It's not all 50th-floor parties with top-shelf booze at the Republican National Convention–though there is certainly a lot of that. Despite what the party spinmeisters will tell you about GOP unity and solidarity, there are still plenty of real issues in play in the cradle of liberty. I found this out Monday morning when I headed over to Philadelphia's City Hall in anticipation of a free lunch sponsored by a local convenience-store chain. There, along with bums, protesters (hard to tell the difference at times), and families in town for a fun day, was a man ranting about the perils of breast-feeding.
That would be Bruce Spencer, who was standing amidst an anemic anti-poverty demonstration at which the news reporters out numbered the protesters (as is often the case). He was holding a sign– REPUBLICANS BAN BREAST-FEEDING NOW—and was anything but anemic. Bruce is a red-blooded crank with a message: He wants Congress to ban breast-feeding and, he warns, he's not going away anytime soon. Indeed, he's planning to take his campaign on the road.
"Breast feeding is an erotic, sensual experience that is foisted upon the child, who has no civil rights in the matter," says Spencer, a bottle-fed baby (and independent voter) who now lives in New York City. "It leads to an erotic experience and it features an oral gratification experience that manifests itself not only with cigarette smoking and perversions that are now in most states punishable by jail sentences, including sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, even between married couples."
I asked Bruce about the utility and tradition of breast-feeding, working my way up to the cunnilingus issue, which seems to be a strain of thought among fringe protesters. (See my July 30th report for more on the topic.) "It's a myth generated by centuries of inattention to the dangers of these activities," declares Bruce. "It leads to the addiction of these very, very vile, disagreeable activities, mostly but not limited to smoking. Why do people smoke? Because it's oral gratification."
Despite– or maybe because of– the force of his message, there was something strangely comforting about Bruce's presence in the city in which the Declaration of Indepedence and the Constitution were drafted and put into play. That Bruce is out there ranting away reminds us that at least one great American political tradition—unfettered free speech—is alive and sucking, if not quite kicking.
The event that actually drew me to City Hall in the first place showcases another grand American political tradition: the free lunch. The WAWA corporation, an upscale version of 7-Eleven indigenous to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, generously hosted "WAWA Hoagie Day." Calling it their "Four-Ton Tribute to America," the convenience store put 100 WAWA "chefs" (a loose use of the term, to be sure) on the project for five hours. The glorious result: a four-ton hoagie (the area name for a hero or submarine sandwich), measuring 6,700 feet in length. That's seven Eiffel towers, eight Titanics, and four Dirk Digglers . . . Well, you get the point.
It actually wasn't a single Diggler-sized hoagie, but rather thousands of average-sized six-inch ones, delivered in six-foot boxes. And it wasn't a special deal for the convention, but rather a happy coincidence. 1992 was the first Hoagie day, when WAWA served up a 500-footer, and it has become a bigger and longer annual event with each passing year.
Then again, maybe it's not such a happy coincidence for locals like the Stavinga family, who came in for the event last year as well. The city kept the festivities from starting until protesters who were demonstrating to end all poverty were cleared from the south end of the city hall.
I asked Robyn Hobbs, a PETA protester in a pink pig suit, how she felt about Hoagie Day, which is really just a nouveau pagan celebration of animal slaughter. "I don't appreciate it," said Hobbs, who's in from Indianapolis. "They use tons of meat and cheese. Thousands of animals died to make that hoagie, and it's not even worth it." In fact, WAWA used 737 lbs. of Italian Ham, 838 lbs. of Prosciutto, 698 lbs. of Genoa Salami, and 744 1bs. of provolone cheese.
The carnage doesn't bother Eunice Macon, a Philadelphia local who came down with two friends to pick up free hoagies. "It's OK to eat meat," she told me, concerned that I might be a vegetarian. "That's why God put it there."
Hobbs claimed to have nothing to do with the delay, saying she just planned to walk around and pass out flyers meant to reeducate people like Eunice. One flier advocates an excise tax on meat‹did you know that the animals we eat produce 130 times the pee and poop that we do, but they don't have sewage systems or even portapotties?‹and another gives a 1-800 vegetarian hotline.
So the line started moving a half hour late. I grabbed my hoagie and a pretzel, and headed for an air-conditioned hotel–tonight would be the first big night of the convention and I'd need every bit of energy to make it through the speeches to come.