The world stopped us in our paths as our lives were just starting. We’ve paved our own detours ever since. Piety, Prayer & the Apocalypse 12 Born to rideshare 42 Step into the past 53
PHOTO BY COLLEEN CLAGGET
Fear and grieving in Las Vegas I
remember sitting in the Las Vegas airport last summer on layover, surrounded by penny slot machines and young families’ unmasked children coughing, sneezing, and whining at the gate. I’d just come from driving down Pacific Highway 101 for a couple weeks. Most of that time was spent squished in the backseat of Starla, the 1989 Grand Marquis who we’d pleaded to take us from Seattle to Sacramento, where we’d finish our trip lounging in my friend’s renovated school bus parked in the front yard of his for-sale home. California had just shut down again, so for four days we sat inside the hot yellow vehicle playing blackjack and cooking hot dogs atop a pit of axed firewood. In that time, the seven of
us would talk for hours about our travels the past few weeks, months and years, hesitant to acknowledge the present-day coronavirus world we’d been gambling to avoid. Yet it was ominous and right in front of us: at the end of those four days, four of us would leave in Starla to Reno in search of an open casino, two in the ‘Crust Bus’ to Alabama toward a new house, and me, well, I was going to Minneapolis to pack up my life yet again and return to Philadelphia. I was to move into the fifth home I’d live in eight months and, while slightly optimistic, felt drudgingly unsure of what the next phase of covid-life would bring upon going back out East. But first, I needed to make it through my layover. So while looking out to Mandalay Bay, horrified by the potentially
viral particles being hurled in the air around me and thinking of the many miles ahead, I burst into tears. Under my green bush hat and double-silked face bandana, I sat still, terrified, as they streamed down my face. I didn’t know if I was going to make it where I was going, if I’d get there okay or what would happen once I got there. It’s been a year. One filled with moments of absolute fear, uncertainty and confusion about where to pack up and which direction to look in. People have died. We’ve grieved missing life as we know it. No one knew a single person unaffected. And being a twenty-something, right at the brim of your journey, in the middle of it? It felt like being a waiter taking orders when suddenly someone rips the tablecloth off
the booth, the silverware you’d set up flies everywhere, and all the menus fall to the ground. This decade wasn’t starting as the roaring twenties we were hoping for. And in our first staff editorial meeting, we commiserated over that collective disillusionment and the static resulting from it. At a time when we were supposed to be setting our platter and making our plate, the entire diner was on fire, leaving us to ask where, really, do we go from here? The mission of the magazine didn’t become to answer that question exactly, but to survey what had happened, what we did with ourselves during this time, and what we want to take with us. Our writers looked at what we relearned and realized about ourselves and our surroundings, how our circumstances prompted our and others’ reinvention, and where we found places to mold something that’ll stick with us long after. And through this, it became a celebration. This year’s 14th Street Magazine commemorates our firsts, our discoveries, and our growths that hint at our next leg. So, as far as where? We don’t know yet. For all intents and purposes, I’m still on that layover. But I’m done crying now. The slot machines look a little sparklier, the kids have shut up, I’m thinking about when I’ll actually return to Vegas once the world starts again, and I’ve taken a deep breath before boarding. Things aren’t completely okay yet, but they’re getting there, and I’m considering getting takeout at the diner whenever I land. My destination is somewhere, and I’ve got what I need to take the first step.
SPRING 2021 14TH STREET 1
ON THE COVER
Adam Netburn of Chalk Press See page 24
2 14TH STREET SPRING 2021
Piety, Prayer & the Apocalypse
Fear and Grieving in Las Vegas
My full house
Staying clean, staying home
The Pandemic Bachelorette
Design of the Times
No history, no self
Born to rideshare
Green Rays on the Horizon
The Cedar Ave Seven
What the end of the world sounds like
Audrey’s own terms
Parks & Rec
Step into the past
14th Street Magazine SPRING 2021
59 Six feet from a lil smooch
60 High Hopes
Madison Karas Editor-in-Chief Emma Padner Print Executive Editor Leilani Henson Digital Executive Editor Ingrid Slater Creative Director Magdalena Becker Design Director Gionna Kinchen Copy Editor Bibi Correa McKenzie Morgan Miles Wall Section Editors Colleen Claggett Photo Editor Colin Evans Gem Grimshaw Ben Owen Donovan Hugel Senior Writers Words & Photos by Alesia Bani Tyler Perez Isabella DiAmore Maxwell Klemmer Lauren Remy Jeremy Elvas Allie Ippolito Nikki Moscony Laurel McLaughlin Heather Marshall Special Thanks to Carly Civello & Laurence Stains SPRING 2021 14TH STREET 3
INTROSPECT 4 14TH STREET SPRING 2021
by MADISON KARAS
SPRING 2021 14TH STREET 5
Miles Wall Introspect Editor
During the past year, most of us have spent a whole lot of time in our own heads. The pandemic silenced much of the buzz of the world outside, but less in the way of a good yoga playlist and more in the way of a nuclear bomb. With little else to do, millions of people took a good hard look at themselves – and not just in their little corner of each Zoom meeting. Introspect is about collecting findings from those inquiries into our inner worlds. Our writers wrote about substance use disorder, pandemic dating, viral celebrity, and more, all with the goal of capturing a long, rare moment of mass introspection.
SPRING 2021 14TH STREET 7
BLUE -eyed INTROSPECT
Illustration by LAUREL MCLAUGHLIN
Am I a monster? Am I depressed? And why am I so damn cold? Words by MILES WALL The middle-aged, polo-clad man leaned over the wooden railing of the boat rental’s high counter, handing Grace’s credit card back with a receipt. “You’ve got two hours,” he said, and called out a string of names into the shed’s interior behind him, summoning four teenage boys who tumbled from the shed’s side door, scrawny, shirtless and sullen, like a gaggle of post-pubescent cherubim. They dragged with them the plain steel rowboat we had just secured for $45, carrying it the ten or so yards to the lake’s edge. There were three seats. Laurel took the middle, volunteering to row, while Grace flopped down in the back and I settled in the front, folding my long legs with a little discomfort into the crevice of the ship’s pointed bow. The boys handed us life jackets and pushed us off on the water before scampering back to the boat-shed’s shade. It was mid-afternoon on a clear day in late July, and the high summer sun drenched the woods of Promised Land State Park as we set out across the lake. We were about ten minutes on the water when I heard the hum, and I knew the three grams of psychedelic mushrooms I’d eaten back at camp were peaking. The
hum always enters quietly, enough to be mistaken for some distant rumbling engine, before getting louder and louder until it ceases to be ‘a’ hum and becomes The Hum, as my older sister’s shaman boyfriend named it before. I had told him on a previous trip I was hearing something like a hundred thousand volts moving over a high line on a misty day, or like a copse full of as many singing summer cicadas. The great drone, now at full volume, settled above the gentle waves, which were shimmering as if slick with gasoline. Their deep blue hue gave way to gradients and tints of green and yellow and red, while their simple pleasing pattern became a vast gridded matrix that stretched out indefinitely beyond the horizon, like an M.C. Escher painting, or a rendering from Tron. I thought of how cold the waves were that lapped my feet as I stepped into the boat. I began to shiver. I was really cold. Why? I thought. Totally inappropriate on such a sunny day. Maybe I’d gotten too skinny. The chubby-kid gut I was saddled with at puberty had deflated from a year of skipped meals and bike commutes into an empty, stretch
8 14TH STREET SPRING 2021
mark-scarred pouch, turning out not to be, as I feared, an irrevocable curse handed down from my grandfather, a man I’d often been likened to, and who resembled in certain photographs (the only memories I have of him, God rest his long-still Gaelic heart), a Goblin. It seemed logical it would be harder to stay warm when so little separated bone from skin, and my clothes, a threadbare t-shirt and a pair of cutoff jorts I cut too far off, provided little in the way of extra protection. I wrapped myself in a hug and tried to stop shaking. By now we were well out onto the lake, and the boatshack behind us was sesame seed-sized. Grace took out a portable speaker and started playing music while Laurel continued to row. Her rowing was powerful. Each mighty pull jumped the boat forward with an ugly metallic groan, like the whinny of a saddle horse driven on by spurs. She’d always had the superior upper body strength, even when we were children. Shouldn’t I tell her that we weren’t going anywhere? I caught myself. Of course I shouldn’t. She knew that already. We all did. We had come out here to row around, not to get anywhere, and was I going to raise a stink about it?
Hell no. I couldn’t justify that. I must have known what I was getting into, and couldn’t complain about it now. Here my friend was, tiring herself out to row us out onto the water on a beautiful day, and I was sitting here second-guessing the whole project. I ought to be ashamed. We were hugging the shore as best as we could. Grace wanted to poach some shade from its trees, while Laurel wanted to see if she could spot any creatures, but a thicket of reeds and waterlogged fallen trees kept us too far out to do either very well. I looked away, fixated on the horizon, which seemed less real every minute. It was getting dimmer, and the sun seemed ersatz, painted-in. At the corners and edges of everything, something dark shone through, as if the whole scene were on a coal-black canvas and I’d found a spot where the brushwork was sloppy. I ran my hands over my arms and legs and found them warm to the touch — and covered in goosebumps. I was shivering again, and I knew now that it couldn’t be blamed on mere BMI. This cold came from inside. It was a failure of thermoregulation, psychosomatic in form and spiritual in nature.
I’m depressed again, aren’t I? I thought I’d gotten away from all that. I’d outran it in Philadelphia, with my bar jobs and my new friends and my full course load and my active lifestyle. I’d outran it when I finally left home, stopped living in a basement, stopped being afraid to spend a whole day outside, stopped being afraid to talk to other people. But it had found me, even here in this beautiful place, even on this beautiful day, even as the breeze was gentle, even as the sun was shining, even where I was sure I could stay ahead of it a little longer. I started to cry. “What are you thinking about, Miles?” Laurel asked. “Oh, man,” I said, trying not to hiccup as I held back sobs. “Some really negative stuff.” “Do you want to talk about it?” “I don’t think it’d be good to do that.” “This music probably isn’t helping.” (Grace had been playing extremely sad music. She put
on something else. It didn’t help.) I turned away toward the shore, where we were passing a group of little piers interrupting the woodline that we had seen from further away. We had joked about docking there earlier, but we knew they were private, belonging to the rows of grand lakeside houses behind them. Happy-seeming people lounged on them in boat shoes, flip-flops, sandals, and shorts, and dipped their toes in the cool water. Probably the houses’ owners, or else their lucky friends. What must they think of me? Conventional wisdom dictates that if you can see them, they can see you; they’d see a rail-thin young man with eyes puffy, red, wide, and wet, pupils fully dilated, frowning in their direction. I imagined I must seem very off to them. Probably very ugly. Maybe monstrous. Maybe I was a monster, a blue-eyed Grendel, and the people on the shore were looking out at me, the unseemly shape in the
distance, and hoping it’d go away. Wishful thinking. If I were really such a monster I could dive over the side of the boat, swim down to some abyssal cave, make it my lair. Even if everybody wanted to behead or otherwise destroy me, they would forgive me for feeling the way I do. It’s embarrassing for a man to be so miserable for no good reason, but nobody expects anything different from a monster — a sort of creature whose defining characteristic, more than viciousness, ugliness, fearsomeness, or loathsomeness, is its inability to reconcile itself to living. “I’m gonna go in,” Laurel said. “What?” I asked. “I’ve gotta get in the water at least once,” she answered, before standing up and throwing herself in a headfirst tumble off the back of the boat. She broke the water like a dropped anchor and disappeared into its murkiness for a few long moments. Then she was coming up, mid-spin from
an underwater revolution, to the surface again. “How is it in there?” Grace asked her, leaning to address Laurel as she doggie-paddled behind the stern. “Cold!” she replied. “And there’s some slimy things in here with me.” She grasped around in the water for a moment and produced a long, green vine with a series of pale orbs strung along it. “This darn thing!” she said, drawing closer to the boat so she could pass it to Grace. “Ewww!” Grace said. “Can I see it?” I asked. Grace handed it to me, being careful to keep it over the side of the boat. The orbs were indeed slimy; plus gelatinous, semi-translucent, tennis-ball-sized, heavy, and covered in an array of veiny fibers. They were alien, yucky, fascinating things. But I didn’t have long to look at them. The vine snapped in my hand, and the orbs fell back into the water. The plant wasn’t meant to exist above it. “Heuuueuurrrghhh!” Laurel was climbing back into the boat, using her great abdominal powers again. She struggled for a moment halfway, her whole body pressed hard against it, before overcoming it and collapsing into her seat. She was soaked, of course. Lakewater poured from her dark, tousled hair, fell onto her shoulders and flowed down her arms, pooling at her sandals, and leadening the hull. She was grinning. As I looked at her, I felt the sun on my neck. My skin was getting redder by the second. Mine wasn’t the tough, scaly hide of a monster, but rather the flimsy, vulnerable hide of a man, and the sun, which was real after all, burned me. But it warmed me, too.
14TH STREET 9
My Full House I moved away from home for college and found myself right back with a set of adorable twins. Words by ISABELLA DIAMORE
s I was driving over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to my family’s townhouse in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, my mind was racing with a hundred thoughts per second. It was March 11, 2020, and my university had just shut down. I was on my way back to my family’s house for who knows how long. I hadn’t lived back at home in three years, but once I pulled into the complex I saw my two younger sisters, Lola and Savanna, who had suddenly become taller and had dip-dyed blue and pink hair, walk out of our front door to help me bring my things in. My dad, a bald-headed man in his usual wife beater tank top, was following behind. I was welcomed back by my sister’s timid voices and my dad’s open arms. While they were happy at that moment, I knew of the obstacles to overcome once I walked inside. Living at school made me independent and taught me to love myself physically and mentally. But how would I make these feelings stick back home? For most of high school, all I wanted to do was graduate and head off to college. Those feelings weren’t just because of the endless homework I had
on subjects I didn’t care about or the so-called popular social scene I never felt I fit in, it was because of the hardship my parents faced. My parents got divorced the summer I was going into the 5th grade. My mom pulling out of the driveway in the moving van one day is still a memory I recall frequently. She told me, “Someday, when you’re older, you’ll understand why I’m doing this.” But it’s been 11 years, and it still doesn’t make sense. My mom moved to New Hampshire to be with another man, and while she said she was fulfilling her need for happiness, she abandoned her four children along the way. From that point on, I was raised by my dad in a single-parent household. My dad was managing our house and his job as a chef, on top of taking care of me, my older brother, and two younger sisters. Likewise, I began to take on responsibility. Whether it was making dinner for my
Photos by COLLEEN CLAGGETT 10 14TH STREET SPRING 2021
sisters on the nights my dad worked late at the restaurant or waking up early to curl the twins’ hair before picture day, everything I did came to revolve around my family. I felt trapped at times. Playing field hockey and lacrosse in high school was my method of escape from the mental stress I was facing. As much as I love my family, being responsible for them meant I didn’t have moments to myself where I could make decisions about what I wanted to do. At first, it was an adjustment moving back home. My sisters and I shared a bathroom, and every time I went to take a shower I would see my makeup and hair products all over
the vanity (I would have never left my things like that). It was frustrating, they would use my stuff without asking. That blew up into an argument. My dad yelled at me if I left to get coffee or food and didn’t ask if anyone else wanted anything, which to him, meant I’d failed to consider the whole family’s needs. After living at school I was used to taking care of myself, and I forgot what it meant to share and be considerate of others in my household. In June 2020, I was three months into living back at home and the world was still shut down, but time continued to go on. On a bright Sunday afternoon, as I sat on our front porch deck reading “Lord of the
Flies” for the second time, I saw my dad pull up in his car with groceries. He made a grunting noise as he unloaded them and carried them to the door. In my eyes, my dad had always been a superhero, but while his tough, stern personality hadn’t changed, his physicality had. Once I saw his back and shoulders buckle under the strain of the same bags that he used to carry with ease made that clear. From that moment, I made it my goal to see living at home as a positive. Even though my family had adjusted in the 12 years since my parents’ divorce, my dad needed some weight lifted off his shoulders. He was struggling to organize the bills and clean the house, because he woke up every day at 5:30 a.m. and wouldn’t be home until 5 p.m. I helped out with those things growing up, and while I never enjoyed doing the dishes or taking out the trash, I didn’t mind doing these things, because I never truly understood how hard my dad worked. I’m happy to relieve some of that stress from him. Both my sisters are going through the seventh grade
all-online. I may not have to watch over them like I did when they were younger, but now when the twins sit at the kitchen table during school time, I’ll sit at the table as well with my laptop. While my dad’s at work all day, there’s no one to keep an eye on Lola and Savanna to make sure they are getting assignments done. I tried to help them with math and reading homework; virtual school gives me enough trouble as a college student, so I knew Lola and Savanna were struggling. My sisters still see me as a parent rather than a sibling, since I’m constantly reminding them to do their chores and homework, which has caused arguments in the past. I had to learn to develop a friendship and not be the so-called “control freak” they like to refer to me as. The twins and I bingewatched “One Tree Hill” throughout the summer, and we still go on short adventures to Dunkin’ Donuts listening to Khalid. My teenage sisters are not the same two little girls I used to play basketball with in my driveway. They’ve grown since I’ve been away at college, changing their interests from playing dolls to keeping up with Tiktok trends. I’ve always been overprotective of my sisters, because they’ve been through so much growing up. They were raised without a mother and I never wanted them to feel unloved or abandoned. Now they are in their teenage years—the day after their 13th birthday, my dad said to me, “Bella, if there was a time they needed you in
Frank, Lola, Isabella, and Savanna DiAmore sit on the couch in their home in New Jersey.
their life it would be now, in their young adulthood.” I’m cherishing the time I spend with Lola and Savanna, because they truly are growing to be mature young ladies. Every day of the week my dad makes us a home cooked meal after a long day of work. When I first came back home from school, I would usually take my plate up to my room and eat there. As I reshaped my relationship with my sisters and dad, I started eating dinner at the table. I forgot what it felt like to sit at the table with my family with the news on in the background to unwind after a
long day. I spent my whole life being a young adult and I thought college would slow down time to enjoy different experiences for myself. But three years after I graduated high school, I found myself right back at home. I’m lucky enough I got to experience living at college for two years compared to some students who never left home. Being home with my family outweighs all of the negatives of the pandemic because I know this won’t be forever; high school-aged Bella would have said otherwise, but like the rest of my family, I’ve grown and matured.
