Power: The Next Howard Dean?

 You can doubt Knox’s knack for sound bites. But his business acumen is another story. Consider the turkeys. In 1989, Knox was selling insurance to a man who ran turkey farms in North Carolina. Sensing that the farms weren’t meeting their potential, Knox bought 23 of them for around $640,000. Then he went to work computerizing the feeding and breeding. “I was able to figure out how to get those turkeys to market three days earlier,” he says. Twenty-one months later, Knox sold the farms for $5 million — or a profit of around 700 percent. Pass the gravy!

Knox tells this story on the patio of La Terrasse, the upscale University City restaurant he owns. Here, it’s possible to see his hands-on management style in real-time. He frowns when the patio lights are switched on before sunset. “Can you get them to turn those off?” he asks a startled young waitress. During dinner, he calls the chef out for a friendly chat, which turns into a gentle scolding. “I don’t know if I like this cheese,” Knox says, picking at a tuna salad. He’s not happy with the rolls, either. And his bouillabaisse? “Too beefy.”

Knox never stops running the numbers. He has a Rain Man-ish capacity for mentally crunching figures. He says he used to look at dense life insurance policies, adjust one small variable, and see the new premium appear in his head. “I just knew,” Knox says. Scanning his wine list, Knox recites the profit margin for several different bottles and summons a manager to adjust some of the prices. (Knox is a wine aficionado who belongs to the
Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs gourmet society. “You wear black tie with a ribbon” at the group’s annual event, he tells me. Attention, opposition researchers!) And he’s especially pleased with the restaurant’s slick new black tabletops, which, he notes, save $700 to $800 a week on linens.

Knox counts his fortune in the tens of millions of dollars, so it’s hard to dispute his knack with money. Whether his skills are suited for government is less obvious. Knox makes much of his role, from early 1992 to the summer of 1993, as a deputy mayor for “management and productivity” under Ed Rendell. Those were emergency belt-
tightening years, and Knox, who drew a token $1 salary, was tasked with rooting out waste and inefficiency.

For an efficiency freak like Knox, seeing the city budget from the inside was probably like Martha Stewart’s first visit to the prison cafeteria. He was appalled at how tax dollars sloppily sloshed around. He claims to have squeezed some $7 million in annual savings from renegotiating awful city real estate leases, which he pushed down by about half from $23 a square foot. He also saved $7 million a year through better management of the city’s vehicle fleet, and “millions” more on electricity costs. Knox speaks of himself as an integral part of Rendell’s amazing budget turnaround. “Seven days after we balanced the budget,” he says with satisfaction, “I resigned.”

Rendell says Knox brought a businessman’s attitude to the job. “One of the problems with big government bureaucracies is that most bureaucrats say, ‘Gee, there’s no way we can do that,’” says Rendell. “Tom’s attitude was, ‘Yeah, we can do that. We’ll find a way.’” But not everyone who was around City Hall at the time remembers Knox as a driving force behind the mayor’s success. Some Rendell allies bristle at the credit Knox claims for minor achievements or the results of team efforts.

“One thing that is offensive to a lot of people is him running around saying ‘I did this and I did that,’” says one person who worked in the Rendell administration. “I have heard him take virtually solitary credit for the restructuring of the city’s health-care plan. Maybe he gets five percent of the credit.” Knox helped crunch the numbers early on. But in terms of politically selling and implementing the plan, this source says, “I could give you a list of 20 people who were at least equally involved.”

“He has zero political skills,” the former official adds. “I can’t imagine a worse mayor.”

It’s also curious that Knox’s name never once appears in A Prayer for City, the 408-page insider account of Rendell’s first term written by former Inquirer reporter (and Philadelphia magazine contributor) Buzz Bissinger, who actually reported from a desk inside City Hall. Knox explains this away by saying that Bissinger probably “came on the scene after I left.” But that’s not true. Bissinger was around City Hall for Knox’s entire tenure.

“If I felt he was a major player, I would have put him in the book,” Bissinger says. “I just remember Tom as being something of a blowhard. He had a very inflated opinion of himself.”

Couplings: The Angelina Problem

 Despite our Puritan roots, our culture applauds a certain amount of sexual liberalism. Or at least the appearance thereof. For instance: We love it when chicks make out in bars. We respected Hillary Clinton’s stoicism about the Monica Lewinsky affair so much, we elected her to the Senate. Jealousy, on the other hand, is unsexy, primitive, the province of Amy Fishers and Lorena Bobbits, of Julia Roberts’s scary mustachioed husband in Sleeping With the Enemy. Monogamy, even as a word, is unsexy. But threesomes — that’s sexy.

Once, Phil told Amy he thought Faith Hill was hot. “She blurted out, ‘Omigod, Faith Hill is so beautiful, I’d do her,’” he tells me. “I replied, ‘That’s on my List.’”

Okay, great. But honestly? Amy is lying. Here is how I know: No regular 34-year-old woman wants to get naked in the same room as a completely flawless pop star. (And btw, Hillary is pissed, and the chicks kissing in bars pretty much hate themselves.) But Amy, like me with Mr. Huge in our initial Angelina Jolie conversation, feels a need to project a more liberal front. We all want to appear like we’re really self-secure, even if we’re not.

That can backfire. Take Colleen and John in Center City, who, when I asked them about their lists, came up with different answers:

“John gets a pass for Christina Ricci — before she succumbed to the Hollywood mainstream,” said Colleen, a curvy brunette, confidently. “He’s very into her curvy, mildly Goth look. And I have to say it makes me like him more, because he’s got the hots for someone who isn’t the complete opposite of me in the looks department.” Meanwhile, across town, John, asked who he’d want a pass for, answers quickly: “I would use my ‘Get out of jail free’ card for [emaciated actress] Keira Knightley.”

“He said that?” says Colleen, later. Oops.

Worse, games like the List can become a gateway drug. As you get progressively more comfortable, you start moving beyond fantasy to the realm of possibility. Elizabeth and Steve’s A-list exemption mandates that “only super hot, super exclusive” celebrities make their lists because once, Elizabeth says, “I tried to argue for Donnie Madia, a Chicago restaurateur. Steve vetoed it.”

That was probably smart. If Elizabeth adds a restaurateur today — even one who lives in a different city — what’s to stop her from adding the guy who works at their local coffee shop tomorrow? Or a co-worker? Or a mutual friend? Basically, someone close enough that Steve might actually worry about her actually cheating with him? I mean, how out of the realm of possibility is it that Brad once had a list — and Angelina Jolie was on it?

