Muhammad Ali Is Dead; His Biggest Fight Continues

Muhammad Ali speaks at an anti-war rally at the University of Chicago on May 11, 1967.

Muhammad Ali speaks at an anti-war rally at the University of Chicago on May 11, 1967.

On June 7th, four days after Muhammad Ali passed, I was on Facebook when I saw it: a meme posing as a promotional ad for a fictional fight in heaven (“Holy Fighting Championship”) between recently deceased MMA fighter Kimbo Slice and American icon Muhammad Ali atop a set of heavenly clouds. Billed as “Rumble at the Pearly Gates,” it was your typical (knee-)jerk internet hot-take for a laugh; the two prized fighters preparing to duke it out in the type of “What if?” motif usually reserved for dead hours on sports talk radio and Marvel Comics.

Both men were framed in a heavenly glow: Ali with his gloved fists raised and at the ready, and Slice with his long, languid limbs hanging like loose wires at his side; heaven’s pearly gates cast open wide behind them.  Read more »

How a Philly Man’s Tweet Inspired That New Musical About Bill Murray, Wu-Tang Clan and Martin Shkreli

A musical based on a Philadelphia man's tweet involves Bill Murray, The Wu Tang Clan and Martin Shkreli

Bill Murray by Georges Biard, via CC BY-SA 3.0; RZA by MikaV via CC BY-SA 3.0, Tweet courtesy Rob Wesley.

The best Twitter account in Philadelphia is @eastwes. His account is so good, one of his tweets is becoming a musical.

This requires some ridiculous backstory, so strap in. About two years ago, hip-hop collective the Wu-Tang Clan announced it would sell just one copy of its new album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. The double-CD album was sold at auction late last year to a secret bidder with explicit rules: It could be streamed or released for free, but couldn’t be commercially exploited until 2103.

A few months later, Bloomberg broke the bidder’s name: Martin Shkreli. Though he’d attracted controversy before, Shkreli was mostly unknown until he came to wide public attention months earlier when the New York Times reported his pharmaceutical company had purchased an old drug named Daraprim and raised the price from $13.50 a tablet to $750. “It really doesn’t make sense to get any criticism for this,” he told the Times.

Though it was a much less important situation, people may have been even angrier when they found out Shkreli bought the Wu-Tang album for a reported $2 million — especially after he threatened to destroy it. The news bounced around the Internet. And Rob Wesley (aka @eastwes) tweeted a joke. Read more »

Lemonade Stand: What Beyoncé Will Be Bringing to the Linc

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When Beyoncé lands at Lincoln Financial Field tomorrow night, she’ll bring with her hits, legions of fans — and about a dozen reasons for them to give each other the side-eye.

For the last three years Beyoncé has mastered the side eye — that sidelong look that says “oh, really?” Her last album, the amazing self-titled Beyoncé, was the most sexually alive album from an artist you increasingly got the notion worked so hard at her presence and her music that she may not even be familiar with a bed. With it, though, came the notion that despite a nigh-undisputed attractiveness, she was still viewed as virtually asexual. Not even giving birth to Blue Ivy could dislodge the idea that Beyoncé was not a sexual being; to the most deranged detractors (and some fans) Ivy seemed more likely an immaculate conception — or at least a surrogate pregnancy — likely part of the reason why “Beyoncé fake pregnancy” is such a popular Google search. Even after birthing Ivy, her music (largely) hasn’t wavered, and both Beyoncé and Lemonade have felt like organic, important entries into her impressive catalogue. It has been business as usual for Queen B.  Read more »

Is Philly Really the Angriest City in America?

iStockphoto.com | f11photo

iStockphoto.com | f11photo

Listicles are, as a general rule, nothing to get too riled up about. Ever since Buzzfeed proved you could build an empire on the back of “17 Things You Won’t Believe Happened When A Porcupine Kitten Met Donald Trump,” the medium has proven to be clickbait gold, irresistible to writers in need of attention and pitches.

And so when Travel + Leisure declared Philly the fifth least attractive city, it was nothing personal — just another day on the Internet. Similarly, when Lonely Planet deemed us the No. 1 city to visit in the United States — followed by Natchez, Mississippi, which is apparently a real place — New York didn’t sweat it.

But Philly’s latest honor deserves a second look. Thrillist seems to think we have an anger problem, awarding Philly the top spot on its “11 Angriest Cities in America, Ranked by Irrationality” list.  Read more »

An Axe-Throwing Club Is Coming to Kensington

A near-bullseye throw at Urban Axes

My almost bullseye at the future site of Urban Axes in Kensington.

I must look stupid.

