The Front St. Boxing Club: places I love

I’ve been in love with the place since I first walked up those long steep stairs. You can’t see whats up there and the noises and smells insinuate it is something worse than the street you just walked in from, and the street is horrible.
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Posters paper the walls, bags are patched up with duct tape, and buckets hanging from the ceiling keep drips off the mat. The first time I met Frank he tried to talk me into going to Bally’s because its nicer.

You don’t go to Front St. to get in shape, you go there to learn how to fight.
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My first trainer had a scar, razor thin, stretching from his temple across his nose, down to the opposite jaw. He wasn’t in the greatest shape but never wore a shirt. He made me shuffle step in a straight line, taught me to jab, and gave me a notebook with diagrams of footwork and metaphors comparing a jab to an arrow and a hook to an ax.
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My next trainer, “Joe Black” approached me after my first trainer stopped coming in. He told me he could get me ready to be the next great white hope, “but ya see the thing is… I’ze charges.” He wanted $50 bucks a month. Frank almost kicked him out of the gym for asking that much, but all these years later Joe is still there.
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When Joe went AWOL “pad man” was always there to step in. Working with more than one trainer is a no-no but so is going AWOL. Pad man claimed to be the all-prisons champ and he had a way of making anyone he worked with look like a pro. He did this mostly by slapping the pads against his boxers fists making a loud noise and then shouting, “whooooie! This kid can punch!”DV IMAGE

David Bey made me sign a form when he started training me. His paperwork even had a hand drawn logo up top. It was a pyramid and a third eye sort of deal. He took the Zen master approach rather than the whoop hollering style.

He trained me well enough to win the golden gloves in my first fight. Frank tried to get me to retire after the victory. “You can walk away an undefeated  Golden Gloves champ. Who has to know you only had one fight?”

I didn’t listen.

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In that gym I sparred the kid in law school, swung at air trying to hit that one middleweight, and broke my rib getting pummeled by that 300 lb Jamaican. There was that one mystery kid who walked in and just wanted to spar someone, then left with his left eye swollen shut, the light heavyweight with the tattoos who got his lip split, and then the truck driver who split my lip and blacked my eye. I loved it.
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Willie Rush sat and watched me train without a trainer for three months before he slid over and asked me who my trainer was. He knew the answer.

We worked together every weekday for a year. He was always there with his stories about Mike Tyson or his days in the local 33 labor union. He wrapped my hands for me and spent hours slapping me in the head with a swim noodle.

He would shout at me while sparring, “Don’t slap him with the hook, hit him with the hook. Bam! Bam! Bam!”
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We won our first fight together. It was the first round of the Philadelphia Diamond Belt and my victory forced me into my third match; one more than my original goal of two. The guy had fast hands that got tired by the third round. I hammered him again and again in the third but he just wouldn’t go down. I tried to shake his hand afterward but he just patted my shoulder and gasped for air.

What harm could one more fight and one more week do?
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It is hard to get knocked out in amateur boxing. You wear big soft gloves, a big padded head gear, and the ref is intent on no one getting hurt. They stop the fight well before anyone gets in trouble. I never got in trouble, but neither did that one last guy.
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He was better than me plain and simple. He would step in, pop me three quick shots, and by the time I swung or poked a jab, he would be out of reach. Pop, pop, pop… whiff.

Tired of this I just started walking in on him trying to get him cornered. As I lumbered forward he would flurry down combinations against my gloves and head. The ref stepped in to stop it.

He waved us back to action, and the whole previous cycle was repeated, complete with the ref stepping in to stop us. After the third cycle of this pointless match I tried to duck under a wild hook and tripped on a loose part of the canvas. The ref waived his hand above his head, looked at me, and told me I was done.

The kid jumped and screamed like he just beat Ali. The announcer held my opponents arm up in the air and the awarded us both identical “participation” plaques.

I was too tired to take much notice and I guess the other guy was too excited to care.

