An Encounter With CA Conrad

Or: What happens when an angry poet shows up in the Philly Mag office

Our latest issue, which came out the other day and which we’ve dubbed “The List Issue,” has generated a fair amount of buzz around town. A few people have called to say thanks for including them on a list; a few others have been in touch to say thanks for not including them on a list; and several more have weighed in complaining about being on a list. This last group would include the always- adorable Philebrity editor Joey Sweeney, who had this to say: “Fuck you, fuck Herb Lipson, and fuck the plastic surgeons who keep your sad rag afloat.” (Stay classy, Joe.)

Still, no reaction has been more interesting than that of the noted poet CA Conrad. Now, I should say that, until earlier today, I wouldn’t have known CA Conrad from Joseph Conrad, Robert Conrad or Conrad Bain from Facts of Life, but that says less about him than it does about me. He is, in fact, a published, award-winning poet from Philly who was recently awarded a Pew Fellowship. He even has his own Wikipedia page.

Unfortunately, Mr. Conrad was apparently not happy with the inclusion of the Mummers on our list of “10 Things We Need to Get Rid Of.” In fact, he was apparently so not happy that, on Wednesday night, he began posting comments on our Facebook page. And not just one comment, but multiple ones. An example:

“Dear Philadelphia Magazine: HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT THE MUMMERS SHOULD LEAVE! Your magazine proves more and more that you are ONLY FOR Phillie’s 1%!”

And another:

“Philadelphia Magazine doesn’t make things any brighter by slandering a fine working class institution like the mummers as they do in their latest issue. If you REALLY CARE about the city of Philadelphia PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE, then you need to start proving you care! APOLOGIZE FOR YOUR OUTRAGEOUS SLANDER AGAINST THE MUMERS IN THE CURRENT ISSUE!”

Thursday morning his commenting increased; he commented seven times in the span of a few seconds with similar aggression.

When the staff member who handles our Facebook page, online managing editor Erica Palan, saw the comments, she did exactly what she should have done. Posting as Philadelphia magazine, she encouraged Mr. Conrad to email us so that he wouldn’t have a word limit and that we could possibly include his reaction on our letters page. He responded:

“NO! FORGET IT! YOU NEED TO WRITE AN APOLOGY TO THE MUMMERS AND TO THE PHILADELPHIA COMMUNITY! DON’T INSTRUCT ME ON HOW TO ACT WHEN YOU DON’T SEEM TO HAVE THE DECENCY TO BE A MAGAZINE FOR ALL THE CITIZENS OF THIS GOOD CITY!”

Seven rapid-fire posts later, Erica posted this as a new status:

“We’re getting hit with lots of angry comments about an anti-Mummer line in our December issue. We’re always glad to hear from the community—even when you’re unhappy with our work—but spamming our pages is not an effective way to reach us. If you have lengthy comments to make, please share them at mail@phillymag.com for consideration for our January issue’s letters page. Users who abuse our page will be blocked.”

Mr. Conrad responded with seven comments–again, in the span of just a few seconds. The final one said:

“I SWEAR TO GOD THE MOMENT YOU BLOCK ME IS THE MOMENT I APPEAR AT YOUR OFFICE AND I GO DOWN TO THE MUMMERS MUSEUM AND BRING STRING BANDS TO PLAY ON MARKET STREET OUTSIDE YOUR MAGAZINE’S OFFICE!!!!!!!!!”

At which point, well, we blocked him.

As it turns out, Mr. Conrad was true to his word—sort of. Not much later we got a message that, though he was string-bandless, he was in fact in our reception area, demanding to see our Facebook editor. I asked Erica what the hell was going on, she explained, and I instructed the people at our front desk that we would be happy to talk to Mr. Conrad, but that he should call or email to make an appointment to see us. I did this not because we’re, like, super big deals here at Philly Mag, but because a) it gets busy in our office b) it’s just kind of rude not to call ahead c) there are a few whack jobs out there, and when someone has aggressively been spamming your Facebook page and then shows up in your office making demands about seeing people, you start to wonder if you might be dealing with one of those whack jobs.

Mr. Conrad informed our receptionist that he wouldn’t leave. When that message made it to me, I passed along my business card and again asked that he call or email to set up an appointment.

Again, he refused to leave. At which point, well, we called building security, who apparently escorted the Noted Poet from the building.