SPRING 2021 14TH STREET 11
Photos by COLLEEN CLAGGETT
Staying Clean, Staying Home
The pandemic made everything harder. Including recovery. Words by DONOVAN HUGEL
Emily lies on the couch where her boyfriend overdosed in the living room of her Port Richmond home.
mily is beginning to take joy in the simple things in life. Her dad had the coronavirus but beat it. Most of her family members are vaccinated, and she is, too. She’s looking forward to seeing her grandmother for the first time in a year and seeing the new Mortal Kombat movie in theaters. She grew up on the video game and still loves the first movie which came out in 1997. “I’m trying to keep a sense of humor about all the things I’ve lost this year, and stay grateful for all the things I’ve kept,” Emily says. “There’s always more reasons to live, big and small.” Emily is a writer and former insurance examiner for people with disabilities. She’s 32 and lives in Port Richmond, a neighborhood in Philadelphia’s river wards. She’s been in recovery for substance use disorder since 2018. “I grew out of everything,” Emily says, “Except for alcohol.” She began to attend Alco-
holics Anonymous meetings that year and found a group of people who she could relate to and receive support from, who aided her sobriety. “They’re the most amazing, real people,” Emily says. “You can have a relationship when you’re talking on the phone, but going to a meeting and having something on your chest that normally you would cope with by drinking or taking drugs, and then share it with all these people? People cry and scream, but nobody’s allowed to talk over you. You just get five minutes to pour your guts out. The support you feel afterwards, people will come up to you and they’ll say, ‘I’m so happy you shared that. Let’s talk or let’s get coffee.’ It’s that sense of unity and fellowship that is the saving grace and is, in my opinion, the most important part.” She felt like she was making a lot of progress. Yet, like the rest of things, that was before the pandemic came along. On March 10, 2020, Emily walked
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to an evening group meeting in the basement of a church in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia. On her way there she got an apology text from her boyfriend, David. They had been together at a bar earlier that same night, and had a lot to drink. She wanted to go, and he was trying to convince her to stay. Eventually, they went back to his house together, but things were tense, and they only narrowly avoided an argument. She was disappointed, and frustrated. She knew they couldn’t be together if they kept drinking. The meeting comforted her and gave her space to vent and a little bit of hope that they could overcome their issues and get sober. She didn’t know it’d be the last time she’d go to an in-person meeting for more than a year. Philadelphia’s first documented coronavirus case was confirmed the next day, as treatment centers and recovery
groups across the country and world began to close down or move virtual due to strict stayat-home orders and mandated business closures. That meant no more church-basement meetings for Emily. On March 12, 2020, David died of a heroin overdose. A few weeks after that, an argument forced Emily to leave the house she had been living in. She didn’t have luck finding somewhere to rent, and couldn’t afford her own place, so she moved up into David’s old house, which one of his roommates had bought from David’s parents after he died. She relapsed again shortly after moving in in April 2020. “I still hang out on the couch where he died,” Emily says. “It’s still there. There was a part of me that was just waiting and expecting him to come home. But after 365 days, it’s like, he’s not coming home and he really is dead.” She decided to stop attend-
INTROSPECT ing her recovery group meetings even after they went online. She felt “awkward, forced, and disconnected” talking about her experiences over Zoom. There was no one there for her to talk to, or hug afterward, and she felt alone when she left the meeting. She succeeded at sobriety for eight months after April, and was feeling good going into the holidays. New Year’s Eve then brought another relapse. “I was joking with myself that I did it and survived 2020,” Emily says. “Then on New Year’s Eve I had a terrible night. It was like 2020 won and I was defeated by the year. I finally said ‘Uncle, fuck it.’ It was horrible, and it wasn’t just me reflecting on the year and how shitty it was. My dad was also in the hospital with the coronavirus. I was in this bathtub drunk, bargaining with a higher power like, ‘Break every bone in my body. I don’t care. Just let my father live.’”
ecovery from substance use disorder is a long-term process. Most programs and plans recommend total abstinence managed through some combination of medication and counseling, but relapses along the way are common; the rates across all substances are between 40 percent and 60 percent, according to the National Institutes of Health. Like so many other things, the pandemic has made recovery even harder. In a study on the pandemic’s effect on people in recovery for alcohol, National Institutes of Health researchers found that relapse rates had increased during the pandemic; the same study found that isolation had a greater impact on relapse than economic and physiological health factors. Ordinarily, there’s a wealth of support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and 12-step programs, as well as inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation run through professional centers and private therapeutic practices.
Yet most depend on face-toface contact — and the isolating circumstances of the pandemic made it necessary for those methods, and the people who benefit from them, to adapt.
ary is a registered nurse living in West Philadelphia. She aspires to plan one trip each year to explore sites and cities around the country. Glacier National Park in Montana is at the top of her list. “We have so much diversity of landscapes, geography, and culture right in our own backyard,” Mary says. “How much or little that all pans out just depends on the course of the pandemic.” Mary has been in recovery for alcohol and benzodiazepines since September 2018. She’s spent quarantine doing whatever she can to interrupt the alienation and boredom of being stuck in the house, where Mary and her fiancé have endured months of social distancing together. That’s included going on short walks — “Going to the mailbox was something that I tried for,” Mary says — as well as going through some of the vanishing motions of everyday life, like taking a shower and putting on makeup each day. “One of my favorite phrases is, ‘The opposite of sobriety isn’t addiction, the opposite of sobriety is isolation,” Mary says.
But isolation was hard to avoid, not only at home, but in public — even at the hospital. In December, Mary went to the emergency room, suffering from seizures, as well as other symptoms likely related to her diagnosed narcolepsy, and found herself enduring a harrowing stay alone, unable to bring her fiance, Bill, inside under the hospital’s pandemic protocols. Heaped on top of the stress of the pandemic, it proved overwhelming. She relapsed on Christmas Eve. “It was the perfect setup to lead to relapse,” Mary says. “Not only is the pandemic making it hard for people to access healthcare for things unrelated to the coronavirus, but accessing care is harder and you’re scared and isolated while waiting for appointments. That plunges people into relapse.” Over the next month and a half, Mary struggled to access the necessary care. She followed up on referrals to various specialists to see if they could fit her into their programs sooner than the six-week window they promised, but had no luck. Her neurological deficits continued, and doctors instructed her to stay home from work and avoid driving. On top of that, recovery meetings became less available for her to go to. She had been to both outpatient and inpatient
Accessing care is harder and you’re scared and isolated while waiting for appointments. That plunges people into relapse.
services and AA meetings in the past, and always found she got the most out of AA. And while she hadn’t been going to meetings when the pandemic hit and when she relapsed, she knew that they were a resource for help that would always be available if things got bad again. “I didn’t realize how nice it was knowing that there would be this group of people that if things got bad again, there would be a place for me to go where people wouldn’t judge me and where they would get it,” Mary says. “They’d instantly welcome you back and try to help you. There’s something really meaningful about the in-person setting for AA.” Mary looked into attending some online AA meetings, but didn’t end up following through.
s the coronavirus vaccine continues to be distributed nationwide, more treatment centers are beginning to reopen and offer in-person services once again. The American Society of Addiction Medicine released a list of policies and practices to consider for residential addiction treatment facilities in November 2020 which include wearing a mask at all times and social distancing inside the building, working quickly to develop telehealth based treatment and limiting visitation, quarantining patients inside their building if possible, creating clear policies and procedure for patients and employees that have tested positive or have been exposed to the coronavirus, developing standardized screening for the coronavirus once a patient enters the building, and having knowledge of all public health guidance related to the coronavirus. Many treatment centers, tagged as essential businesses, have remained open during the pandemic, albeit in a limited capacity. Prevention Point Philadelphia, a nonprofit that provides harm reduction services including Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), is one of those
SPRING 2021 14TH STREET 13
INTROSPECT that remained open. Everything quickly became a lot harder, says Clayton Ruley, who works in community engagement and volunteer services at Prevention Point. “Normal external resources that you used to be able to have come to the building and serve people were gone,” Ruley says, “and we have to tell people that we were closed with no estimated time of reopening.” Prevention Point established its own protocols from the beginning of the pandemic, including mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing inside the building, and offered outdoor services at drop-in facilities in a limited capacity. Making those decisions and trying to figure out how to still provide specific services to their clients was something that Ruley says he wished they had more guidance on from the local government. Although Prevention Point has stayed open throughout the pandemic, they haven’t been able to keep all of their services open, and the services they have kept open haven’t been in full capacity. Their drop-in center, which is usually open seven days a week, was closed for the first three months of the pandemic when many clients needed to use that service the most for things such as food, clothing, hygiene products, and mail services. “For the first three months there were definitely people who would come out, and maybe they hadn’t been around in a couple of weeks or days,” Ruley says. “They were used to being able to come in seven days a week in and out, and that space not being open for three months was like a, ‘What the hell is going on? What do they expect us to do now? Where are we supposed to go get help for this?’ type of moment for a lot of folks.” In Bala Cynwyd, Jeremy Frank and Associates, which offers treatment programs for substance use disorder, shut down in March 2020 and switched to entirely virtual care. Initially, it
was a “scramble” to provide the necessary care for their clients, says Jake Brennan, a therapist at JFA. Prior to the pandemic, JFA primarily served clients in the surrounding Bala Cynwyd and Main Line area. But since moving all appointments online they’ve been serving clients all throughout the state, taking on more clients during the pandemic than they had before. That was a surprise to the staff, says Brennan, who expected their caseloads to drop without in-person sessions. “If anything, we’re getting more calls,” Brennan says. Brennan also mentions that therapy has become much more accessible for people who might’ve not had the time to schedule appointments when they were only in-person, and they can take “an hour off from their workday to do sessions in their living room.” “Honestly, one of the benefits of opening up telehealth is that it’s made it a lot easier for people to schedule therapy, so people that would otherwise be on a waitlist because they can only meet in the evenings and there were only so many evening slots available,” Brennan says.
et even with those benefits of telehealth, that piece of human interaction was still missing for Jenny. She still felt alone at the few online meetings she went to. She misses meeting people who are struggling like her and connecting with them and working towards the same goal with all of them: inner peace. “There was this weird kind of synchronicity where I kept meeting people that just happened to be in recovery,” Jenny says. “The thing that you learn from talking to other people who are in recovery is that’s the thing that happens to everybody. It’s very much a power of attraction thing. It’s like the universe decides you’re ready to be sober. You’re nearing or are
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at rock bottom and then these people appear out of nowhere like angels, and you surrender to it. That’s how you find serenity. Inner peace is the end game for all of it. Everybody is working towards that in recovery.” For both Emily and Mary, life is starting to look up, even if there’s a long road ahead. It’s been close to four months since Mary’s relapse, and she’s trying to gain more momentum again to stay sober. She was prescribed and has been taking disulfiram, a drug which converts alcohol into formaldehyde in the body, since February. She’s also going back to work part-time, and is paying attention to her body and how she can better deal with the stress that comes with recovery. A year from now, Mary hopes to see herself living sober. “I definitely just really want to take some time to focus on resting and exercise, and just really letting my body heal from all the chronic stress it’s been through,” she says. “Learning about how stress currently manifests and how to keep an eye on it.” Emily still lives in David’s old house. As the anniversary of his overdose approached,
she went away on vacation to Washington state, where she hiked in Olympic National Park and camped in a van on the beach facing the Pacific Ocean. She went back to AA in early April after in-person meetings resumed in nearby Havertown, commuting and has reconnected with her former sponsor. “For me the necessity of being sober is clearer than ever,” Emily says. “The person I wanted to marry and have kids with and work with is dead, and things like COVID are going to keep happening. There’s going to be more disasters. Our country isn’t perfect. Sobriety is a very useful thing to have in the midst of a crisis.” If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, you can call the SAMHSA National Hotline at 1-800-6624357, or you can reach out to the following resources from the Philadelphia Department of Health and these services from the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services. *Emily and Mary are pseudonyms.
Inner peace is the end game for all of it. Everybody is working towards that in recovery.
PIETY, PRAYER & THE APOCALYPSE My childhood religion taught me that the end of the world was just around the corner. Then, the coronavirus pandemic happened. Words by TYLER PEREZ
Photos by MILES WALL
close my eyes and set my mind on the gentle vibrato of a man in prayer. His calm, consoling voice cracks with emotion as he repents for his sins, then becomes urgent and commanding as he warns of war, death, and devastation — the end of the world. I struggle to stay balanced as I stand at attention, and only the warm, familiar grip of my mother’s hand in mine keeps me upright as his prayer comes to a close. “In Jesus’ name, amen,” he softly says. The room roars it back. I open my eyes and pick up the two books placed before me: my Bible, encapsulated in a black leather cover bookending the history of everything, and a slim, red hardcover copy of a book on the apocalypse, which we’d spend the next two hours studying. We were told that on God’s day of judgement, He’d enact widespread destruction of our current world to rid it of our wickedness, and only His followers would survive the carnage. I’m eight years old, still unsure how the world works, when I first learn its disastrous end is imminent. My mother brought my siblings and me to these Tuesday Bible study meetings, and this month the subject was the end of the world. It was one of three weekly meetings held by Jehovah’s Witnesses, a sect of Christianity my family followed for most of my life and certain family members still practice. Its chief teaching — that we are living in the “last days” of earthly life before Armageddon destroys wickedness from the world — was my earliest
introduction to religion and how I understood the world, and as I watch a virus devastate the world around me, the memory of that man’s vicious premonitions resurfaces to shake my body to its core. I’m an adult now and disassociated from the religion, but it still haunts me: that younger me dressed in his Kingdom Hall clothing feels like a ghost, as if leaving the religion killed my spirit and left me a hollow husk of the happy child I once was, struggling to make sense of the world seemingly coming to an end around him. I remember sitting with open ears as my mother answered a knock on the door and invited a stranger inside the house to talk. I don’t remember the details (I probably hid in
another room to avoid saying hello), but I know that was when my mother heard about the promise of a paradise Earth. That’s what drew her in, and in no time at all, we were attending our first meeting. It’s that promise that hooks you in and gives you hope, enough to submit to shedding your identity in anticipation of eternal life. You’re told the world around you is coming to an end, that present suffering is temporary, but everlasting life is around the corner. There’s a deep sense of warmth and community in the congregation, something that could only come from a group of people with shared hope for the future, always reminding you that all you have to do is follow God’s teachings. A small sacrifice for
an eternity of perfection. And maybe for others it is. But that wasn’t the case for me. struggled early on with abiding by the countless rules of the religion, be it not saluting the American flag at school or not celebrating my own birthday until I was 18, at which point a birthday party didn’t even matter anymore. I didn’t celebrate a single holiday for about a decade of my life, and I’ve lost all enthusiasm for Christmas and Halloween. They don’t feel like days that are all that significant, only moments I missed out on that I’ll never get back. I don’t remember if I ever asked someone why I should follow these rules — questions were evidence of doubt, and doubt meant a lack of faith. Even if I
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INTROSPECT did, it wouldn’t have mattered. The rules were all derived from the Bible, doctrine that I, barely old enough to understand the individual words, didn’t have the vocabulary or knowledge to question or refute. The men in suits who led the meetings, who wrote the literature, who created the religion: we were told they were divinely inspired by God Himself and their decisions were, in essence, God’s own decree. That meant any chance of surviving God’s destruction of the Earth, and living in the paradise that would replace it, is contingent on our ability to follow His commandments. So I followed them, as well as I could. The hardest commandment to follow, and the one that changed me most as a person, was the requirement to separate myself from people outside the religion. To avoid the negative influences of the sinful, secular world, we were to surround ourselves only with fellow followers of Jehovah. If the world itself is wicked, they taught us, then the people who inhabit it must be. That kept me from making many friends. I had peers both in and out of the religion, people I’d see briefly at school or the Kingdom Hall and rarely elsewhere, but I never developed deep friendships. My mandated social isolation forced me to keep people at arm’s length, knowing our friendships and connections would be limited to our school lives. I think I lost my belief in God around middle school, the same time I started developing more significant relationships with my classmates. I kept our connection mostly hidden from my parents, telling them I was attending school-sanctioned events with classmates when I was actually elsewhere — anywhere I could go to spend
time with my friends in peace. I yearned for the escape the school year brought me, but these brief moments of freedom were only blips of felicity in an otherwise lonely, upsetting childhood. Each year I dreaded the summer, a three-month seclusion from the friends I’d made. My classmates never understood how we could be such great friends at school and complete strangers once the bell rang. I couldn’t give them a good answer. It was just what I was told to do if I wanted to live forever. The older and more disillusioned with the religion I became, the more I latched onto those school-day friendships, and when it came time to search for colleges, I saw an opportunity to escape and to build real, meaningful friendships. But my decision to come to Temple University was itself an act of treachery in the eyes of the religion. The Elders strongly discouraged higher education. Not only did it foster dangerously secular thinking, but it took away time we could’ve spent studying the Bible and preaching His word. Going to school, for me, was never about going against God: it was about finally commanding my own life, rather than having others dictate it for me. It was a chance to forge my future on my own terms and see the world I’d been sheltered from for so long. Leaving the religion to attend college was an act of liberation, but it only brought more loneliness. Moving away from my family left me directionless and isolated, and I regret not being there for important moments in their lives. My family is still an integral part of my life, even if I see them less often, but having to leave them to be free felt like one more thing the religion took from me. When I came to college, I
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struggled with making friends. I felt so socially incompetent after an adolescence marked by loneliness that I lacked the skills and experience to find friends in such a large community. I could never come close enough to anyone at Temple to let them see the real me: this lost refugee from a restrictive religion trying to navigate a world he was told was about to end. And as soon as I started making friends, only a handful of whom I told the truth about my life, my worst childhood fears came true — the end of the world was here.