Willie grumbled that they always try to set him up and that that kid was no beginner. I just went to the locker room.
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After I changed into street clothes I lingered around the gym watching the remaining bouts. Standing at the top of the stairs I hear my wife shout from down below, “Hurry up, I’m getting tired of holding this thing.”

I had no idea what she was talking about and schlumped down the stairs to find out. Out on the sidewalk she handed me what looked like a pile of towels. I took it, unwrapped it, and hoisted the champion’s trophy.
officeboxerFrank had pulled her aside and quietly told her to give it to me. He never even told her what it was. When I asked him the next day he said he just thought I deserved it; just wanted me to have it. He called me champ for a minute, but now he just calls me the preacher. The other guys still just call me the white heavyweight.

I’m happy with all those names.

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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.

Rancho Cucamonga

In less than two weeks the Brohammas corporate headquarters will be relocating. I’m typing this now at my office desk, surrounded by boxes. The Company logo has been taken off the wall and I’m avoiding cleaning out the drawers in the kitchen.intheoffice

I will be trading in colonial cobblestone and corner stores for the palm trees of California. I’m conflicted.paradecolonial

Not just East to West, but old to new, urban to… sub *gulp* urban.23rd

It may be a good idea for me to break the rear view mirrors off of life for a little while. But I’m not deleting that “Philly” tab at the top of this site.cityview

Onward and upward.redlands_memorial_chapel

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.

Villanova

Founded 1842. Roman Catholic. 10,842 students.

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There is a movie about the Maine Line. Its called the Philadelphia story, but really, its the Maine Line. Villanova is the Main Line.

 

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I’ve driven through. It gets it’s name from the rail line that once took old money from their city homes to their country, now suburban, ones. I’ve been to the schools, gawked at the homes, sat at a lot of red lights. I would rather ride the maine line than drive to it.

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Academics are strong, basketball is strong, area ties-even stronger. I know a few grads, a few current administrators, all top notch. But as I was walking through the football stadium, being nosey watching lacrosse practice, I looked up on the football wall of fame.

Sandusky.

 

Sorry.

Mettlers Clothing: best building ever but…

I drive past the building almost every day. I walk right past almost as often. I knew it was there, I just didn’t know it was a clothing store.

It used to be a church.Image

I left the place with my socks still on without buying any new ones.

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Now this is not to say I didn’t like it, a lot, but rather that I found no one item that I looked at, swooned, and walked away wishing the sticker price was lower. It was strangely a large collection of “meh” that when pulled together is both fantastic, but still… meh.

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Now Mettlers does not just do clothing, they do design. Which makes more sense. They do great design with well informed clothing. The fact that I’m “meh” on Mettlers means it is probably well worth a visit.

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But after some reflection I have decided what stole this visit’s fire, why I was underwhelmed. It was not the clothes or the building. Both were better than most. It was not the design, which was a sporting masculinity that I enjoyed, but it was something I like a lot, that disappointed me.

I once took an art class in college.

I was not an art major but having some artistic tendencies, I saw Drawing/Painting on the course list and decided to enroll. Besides, I had some electives to burn. I was foolish enough not to check those little numbers next to the course name, 5200.

It was for graduate students in art, not Sophomore business majors. The prof claimed I was fine and told me to stay. I’m glad I did because he made one statement that has stuck with me more than any other art lesson in my life.

When I submitted my project proposal he looked it over, shook his head, and said, “I can see what you are trying to do but you are simply not good enough to do it.”

A little stunned, I was speechless as he continued, “This is not to say you can’t produce great art, just don’t try to do things you aren’t capable of.”

I kid myself, no I believe, that I could learn to do what I originally proposed, but this was not the purpose of this class. That would be the purpose of getting a bachelors in art. But the utilitarian pragmatism of “do what you are good at” opened up unseen doors for me.

Now back to Mettlers.

I love Eakins’ artwork, especially the painting of a boxer being fanned in his corner. Mettlers had a fine hand painted imitation of that very painting. This was exactly my taste! But whoever the artist was that produced the imitation  they were no Eakins. I could see what the artist was trying to do but they were not good enough to do it.

