February 12, 2008
Nude Beer and Chicken Feet
This week was to start off with a column about a historic dump -- the press room in the Roundhouse. It was suggested I try to capture the ambiance of the place called Room 619 on the occasion of our being thrown out of there by the new police administration. So much for history.
Apparently, the execution has been stayed. We don't have to leave the building, though there is some question whether we'll get to keep the room. But what a room it is. Or was.
It's been a few years since I've sat where Barbara Boyer now works the phone and her sources in blue.
But the place sticks with you.
The stale pistachio green walls, decorated with black and white photos from when cops wore hats and drove squad cars that looked like they'd been designed by R. Crumb.
The floors were some sort of no-tell, mottled brown and gray tile that had snuffed the life out of a million cigarette butts. There were towers of ugly file cabinets and spent Royal typewriters, pizza-stained Rolodexes and big-shouldered desks whose bottom drawers secreted stacks of skin magazines.
My first visit I was filling in for the regular Inquirer guys -- Tommy Gibbons and Bo Terry. There was an agreeable gent from the Daily News named Joe O'Dowd, and when his day was over, in came a white-haired, squat and silent type who worked the night shift. His name was Jack McGuire and he was an old-school guy who worked with pencil and paper, and I had the sense he viewed new Inquirer reporters from the main office as something to scrape off his scuffed soles.
It took hours before I realized that the giant glass vat on his desk was not stuffed with hard-boiled eggs, but rounded ice cubes for his tea.
I was talking about the place with city editor Chris Hepp the other day, when he shared a Jack story. This was back in the day when reporters from four papers -- the Inquirer, the Daily News, the Tribune and the Bulletin -- all worked the cramped press room, and lived in fear of getting beat. Chris was the Bulletin's guy, and it was late on a Sunday. All night, Jack had been quiet. He'd get up occasionally and disappear for a half hour. This would fill Hepp's head with horrors.
"It was a bad sign when he got up. It meant he was working on something. He'd file from a phone booth."
At the end of the night, when McGuire's shift was over, and the Bulletin's deadline had past, he got up from his desk, crumpled the sheet of paper he'd been working on, and marched to the door.
"Read it and weep," he announced, and threw the wad of paper over his shoulder like a grenade.
For the past week maintenance crews have been sweeping up, getting ready for a move may or may not happen.
Barb Boyer says the crews discovered corners that hadn't seen light in years. The room had been given a bit of a makeover since a group of young woman replaced the old boy's club. Boyer brought in an unfortunate '80s couch from home. The paper paid for the walls to be repainted, the bilious green replaced by a bluish-white.
But some things are hard to cleanse. In a closet someone found a single bottle of a libation called Nude Beer, whose label sports a picture of a buxom blonde in a black bikini. A Whoopee cushion turned up in someone's desk. When you sit on it, it spits out scatological insults, perfect for what one might think of one's superiors.
The last thing they found was a dried-up chicken's foot.
Public Affairs was apparently interested in it, and removed it from the room. Maybe for evidence, of a more storied time.
(Photos by Inquirer photographer Tom Gralish. Why, you may ask, is a second-floor press room called 619? Tradition. That was the number of the old room in City Hall where cop reporters made their calls.)
June 28, 2006
Fit To Be Tied
Love, of course.
Not just for the new Chevy Aveo he could win, but for Rocky.
Rocky’s the three or four-year-old pug that Brandon Richardson owns. Richardson never thought much about the issue of leaving dogs chained up until he found a flier slapped onto his car a couple weeks ago while visiting a friend in Cherry Hill.
This is the backstory to why Richardson, 21, is taking a couple weeks off from his job - with his boss’s ok - and heading to a park in Mundys Corner, Pa., about an hour east of Pittsburgh, where Saturday begins his Survivor-style stunt for a cause.
He’ll deposit his son with his in-laws and with his wife’s blessings join 13 other animal lovers who are trying to do without books, TV, radio, showers or cigarettes.
They must wear collars. They get a half hour a day to call home or receive visitors. They share four tiny port-a-johns. They get food in drink - but don't have to consume them in bowls. "I'm not cruel," said organizer Tammy Grimes.
Some contestants have said they'd donate the car to an animal charity. Aija Nicole Gillman, 18, of Pinckneyville, Ill., explained in her application why she's competing: She feels, “as Ghandi did, that you can tell a lot about a country by the way it treats its animals.”
Says Grimes, founder of Dogs Deserve Better: “One of them will walk away with a new car, but more importantly, none of them will walk away unchanged. The knowledge they now bear may make it virtually impossible to look at a chained dog without an understanding of what it is like to be that dog.”
Richardson’s car was papered by Marion Churchill, an animal rights activist who runs Compassion for Camden, and helped write the New Jersey city's anti-chaining ordinance of 2001.
She was hoping to make people sensitive to what it’s like being chained and left alone.
“They're right,” Richardson said by phone. “It's cruel to keep your dog chained up all the time. They're part of the family. You wouldn't chain your grandmother up.”
No, we wouldn't.
Grimes describes chained dogs as a forgotten cause. “People think they have a home, but is it really a home?” she said Monday. “These are dogs sitting out there living lives of confinement. The biggest problem is that they can kill children quite easily. We do this to the dogs. We leave them unsocialized and chained and they're like ticking time bombs.”
Unable to lure a corporate sponsor or big donor, she raised the money for her contest through about 10,000 contributions of $3 each. Originally a couple dozen animal lovers showed interest in chaining themselves to a doghouse, but enough dropped out that no one was turned down.
