My Reverence for Brian Wilson

Via Shutterstock

Via Shutterstock

The first time I heard the album Pet Sounds I was at my friend James’ place in Graduate Hospital, when it was still possible for a struggling actor to live in a communal house with artists and photographers and pay very little rent. We had gone to college together, at Oberlin, where he was in the school’s music conservatory, and we got to know each other when we played father and daughter in a play. I was not in the conservatory—or the “con,” as it was known—but I had con longings. My mother had been a child piano prodigy who studied with Seymour Bernstein (now the subject of an Ethan Hawke documentary), and our home was filled with classical music, and a reverence for it. I took to music easily too, whether sung or played, and I was in countless ensembles and musicals and choirs. Still, I didn’t have the persistence or natural gift that would make me a conservatory student, so I took ad hoc piano lessons at the conservatory and felt a swooning envy of the kids who spent their days and nights immersed in key signatures. Kids like James.

One of the best things about Oberlin was that I was able to meet other students who understood what music meant to me, and who heard it in the same way. So when James—a brilliant musician himself—would recommend something, I knew it would be good. In the case of Pet Sounds, he was appalled I’d reached adulthood without listening to it. “Isn’t it just California surf rock?” I asked.

At this point, James knew where I’d been since college, which is to say, in and out of psychiatric institutions where I’d been given punishing drugs and shock treatments; and living with my parents so I wouldn’t try, again, to kill myself. Though I was living alone now, I was still struggling with the demons of mental illness when James had me sit down on the couch across from two very large speakers and turned off the lights. Read more »

How Philadelphia Helped Give Birth to the LGBT Rights Movement

Left: The first Annual Reminder in 1965 (photo: LGBT50.org). Right: Marchers in 1969 (photo: Nancy Tucker/Lesbian History Archives).

Left: The first Annual Reminder in 1965 (photo: LGBT50.org). Right: Marchers in 1969 (photo: Nancy Tucker/Lesbian History Archives).

It was Sunday, July 4, 1965. Marj McCann stood behind a trash can across from Independence Hall and watched the marchers. How brave these people are, she thought, the men in their shirts and ties, the women in their dresses. But how foolish, too, holding up signs saying SUPPORT HOMOSEXUAL CIVIL RIGHTS and HOMOSEXUALS SHOULD BE JUDGED AS INDIVIDUALS. Wouldn’t they all lose their jobs? She envied their courage. She was 25, an office manager at a typesetting firm in Center City, and hadn’t come out at work or to her family. “Oh my goodness,” she thought as she watched the marchers walk in dignified formation around their permitted protest area. “It must be great to be that brave.” Read more »

They Survived Byberry

From a collection of artwork by Anna Jennings.

From a collection of artwork by Anna Jennings.

Philadelphia State Hospital — the psychiatric facility colloquially known as Byberry because of its location at Roosevelt Boulevard and Southampton Road in Northeast Philadelphia — was almost Anna Jennings’ last stop.

Six years after her stay there, the pretty, blue-eyed 32-year-old would die by suicide in the back ward of a different state hospital. But her tenacity had not yet reached its end point while she was at Byberry, despite more than a decade in and out of institutions where she endured terrible abuses and erroneously prescribed treatments — some of which were so awful they’re now illegal. In fact, if it were not for Anna’s persistence, Byberry might still be in operation today. Read more »

Daughter of Sandy Hook Victim Partners With South Jersey Mental Health Nonprofit

marysherlachMary Joy Sherlach lived for the kids. A school psychologist at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Mary did what her daughter Maura Schwartz says was utterly in keeping with her character when a gunman opened fire at her school in December 2012: She ran toward the gunfire, not away from it.

That was the kind of teacher — and mother — Mary was: totally engaged on behalf of the children she loved. And now Maura is making sure her mother’s passion won’t be forgotten.

Last week, Maura stood at a podium in a banquet room at the Valleybrook Country Club in Gloucester Township, N.J., and spoke about the day her mother died, describing her final act of heroism. She also described a terrific mom — an easy and empathetic confidante for her and her sister, Katy.

When Maura was growing up, Mary’s passion about the mental well-being of children and adolescents she worked with permeated their home life. After her mother died, Maura recognized not only their own loss, but that of so many children whose lives her mother would have touched. And it was especially ironic that Mary died at the hands of a troubled adolescent, who, Maura noted, had himself been lacking in mental health care resources that he obviously sorely needed.

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Sign of the Apocalypse? Flies Invade Lancaster County

It’s like something out of a movie: twice in the past five days, swarms of mayflies have shut down the Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County. On Saturday night, the bridge closure came after the low visibility from thousands and thousands of flies caused three motorcycle accidents (the injuries were reportedly minor).

Ryan Robinson of Lancaster Online reports today of “a surreal scene” that sounds like an entomological version of the frog scene from Magnolia. Fire Chief Chad Livelsberger told Robinson, “It was like a blizzard in June, but instead of snow, it was mayflies.” There was an inch-think slick of dead flies on the bridge, making cars skid and wheels spin as though the roadway were covered with ice. But the flies weren’t all dead, apparently, since they swarmed again on Sunday night, prompting a second shutdown of the same bridge.

