newby was a young deck hand, or are white table cloths better?

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I Abandoned A Homeless Man: what a horrible thing to say, uhhhh… do.

Calvin James *not his real name.
Today I got great news. I was informed that I am no longer responsible for a homeless man. Yup, he’s off the books.
This doesn’t mean he is all the way off the streets; he’s just off my plate.slumpedcorner
Off my plate.
How cold. Like left overs.
Has-been, second rate, and inconsequential leftovers. It feels heartless to talk about him this way because it is. I feel heartless that I was even able to walk away from his life, but I have. It is good that I’m no longer responsible for him, I was never very good at it, but I was all he had. I wish I could say I left him in a better spot than when I found him, but that isn’t true.
That isn’t true mostly because he wasn’t homeless when I found him.payphone
When I met Calvin James he was a competent, cocky, guy. He wore shined shoes and suit jackets along with gold hoop earrings. He was a little flashy for my taste but always well put together. He was funny and friendly and above all else, he was sure of himself. But he had reason to be.
Calvin can cook.
When we met he was the head chef of a fancy prep school. He had a kitchen and a staff. He loved what he did and took great pride in it. The man could, and really still can, cook.
We met in church.pushforhelp
This cocky guy came in contact with some missionaries and couldn’t shake them. He began to realize that his life lacked depth and this new church had it. Now I have met some others in church who came there to escape their past. Calvin wasn’t doing that. I have met some who lived hard lives, or maybe lived life hard, and once on the bottom looked to God as a way back up. That wasn’t really Calvin either.
Calvin had it together. He had done some college, business school, had a career he loved, and he wasn’t all that old, just a little over 40. He was single, no kids, owned a house. He came to church, not necessarily came from somewhere else.
That was Calvin.
Then came cancer.
I don’t know all the details, I’m not a doctor. I know he lost a lot of weight, he was never very big, went through radiation of some sort but kept his hair, and I know it was very hard on him. He had to take time off work to get healthy; Dr.’s orders. He took so much time off that his job let him go.
It wasn’t right for them to let him go and after a lot of haggling the courts agreed and he got a settlement. He got a settlement, but not his job. He was also awarded disability benefits but not a clean bill of health. So now he had a little bit of money but still had cancer.drugtires
Losing the job hurt him a lot. Chemo is painful and so is unemployment. Calvin tried to kill the pain. But Calvin found this pain was hard to kill and then the doctors told him it wasn’t just ordinary pain, it was depression. For those keeping score we are up to cancer, unemployed, and depressed.

 

Then came the fire.
While Calvin was in the hospital there was a fire in his house. He didn’t know about it till he got home. Calvin was, and still is, a nice guy; the kind that lets people live in his house. Some of the sorts of people who just live in a friend’s house are also the sort that just runs away when a fire starts. Sometimes when you live in an old house in North Philly and you get cancer you don’t really think about things like insurance. Calvin didn’t have homeowner’s insurance.
For almost a year Calvin lived in a fire damaged house with no windows and a door that wouldn’t close all the way. He spent most of that time trying to kill the pain. Now a bunch of us tried to tell him things, warn him about stuff, and he tried coming to church, but none of the words, or sitting in a pew, made the pain go away.

 

shopping cart

Then Calvin just kind of went away.
I would go by his house, the one with the open door, but he was never there. Sometimes some very suspicious people would be there, but never him. After a while the people who were there didn’t even know who he was. He was gone.
But he was never all the way gone. He would turn up, usually in a hospital, and usually when it was cold. Sometimes he would just show up on a Sunday to say hello. He would be there looking a little unkempt, never asking anyone for anything, just wanted to say hello and go to Sunday school. He told me the cancer was gone and he was doing OK. I never pressed to hard. People who have hit the bottom don’t normally like to be pressed too hard. When you are on the bottom being pressed feels like being smashed.
One day Calvin called me in tears. His father had died.
He told me his father had been sick for some time, living in a nursing home. The funeral was tomorrow, he had just been told today. He found out via an aunt. All the arrangements had been made by one of Calvin’s two brothers, but none had thought to tell Calvin.
Calvin asked if I would come with him to the service and just be there with him. I took the day off work and went.couchoncurb
I never knew Calvin had a family and when we showed up at the service, I didn’t really learn anything different. They all knew who he was, he looked exactly like his two brothers, but it was equally as obvious he wasn’t really one of them. I sort of stood back and observed as Calvin looked in the casket and touched his father’s face. We sat off to the side as the service went on, speaker after singer after speaker. Everyone in the family got a turn. But not Calvin. In fact Calvin’s name was not in the obituary, not on the program, and not on the lips of anyone who spoke that day. When it was all over I pulled Calvin’s arm over my shoulder and half carried, half drug, this grown man to my car. Then I dropped him off at a shelter.

