I paid a visit to my old stomping grounds over the holidays–even took in the old Wanamaker holiday light show at Macy’s for the first time. You’d think in six years living in Philadelphia (fifteen if you include my time in the suburbs) I would have done that earlier. We took a little walk through South Philly to check out the house lights, too. It still feels like home.
Sad news this week as the Philadelphia Gay News reports that Giovanni’s Room, the oldest LGBT bookstore in the country, will close for good in May.
Owner Ed Hermance, who has operated the store since the dark early days of the gay-rights movement in the 1970s, tried to find a buyer for the store so he could retire, but an apparent deal fell through. According to the PGN, Hermance blames Amazon and similar retailers for making business difficult for indie booksellers, and says he’s lost between $10,000 and $15,000 keeping Giovanni’s Room open so far in 2014.
I’ve shopped at Giovanni’s Room many times in the last twelve years or so, and lived for two years at Juniper and Pine Streets, less than two blocks away. It’s always been a dream to one day see a book I’d written on their shelves, one of those fantasies young writers have about how we know when we’ve “made it.” Giovanni’s Room was a terrific, welcoming space where the shelves were always well-stocked and well-maintained. It felt like a place where people loved books. Continue Reading
After attending a particularly drunk and rowdy brunch at a bar in downtown Arlington, Virginia (nice town, by the way) Liz remarked how different it was from the more subdued brunch in New York City. I remarked, off-the-cuff, that “New Yorkers have a certain expectation of how New Yorkers are supposed to behave.”
This got me thinking about how people change to fit the city they live in–or the city they might be visiting. We all know humans unconsciously change their behavior according to the role they are assigned, but in many cities there’s also the question of self-selection. New York City is full of aspiring Carrie Bradshaws, Gordon Gekkos, and Patti Smyths. [pullquote position=”right”]People don’t just behave based on their city’s reputation; they move to the city they think suits their ambitions.[/pullquote]
We got talking about examples that came to mind: The way Philadelphia sports fans worked to maintain their reputation for anarchy, half a century after the infamous Santa incident; the young beautiful Angelinos who adopt every new diet fad and obsess over physical beauty; the bikini-clad beach bodies in Miami, back-country liberalism of Austin, and ardent anti-corporatism of Portland or Seattle. Yes, these are stereotypes, but that’s the whole idea: some stereotypes are reinforced because people unconsciously work to conform to them.
In late 2005 when I moved back to Pittsburgh after five years away, I discovered how much Queer as Folk had influenced the gay culture. QAF, actually filmed in Toronto’s thriving gay village, was set in a fictional Pittsburgh that greatly exaggerated the city’s gay presence. I met numerous young gay men who had moved to Pittsburgh because of the show, and bemoaned the gap between television and reality. I often wondered why they hadn’t bothered to visit first–Pittsburgh has no shortage of hotels. Notable, however, was how the gay landscape in Pittsburgh flourished, in part thanks to QAF, as the locals and newcomers created a world that resembled their fantasy.
Liz and I got talking, too, about cities that don’t necessarily have as strong a sense of identity. I didn’t find that there was much of a “stereotypical Philadelphian,” for example–at least outside the sports arena. I think I might prefer this kind of setting, because people feel less restricted to type and more free to be themselves.
I have heard murmurs recently about discontent among Portland residents who say fans of the show Portlandia arrive expecting a certain kind of experience, and that an influx of Portlandia fans has begun altering their community in a way they don’t necessarily like. Maybe in five to ten years, Portland will become more like the show. I wonder if South Philadelphia is being reshaped by fans of It’s Always Sunny, though I can’t say I’m familiar enough with either program to say what they represent. I did occasionally meet tourists, when I lived in South Philadelphia, helplessly searching for a bar called Paddy’s that didn’t actually exist.
I wonder about cities like Columbus, Denver, and San Diego, where I’m not aware of any stereotypes beyond broad generalizations about their respective regions. I’d guess there must be a shared sense of identity, but nothing as strong as the caricature of the frazzled sophisticate adhered to by so many New Yorkers. I wonder if these people feel more freedom to be themselves, rather than following a cultural archetype.
Liz ran the Philly marathon Sunday morning. I did not–though it didn’t stop me from eating a whole pint of ice cream Saturday night! After a series of lousy marathon experiences (getting sick and having to drop out of Boston 2012, injuring herself in Harrisburg, almost being blown up in Boston 2013) she had a terrific day and posted another PR–her third in three visits to the big Philly race. Today’s was 3:05:27, good for another trip to Boston in 2015.
I put together a little video highlight real of the race, which was pretty fun. My favorite part is the line of guys peeing between the UPS trucks, but there are some other entertaining moments too–like the young girls holding a sign encouraging their dad to not poop his pants.
Worth a reminder: If you’re a runner looking for a coach in the NYC area (or for virtual coaching anywhere in the world) Liz is not only a very fast runner but also a hell of a trainer. Check her out at Coach Corky Runs.
Call me partial, but articles like this get my blood boiling. You can read the whole thing at that link, but here’s a summary: John Featherman, writing for Philly.com, doesn’t believe the ACLU should promote themselves as defenders of gay rights, because the ACLU defended the free speech rights of Westboro Baptist Church in court.
Here’s a sample:
“[ACLU-PA Legal Director Witold] Walczak started out by telling me, “The ACLU defends everyone’s rights and strongly believes that no one is free unless everyone is free. If government has the power to squelch Phelps it has the power to censor other unpopular groups, with the LGBT community being an unfortunate and frequent target.” Walczak later added, “ Just as the ACLU’s defense of abortion protesters doesn’t undermine our commitment to a woman’s reproductive freedom and representing the KKK doesn’t compromise our dedication to racial justice, defending Phelps’ free-speech rights is consistent with our LGBT-rights work.”
I don’t know. I just don’t see it. Maybe I’m just not sophisticated or hip enough to see how you can represent the interests of opposing parties at the same time. To me, a former candidate for political office, that’s like taking money from a donor and then turning around and giving it to their worst enemy. In my world, you just don’t do that.”
So, first of all… WBC is the LGBT community’s worst enemy? Really? Not the politicians who want to prevent us from marrying the people we love, and put us in jail for having sex? Not the religious leaders who incite violence against us, and push foreign nations to legalize the execution of gays? Not the fake psychologists who claim electroshock treatments and solitary confinement can turn gay children straight?
No, those aren’t our worst enemies. People who say nasty things about us. They’re our worst enemies. Continue Reading