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January 28, 2010

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The Chestnut Hill Local
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Carpetbaggers are us or them?

In the spring of 2007, the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s election was called into question when the Local learned that 65 last-minute memberships were purchased on the night of the election — giving the purchaser some 130 votes.

The purchase was not against the association’s rules, but the fact that more than half of the memberships were for people who lived outside Philadelphia, and many out-of-state, raised serious questions about how much influence on the association’s board was essentially for sale.

After the controversy, the CHCA formed a committee that worked rigorously to reform the election process to be sure such questions never came up again. The rules that committee created are in effect and seem to be working very well.

One question raised at the time that has not gone away is that of the influence wielded by members of the association who live outside of Chestnut Hill. That question was even the subject of a “debate” among association board members via e-mail. That discussion was sparked by a proposed change to the CHCA bylaws to limit membership to Chestnut Hill.

I placed debate in quotes because only one individual in the e-mail exchange endorsed limiting membership to Hill residents. In other words, if your ZIP code is not 19118, you can’t be a member or vote in CHCA elections. All others who responded — members of the CHCA board — were not for the limitation.

There is common sense to limiting CHCA membership, or at least voting privileges to Hill residents. The CHCA is not a governing body. It has no regulatory authority, but it does have a great deal of influence in Chestnut Hill matters. One of those matters is zoning.

It’s tough to argue that non-Chestnut Hill residents should have a say in how a Hill resident uses (or doesn’t use) his property. Hill residents should also be able to prevail on any issues affecting real estate in their neighborhood. They own houses and property here. They are the ones who are invested in the ZIP code.

Still, it seems many in Chestnut Hill favor more porous borders. That may be because, unlike an insular village, Chestnut Hill serves a larger community beyond the residents who live here, blurring the lines that define most towns.

Many of the Hill’s business leaders and other well-heeled benefactors of Chestnut Hill institutions live outside the ZIP code. Many of the people who work in Hill shops live outside of Chestnut Hill just as many of the children who attend school at Chestnut Hill’s public, private and parochial schools live outside of Chestnut Hill. [I have to point out here that I, too, am a carpetbagger and have not lived in Chestnut Hill for more than five years now.]

So what is a “Hiller”? It’s definitely someone who lives here. But there must be a place for those who don’t. Those who don’t live here can’t claim to have the same investment as a home or business owner, but they may be invested in other ways — through schools, churches and other institutions.

It might be hard to see what those contributions and investments are, but we probably don’t want to see them go away.

Pete Mazzaccaro

 

A bookman’s Florida holiday, from A (for A-Rod) to Z (for Zippy the Pinhead)


This is one of those adventures I take occasionally when I deviate from the principle that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

The straight line I wished to travel was from Philadelphia to Tampa, Fla., and once thence, to hire a car. I chose Florida because I love sunshine and palm trees and birdwatching and one other, very important thing, which I shall tell you in another minute. The overriding motive for this trip is that I think I deserve a reward for finishing my novel.

No, I haven’t finished yet. But this “final” rewrite has been coming along. As I promised in this column back in October, after numerous readers encouraged me to keep trying, I began a totally fresh rewrite in October and have worked every day since. I thought I’d finish by New Year’s Eve. I couldn’t. I am now at 200 pages, however, plan to get to 300, and at my current rate of averaging 3-4 pages per day, should finish near the end of February. How should I celebrate?

Yes, why not pluck from the “Bucket List,” as it’s come to be called. All my life I have wanted to go to a Spring Training baseball game. Our son finished college last May. We are no longer bound to a scholastic calendar. Let’s go.

And while we’re at it, let’s go see the Phils play the Yankees. Clearwater’s stadium seats only 7,000. Supposedly every seat is a good one. The atmosphere is relaxed and family-friendly, and the players are more open and interact with the crowds. It sounds fantastic.

Part one

So, that’s where the trip starts: with a call to the Phillies box office. Booked three seats right behind the third base dugout. (Had to buy a package of three games, so I’ll sell or give away the other two games – maybe.)