 

For me it cheapened everything else in place.

Race is Complicated: Mummers

It was the fourth of July our first year in Philadelphia. We went downtown to watch the parade and saw the strangest thing; a band of men wearing sequins from head to toe, carrying parasols, and playing instruments. They marched while playing saxophones, banjos, and even upright bases. I had never seen such a thing, and then a few floats later, there was another band just like the other. What was this madness?on broad

“Oh those are mummers,” we were told . “What exactly are mummers?” we asked. “Ummm. Well, they are just, well THOSE are mummers… Just wait till New Years. It’s that right there.”

That sort of non-explanation is the norm for Mummers. They exist in Philadelphia and not so much anywhere else. There may be some variations in other places, but in Philly they are in every parade, have a long road filled with Mummers club houses, and every New Year ’s Day since 1901, there is the Mummers parade.

We went and watched the Mummers. They are, above all else, fun. Watching the Mummers you will see kids, even babies, dancing down Broad Street, hundreds of people not associated with a high school or getting paid playing live instruments, and lots and lots of bearded men is sequined dresses. We loved it.

Our curiosity piqued, we took a trip down to 2nd st. and Washington in South Philly to visit the Mummers Museum. The art deco building housed costumed mannequins from parades past and some explanations for this Philadelphia oddity.mummer,useum

It is thought that the traditions grew out of the British Isles’ mummers plays. There are reports of mocking mummer plays being held in President Washington’s honor while he resided in Philadelphia. In the early 1800’s it was normal to find roving bands of men dressed as clowns causing a ruckus during the holiday season. The tradition was formalized into the parade in 1901, making it America’s oldest continuous folk parade.

I learned these things by reading faded signs on dusty displays in a museum whose heyday appeared to be at least a decade ago. In one corner of the museum I was able to try a costume on. I pulled on a long glittering skirt with feathers around the hem, donned a sparkly vest, and placed a tall multicolored feather crown upon my head. I danced and posed for my wife as she took pictures. Wearing this fine regalia I squinted to read a faded sign off in one corner. As I did I removed my crown and began feeling sick.

The sign explained the origins of the Mummers signature dance or “strut”. The dance is a variation of the cake walk, a dance or strut popularized in black face minstrel shows in the very early 1900s. The Mummer strut is traditionally done to the tune Oh Dem Golden Slippers, a blackface standard. The sign also explained that from day one, till a city order in 1964, the parade was done in black face.  The Mummers fought the ban but eventually lost. I am told there were once black Mummer brigades but they were banned in the 1920’s.

Standing there in sequins and feathers I felt betrayed.inthemuseum

It was in a back corner of the Mummer Museum when I realized that in this very black city, I had never seen a black Mummer. It is possible one exists but I think the academic term for them is “statistically insignificant”.

I have met plenty of Mummers. Since reading that sign I have asked, and listened, to what Mummers say Mummery is all about. I have talked to people who have never read a thing I have written or have a clue to whom I am married, and not once has anything remotely racist been uttered. I hear lots of talk about tradition and fun. I have heard and read about music and family.

I like all of those things.

I have never read anything about black people or hate. It is as if anything racist was scrubbed off along with the black makeup. I have never even heard a mummer bring up the black face past. I am even willing to wager that most all of the Mummers under the age of 25 have no idea of the racist history or know what a minstrel show ever was. So in a very real way to them, and to most everyone, the Mummers are very much just family, tradition, music, and fun.

What a great object lesson about race in America.

The Mummers parade is fantastic, it is also very deeply and firmly sprung from racist roots.

So what is it now?

I am watching the parade now as I write this. I love it. I just saw a brigade perform a skit where a mass of commoners used a giant gold dollar sign to lure a donkey and an elephant into a trap where they could both be struck over the head by the liberty bell. I would encourage anyone and everyone to attend. It is guaranteed fun no matter who you are.