 

He was a wreck.
About a year after that Calvin called me for a ride. We had been in and out of touch so this was not completely out of the ordinary. This ride was to the social security office. He had to be there at 9am. He asked me to sit in on his appointment. This part was not ordinary.
As the woman began shuffling papers around and talking in official tones I began picking up that there was a problem with Calvin’s money. The money didn’t come right to Calvin, it went to his aunt. Because Calvin had once been hospitalized for depression and dependence, the state would not just hand him some cash, they required a responsible third party to make sure it was spent responsibly. The aunt was now refusing to be this responsible party.
She asked Calvin who the new “payee” would be.
He stared at his hands in his lap, said nothing, and sheepishly looked over at me. I wanted to argue. I wanted to walk away right there. But I knew just enough of his family and situation to know I was there because he had already tried everything else. I signed the paper.
Shortly after signing the paper I got a government ATM card with my name on it in the mail along with an IRS accounting form. I had to report to them how every penny was spent.
From then on I also got a phone call on the first of every month from Calvin. Well, not every month. Sometimes he would disappear and then pop back up in a hospital. There was always a story that went along with it, but after the third one I stopped believing. Not long after that I stopped listening.
Once Calvin started trying to put the pieces back together I began trying to really help. We got him a phone he could afford. The doctor found him a half-way house recovery program. Calvin and I went back to his burned out house and loaded some clothes into trash bags and took them to this half way house. If you have never been to a half-way house for recovering addicts the first thing that you will notice is that they are filled with recovering addicts. Obvious, recovering addicts.boardedup
The man who ran this first house wore fur coats, gold chains, and had his fingernails painted like American flags. Most of the men in the house weren’t really recovering. I learned this because Calvin began buying his stuff from his roommates with the money he was supposed to be spending on food.
The second place we went to had forty men staying in about 1500 square feet.
We tried having Calvin live on his own. We stopped trying to have Calvin live on his own after two more trips to the hospital.
Calvin has a good therapist. This good therapist found Calvin a spot in a home run by the Catholic Church. Calvin has lived in this shelter for a little more than a year.
We have been at this for some years now Calvin and I. Long enough that if I’m honest with myself I must admit I stopped really trying to help a long time ago. A long time ago I met with the director of the shelter and worked out a plan. I pretty much turned it all over to him. At first I would get a call from Calvin on the first of the month, and then I would deliver a money order for his rent and some cash for his food. Then a little later on I would deliver some cash and make him go get the money order.
But really, near the end, what I did was make a withdrawal, make a delivery, and then make an accounting to the IRS. Calvin became an errand.
I feel bad about that.
The good news is that Calvin has been clean and stable long enough that the he is no longer required to have a payee. The money goes right to him. The bad news is that I’m not confident that Calvin will be OK. He isn’t the Calvin I first met. He isn’t the cocky guy who loves his job. In his place is a beaten down guy who is mostly tired of living with addicts.
I watched this guy go from there to here and at the end of it all I am mostly just glad to not be his payee. That is it. The prevailing emotion, the feeling, is the same relief one gets from crossing off the bottom of the honey-do list.
But he isn’t a task he is a person.
A person with a life. A person with problems bigger than anything I face and at the end of it all I walked away. Well, really I drove a moving truck away, but none-the-less I left. I left a man with problems. A man I tried to help but failed, and then I just sort of shrugged my shoulders and moved away. I shrug my shoulders, move away, reflect, and write it up as a story. I write a story mostly about what I feel.
What about Calvin?

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My Mormonism: The beauty found in a Philthy place

I am Mormon. I think most people I know, know this. It’s not so much that I wear it on my sleeve, but moreso it is just sort of who I am.