Vera recently told me that Tom occasionally mentions how pretty a certain one of her co-workers is. “He just thinks she’s the cutest thing,” she says. “I mean, it’s funny. Kind of.” I don’t think it’s funny. I want Tom to shut up, because he’s taken the game to a bad place. Britney Spears, who lives in magazines, is one thing. Someone you see every day — and could potentially run away to the Mount Laurel Hampton Inn with — is quite another.

Look at my friend Dan, who had a girlfriend he played these kinds of games with. She once mentioned that she thought his roommate was hot. He laughed it off, but it made him uneasy. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” he said. “I felt like she was flirting with him every time they had an interaction.” And guess what? After Dan and his girlfriend broke up, she started seeing his roommate.

“Once I was having a super crush on a mutual friend,” says Amy. “I was really obsessing, to the point I felt the need to confess. Then when I did, Phil’s reaction was just ‘Okay.’” Well, of course it was. Phil had set up a paradigm where he had to be okay with confessions like that. Luckily, for them, things worked out. “I was so waiting for this big reaction that didn’t come that it made my crush less exciting, and it just fizzled out,” Amy said. Hopefully Phil is on the same page, although I wonder how he really feels whenever Amy is alone with their mutual friend.

Vera, for her part, is considering retiring her List. “I swear the reason Tom says that stuff is because I’ve been acting so cool about it, and he believes that I’m cool, but the truth is, I’m only pretending to be cool. And that’s my fault, not his. And I can’t blame him for it, because he’s being honest … and I’m not.”

So this week I canceled my order of ­custom-made Vince Vaughn wallpaper. And when Vince comes to town, I may just keep my sightings of his celebrity super-fineness to myself. 

Exit Interview: Andrea Mitchell

We tried. We honestly tried to uphold a more intellectually refined discourse in honor of NBC News correspondent and former KYW reporter Andrea Mitchell, whose new book, Talking Back … to Presidents, Dictators, and Assorted Scoundrels, details the 59-year-old’s illustrious career. We discussed her classical music radio show at Penn, her chats with feared dictators, and even the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, which she says were actually far worse than the media portrayed. Then we brought up her husband, outgoing Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, and, well, we just couldn’t help ourselves. Old habits, you know.

Exit Interview: Tell me about your radio show at Penn, Musica de Camera.

Andrea Mitchell: It was a pretentious way of saying “chamber music.” The show’s theme song, if you will, was the third movement of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances for the Lute.

EI: Are you a total Ivy League snob?

AM: Not total. Only partial. It came out of my background as a violinist and pianist.

EI: Is it true you were also Candice Bergen’s roomie?

AM: No. That was misreported in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Candice Bergen was in my class at Penn, and we were in the same dorm. But I knew her, and she was not only one of the nicest, but one of the most glamorous freshmen.

EI: Would other girls in the dorm draw mustaches on her photos and hang them on her door?

AM: Definitely not. She was very popular. Very well-liked.

EI: Were you two party girls?

AM: I can’t speak for anyone besides me. Obviously, I was.

EI: Clearly, judging by that radio show.

AM: I was a wild and crazy girl.

EI: When it comes to dictators you’ve covered, who was the toughest interview: Fidel Castro or Frank Rizzo?

AM: Probably Castro, because he starts his interviews around midnight. He stays up all night. It puts anyone interviewing him at a distinct disadvantage. Frank Rizzo helped shape my career by toughening me up as a reporter, teaching me how to stand up to strong, powerful men, and how to talk back.

EI: We have a copy of your book, and I love it when the publisher gives us a list of “suggested interview questions.”

AM: Oh, I’m so sorry. Don’t hold me responsible for those!

EI: Have you been interviewed by someone who only asks you those pre-fab questions?

AM: I’ve never seen the questions.

EI: We just happen to have them. Here’s my favorite [in the tone of a host from The View]: “You’ve covered the Jonestown Massacre and visited refugee camps in Darfur. How do you stay focused on your story in the face of human tragedy?”

AM: It’s hard to cover disasters without becoming emotionally engaged. As a reporter, you are trained to keep a distance. In the hurricane coverage, you’ve seen a change in that. Reporters have become very involved in challenging the assertions of government officials at every level. I have concerns that some of my colleagues are going to wake up months from now and have a delayed reaction to everything they’ve witnessed.

EI: As in post-traumatic stress?

AM: Yeah, because they saw some things that were too horrible to even talk about on television. Trust me, we did not reveal everything that we saw down there. I wasn’t there, but I’m talking about my colleagues.

EI: How bad was it?

AM: Since I was not an eyewitness, I shouldn’t speak to it, but I know they saw some truly horrific things, with, you know, people who were dead and dismembered, and other kinds of horrors. Far beyond what you could ever talk about on television.

EI: Who have you interviewed that turned out to be the opposite of what you expected? Maybe you thought you’d hate Kim Jong Il but then, hey — turns out he’s quite the little charmer.

AM: [laughs] No, Kim Jong Il was exactly what I expected. With the platform shoes and the teased hair, or weave, or whatever the heck it is. It’s sort of a Donald Trump hair thing.

EI: But when he says “You’re fired,” it has a whole different meaning.

AM: It does! Castro was surprising in that I didn’t expect him to be as well-read as he was, and as up to speed on contemporary economic issues. I thought of him more as a Cold War icon, and he’s actually on the Internet.

EI: Let’s discuss the rock star in your family. Your husband.

AM: I thought you were talking about me. No offense. He’s my rock star.

EI: Is it true that your nickname for him is Sweet Pea?

AM: [sighs] That’s classified.

EI: How did he woo you?

AM: Very slowly. [laughs]

EI: You first met him during an interview about the federal budget. Was there an instant spark from such a sexy topic?

AM: You don’t think deficits are hot?

EI: Well, I imagine him having a few glasses of wine, talking about “working capital positions” and his “long hedge,” then getting slapped.

AM: Everything can be misinterpreted. That’s the joy of being with Greenspan. He has so many levels of meaning.

EI: Did he ask you if you wanted to see his prime rate?

AM: Not hardly.

EI: Who balances the family checkbook?

AM: [laughs] Not me. Would you expect I’d be in charge of family finances?

EI: Probably not. So when Sweet Pea resigns in January, will we see him on QVC pimping your book?

AM: Um, I think he’ll have more important things to do.

Contrarian: Boys ‘R Us, Inc.

Say what you will about sleaze and self-dealing in corporate America, I doubt there was ever a company like the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where the entire management hierarchy fronted for a network of child molesters. Yes, the management weasels at Enron stole millions from their investors, but they didn’t rape their kids. And they didn’t cover for anyone who did.