But were I ever invited, or had the opportunity to become a Mummer, I do not think I would do it. I cannot escape the memory of what I felt when all bedecked in glitter I read that faded sign.  Watching the parade today I have not seen a black face, painted or otherwise. The bands and brigades are formed as clubs and other organizations. Many are tied up in family traditions and bloodlines. Black people need not be barred for these sorts of things to stay all white. The white people need not really be racist for a black person to not feel comfortable or welcomed.

So in this way the parade is like most everything.

Does what something used to be, forever taint what it is now?

How do we enjoy today when maybe yesterday isn’t all the way gone yet?

Happy New Year… I’m spending the rest of today enjoying the parade.winners

Tis’ the Season

Working for an academic institution means keeping an academic calendar. I’m not sure how exactly my calendar is academic but I do know I get a nice long Holiday.

So what shall I do with this time? Be useful?

Of course not.feet upWith my time I have had fine dinner conversation with an Argentinian student who got in a very public argument with his homeland’s president, then another someone who is in part responsible for bringing us such fine products as the Pillow-pet and Stompies, then yet another conversation with a different Argentinian who thinks it likely that those who argue with the president are avoiding taxes… oooh juicy!

Yet amid this life of excitement and intrigue, I mostly run errands.1 pound meat

It is called “Red-ing” terminal despite it being spelled Reading. I am giving this language lesson to you despite my being on academic holiday. What a workaholic I am.market sign

The sociologist Elijah Anderson considers this place one of the “Cosmopolitan Canopies” or places where all demographics intermingle peacefully. He has obviously never been here at lunch time during the flower show and I am guessing he has no explanation for this:onions

Yes friends, those are chocolate dipped onions. It is the Vegas of foods, sugary coating on something innately smelly. I should not judge; I have never tried one. But I have been to Vegas so it is the onions who get a pass on this one.

In the heart of the market is a place worth paying for parking. DiNic’s.DiNics counterPull up a stool next to these guys or get it to go, but order the roast pork with broccoli rabe. Don’t go treating broccoli on a sandwich like a chocolate covered onion, give it a try. The travel channel did and then named it the best sandwich in America.best sandwich

I’m not sure the Travel Channel got it completely right, but it is surely top ten.

In the event you find yourself in the area and want to buy me something, a natural desire, here is what I want:balsamicI will wait with anticipation for your gift. Don’t worry, I’m patient.

My days are not all errands. I’m painting again. More to come on that shortly.

O yes, and Mr. Yankee-Whiskey-Papa… well done sir. Well done.

Nutcracker 1776

Tickets are a bit steep but what do you do when the ticket is to see your own kid? What we did was buy one ticket with which the Mrs. saw the first half, then we switched at intermission.pinkballerinaWhen the lights began to dim I found my seat and sat down. The woman next to me looked over and remarked, “you don’t look like the woman who was here before.”

“Yes. She looks much better than I do. She’s my wife.”

“Not better; just different.”

I think I like this lady.crossI have seen the schools Nutcracker before but it still amazes me that it is more or less a high school production.

When the Sugarplum Fairy danced onto stage the excited woman on the other side of me proudly whispered, “that’s my daughter!”

She’s very good. The mother asked which one was mine. “O, she is little. Does she like ballet?”

“She loves it.”

“I am soooo sorry,” she said in all seriousness. “We moved here from Oregon for my daughter to go to this school.”littlemakAs I watched my girl all done up in lipstick and blush, bun pulled back tight, I wonder if there will come a moment when this all ends. Will she decide she is done? Perhaps my budget will crush her dream, or maybe a stone faced instructor will one day have to tell her that her skill has taken her as far as she can go and that its over.nut2012

But none of those times are now. Now is all smiles and this strange soft, mushy feeling I get when I see her stand with straight back and elongated neck on stage. I love the wide eyed excitement in her face when she tells me all about how the little kid she was in charge of is a hand full and how she got to be in the front row and how there is an after party and can we please, please, please go?

My fear of tomorrow can wait till then.