BOFMIPADWe could discuss the ins and outs of what exactly being a Mormon means, lets do that one day, but not today. Today I will indulge myself in just one little aspect of what being Mormon means.

church on broadBeing Mormon is not so much what you believe, or where you sit on Sunday, but it is very much who sits next to you on Sunday. It is even more about who you hang out with on Wednesdays.

wardcouncilIn the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, there are no pastors or priests, at least not in the professional sense. There are plenty of people doing a lot of preaching, just not a whole lot of getting paid to do it. By not a whole lot I mean none.

But things still need to get done. Lessons to be taught, sick to be visited, Sunday sermons to be given. This is why Mormonism is about who sits next to you. Because that is who does these things. Better yet, you do too.

IMG_6798Sometimes it works out well, sometimes not, but that is how it works, and because this is how it works I have been forced to learn a few things.

Frazier readingI have not learned so much about what is in our books, which is important, but I have learned a little more about how the stuff in those books doesn’t matter a bit if I ignore the person in the chair sitting next to me. No matter who it is.

camp1Some of the people who have sat next to me have been right, even more have been wrong, and better yet, I’ve been both of those things too. Some have been beautiful, some not so much. Some well educated, others not so much. Some have been nice, many more quite the opposite. On and on and on, and still things have to get done. And when it comes time to get those things done, you look around, and that is all you have.

The people sitting next to you. CIMG2407

And you learn to love.

grndbrkmayorandusA family kind of love. The kind of love where you want to strangle your cousin Larry, because he deserves to be strangled, but he is your cousin and always will be. So you have to love him. You don’t have a choice whether or not to be cousins, you only have the choice to learn to love him or be miserable.

It isn’t easy.

But thats the point.

This is simply how it is.

IMG_8702 By “it” I mean reality.

Truth.

This is reality.

Take a look at the people around you and this is how it is. It is like this now, and it will be like this in eternity.

It is not clouds and space,

it is faces.

IMG_8194This is not to say that all these faces are just or justified, including that one in the mirror.

But here we all are. In this together. And our charge is to get better.

A lot better.

IMG_9425Christianity, of which we are part, is based on the idea that this human persuit of perfection is impossible. We can’t do it and are doomed to be failures, hence the need for a Christ to redeem us from ourselves.

And that is Mormonism.

IMG_6640This role of Christ, is where one sacrificed and helped another get better, even though that “other” was deficient.

And we are charged with the task of becoming more Christ-like.

So we have to help the person in the chair next to us, even if they are no longer sitting in that chair, even if they don’t deserve it, even if they are horrible…

Or even if they are wonderful.

IMG_2755And we have to be helped too.

Because on any given day or in any one way, I am both horrible, or even wonderful.

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And this role of Christ, this role of helping others strive for perfection, the role we are charged to take part in, has to be done with love.

Love must be the motivator.

Sometimes this is hard.DSC04973

It takes practice.

So you go about trying to get stuff done; great lessons or boring ones, false doctrines or clear and simple ones, friendships or trials.

bishopriccrewNo matter what you get right or wrong, no matter how much you improve yourself or the others around you,

If you figure out the love part,

It is wonderful.

meandmargie

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The Rock School For Dance Education: places I love

In my household exists an aspiring ballerina. She is young, but dedicated. Neither my wife or I know anything about ballet.
softlight

In fact, I think my first ballet was also my child’s first. Someone got us free tickets to the Nutcracker. This little girl was hooked.

Knowing nothing of schools or reputations we sent our little one to the neighborhood rec center. It was great. The kid was five.smoothness

One day, while we were playing at the please touch museum, a local ballet academy gave a small promotional performance in the museum’s theater. The flier they left behind looked legit and it said they gave scholarships.the rock school

I took my little girl to the try-outs, mostly because the place she was at didn’t have any fliers. So obviously this new place is better. Right?
line up

There were at least a hundred little girls with numbers pinned to their chest. They stood in rows while we parents huddled against the walls. It was tryouts but there was no real dancing. Two women, one with a clip board, would go to the children one by one, inspect their arches, look at their knees, rotate their hips. The groups were given some basic instructions and asked to follow along, one, maybe two steps, and that was it.rocktraining

We got a letter a month later congratulating us on our acceptance.

