Longform Philly

Month: August, 2014

Intimate Intimidation

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Sabrina Rubin Erdely | Philadelphia Magazine | April 1996

Gail Greeby stared at the ceiling and waited for it to be over. 

She was dressed in a hospital gown, her legs spread, feet raised in stirrups. At the foot of the examining table crouched the gynecologist, his face just visible over the sheet draped from Greeby’s knees to her waist.

Oh God, she thought with an inward groan. How am I gonna face him at work now that he’s seen me like this?

Both worked at Springfield Hospital in Delaware County, Gail Greeby as the cardiology-department manager, Dr. Allan Nachlis as one of the staff’s newest obstetrician-gynecologists. A few months before, when Springfield had offered free Pap smears for all female employees, Nachlis had discovered some abnormal cells on Greeby’s cervix. He had suggested she consider cryosurgery, in which her cervix would be frozen with nitrous oxide to slough off the abnormality. Greeby had never undergone a procedure quite like this before, and so was feeling more squeamish than she had that first time Nachlis examined her.

Writer bio: Sabrina Rubin Erdely, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, served as a senior writer and writer-at-large at Philadelphia Magazine for a combined 13 years. She has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award twice. “Intimate Intimidation” earned her the first nomination. She is currently a contributing editor at Rolling Stone.

Continue reading “Intimidation.” 

Can the Best Mayor Win?

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Richard Ben Cramer | Esquire | October 1984

How will they ever make a statue of him?

They’ll have to, you know. He saved the town. 

But how could they bronze that stubby little body, the melon head, the double chin? Put him on horseback? Ha! One foot up on a pediment, with those clunky shoes he buys on sale? Gazing over a book? He doesn’t read, I guarantee you.

No. If they really want him, they’ve got to get him mad. And paint the whole head rosy, and put the glitter in his eyes. And a couple of guys in suits cowering. That’d do it, and they could carve on the base:

MAYOR ANNOYED
THE BEST MAYOR IN AMERICA, FOR A WHILE

Writer bio: Richard Ben Cramer, who died in January 2013, won the Pulitzer Prize for The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1979 for his coverage of the Middle East. He is the author of the American classic, “What it Takes.”

Continue reading “Can the Best Mayor Win?”

Black Hawk Down

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Mark Bowden | Philadelphia Inquirer | November 1997

STAFF SGT. Matt Eversmann’s lanky frame was fully extended on the rope for what seemed too long on the way down. Hanging from a hovering Blackhawk helicopter, Eversmann was a full 70 feet above the streets of Mogadishu. His goggles had broken, so his eyes chafed in the thick cloud of dust stirred up by the bird’s rotors.

It was such a long descent that the thick nylon rope burned right through the palms of his leather gloves. The rest of his Chalk, his squad, had already roped in. Nearing the street, through the swirling dust below his feet, Eversmann saw one of his men stretched out on his back at the bottom of the rope.

He felt a stab of despair. Somebody’s been shot already! He gripped the rope hard to keep from landing on top of the guy. It was Pvt. Todd Blackburn, at 18 the youngest Ranger in his Chalk, a kid just months out of a Florida high school. He was unconscious and bleeding from the nose and ears.

The raid was barely under way, and already something had gone wrong. It was just the first in a series of worsening mishaps that would endanger this daring mission. For Eversmann, a five-year veteran from Natural Bridge, Va., leading men into combat for the first time, it was the beginning of the longest day of his life.

Writer bio: Mark Bowden wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer for more than 20 years from the late 1970s to the early 2000s. This series about a rescue mission in Somalia in the 1990s earned him national recognition and a book deal. The book was optioned into a movie, which was directed by Ridley Scott.

Continue reading “Black Hawk Down.”

Brotherly Glove

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Gary Smith | Sports Illustrated | July 2011

It’s 6:15 p.m. The locusts with pens and microphones have been swept from the Phillies’ clubhouse. It’s their living room again. Creeping to the center of the room, like a seven-year-old in Dad’s pajamas, is their stumpy catcher lost inside their massive first baseman’s uniform and cleats. A half foot of Ryan Howard’s pant legs droop from Carlos Ruiz’s feet. That alone has the clubhouse cackling … but Chooch has more. He has made a career by watching everyone in silence, recording everything. This one’s easy meat.

He lowers his backside like an emperor settling onto an invisible throne, imitating Howard’s setup in the batter’s box, then points the end of Howard’s bat at an imaginary pitcher, sighting on his prey like Howie does. Only now Chooch begins tilting his head and squinting, trying to see around Howard’s big black war club, then yelps, “Hey! Where ees the peetcher? I can’t see him!” and the whole squad’s howling.

Chooch! comes a request. Do Sammy! That’s coach Juan Samuel’s nickname. Chooch flashes those big white teeth, those imp eyes and that mierda-eating grin that make every impersonation double delicious, and nails Sammy’s slowwww, cool-disco-dude signals from the third base box. The boys roar. Chooch winks. Chooch, do Charlie! He takes a few shambling steps and sends his head bobbing and rolling from shoulder to shoulder, just like Manuel when the Phillies’ manager is pissed and heading to the mound to separate the ball from his pitcher’s hand, then drops the cherry on top: Charlie’s Southern drawl strained through Chooch’s Panamanian accent. Chooch, do Shane when Kuroda threw at his head in the playoffs! … Chooch, do Cliff!

Writer bio: Hands off, Gary Smith is ours. We claim Smith, a four-time winner of the National Magazine Award, as our own. He grew up in Delaware, graduated from LaSalle University and covered the Eagles for the Philadelphia Daily News before spreading his wings at Sports Illustrated. He is one of the most celebrated narrative journalists of our time. And he’s ours.

Continue reading “Brotherly Glove.”

It’s a Wawa World

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Don Steinberg | Philadelphia Magazine | July 2011

JEREMY PLAUCHE IS A burly, rowdy-looking guy—six feet, maybe 300 pounds, with the bold facial hair of a modern 24-year-old—but he admits that when he was getting the Wawa logo tattooed on his right inner biceps, the second “wa” kind of hurt. It’s just a little more tender in there closer to the torso. Totally worth it, though.

Plauche works night shifts for the rescue squad in Millville, New Jersey, where he also went to high school. It’s a little town about 45 miles south of Philadelphia, with a population of roughly 27,000 and four Wawas within about two miles. He’s made countless Wawa runs. He’s candid about his favorite product: “I’ll be honest with you—the peach iced tea.”

“I’m originally from Louisiana,” he says. “I tried to explain to my friends there what Wawa was and what it means to people who live up here … and they kind of didn’t believe me. Wawa is part of our culture. It’s part of our way of life.”

So he decided to let the body art speak. He photographed a Wawa sign and took the image to a tattoo parlor in Vineland, where they stabbed it into his flesh.

Writer bio: Don Steinberg is a Philadelphia-based writer who freelances for the Wall Street Journal, ESPN.com and Philadelphia Magazine.

Continue reading “It’s a Wawa World.”

Who Killed Ellen Andros?

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Dan P. Lee | Philadelphia Magazine | October 2006

Here’s Elliot Gross. Sixty-six years old, short barrel-shaped body, big mostly bald head. A tiny, odd-looking man. Hunched over, dressed in a blood-splattered plastic apron and blue scrubs, white surgical gloves gone crimson, a clear plastic shield covering the huge glasses on his large face.