hen the coronavirus pandemic shut down my college life, leaving me once again isolated from the few people I’d finally connected with, it felt like I was coming full circle to the life I left. Except I didn’t resent quarantine the way my younger self would — I welcomed it. I’d spent so much time at school pretending I wasn’t damaged by my childhood, but when I’m alone, like I was for so long growing up, there’s no one to hide my trauma from. It’s just me in all my brokenness. Being back felt like returning to life in the religion, and it gave me a new perspective on what I abandoned. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my decision to no longer be identified as a Jehovah’s Witness was a necessary one. I strongly disagree with its doctrine and rules, and it’s already taken so much from me — my mental health, my social skills, my childhood, and above all else, my connection with religion. But as I watch the world slowly sink into chaos, I have to wonder whether I was wrong. Was my decision to choose my present instead of my future the right one? And if this is the Armageddon they said was com-
ing, will I pay for my faithlessness with the same destruction I once feared? I try to remain hopeful, to convince myself this isn’t the apocalypse. But when you’re taught for so long, from such a young age, that the end of the world is imminent, and a pandemic begins to devastate everything around you, what else are you supposed to think? I thought this religion had taken everything away from me already, but it saved the most significant part of my identity for last: at 21, I’ve lost hope. I try imagining my future 10, 20 years down the line — I try to think of myself as the inspirational teacher I’m studying to become — and yet every existential fear they embedded in my mind overtakes me when I try, and all I can see is the end coming closer each day as that ghost of myself inches further away from me. But I felt him come back to me one Tuesday night in April at home, the same night I’d spend each week studying the end of the world as a child. My family crowded together on the bench of our dining room table. In front of us, a laptop tuned into Zoom as we, dressed in our best button-ups and blouses, grabbed a stack of Bibles, one for each of us, and got ready to pray. It was the memorial of Jesus’ death, an annual event central to the religion, and the first year it took place online rather than in person. Nothing about the event felt as ceremonial as it usually did, but the looming threat of death that had marked the past month brought a certain sense of urgency to every word. An Elder tells us through the screen about the significance of Jesus’ death — that as a result, humans like us have a chance at the paradise Earth as long as we abide by the teachings laid out in the Bible. I dismiss the notion, but ultimate-
ly think about the offer he’s proposed as the event ends and we bow our heads for the closing prayer. At the bottom of my heart, past my skepticism and uncertainty and faithlessness, I ultimately have to admit that a higher power exists, but I can’t quite say whether I believe it’s Jehovah. So much of my life has been stolen or impacted by the religion that bears His name, that distorts His words to keep people locked in their fear of losing faith, and if I tried to return to my childhood religion I know I’d only be more miserable than I already am. But as I held that book in my hand during the closing prayer of the memorial — my thumb rustling through its twelve-hundred-something pages, tracing the history of the world from Genesis to Revelation, from the beginning of time to the end of it — I asked myself one last time whether I made a mistake. Was the promise of eternal paradise in the future worth losing myself in the present? Was I unhappy because I had left the only stable social setting I’d known so far? Was the end of the world really here and I, in my inflexible faithlessness, going to meet the very end I’d feared for so long? In moments when I feel closest to God and to myself, I remember my mother once telling me she worried she might get to the paradise Earth and I won’t be there. As the Elder nears the end of his prayer, her voice echoes in my mind. “In Jesus’ name,” he says, “amen,” and in a firm, hushed, and almost unconscious response, I whisper the word back.
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V I R A L Words by INGRID SLATER Photos by NIKKI MOSCONY
don’t know what people did for comfort before social media. I assume the physical equivalent of venting online would be yelling into a crowded bus of captive and passively interested strangers (some still prefer this method, and that is perfectly valid). For me though, when I found myself stranded at my parents’ house during a quarantined holiday season, I did what I’ve learned to do since creating my first social media account in 2012: I made a joke on the internet. Holiday seasons are stressful enough during good years, but adding a lockdown and spiking coronavirus cases on top, and congrats! It’s a new circle of hell. In December 2020, my sister was living at home with my parents after her graduate program moved fully online, my parents hadn’t left
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Quarantine left us bored and isolated, but can TikTok fame really help? (hint: no.) for anything besides a quick TJ’s run in over six months, and I wasn’t allowed back into my dorm until the new year. Christmas magic didn’t stand a chance against the rising tensions in the Slater residence. Bored and isolated, I turned to the questionable coping mechanism of TikTok. For the uninitiated, TikTok, in this era of brain rot and involuntary freetime, has become a self-referential video sharing ecosystem of seemingly endless memes, ideas, trends, and dances. An endless carousel of content that isn’t necessarily there to entertain; its actual outcome is more akin to a numbing. My family dynamic had already taught me the true meaning of “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” In the same vein, when four people who have grown accustomed to more independence are now forced back into living together, relationships are… less fond. When you can’t walk into your parents’ kitchen without 13 discrete muscles in your body clenching at once, an anesthetic is very much welcome. So, I lay on my childhood bed and began my descent into my “For You” page. You know, there’s a reason you scroll downward on TikTok. Each video pulled me out of myself and sunk me into whatever space some advanced algorithm designed for me. Just before I entered a merciful vegetative state, a moment of lucidity came. I can’t recall if I heard the right audio, saw the right trend, but something sparked my first coherent thought in hours and, somehow, a full joke formed. I rose from my bed, sat in front of my vanity mirror (how fitting) and in less than a minute, I had a 15-second video – just four clips of my face with a few lines of text as the fruit of my labor. At this point I had only posted on my account a handful of times, mostly clips of
friends and myself over music I liked. I had about 200 followers — too many for my previous lazy inside jokes — and I didn’t have any intention of gaining more. I posted the video expecting my friends to see and laugh at me airing out some familial dirty laundry during the break. That’s really all it was, just a way to vent and blame family dysfunctions on astrology signs while I was stuck at home and between therapists. I posted it, laughed one more time, and put my phone down to watch “The Muppet Christmas Carol” for the third time in a week. The next morning when I woke up I opened TikTok again and nearly choked on my morning drool. My little video had more than 70 thousand views and hundreds of comments of people tagging their friends shouting that they, too, shared my astrological sign, some even adding I looked like certain C-list celebrities. I couldn’t believe I was getting any attention because — at the risk of sounding like a guest lecturer in your tenth-grade health class decrying drug use — you never think it’ll happen to you. Yet thinking about it now, I probably couldn’t have engineered a more viral-baiting video if I’d had a millennial reusable water bottle start-up’s marketing team behind me. According to the algorithm gods, astrology + family dynamics + relatively trendy audio = people sharing the video around and, more importantly, wanting to comment and talk about themselves and their own families. It went just like this: I’m spinning in a desk chair, eyes innocent and glassed over with calm music playing. Text above my head reads “My Aquarius dad.” In the next shot, the camera is shaky and close on my face as I angrily lip sync the now-intense xxxx music, the text on the screen now reading “My Cancer mom.” Then anoth-
INTROSPECT er close-up of more furious lip syncing, the text reading “My Cancer sister”, suggesting the two are in an argument. Last is a final closeup of, you guessed it, my face, now absurdly contorted into a sobbing expression with text reading “Me, also a cancer.” For you skeptics who don’t believe the stars’ affect our brain chemistry, the punchline of the joke is that cancers are very emotional signs while aquarians are spacey and out of touch with the emotions of other. So basically between my mother, my sister and I, the house is burning down and my dad doesn’t have a clue. At first, I was ecstatic about the response. I was texting my friends, following people back, and scrolling through their hundreds of comments. The rush of social interaction was like an adrenaline injection to the ass after the weeks of loneliness. Now here were hundreds of people responding to and laughing at a joke I made and talking to me. The best part was, they didn’t know me at all. Zero preconceived notions about me. Like many people who weren’t particularly attractive or popular in middle school, I’m fascinated with reinvention. The allure of a blank slate was overwhelming, and I spent the first few hours of my day answering comments in the nicest, funniest, coolest ways I could imagine. TikTok had given me thousands of people ready to humor me, and all I had to do was be whoever made them want to stick around. But as the video surpassed 200,000 views and the comments went from discussing the video to making wild assumptions about me and others, the adrenaline started to wear off. Some highlights from the comment section include: “how are they [my parents] still together?” “and he stayed?” “Cancers always super aggressive,” and my favorite and most unsettling comment: “ur ears are so connected to ur face it’s merozing idk how to spell it.” I was acute-
ly aware that I had no control over the little social pocket I had made and no way to stop anyone from looking at me and saying whatever popped into their head first. Comments were less like a conversation between me and a stranger, and more like several strangers talking at each other about me while I stood a yard away. I closed TikTok and ground my teeth for the rest of the day, trying to swallow a lump threatening to fully tighten my throat closed. I realized that in an effort to be understood, I had subjected myself to the humiliation of being perceived.
hat TikTok now sits at 456,300k views, 110,400 likes and 1393 comments at the time of writing. I gained about two thousand followers, but I’ve posted again a few dozen times in the months since, each new video gaining between a few hundred and a thousand views each. “Going viral” on an app like TikTok somehow changes how you fundamentally view and use the app, and social media in general. When I started using TikTok again after my video got popular, I was struck with seeing, and now knowing, how human the platform really was. Suddenly every face on my phone wasn’t just a moving picture there for my entertainment, but another human experiencing something similar to what I experienced. Media companies relying on and promoting user-generated content is still relatively new, so it can be difficult to remember the vulnerable human side of polished social media and entertainment. Fearing that this realization revealed a narcissistic lapse in my empathy, I talked to Temple University student and TikTok creator Ella Bone. Since first posting on her account @ el.bone in February of 2020, Ella has amassed 53.6k followers and 3.6 million likes on her videos where she usually
makes jokes and observations to popular audio clips. Her most popular video has 14.9 million views. After so many of her videos gain massive attention, she’s learned to separate who she is and what she posts from viewers’ responses. “I honestly feel like when there’s a video like that people take one thing from the video and everyone just rolls with it in the comments,” she said. “Like if everyone was talking about your dad, or whatever, that’s so weird. It’s almost like a mob mentality: they all gang up on, you know, whatever they don’t like or do like in the video.” But even with a year of TikTok pseudo-fame under her belt, Ella isn’t sure about the trajectory of her online presence. “I feel like I’m still kind of trying to navigate it,” she said. “It’s almost surreal. Like, my video video I made, that many people saw it. But I don’t exactly know what I can do, say, good with it. I feel like you have to do something good, if you have even a small platform.” Nicky Romano, on the other hand, embraces the irreverence of TikTok. “I really as a person like try not to take myself too seriously,” he explained, “I don’t see a point in it. Like, why not have fun? Why not be a little stupid? Why not make people laugh?” The Temple junior started his account @nickromano124 in the fall of 2019 and has gained 36.8 thousand followers and 3.3 million likes by posting comedy videos about Philly, the coronavirus, his houseplants, and more. (I was led to Nick after seeing videos of him commenting “#girlboss” under reports of female criminals on the Citizen app.) Nick’s tongue-in-cheek approach to TikTok allows him to have fun, but also takes the pressure of performance off that I had been feeling myself. “I’m not like doing this because it is like my art, or my career, or my whatever,” he said. “It’s honestly humbling to me because this doesn’t matter, like you’re
some asshole on the internet. So I try to dumb that down so that I don’t feel these overwhelming feelings.” Nick also doesn’t have the expectation of socializing on TikTok that I did when I first went viral, but did experience the same shock of realizing that numbers on social media translate into human individuals. “I don’t often think that there is a personal connection,” he said. “But when I have even the slightest amount of that, it kind of does hit me that I’m like, ‘Oh, these are people behind these numbers,’ like, it’s not just a heart next to a number that says 10k, 20k, 30k, 100k. And that, I literally cannot comprehend that.” Ella, Nick and my own experience showed me that you have two choices in your approach to social media fame: expect a meaningful interaction with others who do not see you as anything but a profile picture and suffer all that the wonderful strangers on the internet have to offer. Or, in an effort to preserve sanity and your sense of humor, depersonalize the whole experience until the idea of digital relations is a welcomed anomaly. So, social media is neither a social exchange, nor a replacement for human connection — it’s a human zoo, with enclosures made up of comedians, musicians, artists, and that guy that dresses up as sexy Willy Wonka. And look, I love a zoo. Who doesn’t? But the more you think about them, the more depressing it gets, and I can’t imagine spending hours a day at a zoo. Really, social media is a coping mechanism — not a remedy —- for the loneliness we’re feeling now during quarantine, or as a whole. If you really want to feel better, I prescribe a break from TikTok and a facetime call with a friend, or even a mostly silent dinner with family. Hey, they may even know how to spell “mesmerizing.”
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The c i m e d n Pa e t t e r o l e h c a B Five Zoom dates. Three of them for a loss. Two of them promising? Words by GIONNA KINCHEN Photos by COLLEEN CLAGGETT
ne of my closest friends went through a breakup during the year-long quarantine. The circumstances made it quite literally impossible for her to recover — she couldn’t get out there, meet guys, and have terrible but emotionally pivotal rebound sex — and so as her best friend, I did her a favor and took over her Hinge account. I did this out of love and also probably a deep-seated need for control, I was tired of seeing her get her heart broken. With a fine-toothed comb, I scoured Hinge for a good guy. And when I found one, I set them up on a Zoom date. It went badly. He was nice enough, but the Zoom call was awkward and detached. The fact that they were on a “date” while being physically separated, sitting in the same rooms they’ve been in for the past year, was less therapeutic and more depressing for my friend. To her, going on Zoom dates was such a sad excuse for intimacy that
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it actually made her miss her ex more. Is it really that bad? Is this the fate of social distancing singles everywhere during the pandemic? It’s a bleak thought. According to an October 2020 study by Making Caring Common, a project by the Harvard Graduate School of Education centered around ethics in education, roughly two-thirds of young adults reported feeling “serious loneliness” during the pandemic. For much of Generation Z, myself included, the coronavirus pandemic hit during what was supposed to be a particularly social part of our lives. Every day spent in lockdown is an important opportunity lost, whether that opportunity is for career
advancement, socialization, or romance. Young adulthood is a race against societal expectations — a constant feeling of running out of time to achieve success in all facets of life. And when life is put on pause in the middle of the race, depression and loneliness can creep in, slow, silent and monotonous as the passing of each day. Dating apps are designed to foster connection through the internet, so one might think they would be helpful in times of extreme isolation. If you can’t go out and meet people at a bar, an app like Tinder is meant to be the next best thing — a bar in your phone. Were dating apps truly unsuccessful at the job they were designed to do, in the time that we needed them the most?