Was that the right thing to do? It’s a few hours later now, and, yeah, calling security feels like it was exactly the right thing to do. In fact, I even would have done it to Conrad Bain. We have no problem when people disagree strongly with something we write (even when—especially when– what we wrote was a wise-guy list), but we hope that they’ll keep their reactions controlled and civil. Mr. Conrad’s actions may have been harmless, but in the heat of the moment they sure felt threatening.

Earlier this evening I emailed Mr. Conrad and extended an invitation to get together and chat. He told me it was too late:

“It’s important to point out that there was no reason to mistreat me as your people did today.

“What on earth could you possibly say to me at this point after dragging me out of the office like a criminal? I’ve posted to PhillySound about you all, and need not speak to you at this point.

“You’re a bunch of creeps, but I love the Calder in the waiting room. I’m a big fan. I’m incredibly sad every time I walk past where the Calder Park once — all too briefly — stood on the Parkway.
CA”

You can read his version of what went down right here. He seems to want to make this all about the 99 percent and the tough plight of the working man in Philadelphia—which is ironic, because our December issue also contains a sympathetic piece on exactly that topic. Maybe one day CA will read it.

Anyway, he concludes his post with this lovely couplet:

“FUCK PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE, AND FUCK THEIR ELITE AUDIENCE!
But LOVE for Philadelphia, where I learned to love the world!”

CA, we felt your love all day long. Thanks for sharing. (And by the way, something about your work reminds me of the Noted Poet Joey Sweeney.)

  • poetryline1

    All of this could have been avoided if you’d had the guts to meet with Mr. Conrad. When you blocked his comments, you encouraged him to pay you a visit. It’s despicable that instead of meeting with him you’ve written a column vilifying and ridiculing him. What a coward you are to cower in your office instead of meeting with him man-to-man.

  • desertfl0wer

    This is a bit ad hominem. You’re kinda shooting the messenger. CA brought to light an issue he’d like the mag to address. What are your thoughts on that? Or isn’t that an interesting enough twist for a good blog?

  • tacky1

    Agreed. Your “joke” about the mummers should be addressed. That said, I doubt the issue can be, as it is a symptom of the classism that structures Philly Mag and other bland “urban” catalog magazines like it. Stick to fetishizing the insipid living rooms of the wealthy, celebrating pretend-decadent restaurant glamor, and featuring half naked women on the cover (classy!!!). Conrad is right to be enraged and you should be embarrassed by your own eye-rolling.

  • observer23

    Socialists don’t like free speech, one, and two — these seem like the actions of a clearly troubled and unstable individual struggling with a host of internal issues. His fan club, who clearly cannot see the retardedness of his actions, or the retartedness of anything he does, or his so-so poems, have come out in full support, but I just want to point out for the record that some people think his whole schtick is attention-getting schlock that should have been righted a long time ago by loving parents.

  • daisyfried11

    Hi Tom. Of course someone should have come out and talked to Conrad. You guys might actually have learned something. And of course he’s right that contempt for Mummers is classist. There’s a conversation to be had over who Phillymag represents/is aimed at and you didn’t want to have it. Your loss. So what if Conrad’s a hothead? History is full of marvelous hotheads and they’re most often the ones who make a difference. Calling in security is in this case was base incivility and you know it. Best, Daisy

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=527178612 Richard

    You’ve been Occupied! Said Noted Poet should simply not purchase Philly Mag then if he has such a problem with it. This kind of petulant reaction is a trendy thing. “I demand that you meet with my and address my concerns!” Well, who the hell are YOU? Personally, I like the Mummers and its traditions but it is merely one of the many aspects and opinions about Philadelphia. It’s a magazine, people. A magazine. There was no reason for Occupoid behavior. Have we no civil society left?

  • http://www.facebook.com/gina.renzi Gina

    philly mag, i understand that you didn’t want your facebook overloaded with comments from one person and/or on one topic. BUT can’t you see why CA—or anyone fired up as he was—-would want his comments on your facebook where all who wanted to could read them, as opposed to in an email that only your staff would see and only your staff would decide to include or not include in an upcoming issue? whew. sorry that for that ridiculously long sentence. furthermore, i understand why you would not want to immediately accommodate an on-demand meeting with someone who’d been posting so much to your fb. however, if you wanted to address the subject, yet were fearful of a potential whack job, why not meet him, first alerting security to the issue so they could be ready for you in case something crazy went down? at least that way, you’d possibly bring closure to the issue with CA and remain safe? i don’t know how things work in your office, so i’m not trying to act like i have all the answers, but something about the way you handled it is more than evasive and downright elitist, whether you meant it or not.