Catholic Church reformers might want to readjust their sights. If they could get the church to achieve the levels of treachery and deceit that characterized Enron’s corporate culture — well, that would be real progress.

The Catholic Church in America had serious headaches even before it got out that some priests were taking too literally Jesus’s plea to “suffer the little children.” Attendance on Sundays keeps going down, new priests are difficult to recruit, and the church’s teachings on subjects like birth control have long been considered laughably irrelevant by the bulk of U.S. Catholics.

These kinds of problems aren’t unique to the Catholic Church. All organizations tend to run out of steam when the people in charge start putting their own desires before the needs of those they serve. It’s a thorny dynamic, but the business aisle of any bookstore is filled with diagnostic advice. Particularly sick nonprofits are often plagued with power-mad managers who prefer weak and dependent employees they can push around — which pretty well describes Bevilacqua’s relationship to his pederast priests. The tendency to overpromise and underperform is commonly known as “the marketing-sales disconnect.” When the marketing materials promise eternal salvation and a portion of the sales force rapes small children, that’s quite a disconnect.

Unfortunately, all the well-known strategies for reviving stagnant institutional cultures start with new procedures for openness and accountability — two things the bishops and cardinals evidently fear more than the flames of hell. There are countless books, videos and corporate seminars on moral intelligence, emotional intelligence, and overcoming self-deception in leadership. If all the members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops considered these ideas and took them to heart, they might have to resign en masse.

In response to the Philadelphia grand jury report, archdiocese lawyers complained that the Catholic Church had been singled out for criticism by a jury empaneled to look at clergy abuse in all faiths and denominations. The fact is that while the grand jury discovered sex abuse among clerics in other faiths, only the archdiocese had a top-down system to keep the crimes under wraps. The archdiocese couldn’t be charged with obstruction of justice in part because the archdiocese isn’t even legally incorporated. It truly is a medieval institution, without a board of laypersons to exert the kinds of checks and balances that every corporation, for-profit or nonprofit, relies upon.

The former governor of Oklahoma, a devout Catholic, was forced off a Catholic reform commission a few years back after making an indecent observation: The church isn’t run like a business, but it’s run an awful lot like that other famous Italian import, La Cosa Nostra.

Once again, I’d say that casts far too harsh a judgment — on the mob. The mob, after all, has some family values.

Forget Jesus, CEO. A Catholic Church operating on true Christian values is way too much to hope for in this lifetime. For now, Cardinal Rigali could improve the moral tenor of the archdiocese if he arrived at work each morning asking himself: What Would Tony Soprano Do?

Poker Prodigy

Jordan claims that he hasn’t read Doyle Brunson’s Super System, the holy book of no-limit poker, but “Betting is awesome” captures its core teachings in a nutshell. Don’t play too many hands, Brunson says, but when you do play a hand, be the bully. What no one will tell you is which hands to play, particularly when you’re unable to look your online opponents in the eye. Yet Jordan always seems to know the hand he’s up against, piecing it together from the size of his opponents’ bets and the time they take to act. His ability to take these scraps of data and guess his opponents’ cards is almost clairvoyant. Unlike many online poker pros, Jordan doesn’t usually take notes on his opponents or run special software to log their betting patterns, or even keep records of his own wins and losses.

“I guess you could say I’m lazy,” he says, “But really I just use my head, and usually it works out pretty good.”

With a working poker bankroll of nearly $1 million, Jordan estimates he’s spent another $300,000 on trips, cars, clothes, sneakers, jewelry, Louis Vuitton luggage and sports bets. He’s already established a reputation as a high roller at the Wyndham Crystal Palace in the Bahamas, where he dropped $55,000 at blackjack this summer on a junket with his then-girlfriend, Shannon, and two other couples.

Jordan discovered gambling early in life. Jay would take Jordan and Pagona on frequent cruises in the Caribbean and indulge in a little blackjack. At 13, Jordan was already begging to try the slots, so Jay dropped three $1 tokens in a Triple Diamond machine and pulled the handle to teach the kid a lesson, which was interrupted by Jordan’s cry: “Dad, Dad, they’re all the same!”

Jay turned around and read the reels: Diamond, diamond, diamond. The payout was 40 $100 bills. Jay took them back to the family’s suite and threw them around like confetti. The kid was hooked.

Features: Sweet City: Our Favorite Cookie

To find our favorite cookie, we asked more than 350 pastry chefs and bakers to send us samples of their favorites. We were in search of an impressive but easy recipe, one we would make at home. We tasted dozens and dozens of cookies before proclaiming a winner: the Ritz-Carlton’s flawless cranberry wreaths. We couldn’t get enough of executive pastry chef Tomas Ruiz’s chewy blend of vanilla and brown sugar, mixed with white chocolate chunks and just a hint of dried cranberry.

Cranberry Wreaths
Submitted by executive pastry chef Tomas Ruiz, the Ritz-Carlton.

Makes four dozen.

    2    c. cake flour
    1    c. bread flour
    1    tsp. salt
    1    tsp. baking soda
    2 1/2    c. unsalted butter, chilled
    3    large eggs
    2    Tbsp. acacia honey
    1    stick Tahitian vanilla
        (Cut stick in half and scrape
        the inside with a knife  to release vanilla)
    3    c. light muscovado sugar, plus more for sprinkling
    2    c. white chocolate chips
    1    c. sweetened dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 360˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift all dry ingredients except sugar and set aside. Cream together butter, eggs, honey and vanilla in a mixer on medium speed. With mixer still on medium, add sugar. Then, with mixer on low, add sifted dry ingredients half a cup at a time and mix until dough is of uniform consistency. Fold in white chocolate chips and cranberries, mixing gently.

Using a small ice-cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets. Using your palm, flatten dough into three-inch circles. Use a one-inch circle cookie cutter to cut out center of each cookie to form wreath shape. Sprinkle the tops with muscovado sugar.

Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until golden brown. Using spatula, transfer to wire racks for cooling.

Note: It was the somewhat pricey, high-quality ingredients, especially the muscovado sugar, that made us love this cookie; buy them at Assouline & Ting (215-627-3000) and Foster’s Gourmet Cookware (215-925-0950). Or substitute light brown sugar for the light muscovado sugar, three cups all-purpose flour for two cups cake and one cup bread flour, and a vanilla bean for the stick of Tahitian vanilla.
Of course, we couldn’t pick just one! For our delicious runners-up, see the recipes on page 171.

More Great Cookies

These recipes — both classic and unusual — were crowd-pleasers in our cookie competition.