friend’s short-lived venture sparked my curiosity. I’m in a perfectly healthy relationship, but I felt compelled to try my hand at socially distanced dating — in the name of journalism, of course. It had been disgustingly long since I’d had any human contact outside of my small quarantine group, and I was excited to meet new people, even if it was only through a screen, and more importantly, I wanted to test just how awkward and isolating the endeavor could be. My boyfriend (bless his heart) was slightly reluctant, but agreed to help me build my dating app profiles. I settled on Hinge and Bumble, excluding Tinder due to my less than ideal previous experiences with the unofficial app of one night stands. Creating a profile is a delicate dance, and I was rusty after being absent from the online dating scene for two years. I started by scouring my Instagram for the right photos — not too sexy (at the request of my poor boyfriend, but also be-
cause I generally prefer not to be harassed online by clinically horny men), but still a little bit sexy. A candid to show that I can be laid-back and fun, a few photos where I’m smiling but a few more where I’m straight-faced and cool, and at least one group photo to prove I have friends. In lieu of a bio, I decided on a more visible explanation of my reason for being on the app: a notes app screenshot, positioned strategically as the second photo on my profile, that read, “Hey! I’m a journalist and I’m currently working on a story about dating during the pandemic. If you’d be down to go on a Zoom date then match me! Research purposes only,” followed by an extremely calculated winky-face. I felt good about it, but I knew creating the profile was only the easy part. I figured I’d attempt to match with everyone I saw to maximize my chances of finding a date — I was on deadline, so this was no time to be picky. As I swiped through seemingly endless Dylans, Nicks and
Joshuas, I became acutely aware of the dizzying amount of options available within just a 10mile radius. Faces and names blurred together, and swiping began to feel less like an exciting game of boy-roulette and more like a morally ambiguous exercise in prejudgement. I quickly got into a rhythm. Every time I checked my phone to reply to a text or check social media, I would also open Hinge and Bumble and reply to whatever messages I had gotten. More people than I expected were extremely interested in the logistics of my little social experiment — I got lots of questions about the magazine, some passive-aggressive comments addressing the universal fear of being ghosted after a date, and a few people who were suspicious I had made the whole thing up. There were moments when I was carrying on close to a dozen conversations at once, and for each one I would have to go back and reread messages to recall who I was talking to and what about. I wondered if the men on the other end of the conversations were doing the same, stuck in an endless loop of introductions and icebreakers with strangers. After a couple days of frustration, I wrote and stored a pre-fab answer in my phone that I could copy and paste into the message box whenever one of my matches asked me to tell them about myself. I was beginning to understand why my friend had described the experience as “detached,” and
I knew I had to move onto the next phase to protect my sanity. I gathered the frontrunners—the best conversationalists and the men whom I could most scarcely picture in a prison jumpsuit—and offered each a Zoom date. I was able to schedule exactly five dates: three from Hinge, two from Bumble. I was proud of myself. I had gotten past the preliminaries and was ready to get to the crux of the thing. It was a nice feeling. And then I got ghosted. Thrice. etting ghosted is extremely annoying. It wastes your time, and it makes you wonder what you did wrong, even though you probably didn’t, in fact, do anything wrong. I wondered if it was just Zoom anxiety, or if they’d have done the same thing if we had planned a real-life date in the before times, where standing me up would have required them to leave me stranded at some restaurant, waiting for them to show. Ghosting before a date where neither party is required to leave the comfort of their own home could seem tame in comparison. Finally, though, I was able to make it to the day of one of my scheduled dates without being ghosted. In the hours beforehand, I found myself feeling a type of nervousness that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I was well aware that nearly everyone’s social skills, mine included, have been on a long hiatus for the past year. As much as I was worried about the strange man that I was about to go on a date with being awkward and weird, I was more worried I would be awkward and weird.
And then I got ghosted. Thrice. SPRING 2021 14TH STREET 21
Absolutley nothing was not awkward...
As I fixed my makeup and adjusted my outfit in the minutes before the date was set to begin (an impulse I kept having despite the fact that I wasn’t actually looking for a romantic partner), I began to calm down. My roommate, who had become deeply enthralled by my online dating saga, was in my room with me, sipping wine and sitting silently out of frame of my laptop’s webcam so she could bear witness to the date in real-time. Every few seconds the silence was broken by the click of a camera lens — this entire thing was being photographed for the magazine. Fleetingly, I imagined myself as the star of some terrible half-baked reality show: I was the Pandemic Bachelorette, joined on my date by a live studio audience and thousands at home. Absolutely nothing about this situation was normal, and absolutely nothing about it was not awkward. But I sort of knew then that if anything, it was going to be fun. My date was a good-looking athlete named Damion, and from the very start, he was assured and charming. He had no shortage of stories and conversation-starters, and after a
while, the conversation flowed organically. Despite my expectations, I was genuinely having a great time. We guessed each other’s Zodiac signs (I correctly identified him as a Leo while he mistook me for a Gemini), argued about whether or not Central Jersey exists, discussed the stupidity of catcalling, and talked about our dream travel destinations and Nigerian food (Damion prefers Ghanian food, but still highly recommends trying jollof rice in all its iterations). After about an hour, we said our goodbyes and logged off, promising to keep in touch. To my own surprise, I genuinely wanted to — I immediately thought of the legendary party I plan to throw once the pandemic is over, and mentally added him to its guest list. As far as first dates go, it was beyond successful — a realization which gave me a touch of dread for my next date. Has there ever been a recorded instance of someone having two really good first dates in a row? The next night, while my roommates were out bowling, I was getting ready for my second date. I was a little
more relaxed this time — instead of scouring my closet for a cute outfit, I wore the t-shirt and leggings I had been wearing all day. My date was a sound designer called Alex, who coincidentally lived one town over from the New Jersey suburb where I grew up. Without all the anxiety that had been with me on my first date, I was able to tap into a more comfortable part of my personality, and hanging out with Alex felt like catching up with an old friend. We scrolled through our Facebook friends and tried to find mutual acquaintances from high school, and showed each other our baby pictures. At one point, we each took a shot and clinked our glasses against the webcam, and it was the closest thing to a real-life “cheers” that I had experienced in a long time. Almost two-and-ahalf hours had passed, and I had a new friend. ater, after saying goodbye to Alex, I kept thinking about a comment that my first date, Damion, had made during our date. He had said sincerely that he had a good time, simply because it had been so long since he got to have a conversation with someone he’d never met
before. I felt the same way, although I didn’t admit it in the moment. I’d felt nervous to break the news to each of my dates that I wasn’t actually single, even though I knew they were fully aware that the dates were part of a social experiment. Especially after having such a positive experience with both of them, I didn’t want them to feel like I had wasted their time, but they both took it well and made it clear that they were happy just to make a connection with someone. I’ll be honest. Doing this experiment didn’t give me the grand revelation about romance in isolation that I had hoped for. I wasn’t swept off my feet, nor did I hope to be — but I realized that that’s precisely why I had such a positive experience. There is absolutely nothing about the circumstances we’ve been forced into this year that is sexy or romantic. Going on dates over the internet was at times awkward, and it did remind me that physically, I was alone. But because I didn’t try to force myself — or my dates — to experience some intense, dreamy connection through a webcam, I was able to experience something else entirely, and something I’ve craved since the start of the pandemic: that giddy, euphoric feeling that comes with making new friends unexpectedly. In these times, I think it would be hard to ask for much else.
Gionna 22 14TH STREET SPRING 2021
Bibiana Correa Transform Editor
I always thought transforming myself involved a grandiose makeover fit for a ‘90s teen rom-com: removing the glasses, putting on a new outfit, and bam, immediate confidence. The thing is, life isn’t as picturesque as we’d sometimes like it to be. There are no quick fixes and it’s definitely not as predictable as Paul Rudd or Heath Ledger melting your insecurities away. Let’s take the coronavirus pandemic, a big example of that. A year ago, nobody knew what the pandemic would do to us, mentally, physically, or emotionally. While some of us have decided to completely transform ourselves, others learned how to survive. Transform reflects Philadelphia individuals who have molded the pandemic into their own version of success. We met local bands and fashion designers who have reflected and redirected their vision. We talked to a content creator using her platform to rebuild her confidence, and a Uber driver, life coach, and rapper who’s changing lives one ride at a time. Flip through, and you may find yourself reinspired.
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DESIGN OF THE TIMES
Photo by COLLEEN CLAGGETT
Three Philly fashion designers take their lines online. Words by GEM GRIMSHAW and MAGDALENA BECKER
In a world of shutdowns, Zoom meetings, and virtual happy hours, Philly fashion designers found a new sense of creativity amid the isolation to continue styling. Homegrown brands like Chalk Press, Blue Bangs, and Roy Urban Kollection made online shopping not only a necessity but a continuous form of selfexpression and resourcefulness.
F Blue Bangs by Robyn Dombey
ew can say that their original designs ended up in Urban Outfitters stores throughout the world, but Robyn Dombey is one of them. From her extensive denim knowledge she picked up from Urban and Marc Jacobs, freelancer Dombey decided to take denim gems and transform by herself. (Jackets from $245).
down to the weight or even stretch of the fabric. When it’s stretchy, they all kind of do this horrible, curly thing. So it was really like understanding the differences and knowing that you had to use real heavyweight denim. I was creating little passports for [the denim pieces], so like where they came from, what year, what brands, what level of wear. And then it sort of became about just giving them a second life.
Q: Do you do fashion outside of Blue Bangs? RD: About , I started at Made Institute, instructing. I am now as director of online courses and marketing, but it was kind of like a slow transition into fulltime, and I still teach a bit.
Q: What’s your favorite piece to make? RD: One of my favorite pieces is basically taking the front and back to a jacket, ripping the sleeves off of it, and then molding it into a dress. So basically you have to do it on the person. You kind of mold it around the person to get their shape, like the armholes, and then the collar becomes a back scoop neck. Then I add just two straps. So it’s really about kind of seeing where it fits on the body.
Q: What did you learn from previous jobs that you took to Blue Bangs? RD: One of the things was really understanding how the fabrics that you’re choosing have such an effect on the end product,
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halk Press, heavily influenced by Japanese designers, experiments with different recycled textiles and stitches to create a unique, contemporary brand for Philly street fashion. Netburn and Hodes hand make everything ranging from denim masks ($20) to reconstructed hoodies ($185). Q: Where do you get your inspiration from? AN: There’s a lot of modern fashion that’s influenced by the Japanese style of repairing your own clothes. Big designer brands found ways to mend clothes that look really interesting. We try to reflect on what’s around us at the moment. If something really
influences us or amazes us, we try to bring it in and create these motifs that we like, and just keep it going. BH: That’s where a lot of the patchwork comes from. We’re both very graphic-oriented artists and a lot of the stuff we make for the graphics comes from our own art. We mess a lot with organic fibers and stuff that can be biodegraded. Q: Pandemic wise, what’s the current state of your business? BH: Honestly, production has been a lot higher. We’ve been able to do a lot more with classes being online. I have an internship, so I don’t have any classes. My nights are pretty much free to create.
AN: It is a bummer. We normally do a lot of our sales through pop-ups or street vending, so with those not being an option, it’s kind of harder to sell. Our website only does so much. BH: A drastic shift is our mask making. Pretty early on we were toying with the idea of making masks. At first, we were donating masks with every sale to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. But it became a little hard to do that. We’ve been continuing to make them and that’s been a big portion of our sales. It’s fun, it’s a lower-price thing that’s handmade by us, so it allows for people to get something that shows our true craft. We enjoy making them, but hopefully, we won’t have to make them for much longer.
Chalk Press by Ben Hodes & Adam Netburn
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Photo by COLLEEN CLAGGETT
oy Urban Kollection reflects Togun’s love for nature, in his striking handmade prints, made for wall displays or iconic fashion pieces, from his Handmade Batik Unisex Busayo Track Suit ($300) to his framed poster prints ($200).
Roy Urban Kollection by Muyiwa Togun
Q: What was your inspiration for the brand name? MT: The name I coined out of my mother’s name, Olaroyeke. I picked the three middle [letters] from her name, which ends up as “Roy.” I wanted something that would last a while, that would last the test of time. I wanted people to relate back to the old story behind it because my parents and their creativity is so centered around my experience, my environment, culture, and people. I just wanted something spectacular, something unique. Q: Where do you get your inspiration from? MT: I love nature, I love spending my time with nature, the animals, the ocean, the seas, and everything. The woods, I love being in the forest too, so I get ideas from nature most of the time. Basically, my inspiration comes from my environment and nature. If I’m not doing anything, that’s where you’ll find me. Q: What makes your brand unique? MT: All our products are handmade and it’s not mass-produced, it’s not generic, it’s not something you see everywhere. You understand the value that people have for it. There’s not a lot of businesses out there doing what we do and how we do it. We try to please our customers and make everyone happy.
Photo by SILVIA AGAEVA /COURTESY
No History, No Self Joining Phillipine activists and studying our past helped me reckon with my identity. Words by LAUREN REMY
y identity changes wherever I go. After living in four different places, I learned that my perceived ethnicity is essentially contextdependent. Growing up in the rural mountain town of Sedona, Arizona, where 95 percent of residents are white, made my Asian-ness quite apparent. My Filipina mother raised my siblings and I on her own. We grew up eating lumpia and watching our mother’s income become remittances, things that often underscore Filipino identity. I never questioned the fact that I am Asian until I graduated high school and moved to Phoenix, where a few peers from a scholarship program accused me of posing as Asian to qualify for it. I spent 18 years of my life unwavering in my Filipino identity, but when I left my insulated community, I confronted the fact that I am actually white-passing. I made a habit of pinching my face in the mirror for long periods of time, dissecting my physical appearance to understand what others see when they look at me. When I moved to Philadelphia at 20, I lived like a chameleon. I would gauge how others perceived my race, and adapt to whatever impression was imposed upon me. Some people view me as white, others view me as Asian, and some believe I am
perfectly ambiguous. Constantly measuring others’ perceptions of me left me unanchored to any single identity, even though I know that race goes much deeper than mere phenotype. At the onset of the coronavirus lockdown, I moved to Vermont with my then-boyfriend’s white family to escape the anxiety of living in an urban area gripped by a virus we had little knowledge of. This returned me to an isolated, racially homogenous area but also introduced me to living in a white household. In a wellmeaning attempt to make me feel welcomed, my boyfriend’s mother asked me the question, “So what island is your mother from?” while pulling up a map on her computer. The question didn’t evoke a welcoming feeling, but a haunting one. Questions like this often kickstart an interrogative conversation where one question about my mother’s immigration story leads to another about my heritage or upbringing. Those conversations suffocate me: I usually have to explain not only my mother but an entire nation and how I fit into it, to someone with no prior knowledge. But the most painful aspects of these conversations are my incomplete answers and my butchered pronunciations that remind me of my insidious racial imposter syndrome. My European name and
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monolingual tongue make me feel not Asian enough. But my upbringing and experiences that come with being a secondgeneration Asian person make me certain I’m not white either. Yet I’m not even comfortable identifying as “half” of either race, because it implies that my experience can be divided and packaged. How could I feel compelled toward my “white half,” when my white parent wasn’t ever a part of my life? And if I do create fractions of my experiences, who does this really serve? Making my identity into something palatable to others feels like a performance I never signed up for. When I lived in Vermont, I realized something crucial was missing from my relationship to my identity. I spent all this time understanding what others think when they see me and no time deciding what I actually think of myself. I defined myself by others’ perceptions of me, and not my own heritage or history. I felt alone in this realization, and had no community to turn to. In an attempt to escape this loneliness, I reached out to a Pinoy friend of mine, Hector, about the struggles I faced as a biracial person. He sent me a message that changed my relationship to my identity for good. “When you have Filipino blood, you carry the struggles of the people that came before you,” he told me. “When
someone is Filipino, even just a little bit, it means that we still exist. Despite the horrors we were subjugated to, we have the pride of knowing that we are still here. Be proud of your heritage because all we have is each other.” I never heard of someone conceptualizing Filipino-ness as a form of resistance, where the mere act of living proudly as a Filipino could be a form of fighting against repression. I wanted to know more, but I was stuck in Vermont in the middle of a pandemic, and I wasn’t close with any Filipino people besides Hector. I used social media as an escape. I messaged a Filipina peer of mine on Instagram for organizations that could help me learn about Filipino politics and culture. She was in the midst of starting a local chapter of a global organization called Anakbayan, meaning “youth of the nation’’ in Filipino. In June 2020, I joined a Zoom-based orientation into its Philadelphia chapter. I knew that Anakbayan fights to liberate the Filipino masses, but I had no idea what we needed to be liberated from. During orientation, I learned a bite-sized version of both historical and current affairs in the Philippines, which entailed a history of colonization and a series of corrupt presidents. I was introduced to what Anakbayan does, and how it is organized. By the end of the
he three of us learned what we were up against: centuries of imperialism, thick layers of corrupt economic
and military agreements, and an education system built to maintain the status quo. The current president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, wages wars on his own people. Under his administration, up to 20,000 people have been killed extrajudicially during his War on Drugs, the Philippines became the most dangerous place in
colonization under Spain and the United States, occupation by Japan during WWII, and rule under a series of corrupt puppet regimes such as Ferdinand Marcos who infamously placed the country under martial law for 14 years. The picture of Filipino history appears grim, but with every oppressor came a mighty resistance. Filipino
Photos by COLLEEN CLAGGETT
hour, I had my left fist raised and recited the following pledge in unison with complete strangers: I pledge to uphold the revolutionary tradition of the Filipino youth. I will continue the unfinished struggle for national liberation and democracy. I will be loyal, enthusiastic, and arduously serve the interests of the youth and the people, even if it means offering my life. Together, we work to mobilize youth around Philadelphia to advocate for National Democracy in the Philippines by studying Philippine history, standing in solidarity with other oppressed communities, and educating people about the situation in the Philippines. We organize virtual teachins and rallies, raise funds for causes abroad, and sometimes hold in-person actions such as banner drops or protests. Soon, these strangers would become my dear friends whom I would protest, study, organize, and laugh with. I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with members Rhiannon Newcomer and Astrid, who I had met a month beforehand when they were newly oriented. Coronavirus separated me from my family in Arizona for more than a year now and being away from them forced me to find a new family to get me through the rest of this pandemic’s challenges. Eventually, Astrid moved into my same apartment building. Rhiannon visits us often, and we do everything together. We organize together, but we also share meals and provide emotional support to one another. We all became passionate about what Anakbayan fights for.