And there, on the metal table in front of him, her body splayed from skull to hips, lies 31-year-old Ellen Andros. It is — it will prove — a somewhat difficult case. But from the start, from the moment a few hours ago when he first approached her still-warm corpse at her home outside Atlantic City, Elliot Gross, the former chief medical examiner for New York City, a man who autopsied Tennessee Williams and John Lennon and many other noteworthies during a 40-year career, thought he was on to something.

What’s going on here isn’t just science. It’s something deeper, something stranger, something at the same time both terrifying and fascinating. With Ellen’s body reduced to parts — organs and tissues and arteries and veins, each one removed and given careful attention — Gross is attempting to communicate with her. He’s asking questions, asking each part of her body a question. And so far, this is all he’s hearing back:

Someone did this to me.

Writer bio: Dan P. Lee, a South Jersey native, wrote for The Press of Atlantic City and Philadelphia Magazine before joining New York Magazine as a contributing writer.

Continue reading “Who Killed Ellen Andros?”

Differences, Yet a Bond in Reserve

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Daniel Rubin | Philadelphia Inquirer | June 2009

It begins badly.

“Some things never change,” Dad says, sliding into the passenger side and noticing the collection of newspapers blocking his feet.

We’re still at the airport. We are about to spend the next three days in closer quarters than we’ve shared in decades. I’m not sure what possessed my father to want to drive 26 hours with me, sitting shotgun as I retrieve a son from college in Kalamazoo , Mich.

But I am grateful for the company, I tell him.

“I’m not going just to be company,” he says. “I’m going to be helpful. “

We are nothing alike. He’s the soul of practicality. I’m more of a romantic. He believes cars should be cleaned and detailed. I believe they need good speakers.

Writer bio: Daniel Rubin, who teaches courses in Urban Journalism at the University of Pennsylvania, started writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1988. He served as the Inquirer’s European bureau chief, based in Berlin, Germany, from 2000 to 2003.

Continue reading “Differences, Yet a Bond in Reserve.”

A Bird in the Wind

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David Lee Preston | Inquirer Sunday Magazine | May 1983

My mother awaited her bypass operation without complaint. “I have lived 40 years on borrowed time,” she said. “I’m not afraid of open-heart surgery.”

She had survived the longest odds of the 20th century, the Holocaust — a convenient word for the grisly murders of two-thirds of the Jews of Europe, as if all six million had perished in some giant fire. While her world crumbled above her, she lived side by side with rats in a sewer in Lvov, Poland, for 14 months until the Allies liberated the city on July 27, 1944.

From darkness, she came to light, to America, where she married, raised a son and daughter and taught two generations of students in Wilmington. But the years had taken their toll, and now, at 60, her arteries were blocked and her heart was pained.

My father and I watched as they wheeled her into a Philadelphia operating room in December. “I love you,” she said. Smiling and serene, the survivor now entrusted her life to her family. Don’t worry, said the doctors, the risk was only about 2 percent.

But she did not survive. Twelve hours after the operation, her heart stopped beating. On this, my first Mother’s Day without my mother, I miss that warm heart.

Writer bio: David Lee Preston is an assistant city editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com. Preston, who wrote for the Inquirer for 17 years, is a native of Wilmington, Delaware. This is the first article in a trilogy that documented his parents’ experiences during the Holocaust. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1986 for the second installment, about a trip with his father to the places of his father’s past. 

Continue reading “Part I: A Bird in the Wind.”

Part II: Journey to My Father’s Holocaust

Part III: A Story for my Mother

Almost Justice

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Mike Newall | Philadelphia Inquirer | June 2013

Monday, she had written.

A date. His first in Philadelphia.

Uff-da!

That’s what Beau Zabel said when he was excited.

And Beau Zabel was beyond excited. He had been in Philadelphia 42 days and he was swooning in the newness. Like big-boy summer camp.

None of it felt real yet.

The Italian Market rowhouse with his roommate, Meg Guerreiro, and Kismet, her Maltese Yorkie. His soon-to-start student teaching program. His daily explorations with his Not for Tourists Guide to Philadelphia. Sometimes 50 blocks through Center City. Sometimes with Kismet. Always with his iPod, comedy podcasts loaded.

He was far from Austin.

Writer bio: Mike Newall, a native New Yorker (forgive him), is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He wrote for the two alt-weeklies, as well as Philadelphia Magazine, for six years before joining the Inquirer’s South Jersey desk in 2010.

Continue reading the “Almost Justice” series: Chapters 1 2 3 4 5

The Strange And Mysterious Death of Mrs. Jerry Lee Lewis

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Richard Ben Cramer | Rolling Stone | March 1984

The killer was in his bedroom, behind the door of iron bars, as Sonny Daniels, the first ambulance man, moved down the long hall to the guest bed- room to check the report: “Unconscious party at the Jerry Lee Lewis residence.”

Lottie Jackson, the housekeeper, showed Sonny into a spotless room: Gauzy drapes filtered the noonday light; there was nothing on the tables, no clothes strewn about, no dust; just a body on the bed, turned away slightly toward the wall, with the covers drawn up to the neck. Sonny probed with his big, blunt fingers at a slender wrist: it was cold. “It’s Miz Lewis,” Lottie said. “I came in…I couldn’t wake her up….” Sonny already had the covers back, his thick hand on the woman’s neck where the carotid pulse should be: The neck retained its body warmth, but no pulse. Now he bent his pink moon-face with its sandy fuzz of first beard over her pale lips: no breath. He checked the eyes. “Her eyes were all dilated. That’s an automatic sign that her brain has done died completely.”

Matthew Snyder, the second ambulance man, had barely finished Emergency Medical Technician school. He was twenty, blond, beefy, even younger than Sonny, and just starting with the Hernando, Mississippi, ambulance team. Even rookies knew there wasn’t anything uncommon about a run to Jerry Lee’s to wake up some passed-out person. But Matthew saw there was something uncommonly wrong now, as he caught the look of worry and excitement from Sonny over at the bed. “Go ahead and check her over,” said Sonny, and Matthew restarted the process With the woman’s delicate wrist. He saw, up on her forearm, the row of angry little bruises, like someone had grabbed her hard. He saw the little stain of dried blood on the web of her hand. He shook his head at Sonny: no pulse.

Writer bio: Richard Ben Cramer, who died in January 2013, won the Pulitzer Prize for The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1979 for his coverage of the Middle East. He is the author of the American classic, “What it Takes.”

Continue reading “The Strange And Mysterious Death of Mrs. Jerry Lee Lewis.”

Who is Nick Foles?

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Buzz Bissinger | Philadelphia Magazine | June 2014

Within the physical layout of Westlake High School is a space referred to as the Commons, with an insignia of a W in the middle of the floor. It was a hangout for seniors when Nick Foles was in his final year there in 2006. In the social pecking order at Westlake, the cooler you were, the more you gravitated to the middle.

That was the observation of Bron Hager. Hager was a latecomer to Westlake, which is located about 20 minutes west of downtown Austin. He had transferred in as a junior from a small private school, and the transition hadn’t been easy. Maybe he was too obsessed with cool, and the middle of the Commons was, well, the middle of the Commons. But Hager noticed something else about the middle: the one person who never wanted to be there.

In a school of remarkable achievement and affluence, Nick Foles perfectly fit the Westlake socioeconomic profile and was its BMOC. He was the quarterback of its football team, the Chaparrals, on their way to the Texas state championship game in the highest 5-A classification. He was equally gifted in basketball; he’d started as a freshman. His girlfriend, Lauren Farmer, was a standout cheerleader and homecoming queen. Nick Foles was the middle.

But Foles pawed around the edges.

