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This year I made a resolution to bike through the winter. Usually by January I’ve traded in my bike for public transportation and taxis, but I always feel biking’s absence from my life. It’s not just the exercise. In winter it’s too easy to spend your days shuffling tiredly between dark and dark. It’s too easy to hibernate, to let your life shrink down until you could live it on the tip of a pencil.

I bought my first bike — as an adult, I mean — at age 30, on something of a whim. I was in the midst of a protracted breakup, and I needed a little fun in my life. At first I only cruised around Philadelphia on weekends, or took slow rides on a path by the river, though soon enough I found myself biking to work. I found myself biking to run errands and to meet friends at bars and restaurants. Within a year I’d gotten rid of my car.

I always tell people I don’t believe in resolutions, but each year I find myself making a few anyway. I always tell people I don’t care about birthdays, but I recently turned 39, and it feels like a big one.

More… “Biking”

Mike Ingram is a founding editor of Barrelhouse Magazine and co-host of the weekly Book Fight! podcast. You can follow him on twitter at mikeingram00
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Last Halloween, my husband opened our closet door and reached for the topmost shelf where he keeps his Zipperhead mask.

“Not again,” I said.

He ignored me as he is often wont to do and pulled it on over his face.

My husband had worn this mask all through the 90s and now, in 2015, looked forward to going out in public in it that very evening. The rubbery skin covered my husband’s face. A half-opened zipper to match the one painted on the store’s façade next to the gigantic metal ants, stitched through the mask’s forehead and nested in the mask’s crown of red, kidney-shaped brains. He opened a flap and beneath it found two switches. He flicked them on and the exposed brain particle lit up with tiny dancing lights. My husband also dug out his black Dr. Martens and a Zipperhead T-shirt. Punk is long dead. My husband sold Zipperhead in 2000 to Rob and Steph, his two top employees who were married to each other. They ran it as Zipperhead for several years, then relocated it around the corner in a smaller space, and renamed it with a touch of levity Crash Bang Boom.
More… “Philly’s Flagship Store”

Harriet Levin Millan‘s debut novel, How Fast Can You Run, based on the life of “Lost Boy” of Sudan Michael Majok Kuch has been selected as a Charter for Compassion Global Read. She’s the author of two books of poetry, and a third to appear in 2018. Among her prizes are the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel University. Click here for more essays on The Smart Set.
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Smedley Darlington Butler was a Major General in the Marine Corps and the only “Devil Dog” to ever win two Medals of Honor and a Marine Corps Brevet Medal. For two years, Butler, known occasionally as “Old Gimlet Eye,” was the Director of Public Safety for his hometown of Philadelphia. Given the unenviable task of enforcing the Volstead Act in extra wet Philly, Butler’s first forty-eight hours in office constituted a “shock and awe” campaign against the city’s illegal speakeasies, cabarets, brothels, poolrooms, and other dens of iniquity. According to Hans Schmidt, Butler’s greatest biographer and the author of Maverick Marine: General Smedley D. Butler and the Contradictions of American Military History, in those two days Butler and his men closed down 973 of the 1,200 saloons that sold blackmarket hooch in the city, while another 80 percent of known underworld haunts were closed temporarily. Philadelphia bootleggers showed their appreciation for Butler’s tactics by firing shots at the top cop one morning in 1924.

More… “The Bite of the Devil Dog”

Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer based in Boston. He is the author of Hands Dabbled in Blood.
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The Pope is in the house. As the Smart Set closes its doors for his visit to our fair city, we leave you with beers, dogs, and traffic schedules all influenced by the Holy Father’s visit, along with a history of the less pope-ular Vicars of Jesus Christ.

Fellow priests put one of the first popes, Sixtus III (432-40), on trial for seducing a nun. He was acquitted after quoting from Christ in his defense: “Let you who are without sin cast the first stone.” In the centuries to follow, political skullduggery and a corrupt election process thrust one improbable candidate after another into the position as god-fearing believers looked on in impotent horror. In fact, so many Vicars of Christ have been denounced as the “Worst Pope Ever” that we have to settle for a Top Ten list. •