  • brynke11y

    After the apocalypse, Philly Mag will be a pile of rubble and CA Conrad will still be a prophet of our time. This article comes off as cowardly, sniveling and petulant. If this is some sort of attempt at PR, it fails miserably.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charlie.ohay Charlie

    Putting the Mummers on a “Need to Get Rid of” list, whether serious or not, was going to draw some flack. In fact, I can only imagine that it was INTENDED to goad someone into an angry response. And it did. I’m more shocked that Philly Mag was not visited by a posse of angry Teamsters (wonder how Security would’ve handled that one). Instead, you were faced with one irate poet, which was enough to send the staff into such a tizzy that the only response you could fathom was to have the man forcibly removed. What, no pepper spray? Seems to me that you missed an opportunity to look like a hero here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=4947747 Ian

    One of the biggest problems in all this is the magazine tries to go all snarky and edgy on the mummers, then when people show up, comment, and care, you get all white collar and corporate. It’s mixed messages. Why do you even write wise-guy columns if you get scared when people react? Conrad is always open to real discussion. That’s the great thing about him. He’s engaged. You obviously aren’t, and judging by how you reacted to this entire thing, and are continuing to react with this lame response, you don’t plan on becoming engaged anytime soon. Stay classy, Tom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001829912931 Brenda

    When you publish “journalism” that is exploitative, sensationalistic, snarky, and mean-spirited, don’t recoil like a coward when you get outrage in return. This is NOT the post of a gracious editor of a great city’s supposedly flagship culture and style magazine. That you did not even know who CAConrad is (all one word since you don’t know how to transliterate his name) casts a horrible reflection on your knowledge of culture in Philadelphia because along with poets like Eleanor Wilner, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, and Lamont B. Steptoe, CAConrad has been a glowing fixture of the literary community in Philadelphia for over twenty-five years. It is deeply embarrassing and shameful that you actually celebrate your lack of knowledge. One would think that an editor of a major city’s magazine would be far more gracious and smart, but you are extremely daft and your staff does not know the first thing about the wide breadth of Philadelphia beyond a very small coterie that thinks a garish, cover with a half naked woman and a mean-spirited, snarky article is good journalism. And it’s not “the working man” or whatever your condescension came up with: it’s working people, men and women, who could just as surely be your readers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jgoodtimes Johnny

    My father was a veggie farmer. If he had written a letter to the editor of the local paper and some person he never met who disagreed with his letter called his office 21 straight times, then walked through the door of his office demanding to talk to my father about it (during my father’s work day) and refusing to leave, he would have called the cops. It wouldn’t have mattered if that guy had a point or not. It’s simply a case of being rude. Nothing more, nothing less. I don’t care if this guy makes Shakespeare look like Lil Jon, you can’t just walk into buildings demanding to speak to people and get your wish granted. It doesn’t work like that. Ever. All he had to do was send an email or make a phone call, and I suspect this could have been handled and he would have been heard. But Conrad wanted to make a scene. Hey, I love a scene. I’m all for it. But if you want to make a scene, don’t expect to be granted a meeting while in the midst of a tantrum.

    And you want to know the real kicker? I happen to agree with Conrad on this. 100%. I love the Mummers Parade. I think it would be absurd to get rid of it. I agree with a lot of what he wrote on his blog. But since my blue collar parents taught me that the way to be heard is not to behave like a petulant 2-year old, I didn’t come storming into Philly Mag’s office demanding that my voice be heard like I was King of the city.

  • j_vinkler1

    I’ve never heard of Philadelphia Magazine, but it sounds like one of those magazines that fills hotel rooms prodding tourists to take in boring expensive sites and is full of ads from real estate companies, plastic surgeons, and mediocre but overpriced bars and restaurants. I’ve also never heard of the Mummers.

    I have heard of C.A. Conrad. His _The Book of Frank_ is rather fantastic. Profound, humane, and funny as hell. Philly’s lucky to be able to claim him.

    But this whole summary of the event reeks of that hack-work voice that is developed by alt-weekly writers that can’t quite grasp onto anything bigger or more profound then their lame consumerist beat. Maybe you resent that he is a poet, or is passionate about his own opinions which he holds strongly, maybe he was rude and too much for you, but your snark just undercuts everything with the vapidity of your endeavor. It seems he got under your skin, and it seems to make you very uncomfortable. We can see you wriggling.

    -Not From Philly

  • frank1

    I can’t believe that insufferable old queen is still around. There’s no one more annoying. And I like the he got pwnd twice, once online and then in person. Someone should have sent out a “U MAD?” sign to him.