Writer bio: Buzz Bissinger, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer before leaving for Odessa, Texas, where he wrote the American classic, “Friday Night Lights.”

Continue reading “Who is Nick Foles?”

Fergie Carey Would Like to Make a Wee Toast

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Jason Fagone | Philadelphia Magazine | January 2013

I don’t have stories from the evening I spent with Fergus Carey so much as a series of drunken impressions. Fergie giving a toast. F­ergie singing about he­roin and cocaine. F­ergie seeing me talking to a short man in a paisley shirt and telling me, with a grin, “Don’t talk to this littlefook.” Fergie clapping along to a singer in a white wig and a p­urple codpiece. Fergie raising up a whiskey glass and downing a shot—and another, and another.

Some of this stuff happened at the traditional Irish pub he owns, Fergie’s, on Sansom Street, and some of it happened at a theater space in the Loft District, where he went to see a show. My notes are only partly reliable. From about 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., they’re clear enough. After that, they’re just semi-random black marks on a page.

Writer bio: Jason Fagone grew up in Chester County, graduated from Penn State and wrote for Philadelphia Magazine for a decade. He recently penned “Ingenious,” a book about groups of high school students, including one consisting of disaffected West Philly youths, racing to build an energy-efficient car to win a $10 million grand prize.

Continue reading “Fergie Carey Would Like to Make a Wee Toast.”

For God’s Sake

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Stephanie Farr | Philadelphia Daily News | August 2014

WHEN Michael Grant was in the depths of his heroin addiction, his mother wrote him off for dead.

She had to.

“I said he’s either going to die or get better. I had to accept the fact that he might die. It was so painful.”

But that didn’t stop the 58-year-old Center City professional, who asked that her name be withheld, from praying for her son.

She had to.

“I prayed for him all the time,” she said. “This is what I got.”

“This” is Philly Jesus.

Writer bio: Stephanie Farr is a general assignment reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News.

Continue reading “For God’s Sake.”

A Holiday for the Jet Set

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Michael Callahan | Vanity Fair | May 2013

The writer E. B. White was particularly hot and bothered. He had reason to be.

There was a heat wave going on in August 1948 as White walked into his room at the Algonquin Hotel—“halfway down an air shaft,” as he would later describe it—across the street from where he had toiled for The New Yorker 20 years earlier. For four straight days, the mercury in Manhattan would breach 100 degrees.

There wasn’t time to be fussy about all of that; White had a job to do. A magazine editor named Ted Patrick had written, gently inquiring if the venerated writer, now firmly ensconced as a country squire in seafaring North Brooklin, Maine, would entertain returning to some of his old haunts in Gotham to write an essay about the unyielding mystique of New York. Patrick tried to sell him on the fact it might be fun. “Writing is never ‘fun,’ ” White relayed in reply.

The assignment paid well—$3,000, a princely sum in those days. (The rent on a comfortable three-bedroom Manhattan apartment was roughly $200 a month.) White had a well-known aversion to travel but took the job anyway. The magazine in question happened to employ his 27-year-old stepson, Roger Angell, then just planting the roots of his own publishing career, one that would eventually land him at The New Yorker, as his mother, Katharine, and stepfather had been. “I think he did it for me, rather than for the money, thinking it would help me,” Angell says now. “Which it did.”

Writer bio: Michael Callahan, a native of Northeast Philadelphia and graduate of Temple University, served as executive editor of Philadelphia Magazine for three years before leaving for Vanity Fair, where he serves as a contributing editor.

Continue reading “A Holiday for the Jet Set.”

Without a Trace

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Steve Volk | Philadelphia Magazine | April 2014

To most anyone watching, they were just another couple, out on a Saturday night at Abilene’s on South Street, drinking a few beers and watching a band.

Never much for dressing up, Richard Petrone wore a gray hoodie, jeans and sneakers. But the night no doubt meant something special to him, because she was there.

A few weeks earlier, Danielle Imbo had ended their on-again, off-again relationship. She’d begun dating Richard during a long separation from her husband — a separation she was intending to punctuate with a divorce. She wanted time to focus on the transition from married woman to single mother. Richard said he understood; he’d raised a daughter on his own. But inside, he hurt. Danielle, five-foot-five, trim and pretty, looked like the real thing. She fronted a rock band around New Jersey and boasted a singer’s outgoing personality, and after the trouble she’d had with her estranged husband, she’d responded to Richard’s gentler approach.

They hadn’t spoken since she broke things off, blowing right through Valentine’s Day without even a text message. But tonight, on February 19, 2005, he had been alone, eating in a South Philly bar and working his cell phone, searching for someone to meet up with for a drink. He reached his sister, Christine, and found her enjoying a ladies’ night out with their mother, Marge, and two longtime friends, Felice Ottobre and her daughter.

Danielle.

Writer bio: Steve Volk is a writer-at-large for Philadelphia Magazine. Volk, a University of Florida graduate, wrote for alt-weeklies in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for 20 years. He is one of the city’s foremost narrative journalists.

Continue reading “Without a Trace.”

There’s Another Kind of Hero

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Bill Lyon | Philadelphia Inquirer | November 1979

A cold wind blew the golden leaves across the hard ground. They made
 a rasping sound, like a death rattle.

It was a sound that matched his breathing. Harsh and grating and painful.

The sweat was frozen in crystal crusts at the end of his hair that
 flopped each time he took another stride and his feet fell heavily,
 jarringly, on the ground.

He wore sneakers that were tattered and shredded from the shrapnel of
 a thousand small pebbles over which he had run. His sweatpants were
 gray. It was a color that matched his complexion.

His arms drooped with exhaustion, like the flowers bending to give way
 to winter, and his was a lost, hopeless cause. For the winner was
 already across the finish line, far ahead, out of sight. And the
 other runners had long ago left him behind.

His legs screamed at him to stop. His lungs pleaded for rest. Even
 his socks seemed to fly at half-mast around his ankles, soiled flags
 of surrender.

In the autumn of our dreams, we are all quarterbacks. We are cunning
 and graceful and when we step into the huddle everyone bends forward
 eagerly and the crowd rises expectantly because it knows we will
 deliver the bomb just as the clock blinks down to zero.

Ah, but that is in the autumn of our dreams, not the winter of our
 reality.

You want to know about reality? Then go watch the other autumn sport.
 It is called cross-country. Watch it and you will know what they mean
 when they speak of the loneliness of the long distance runner.

Cross-country runners don’t get scholarships. Or no-cut contracts. Or
 offers to endorse deodorant or panty hose or coffee or cars.

Cross-country runners get shin splints and blisters on their feet and
 runny noses and watery eyes. One thing more. They get a special kind
 of self-satisfaction that few of us are ever privileged to experience.

Oh, it is not from winning. It is merely from finishing, from ever
 going out there in the first place and running through puddles and
 briar patches and up hills and down hills and telling lies to your
 legs, and running on even when the others pass you, one-by-one, and
 geez, don’t they ever get tired, don’t they have a chest that’s on
 fire, don’t they ever get the dry heaves, and who cares anyway because
 there’s no crowd, no cheerleaders, just hard ground and ugly ol’ trees
 with no leaves and some guy driving by in a car, honking his horn and
 grinning like an idiot, and oh God why don’t I just slow down and walk
 for a little ways? That, friends, is reality.

