Philadelphia Inquirer Internship Reflection (5/23/06)

By Christopher Wink | May 23, 2006

It was January 16, 2006 that I was offered and I accepted an internship with the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was that very Monday that I accepted a position I hadn’t expected to get, a position with the city desk of a large, historical, urban daily.

I think about the semester I spent walking the streets of Philadelphia with an Inquirer ID around my neck and a steno pad stuck in my back pocket, those felt-tip black pens, Hermes, and DocCenter. I made mistakes, mistakes as inexplicable as your palms sweating when you go to shake some silly celebrity’s hand. I went to court without a pen, to a press conference without a pad, and an interview without both. I called detectives without remembering why and had quotes without remembering from whom.

I covered the courts on Fridays. Allow me to demystify that. Most weeks that meant I sat in the Criminal Justice Center on Filbert Street waiting for jury deliberations to end or chasing down grieving widows to get a quotation on how the verdict made her feel.

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Stirring the Melting Pot

By Christopher Wink | Nov 13, 2006 | The ISRST Review [PDF]

The American population gurgled over 300 million some time in October of 2006, and it never paused. A solid 67 percent of that population considers itself non-Hispanic white in racial makeup, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, meaning nearly 100 million Americans are responsible for the blacks and browns and reds and golds in our ethnic color wheel.

This is, as we say in American flag-adorned speeches and mushy patriotic reports, what makes the United States a melting pot, as it was put by an English playwright nearly a century ago. Though most sociologists have long since discarded the phrase, its meaning is strong to all proud Americans. Yet, anyone who has ever ridden a bus passed the abandoned row houses in North Philadelphia or been lost in the faceless lines of tract housing in Union, Kentucky must know the pot needs to be stirred.

There is no equality in division, only disparity takes root. So, give us answers, we clamor. Leaders and legislators, you must tell us what the solutions for our continued racial misgivings are. The answers haven’t come. How could they? We haven’t yet established what the problem is.

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Fatherly Advice (NPR submission: 5/20/07)

By Christopher Wink | May 20, 2007 | NPR submission

It is too rare what I have, two spectacularly loving parents who coincidentally love each other as well. Still, understanding that I also someday want to be a competent father with strong arms and too much advice, I particularly idolize my own father in a way that everyone should have the privilege to do.

Because he is always muttering advice like clean up your own mess and never drive behind a car with a mattress on its roof. Advice like treat secretaries, custodians and garbage men with respect because they do the hard work. Advice like wear your seatbelt, and don’t be afraid to use a band-aid if it hurts.

I grew up in northwest New Jersey, a gentle swath of rural America that is only now being discovered by the faceless, suburban sprawl of family-style chain restaurants and one-stop shopping. I was freckle-faced, loved my mother’s cooking and posed for Norman Rockwell paintings.

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Larry Rosenthal

By Christopher Wink | May 9, 2007 | Philadelphia Stories submission

Larry Rosenthal is an old man. Tired hands and worried eyes. Worried eyes and a wrinkled forehead. He was once young and awfully worried. He wasn’t worried anymore, but his forehead, his eyes, they only knew how it was. He had been inside for thirty-three years, long enough for him to not seem so dangerous anymore. His life was taken a long time ago. Thirty-three years is an awfully long time to live in a cage.

I might have met Larry Rosenthal. Seen his hands or eyes or everything else that holds them in place. But he was inside and I was outside and keep your eyes on the road when you’re passing the Fairhill Projects. So, formal introductions, you see, were indefinitely postponed.

I ride a bicycle everywhere in the 135 square miles of Philadelphia County. But mostly I ride on 11th Street, between trolley tracks and side view mirrors. I ride to save the $2.60 for a round trip subway fare. I ride to exercise and make good time and because I’ve never been able to keep from smiling when I pedal around City Hall.

In North Philadelphia, I ride past the Blue Horizon and the Church of the Advocate and down Ogontz Avenue so fast that Olney can’t stop me. I ride mostly on 11th Street, between trolley tracks and side view mirrors, but I never look up to try to find Larry Rosenthal. Of course, he wouldn’t be there, but I don’t know that.

It is dark sometimes when I want to save $2.60. I ride just as fast, contemplating real estate and chasing black alley cats. There are many black alley cats to be chased. Sometimes corner boys are out hiding from rain underneath sneakers strung up in power lines, and they ask me what I want. Other times the corners are empty. Gangsters have to sleep, too.

My life holds the fluidity of freedom. Larry Rosenthal, of course, doesn’t speak of such things. You can be happy to know, though, that he forgot years ago what that would feel like. He wears the same maroon uniform everyday, the same as everyone else, but he was allowed to choose his own shoes. A man should choose his own shoes.

There are an awful lot of Chinese stores these days. People go in with money but never seem to come out with lo mien or dumplings. Larry Rosenthal didn’t like dumplings either. That is how maroon became his least favorite and most worn color.

He was smart, had two hands, insightful eyes and, from the beginning, a determination to be independent. Anyone can see he was too capable for his neighborhood to be anything but a dismal failure in society. Larry Rosenthal, his friends used to joke, is so black he is blue. But I wouldn’t know any of that.

A man I respect once told me that you should never trust a white man with a beard or a black man without one. Larry Rosenthal didn’t have a beard, but, then, he seems now to be awfully fresh-shaven. As if his reliability had been unquestioned until this morning. As if everything changed this morning. Like I rode up 11th street in the narrow strip of pavement between the trolley tracks and side view mirrors and didn’t see Larry Rosenthal this morning. Not that I would have been looking.

As submitted to Philadelphia Stories in May 2007. See the publication here.