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   March 27, 2008 Issue                                       

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Cleaning up isn’t hard to do
by Michael Nutter

When I was a young boy, growing up at 55th and Larchwood avenues, I remember Saturday morning clean-ups on my block during the spring and summer. We would spend a few hours outside, washing the stoop, sweeping the walk and picking up trash. Perhaps most importantly, we talked to each other and shared stories from our week. 

We kept our blocks clean — but it was about much more than that. We took responsibility for where we lived, we cared about our neighborhoods and our neighbors, and by doing it together we showed respect for each other.

As I visit neighborhoods around the city I sometimes feel like we have lost some of that basic respect for each other and respect for our city. When I see a person drop trash on the street rather than place it in a trash can, I wonder what happened to that collective civic pride that I remember growing up with as a boy.  I think about what we can do to reclaim that sense of ownership and respect for Philadelphia as the place that we are all so proud to call home. 

Well, let’s start this process of cleaning up our city together. On Saturday, April 5, we’re going to have the biggest citywide cleanup in Philadelphia’s history.  From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. I want people in neighborhoods across the city to join me in a day of service to turn Philadelphia into the beautiful place we know it can be. With the help and leadership of our community organizations, we’re going to work together in areas across this city to clean up Philadelphia — street by street, block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood. 

You can volunteer to clean up right in your own neighborhood — we’ll be cleaning up along Germantown Avenue.

Please get involved. Organize a “Clean Team” with your friends, families and neighbors to clean-up the areas where you live.  Visit or call 215-683-CLEAN to sign up and find information on the nearest clean-up site to you.  It’s going to be a great day, and all those who participate are invited to a BBQ hosted by the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field to celebrate a day of Philly solidarity. Volunteers can show their wristband at the subway turnstile and get a free ride down to the stadium on SEPTA.

Remember that April 5 is only just the beginning — this is not a one-time-only event.  This is the first weekend in an ongoing clean-up effort that will continue through the summer and into the fall, a campaign that we call “Love Where You Live.”  Please stay involved throughout the clean-up season.

This isn’t just about picking up a few bits of trash and making our streets look nicer.  If we show respect for our neighborhoods, then we show respect for each other — a clean city is a safe city.  If we create more beautiful surroundings, then we attract more people to Philadelphia to visit, to work, to live and to raise a family — a clean city is a prosperous city. And if we combine removing the trash from our streets with planting more trees and creating more open spaces to enjoy, then we will have a more livable Philadelphia — a clean city is a happy city.

Let us come together as one Philadelphia and say with one voice, “We Love Where We Live.”


Opinion: Prescription for healthcare woes could come from state action
by Linda Hunt Beckman

With Governor Rendell’s “Prescription For Pennsylvania” dead, another bill was passed in the Pennsylvania House last Monday. “Cover All Pennsylvanians,” (a bill that never lived up its name) was replaced by “Pennsylvania Access to Basic Care,” an even weaker program that would cover only 270,000 uninsured Pennsylvanians.

Yet our state has a bill in both houses (SB300 and HB1660) that would establish a single payer health care system (funded by taxes).  It would truly cover all Pennsylvanians and give them coverage for all medical costs, offer medications at a fair price, provide dental, optical and mental health care and offer long-term care. You could go to a doctor or hospital of your own choosing, and these physicians and facilities would not be working for the state.

If these bills passed, our state would become a model for the nation. HB 1660, now in the Health and Human Services Committee, had its first hearing on March 19, and there will be more to come. There was also talk of an economic impact study that may finally get this single payer plan the attention it deserves as the only real solution to our healthcare crisis.

Many Pennsylvanians do not even know that these bills are in the legislature and probably entertain myths about the national healthcare systems that every other advanced country in the world uses. To illuminate how people from those countries feel about their medical care and how they perceive our system, as well as to give some sense of how Americans with a serious disease feel on this issue, here are some snippets from a recent listserv conversation among people who have a rheumatic illness (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.)

The message that started the thread attacked single payer as unfair to those with money and as a loss of freedom for everyone. I quote somewhat loosely from a few of the comments it triggered.

Monique responded: “I live in Canada and would not trade my health care system for the US one. We pay about $50 a month for healthcare, and we may have to wait sometimes three months to see a specialist, but if it’s urgent, my doc gets me in within two weeks. I have a caring family doc who I can see within days.” 

Tess weighed in: “In the UK, having a nationalized health care system doesn’t preclude the right to take out private health insurance. I prefer nationalized health care in spite of its warts. Although taxes are higher, no one is left without skilled, adequate healthcare nor has to worry about how to afford their medications. The stories one hears in the US of people who can’t afford treatment or are refused treatment by their carriers when they are seriously ill is just unfathomable.”   

And Leonie wrote, “Our Australian system seems to work well and ensures that no one goes without health care. When I was a worker, I was happy to pay my Medicare levy, about one or two percent, I think, and now that I am sick am glad to have good free care while choosing doctors I like. Recent conservative governments have modified the system somewhat, but no government dares to fully privatize health care.” 

Those that were satisfied with a single payer system were not the only ones to write. Americans chimed in too, and their comments were often heated and partisan. Judy believes in the status quo:

“The US is the greatest nation in the world. We are the freest and the richest of all nations. In our society, everyone has the potential for success. Unfortunately, some feel that government should provide more and more ‘free lunches.’ This approach surely will put us on the road to socialism/communism. Would anyone change our US mode of living for that of any other country? I don’t think so.” 