Oh, us silly damn sports writers, we get all caught up in
 downs-and-outs and slam-dunks and power-play goals and a frost-bitten
 World Series and sometimes we get the notion that what comes out of
 the mouth of some semi-literate who is a millionaire only because his
 glands went berserk at an early age ranks right up there in importance
 with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

So we tend to dismiss things like cross-country as “minor” sports, and
 besides, who the hell knows how to read a stopwatch past the 4-minute
 mark anyway?

So in our jock fantasies, the hero is the guy who scores the winning
 touchdown. But that is not reality. Reality is the kid you’ll see when
 you’re driving through a park or past a golf course, the kid with the
 stocking cap and the sweat-stained sneakers, loping along way behind
 the field, his eyes rolling wildly, this hypnotic trance of pain and
 puzzlement contorting his face.

Maybe he will not be able to put into words exactly why he runs. Maybe
 he will mention something about “gutting it out” or pushing through
 the pain barrier or running on because he has this curiosity that
 drives him to discover just how much he is capable of… or not
 capable of. That can be the harshest kind of reality and anyone who is
 willing to confront it, then he is, in the truest, purest sense, an
 athlete.

Writer bio: Bill Lyon is one of the most celebrated sports columnists in the history of the Philadelphia Inquirer. He wrote for the broadsheet for 33 years before retiring in 2005. Lyon, who was inducted into both the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, continues to freelance for various publications.

Jon Gosselin in the Wilderness

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Simon Van Zuylen-Wood | Philadelphia Magazine | December 2013

Following his Friday-night shift at the better of the two restaurants in Stouchsburg, Pennsylvania, Jon Gosselin emerges from its kitchen and asks if I want to try something he made. A minute later he comes back with two plates of beef and Hawaiian fried rice and sets them down at the bar. (You may remember a variation of this meal from Jon & Kate Plus 8, Season Four, Episode Four: “Korean Dinner.” Recap: Despite Kate’s insistence on mixing the green and white onions he’d requested she keep segregated, Jon’s dinner is a success.) “Beef sauté with mushrooms and onions,” he elaborates. “Prime rib. We cut it all up, sautéed it.”

He’s wearing dark-washed jeans, a cuff-linked shirt and a blue blazer—an outfit that speaks to his recent promotion from server to maître d’ here at the Black Dog Cafe. The familiar face is ruddier and rounder than it used to be, coarsened by four years of unrestricted drinking and cigarette smoking. His chinstrap/goatee combo is neatly groomed, and the sparse hair on his head—he’s 36 now—is still spiked upward, as if saluting the infamous summer of 2009, when he split up with Kate, moved to New York, and embarked upon a series of tabloid-recorded liaisons.

Wait.

Writer bio: Simon Van Zuylen-Wood is a staff writer at Philadelphia Magazine and a contributing writer at National Journal magazine. He’s also written for The New Republic and Newsweek.

Continue reading “Jon Gosselin in the Wilderness.”

Making History

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Bill Lyon | JerseyMan Magazine | July 2014

The punches come in bewildering bunches, delivered from angles that are like snowflakes, no two the same, and they conspire to form a perfect fistic firestorm… jab… double jab… overhand right… uppercut… another double jab…and lastly the finisher, the exclamation point, the left hook to the kidneys, always the left hook at the end of each combination because the left hook is the cruelest punch of them all… the left hook comes in like a meat cleaver… and the left hook to the kidneys can make a man pass blood for a week…

​That is the second most important part of The Sweet Science—to hit the man across from you hard, and often, and terminate with extreme prejudice. The most important part is to AVOID being hit.

​Which brings us to The Old Man.

​Bernard Hopkins.

​More elusive than a shadow.

​Quicker than a hiccup.

Swims without getting wet.

​Dances on the ceiling.

Makes his fights sound like a baseball game: “Swing and a miss…”

Writer bio: Bill Lyon is one of the most celebrated sports columnists in the history of the Philadelphia Inquirer. He wrote for the broadsheet for 33 years before retiring in 2005. Lyon, who was inducted into both the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, continues to freelance for various publications. 

Continue Reading “Making History: Bernard Hopkins.”

The Riot

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Jeff Gammage | Philadelphia Inquirer | August 2014

It started over nothing – a police call about a maroon Buick blocking an intersection in North Philadelphia.

Frustrated drivers leaned on their horns as traffic backed up around 22d Street and Columbia Avenue.

When motorcycle officer Robert Wells arrived, he found Rush Bradford standing in the street, arguing through the driver’s side window with his wife, Odessa Bradford.

She pressed one foot on the gas and the other on the brake, making the engine roar.

“Lady,” the cop told her, “let the man park this car on the side.”

She responded, “He ain’t going to move a damn thing.”

Wells told her to get out. She refused. He pulled her from the car. She punched and kicked him. He handcuffed her.

A crowd gathered.

Writer bio: Jeff Gammage, who was born in Trenton and raised in Willingboro, is a staff writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer. In 2008 he wrote “China Ghosts,” which details he and his wife’s struggles with adopting a daughter. 

Continue reading “The riot that forever changed a neighborhood.”

Catholics in Crisis

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Robert Huber | Philadelphia Magazine | June 2011

“Is this true?”

In February, at a hastily convened meeting of Catholic Church lawyers and administrators in Center City, that was the first question Cardinal Justin Rigali asked. And he needed an answer quickly. 

The district attorney’s office had just released a grand jury report about local Catholic priests sexually abusing minors. It was not, of course, the first such grand jury report—that one, released in 2005, laid out in great detail not only how priests in the city’s archdiocese had abused children, but also how that abuse had been covered up under the direction of tough-minded Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. Instead of being reported to the DA’s office, pedophile priests were moved—sometimes repeatedly, from parish to parish to parish. Abusive priests kept right on abusing children. 

And now this second grand jury report, six years later, was much shorter than the first, yet in some ways it was more devastating, because the central charge was the same: The Archdiocese of Philadelphia still allowed alleged pedophile priests—37 of them, the report said—to continue ministering to children. What’s more, the DA’s office was charging a monsignor, William Lynn, along with three priests and a parish teacher, with crimes related to sexual abuse. (All five have pleaded not guilty.) The monsignor’s indictment was especially telling. For much of the ’90s, Lynn reported directly to Cardinal Bevilacqua, and he was the first member of Church hierarchy in this country to be indicted as part of the sexual-abuse scandal. The point was inescapable: Something was very wrong with the way the archdiocese had been run. And with how it is still being run.

Writer bio: Robert Huber is a writer at-large for Philadelphia Magazine.

Continue reading “Catholics in Crisis.”

The Night Tex Cobb Saved My Life

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Pete Dexter | Philadelphia Daily News | November 1982

The first time I ever brought up the subject of retirement, Randall Cobb had just stopped Earnie Shavers in the eighth round of a fight that ruined appetites all over Detroit. He’d broken Shavers’s jaw with a short left uppercut, but before that happened he and Earnie had stood in the middle of the ring 7 1/2 rounds throwing punches. There could have been six or seven that missed, but I didn’t see them.

We were sitting in the dressing room; Randall was sucking down Coca-Colas. His face looked exactly the way a face is supposed to look after Earnie Shavers has been beating on it half the night, and the sound of the inevitable throwing up afterward still hung in the air.

The dressing rooms in Detroit have the best acoustics in the world.

He looked over at me with that one eye he could still look out of and said, “You feeling better now?” And, while I’m admitting here that it wasn’t Randall who threw up, I would also like to point out that it wasn’t Randall who had to watch the fight.

His body was rope-burned and turning black and blue, and the end of his nose was red like he was four days into a bad cold. I said, “I wish you wouldn’t fight Earnie Shavers anymore.”