I have this fear a lot, but this time I’m sure of it: My left foot is forward, and my weight is all on my back foot. My hands are in front of me, and I’m trying to remember to keep my wrists at a 90-degree angle. Oh, and I’m holding a 1.5-pound axe. I pull my hands back behind my head, thrust them forward and release.

Thunk. The axe handle hits the wooden board 10 feet in front of me, then bounces harmlessly to the floor. “Maybe you actually need to move up,” my instructor says. “And keep those wrists straight!” Despite my errors, I think I’m getting the hang of it.

I’m at Urban Axes, the new axe-throwing space in Kensington a few blocks from the York-Dauphin El stop in the former Sazz Vintage warehouse. My instructor is Lily Cope, the former executive director at Cook who took a job as “axe master general” at Urban Axes earlier this year.

Four friends — two in Philly, two in Toronto — founded Urban Axes and plan to open in late July or early August, if the place gets through zoning. (It needs to switch from industrial to commercial zoning.) When it gets going, Urban Axes will hold private events and run leagues. Through it all, an Urban Axes team member will offer tips and make sure everything is running smoothly and safely.

Axe-throwing has no doubt been done in the woods for centuries, but the sport version of it traces its roots to Toronto. As Cope tells it, the founders were inspired by the dozen or so axe-throwing clubs in the Canadian city. They played the sport up north and decided Philadelphia would be the best spot for what they say is the first one in the United States. Read more »

Donald Trump T-Shirts Have Taken Over the Wildwood Boardwalk

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Welcome to the fifth annual edition of the Wildwood Boardwalk T-Shirt Guide!

Not a lot has changed on the boards since I did my first one of these in 2012. I probably wouldn’t have believed you four years ago if you told me that I’d still be doing this in 2016. I definitely wouldn’t have believed you if you told me Donald Trump would be the hottest item on boardwalk shirts this year.

But it’s true. I spoke with five different shop owners during a trip to the Wildwood boardwalk this week. None of them wanted to be identified — perhaps because of the massive copyright infringement the Wildwood boardwalk t-shirt business thrives on, or maybe they were just shy — but they all agreed: They expect to sell a ton of Donald Trump merchandise this summer.

[ Previous Wildwood boardwalk t-shirt columns: 2012 | 2013 (’13 Update) | 2014 | 2015 (’15 Update) ]

But if the hottest shirts on the Wildwood boardwalk this summer are ones supporting Donald Trump, the number two item might be shirts opposing him.

Wildwood boardwalk t-shirts - Trump

(Yes, that’s a “We Shall Overcomb” pun on a shirt that has turned Donald Trump’s hair into a bald eagle.) Read more »

Why Real Philadelphians Instinctively Hate Shiny New Things

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Who could roll their eyes at this? The author could.

Not long ago a treasured possession of mine — an audio tape my dad made when I was about four — got ruined. Somehow the tape in the cassette disappeared and now when I try to play it there’s a vast nothingness where sound should be. On the tape, I am pretending to be a lecturer at the Academy of Natural Sciences, schooling my dad in all kinds of animal facts — some true, some invented, and some attributed to Mommy, who was giving me some seriously inaccurate information (the natural diet of the elephant is not, in fact, buttered popcorn). When I’d get off track, my dad would prod me: “And where do giraffes live, Elizabeth?” “Africa!” That kind of thing.

A lot of people have such keepsakes — childhood recordings and home movies. The fact of the tape itself wasn’t unique. But I kept this tape in a special box, so that I’d never lose it, for two reasons. First of all, one side is comprised, entirely, of my dad methodically repeating curse words — “Shit. Shit. Shit. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” — slowly, in a grave tone. He sounds like a serial killer, but it’s also weirdly hilarious. He used to leave the tape playing for his parrot, Miles, hoping the bird would pick stuff up. He never did.

The other reason I treasured this tape was because it contained absolute, touching proof of my Philadelphia origins — proof that was better than a birth certificate because it could be heard in one key exchange:

“Where does the hippo live, Elizabeth?” my father asks.

“In the wooder,” I say. Read more »

What Every Artist Who Will Pay Tribute to Prince Should Learn From Madonna

Madonna performs a tribute to Prince, pictured onscreen, at the Billboard Music Awards at the T-Mobile Arena on Sunday, May 22, 2016, in Las Vegas.

Hollywood has it right, the music industry has it wrong. When the movie industry pauses during awards shows to honor the deceased they unroll a spool of greatest hits highlights. You get to relive actors’ most memorable lines and performances; the screen lingering over some choice scenes, characters or films closely tied to legacy. It’s as if the performers are briefly given life again — the screen fills up and lets us relive their most iconic moments. It’s a conjuring of sentiment, memory and reverence that makes it feel more like a séance; Chris Rock gathers us together, the room goes dark, and for five minutes Leonard Nimoy is with us again, wizened eyebrows and all.