First Runner-Up

Ginger Cookies
Submitted by Alison Barshak and Eileen Talanian, Alison at Blue Bell.

A beautiful, simple cookie that slowly reveals its depth of ginger and cloves in every moist, chewy bite.
   
    Makes four dozen.

    1    c. unsalted butter, at cool
        room temperature
    2    c. granulated sugar
    2    tsp. ginger root, finely chopped
    2    Tbsp. ground ginger
    1    Tbsp. crystallized ginger,
        finely chopped
    1    Tbsp. ground cinnamon
    1    tsp. ground cloves
    4    tsp. baking soda
    1/2    tsp. salt
    2    large eggs
    1/2    c. light, unsulfured molasses
    2 3/4    c. all-purpose unbleached flour
    1 3/4    c. whole wheat flour
    1    c. dark or golden raisins (optional)
     2    tsp. crystallized ginger, chopped,
        for garnish

Preheat a conventional oven to 325˚ or a convection oven to 310˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place everything except the flour, raisins and ginger for garnish in a large mixing bowl. Beat on medium-high speed for two minutes. Scrape the bowl, and add the flour and the raisins (if you’re using them). Beat on low speed just until the flour is mixed in. If you’re using a hand mixer, blend in half the flour with the mixer and the rest with a wooden spoon.

Portion the dough into slightly mounded two-tablespoon balls. (You can use a slightly mounded #40 dough scoop for this.) Place the dough balls two inches apart on the lined baking sheets, and garnish the centers with a few small bits of chopped crystallized ginger. Lightly press the dough down with the palm of your hand to a thickness of one-half inch.

Bake the cookies in a preheated oven for 15 to 17 minutes, turning the pans halfway through the baking time. The cookies will still be soft when done, but the edges will be slightly firm. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack for a few minutes, then slide the parchment, with the cookies on it, off the sheet and onto the wire rack to finish cooling.

Note: You can replace the whole wheat flour with unbleached all-purpose, and some or all of the granulated sugar with brown sugar. The cookies will keep, in a zipper-top plastic bag, for several days, or can be wrapped, airtight, and frozen for up to two months.

Best Chocolate Cookie

Snow-Topped Chocolate Brownie Cookies
Submitted by Sonjia Spector, Matyson.

These brownie-like confections are decadent without being overly sweet.

    Makes about six dozen.

    1/2    c. unsalted butter
    6    oz. bittersweet baking chocolate
    4    large eggs
    1    Tbsp. vanilla extract
    2    c. granulated sugar
    2    c. all-purpose flour
    2    tsp. baking powder
    1/2    tsp. salt
    1    c. chocolate chips
        Granulated sugar for rolling
        Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl over simmering water or in a double boiler, melt butter with the chocolate. Using an electric mixer, mix eggs, vanilla and sugar until ribbony. Add melted chocolate and butter and stir. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Roll dough into one-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar. Place two inches apart on pan. Bake cookies at 325˚ for 10 to 15 minutes, until just done in the middle. Remove from pan and place on cooling rack immediately. When cool, dust tops with confectioner’s sugar and place in airtight container.

Note: Good-quality chocolate is the key to this cookie. Spector recommends Valrhona.

Best Sugar Cookie

Sugar Cookies
Submitted by Blair Bleacher, Old Original Bookbinder’s.

Flaky and light, these cookies have just the right amount of sweetness.

    Makes two dozen.

    3/4    c. unsalted butter
    3/4    c. granulated sugar
    1    large egg
    1    Tbsp. lemon zest
    1    tsp. vanilla extract
    2 1/2    c. all-purpose flour
    1/4    tsp. salt
        Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten
        with 1 Tbsp. water

Preheat oven to 350˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer until fluffy. Add egg, lemon zest and vanilla. Beat until blended. Sift together dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture slowly, beating until incorporated. Form dough into two flat disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for two to three hours.

Dust your work surface with flour. Roll dough to two-eighths-inch thickness. Cut to desired shape. Brush tops with egg wash. Bake at 350˚ for eight to 10 minutes.

Remove to wire racks. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Note: Cookies can be decorated with colored sugar (before baking) or melted chocolate (after baking).

Most Original Cookie

Earl Grey Tea Cookies
Submitted by Jimmy Flail, High Point Cafe.

Tea leaves lend this cookie a surprising, light flavor, a nice break from the heavier sweets of the season.

Makes two dozen.

    3 1/2    c. all-purpose flour
        Contents of 4 Earl Grey tea bags
    1 1/4    c. unsalted butter
    1    c. dark brown sugar
    2    large eggs
        Granulated sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 375˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine flour and tea and set aside. Beat butter and brown sugar with electric mixer for two and a half minutes. Beat in eggs. Beat in dry ingredients until well incorporated. Roll dough into three-fourth-inch balls and roll in sugar. Place on baking sheet. (There is minimal spreading.) Press balls to about one-and-a-quarter-inch disks. Bake at 375˚ for 10 to 15 minutes, until just firm. Let cool on pan; store in airtight container for up to three weeks.

Most Kid-Friendly Cookie

Toasted Peanut Butter S’Mores
Submitted by Frank Urso, Barclay Prime.

The recipe for this candy-like cookie is daunting, but your guests will appreciate the effort.

    Makes four dozen.

Chocolate Cookie

    1    c. all-purpose flour
    6    Tbsp. Hershey’s Dutch-processed
        cocoa powder
    1/2    tsp. baking soda
    1/4    tsp. salt
    10    Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
    1    c. granulated sugar
    1    large egg
    1    tsp. vanilla extract
    1    c. mini chocolate chips
    1    small jar marshmallow creme
        (put creme in zipper storage bag
        and set aside for later use)

Mix together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Cream the butter and sugar in a separate bowl, using a mixer, until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla to the ­butter-sugar mixture. Beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, mixing well. Stir in chocolate chips. Wrap bowl with plastic and set aside.

Graham Cracker Crust

    1    c. graham cracker crumbs
    3    Tbsp. granulated sugar
    1/2    c. unsalted butter, melted
    1/2    tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients until combined. Set aside.

Peanut Butter Filling

    1/2    c. creamy peanut butter
    1/4    c. unsalted butter, softened
    1/2    c. confectioner’s sugar
    1/4    tsp. salt
    1/2    tsp. vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients with a mixer until smooth and creamy. Fill a zipper storage bag with filling. Set aside for later use. (A pastry bag can also be used.)

