BY 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: Bill Meagher takes a bite out of the culture of sword swallowers, including a sidelong glance at a local hero named Red Stuart, who’s given birth to a new weird order of freaks, geeks and stuntmen. Apparently, all it takes is putting one car axle down your gullet to ensure immortality.
Beyond all of the swords and the Model A car axel, he’s also taken down neon tubes and bridge bolts. In many ways, Stuart became the personification of “don’t try this at home.” “No matter what you do with sword-swallowing, there are people out there who think that there’s some kind of button on the handle or hilt that make them collapse down,” he says. He wanted to prove them wrong. “That’s why I sought out to implement more tools, and started adding on multiple swords.”
Along the way, Stuart set a number of records. In 2005, he was one of nine sword-swallowers who together downed 51 swords at the annual Sideshow Gathering in Wilkes-Barre. During that stunt, he broke a century-old record by swallowing 25 swords. During the 2007 Philadelphia Tattoo Convention he swallowed 34 swords; and last year, he went even further, swallowing 47 at the Ohio State Fair. During an International Sword Swallowers Day event this year, Stuart swallowed 51 at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum in Atlantic City. Just last month he outdid himself again, swallowing 52 swords at the Minnesota State Fair on Sept. 2.
Crazy as it sounds, Stuart insists that he’s safe.
“When those swords are stacked and stuck together with Teflon tape, they’re three-quarter inches wide,” he says. “You have to tape them so you don’t puncture holes through your esophagus. I’d rather have a few lacerations on my esophagus from the tape than have a sword scissor through my heart. I’m crazy, but I’m not stupid, which is why I keep extra cautious.”
Apart from legendary acts of death-defiance, there’s quite a sideshow culture going on in Philly — Olde City Sideshow, Squidling Bros. — but the trajectory can be traced back to Stuart. Apart from some innuendo — one participant intends to “record for longest sword swallowed by a female,” huh, huh — it’s a straight-shooting look at some wonderfully twisted practices. So this is where that “keep-Philly-weird” vibe comes in.
PW: Hey, I know that guy! It’s Jonathan Valania on the cover again (missed the Birther one in August — I was out of town), tearing into yet another local institution that’s “destroying the fabric of democracy.” Oh, wait. That’s from the John McCain playbook.JV’s talking ACORN, the advocacy group that’s been lending a hand to the poor and receiving the wrath of right-wingers for nearly three decades. The article starts with a local installment of the “Punk’d” episode that landed ACORN in hot water this summer — fake hookers, inappropriate questions, etc. — but then dials back to show what the organization does when it’s not fielding prank calls from right-wing activists.
ACORN’s modus operandi was simple but effective: Community organizers would knock on doors in low-income neighborhoods and ask what they could do to help. Families were encouraged to come to community meetings where campaigns were organized to address issues of income, lending, housing, health care and government assistance. The first course of action was always to open dialogue with the powers that be. But in the instances where such overtures were rebuffed, ACORN would hold demonstrations, loudly and relentlessly, until action was taken or at the very least until they were given a fair hearing.
A 2006 internal study of the financial impact of ACORN’s various campaigns from 1995 to 2004 estimates that $15 billion—in wage increases, loan arrangements, mortgages and tax returns—had been diverted to ACORN’s constituency of working poor and moderate income families. In that time, ACORN played an integral role in the passage of 11 living wage ordinances and minimum wage increases in Illinois, Massachusetts, Florida, New York and San Francisco, as well as legislation limiting predatory lending in Massachusetts, New Mexico, California, New York and New Jersey.
ACORN negotiated agreements with some of the nation’s biggest subprime lenders—including Household Finance, Wells Fargo Financial and CitiFinancial—to curb abusive lending practices and provide financial assistance to low-income borrowers stuck in bad loans. ACORN coerced H&R Block, the nation’s largest commercial tax preparer, into reducing their costly fees on Refund Anticipation Loans. ACORN secured mortgages with below-market interest rates for 54,949 low and moderate-income homebuyers. Additionally, ACORN developed 408 units of affordable housing in ?Dallas, Little Rock, Phoenix and ?Chicago and ownership and management of another 700 units in New York City.
As far as the Philly chapter goes, there’s practically a mile-long list of testimonials, including ones from legal counsel, a union boss, and the head of a homeless-rights group, all certifying ACORN’s professionalism and its value to the community. Even during the election rhetoric about ACORN, I didn’t quite know what the organization did, but at this stage of the game, with a former community organizer in the White House, the McCain-ian narrative of vote-fraud-perpetrating liberal agitators ought never go unchallenged again. ACORN and JV’s story definitely contribute something of value.
INSIDE THE BOOK
PW: Adam Erace gets the Brauhaus Shits; I’m “friendly, if a bit unsteady.” It’s like he’s known me all my life! White Dog, lifting its leg on West Philly. For Philly’s future, look north, young man. R. Kelly: the R is for ridiculous.
WINNER: I know I risk getting fired if I don’t pick JV’s cover, but he makes the choice easy: the funny, unsettling anecdote that opens the piece paves the way for hard numbers and straight-up rabble rousing. Stick it, sword-swallowers: PW takes it.