“I absolutely promise,” he said.

Writer bio: Pete Dexter, winner of the National Book Award for his novel “Paris Trout,” is also generally considered one of the best writers in city newspaper history. He wrote for the Daily News for 12 years. 

Continue reading “The Night Tex Cobb Saved My Life.”

Wrong Guy, Good Cause

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Steve Lopez | TIME Magazine | July 2000

She has a story to tell and a permit to tell it at 6 p.m. next Tuesday in Philadelphia, but you are not likely to notice Maureen Faulkner in the crowd at the Republican National Convention. So here is her story in advance.

Faulkner grew up in Philadelphia and married a cop. She was only 24 when he was shot and killed on duty in 1981, and she had to get out of town and start over somewhere else. She ended up in California, and it was going fine until about six years ago. Suddenly, everywhere she turned, she saw her husband’s killer. She saw him on T shirts, on posters, on book covers, on television. He’d become an international celebrity, called a hero by some, compared to Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. by others. Maureen Faulkner’s crusade began then, and the next stop takes her back home.

“They have a right to protest, and I have a right to protest against them,” Faulkner, 43, said last week in Camarillo, Calif., where she manages a medical office. Given George W. Bush’s record on executions in Texas, protest groups were putting out the call to “Crash the Executioner’s Ball,” and thousands were expected to join in. Faulkner respects death-penalty foes. What she resents is that their poster boy is the man who murdered her husband.

Writer bio: Steve Lopez was a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1986 to 1997. Lopez, generally considered one of the best writers in city newspaper history, joined the Los Angeles Times as a columnist in 2001.

Continue reading “Wrong Guy, Good Cause.”

Dead Man Talking

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Brian Hickey | Philadelphia Magazine | May 2009

One very strong rule dictated what I, the reporter, would cover with all my heart during 14 years reporting for newspapers down the Shore and in Philadelphia: The people I wrote about had to have experienced a helluva lot more than I had.

The woman who escaped Gary Heidnik’s basement.

The unidentifiable German whose teeth scattered across South Carolina Avenue, where he landed after swan-diving from atop an A.C. casino garage.

The North Philly grandfather whose murdered body was found in an abandoned hovel, but whose internal organs weren’t.

Milton Street.

They were among the people in whom I emotionally invested, in order that droves of readers could, too. I considered that to be the benchmark of living up to the ethical promise of my trade. I tried, and succeeded, in becoming a public name, but not a public figure.

Well, that all changed at 10:15 p.m. on November 28, 2008.

Writer bio: Brian Hickey, a South Jersey native and graduate of the University of Delaware, has written for both alt-weeklies as well as Metro Philadelphia and Deadspin.com. Hickey joined WHYY Newsworks.org in 2011.

Continue reading “Dead Man Talking.”

A Savior for the City

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Sandy Hingston | Philadelphia Magazine | April 2010

THE LAST TIME Buzz Bissinger was a newspaper writer, Ronald Reagan was president, Wilson Goode was mayor, nobody in the world had ever blogged, and the Philadelphia Inquirer had a circulation of close to 500 large. Under legendary editor Gene Roberts, the city’s newspaper of record was in the midst of a Pulitzer blitzkrieg that would snag 17 of the coveted prizes in a decade and a half. Buzz, in fact, had just won one, along with two colleagues, for a series of articles on corruption in the city’s courts.

The year was 1988. Ed Rendell had recently lost two straight elections: for governor, to Bob Casey Sr. in 1986, and to Goode for mayor in 1987. David L. Cohen was seven years out of law school. And Buzz, at the height of his and the Inquirer’s powers, was about to make a move that would prove oddly prescient: He would leave his job to move to middle-of-nowhere Odessa, Texas, and write a book about high-school football. The result, Friday Night Lights, would become a New York Times best-seller, be named the best football book of all time by Sports Illustrated, be made into a hit movie and critically acclaimed TV series, and launch Buzz into the career stratosphere. He’d go on to write for TV’s NYPD Blue, the New York Times, and, especially, Vanity Fair, for which he specializes in epic tales of tragedy and waste: failing shock jock Don Imus, doomed Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, disgraced journalist Stephen Glass, the sad denouement of Joe DiMaggio.

Writer bio: Sandy Hingston is a senior editor at Philadelphia Magazine.

Continue reading “A Savior for the City.”

Writing for their Lives

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Susan Snyder | Philadelphia Inquirer | June 2006

Friday, Feb. 17  Eighth grader David Leal stands at his desk and, in a deep voice, with a slight Latino accent, begins reading from his diary.

He wants his teacher to know what it’s really like growing up in Philadelphia.

“I’m from Philly, the city people call Brotherly Love, where brothers have enough hate in them to pick up a 7 millimeter and murder their own blood. And as for love – it doesn’t exist.”

His 30 classmates at Olney’s Grover Washington Jr. Middle School listen, rapt. Shifting from foot to foot, David, 15, continues:

“. . . I’m from where you can’t walk to the street, let alone from the house to the car, knowing it could be the last breath you take. . . .

“I’m from where the style of losing virginity at the age of 13 is in, and where the boy’s too stupid to wear a condom. . . . So there goes a child raising another child. I’m from the night where the bedtime stories are the bullets and the good sounds are the sirens.”

Writer bio: Susan Snyder, an Allentown native, wrote for The Morning Call for nine years before leaving for the Philadelphia Inquirer in October 1998. Snyder co-led a five-member team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2012 for an expose on violence in the city’s schools. 

Continue reading the “Writing for their Lives” series: Parts: 1 2 3 4 5

Fighting Back

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Tommy Rowan | Metro Philadelphia | October 2013

High on heroin, the former Army infantryman missed his name.

Hunched in a pew in a Philadelphia courtroom in early June, the hollow-eyed, rail-thin soldier’s head hung forward. Drool dripped down his chin.

“Matthew Hallman,” the clerk repeated.

The stringy-haired, sullen-faced man blinked. His mouth gaped. The lids barely lifted around his blood-shot eyes.

The clerk’s gaze fell upon him. She turned and threw her arms at the judge.

“Matt needs to go up,” interrupted Guy Garant, the city prosecutor.

Hallman staggered to his feet.

Garant’s gaze shifted to the folder: DUI. Car crash. Heavy drug use. Veteran. Two tours, Iraq war.

He peered back and tugged at his glasses. Here’s the question: Is he – like other veterans who suffer through post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, and mental and physical anguish – a criminal? And, more importantly, will his addiction consume him, or can he fight back?

With a guide, Hallman stumbled in front of mustached Veterans Court Judge Patrick Dugan.

Hallman shivered. He hugged himself.

“This guy isn’t going to survive,” Garant muttered to himself.

Dugan snapped.

He pointed.

“Look, if you ever come back into my courtroom like this again,” he said, “I’m throwing you in jail.

Matt shook.

Garant leaned in close.

“We’re not really gonna throw you in jail, we’re just trying to scare you,” he whispered. “But you need to get help.”

The Flag

Three months later a group formed in the center of the empty courtroom: the prosecutor with a hand in his suit pocket; the public defender with her hands full of paperwork; the therapist wearing his backpack; a parole officer with his thick glasses; a mentor holding his rolled-up paper.

Veterans Court is a flag. A wake-up call. A male or female who served their country is on the brink of physical violence, overdose or death, and breaks the law. The prosecutor and defense attorney agree on a rehabilitation plan and direct them toward members of the circle: Here’s your help. Here are your mentors. Now get back on your feet.