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 350˚. Lightly spray two mini muffin tins with nonstick spray.
Place one rounded teaspoon of the graham cracker mixture in the bottom of each muffin cup. Press firmly. Divide chocolate cookie dough into teaspoon-sized balls. Place one ball of dough in each muffin cup and press lightly with moistened fingers to fill cup.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 350˚, until set. Remove from oven. Immediately make an indentation in each cup with the back of a small spoon. Cool cookies completely in pans. Remove from pans with the aid of a paring knife. Place cooled cookies on a cookie sheet.

Preheat broiler. Squeeze a dime-sized dollop of the peanut butter filling in each cavity. Cut small corner off zipper bag of marshmallow creme. Squeeze a small amount of marshmallow onto each cookie to cover peanut butter filling. Place cookies under the broiler, watching very carefully, until marshmallow is lightly browned. (You can also use a brûlée torch.) Cool cookies completely and store, tightly covered, in a single layer.

Note: Cookies may be frozen without the marshmallow creme for up to three months. Just defrost, top with marshmallow, broil and serve.

Sweet City: Best Bakeries

A hazelnut gâteau, Chantilly cream puffs — or even straightforward from-scratch brownies — can intimidate the most accomplished home cook. But the region’s ever-expanding assortment of dessert-rich bakeries means the end of toiling over soggy apple tarts or falling soufflés. Head to one of these 20 top spots for a just-filled cannoli, a pumpkin charlotte or a decadent sticky bun. Sure, there’s still the effort of picking up the goods. But until Le Bec-Fin’s dessert cart starts home delivery, we’ll happily take what we can takeout.

* Center City

Beiler’s Bakery
Reading Terminal Market,
12th and Arch streets; 215-351-0735
Wednesday through Saturday, a warm, better-than-Cinnabon cloud of baking goodness emanates from Beiler’s, enveloping the northwest corner of Reading Terminal. It defies passersby not to stop to watch white-bonneted workers pound out dough and extract steaming, golden-brown cinnamon rolls from the silver oven. Resistance, of course, is futile when faced with dozens of those soft, buttery, raisin-, pecan- or plain-topped sticky buns.
Sweet tip: Shell out an extra buck for a whoopee pie, a round and feather-light dark chocolate sandwich stuffed with marshmallow fluff.

Metropolitan Bakery
Various locations;
metropolitanbakery.com
Known first and foremost for its artisanal breads, Wendy Born and James Barrett’s 12-year-old project nonetheless cranks out a mean fig bar, millet muffin, lemon pound cake and chocolate chip cookie. This is quite a feat, considering Metropolitan is the region’s longest running artisanal bread bakery, with several locations in Center City and outposts in Chestnut Hill, Ardmore and West Philly. We keep coming back for pound bags of crunchy granola, chocolate truffle tarts, iced cinnamon danish, and Normandy apple bread—and the Shelburne Farms cheddar to go with it.
Sweet tip: This year, try Metropolitan’s version of Italian fruitcake, a brioche-style dough dappled with bits of candied citrus and chocolate and dusted in powdered sugar.

Petit 4 Pastry Studio
160 North 3rd Street; 215-627-8440
Why this Old City bakery doesn’t have a line out the door on Friday nights—the way bars down the street do—is inexplicable. After all, Joe Moorehead’s artsy-chic shop is the consummate date spot or place to catch up with friends over shared slices of apple pie topped with crème anglaise, hazelnut almond torte layered with raspberry jam and chocolate buttercream, buttery-tart linzer tortes, or banana chocolate chip cookies. In the five years since Moorehead hung his vintage surfboard at this address, Petit 4 has changed little. The shop still makes a mean snickerdoodle—and continues to build amazingly sculptural cakes.
Sweet tip: In winter months, Petit 4 mixes up ganache-based hot chocolate and tops it with fresh whipped cream.

Tartes Fine Cakes & Pastries
212 Arch Street; 215-625-2510
One of Old City’s few remaining secrets is this petite, pale pink bakery across the street from the Betsy Ross house, open Tuesday to Saturday. In the late afternoon, patrons drift up to the service window for cookies (oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, sugar, and our favorite, fresh ginger with chocolate chunks), bars (lemon, chocolate toffee) and, of course, light-crusted four-inch tarts. The repertoire of self-taught baker Teresa Wall includes heirloom apple, cranberry-walnut, pear and cranberry with ginger/brown butter custard, and sweet potato/pecan.
Sweet tip: After-hours cravings for Wall’s famous chocolate espresso
tarts can be satisfied at Monk’s in Center City.

* Philly Neighborhoods

Brown Betty Dessert Boutique
Liberties Walk, 1030 North 2nd Street, #601, 215-629-0999;
brownbettydesserts.com
Repeat after us: Pineapple cupcakes. Coconut cream pound cake. Double-chocolate peanut butter cookies. Liberties Walk. Never heard of this last one? It’s the quietly emerging retail center just north of the Standard Tap on 2nd Street—a groovy pedestrian strip mall, if you will. The walk is home to this non-stuffy parlor of a pastry shop, a place to sit on an antique sofa and nibble at the first three items, old-fashioned treats made from the recipes of Elizabeth “Betty” Hinton, whose daughter and granddaughter run the place. Pop in after noon to pick up a snack—but call ahead if you require a freshly baked apple brown betty.
Sweet tip: Think Magnolia’s cornered the cupcake market? Order a dozen of Betty’s buttermilk pound-cake variety with chocolate buttercream, and get back to us.

Cake
184 East Evergreen Avenue,
Chestnut Hill; 215-247-6887
Tucked away in the heart of the Hill, this rustically hip spot offers rough-cut plank tables, unframed art, and servers wearing funky glasses. Owner Grey Heck has a degree in pastry from Napa’s Culinary Institute of America. The result: Dense cupcakes frosted in buttercream flowers or injected with lemon curd, caramelized Granny Smith tarts, double-thick cream cheese  brownies, plenty rich raisin scones, and downright orgasmic mocha-mousse-filled chocolate cake — wearing a crown of ­chocolate-­covered coffee beans.
Sweet tip: The name’s Cake, but this place also does a bang-up job on sugar cutouts, chocolate rum balls, gingerbread people, and mini peanut butter, double chocolate, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and ginger cookies.

Essene Market
719 South 4th Street (at Fitzwater Street),
215-922-1146; essenemarket.com
Baking is hard enough as is. Take away staple ingredients—white flour, butter, eggs, granulated sugar—and baking anything tastier than your basic granola bar seems downright impossible. Still, if anyone’s up to the challenge, it’s Laura Grove. A cheese-eating vegan who trained under Metropolitan’s James Barrett, she opened the back-room bakery in Queen Village’s natural foods market in 1991. Her greatest achievements: crispy toffee cookies, berry cobblers, organic fruit muffins, chocolate birthday cakes, earthy pumpkin pies, and something called a Mikerific—banana sponge cake topped with peanut butter and iced with dark, dairy-free ganache. Look out, Kandy Kake. The vegans are coming.
Sweet tip:  Essene’s oat bars, thick rectangles filled with locally made organic jam, rule.