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Life at Philly Public Schools: Teachers Make Wiffle Balls Out of Duct Tape

Photo of duct tape and newspaper wiffle balls by Leslie Marie Grace. For the original image, which shows more of the balls, go here.

Photo of duct tape and newspaper Wiffle balls by Leslie Marie Grace. For the original image, which shows more of the balls, go here.

Philadelphia public school teachers have to get creative sometimes, especially when funds are scarce. Thanks to Reddit, a photo taken by a teacher at a South Philadelphia elementary school is going viral — much to that teacher’s surprise.

“I am frankly amazed!” says Leslie Marie Grace, the art teacher at the George W. Nebinger School at Sixth and Carpenter. “The image has really struck a chord with some people.” Here’s the story behind it:

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Drexel’s Virtual Butt Draws National Attention — Again

Photo courtesy Dr. Benjamin Lok

Photo courtesy Dr. Benjamin Lok

Last week, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed on my phone, I kept seeing the same photo of a seated man with his gloved hand inside a plastic dummy’s butt. It looked like a CPR class gone terribly wrong. I didn’t read the accompanying articles because, well, there were other things to do. But when I was told today that the dummy had been developed, in part, by a professor at Drexel, I got interested. A Philly connection? I had to learn more. My priorities are in order.

Turns out, the photograph is of a medical student giving a virtual patient a prostate exam. It’s part of a project called the Virtual Patients Group, which includes computer scientists, medical doctors, pharmacists, psychologists, and educators all doing research and development into improving interpersonal skills in healthcare environments. They provide tools for medical school curricula and public health exhibits—tools like Patrick, pictured in the photo, a virtual human who is half-onscreen and half-mannequin. The interpersonal interaction with Patrick (voiced and controlled by an instructor) includes taking his history. When it comes time for the physical exam, the actual mannequin—which has sensors inside—allows the student to perfect the hands-on technique. This combination of onscreen virtual patient and mannequin for hands-on application is also in use for breast exams, another intimate scenario in which medical students need practice with bedside manner and a gentle, precise touch.

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Move Over, 4th Street Deli — It’s Time for Some Relish

Election day scenes from Relish. | Photos by Bradley Maule and Liz Spikol.

Election day scenes from Relish. | Photos by Bradley Maule and Liz Spikol.

Relish, the gourmet Southern restaurant on Ogontz Avenue in West Oak Lane, hums with anticipation in the hour before lunch on Election Day. Women dressed in black polish water glasses and clean the glass doors that lead to the area the restaurant calls its veranda, with terra cotta-colored walls, ceiling fans and arched wooden-beam ceilings. Beyond that is the dining room, where tables are set today with white tablecloths and centerpieces with red and blue stars, for a patriotic feel. The buffet is being set up in the Jazz Café, which also has a long wooden bar.

The manager, Chris, in a crisp blue shirt, is busy debating the placement of a table, so he doesn’t have time to coddle journalists. But he definitely wants me out of the veranda area, so I go to a waiting area, where I sit across from another early arrival, Jewel Mann-Lassiter, who owned a restaurant in the area for many years and now owns the catering company Tuxedo. Mann-Lassiter has known Dwight Evans for many years, she says, and it was Evans who brought her into the Jim Kenney fold. She’s now planning to hold a fundraiser for Kenney in her penthouse at Alden Park, the 38-acre historic landmark gated community on Wissahickon Avenue. “We wouldn’t have this if it weren’t for Dwight,” she says, and by “this” she means this celebration of Kenney and, I suppose, his putative mayoral win. It’s a sentiment I hear again and again. Dwight Evans made this happen. People worry about Kenney owing John Dougherty after he gets into office. Seems to me he’ll be far more indebted to Evans. Read more »

Will Philly End Its Rape Kit Backlog?

Natasha Alexenko was a sophomore in college, majoring in film, living in New York City. She’d grown up in a small town in Ontario, raised by a single mom, and all she wanted, all her life, was to move to Manhattan, the place where she’d been born. It had a mythical appeal to her, and when she moved there in the early ’90s, it did not disappoint: she loved every inch of it, and she felt no fear. “I was going to be the next Steven Spielberg,” she says now, riding in a car with her mother after an appearance on the cable news network HLN. Back home, people worried about her, but when she found the perfect apartment with the perfect roommates — a place where she could have a dog, another dream realized — it seemed things couldn’t get much better. It was all going according to plan.

Until the day a man, a stranger, accosted her in the stairwell of her perfect apartment building, jamming the metal of a 9mm semiautomatic into her back and bending her over a railing. He raped her there, he sodomized her, then he fled. Now Natasha, dirty with his fluids, shocked, traumatized, made her way back to her apartment, where a roommate persuaded her to wait for an ambulance. All she wanted was to shower, to get rid of him. But she waited — so close to her soaps and shampoo, so close to clean clothes! — because she’d been raised to respect law enforcement, to cooperate. She wanted to help them do their job, and, well, “my body was a crime scene,” is how she puts it now. Read more »

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