    I do like his version of the story better though. “The truth is that they were embarrassed by what I was saying.” There’s no doubt about that because he’s having a hissy fit about an item in a magazine he doesn’t like and claims to not even read. I guess the Occupy protest got too boring so he decided to protest something really important. I shudder to think what shitty poem this incident will produce.

    He needs to STFU, take his meds, and for god’s sake, slow down with the knife and fork, and stay out of Krispy Kreme. The guy’s the size of a house.

  • marybart1

    Well, CA Conrad is an incredible poet, an critical outspoken voice with a unique, intelligent, and often quite humorous manner, and he is unapologetic about his emotions, and he is a real and genuine person with the balls to say all kinds of things most of us are to scared to say. And I appreciate him, in addition to thousands of other people who do. On the other hand, myself and thousands of other people think you and your establishment are a bunch of elitist wankers. You should at least consider this reality and get off your high-horse. The issues Conrad raise are 100 percent valid (you can’t seriously think otherwise, in this day and age, where so many people are recognizing the pervasiveness of the elitist shit storm?) and by not engaging in them seriously, and making a mockery out of his legitimate concerns and the manner he’s chosen to express them (and this manner is legitimate, he might be annoying to you but he is doing nothing illegal, he is engaging in completely legal direct action) you are proving all of his points. Perhaps it is you who needs to “stfu and take your meds” (to quote one of your allies above), because maybe that would make you a little more human.

  • frank1

    What exactly does he say that others are scared to say? I would love to know. His poetry is tiresome and not the least bit interesting, and there has never been anything in it that can be remotely described as “saying what others are scared to say.”

    The fact that he took time out of his day to not only bombard facebook with comments, but then go to the magazine’s office, demonstrates what a buffoon he is. Does he really think that because Philly mag said we should get rid of the Mummers parade that it won’t happen this year? There’s also a list that says bad things about Andy Reid.Oh noes! The Eagles might fire him now! I better get my high-pitched screechy voice on and sit in the lobby of their office!

    With all the problems in this city, a parade has to come in at least second or third on the list of things about which it is worth getting your panties in a bunch. If he’s this concerned about a parade, he obviously has too much time on his hands. He should spend that PEW money on learning to become a better writer and a less annoying drama queen.

  • johnj9

    First of all, it does sound like CA Conrad is an idiot. Hopefully harmless, still an idiot who thinks that being the loudest makes him right. Still, the thing that struck me as the most outrageous behavior in this whole drama is that Mr. McGrath let some poor receptionist take the abuse of this potential “whack-job” armed with nothing more than Mr. McGrath’s business card as protection. CA Conrad may be a whack-job, but Mr. McGrath is a coward.

    P.S. If the receptionist is 6’4″ 290 with a license to pack heat and a taser, I take this back – in that case, Mr. McGrath made the right decision.

  • easypeazy1

    First of all Mr. McGrath refuses to point out the fact that I was nothing but polite when I showed up at the office. Call and ask the receptionist yourself. I was polite, she was polite. I knew that McGrath was in the back offices. His email to me later (after he had me thrown out) pretended that he wasn’t in. I knew he was lying then. And now of course we find out that he was in fact back there.

    But no, there was no shouting, no CHARGING IN the doors. That’s your imaginations. Was I angry? You bet. Working class Philadelphians bust their asses every single day on the job. And then at nights they work on costumes, rehearse songs, tune up on new instruments, it’s fantastic. The MUMMERS PROVE that every human being is talented! All of us are talented! I love the mummers, they are one of the most inspiring things in Philadelphia. But of course they do not fit into the bourgeois notion of art that Philadelphia Magazine likes to perpetuate. This is folk art, but it’s still art!

    It’s shameful that McGrath gets to hammer the faces of these good people for KICKS in his fish wrap magazine, but is SO ANNOYED that I would challenge him that I get the ax. Don’t question McGrath, this is not allowed.

    But it’s important you see that I was nothing but polite when I showed up. There was NEVER a reason to call the police, etc. OH, and for the other hateful comments in here about my poetry. HAHA, well, what can I say but Haters will HATE! I’ve worked my butt off, and over the years I have encountered all kinds of jealous and envious creeps who want to dismiss me and hurl shit at me like monkeys from their wire cages. To quote the great Eileen Myles in an interview I did with her some years ago, “It’s good to be hated.”

  • easypeazy1

    “I’m a close friend of CAConrad’s and he has been blocked from commenting in this stream so he has asked me to post the following on his behalf.”