Remy and Rhiannon talk at the table while Astrid cooks dinner in Astrid’s apartment.
the world for environmental activists, and criticisms against Duterte became acts of terrorism under his Anti-Terror Law. Worst of all, Duterte is only the latest installment in a long legacy of violence against the Filipino people. The archipelago’s history includes
revolutionaries struggled against both of their colonizers for hundreds of years. Marcos’ rule ended when the Filipino masses ousted him in 1986. Most members of Anakbayan are a part of the Filipino diaspora, but some members, like Rhiannon and
Astrid, come from various backgrounds. Rather than joining to learn about their heritage, Astrid and Rhiannon joined to fight against United States imperialism abroad. Astrid, a third-year undergraduate film student at SUNY Purchase, joined Anakbayan per Rhiannon’s suggestion. The pair shared frustrations over United States imperialism in Asia, particularly in Vietnam and Korea. When they studied the history of American intervention in these countries, they uncovered secrets that the American education system kept from them. When Astrid joined Anakbayan, they realized there’s a rich community of organizers doing antiimperialist work that they didn’t know about previously. “Even though I haven’t physically met everyone, I feel very close to them.” Astrid said “I feel seen in a way that I haven’t with my friends that I have met in real life.” Rhiannon, a thirdyear undergraduate speech pathology student at Temple University, deferred enrollment in Fall 2020 to become an emergency medical technician. This decision was guided by the protests that occurred in the summer, where she saw people getting injured by rubber bullets, tear gas, and batons. She also spent time at the homeless encampments in Philadelphia. Seeing this unfold made her want to have a more active role in helping people. “I realized that if the world absolutely collapses, having medical knowledge makes you more valuable,” Rhiannon says. “And we don’t have to be so dependent on this system.” This reflects a core sentiment we’ve learned as a friend group, that one of the most important parts of activism
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is simply caring for one another. We should be considering, whenever possible, how we can be valuable to one another and create a tight-knit community. I often overlooked this in my own political thought, because I was so focused on dismantling the rotten system at hand. I used to spend so much time just being angry. Angry that I spent so much time explaining myself and trying to find a place in the world that I fit in, and angry at all the unaddressed evil in the world. But I was wrong. There is a place for me, and there is an
fighting for should be applied to those closest to you, and your comrades,” Astrid says. “You can be as involved as you want to be, you’re always invited to be as involved as possible.” Astrid, Rhiannon, and I have a print, made by Astrid for an Anakbayan art show fundraiser, that says “be careful with each other, so we can be dangerous together.” We aren’t really sure who said it, but we keep this phrase on the walls of our bedrooms as a reminder of the importance of community care and the role it plays in the
cuisine. Though these cultural staples are important, there is a major part of Filipino identity that often gets omitted: the fact that Filipino people come from a long legacy of resistance. Throughout history, people have tried to subjugate and repress the Filipino people, but we’ve endured. Kai, a close friend of mine who I met at orientation, also reflects on how activism shaped his Filipino identity. “There’s an erasure of Filipino identity. Like, people know [Filipinos] to be
coronavirus pandemic, we are all still driven and brought together by the belief that a better world is achievable. “We all share a similar struggle, and nobody is trying to one-up each other in the struggle. We are so interconnected. Even in this pandemic world, we are so very connected, much more than we realize,” Kai says. When I “offer my life” to the movement, it’s not about facing death. It’s about life, and what I do with my time while I am here on this Earth. I want to
Rhiannon, Remy, and Astrid sit on the couch in Astrid’s apartment.
abundance of activists that are addressing the evils at hand and fighting for a better world. Some of these communities have been around for years, and Filipino resistance itself has been around for centuries. Now, I spend less time being angry, and more time being appreciative of everyone that I share this struggle with. I learned that being hopeful alongside other activists is one of the most radical things you can do because we are much stronger when we are together and we believe in ourselves. “Everything you are
fight for liberation. There’s a saying by Jose Rizal, a Filipino writer who lived during Spanish colonization, that translates roughly to: “Know history, know self. No history, no self.” Before I studied Filipino history, I did not know myself. I felt uncomfortable with my ethnic identity, and let it be defined externally rather than internally. This quote summarizes a core lesson I learned from Anakbayan: being Filipino isn’t just about speaking a language, wearing certain clothes, or eating certain
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hospitable. But why are we like that? It’s because we’ve spent most of our time being colonized so we feel like we have to appease people. The trauma of it all..it’s disgusting.” he says. Kai added that, despite being involved in multiple Filipino cultural organizations beforehand, he felt like a lot of information got “washed away.” As individual members, we all reckoned with different challenges throughout the past year of the pandemic. Despite these impossible tasks we confronted due to the
dedicate as much of that time to fight for a truly autonomous Philippines, whose government serves its people. I finally feel anchored to an identity, one that doesn’t require me to express myself as fractions, but rather one that carries on my ancestors’ fight for freedom, a fight that I will continue to pass down if we don’t succeed in my lifetime. And I have an entire community of people who’ve chosen the same path.
Words and photos by COLLEEN CLAGGETT
t the corner of Cedar Avenue and South 49th Street is a house of strangers. At least it was for Seth Laxman, a 21 year-old native of Nyack, New York, when he moved there in July of 2020. Stella Plenk, 24, an administrative assistant at an art center in Maryland and an archivist collector for an Arizonan company, wanted to build a community in Philadelphia during the pandemic when people’s social lives were reduced to who they live with.
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Plenk started this community with herself, Helena Wiatrowski, 23, a Boston-Philly transplant and coronavirus case investigator for a public health department in Colorado, Eli Plenk, 30, a development and operations consultant in Philadelphia, and Laxman, a GIS and Data Analyst for a company based in Washington, D.C. The three remaining rooms have rotated occupancy and are currently filled by Griffin Unger, 25, an organizer for a union in Harrisburg, Micah Lockman-Fine, 24, a recovery specialist at an organization in Philadelphia, and Tausif Noor, 28, a doctoral student from California. The roommate list was formed by mutual friends, Face-
book posts asking for roommates in Philadelphia housing groups, and the flexibility of remote careers. During Zoom calls with potential roommates, they stated the rules for taking part: stick to the chore chart, grocery shop on your assigned week, cook dinner on your assigned weeknight, and don’t bring home the coronavirus. The six-bedroom home in West Philadelphia houses seven, and the five skateboards, three bikes, a carefully-balanced coat rack, and an entry-way corner devoted solely to shoes is indicative of it. Bedrooms are reserved for work during the day and relaxation at night, while the kitchen, living room, front porch, and backyard act as social spaces. The once-strangers will part ways when their lease is up in the summer, but for now, they have created a pandemic-friendly social life inside their home.
Now when you can’t have a social life outside of your house, it’s really cool that we get to have it here and to be forming relationships when nobody’s really allowed to meet new people.
Seth Laxman sits at his desk in his room.
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D OF THE WORLD
SOUNDS LIKE Photos by JEREMY ELVAS
It was the end of the world as they knew it, and we listened. They sound more than fine. Words by GIONNA KINCHEN
he past year has been incredibly rocky for the music industry. Album sales and streaming are down, and live music in all its forms is, for the moment, pretty much a thing of the past. Small acts have to rely on streams and sales for revenue without the support and promotion of prominent labels. For three Philly-based indie acts, though, the pandemic hasn’t been all bad: it’s given them a chance to create, reflect, and plan.
Gloss Gloss, the creative brainchild of three students at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, just might be the girl band that saves the 2020s. The band consists of 21-year-old Sophia Grosshauser on vocals and piano, 20-year-old Mollie Schechter on drums, and 19-year-old Harlee Torres on bass. Initially, Gloss was nothing more than an idea Grosshauser and Schechter had as a response to the lack of women in the music program at UArts. “We wanted to start something that was all girls, but there were not enough female instrumentalists at the school at the time,” Grosshauser says. “So we
waited a year, and talked about this plan, like, all the time. And then Harlee came, and we just all wrote songs together really well, and it just kind of worked out.” With Torres’ arrival at UArts, Gloss found their bassist. They started rehearsing in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit. Over quarantine, the band recorded multiple songs from remote locations, states away from one another. Their debut EP, titled Entwined, released onMarch 26. Gloss’ unique sound blends vintage jazz, Latin and R&B elements with a refined alt-pop sensibility. They’ve also taken
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time over quarantine to perfect their visual aesthetic as a group, which reads as a charming and eclectic blend of bright colors that brings to mind the girl groups of a bygone era. Since Gloss was a relatively new band when lockdown began, they’ve yet to play any live shows—but when the time comes, Schechter said they’ll be ready. “Our big goal for the pandemic is just to get as tight as possible so that as soon as it’s over, and as soon as we can perform again, we’re ready,” Grosshauser says. “That’s kind of been our game plan mindset, just to write and come up with sets. It’s just been like, ‘We’re ready.’”
Even as a child, Nuge knew he could rap. The 20-year-old hip-hop artist lived in New York until he was 12, and then moved to Washington, DC before recently settling in North Philadelphia. But it was at his elementary school in Manhattan where he first discovered that he could freestyle. “Kids go crazy [making beats] on the lunch tables,” Nuge says. “And basically, if you can rap and you can freestyle, then that’s a cool thing to be able to do. So in elementary school, I was doing that shit.” Nuge is all grown up now, and he hasn’t stopped rapping. On his debut album “Little Thoughts,” which was released on May 1, 2020, Nuge floats effortlessly and melodically over bouncy trap beats, cooly reflecting on love and boasting an extravagant lifestyle. While the album was written and recorded before the pandemic, it was released during the first few months of lockdown, during a time where Nuge was feeling creatively stagnant. His remedy for bad days in quarantine? Making more music, of course. The process of making music is “therapeutic” for him, he says, and it’s given him something to do during repetitive days. Despite current circumstances, Nuge has big plans. When asked where he’d be five years from now, in a perfect post-pandemic world, he immediately had an answer. “In Paris, right before my European tour,” Nuge says. “I’m gonna be in my house in Paris with all my best friends getting ready for my tour. I might be in a bathtub with some champagne, maybe a Parisian model if I’m lucky. Yeah, that’s pretty much my next five years.”
Sophie Coran On a Zoom call from her home in Philly, Sophie Coran, a 30-year-old singer-songwriter, is gearing up for the release of her debut album, S P A C E. Coran self-describes her genre as “Noir&B,” a laid-back amalgamation of R&B, soul and jazz, with a generous sprinkle of oldschool nostalgia and charm. S P A C E is an album three years in the making, but the final result was achieved during quarantine and released on April 9 for online streaming and purchase. Prior to the pandemic, Coran was planning a tour with her band to coincide with her album release. After its cancelation amid state lockdowns, S P A C E’s release was postponed. But to Coran, it was a blessing in disguise, giving her more time to perfect the album. But, at the same time, she said, the loss of live shows was disheartening. She dealt with it by reminding herself that every other artist in the world was in the same situation. “In a way, I came to terms with it,” Coran says. “And it’s like, okay, well, I can focus on recording and writing, and then when shows come back, I can jump back into that and focus on that, and by the time we can go on tour, maybe I’ll be touring two albums.”
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AUDREY’S OWN TERMS She uses OnlyFans for creative expression, sexual empowerment and financial gain. Words by ALESIA BANI
he starts her work day in a typical fashion: putting her blonde hair in a top knot and sitting cross-legged on her windowsill, eyeshadow palette in hand. Using the natural light from her window to lean over, she looks into a small mirror and begins painting her eyelids. “Cool makeup looks, that’s like, my thing,” Audrey, 23, says. “I love doing makeup.” But she doesn’t have a typical job. Audrey works as an OnlyFans creator, which consists of staging her own weekly pornographic photo shoots with different makeup aesthetics. You can find Audrey utilizing any corner of her apartment to set up her camera as she ponders her makeup look. Although it takes the longest, it is her greatest source of inspiration for content creation, which falls under two categories: makeup-free girl next door, or a sexy, edgy look. Audrey then combs through her wigs and outfits to find the one that feels right — for a simpler shoot she dons fun socks and panties, while other times, she wears lingerie sets complemented by a backdrop of colorful lighting. She sets up her essential ring light, and naturally, takes as many photos as possible. The final step is the most fun, or the most tedious, depending on who you ask: selecting the ten best photos to upload for the week: “Most of the time that it takes for OnlyFans is purely setting up and getting ready to take a picture,” she says. These photos are part of Audrey’s $14.99 a month subscription, where users can see photo sets consisting of five photos in different angles and positions that flaunt her fig-
ure. Fans with auto renew get exclusive behind the scenes content, and those that tip, get a short 30 second video of her saying thank you. For specialized content, fans can request custom videos or pictures through her DM’s, where the pricing depends on the length of the video and whether Audrey will need to purchase additional props or outfits. Content that fans request or that they receive for tipping is sent privately and will never be shared on Audrey’s Only Fans main feed. Audrey is talkative, confident and bubbly — she’s the type of person you would want as a friend, and she’s not ashamed of her work. Audrey’s interest in sex work was influenced by a close friend who moved to Los Angeles and became successful in the adult entertainment industry. Audrey began by selling content privately on Instagram, but her friend encouraged her to grow her platform and become a creator on OnlyFans so she could charge a monthly subscription for her content. She started her OnlyFans account in February 2020, which was “ironic timing” with the outbreak of coronavirus the following month and the increasing popularity of the platform. OnlyFans, a content subscription service that has become synonymous with sex work, was launched in 2016 by Timothy Stokely, who created BDSM and fetish site GlamWorship a few years prior. Stokely aimed to create a space for entertainers to securely monetize their content after learning about the prevalence of “under-the-table” sex work content on other social platforms. There are currently more than 1 million content creators on OnlyFans, and the platform has grown by over
500 percent in 2020, with the global pandemic playing a major role in this rapid growth. “I think of Only Fans as being like a creative outlet, so there’s times where you’re really, really, really into creating content and you have so many good ideas,” Audrey says. “And then there’s some times that’s like, ‘I don’t really know what I want to do.’” Audrey talks about Only Fans like any other “normal” job, describing the time commitment and weekly tasks, but she also has additional sources of income to sustain herself financially. Audrey works at Foodery, a craft beer shop in Philadelphia, and has a sugar daddy, who she met a year before starting her account. She devotes her three streams of income to different expenses, with OnlyFans paying for her bills, rent, and car payments. Although it’s not much, she’s proud of how she’s been able to use sex work to support herself. While the top 10 percent of creators make 73 percent of the revenue, the average account on OnlyFans makes $180 per month. OnlyFans is a subscription-based model that can range from $4.99 to $49.99 each month, with the platform retaining a 20 percent fee. OnlyFans allows for tipping and pay-per-view content, and creators can ask followers to pay for individual content items as well. Audrey notes that OnlyFans is not easy or a “get rich quick” job as many people perceive it to be. Creators need to already have a large following or commit themselves to create quality, frequent content. Her first month she made $250, and now she makes between $600 and $1500 a month. “It takes so much time and work to
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TRANSFORM finally get to the point where you’re making good money,” Audrey says. “It takes as much work if not more than any other job to be successful. There is 100 percent a direct correlation between how much work you put in and how much you’re making.” Audrey primarily markets her OnlyFans through Twitter because she finds it to be the most accepting platform for sex work. She posts sneak peek photos as well as teaser clips for pay-per-view videos on Twitter to gain and maintain subscribers. Her current business model is to post photos every other day, as well as sending short clips to loyal fans to show her appreciation. She also creates long videos that her boyfriend is sometimes featured in that can range from 10 to 20 minutes, and posts 30-second previews on Twitter. Audrey charges $5 to $20 for her pay-per-view videos that are sent to all her fans, but it’s optional to purchase in addition to her monthly subscription price. “I’m always trying to think of better ways to promote myself and better ways to market myself,” Audrey says. “I try to make good content that people will like and people will share.” Audrey has also found Twitter to be a space for creators to network and interact, making “online friends” who repost her photos; she does the same for them. Audrey receives the largest influx of subscribers when bigger influencers repost or shout out her content. “Generally, most people are pretty supportive of other creators and are trying to help other creators succeed,” Audrey says. “There’s that really close sense of community.” Some of her friends have been inspired to join the platform, and her boyfriend assists her in creating content at times. Audrey has not shared with her parents that she works on OnlyFans because she grew up in a conservative environment. Somewhat inevitably as a content creator, she has faced online criticism from strangers, primarily men, who send her un-
pleasant messages in her direct messages. “They don’t like that women are monopolizing and making money off of something that they were sexualized for,” Audrey says. “There’s a lot of aggression towards women who are taking their body into their own hands and are actually making money off of it.” She is passionate when speaking about capitalizing on sex work as empowering, and she’s nonchalant as she recalls negative experiences. Audrey usually ignores hateful messages because “It’s whatever, it’s hate, they’re gonna be mad,” but she admits that when she first started her account, hearing negative comments about her body was difficult. “It would make me second guess myself and make me think ‘I don’t really like the way that my body looks in this picture,’ or ‘Is this person calling me fat.’” Nonetheless, Audrey says joining the platform has
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transformed her self-confidence because as a creator, she is posting her body on the internet for strangers to admire or scrutinize.“It’s a very vulnerable thing. You learn to accept more of your ‘flaws’ and become more body positive,” she says. “There are many people who will be negative to you for seemingly no reason and through OnlyFans, I’ve learned to care less about random people’s opinions of what I look like on the internet and worry more about my own self-image.” She chuckles as she recalls a recent criticism she received on having a breast augmentation. She was lying in bed post-surgery and posted on her Instagram story, “Just got my boobs done, watching iCarly,” and a man
Photos by COLLEEN CLAGGETT responded by asking her what size she made her breasts. “I told him, and then he was like, ‘Oh, that’s a shame. I really liked your small boobs. That’s sad.’ And it’s like, ‘OK, I didn’t do this for you. What do you mean?’” Audrey says, pointing out that contrary to what some may think, sex workers, like other women, don’t alter their bodies for others but for themselves. Audrey doesn’t plan to stay in sex work long-term and is still deciding what to do in the future, whether that be returning to college or making a career out of her love for makeup artistry, but in the meantime, she plans to grow her account as much as possible. Why? Must be the money. “I want to make as much money as I can,” she says, “and save as much money as I can, invest as much money as I can while I’m young and while I have the luxury of being able to do that.”