But if Hollywood is a séance, the music industry is an exhumation. The music industry prefers to unearth the body of work of its deceased and give them a sometimes macabre, typically grotesque, tribute performance. It’s an awkward reanimation of the artist that usually pales in comparison of the original. And with the music awards season fully underway we got our first sight of the Prince of the Undead courtesy of Madonna’s 2016 Billboard Awards performance on Sunday. Her tribute performance was largely pilloried across the spectrum. Though softly aided by Philly’s own Questlove — who introduced her performance and reportedly helped engineer it — in a series of tweets, the internet had already spoken: the performance was horrible. Not even industry-safe props like Stevie Wonder could stave off the poor reception the performance received. Read more »

How Did Wawa Become One of the Top Spots for Missed Connections?

Love and Wawa. Photos | Wawa Instagram

Love and Wawa. Photos | Wawa Instagram

Looking for a summer love? Don’t bother with dimly-lit bars serving $6 Coors Lights. Skip the club scene and the electronic beats. Even your corner coffee shop with the expensive — but admittedly delightful — light roast may not be the right spot. The real place you should plop down is in your local Wawa. At least that’s what the data from Craigslist’s Missed Connections suggests.

For a February 2013 issue of Psychology Today, Dorothy Gambrell created an infographic mapping the most popular spots for missed connections across the nation. For the majority of states, the prime destinations were the supermarket, the gym, public transit and Walmart (in 15 states, yikes). Aside from Illinois, which oddly has its top location as “at home,” and Rhode Island where apparently you’re bound to meet in a parking lot, Pennsylvania takes the snack cake for the oddest spot with convenience stores — a.k.a. Wawa (and, okay, Sheetz).

If you’re unfamiliar with Missed Connections, it’s the section on Craigslist where Internet sentimentalists write short posts about a person they saw somewhere — or someone they had a brief conversation with — who they can’t get out of their head. A lot of it is romantically oriented. Occasionally they can get a bit weird.

As I write this, 30 Wawa-related missed connections are currently listed on the Philadelphia site, dating back to March 24th (the posts disappear after 45-day limit), out of 1,003 missed connections. Open it up nearby locations like Central Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware, that number grows to 86 Wawa-romantics out of 2,367 posts. That adds up to about 4 percent of the Missed Connection community. While that may on first glance may seem small, a large chunk of the other messages aren’t actually missed connections. Artist, writer and researcher Ingrid Burrington found during a study of Missed Connections data that almost half of the posts on the site fall into a “Grey Area” that includes, replies to other posts, tirades about former relationships, and saucy poems or song lyrics. The rest of the posts for Philadelphia are scattered about the city or don’t include a specific location.

But either way, there are a lot of hopeless — or misguided — romantics out there, crossing their fingers that a few Internet clicks may connect them with the love of their life. And a lot them appear to be frequenting your local Wawa; buying sandwiches, filing up on gas, and hoping not to miss another opportunity.

So why would a place that specializes in made-to-order hoagies be a top spot for almost-lovers? Read more »

People, Stop Killing Wild Animals With Kindness

Left: The Yellowstone baby bison. Right: The Wissahickon black bear.

Left: The Yellowstone baby bison. Right: The Wissahickon black bear.

One of the most embarrassing things I ever did was find a dog that wasn’t lost. It was near Second and Washington, while I was stuck in traffic. I saw a very adorable Beagle-y Bassett-y thing wandering along the perimeter of a park, but outside its gates rather than in. I drove around and didn’t see an owner anywhere — the area looked pretty deserted — so I concluded the dog was lost and in need of rescue. I pulled over, grabbed the befuddled dog off the pavement and stuck him in the back seat of my grandfather’s hand-me-down Oldsmobile. Then I drove somewhere quiet where we could talk.

“Are you lost?” I asked the dog, who stared at me with liquid eyes but said nothing. “Do you need my help, you precious cutie?” He did have a collar and tags, so I called a number and left a triumphant message: “I found your dog!” A few minutes later, a woman called back and said, “You found him! Thank god! We didn’t know what happened.” She said her husband took her dog to the same park every day, where he’d sit on a bench and read while the dog would roam around. Her husband always kept a close eye on him, she said, but on this day, when her husband raised his eyes from his book, the dog was gone. He ran around the entire park calling the dog’s name.

Where had this happened? I asked. Near Second and Washington, she said.

Uh-oh.  Read more »

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