Famous 4th Street Deli
4th and Bainbridge streets; 215-922-3274
The éclairs in Famous’s gleaming pastry case are approximately the size of women’s bedroom slippers. In a size eight. Maybe 10. ­Custard-filled and chocolate-dipped, the choux sandwiches are delicate in taste but nearly oafish in appearance. Indeed, ever since Kibbitz entrepreneur Russ Cowan took over the place in April, Famous’s unofficial motto has been “Bigger is better.” Black-and-white cookies could double as frisbees. Cream-cheese-rich rugelach, filled with almond, apricot, raspberry or chocolate, are bites- (not bite-) size. Layer cakes—coconut-dusted lemon, mocha-frosted checkerboard—are not only impossibly moist, they’re also as thick as ceiling beams, and available by the “chunk,” or whole, if you dare.
Sweet tip: Yes, they still give out David Auspitz’s famous chocolate chip cookies after each meal. As if you had room.

Holmesburg Bakery
7933 Frankford Avenue, 215-624-1091; holmesburgbakery.net
The senior citizen on this list—at an impressive 105 years—Holmesburg epitomizes what older folks call a “Philadelphia-style” bakery. Turns out our fair city is known for shallow, rectangular cheesecakes with rich pie crusts, tart-like coffee cakes topped with slices of fresh plums or peaches, feather-light Polish chrusciki, sweet and yeasty cheese-filled babkas, crumb-topped Melrose danishes, and cream-filled doughnuts. In other words, Philly—via Holmesburg’s treats—represents a diverse group of immigrants that settled here more than a century ago.
Sweet tip: December’s the time for springerle, German anise-seed cookies stamped with images of birds, houses and leaves.

Isgro Pastry
1009 Christian Street, 215-923-3092;
isgropastry.com
Gus “Isgro” Sarno can go on forever about cannoli. The fried-and-filled pastry wrap is an obsession he inherited from maternal grandfather Mario Isgro, who founded this Italian Market business 101 years ago. Sarno will tell you each shell must be 1.5 millimeters thick, and that a special blend of homemade red and sweet white wines makes it blister. He can quote the exact moisture content of the cinnamon-kissed ricotta-chocolate chip filling (63 to 64 percent). Still, that doesn’t mean the shop neglects its other wares. The second-best-seller is cassata, Italian rum cake enrobed in pebbled almond candy. And during the winter holidays, a close third is the precious, pistachio-chocked, stick-to-your-molars torrone, sold by the rugged brick.
Sweet tip: Call ahead to order the grand cannoli—a tower of two dozen minis.

Night Kitchen
7725 Germantown Avenue, Chestnut Hill, 215-248-9235; 45 East State Street, Doylestown, 215-348-9775; nightkitchenbakery.com
Open for 23 years—with three different owners—this bottom-of-the-Hill spot still possesses its original folksy charms. Owner Amy Edelman and her baker husband, John Millard, stick to the first two owners’ recipes, and have made only a few small changes for the better—like substituting butter for margarine in the icing, making chocolate bread pudding from Friday’s leftover challah, decorating cakes with fondant cutouts in the shapes of barnyard animals, and opening a Doylestown location. It’s the standbys customers return for: thick shortbread cutout cookies in cocoa-y chocolate and chocolate chip, lovely scones, and tart lemon squares.
Sweet tip: Edelman asks for a week’s notice for special-order cakes. The mocha mousse and the lemon curd are birthday favorites.

Termini Brothers
1523 South 8th Street, 215-334-1816;
termini.com
Even if it didn’t make the best sfogliatelle in town, we’d still come back to this iconic 82-year-old South Philly pasticerria—for the atmosphere alone. On line-out-the-door Saturdays, the white-uniformed counter clerks approach wits’ end, kids can’t keep their fingers out of the center buffet, and the person ahead of you in line inevitably can’t choose between ricotta and chocolate Italian cream cannoli. Still, the Termini experience never becomes annoying, because the weekend keyboardist and accordionist heartily thump out the theme from The Godfather, and the reward for your patience can be a box of dense, chewy pignoli.
Sweet tip: Kids getting out of hand? Send them into the kitchen to see how the torrone—a chewy pistachio nougat—is made.

* The Main Line

Aux Petits Delices
162 East Lancaster Avenue, Wayne,
610-971-0300; auxpetits.com
This black-and-pink-awninged jewel-box shop is to French pastry what Cartier is to cocktail rings. Welcome to the terroir of reigning Main Line patissier Patrick Gauthron, where gold-leaf swirls embellish ganache lids of opera cake, red raspberries glisten atop custard-swaddled tarte barques, and dark-and-white-chocolate-striped spirals bedeck crunchy-creamy hazelnut and chocolate mousse delices. Occasions are celebrated to the utmost: There are three-foot-tall, $125 chocolate bunnies at Easter; rich meringue-mushroom-topped bûches de Noël at Christmas, truffles packed into pretty navy and gold boxes for Valentine’s, and, for lazy, luxurious mornings, flaky and delightful pure butter croissants.
Sweet tip: Break this New Year’s resolution the way the French do: Order a king’s cake (almond cream-filled choux) for Epiphany.

The Carrot Cake Man at D’Innocenzo Pastries
Lancaster County Farmers Market,
389 West Lancaster Avenue, Wayne;
610-687-6580
Wearing his signature bow tie and straw hat, Vernon “The Carrot Cake Man” Wilkins offers his signature item—in a choice of flavors—from a corner of  D’Innocenzo’s conglomerate-style bakery. In the past decade, he’s become a Main Line fixture, offering up toothpick-speared cubes of his crunchy-crusted, carrot-threaded wares to compliant farmers’-market shoppers every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. With just a hint of nutmeg and a side of cream cheese frosting, these one-slice-is-not-enough sweet breads come in coconut, walnut, pineapple, pistachio and banana, but the most popular flavor is peach. Wilkins’s own favorite: apple.
Sweet tip: The other end of D’Innocenzo’s counter is home to Marie Connell’s thick My House Cookies—dark chocolate chip, oatmeal-cherry, blackout, ginger, three for $4.