Read It: Vatican Hall of Shame by Tony Perrottet

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.
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It’s 1979, and it’s Pope John Paul II’s visit to Philadelphia, and I’m standing next to Alexander Calder’s river god fountain at Logan Circle, next to the male figure grasping a bow. Buried in my backpack are hundreds of freshly minted coins. My father, who owns a company that makes commemorative medals, struck them earlier that week. Pope John Paul II’s bronze image is sculpted on the front, and my father has asked me to sell them at the special Mass the Pope is conducting on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

I’ve just graduated from college. Having majored in English, I’m unemployed, living at home, and about as miserable as a 22-year-old can be. My boyfriend doesn’t call me as often as I’d like and I spend too many nights hunched over the pink princess phone on my night table willing it to ring. When my father passes by my door, he yells at me for waiting around for a boy who is obviously not interested in a serious relationship. The truth hurts, and around 9 PM when my boyfriend still hasn’t called, I’m too distraught to do anything but sleep.
More… “Papal Work”

Harriet Levin Millan‘s debut novel, How Fast Can You Run, based on the life of “Lost Boy” of Sudan Michael Majok Kuch has been selected as a Charter for Compassion Global Read. She’s the author of two books of poetry, and a third to appear in 2018. Among her prizes are the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel University. Click here for more essays on The Smart Set.
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All is not well. But we do not see that at first. The white house and the white picket fence are in perfect order. The sky is blue and bright. The flowers are red and yellow. The grass is green. We’re surrounded by primary colors and clarity.

“David Lynch: The Unified Field” Through January 11, 2015. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA

The man watering his lawn doesn’t notice the kink in the hose. The water pressure is building. The pressure in his neck builds, too. Suddenly, the man grabs his neck and falls to the ground. He is having a heart attack, or a stroke. The water from the hose shoots into the air as he falls. The man’s little dog bites ferociously at the stream. The camera pans down into the grass, into the muck… More…

Imagine yourself as a child, frolicking through your parents’ back yard and digging up worms. Your mother calls you in from the kitchen for dinner and you bound in through the back door, smelling the roast she’s been tending to for the past few hours. At the table your father sits reading the newspaper, your sister fidgeting with a bow in her hair. Before you is the same familiar spread: off-white plates, clear glasses, spotless silverware, uniform serving utensils, and of course, the butter dish. You think nothing of the materials off of which you shovel food into your mouth, moving as quickly as possible to resume your outdoor activities. For hours your mother slaved over the stove to prepare your meal, but that won’t cross your mind until present day when, as an adult, you prepare meals for yourself and maybe even your own children. Now is a time… More…

There’s a grand old tradition of celebrating the Fourth of July through dissent. Of famously dissenting July Fourths, the 1976 Bicentennial comes to mind, when World’s Fair-style displays of pyrotechnics and nautical parades were joined by civil rights protests nationwide (including a celebrity-organized rally on the National Mall by the People’s Bicentennial Commission featuring Jane Fonda and Dr. Spock). The most notable has to be the first Fourth of July, in 1776, when the founding fathers finalized the Declaration of Independence, which was, itself, met with a certain amount of dissent. Plenty of Americans were still loyal to the British government. They used the Declaration as an opportunity to publish their own dissenting tracts, like that of Thomas Hutchinson, who served a short stint as colonial governor of Massachusetts. Hutchinson proclaimed the newly independent nation to be the insidious effort of a few rabble-rousing conspirators. He also called members of… More…

 

Go to a dog show on a rainy day and the first thing you notice is the smell. This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s ever owned a dog or been around a dog or heard people talk about just how bad a wet dog smells, but it does. Those dogs are pets — sloppy, misbehaving, food-stealing pets. With show dogs, we anticipate perfected specimens of the animal world that never chew the furniture, never hump company, and never find themselves caught in the rain.

This was the Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s annual two-day dog show. The show does not have the distinction of being the nation’s most prestigious dog show. That would be the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City, which will be held in February and broadcast on… More…

 

None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this Act may be used by any State or local government, or any private entity, for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool. – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (or, The Stimulus Bill)

When the oldest zoo in America was planning its 150th anniversary, it probably never thought Congress would compare it to a casino just weeks before the celebration. Such was the case for the Philadelphia Zoo, which marked its sesquicentennial this past weekend. The issue isn’t access to the stimulus funds (though that couldn’t hurt), but more the implication that, like swimming, golfing, and gambling, zoogoing is nice but not necessary.

So maybe it’s appropriate that the zoo’s party was thematically more about looking to its past than… More…