Denise’s reply startled in its candor:

“Absolutely! I would much rather live in a country with a national system. Sadly, there are always people who believe they have no responsibility for their community at large. Yet health care is of major importance to people with rheumatic illnesses. Many of us would be in better health, if not remission, if we had the funds. I expected to work to 65 or so. I never anticipated a broken body and living several hundred dollars under the poverty level. I have a graduate degree in nursing. I had insurance and I worked. I did not do anything to choose RA [rheumatoid arthritis]. I had to lose my life as it was and as I had planned it to be.”

True universal healthcare may, in the minds of some, be the road to socialism, but for others, it means not only a road to healthcare access but financial stability.

Linda Hunt Beckman lives and writes in Mt. Airy. She can be reached at For more information, visit


Columnist swerves for King Kong and other reflections

Last week while I was driving to Roxborough, a guy dressed as a gorilla came out of a field and ran at my car. I swerved to avoid him and drove on down the street, watching him in my rear view mirror.

Let me recreate the scene for you. In fact, I’ll write directions so you can drive to where this event occurred. At Germantown Avenue, take Bells Mill Road down toward the Wissahickon Creek and cross over and go up the hill. The first left is Lykens Lane. Go left. You’ll come to Manatawna Avenue, go right. Fifty feet later, you’ll see Old Line Road. Go left. (This is the back way to Andorra Shopping Center).

OK, you’re on Old Line Road. On your left are houses. On your right are woods. The road is narrow — barely two lanes — and utility poles are right at the edge of the road, so you need to be careful. Another feature of this stretch of road, a fiendishly clever one, is that you are on a upgrade. The experience is like having a huge, view-blocking wave roll toward you on the ocean. There is no way, until you get to the crest of that hill, to know ahead of time that a man dressed as a gorilla may run out and rush at your car.

Go to Google Maps on your computer and ask for any of the streets I’ve named above and then zero in on this spot. You’ll see that the vegetation on the right hand side of Old Line Road suddenly ends and there is an opening about forty yards wide that is the entrance for a boys’ club/ baseball field etc, set back in the woods.

On the day I’m describing, as I crested the hill, I saw 50 feet ahead, to the right, a dark brown lump. Wrong color, dark brown. The woods this time of year are gray. As I got closer, the “thing” was taller, like a dark brown pole. I thought someone had discarded a pile of rugs. A second later I could see the clump had arms and legs. A creature? At 25 mph, events happen fast.

This animate being showed it was alive by stepping out of the clearing into the street and staring at me. I guess I was expected to say, “What the heck could that be?” or, “The mystery creature faced me and moved forward …”, but I’ve been trained as an anthropologist and I specialized in apes and monkeys. I recognized the brown furry creature for what it was: the single most dangerous species on the face of the earth — forget stingrays, sharks, killer bees and grizzlies — a fellow human.

Wearing a cheap gorilla costume. At 1:30 in the afternoon. And, get this: he lifted his arms in the air and waved them awkwardly (totally the wrong limb-to-body trunk ratio) and then ran at the car. AT the car. I had to swerve to avoid him.

As I drove away slowly, I watched in the rear view mirror. He walked over to one of the houses across the street and towards the back yard. In a familiar fashion. He wasn’t chuckling or guffawing, just looking like he was coming home after the day’s commute.

I think this is the point in the story where I’m afraid you’ll realize I don’t have a punch line. Nothing else happened. Not physically, anyway. What has happened since then has been mental. I’ve been thinking about the incident and wondering.

If I’d seen a policeman and tried to tell him there was a nut endangering traffic on a small side street, I suppose I’d be encouraged to enter a mental facility. Seeking a sympathetic ear for my trauma could be an exercise in frustration. 

As proof: I came home and tried to tell my wife, but when I used the phrase, “And then, on the least likely street in Philadelphia where you’d expect a man in a gorilla costume to jump in front of your car …” she broke up laughing at my wording.

Is it worthwhile to say the obvious — this person probably had a confederate filming the episode for The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, or Candid Camera, or America’s Funniest Home Videos, or a private prank? Or was it a sociology class experiment? A Wawa opening, in place of a clown with balloons?

But he was so reckless in the way he ran in front of the car. I felt, leaving aside the cheap gorilla costume, “Here is a person of unsound judgement, do not trust that this is a joke.”

If this happened in Texas, or even upstate Pennsylvania on Day One of deer season, I could have hit the brakes, jumped out of the car with my weapon of choice and shot what I could claim I’d thought was a gorilla. I could have tied him over my fender and had my picture taken and put in the Local to illustrate my good luck in having had a legal excuse to shoot someone.

But no, I’m not the shooting type. And get this: as silly and banal and childish and stupid as the prank was, I’m now conditioned to look for a person dressed as a gorilla in that same spot. I do — every time I drive that same stretch of Old Line Road. And if you read this article and then drive that route over to Andorra, you may start looking for him too. And then two of us would be stuck with this silly memory. And if we each tell two other people, and so on, and so on … well, maybe we’ll have our own version of “The Jersey Devil” right in our own neck of the woods.

A real reporter would knock on every door in that neighborhood until he got the story, but I’m just an occasional columnist who likes to think about the things he sees when he’s driving around. I say we just put up a “Gorilla Crossing” sign.