How to get there? We don’t like to fly. Not for any good reason other than feeling phobic. Driving feels onerous and time-consuming, so, let’s fulfill another fantasy: the sleeper train on Amtrak. That was the second phone call. All settled. A double for my wife and me, a “roomette” for our son.

Now we need to rent a car to get from Tampa to Clearwater and from there down the Gulf Coast to visit Sarasota, St.Petersburg, Sanibel Island, the Everglades, and perhaps the Keys. Then back to Tampa for the return train ride.

But, which car rental agency? Ideally, we’d like to step off the train, walk across the station to the booth maintained by the rental company and take off from there. The Internet, however, started giving me the run-around, offering me all sorts of things I didn’t want and almost nothing I did. When in doubt, shift gears to Simple: I Googled: “Services available Union Station Tampa Florida.”

The answer, in short, is that there basically aren’t any services. If I want a car, I must call an agency when I arrive and they’ll come pick me up. But I did get referred to a Wikipedia entry, where I found a nice photo. How interesting: in 1974 Union Station Building was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

And not only that, last May 2, as part of National Train Day festivities, a poem, “ The Epic of Union Station,” was given a dramatic reading by its author, the City of Tampa’s Official Poet Laureate, James E. Tokley, Sr. Wow, the city of Tampa has an Official Poet Laureate!

I wondered if I could meet him. So I Googled: “James E. Tokley, Sr. Tampa, Florida.”

As poets must, in this non-Chaucerian age, he maintains a Web site: “http://www.jamestokley.com/index.php”

Mr. Tokley’s webpage contains his biography, which I read. Aha, the plot thickens: this is a trip that was meant to be. The Poet Laureate of Tampa, Fla., is a Philly guy. Well, at least partially. He has a master’s in education from Temple University.

I read his biography, his list of achievements, his poems, and, finally, his “Tokleyisms,” pithy sayings of his he offers as quotes. The one that set me off on my next adventure was: “If I could be anything in the world, I wish I could be a lector in a Tampa cigar factory.”

Part two: What is a lector?

In the early days of American industrial labor, immigrant factory workers, many of them unable to read, hired a lector, or “reader,” to sit on a platform and read to them. In the morning the lector read newspapers aloud. In the afternoon, the lector read novels, often-spicy tales by writers such as Anatole France, or Emile Zola. Even “Anna Karenina” was read aloud.

Whoops, time to follow a link: In 2003 the Pulitzer Prize for drama was won by Nilo Cruz for his play, “Anna of the Tropics.” In the play, a young woman leaf roller in a Tampa cigar factory finds her life curiously running in parallel to the story of “Anna Karenina,” which is being read by a new, handsome, mysterious lector in her factory. Sounds good, or at least necessary to my education in this regard, so I link to the Free Library, order it, and two days later it arrived. I’ll pick it up tomorrow. Then I went back to the “lector” link.

Part 3: Life post-lector

It gets better. I read an entry about how the lector practice ended when the factory owners (who feared the radical politics and labor opinions of the readers) finally managed to ban them.

One lector, however, Victoriano Manteiga, refused to be silenced. He started a newspaper, “La Gaceta,” in 1922, which continues today. It is the nation’s only trilingual newspaper (it has an Italian section), and it is currently owned and edited by his grandson, Patrick Manteiga. The Manteiga family are widely known and respected in Tampa, especially in the Cuban section known as Ybor City. A statue of Patrick’s father, Roland Manteiga, the previous editor of the “La Gaceta” stands outside the newspaper office in Ybor City.

Part 4: Sit-by-me

All this and the fun was just starting. In looking for lector visuals, I accidentally linked to the entirely fascinating, incredible world of “sit-by-me statues” offered by a Web site called Waymark.com. They advertise themselves as “a scavenger hunt for the most interesting locations in the world.” I was hooked for the next few hours (and could be for days on end if I succumbed to my aroused desire to stay on there forever).