They don’t like that women are monopolozing and making money off of something that they were sexualized for.
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BORN TO Hed
Terry Dark breaks the rideshare norm by offering life coaching lessons and being the baddest man on the planet. Words by BIBIANA CORREA
oosebumps crawled on my skin with each breeze. I held tight to my thin windbreaker as I paced outside of The Metropolitan in Center City in hopes to warm up. I couldn’t think about how cold the December air felt over the chattering of my teeth. I gave up on my futile attempt to escape from the cold so I huddled next to my friend as we waited for Terry Dark. Suddenly, I heard him say “Bibi.” I looked around me until I locked eyes with Terry, who’s parked on the opposite side of the street in his gray 2018 Dodge Grand Caravan. He gave me a slight wave to motion me to his car, lit up with neon color-changing LED lights in the backseat. Excitedly, I said my goodbyes and ran to the warmer car. I noticed stars twinkling on the roof and Terry smiling at me through the rearview mirror. He turned down the radio and asked me how my night was going. I gave the regular response, “Good! I had a lot of fun,” and looked down at my phone. He asked me if I had ever been to an escape room and if I was in school. A first-semester college freshman at the time, I hesitantly told him I was studying journalism. Each time I get this question I’m met with the response, “Oh, well I hope you’re going to report on the ‘real news.’” But Terry was different — he replied with enthusiasm and curiosity. “Really? That’s cool, what do
you want to do with that?” I told him I aspired to be a travel writer, but not the ones who stay in hotels and tell readers the same five places to visit. I wanted to write about people who’ve shaped their communities and inspired change. It was obvious my passion ran deep. Terry slyly shifted the conversation’s tone by telling me to never let anyone take away that passion. I furrowed my brows, wondering what he was about to tell me. I kept listening. He continued, “Life may get hard at times, but remember, it’s not happening to you, it’s happening for you.” It felt like I had just been punched in the face. I looked up from my phone, my eyes wide. What did he just say? Terry began explaining our thoughts are powerful, and they dictate everything around us: our likes, dislikes, the clothes we wear, and the people we chose to be. We are in control of our thoughts and, in turn, our feelings. He gave me an example: during a breakup, it’s up to you whether you want to be sad about the situation or use it as a lesson. He didn’t know it then, but that was exactly what I need-
ed to hear. I had spent six months wallowing over the end of my first relationship, and you’re telling me this man gave me the clarity I needed in a matter of seconds? No, come on, this has to be a joke. Terry knew I had resonated with his words and repeated, “Pressure bursts pipes, but it also makes diamonds, it’s completely up to you what you do with the pressure.” Stop. Was it really that easy? I repeated what he had just said to me, word for word, and realized the truth in his message. I am in control of how I feel about certain situations, so why was I choosing to be upset over something that had already happened? Why did I keep hurting myself with my own thoughts? My ex didn’t hurt me, I was hurting myself. Damn. Is this what college does to people? Once he stopped in front of my dorm, I profusely thanked him for giving me my first sense of clarity in a long time. As I closed the door, I realized what had just happened. All of my frustrations, anxiety and stress I had been living with just disappeared in a 15-minute Uber ride.
I felt I owed Terry more than a thank you. This stranger, who didn’t owe me anything more than a fairly pleasant and safe a-to-b ride, was the only person in my life who’d been able to get me out of my own head. I never forgot how impacted I was by Terry, how seconds after we talked I was finally able to move on. I had to learn his story — there was no way he didn’t have one. But I had to find him first. It wasn’t as simple as looking through my Uber history, for numerous reasons of how that night went down. Yet, I remembered from that night he followed me on Instagram — nervously sliding into his DMs, I asked if he’d remember our ride, or even if he would want to talk and tell me about his life. To my surprise, he remembered me and how I wanted to be a journalist. A couple of days later I’m sitting on the floor of my friend’s basement as I listen to the story of Terry Dark.
Philadelphia native, Dark, 51, grew up in West Oak Lane and is the oldest of five children with four younger sisters. He barely told
Photos by COLLEEN CLAGGETT
“LIFE MAY GET
HARD AT TIMES, SPRING 2021 14TH STREET 43
BUT REMEMBER, me about his childhood, only that he had gotten himself into negative situations as a teenager. At 16, he moved in with his grandfather in Willingboro, New Jersey for an opportunity to “start from scratch.” After graduating from Willingboro High School in 1988, Terry started working a series of odd jobs. He told me that in 1999, after seeing a man sell custom nameplates on the boardwalk, he was inspired to set up his own stand at the Philadelphia Mills Mall in Franklin Mills. There, he met his soonto-be wife, and two years later they got married. They both decided to work together to buy vacant properties in West Philadelphia and University City and turn them into apartment complexes. For 15 years they ran their business and made a sizable income, eventually buying a house in East Oak Lane, Philadelphia. Like a puzzle piece, it felt like his life was slowly coming together, but once he got a good look at the final image, it wasn’t anything like the picture on the box. “I remember when I was a kid I used to think a big house was like success,” Dark says. “And when I got that big house, it really didn’t feel like success, it just felt like a big house.” By 2017, he was filing for a divorce from his wife and allegedly endured a two-year-long fight trying to maintain his assets. During that process, credit cards were taken out in his name, his monthly income was stripped away from him, and he was asked to pay a monthly $1,100 child support for his two children, he says. He sighed deeply, re-
membering how stuck he felt. Dark didn’t have any family or friends to turn to, and the weight of his situation was heavy. To cope with the anger and frustrations he was feeling, Dark started rapping again, a hobby he had done every now and again as a teenager. But all of the songs he was writing were angry and spiteful, which he realized weren’t reflective of who he actually was. Anger wasn’t going to help him pay the bills, so Dark signed up to be an Uber driver, and went straight to work. For months, he was working 16 hour days to improve his credit score. But he was still angry. Every time he would drive customers around, he’d immediately shut down as soon as he saw a property sign for the realty company he worked with. After a week, Dark was done making himself feel bad. “I said, ‘I have to change the story that I’m telling myself because my building was sold a week ago,’” he says. “That’s the past, I live in the present, the only thing that’s hurt me is the story I’m telling myself about the past. ‘They did this, they did that, that was my only source of income.’ That’s what was causing me the pain.” Listening to his story, it felt like I was transported to my freshman year self, mesmerized by the truth in Terry’s words. He was focusing on how frustrated he was about the situation, not what he gained from it. “It’s true my building was sold against my wishes,” he says. “However, I’m still getting a large sum of money from it. I don’t have her in my life anymore. I’m the one that ren-
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ovated the property in the first place. Guess what? I walk away with the skills to do it again.”
nce his thoughts changed, so did his attitude. Inspired by the game show Cash Cab, Dark slowly started working on his car so each rider could get a one-of-a-kind experience. He started by putting LED light strips around the backseat of the car, then adding twinkling stars on the roof. Dark also created a custom neon sign which he placed at the back of the car, adorned with his stage name and Instagram handle, verZatile_BMOTP, which he takes pictures with riders with to show his appreciation for them. The acronym, meaning Baddest Man On The Planet, signifies all of the struggles Dark has faced to become who he is today. But, it all started with a conversation. Dark remembered it was around April 2017 when he picked up a woman from work. As he was driving her home she told him how stressed she was at her job. Many high expectations were placed on her and she was feeling overwhelmed. “Well, do you like stress?” Dark asked her. She nodded in agreement, so he thought about her response and said, “If it’s something you like to do, go above and beyond and exceed expectations, why are you calling it stress?” He laughed, remembering her shocked expression and sigh of relief. She told him for the first time in six months, she was calm. She then looked at him and said, “You should be a life coach.” Dark already had the idea
IT’S NO in his head to become a life coach, but this was the catalyst that would make him turn his Uber rides into life lessons. Dark started listening to DVDs and audiobooks by Tony Robbins, a life coach and motivational speaker. When he found out that Robins was going to have an event at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in 2018, Dark had to go. He bought meet and greet tickets and in the five minutes he got to talk to Robbins, he asked him how to start life coaching. The answer? Just start talking to people. So he did. Dark was already driving around a handful of strangers at a time anyway. During each ride, Dark would try to get people to open up to him and talk about their feelings and try to help them work out any problems. Sometimes, he got riders who were immediately eager to talk and ask him for help. Other times, people initially dismissed what he had
OT HAPPENING TO YOU, to say. “Many people have closed minds, and they look at this caste system that is built into the American fabric and they look at people as less than because people are in different situations or whatever,” Dark says. “But then, once you have a conversation, you can realize that this person knows way more than me and is more experienced than me.” Eventually, Dark set up a camera in his car to protect himself in case of a rowdy rider, double purposed to relisten to the advice he was giving. Dark would go back and rewatch the videos to figure out better ways to resonate his conversations with new riders. But as months passed, Dark realized some weren’t receptive to his message of stress not existing. He felt like he was losing their attention, but didn’t know why. It wasn’t until a rider told him, “Stress is real to the
person who’s experiencing it,” that it clicked for Dark. He realized that the rider was right: Once you’ve created stress in your mind, then it becomes real. “That changed everything for me, so now I was able to evolve my philosophy, I was able to evolve my pitch and now it resonates with more people,” Dark says. “Thoughts are the most powerful thing in the universe. You are a creator. So once you dwell on what you consider to be negative, what you consider to be stressful, now, you’re focusing your thoughts on that, you create that stress, you create that negative villain inside of your body.” Slowly, things have started coming together for Terry. Last year, he released his first songs “Pandemic” and “Rise” to highlight his feelings on issues like coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead of using rap as an
outlet for anger, he began using his music as a way to educate people. And what better way to do this than freestyling for his riders? Amid the George Floyd protests, Dark played the song “Rise,” standing for Racism Is Systemic Exclusion, to a group of police officers riding with him. In the song, Dark raps about defunding the police, which one of the officers didn’t take too kindly to. Dark asked the officer what he hears when he says “defund the police” and the officer said, “get rid of the police.” In the 10-minute car ride, they talked about how defunding the police means reallocating funds into the neighborhoods and giving Black neighborhoods the same opportunities and resources as white neighborhoods. The officers, like so many others, realized the validity in Dark’s words, which he felt helped them understand the movement and the role they
play in it. Dark’s greatest joy is being an Uber driver and he wouldn’t be here without all of the challenges life’s thrown at him. For almost four years, he’s given 15,000 rides, each one helping him evolve and grow his platform. Aside from having his GRAMMYs speech pre-written, Dark isn’t sure what the future holds, except for the fact he’s going to change the world, one Uber ride at a time. Without all of the challenges he’s faced, he wouldn’t be the man he is today. “I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Dark says. ”Like I said, it was a hard trip to get here. However, this is the best place that I could have ever landed, not only for me emotionally, spiritually, and everything, but I’m in a position where I can help change people’s lives.”
IT’S HAPPENING FOR YOU.
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McKenzie Morgan Spaces Editor
As the coronavirus pandemic forces us to take things day by day, the spaces around us have changed dramatically—forcing us to look at and interact with the world around us differently. Throughout the past year, our environments changed and so have we. In Spaces, our writers told stories about the evolution of the spaces we’ve used to foster community: in parks, in gardens, and even on stoops. Our spaces have been constantly changing, and we’ve ultimately found ways to change with them. These are those stories of transformation and adaptation to the world around us.
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PHOTOS BY COLLEEN CLAGGETT
Green Rays Parks have proved to be a social-distancing safe haven for Philadelphians in a crowded city during the pandemic. It’s not by accident.
Disease was always a part of the story Words by MAX KLEMMER
In 1793, Philadelphia experienced a yellow fever epidemic that left about 10% of the city’s population dead and caused the fledgling government to flee the city. This was not the first nor the last outbreak of yellow fever - which is thought to have originated in Africa and was brought to the Americas through the Atlantic slave trade - in Philadelphia. The disease afflicted the city as early as the 1600s, and continued to a lesser extent throughout the early 1800s. Fairmount Park, Philadelphia’s largest park, was founded
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in 1812 to protect the city’s waterways from the disease, which was incorrectly thought to be waterborne at the time. In fact, yellow fever is spread through the bites of mosquitoes, who breed in standing water. Though the park didn’t necessarily prevent yellow fever, it resulted in the Fairmount Water Works, part of the country’s first municipal water system, and a 4,000 acre park intended to protect the water supply. So it’s really important, says Harris Steinberg, Executive Director of the Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University. “A million people a day still get their water from the Schuylkill as it comes through Fairmount Park,” Harris says.
Fairmount Park is largely surrounded by low-income communities of color, like Strawberry Mansion, Belmont, and Parkside. Despite its large size, there is little connectivity between different regions of the park. There are about sixteen small creeks that could be lined with trails that could help connect communities to the park, Steinberg said. “Opening up those connections from the surrounding neighborhoods down into Fairmont Park would go a long way towards that equity,” Steinberg says, “In the pandemic, it became clear that those neighborhoods that did not have the kind of public space that was necessary for social distancing.”
on the horizon SPACES
A key part of public health Words by BEN OWEN
Being outdoors became the norm and activities like running and cycling were permitted after March 2020, when the city’s stay-at-home orders first went into effect. Public parks remained open- with limits on gatherings - and the closure of team sports ended seasons early or postponed events. But beyond that, coronavirus may have compelled people outdoors to cut down on their risk of the disease having a more serious impact on their health. Significant risk factors for coronavirus include hypertension, obesity, and heart disease, all of which can be reduced through exercise and a healthy diet. Yet Philadelphia isn’t the “green country towne’’ it was supposed to be. In areas the green is covered by a multitude of colors, each from a different brand of trash. These were the communities hit hardest by coronavirus. It could be the lack of parks, but it also could be a lot more, says David Barnes, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania. “You would have to recognize that those communities also are suffering from so many other things that are definitely related to their vulnerability to COVID-19,” he adds. Green space might be one of the issues, but it’s not the only one. Under mandates and restrictions, many are stuck at home with their stresses and anxieties only multiplying. “That sort of bunker mentality
of feeling like you’re a prisoner in your home, because you’re afraid to go out in the street...,” Barnes says. “All of that also has direct physical effects, but also contributes indirectly to that buildup of chronic stress. This chronic stress builds up over time, and essentially weakens the immune system in a fundamental way.” Research about chronic stress is new, especially in poorer communities whose struggles are more than just stress about small issues. Barnes adds, “They have less access to adequate housing, they are communities with high levels of employment insecurity, food insecurity, physical insecurity in terms of safety, crime and access to open space.” Open space is more important to one’s health than it is given credit. Coronavirus has opened eyes to how important parks are and taking them for granted is a huge mistake. Barnes ends, “I think we have definitely seen during COVID-19 an increased level of appreciation for Philly’s parks. And I think that’s true in a lot of cities.”
Investment in healthy cities
Words by MAX KLEMMER With an increase in outdoor activities due to coronavirus, cities may have to reevaluate their plans for future investment in parks and other public spaces. Roshanak Mehdipanah is an assistant professor of Health Behavior & Health Education at the University of Michigan who believes that coronavirus high-
lighted the need for investment in public green space. In particular, she points to a rise in recreation oriented agendas. For instance, more cities invested in plans like bike lanes because of the pandemic. In Philadelphia alone, cycling increased by 151% according to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. Philadelphia has even installed electronic bike counters on Spruce and Pine Streets to capture data to help inform future planning decisions. Exposure to green space can have great benefits for one’s mental and physical health. A 2018 study concluded, “exposure to natural features including trees, the sky, and birdsong has a time-lasting beneficial impact on momentary mental well-being.” Cities will have to push for public health in all policies,
Roshanak Mehdipanah says. “By bringing in public health perspectives, cities can be created with an equity lens to ensure that all residents benefit and are able to really thrive as a whole to make the cities better,” she adds. Furthermore, Mehdipanah believes the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the intersection of public health and urban planning, which is one of her primary focuses at the University of Michigan’s Healthy Cities program. With the right kind of public health lens on future development, more of Philadelphia’s populations may prosper. “Cities need diversity, Mehdipanah says. “Not just race/ ethnicity, but also socioeconomic status, and we need to make sure public health does provide that perspective and ensures that equity lens is implemented.”