If they refuse to change, they receive judgment. Some succeed, others don’t. Most flutter between rock bottom and resurrection.

So, what about Matt Hallman?

Smiles grew.

Luckily for Matt Hallman, he crashed into a wall.

The Wall

On his 34th birthday, April 19, 2012, Hallman hopped into his 2004 Ford Explorer.

In those days he had two speeds: sick and looking for a score, or high. On April 19, he was sick. He was scratching to “get right.”

Navigating Aramingo Avenue, he dropped his phone. While one arm was on the wheel, the other danced on the floor mat.

He pulled his eyes off the road as the truck climbed the I-95 on-ramp.

“Got it,” he said.

He looked up just in time to see the guardrail.

His face smacked the steering wheel, and bounced off the dashboard. He reached for the glove box and pulled out some napkins and held them to his face. He opened the door and fell out of his truck.

When the police arrived he was sitting on the side of his vehicle, napkins stained red.

“Are you drunk or high?”

“No.”

Apparently he gave permission for police to pull his blood, but he doesn’t remember.

Surgeons at Hahnemann University Hospital welded titanium plates to orbital bones, the upper lip and forehead. Wired his Jaw shut for six months.

A year later state police charged him with a DUI.

He dropped in and out of courtrooms, but never entered a jail cell.

Even after he showed up to Veterans Court, high as a drone.

Highest needs

Guy Garant poked at his General Tso chicken, trying to explain.

“The thing about Matt was that he was always polite,” he said. “And always admitted that he needed help.”

He wiped his mouth.

“I figured the program was not worth its weight if it couldn’t help the veterans with the highest needs,” he said. “Any program can deal successfully with low needs individuals, but a program is truly successful if it can deal with the high needs individuals.”

‘My father is my hero’

With a cigarette in one hand, a coffee in the other, Matt sat on a bench in a park near the Community College of Philadelphia. A break before class. He returned to school this fall to study biochemistry.

When Matt was still overseas, inside his parent’s Center City home, his mother committed suicide. So Matt wants to learn about how drugs affect the brain. His mother was on anti-depressants when she died.

He wants to understand and hopefully force change, “So that things that happened, to like my mom, doesn’t happen at all,” he said.

He flicked his cigarette.

He’s worried about his father. Ray Hallman is a diabetic, and Matt is worried about his dad’s diet.

“Losing my dad is a huge fear,” he said. “My father is my hero.”

He’s stuck on the eventualities of human life.

“I know what it’s like to lose a parent, and I’ve gotten so close to my dad that I think it’s going to be harder for me than it was to lose my mother. I’ve grown so much closer to my dad than I ever was to my mom.”

“And I’m scared to go through that again.”

‘I miss the adrenaline’

Matt reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and started walking along the leafy, brick-laid path winding though the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

War couldn’t have been all bad, right? Do you ever miss any of it?

“I miss the adrenaline,” he said.

He veered right, toward the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at 42nd and Woodland Streets where every morning he receives a shot of methadone, the dose of opiates that are supposed to help wean him off his addiction to opiate-based drugs. Namely heroin and prescription pain killers. His treatment is supposed to end by Christmas.

When soldiers rode the bird for an air assault mission, he said, he liked to listen to “Voodoo Child” by Jimmie Hendrix.

“It’s all blacked out,” Matt said, his arms spread wide.

The countdown started at 10.

The anxiety began to grow. Images flashed. Memories blinked. Focus narrowed. Pulse quickened.

Then came the green light. Soldiers flew.

He lit the tip of the cigarette.

“There’s just no feeling like that in the world,” he said, “In a helicopter, over power lines, flying low. You know you’re going out to do something extraordinary and you have to be very precise when you’re going out to get somebody.”

He took a drag from the cigarette.

“And you just feel gigantic.”

He exhales.

“And it’s crazy, because it’s war,” he said. “But every guy wants to be hanging off the side of a helicopter. Sometimes I felt like I was in a movie.”

Smoke curls in the air.

“It’s just absolute excitement.”

He takes a drag.

“It’s like a cascade.”

He exhales.

“Your heart’s going a mile a minute.”

Smoke rises.

“You’re so finely tuned to everything. You’re so sharp. Everything is so clear. You are hearing and seeing everything. Paying attention to everything. Everything is just so in the front of your mind.”

He paused.

“It’s like being high,” he said. “It’s like being high.”

Ray

Ray Hallman pulled out the glass door of a Center City coffee shop, and waved through some customers.

Sporting an Oxford shirt with a yellow-striped tie wrapped under a tan sport coat, Matt’s father waved his hands like a professor and worked the room like a police commissioner.

He chose a small, round table in the corner and sat with his back to the window.

He crossed his left leg over his right.

Gosh, he was, let’s see, a cop for 33 years. He’s now head of security at the University of the Arts.

How do you think Matt’s doing?

“Matt,” he said. “He’s my hero.”

He swirls the coffee in his cup.

“What he’s seen and what’s he gone through, I saw the change in him when he came home. I saw him lose his confidence. But I’ve seen the change in him now.”

Veterans Court?

He shook his head. “That Judge,” he chuckled.

“I think they really took a liking to him,” he said. “I think they have really helped him.

“They care.”

He took a sip.

“He’s come a long way,” he said, “And he has a lot further to go. He knows he’s an addict, and I think he’s come to terms with that.”

“Matt sees the people at the methadone clinic,” waving his hand and turning his head. He strokes his white goatee.

“He sees how lost they are.”

He took a sip.

“Some people said kick him out.”

He waved his hand. “Well, what would that prove? He’ll end up dead on the street. No. He’s my son. And I won’t give up on him. You gotta keep fighting.”

“It’s been hard for him, he’s struggled. The losses have been hard on him.”

On Matt’s second tour he was 26, and the other soldiers were in their late teens and early 20s. They looked up to him.

That night, that fateful night, Matt was supposed to be in the fourth car in the caravan, but his buddy jumped up in front.

Ray shook his head.

“I can hear him,” he said. “Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night.

“Screaming.”

The Last Drop

Inside The Last Drop coffee house in Washington Square West, with his back to the windows, wrapped in a black T-shirt that stretches “Join!” atop a picture of a Star Wars Storm Trooper, Sgt. Matthew Hallman lined up a plastic iced-coffee cup, a Samsung smartphone, a spoon and a pint glass.

“Around dinner time,” he said, “with nightfall covering Iraq, we turned the corner onto a dirt road.”

The middle car is not in a straight line with the cars in front and back of it.

“You have to make sure you constantly change tactics,” he said as he dragged the phone and the spoon out of line, “Because once they see you doing the same thing over and over. …”

His friend, Sgt. Conrad Alvarez, was commander of the fourth truck. Mike Matlock, the really big, skinny black kid, you know, the really funny kid with the great smile who brought a lot of laughter and energy, he was the gunner on the fourth truck. His head poked out from the bubble on top of the armored Humvee.

Matt was the commander and gunner and his head poked out of the bubble on the third truck.

“My truck cleared and as soon as Alvarez’s truck came up and turned the corner. …”

Matt watched an explosive-filled projectile spit hot copper – think lava – and watched it bounce through the vehicle like flubber.

He got on the radio and frantically dispatched: “Al’s truck is hit, its hit. It’s bad.”

He got out, ran toward the truck, and opened the door.

Alvarez lost his head; the medic in the back, too.

The driver tried to administer a tourniquet on Matlock to stop the bleeding.

“But we didn’t realize that basically we were working on a leg, and that was it.”

Matlock was almost entirely cut in half.