I restricted myself, as a books-and-reading columnist should, to their list/links of statues of readers, books, book holders, writers, children reading, you name it, throughout the world. Endless vacation photo-op goals could be developed from this site, for example: “oversized objects,” “elevated objects,” “places mentioned in the ‘Zippy the Pinhead’ comics,” musicians, philosophers. The list exhausted me, but I’m really looking forward to the next time I have time to waste.

So there you have it, in a way, from “A” (for A-Rod of the Yankees) to “Z” (for “Zippy the Pinhead” tourist sites). I thought it might be fun to describe how a guy who fancies books, reading, and authors gets carried away sometimes by the treasure hunt that is the Internet. I still haven’t managed to rent a car to get from Tampa to Clearwater for the Phillies game.

 

If I Were Queen...


Sure, I fantasize about such things. I am pretty sure we all do.

Maybe not about being Queen precisely, but about being in charge, making the big decisions and creating your own little kingdom as you see fit. Perhaps your home is your castle, where you rule over the daily minutiae, but what if you could wave your royal scepter and change anything you wanted in your own town.

What would you change? Would you move off your block? Why? What makes your particular locality better or worse than another? Is it possible to change it for the better?

We are using our imagination here, no guilt, and no worry about stepping on others toes, just pure childhood fancy where anything is possible.

First, let’s think about Main Street. In my own SimCity, I’m thinking of a Katz’s Deli-type place, mile-high pastrami sandwiches, aged provolone hanging above the counter, pickles in a barrel, real NY bagels. I have to stop with that visualization since I’m getting hungry.

Next I stroll by a perfect, old-fashioned hardware store, looks just like Kilian’s. Next I’d plop Big Blue Marble Bookstore beside an artsy, independent theater, a children’s shoe store, an organic/natural food store, a Gap-type store and a tearoom. And that’s just the block near my house.

Next, I’d turn the Magarity Ford site into a community garden, run bike lanes up and down Germantown Ave, place recycling containers on every block, have outdoor movies and ice skating in Pastorius Park, block parties throughout the year, rehab the Water Tower into a beautiful community center, add more benches to Germantown Avenue, impose vacancy taxes on unrented store fronts, stop signs on every single block of residential streets to slow traffic and ice-cream available on every corner. This is my dream, after all.

The reality is that many of the attributes of my perfect, imaginary town are already found here in Chestnut Hill. Things aren’t perfect, but they aren’t that far off either. Last March, I attended an Urban Sustainability Forum, titled “Growing Sustainable Philly Neighborhoods,” along with Amy Edelman, of the Night Kitchen, at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

We listened as presenters described how they effected change in their mostly very poor, dilapidated, often crime-ridden neighborhoods. Many of their goals included planting trees, creating community gardens and children’s parks, improving mass transit, gaining access to fresh, wholesome food and community building.

As we took notes, Amy turned to me, pointing to a checklist, and said, “We have all of this already – how lucky are we?”

No doubt about it, we are fortunate, but there is work to do, and all of our visions are needed to make good things happen. For upcoming Urban Sustainability Forums check out this Web site, www.ansp.org/environmental/.

 

Meeting the public: Hill’s best-known photo correspondent reports on Rep. Cherelle Parker’s 9th Ward town meeting.


I had a hard time getting out the door for Pennsylvania State Representative Cherelle Parker’s 9th Ward Town Hall meeting at the J.S. Jenks Elementary School last Thursday, Jan 28. It was the first in a series of five such meetings to be held in Parker’s 200th legislative district between now and March 25th.

In the past two weeks, I had exhausted my civic energies e-mailing and telephoning Barnes & Noble to interest the bookstore chain in taking over the now-vacant Borders property. A town meeting might be entertaining but just as likely, dispiriting.

Then my kids kicked me out of the house. I was off to Jenks.