That is how we came to the Rock School for Dance Education, and unknowingly gave up all the Saturdays for the rest of our lives. They have a strict policy about missing class. It is simple, don’t miss class. The first year it was twice a week, then three the next, now we do three times a week plus rehearsals.trainjumpduo

Pretty strict for a bunch of little girls in dance class. But then again, I had no idea what, or rather where, my little girl was enrolled.

Everywhere claims to be good. All the other parents, the one’s who drive over from Jersey every day, say it is the greatest, but the cynic in me always wondered if they were just trying to reassure themselves.on pointe

I liked it well enough, but really, my kid was little. I would watch class during the one week when parents are allowed to do so, and the little girls and boys would stand up straight, go up on their toes, bend their legs, put their arms up in the air, rinse and repeat.

Meh.

I know enough, to know that I know nothing, so I cannot judge. But then again, judging aside, I did find it interesting that this place where my girl was taking dance class, had dorms.

I should have thought a little more about that.toefittingpoint

Then came the school’s production of the Nutcracker.performtheatre

I struggle to find the correct comparison for what I saw. I came expecting a recital. The kind where doting parents clap and cheer for their child and endure everyone else’s children.

Wrong.pinkballerina

I have been to dozens of high school musical productions of varying quality, been to high school football games in the south, coached football against a private boarding school with the budget of a junior college, and I have never seen a production of any sort that matched the Rock School’s Nutcracker.

I had to keep telling myself these were kids.

Now the little kids were obviously kids, complete with small ones picking their nose and one little boy yelling he had to go potty mid performance, but then there were the principals. The Sugar Plum Fairy and the like, they not only killed the cynic in me, but left me in awe. These were kids, from first grade through 12th, and it was better than any age similar thing I have ever seen in any context; period.

There were plenty of other existing signs that should have kept Mr. cynic at bey.bluepantsboy

They have an alumni list touting kids who go on to Julliard, all sorts of division 1 colleges, and more in line with what they do, ballet companies.  Principal in the New York City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Ballet West, dancers in every major company in the country, as well as Paris, Dresden, Berlin, and on and on and on.

The lead in Fame.

See for yourself. (click here)rockers

Then there was this little documentary that made a big splash at Sundance.

First Position follows a number of kids to and through the American Grand Prix, the big ballet competition for young folks.

Three of the kids they followed in the film went to the Rock.

And then there was my little girl.nutflying

My little girl is still little. Little enough that to assume that she will grow into one of these professionals would be presumptuous, and the folks at the Rock know this.

That is why it is on my list of places I love. Because they know she is a kid.

Because they know she is a kid, they treat her in a way that allows her to love to dance. They are strict, they are serious, but while walking around the lobby waiting for classes to get over, I get the vibe from those who work there, that they actually like kids.toelegs

I have been around coaches, art teachers, even dance instructors, who were once great. They were and are gifted in their craft, but just got old. No longer able to do what they once loved, they are forced to endure the existence of young people in order to make a living.

That’s not the Rock.toeteaching

No the place is not heavenly bliss, it can’t compete at the level it does and be all bliss. But I love it.

This last year, my third, I sat near the front row of the Nutcracker. A woman sitting next to me leaned over and asked if one of the girls was mine. I proudly pointed her out.

“Oh she’s still little. Does she like ballet?”

“Loves it.”

“Oh I’m so sorry.” she consoled patting my shoulder.

Not the answer I was expecting.

“That one is mine, (pointing to the Sugar Plum Fairy) we moved here from Oregon so she could go to the Rock.”

“We just drove here from about ten minutes away,” I replied a little embarrassed by my ignorance and good fortune.

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Colonial Capitol: places I love

In 1774, two years before the declaration, delegates from the 13 colonies met in Philadelphia’s Carpenter’s Hall. They met to discuss what could or should be done regarding their collective issues with England.

In 2013 you can gather to the same location to see National Park employees in period dress wander around. They will tell you stories, answer questions, but mostly they are ambiance.
carpenterssunset

Just a few blocks away is a small row of homes that have continuously  housed private citizen’s from the days of the tri-cornered hat, all the way through our Phillies hat wearing present. Once or twice a year the residents open their homes up for tours. It is a mix of history and modern home and garden. When we went we hung out drinking wassel with Ben Franklin.
elfrethsalley4

Christ Church was built in 1695 and is the original home of the American Anglican faith. Ben Franklin is buried in their grave yard and anyone who was ever important while wearing knickers and stockings worshiped here at least once. Joseph Smith, who I doubt ever wore knickers, even preached a sermon here.