Le Petit Mitron
207 Haverford Avenue, Narberth;
484-562-0500
This über-traditional patisserie is just the sort of reason people move to Paris … or Narberth. Patrick and Isabelle Rurange—the husband-and-wife team formerly known as “that French couple that makes the croissants for La Colombe”—have spent the past four years helping to transform their township’s workaday image, one royal cake at time. Today, regular customers include morning R5 riders who stop by for a cup of joe and a pain au chocolate—and area families for whom Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without Le Petit Mitron’s pumpkin charlotte, and Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the Saint Honoré (a decadent cake built of caramel-coated cream puffs).
Sweet tip: On weekends, the Ruranges run specials, delicious experiments that might involve dark chocolate mousse, fruit-flavored chiboust, or delicate tufts of crème chantilly.

Sweet Jazmine’s
15 Bridge Avenue, Berwyn, 610-644-1868; sweetjazmines.com
There is no such thing as a plain cheesecake at Kimberly Davis Cuthbert’s adorably green-and-violet bakery. There is heady amaretto cheesecake. There is sweet-tart lemon blueberry cheesecake. There are apple-­cinnamon, raspberry mango, pumpkin spice, and cappuccino/white chocolate cheesecakes (45 kinds in all). But sorry, the closest this shop comes to plain is vanilla—and vanilla usually involves a cherry center and dark chocolate shavings. No plain, only fancy, which is fine with Sweet Jazmine’s devoted customers—Renee Chenault-Fattah and Chaka Fattah and Senator Vincent Hughes and Sheryl Lee Ralph ordered their wedding cakes here.
Sweet tip: For an almost-homemade dessert, pick up a jar of Cuthbert’s dark butterscotch sauce, which comes with the world’s easiest recipe for bananas Foster. (Just add bananas.)

*Northern Suburbs

Cramer’s Bakery
26 East Afton Avenue, Yardley;
215-493-2760
Cramer’s is not the place to go for a complicated French framboisier. It’s a place where you stock up on powdered-sugar-dusted walnut crescent cookies. Or zucchini bread. Or Polish poppy seed rolls, plain-dealing pound cake, jam-filled cream cheese cookies, holiday butter cookies—and maybe a cinnamon doughnut. Founded in 1946, this all-American bakeshop isn’t above using a little shortening and a splash of food coloring. Nor, thank goodness, is the staff above coming to the rescue when you dash in just before closing, all out of breath, and beg for a Superman cake inscribed with “Happy Birthday Max.”
Sweet tip: Believe it or not, Cramer’s pumpkin-spice chocolate chip cookies outsell the classic Toll Houses.

Zakes Cakes and Cafe
444 Bethlehem Pike, Fort Washington, 215-654-7600; zakescafe.com
Enter this pretty, side-of-the-road stone Victorian house on a Friday afternoon around 1:30, and count how many times you hear the phrase, “Dessert? Oh, I shouldn’t. … ” Zakes is the consummate ladies-who-lunch spot, with rooms painted the color of raspberry chai, and grilled chicken and chèvre salads that may be tasty, but really are only a prelude to plated-up cream puffs with fresh blackberries, deep-dish apple pie, and a bevy of mild cakes that inspire requests for extra forks. The place is popular from breakfast (think lemon-raspberry, orange-pecan and cranberry-pear muffins) through light ­dinner—by which time they may, unfortunately, be out of éclairs.
Sweet tip: For Passover, Zakes bakes chocolate soufflés, raspberry shortcakes and black-and-white gâteaux.

* New Jersey

McMillan’s Bakery
15 Haddon Avenue, Westmont;
856-854-3094
Since 1939, this South Jersey bakery has been turning out the ultimate in comfort fare: crispy cake doughnuts whose centers have been cut open to make room for copious clouds of extra-sweet, extra-secret-recipe white cream filling. Or go for the cake-like cream cheese and fruit muffins, raisin “tea biscuit” scones, thickly iced cupcakes, and 60 varieties of cookies: classic chocolate-dipped brown derbies, nut-and-chip-chocked Hollywood Hills, and lumpy, confectioner’s-sugar-dusted Cape Mays that are thick with raisins, whole walnuts and dried apricots.
Sweet tip: The McMillan family promises its fruitcake defies stereotypes—and offers free samples to all doubters.

Miel Patisserie
Village Walk, 1990 Route 70 East, Cherry Hill, 856-424-MIEL, and 204 South 17th Street, 215-731-9191; mielpatiserrie.com
Named after the French word for honey, three-year-old Miel Patisserie has two, dichotomous homes: Miel Cherry Hill is strip-mall convenient. Miel Center City is marble and mahogany. Jersey is where the goods are made: five-star crumb cake, chocolate mousse, a classic French gâteau, and 16 varieties of chocolates (including fleur de sel and Szechuan pepper). The man behind it all is Rocco Lugrine, who hails from the pastry kitchens of San Fran’s Panorama and our very own Brasserie Perrier, and who now bakes birthday cakes for M. Night and casts (even when Joaquin Phoenix requires a vegan creation).
Sweet tip: Gotta impress on the run? Pick up a Miel gâteau, an impressively complicated layering of chocolate mousse, vanilla Bavarian cream, chocolate génoise and rich ganache.

Sweet City: Classic Confections

Doughnuts   These heartier versions of hole-less doughnuts get their sweetness from butterscotch sauce and creamy gelato. “I added cold ice cream to warm doughnuts, because contrast in desserts is always a great thing.”
—Jemal Edwards, Brûlée

Apple strudel   Warm strudel with caramelized apples and nuts slightly melts cinnamon-spiked panna cotta. “Cold weather inspires apples and cinnamon, and the creamy panna cotta and flaky strudel go nicely.”
—Emily Landis, Nectar

Tapioca pudding   Refreshing coconut blends with the soft, creamy consistency of classic tapioca pudding and gets some crunch from guava oatmeal bars. “We’re taking comfort food and putting a Cuban twist on it.”
—Kate Honeyman, Alma de Cuba

Ice-cream sundae   This cool dessert salutes the Italian concept of melting ice cream with coffee. “I wanted to do an affogato version of the sundae, because I love the flavor of espresso. It’s more of a fancy retro dessert.”
—Sonjia Spector, Matyson

Bread pudding   Liquor-infused cherries, green apples and sweet vanilla ice cream add depth to moist bread pudding. “We change the ingredients seasonally but always have bread pudding, because it’s a best-seller.”
—Evan Turney, Valanni

All the Vince That’s Fit to Print

TWENTY YEARS AGO, a lot of people probably felt like they were being targeted by the Inquirer. Under the leadership of legendary editor Gene Roberts, the paper was big, smart and aggressive — a perennial Pulitzer winner that was considered one of the finest newspapers in the country. Today, after two decades of downsizing and belt-tightening forced on it by its parent, Knight Ridder, it’s a paper that does many things poorly. It is shockingly bad at long-form narrative stories, profiles, and pretty much anything attempting to be entertaining or funny. But the paper’s editors still believe passionately in investigative journalism — in hard-hitting accountability stories. It is perhaps the one legacy from the Roberts era. “The coin of the realm,” one staffer calls it, a value system that allows reporters precious time, space and resources to tackle work that even smells like an investigation.

