Confessions of Philadelphia’s One Percent

One-percenters. We’ve been hearing a lot about them lately, ever since wall street became not just the seat of finance, but a place to hang out and get angry. In demonstrations and in large swaths of the American psyche, rich people have been vilified, as if the economy going SPLAT back in 2008 meant that anybody with a certain lifestyle still intact must have had a hand in the takedown.

And it seems like everybody has weighed in on what’s wrong with America these past four years—everybody, that is, except one-percenters themselves. (Warren Buffett doesn’t count; he’s got too much money.) So we thought, let’s hear from a few. How are rich people around Philly doing? What’s on their minds? And do they care what everyone else is saying about them?

We found five local one-percenters quite happy to talk, after we promised anonymity. They had a few things in common: Nobody wants to pay more taxes. Everybody has issues with the Occupy movement. Nobody’s happy with Obama. And all five are rich. That, though, might be the extent of what they agree on.

Confessions of Philadelphia’s One Percent: click here to hear from The Inheritor.

The Sins of Penn State: The Untold Story of Joe Paterno’s Fall

 

 

IT’S A WEDNESDAY IN EARLY JANUARY, a gray afternoon, but not bad by State College standards. It’s not too cold. There’s no snow. And there’s smoke drifting up into the bare oak trees out of a chimney toward the back of the rancher on McKee Street, a couple blocks north of campus. Sue has got the wood-burner going, so I know the Paternos are home. I walk up a wood ramp—built a few weeks earlier for Joe’s wheelchair­—to ring the bell at the front door. Nothing. I ring again.

Through the narrow vertical window next to the door, I see someone coming. The door opens, and there’s Sue Paterno. She’s normally as willowy and blond and handsome as Joe is swarthy and hook-nosed and nearsighted, but now she’s wearing a gray sweatshirt, with no makeup, her hair up in curlers. Four very large red curlers, to be exact: two on top of her head, two along her temples.

I tell Sue my name, then say: “I’m an old Penn Stater—I went to school here back in the ’70s, and lived around State College for a decade. … I wonder if I can have a conversation with Joe.”

These things are true, though of course I will have to tell her I’m a reporter—but not yet.

“He’s resting right now,” Sue Paterno tells me. Joe, I’ve heard, is exhausted from the chemotherapy he’s been getting for his lung cancer.

“Could I come by later?”

Sue Paterno thinks for a moment. She has, I know, an enormous amount of influence on Joe. She actually seems to be considering that her husband might make time to speak to a onetime PSU student who shows up at their door, and given everything that’s happened in the past two months—starting with the allegations that over many years former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused eight young boys, which led to Joe Paterno’s swift dismissal­ as coach—I’m amazed. Not to mention the lung cancer, and the broken pelvis from a fall heading to the bathroom …

“We have an appointment at four,” Sue tells me. A chemo treatment.

“Would tomorrow be better?”

Sue Paterno considers. “Why don’t you call first?” she suggests.

“The number in the phone book?” As everyone knows, it’s listed.

“Yes.”

“I hope Joe is doing well … ”

“He’s … ” She hesitates. Sue Paterno looks tired. Her face is lined. She’s physically fragile herself, with a bad back. “He’s getting there.”

In fact, her husband is gravely ill. That next morning, when I call, Sue answers, and before I tell her what I’m really up to, she beats me to it. “Are you a reporter?” Sue asks. “I am.”

She tells me, pleasantly, that they aren’t talking to the media just now.

Which Eagles and Phillies Are Gay?

 

It’s a long, thin room inside the NovaCare complex, where the eagles peel off their uniforms after practice.

Lockers line both sides. As they strip, players toss shirts and socks and jocks into big mobile laundry baskets before heading to a wide opening in the middle of the room, the doorway that leads to the showers, off-limits to everyone but them.

Mike Patterson is a load of a man, chunky, 300 pounds. He anchors the middle of the Eagles’ defensive line. He’s still in his uniform pants and a t-shirt when I stop at his locker to ask him a question:

“How would you feel about having an openly gay teammate on the Eagles?”

He smiles. Coach Andy Reid has already warned his team that I’d be coming in to ask some questions. He told his players not to be offended, that they shouldn’t take it personally. Patterson has a long, dark, wispy beard and appears young—he’s 28. He looks almost cherubic.

“Would it be a problem?” I wonder.

“I don’t know, man,” he says. “Probably be an issue at first, probably—going to be uncomfortable at first, I should say. I don’t know, kind of tough to say. It could work out, most definitely, but I don’t think it’s going to be easy. … ”

“What would be hard about it?”

“Just the fact that, guys worried that he’d peep down, and stuff like that, make people uncomfortable … ”

“‘Peep down,’ did you say?”

Patterson smiles. Yes, that’s what he said. Guys checking out guys. “I don’t know—I mean, people just feel uncomfortable.”

“Would you feel uncomfortable?” I ask him.

“Makes an uncomfortable situation—makes me uncomfortable.”

“Have you ever played with a gay player?”

“Not that I know of,” Mike Patterson says, laughing.

It’s kind of an amazing thing, I tell him, that there are currently 3,400 men playing in the four major sports—football, baseball, basketball and hockey—and not one is openly gay. That’s pretty strange, when you think about it.

Mike Patterson just laughs.