On the first Friday of every month the place is surrounded by homeless looking artists and street performers. We love Christ Church on first Fridays.
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City Tavern, was in fact a tavern back in the days of George W. and the other revolutionary types. Legend has it that more got done at the tavern over a pint of mead than was ever accomplished over at Independence Hall. I accomplished eating orange braised duck and leg of lamb with mint jelly. The last time I was there our waitress was a PhD student in history. She should talk to her advisor about that stipend.
citytavern (3)

We park right next to City Tavern all the time. There is a movie theater across the street; the independent kind that shows artsy stuff.
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The most American part of town is called China Town. I’m not exactly sure what was there back in the colonial days, but I do know that the colonials came here seeking the freedom to seek their fortune. That’s the same reason folks come to China Town.
chinatownpatriot

On one side of the street is Independence Hall, where they signed the declaration, and on the other side of the street is the Liberty Bell. We rarely go in to see it, there is a large window right on the sidewalk. But the bell is turned so that if you want to see the crack you have to go inside. Sorta like the media. America is great, but we have some issues, but we don’t really like to show those off.
CIMG0956

We drive past the bell all the time, usually while looking for a parking space to go to the park. There is a park a block away that has a carousel and a playground that is all fenced in. Ya know, the kind where you can set the kids free and not have to worry about them escaping. Which is ironic since most kids don’t want to escape a playground. Playgrounds are awesome.

Just like Philly. Happy 4th.

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Tommy DiNic’s: winner of the nation’s best sandwich

I don’t know the metric used by the travel channel to decide what is the United State’s best sandwich, but I do know I’m in love with the one that won.best sandwich

Now the best place to get a Philly cheese steak is in Philly, but the best sandwich in Philly is a sliced pork.  There are a couple places to find a good one, but the one that won the big prize is in the Reading Terminal Market.DiNics counter

The place is called Dinic’s and you order the sliced pork with broccoli-rabe. Yes, broccoli. With provolone. Don’t hate, just order it.makin sandwich

Once the sandwich is ordered, and assuming you aren’t already seated at the counter, turn around an order a birch beer from the stall across the isle. If you haven’t ever had a birch beer, repent.birch beer

 

If birch beer isn’t your thing, go one more store over to Herschel’s and order a celery soda. They call it a “cel-ray” soda, but its the same thing. clean and sharp… goes good with broccoli.

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Drexel

I should admit up front that Littlehammas 2.0 was born at Drexel’s medical school hospital. I can still remain unbiased, but who cares about bias when it comes to college?city

Drexel might care. I can’t really blame a school whose campus butts right up against an Ivy League school ranked in the top ten nationwide. You can be a great school, which it is, but top 100 doesn’t look as hot in such company. It is rather unfair.dragon

Drexel is above all else, urban. It is most known historically for it’s co-op style education, mixing classes and internships, but if you come visit, you mostly get Philadelphia.subway

It was founded in 1891, has grown to 25,000 students, and costs approximately $56,000 per year. That about sums it up, just like Philly, old and expensive. You get what you pay for.boathouse

I have always thought their boathouse on boathouse row was better than Penn’s. But the competition is on the water not the shore. I have no idea if that saying is true, I just made it up.

But I didn’t make up the fact that one of my classmates did her undergrad at Drexel and she loves the place. I can attest that this classmate of mine was and is much smarter than me. I think we can trust her.student center

Another one of my former classmates works there, actually, quite a few of my former classmates work there. If the folks running the place mean anything this might just be the best school ever.

Except for the school I work for of course.

quadThere is this kid I know. In our house he is referred too as “Boy Genius”. Boy genius entered undergraduate studies at the age of 13 out west. He turned 18 this September and has just wrapped up his second year of PhD studies in neuroscience at Drexel.

1 out of 1 boy geniuses pick Drexel.old main

If you scroll down on the blog a little ways you will see a picture of a guy holding a knife making sandwiches. You will also see a picture of this same guy shouting “I defy you,” while standing on a mountaintop.

He also picked Drexel.

But don’t hold that against the school.

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