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Parks & Rec Photos by COLLEEN CLAGGETT
ach year, in the crisp fall air, music filled Germantown’s Vernon Park as residents danced from one tent to the next, hunting for secondhand goods and homemade treasures to cover their walls and fill their cabinets with at the Flea Market and Bazaar. South Philadelphia’s FDR Park held picnics, tennis matches, and skaters met at the graffitied, under-the-bridge skatepark to perfect ollies and grinds. On Lombard Street, the trees that shade Starr Garden felt alive, swinging in the summer breeze as children climbed on playgrounds and showed off their basketball skills. Even the bugs mosaiced on the walls of the community center seemed to buzz in the summer heat. Philadelphia’s parks were dynamic until last March, when the coronavirus pandemic spread across the globe, leaving people locked into their own living rooms and, if they were lucky, their backyards. Neighborhoods were unsure if using their park, a place that previously welcomed them was a potential health risk. But, even if parks were able to be utilized by residents, who would ensure that masks were worn and equipment was sanitized? And who would be there to regulate the public space? Despite concerns that the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department and volunteers had during the first few devastating months of the pandemic, public space in Philadelphia remained public.. Amidst national and city restrictions and a loss in funding through the city budget, more people turned to the one place that felt safe and comforting: their community park. How many people, exactly? “At least 50 percent,” says
Unable to interact with our neighbors, we turned to Philly’s public parks. Words by EMMA PADNER
Maita Soukup, the communications director for Parks and Recreation, about the increase of pedestrians roaming around the city’s park system. As the pandemic continues and warm weather approaches, Soukup expects city parks usage to rise again, because parks give people a place to seek social interaction in a time when being around others feels uncomfortable. Hopefully, Soukup says, the interest in Philly’s green spaces will continue “after the pandemic, after everything returns to normal.” However, increased park usage means challenges to maintenance and growing dynamics of what parks mean to Philadelphia neighborhoods. In the city’s revised 2020 budget, the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation department rose from a proposed $65.4 million to $65.6 million, according to the Philadelphia Office of Controller. The 2021 budget, however, decreased by 19 percent, from a proposed $65.8 million to actually receiving $53 million. Because of Parks and Rec department budget cuts of nearly 20 percent and safety concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, the 70 community pools scattered around the city closed during their prime season: June through August. Soukup was glad that the Parks and Rec department was one of the few city departments that didn’t lay off any full time staff. Instead of cutting back on employees, they found ways to shift staff around, like finding places for pool staff as social distancing ambassadors or summer camp counselors at city parks. Philadelphia has more than 10,000 acres of green space throughout the city, which allows for more than enough space to social distance. But, it was important to Soukup that the Parks and Rec department implement-
ed signage for park users to keep them safe when there wasn’t social distancing ambassadors around. Parks and Recreation focused on safe, yet welcoming messaging in the parks because Soukup didn’t “want to make coming to the park an additional stress or pressure for folks.”
ngela Miles works at the Community College of Philadelphia as the coordinator for creative services, and volunteered the last nine years at Vernon Park, Germantown’s community park as the President of the Friends of Vernon Park, a group that preserves, maintains and plans community events in the park. Vernon Park, affectionately known as the “Emerald of Germantown,” is eight miles of green, mature trees and community history. Prior to coronavirus, Vernon Park was a community gathering place for picnics, outdoor classes for youth and older residents, the People’s Poetry and Jazz Festival, and the Friends of Vernon Park Flea Market and Bazaar. Miles says it’s “always a really vibrant place that is welcoming to all people to come and gather and hang out, or just pass through,” but now sees changes to how it’s utilized. Smaller groups of people gather in family pods or social bubbles, utilize the space for activities like yoga, or sit at the picnic tables just to catch up with one another. “We noticed a change in how people are using the park but definitely notice that people are still coming through a lot,” says Miles. In March 2020, some community parks shut down playgrounds by rolling out caution tape and hanging it over equipment to keep young people away in hopes it would mitigate the spread of virus in communities, especially during a time of
vast uncertainty. Vernon Park responded differently, providing ways for community members to stay healthy and safe, attaching hand sanitizers to the benches scattered among the park for visitors to use. Visitors at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park in South Philadelphia utilized the park for a myriad of social activities like graduation parties, family gatherings, or church services during the summer months when it was really the only option for Philadelphians to leave their homes, says Justin Diberardinis, the director of FDR Park at the Parks and Recreation department. He believes volume increased by “at least by two thirds, maybe as much as doubled,” through the estimated trash growth at the park. As he witnessed FDR Park become South Philly’s “outdoor living room and gathering space,” Diberardinis viewed Philadelphia’s parks as essential to city residents during quarantine and the entire pandemic. Parks help people fulfill their physical well-being through athletics and recreation, and their psychological wellness, too, especially during a time when slim hallways and dark first floors of Philadelphia rowhomes made people feel trapped. “There was so much unhappiness in the last year,” says Diberardinis. “Just to go to a place where you could feel normal, where you could feel human in effect in a place like FDR, where you could experience natural landscapes in a big enough way that you could get some space from the incredible psychological and physical pressure of the South Philadelphia row home.”
tarr Garden, located on the corner of Locust Street and 6th Street, used to keep its gates
locked at night. Its large, grassy field was only open to groups who had rented it out, like adult soccer leagues. During the pandemic, when people needed a space to get outside for fresh air in the community, Anna Whitesell, a member of the Starr Garden Neighbors and Friends board, and the Parks and Recreation department started leaving the field open to the public because organizations weren’t open to utilize it. Starr Garden still held its summer camp last summer and wasn’t much different for the kids, says Ellen Ryan, the facilities supervisor at Starr Garden. The park had about 20 students registered, and while they didn’t have access to the community pools and couldn’t go on trips outside of the park, Ryan says they “really spent most of our time just out in the playground or on the field.” The campers used the basketball courts and the park’s sprinkler to enjoy the
“When people have nowhere else to go, and we knew it was safe to be outdoors, people started doing a lot more stuff in the parks.” - Maita Soukup
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SPACES outdoors. Staff reallocation, budget cuts, and added park usage caused a rise in maintenance needs in community parks. Working with the stewardship volunteer groups, Philadelphia parks hosted events like “Love Your Park Solo,” where residents could apply for a free clean-up kit with gloves, a trash picker, and other equipment to clean their community park, giving “volunteers who like going out as a group and volunteering, but didn’t feel safe to do that due to COVID,” a way to safely return to helping their park, Soukup says. Volunteer groups like Friends of Vernon Parks and Starr Garden Neighbors and Friends were vital to keeping parks cleaned, beautified, and well-maintained through the pandemic. While FDR Park has Parks and Recreation staff like Diberardinis to care for the park,
they still rely on a force of about 200 volunteers, most of which are new, to help with maintenance and cleanup. Soukup says it was an added bonus that the pandemic seemed to help grow these organizations because new visitors were exposed to their community parks and wanted to help. Miles was concerned that group cleanups might be unsafe during the pandemic, so Friends of Vernon Park purchased trash collecting sticks, contractor bags, and gloves for community members to utilize if they wanted to do solo trash pickups, which she says helped “people could feel like they were actually … [making] a difference without it necessarily being a group structured cleanup.” The Parks and Recreation department will continue some events they started that flourished during the pandemic in the future, like Parks on Tap, a
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pop-up outdoor beer garden in parks with tables spaced out in the large green spaces. Keeping large numbers of outdoor exercise classes is encouraged, even if gyms and studios are open again. “Necessity drives innovation,” says Soukup. “So when people have nowhere else to go, and we knew it was safe to be outdoors, people started doing a lot more stuff in the parks.” Diberardinis saw FDR park act as a place where people appreciated and experienced nature, and can see the excitement for park space continuing into the future. FDR Park is already scheduled to host the Philadelphia Flower Show in June for its first-ever outdoor show, something Diberardinis is thrilled to witness. The increase in usage will hopefully let people “feel South Philadelphia and all it’s beautiful, diverse, multilingual, chaotic glory,” when they come to the park.
Even after coronavirus, Whitesell aims to keep the gates and the field at Starr Garden open for public use. She’s looking forward to the anticipated increase in park utilization and is already hopeful the Starr Garden Winterfest, an outdoor community celebration in February with ice carvers, crafts, and artwork, will happen in 2022. Still, Whitesell longs for days where she can sit in the shade of Starr Garden’s trees and look toward a full park, where people have access to the space, and can enjoy it closer together, like before the pandemic. “People will come up and be like, ‘I came here as a kid, this was my park,’ and now they’re bringing their grandkids here,” Whitesell said. “It’s got a lot of great history, and just gotta keep taking care of it.”
Step R into
adiyah Hennie and her uncle Tony Hennie remember the days when their neighborhood felt like one big family: Kids would play jump rope outside, neighbors would knock on each other’s doors to say hello, and residents would organize block parties. But those days are behind the Hennies as their block in Brewerytown has gentrified, leaving just a few older houses remaining in a sea of new developments. “I’m 21, and I feel like I watched this neighborhood change so much,” Radiyah Hennie, who works as a salon assistant, says. “People don’t really care to be outside anymore.” When I speak to the Hennies, they’re enjoying a balmy spring day over takeout food on their front steps. Stoop-sitting is a daily routine for the pair. “We had some crazy days, but all our life, this was our step,” Tony Hennie, 40, who works as a restaurant cook, says. “It never changed.” Their bright yellow house is one of the few on the block where stoop-sitting is even possible. Across the street, the homes have metal grates for steps, while others on the block have narrower, sideways-facing steps unsuitable for conversation. Thinking of post-industrial metropolises like Philadelphia, the images of family, friends, and strangers gathering on stoops come to mind. Stoop-sitting feels like a classic testament to the working-class culture of a city, a sign residents aren’t too bougie to talk to their neighbors and are willing to allow themselves to be a part of the public space. During a global pandemic, stoops provide a place to be socially distant while not antisocial, a spot to enjoy the company of fellow citydwellers away from the plastic coverings and plexiglass barriers that have become all too familiar in indoor environments.
Talking to the Hennies, I wondered: was stoop culture on the way out? In her famous critique of 1950s urban planning The Death and Life of Great American Cities, activist and writer Jane Jacobs lauds the stoop as a centerpiece of the city community, describing children playing games and residents drinking soda on their front steps in the bustling hum of New York City. “When I get home after work, the ballet is reaching its crescendo,” Jacobs writes. “This is the time of roller skates and stilts and tricycles, and games in the lee of the stoop with bottletops and plastic cowboys.” One might be inclined to think the Internet and social media have caused the stoop culture of Jacobs’ America to fade. Whereas we used to interact in our front yards and sidewalks, we now interact on Facebook or Fortnite. Then there is the practical question: Even if people wanted to talk to their neighbors, would they have a stoop to sit on? Amid gentrification and redevelopment, does the stoop have a future in Philadelphia architecture? I set out this spring to explore whether stoop culture was a fading memory of Philadelphia’s civic past. I needed to learn the history of stoops, how development has modified or eliminated them, and what stoops mean to residents today. Along the way, I spoke to city planners, a preservationist, an artist and, of course, stoop-sitters in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. The answers, I found, were more complex than I imagined. What defines a stoop, you may ask? It depends on who you talk to. A stoop either has to be
In Philadelphia, stoops have turned our neighbors into family. Words and photos by COLIN EVANS
wide enough to fit three kids, or two adults and a bag of groceries, or two girlfriends, one bottle of wine and a cheese plate, or wide enough to fit everything you’re selling in tomorrow’s stoop sale. Some residents won’t even refer to them as stoops — they simply call them “the steps.” The word is derived from the old Dutch word stoep, meaning a small porch with seats or benches, according to Nicoline van der Sijs’ Cookies, Coleslaw, and Stoops: The Influence of Dutch on the North American Languages. The Dutch, who colonized New York, built stoops in front of their houses so they could sit outside in the evening. The custom spread and the meaning of the word expanded to include any small porch, veranda, or entrance stairway at a house door. Reflecting the simplicity of the city’s Quaker heritage and English influence, Philadelphia’s earliest town houses often featured brick or stone steps leading up to the first floor, which was raised to allow for windows and entrances to cellars, according to Mark Reinberger and Elizabeth McLean’s The Philadelphia Country House: Architecture and Landscape in Colonial America. A historic stoop of note that remains intact is that of underground railroad operators William and Letitia Still, who lived at 625 S. Delhi Street near Bella Vista. While the home no longer has its 19th-century red brick facade, its three original marble
past steps remain, a living testament to Philadelphia’s rich abolitionist history. Therefore, stoops are not simply a place of gathering in the present day. They’re a window into the past in a city with more than half of its homes built before 1950, per the 2019 American Community Survey. I’ve wondered how so many old stoops, in houses sometimes more than a century old, have survived for this long. The answer lies in their construction. Patrick Grossi is the director of advocacy at the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, an organization that promotes the protection of historic properties in the region. Though he’s self-admittedly no expert on stoops, he’s a trained public historian with an interest in urban planning and the built environment. At the turn of the 19th century, “a sea” of single-family residences were built in Philadelphia, following a consistent template that typically featured a prominent stoop, Grossi says. During a time when aluminum and concrete weren’t widely available, those homes benefited from being built with sturdier materials like stone and masonry that were more abundant and cheaper compared to today. “You have thousands upon
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SPACES thousands of houses, right next to each other, and this meeting place, as you’ve called it, out front of all of them” he says. “Even the stone that might have been used over 100 years ago stood the test of time.” The city’s stoops have lasted this long. But with Philadelphia significantly gentrifying, it’s anyone’s guess whether these icons will survive the wave of new developments. For the ones that are torn down, it’s unclear if their replacements will support the culture.
there are, officially, fewer stoops being added to new homes. But in her own experience, she’s noticed a decrease, and there’s a few reasons that could explain why. The first is changed accessibility regulations around home construction. Older stoops were not designed with the needs of people with disabilities in mind. Absent an expensive lift or ramp, a resident who uses a wheelchair would have a difficult time getting into a stoop-bearing home. In their paper “Focusing on Disability and s with any issue Access in the Built Environment,” around developRob Imrie and Marion Kumar call ment, the question this “design apartheid”: our cities of whether stoops are not built to accomodate people are on the way out is of different body types. In line a complicated one, and involves a with national accessibility requiresomewhat complex set of questions ments created in the 1990s, new about zoning and construction multi-family properties, which are requirements. Sarah Adamo is the becoming more common in PhilLegislative Affairs Manager and adelphia, must have an accessible Zoning Administrator for the Deentrance, meaning the door must be partment of Licenses & Inspections. level with the sidewalk or the propIn her role, she works with the City erty must have a ramp leading to it. Council to implement bills, like Philadelphia’s 2012 zoning construction taxes or permit recode overhaul, aimed at making quirements, that the legislative body neighborhoods more walkable and approves. She’s careful not to say allowing residents to increase the
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size of their homes, may also play a role in stoop construction. The new code increased the height limitation of most row homes from 35 feet with a maximum of three stories to 38 feet with no limitation on the number of stories. “It allowed developers to fit four stories into that 38 feet height limit, and the only way that you can do that is if your first floor is very low,” Adamo says. Hence, if your first floor is at ground level, there’s no need for a stoop. Additionally, developers are increasingly concerned with damaging next-door homes during excavation. Dig too deep into the
ground without being careful, and adjacent walls start to fall down. Shoddy next-door construction in Philadelphia has resulted in several accidents trapping contractors in rubble and forcing residents to flee their homes. The result, Adamo says, is that some developers will dig as little as possible and build basements partially above-ground. A raised basement means a raised first floor, hence a high set of stairs not conducive to neighborly gossip. Between the changed accessibility requirements, rewritten zoning code and excavation risks, forgoing the stoop is “absolutely” a cost-saving measure for developers, Adamo says. In her view, the chances of stoops making a resurgence in new developments are low. “But that’s just me, and my love for air conditioning, and my love for my backyard,” she says. Paula Brumbelow Burns is the Director of Legislation at the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. Part of her role is to work with City Council on zoning and development legislation before they become law. She’s not seen a significant decrease of stoops in new homes — rather, she believes there’s been a change in stoop culture, in part due to air conditioning. “If I had a home in 1920, and it was summer, why
would I sit outside on my stoop,” Brumbelow asked, rhetorically. “It gets hot indoors because I don’t have air conditioning.” Brumbelow lives in Point Breeze, a neighborhood where people continue to sit on their stoops. She sees her neighbors sitting outside on their porches and having barbecues in front of their homes. To her, it’s not the architecture that’s changed. It’s the culture of a younger generation that grew up in suburban environments with garages and back patios that offered less opportunities to talk with neighbors. “That youth of the ‘80s and ‘90s are now buying homes in the city,” Brumbelow says. “I don’t
know if they know how to interact when they come into the city where there’s older residents that are still sitting out on their stoops.” She may have a point. My generation has grown up talking to each other on Twitter and in coffeeshops and beer gardens. But we’re not as used to interacting with the folks next door.