“People were a little more intimidated than I'd expected them to be,” she said.
“Hopefully I can go the whole two weeks. The bugs and weather won't bother me. I've gone camping with the family before. I think I can last quite a while.”
One slight hitch: Organizers have the park for only two weeks. Meaning, what happens if no one's dropping out?
After one week, organizers plan daily “Reality TV elimination rounds,” Grimes says. “We've got to have them drop,” she said. “We've got some games planned.”
May 17, 2006
The Way It Was
John S. Carroll, the former Los Angeles Times editor, had to give a little speech before a Q & A session at Harvard's Walter Lippmann House yesterday, so he talked about the glory days at Philadelphia Inquirer. The story -- how anonymous sources helped a team of young reporters show how police intimidated witnesses in criminal cases -- I'd heard before, a great one that began with the firebombing of a Hispanic family's rowhouse, and the arrest of the wrong man.
What was news to me was Carroll, who was once the Inky's metropolitan editor, saying that the main reason the paper got so good in the 1970s was that corruption was so deep and widespread that officials didn't even to bother to hide their scams.
When Carroll arrived in 1972, the Inquirer's lead investigative reporter - Harry Karafin - was in jail for extortion. People used to pay Harry not to write things, Carroll explained. And reporters needing a little help with in-state tuition for their children were hooked up with Sen. Henry J. "Buddy" Cianfrani, who pulled the necessary strings for scholarships -- even at Penn, which gets some state money. This, of course, before Buddy did a little state time himself for corruption.
Which brings us another fresh tale about the late senator.
This was Primary Day, 1976. She was working for the governor then. She headlines her piece, "The Day Buddy Cianfrani Kept Me Out of Jail."
He was the essence of an oldtime Philly pol. Big, bald, ham-fisted, cigar-chomping, gravel-voiced, steely-eyed. A true backroom kingpin ... and king maker.
I jumped when the phone rang. A familiar gruff voice said, "Hey, Doll, you okay?" The Senator. I said I was fine, just worried. "Lemme talk to da cop. And don't say nuttin."
Wordlessly I proffered the phone to the patrolman. "I don't want to talk to nobody," he said.
"This isn't nobody," I whispered.
February 14, 2006
The story starts here with a slap in the mush from some unsympathetic magistrate. I'm banged up in Pentonville with more than a tailor's dozen charges on me tail. God knows why: the band should be smashing up the Toon, Glasgae and Shepherd's Bush this weekend and instead I'm birded off on remand after a slow clucking duck walk (sitting too) through the bowels of Bethnal Green nick, Thames magistrates and now da 'ville. Innit bleeding marvellous?
Yo, could we get a translation here?
January 30, 2006
Do You Know Them?
If you missed their story, check this out - John Shiffman's Saturday piece in the Inquirer about the Bad Credit B Gone law firm.
U.S. Postal Service has taken an interest in them.
Investigators allege they're not a real firm, they're not in NYC as advertised, they're not really interested in fixing your credit. They're run by a West Chester guy with a paper trail of bad debts.
Murphy tried to locate "James Brennan, Esquire," the 30-something attorney pictured on Bad Credit B Gone's Web site. The inspector says there are three people named James Brennan licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania.
One is dead. One is 72. One works for the U.S. Justice Department.
So here, dear readers, is my question. Who these people in the picture? Some fashionistas I know figure the ladies are sporting office wear that's a little too last-century. Has anyone seen any of these people before?
Blinq enjoys a critical, suspicious audience, many of whom are experienced in sniffing out stories. Who are these people?
January 20, 2006
The BBC reports that hamster now shares a cage with the two-year-old snake, which is named Aochan. The hamster, which now has a name, too - Gohan - sometimes sleeps on the back of its alleged predator.
"I have never seen anything like it," a zookeeper at the Mutsugoro Okoku zoo told the Associated Press News agency.
Blogger Anne-Fay Townsend has. At Big Shiny Things, she begins her post with a little Isaiah 11:6-9:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. ...
September 30, 2005
Lil' Kim Loves Philly Back
It was not know how city tourism officials were going to play this endorsement. There were unconfirmed reports of hurried phone calls to set up a celebratory party at Cuba Libre.
More from Kim, who happens to have a new CD out Tuesday:
"I want all my friends, family and fans to know that I am in good spirits and I will be fine," Kim said in the statement. "Contrary to the rumors, I am in general population at FDC and I have adjusted to the facility and to my fellow inmates who are all cool people. Each day, I read, sharpen my focus and grow. Of course, I wish I could be out to celebrate the release of my new album this week, The Naked Truth but instead, I am looking to take advantage of this time to work on my personal development. Thank you to all for your continued support."
We're delighted to be able to follow that development in Lil' Kim's blog, although it's not clear she has 24-7 Internet access while doing a year and a day for federal fibbing. Someone is helping her post, apparently.
Her blog reports there were rumors that she was harassed by fellow inmates and sent to solitary. Not true!
The blog helpfully quotes her lawyer, J. Londell McMillan, saying,
"I was amazed at just how good Kim looked on my two visits to see her in prison last week. Even in a jumpsuit, Kim still has the style and swagger of a star.
Kim respects her inmates and they respect her. She will turn this experience into a positive reality for herself as well as her fans and community. She is evolving into a remarkable person of faith and courage."