The current Fumo obsession began a little more than two years ago, when Inquirer business reporter Miriam Hill discovered one humdinger of an accounting anomaly: An inconspicuous nonprofit in South Philly known as Citizens Alliance for a Better Neighborhood had somehow become one of the richest charitable organizations in the city. At the time, according to its publicly available tax filings, the group claimed to have $24 million in the bank, a staggering $11 million of which had come in from a single donor during the previous year.

 In the coming weeks and months, Citizens Alliance would often be referred to as a “little-known” organization, yet it was hardly a cloak-and-dagger operation. It had been founded by Fumo and Councilman Frank DiCicco in 1991 to clean up streets, storefronts and abandoned properties, and the group’s volunteers could often be seen out and about in South Philly, usually wearing Citizens Alliance jackets. Attention from the media was also nothing new. A couple of years before, the City Paper had published several stories on the nonprofit, including a piece about $5.6 million in anonymous donations to the group in 1999.

By the time the Inquirer weighed in, in fact, Citizens Alliance’s riches had long been the topic of neighborhood speculation, and plenty of people at the Inky (as well as other media) had heard rumors of PECO’s connection to the money. Still, it wasn’t until a week after Hill’s story hit the street that PECO decided to come clean — sort of. The company admitted it had given money to Citizens Alliance, but it refused to say how much — or what it was for.

Though Hill had gotten the goods on the donation, the story would soon be taken over by Craig McCoy and Mario Cattabiani, two of the paper’s most relentless staffers. Cattabiani, based in Harrisburg, had joined the Inquirer a year before, fresh from covering the governor’s race for the Allentown Morning Call. At the Capitol, he was known to be smart and tenacious, though he possessed a flare for the dramatic. “They slashed funding for libraries and gutted drug-rehab programs,” he wrote in one story about the legislature. “Then, after passing a bare-bones state budget this spring, most of them drove away in cars leased at taxpayer expense, never giving a thought to trimming one of Harrisburg’s most-favored and costly perks.”

Cue ominous music.

The Passion of T. O.

Seasons passed, in Alabama. Always the miserable season, then the easy: In summer the days trickled slowly, like sweat drops squeezed from the town’s collective forehead; then autumn brought relief, sweet fog swirled in the low spots, and the hills rang with Go Wildcats!

Emerson Street remained as ever, eternal and unchanging.

Miss Alice didn’t suffer foolishness. She didn’t like sports. She didn’t care for television, to be sure. But she did enjoy that Wheel of Fortune. The whole family gathered to watch the show, and every turn of that glittering wheel seemed dramatic, full of comedy or tragedy. Each night, Pat and Vanna — the gilded narrator and his silent, mysterious muse — presided over the buying of vowels and solving of puzzles; on Emerson Street they suffered the exquisite pain of landing on Bankrupt, and soared with each Free Spin. They wondered — marveled! — that any thinking person could not solve “Sw_ _t Home Alabama.” Ah, children: The world is full of fools.

Terrell carried his grandmother’s lessons to school, and remembered them when other kids made fun of him for studying hard, or laughed at his frail frame. One day on the school bus, he suffered the most dreaded nightmare: A girl beat him up. Her name was Brooke Trout, and she hit him with a slobber-slinger of a punch. “Was he skinny? Oh my goodness,” she said recently, holding up a pinky finger. She gave a good-natured laugh, overcome by the preposterousness of punching the now-mighty Owens. “I just remember saying ‘Leave my sister alone!’ and then swinging,” she said. “But really, he was so nice. Sort of shy, even.”

His bashfulness endeared him to one teacher in particular. Gayle Humphrey taught middle-school history, and felt compassion for the thin boy from the poor side of town. “It would have been easy for him to take a wrong turn, early in his life,” she told me. “But he had such discipline in everything he did. His grandmother gave him that.”

Each Sunday the family walked a mile or so to Great Bethel Baptist Church, where pastor Emerson Ware preached about Jesus Christ, and the sweet words from the third chapter of Matthew, where Jesus’s father showed up in spectacular fashion:

At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

“It’s common in black families here that Daddy’s not around,” Pastor Ware said recently. “It’s a problem. Other male figures have to step in.” It’s hard to estimate the power of God the Father on the boy: Terrell couldn’t cling to hope his own father lived thousands of miles away, unable to express his love because of sheer distance; the man lived across the street. His own father expended more effort crossing the pavement to pick up trash than he had to acknowledge his son. Jesus’s story must have tasted like honey to him: My Son. I love. Well pleased.

One Sunday morning the pastor picked up Terrell in his car, and on the way to church he asked him what he wanted to do with his life. “I want to be a professional athlete,” he said. The quiet boy’s answer caught Ware off guard. “Terrell was such a serious boy,” he said. “Very aloof. Not the kind to joke around.”

He paused.

“I suppose he always had that other side in him, the side that wanted the limelight,” he said. “I think we all have dual personalities, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. With Terrell, it was just under the surface.”

Sometimes that alter ego flashed through. At the height of Michael Jackson’s pop-star powers, Alex City held a King of Pop contest. Terrell had the moves, but needed the look; his mother, Marilyn, put her Russell mills sewing skills to a more glamorous use and fashioned him a costume complete with studded floppy socks, multi-zippered jacket and a glistening glove. At the contest, his mirrored glasses looked like solar panels powering him across stage, moon-­walking, spinning — winning. He pocketed the $25 prize check, and posed for a photo that showed up on the front page of the local paper. He described the incident later in his book, Catch This!, and between the lines, it’s not hard to see his dual personalities — lovable and hateable — forming:

With twenty-five dollars in my pocket, I thought I was rich and got so excited that I moon-walked all the way back to our house. People came outside to watch me and point and whisper my name.

He glided past the corner store, the railroad tracks, his own father’s house: a boy so desperate for attention, he moved backward through the world.

He needed to bleed out that desperation, or burst. But what outlet could little Alex City offer? Where, among the mills and foundries, could he find a venue for glory?

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