aitlin Pomerantz is deeply familiar with stoops. In 2017, she created On the Threshold, a public art project honoring salvaged stoops from every corner of the city, in conjunction with Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based public art and history organization. Looking at the “rampant” redevelopment taking place in Philadelphia, Pomerantz
(OPPOSITE BELOW) Radiyah, 21, and Tony Hennie, 40, enjoy takeout food on their Brewerytown steps. (OPPOSITE ABOVE) William Lloyd, 70, enjoys a drink on his stoop in Brewerytown. (ABOVE) Andrew Grzybowski, 38, sits with his family and neighbor on their stoops in Brewerytown.
recovered a dozen stoops from demolition sites that would otherwise be destroyed and put them on display in Washington Square. Their constructions ranged from marble to Pennsylvania bluestone, brownstone, concrete and brick. Pomerantz feels the stoop is an important part of Philadelphia’s civic history, “a threshold between public and private space” that “in many ways functions as both a personal and a democratic public space.” To some residents, that idea may feel like a fading memory. On a spring day in Mantua, I find Mark Williamson, 57, the lone stoop-sitter on his street. He remembers a time when everyone in his neighborhood socialized from porch to porch, but to him, the block has become a ghost town. “With the pandemic thing, people will just rarely come out,” Williamson says. The development hasn’t helped. Attached to the new apartments down the street are balconies but no stoops. People don’t come out on
those either, he says. William Lloyd, 70, remembers a different era of stoop culture too, recalling a time when everyone on his Brewerytown block came out and scrubbed down their steps. People in his neighborhood used to gather and congregate on one person’s stoop to converse. But in his view, the younger generation comes and goes as they please. With some younger residents I speak with, however, the notion of stoop culture remains alive and strong. I find Andrew Grzybowski, 38, on his Brewerytown stoop with his wife and two children. As I’m speaking to him, his neighbor Michelle Baymore joins us on the steps, which I learn is a frequent occurrence for the group. Grzybowski loves to wave to passersby and wishes more people on his street would stop and talk with him. “It’s a good compromise, right, it’s your stoop and you can invite anybody that you want to sit and talk longer, be there, interact with you a little bit more,” he says. In Fishtown, I speak to Nikki Ferenz, 38, who’s sitting on her steps with a glass of white wine. The stoop has had special significance to her during the COVID-19 pandemic as a space that’s her own where she can watch people go by. It’s also a meeting place for her and her neighbor across the alleyway. For Rana Iqbal, 35, his Point Breeze stoop is a place to relax and feel at home while talking to his neighbors, he says. To John Staiger, 53, his Fishtown steps are where he can watch his neighbors and “keep an eye on things” in the neighborhood. Stoop-sitting is a statement of harmony with the city environment. It’s an act of preserving a tradition as old as Philadelphia itself. During a time when we feel disconnected from each other amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a safer space we can share for conversations over glasses of wine and takeout. To Radiyah Hennie, it represents the history and family of her neighborhood. “To me, this stoop is everything,” she says.
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FARMVILLE'S RESTART What happens when community gardens face a new worry in crisis? Words by MCKENZIE MORGAN
Photo by ALLIE IPPOLITO Illustration by MAGDALENA BECKER
red Lorenzen, a long-time volunteer gardener, stands alone in the middle of several box planters looking at the literal fruits of his neighbor’s labors. This season’s crops, everything from lettuce to elderberries, are budding out of the soil. The community garden, La Esquina, is at the corner of Jefferson and 5th streets, sheltered by a black metal fence. Surrounding it are the rowhomes, antiquated and new, of Olde Kensington. Lorenzen has been gardening in Olde Kensington since he moved here in 2014. In the seven years since then, he’s seen the far-reaching impact that a community garden can have on a neighborhood. “What it is, is really being able to plant roots,” he tells me, with a black mask covering his face. “When you’re trying to get accustomed to a new neighborhood, meet your neighbors, there’s no way better way to do it than to get your hands dirty and really garden and partner with people. And if you get some tasty veggies out of it, it’s even better.” Lorenzen is one of the founding directors and now-treasurer of Olde and South Kensington Green, a non-profit more colloquially known as OSK Green to its neighbors, that aims to protect and preserve green spaces in the Kensington area, including La Esquina. South Kensington’s residents have been rooting themselves in this
garden, cultivating next to each other, since it opened in 2019. But the coronavirus’s restrictions have left the gardeners growing away from each other, instead of side-by-side sharing clippers and trowels. It’s just one of the hundreds of community gardens in Philadelphia that had to find ways to adapt to the new normal, while leaders like Lorenzen have stepped up to face a new and unprecedented challenge to keep neighbors connected. Before the pandemic forced community gardens and farms to scale back and distance themselves, gardeners were flowing in and out of the gates, gardens would host workshops on weekend mornings, teaching their growers the ins and outs of growing spring vegetables or how to start compost bins at home. Now, gardeners are kneeled over their plots six feet away from each other with masks covering their faces. In the first two weeks of the pandemic, Shannon Matthews, the Farm and Program Manager at Cloud 9 Community Farms, took each day at a time, just focusing on maintaining the gardens. Matthews remembers how Cloud 9’s gates used to be open to the public, with residents picking veggies and chatting on benches but now it’s not so often that she’ll see a few kids walk in to pick a few peppers or a senior picking a tomato or two and leaving while she tends to the garden herself. Cloud 9 Community Farms has a handful of spaces across the city, reaching residents from North Philly to West Philly. Their mission goes beyond just gardening; they also work to educate their neighbors. Throughout previous seasons, residents would gather at Cloud 9’s gardens to attend workshops on learning growing techniques and even cooking. On summer mornings before the pandemic, Philadelphia’s youth would meet up at Cloud 9’s gardens for
summer internships. But Cloud 9 put all of these programs on hold to do what was the most vital: getting food to residents. “It kind of shifted our focus to just kind of grow as much food as we can and figuring out ways to get it to the surrounding community more,” Matthews says. Cloud 9 Community Farms also has gardens in places like the Kirkbride Rehabilitation Center in West Philadelphia as a way to provide an outlet for the residents while teaching them about agriculture. Since the pandemic started, Cloud 9 hasn’t been allowed through the gates but Kirkbride’s patients can still use the space to get together, read a book, and connect with nature. Danyell Brent, one of Cloud 9’s Farm Coordinators and the spearhead of the program at Kirkbride, works with the gardeners here to learn not only how to grow food, but also work on their mental health, he says. “I miss the people because we did make a difference,” he says. “We make a very big difference. They look forward to us coming and we look forward to being there.”
cross the city at OSK Green’s spaces, growers defy the typical community garden model of buying their own plots and tending to them alone. Here, volunteers work harmoniously with trowels in hand and collectively contribute to the space. While they haven’t ventured into educational programming during the pandemic as Cloud 9 has yet, OSK Green’s president John Williams says this cooperative growing model is what’s keeping these gardeners connected. “The connection was more on an individual level with your
neighbors who saw organization and space, particularly La Esquina, as a kind of resource, a way for them to escape out of their homes, and to do something constructive and productive in a ‘communal space’,” he says. “Even if they necessarily weren’t with other people it was still recognized as being kind of a shared resource...They know that others are benefiting from that and there’s some gratification from that.” Any events that OSK Green had in mind to start were canceled until further notice. But as COVID-cabin-fever might make residents anxious to get out of their homes, Williams aspires to give more interested growers a safe place to connect for the upcoming seasons. “People might have energy and want to reconnect with other humans,” Williams hopes. “And we’re looking to capitalize on that and offer a venue for that engagement.” Brent has a different outlook on the pandemic himself. For him, 2020 was bittersweet. Despite the unprecedented challenges that gardeners have been faced with since early last year, Brent has still been able to foster Cloud 9’s mission of feeding their neighbors, who he says are hungry for both food and information. “I’ve made more connections with more people than when I first started,” he says. Brent, who works with a handful of other gardens and programs across the city, has been driving around the city, delivering food to his neighbors himself ever since the pandemic started. “We just look out for each other,” Brent says. “Your neighbor is your first line of defense.” Urban farms and gardens have become a staple resource to communities across the city,
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SPACES but these gardens have been dwindling more and more over the years. There were about 501 spaces that grew food– and hundreds more that grew other greenery– in 1996, which was cut down by over half down to 226 by 2008, according to the 2008 Harvest Report done by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. Craig Borowiak, an associate professor at Haverford College, did another study and found that there were about 413 community gardens and farms in the city by 2019. These spaces don’t only provide fresh food for residents to pick off of vines to share on their dinner tables or with their neighbors–2,037,143 pounds in the summer of 2008 alone, in fact–but also a place for them to foster community, Williams says. Losing these spaces isn’t just the loss of a garden or a Sunday morning activity, it’s also the loss of a significant resource for its residents. “I think that notion of community, especially in deprived communities, has been a real important part of people’s lives,” he said. Even though residents rely on these spaces for fresh food and connections with their fellow gardeners, many have been struggling to keep their gates open before the pandemic even started.
SK Green itself had a bumpy start from its inception, born out of a court case starting in 2016, which closed its parent farm, La Finquita, after almost 30 years. Before bringing it to the courthouse steps, the farm once sat on the corner of Master and Lawrence streets in South Kensington, growing food and flowers by local neighbors to bring food into the neighborhood since 1988. Now, it’s become another vacant plot of land in the city, currently being gutted by bulldozers, pulling up the remnants of years of work for new townhomes. In its days, La Finquita,
started in the late 1980s by the non-profit organization the Catholic Worker, sold food at cost to local community members on Sunday mornings and used any surplus produce in their soup kitchen. The farm sat on top of where the old Pyramid Tire & Rubber factory once did until the late 1970s, leaving the farm’s coordinators searching for the owners and deed to the property to ultimately get ownership of the land to secure it as their own. But developers had the same idea, bringing them into a lawsuit. The group ultimately settled in 2018, using the monetary settlement to reinvest in the neighborhood, kickstarting OSK Green’s launch. Now, bulldozers are digging up where neighbors once planted irises around fruits and veggies, pulling up the roots sewn by Kensington’s neighbors and old tires from the factory before. Almost a block away, the Catholic Worker donated two parcels of land along with their deeds to OSK Green so they could get right to work on rebuilding their spaces, and the settlement left OSK with enough seed money to obtain the resources they needed. “That gives people a lot of comfort in that there’s not going to be a day where a developer shows up to just take the space away from them,” Lorenzen says. La Finquita was a staple in the community where residents would come to grow food beside each other, connecting with the rest of the neighborhood. After losing La Finquita, Lorenzen, along with a few other members from La Finquita, started OSK Green to not only keep serving the neighborhood but help prevent other spaces from being lost. For them, establishing a green space was essential to the community. “It was the obvious choice in that, you know, we’re looking to essentially bring resources and giving back to the community,” Williams says. “Ultimately
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we want to be a resource for everyone, for the people who stay a long time, and have been here a long time, and the people that are new to the area.” Once La Finquita was officially gone, growers and residents were trepidatious, wondering when they will get to grow together again. The founding team established OSK Green with being a non-profit in mind, allowing them access to resources and funding but keeping their green spaces green, giving their neighbors the surety they need, Lorenzen says. “What we’re trying to do is give volunteers safety and security so whatever they’re working on is not going to get taken away,” Lorenzen says. “If they have a green space in their neighborhood that they want to see more of, it’s not gonna get taken away by a developer, by the city who wants somebody else involved, or anything like that.” OSK had several other options to rebuild their spaces across the city, but the organization wanted to keep their next set of spaces in the area- so they opened up their first garden space, La Esquina, not even a block away.
illiams has seen a whirlwind of development since he moved into South Kensington almost ten years ago, witnessing the loss of green space alongside that. Oftentimes, community gardens are started informally by a few residents just wanting to plant vegetables for the summer on vacant plots of land together without a full organization. These are the spaces you see go most often, Williams says. “When somebody comes along and just bulldozes over raised beds, there’s no voice that gets heard when that happens,” Williams says. “It’s just probably a few people that lost their efforts.” There are hopes for these
spaces, however. The Neighborhood Gardens Trust has been a protector of these spaces since the late 1980s, protecting over 50 spaces since then. NGT focuses on land conservation for community-managed gardens by working alongside them to secure ownership or long-term leases for their land. “In most cases, what happens is residents have come together to essentially transform vacant and abandoned land that exists in their neighborhood into a community asset and into a place where they can have a green space, a social gathering space, a place to grow fresh food,” Jenny Greenberg, the executive director of the NGT said. “But very often they don’t have legal land access or site controls for the land that they’re caring for.” As real estate pressures increase and developers continue to roll into the city, adding new townhomes or apartment complexes, more and more gardens are being lost, Greenberg worries. NGT has been working tirelessly to scale its preservation efforts even further to keep as many gardens open as possible. But development isn’t necessarily the “boogeyman” most people make it out to seem, Lorenzen points out. With a housing crisis that continues to haunt the city, residents need homes and the city needs to have better conversations on how to best serve these spaces. “For every vacant property that sits in North Philadelphia and in these neighborhoods, there’s people that need space like that and neighbors that do not want to see it either just sit and waste, but they want to see somebody get the green light to like go do something productive,” he says. “That might be development, it might not be. It might be something somebody else has a better idea on what to do with that that would benefit the community, not just a developer.”
14th Street staff describe their perfect quarantine date. Words by LEILANI HENSON Illustrations by HEATHER MARSHALL
“ Cycling...I think it’s what I
would like to do for a date, going out and doing something that’s appealing in itself and provides things to talk about because you’re physically moving Going on a nice run or through space. a nice walk at the park wearing a mask with Miles Wall someone. Introspect Editor
from a “ We both get a platter of
Halal, chicken and rice combo with white hot sauce. Then we go to the beer store, each get a Fireball and we go to the park and enjoy.
Ben Owen Senior Writer
Emma Padner Print Executive Editor
“ Go to Le CatCafé on Gi-
rard, I took [my boyfriend] there for his birthday and it was adorable.
Magdalena Becker Design Director
“ We would each get takeout cocktails from our favorite bar. Then walk to the river with masks on, double masks, and get single-person kayaks and go kayaking and drink on the river.
Madison Karas Editor-in-Chief
“ Get food and eat it at a
“ Zoom movie watch would
be fun, just like a FaceTime or Skype and watching a movie.
Donovan Hugel Senior Writer
park or something, that would be cute, I would enjoy that.
Gem Grimshaw Senior Writer
“It would be a staycation at “ Giving my partner a tarot home where we go to the grocery store and stock up on a bunch of really good food and snacks and cook a lot of really good food instead of going out.
reading. I’m seeing a dark room, blankets and pillows on the floor, some Chinese food delivery, candles, wine, and an indepth tarot spread
smooch McKenzie Morgan Spaces Editor
Gionna Kinchen Copy Editor
SPRING 2021 14TH STREET 59
After a year of being sunken to their core, our spirits are finally on the come around and starting to feel lifted again. As we’re able to start imagining and planning for a life in a brighter future, 14th Street Magazine asked Philadelphia residents one thing they’re looking forward to doing when the world is a better place.
Amaris Nieves, 29, Fishtown “Go out and grab a drink, like to do so without having to wear a mask all the time and like getting to actually talk to people, not six feet away from them.”
Steve Robinson, 43, West Philadelphia “Local school gyms, we can open them up so we have somewhere to play basketball at during the wintertime and have a place to be.”
Gary Magnin, 49, Fishtown “Get together, physically, with family.”
Richard Magnin, 56, Fishtown “Family and friends, get together and have a nice outing or something.”
Mark Johnson, 23, West Philadelphia “Travel. I would like to go more so out of the country without having to worry about coming back and quarantine.”
Gregory Pierce, 56, Southwest Philadelphia “A family vacation.”
60 14TH STREET SPRING 2021
Hopes Words by MADISON KARAS Photos by COLIN EVANS
Cory Harrison, 27, Belmont “Getting out and exploring and just traveling.”
Taji Mixon, 32, Point Breeze “I would love to go to a concert and have live music back. Just really feel those vibes inside of a concert, when everyone’s just like, geared towards the one thing.”
Craig Thomas, 61, Queen Village “Just start traveling. I travel a lot anyway, so I’ve been all over. My next trip is probably going to be Sweden.”
Shaunda Jennings, 43, Southwest Philadelphia “Travel. Anywhere. My favorite place is Jamaica.”
Kasandra Lopez, 25, Fishtown “Going to concerts and things like that, and just being around like, just a lot of people. Kind of the same thing, being able to like walk and talk to people that you don’t know, you really can’t do that anymore.”
Rhianna Dean, 31 and Michael Foster, 30, Brewerytown “We’re looking forward to getting married.”
Diamond Green Apartments
1000 Diamond Street Philadelphia PA 19122
This year we’re asking, “Where do we go from here?” (Even though, really, we don’t know yet.) Read for yourself.
Published on Apr 22, 2021
This year we’re asking, “Where do we go from here?” (Even though, really, we don’t know yet.) Read for yourself.