Frank Zappa Didn’t Like to Bathe

Thanksgiving, I flew to London for five days to see my older son, Sam, 22, studying there this fall. I found his tube stop—Farringdon—easily enough, but from there, the walking directions to his flat that he’d emailed were sketchy. I had to find Sir John’s—that was his key landmark. A bar. Read more »

Privacy Is Evil

The tabloid hacking scandal in Britain is beginning to put a new spin on Janet Malcolm’s neat little thesis on journalistic ethics. Malcolm is the New Yorker writer who began her book, The Journalist and the Murderer, thusly: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” Read more »

A Month at the Melrose Diner

 

"I CAN SPIN ANYTHING.”

I like him immediately, a waiter who keeps whizzing by, his serving tray spinning on a finger. Nick looks like a young Ed Rendell, a pocket-size version. He has the same thinning hair—though a short spritz of Nick’s, narrow as a comb, runs down the middle of his head. the smile, the charm, the energy, the five-o’clock shadow …

“Hello, my friend,” he says the second time I walk into the Melrose, “how are you tonight?” That could be Fast Eddie. Though Nick’s Irish-Catholic, born and bred right here in South Philly, one of nine children raised in a four-bedroom row. He’s got a story to tell.

Nick flunked out of seven schools as a kid, private and public. Or he was kicked out for fighting. He was very quiet, almost silent, which is now hard to believe, and he got picked on, but he had his breaking point. Once, he threw a chair at a bully and punctured his lung. Other times he’d show up at school after two weeks on the lam, drinking and smoking pot; he’d ace a test, but flunk anyway for non-attendance. The story of his youth.

But there’s another story he tells me one night, the story:

He was 20 years old. He got a job in A.C. as a busboy at the Trop. He spent a summer partying with two girls he met, from Bulgaria. Two weeks after they went home, he got into a fight with his boss, and even though he’d never been outside of Pennsylvania and Jersey, even though his family wondered what language­ they might possibly speak in Bulgaria (Bulgarian?), Nick flew to Sofia to see the girls.

All he had were their first names—Daniella and Stanimira—and, on a piece of paper in his bag, their cell numbers and the name of their town. Except when he got to Bulgaria, the piece of paper wasn’t in his bag.

He didn’t panic. In short order, Nick remembered where the girls lived when he saw the city’s name on a beer bottle: Yes, he knew that was their town—Haskovo! Nick managed to find his friends. He would end up staying with Stanimira’s family for six months, and learn to get by in Bulgarian, and even write it a little. He became the toast of Haskovo, in fact, because they almost never see Americans, and he would walk down the street, visiting cafes, and then move on with a loaf of bread under his arm, a diminutive America’s Mayor— His story ends there—partly because Nick has tables to wait on, mostly because it is the end of his story. It happened when he was 20.

He is 32 now, a waiter at the Melrose—he’s quit twice, been fired once—not far from where he washed out of those seven schools. On another night, he tells something to me, something that he whispers confidentially:

“I spent the last two weeks homeless.”

Riding buses half the night down Broad, catching a couple hours of sleep on a sister’s couch. A guy who works up to 60 hours a week.

What’s going on in his world? I mean the world of the Melrose and of South Philly, but I also mean the greater world that is all of us. That’s why I’ve come to the Melrose, in the heart of working-class Philadelphia, to hang out for 30 straight days, a full month of talking to customers and workers. Because lately it feels like we’ve come to a sort of crossroads in America. The problem is no longer just the economy. It suddenly feels much broader, a collective realization that we’ve lost our way, with the messes of huge public debt and big-business malfeasance and constant Congressional infighting and failing schools—the list could go on and on. Ideas that we all cut our teeth on—the American Dream, for example—are starting to feel like quaint memories.

I Don’t Care About PSU Football

It may seem like a pretty crooked train of thought to start out wondering who the hell Joe Paterno is and work through Muhammad Ali, but that’s where I’m going. I’m thinking about myth-building.

Paterno, well, it’s pretty obvious why I’m thinking about him. And I didn’t realize it, not until the Sandusky mess hit, but I’ve been obsessed with the JoePa thing for about 40 years, from the first day I landed at Penn State. There were two goons in the dorm room next to me. One was an offensive guard. The other, the more lively of the two, was a linebacker with a bad back. Eddie couldn’t play. He was in JoePa’s doghouse a lot. He also liked to tell me if I was going to smoke dope, I better be sure I put a towel under my door, because RA’s were sniffing out guys like me. Read more »

Deja Vu for Catholic Penn Staters

It is the same story. The Penn State scandal is identical to what we’ve been learning about the Catholic Church over the past decade. Not in scope, of course, but in its fundamental nature. When an institution becomes larger—more important—than the ideals it is supposed to stand for, that’s when the institution is in dire trouble. Because those at the top, and those who work for them, will do everything they can to protect that institution, which fundamentally corrupts those ideals. That’s the story we’re seeing again, out at Penn State. Read more »

Ray Didinger Goes Off

Ray Didinger, Comcast football analyst and one-time Bulletin and Daily News sportswriter, is not exactly a guy of the times. For the longest stretch, he didn’t have a cell phone—and for all I know he still doesn’t. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t get mad or excited or rant. He is a man who looks and sounds like he might be running for county commissioner. In 1957. Read more »

Staffing Michael Nutter’s Second Term

For presidents and mayors, second terms often mean a reshuffling of the deck when it comes to administration personnel. So as he’s reelected this month, is Michael Nutter likely to ask for resignations from any high-level members of his team? Read more »

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