PAPERBOY: Slow-Jamming The Alt-Weeklies

paperboyartthumbnail.jpgBY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week, PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!

ON THE COVER

CP: Christianity, in its crusty and off-the-grid and welcoming and more progressive forms, have been all over the weeklies in recent months. Finally, something that’s good for the Jews: a look at the city’s Lubavitchers, the bearded, hard-core proselytizers of Judaism. Andrew Thompson’s piece captures the heart and Semitic soul of Philly’s Lubavitch leader, Menachem Schmidt, and the sect’s Crown Heights, Brooklyn-based top dog, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, while respectfully – but probingly – peeking into the its traditions.

There is no milestone Schmidt can point to, but he stopped being Matt and became Menachem. And while Matt cp_2009_08_27.jpgbelonged in New Jersey, Menachem would go wherever the Rebbe told him. During his life, Schneerson spent much of his time making executive orders, deciding which emissary, or sliach, would go where and start what institution, and the framework for Chabad today — if not most of its synagogues and outreach centers — are fulfillments of direct dictation.

Schmidt traveled to the University of San Diego to run the school’s Chabad house there for a few months to act as a substitute director. When the time came to move, Schmidt sent Schneerson a letter asking where to go.

“He said, ‘Interest yourself in Philadelphia,'” says Schmidt.

“Do you know why he said that?” I ask.

“Because he’s the Rebbe.”

His first task was to create the Chabad House at the University of Pennsylvania, which he still runs. He needed a place to live within walking distance of Penn because he couldn’t drive there on Shabbos, so he picked a row home around Ninth and Catharine — about a one-and-a-half-hour walk away.

“And then I found South Street and fell in love,” he says.

I like the piece, and not just because Schmidt is a fellow Syracuse grad. He had the chutzpah to make South Street, that clogged artery of commercialism, his home turf for Chabad evangelism, and Thompson tops the unearthing of that nugget by portraying Chabad’s deep roots in Philly and the fervor of Schmidt’s boss, Rabbi Avrohom Shemtov. Thompson’s take, pleasantly free of disdain for its subjects, is open-ended, though, in much the same way that so many beliefs, whatever their governing system, are un-pin-down-able.

PW:
The advent of Michael Vick has thrown the problem of dogfighting in Philadelphia into a much starker light. It’s more widespread than many of us might ever have known, and Mike Newell investigates the city’s poor track record of bringing animalistic offenders to justice.

coverpittbull082609_big_1.jpgAccording to the Humane Society of the United States, Pennsylvania’s dogfighting ?statute ranks among the strictest in the nation. It’s a third degree felony punishable by up to seven years–but that’s just on paper. A review of court records shows that even Philly’s worst dogfighters usually get slaps on the wrists, or even just probation.

PSPCA Humane Officer Tara Loller couldn’t stand it if the man on trial today, Anthony Clark, became the next Philly dogfighter to enjoy a light sentence. As the people inside the courtroom waited for the day’s proceedings to begin, Loller sat on a bench in the hall and sighed.

“Wasting time … ” she said…

The 37-year-old Clark has a criminal history for rape and attempted murder. Those cases did not result in convictions. On the night of his latest arrest he was busted selling crack from his porch. When police went inside, they found five chained-up and caged pit bulls in his squalid basement.

Two of the dogs were near death. As responding officer, Loller photographed the injured dogs during their hours of grueling emergency surgery. The pictures of the broken dogs were in a folder on her lap. She was looking forward to showing them to Clark.

The whole thing is similarly well-researched and sharply drawn. Court proceedings, rap sheets, and backyards with canine carcasses buried in them all make for nicely-set scenes that are quietly devastating when taken in total, and the takeaway about both the righteousness and reputation of the city’s courts is profound. This guy used to write for CP, right? Is there some kind of Philly freelance free-agent market I don’t know about? Either way, a tremendous pick-up for PW.


INSIDE THE BOOK


CP:
Push Lidge over the ledge. The trashpile that ate Port Richmond. Pissed Jeans: more than just ruined menswear. Be still my heart: bacon-flavored ice cream.

PW:
A liquid diet? I’ll try it. Museum security guards: first line of defense in the culture wars. Some killer rhymes, but I don’t think Ms. Angelou would be amused. Jean therapy: Trying to live up to the hype.

WINNER: There’s a lot to like this week, but I’m most pleased to finally see an article on religion in the city that doesn’t piss on its practitioners. CP takes the title this week.

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