“It was such direct hit,” he shook his head, “They aimed the charge so well, that it punched through three layers of reinforced safety glass. And decapitated both of them.”

There was only a little piece of jaw hanging from the medic’s neck.

Matt slipped the phone back in his pocket, and sipped the last few drops of coffee.

“Alvarez just turned 19.”

‘Identify the demon’

Tyler Hurst sat in his suit and thick glasses and black hair gelled into a swirl in a windowsill inside the Criminal Justice Center and tapped his legs against the granite.

He’s the example. He identified the demon.

Hurst, 29, worked the second largest gun the Army carries. Joined the military at 17. His parents signed a waiver. He also smoked, snorted and shot up as many drugs as you can fathom. Fifteen years in and out of every bottle and needle he could find. His first marriage was spoiled toxic by abuse.

“Veterans Court gave me a second chance,” he said. “I think this is what veterans court is all about. It gave me the time to get my act together. And to show that I can do better.”

The last time he used was Jan. 12, 2012.

He’s now a therapist in the drug treatment court, which works similar to Veterans Court, and he mentors other young people in recovery.

Here’s his advice: “Identify the demon. That negative emotion they’re battling either consciously or subconsciously, that needs to be offset by the high. Understand the issue, educate on addiction, and find the resources to fight back.”

But what battle is worse? Beating the addiction, or facing life sober?

“The two really go hand in hand,” he said.

He crossed his legs.

“I express this to my members all the time. If you just stop using drugs, you’re not really changing your life. You’re just not using anymore.”

He taps one finger at a time: “You’re probably still hanging out with the same people that are going to get you in the same trouble, and in the same places that will lead you to the same future.”

“And it will continue until you really change your life to be centered around things that are more positive.”

‘I can do it’

Matt Hallman stood at the bottom of the steps that lead to the West building.

He’s having trouble with calculus. He needs a tutor.

He recently relapsed.

Typically, before a quiz or test, he’ll give himself 10 minutes to sit quietly and pump himself up.

“I tend to get real nervous about things, and then choke,” he said. “I’ll know the material, but I’ll get myself so worked up and nervous that I’ll forget and make really dumb mistakes.”

Matt flicked his cigarette and squeezed the straps of his camouflage backpack.

“I can do it,” he said.

All rise

“Matthew Hallman.”

Judge Patrick Dugan sneaked a smile.

“Present,” Hallman said.

Decked out in a pressed blue suit, he popped up, squeezed past his neighbors, and bounced to the prosecutor’s table.

“Who are you?” Dugan deadpanned.

Hallman shook off a sheepish smile. “I knew you’d say something,” he said.

Dugan chuckles.

“You look like a professional,” Dugan said.

“How are you?”

“Alright, man,” Dugan said. “How you doing?”

“Uh, well.”

Hallman pulls at his fingers.

“I’m a little excited, uh, in a couple more weeks I start school.”

Dugan interrupts: “I’m sure those professors are gonna love it.”

Writer bio: Tommy Rowan is a native of Northeast Philadelphia and graduate of Temple University. He wrote for the Easton Express-Times and Metro Philadelphia before joining Philadelphia Media Network in 2015.

Deer Dad

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Jason Nark | Philadelphia Daily News | December 2012

The grandfather I’ve never met is standing at the surf’s edge in my mind, on an empty beach I’ve painted from a memory passed down to me as a child.

His khaki pants are rolled above his ankles, but waves crash into his calves and little baitfish dart between his bare feet. He steadies a long, wooden fishing rod against his thigh and wipes the spray from his glasses with a handkerchief, then jams it back into the breastpocket of his undershirt and regains his grip.

There’s a little boy beside him, unsteady in the tide and he’s staring up earnestly, in awe. They are alone on this late-summer afternoon that I’ve imagined half a century ago, a father and son whose time together is running out.

Writer bio: Jason Nark, a South Jersey native and graduate of Rutgers-Camden University, wrote for the Camden Courier-Post before joining the Philadelphia Daily News in 2008. 

Continue reading “Deer Dad.”

Zen it was a game

G.W. Miller III | Philadelphia Daily News | July 2002

Scott Sheldon launched a home run deep into the left field stands and before the ball even landed, the bands were playing, giant team flags were being waved and the crowd was raucously banging their megaphones in the air and screaming in unison.

Sheldon rounded the bases and was greeted at the plate by a young girl in a shiny pink outfit who handed him two stuffed animals of the team mascot. He jogged towards the dugout, high-fived his teammates – who were all standing out on the field – and then threw the stuffed animals into the cheering masses in the stands.

Bands, flags and stuffed animals? This wasn’t heaven and it certainly wasn’t Iowa. Or Philadelphia.

Writer bio: G.W. Miller III, a journalism professor at Temple University, served as a photographer and writer for the Philadelphia Daily News for 11 years from 1994 to 2005. He currently publishes JUMP Magazine, which focuses on the city’s music scene.

Continue reading “Zen it was a game.”

Taking on the City’s Gun Crisis

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Tara Murtha | Philadelphia Weekly | April 2012

Midnight comes and goes. For the first time in 11 nights, the city of Philadelphia has gone a full day and night without a homicide.

The relief doesn’t last long. Just before 1 a.m., the scanner resting in photojournalist Joe “Kaz” Kaczmarek’s lap crackles to life: report of shots fired at 40th Street and Girard Avenue.

Kaz has been driving around the city with journalist and fellow crime-scene vet Jim MacMillan for hours when the call comes in. They’re a few miles away. Kaz turns around and floors it. “Right now the heartbeat is going,” he says. MacMillan co-pilots, calling out when it’s clear to turn.

The car barrels west on Girard toward a bright blur of blue and red flashing lights. When they get within a few feet of the scene, Kaz slams on the brake and holds the wheel with his left hand while he grabs for his camera with the right. The camera clicks in rapid rat-a-tats as cops heave a bleeding man into the back seat of a police cruiser. A woman is heard yelling, “Where the fuck are you taking him?” over and over as the cruiser lurches backward, skids out and speeds east down Girard, siren screaming.

“I feel sick,” MacMillan says.

Writer bio: Tara Murtha wrote for Philadelphia Weekly for five years from 2008 to 2013.

Continue reading “Taking on the city’s Gun Crisis.”

The Road to Jennifer

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Tommy Rowan | Metro Philadelphia | June 2014

Brian Lydon’s leg bounced underneath his desk. He pulled on his pinstriped suit jacket and ran his fingers through his slicked-back hair.

“I want to thank everyone in advance for hanging out after the meeting to hear what I have to say,” he began. His hands started to shake as he rubbed his eyes. “I would like to share something of a personal nature with all of you. In fact, I now feel as though I need to share this with you.”

Around 3:30 p.m. on March 19, the 48-year-old Metro ad salesman and Northeast Philadelphia native would reveal his true self to 40 colleagues — some of whom he’s worked with for 14 years.

In the glass-enclosed conference room on the 14th floor, overlooking Philadelphia’s City Hall, Lydon’s co-workers gathered for the monthly staff meeting in order to acknowledge birthdays, milestones and Employees of the Month.

In an unusual aside, Metro’s Human Resources Director Andrey Harmaty offered a quick presentation on diversity in the workplace. “OK, Brian, did you want to say something?” asked Harmaty, when he was done.
Lydon pointed: “Can you close the door?”

Writer bio: Tommy Rowan is a native of Northeast Philadelphia and graduate of Temple University. He wrote for the Easton Express-Times and Metro Philadelphia before joining Philadelphia Media Network in 2015.