To my surprise and relief, a festive atmosphere greeted me in the school gym where representatives of many government agencies, utilities, social service organizations and a career school staffed tables arranged in a “U” around folding seats in the center.

As Parker worked the room, I browsed the tables and chatted with the staffers, taking in many tidbits of information and collecting the numerous freebies: literature, pens, notepads and a compact fluorescent light bulb from the PECO rep. (The gentleman did not know whether PECO would buy back electricity from me if I ever actually install solar panels on our roof – it would be sweet to reverse-meter PECO during the sunny summer months.)

It appeared that the number of hired hands and politicos outnumbered plain citizens by about 50 to 30. I wondered why there were not more. I had been alerted to the meeting by e-mail, by robo-call and by regular mail, too. Perhaps Parker should have advertised refreshments – after a long day people like to be refreshed.

Among the luminaries were Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers, who spoke about successful fire prevention in the city and the importance of installing carbon monoxide detectors. Parker also acknowledged the presence of Derek Green, a city council aide and recent candidate himself for council, and Alex Talmadge, a former candidate for District Attorney who was there to represent one of the participating organizations.

Parker also took a good-natured but obligatory swipe at the Board of Revision of Taxes, which had its own table.

My patriotism was stirred by the presence and overt dedication of the public servants in the room. They made short presentations and stressed their desire to assist us in any number of ways should, for example, we find our home being foreclosed upon, in need of researching the record of a contractor, or if we have become the victim of a crime.

The Philadelphia School District is even offering courses through a new “Parents University.” There are a multitude of services for the elderly or disabled and, unless we die young, not one of us will avoid entering one if not both of these categories.

Parker, who acted as mistress of ceremonies, is an animated speaker. She shared some of her personal history. She was the “child of a child” – her mother gave birth to her at age 16. Now, here she was, after serving as a longtime aide to Councilwoman Marian Tasco, one of only three African-American women in the 203-seat state House of Representatives.

Soon she will undertake a six-week tour of South America as an Eisenhower fellow. In Chile, she will meet President Michele Bachelet, the daughter of a general who had been tortured and died in custody under the regime of former Chilean dictator Augosto Pinochet. 

I had made some mental notes of her efforts and positions. She is a supporter of the Second Amendment right to bear arms but believes requiring citizens to register their guns will reduce gun violence. She reported having to fight to have $300 million dollars restored to the state’s budget for education. She made a point of how conservative the rest of Pennsylvania is.

An hour and a half into the evening – at which time not one attendee yet had a chance to say a word and Parker was still only inching toward the audience participation part – I raised my hand.

It was time for what was publicized as a meeting to cease being a presentation. I had seated myself front row center because I like to take photographs. Only the representative’s high heels kept her view of her constituents from being completely obstructed by my outstretched arm. She yielded.

That Parker had to struggle to preserve funds for education prompted me to launch back into my campaign mode of 2007 when I ran on the Green Party for 8th District City Council.

“I think you should take the state legislature on a bus to go down to Washington, D.C., because it is our federal government that has close to 200,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq still looking for weapons of mass destruction, but only 12,000 troops to help out in Haiti where the only thing left standing is the American embassy,” I said. “And that’s because we could afford to build it to withstand an earthquake.

“Meanwhile, big banks now owned by the citizens of the U.S. are paying out big bonuses to their execs, and here in Philadelphia we still have to fight for every cent we get for public education.”

I later reflected that meetings like these always attract mouthy malcontents. There were rumblings at my remarks and I would like to think they indicated assent, but they might just as easily have been a reaction to my party-pooping remarks. My work was done when the woman who Parker called on next pressed the representative on universal health care, referring to initiatives taken in other states.  

The meeting soon concluded, and Parker graciously gathered me in for a photograph with her and others in front of a huge dark blue flag that she had just presented to Christina Moore, the Jenks school dean of students. It was the flag of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Oh, what a wonderful world it would be if the wealth in the commonwealth, the nation, and the world, were more common.

 

 

 

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