Continue reading “The Road to Jennifer.”

The Town That Burned Itself Down

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Matthew Teague | Philadelphia Magazine | January 2010

ON THE NIGHT of January 24th last year, Coatesville firefighter Bob Tracey got the call: fire on Fleetwood Street, size unknown. He pulled on his boots and rushed out the front door of his home, glad he lived just a few blocks from the firehouse. He often showed up first, even for little one-alarm fires.

On this night, though, he saw that a crew had already hustled from the station in a fire truck. And the radio traffic seemed more frantic than usual: Two alarms. Three alarms. What on earth was happening over on Fleetwood? Tracey pulled on his gear — his “turnout,” as firefighters say — and, when no one else showed up by the time he dressed, hopped into the driver’s seat of a ladder truck: He’d go alone on a second truck. He fired up the engine and pulled onto Strode Avenue.

As Tracey drove, he let his eyes flick across the sky, looking for the column of smoke. And he wondered: How many times had he done this in the past year? Whispers among firefighters had started as early as 2007, when they noticed an uptick in the number of arsons in town. Small stuff, at first. Trash fires, uninhabited buildings. Then, in 2008, the perpetrator moved on to garages, and finally the unthinkable: occupied homes.

Writer bio: Matthew Teague is a native Southerner who has freelanced for Esquire, GQ and Philadelphia Magazine, among others.

Continue reading “The Town That Burned Itself Down.”

Tainted Justice

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Barbara Laker & Wendy Ruderman | Philadelphia Daily News | June 2009

BURLY narcotics officer yanked down the young woman’s underwear as they stood in the doorway of her second-floor Frankford apartment, she said.

The officer – one of 10 who participated in a drug raid of the apartment downstairs – allegedly jammed his fingers into her vagina. When she tried to pull away, he grabbed her hard enough to rip her shirt, she said.

The penetration of his fingers was so forceful that she began to bleed. She said she thought he had scratched her – or worse, caused internal damage.

A few hours later, she ended up at Episcopal Hospital. Nurses ordered a rape kit and alerted the police Special Victims Unit.

That night, Oct. 16, 2008, the woman didn’t know the name of the officer.

But the police Internal Affairs Bureau had a hunch:

Writer bio: Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for the “Tainted Justice” series, which exposed police corruption. Laker has been with the Daily News for more than 20 years, and Ruderman wrote for The Inquirer for six years before joining The People Paper in 2007.

Continue reading the “Tainted Justice” series.

A Bitter End

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Emily Guendelsberger | Philadelphia City Paper | July 2014

One thing that nobody disagrees about: Joseph Yourshaw wanted to die.

“He talked about it to anyone who would listen to him,” says his daughter, Barbara Mancini, 58. “He said he didn’t want to be a burden on my mom, he didn’t like living like that, he didn’t like being old, he hurt all over.”

Mancini, an emergency room nurse, lives in Roxborough, two hours away from her parents’ home in Pottsville. She helped her father with the official parts of the big decisions he made about his end-of-life care — helping him make a living will and a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR) in 2010, when he was 91, and serving as his health-care power of attorney.

Her father would often tell her that he wanted to die, she says. “I usually wouldn’t say anything, I’d just listen to him. I’d say, ‘I know, Dad. I know you don’t like living like this.’ What am I going to say? ‘I know it’s hard for you.’”

Writer bio: Emily Guendelsberger is a senior writer at Philadelphia City Paper. She has written for various publications, including both alt-weeklies and the Philadelphia Daily News, since 2007.

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The Saga of the Fireman’s Suicide

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Steve Volk | Philadelphia Magazine | March 2012

He opened the door, pushing in without a knock.

“Jack,” he called into the dark. “Jack!”

No answer. But he knew his way around his son’s house, and he walked straight toward the bedroom. From the threshold, he could see the worst: his son’s body, slumped across the floor. Blood on his head. Handgun on the ground.

Like his son, Jack Slivinski Sr. was a fireman. He had attended many tragic scenes, seen many dead. And he knew: His son Jack was now one of them. But that didn’t stop him from rolling the body over, placing his mouth over his son’s. “The breath of life,” they call it, a procedure both men had learned on the job.

He called an ambulance, then his wife.

And this is how mysteries start: In the middle of the night, with dead bodies on bedroom carpets.

When we think of unexplained deaths, we think of murder. Our protagonist is the cynical homicide cop who tallies the facts and catches the killer. Suicides, it turns out, involve a similar kind of mystery. Only in those cases, it’s the relatives—say, parents like Jack Slivinski’s father, and his mother, Gerry—who act as the sleuths. They are the ones left behind to solve the riddle: Why did my son take his own life?

In the case of Jack Slivinski Jr., his parents found no shortage of reasons.

Writer bio: Steve Volk is a writer-at-large for Philadelphia Magazine. Volk, a University of Florida graduate, wrote for alt-weeklies in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for 20 years. He is one of the city’s foremost narrative journalists.

Continue reading “The Saga of the Fireman’s Suicide.”

The Dirtiest Player

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Jason Fagone  | GQ | February 2010

A PRAYER in the city, four words long: I ain’t seen nothin’.

It was a lie, of course.

Robert Nixon had seen everything. He had seen more than enough to put a rich and famous man, an NFL superstar, in prison. But this is what you tell the police unless you’re a fool. You can’t go wrong if you say you ain’t seen nothin’, and you can go very wrong if you say otherwise. And as far as Robert Nixon is concerned, what happened to the fat man with the Muslim beard is proof.

Nixon didn’t know the fat man with the Muslim beard when the fat man was still alive—that is to say, before he was perforated with bullets. But he’d seen him around. More than a year before the murder, Nixon stumbled upon the fat man lying in the street, in front of a water-ice stand, getting the crap beaten out of him by Marvin Harrison and Stanley McCray, one of Harrison’s employees.

Writer bio: Jason Fagone grew up in Chester County, graduated from Penn State and wrote for Philadelphia Magazine for a decade. He recently penned “Ingenious,” a book about groups of high school students, including one consisting of disaffected West Philly youths, racing to build an energy-efficient car to win a $10 million grand prize.

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The Ride of Their Lives

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Gary Smith | Sports Illustrated | September 2004

The Black Cloud

They took no notice, at first, of the $500 black Taurus and the dented pickup with the rusted trailer rumbling out of the rolling green distance. Not the ladies in flowered hats chatting in the big white party tent, nor the sportsmen gathering their helmets and whips. Not the tanned elderly men tethered to tiny purebred dogs, nor the white-jacketed waiters preparing pâté and tumblers of vodka, crushed ice and pink lemonade.

Faintly, at first, came the boom-cha-boom-boom … boom-cha-boom-boom. The $500 black Taurus and the dented pickup turned off the country road and cut through pastures framed by white fences–rolling thunder drawing nearer and louder until even the party boys on the picnic blankets near the playing field turned to see what was coming.

The rap music stopped. The two vehicles halted. Out tumbled a couple of black teenagers wearing ‘do-rags, cornrows and gold stud earrings, a swarm of small black children, four yelping dogs, four hand-me-down horses, two iguanas, a boa constrictor … and a white woman.

Writer bio: Hands off, Gary Smith is ours. We claim Smith, a four-time winner of the National Magazine Award, as our own. He grew up in Delaware, graduated from LaSalle University and covered the Eagles for the Philadelphia Daily News before spreading his wings at Sports Illustrated. He is one of the most celebrated narrative journalists of our time. And he’s ours.

Continue reading “The Ride of Their Lives.”