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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: Paul F. Tompkins — nice guy, mustache aficionado, native Philadelphian — is a nice get for the CP cover story, and Pat Rapa’s Q&A shows Tompkins as funny, thoughtful and well-traveled. No questions on proper mustache care and grooming, but I guess I’ll live.

The jovial, gap-toothed comic was in town for a sold-out performance at Plays & Players Theater. Unlike most comedy shows, unlike cp_2010-08-19.jpgTompkins’ own performances just five years earlier, that evening wasn’t a scattered array of jokes but a series of thematically linked stories. It followed his career, from working retail on South Street at Hats in the Belfry and an ill-fated little video shop called Beta Only, to his curious experiences in TV and movies. (P.T. Anderson has cast him twice. In Magnolia he was a voice. In There Will Be Blood he was a blur. That’s progress.) And his You Should Have Told Me, a sometimes-poignant one-hour special about his mom’s struggle with cancer, aired on Comedy Central in June.

The Impersonal days of Paul F. Tompkins, it seems, are over. He’s always tweeting and popping up on fellow comedians’ podcasts, not to mention the brand new Pod F. Tompkast. Just up the turnpike in Jersey City, you can frequently hear him shooting the breeze with Tom Scharpling of “The Best Show on WMFU.” The two, whose riffing on Insane Clown Posse last year launched a thousand imitators, are currently in the early stages of developing a sitcom for Comedy Central. And the Tompkins 300 scheme has his fans organizing on Facebook to get him to play their hometowns. It’s led to gigs in Baton Rouge, Oklahoma City and some other unknown comedy hot spots. It’s also what brought him back to his hometown, where he ordered scrapple every single morning for breakfast.

Looks like he hasn’t always been such a nice guy, though — fired from Tower Video for theft? For shame! For real, though, I hope we’ll see him here again sometime soon. I’m sure Oklahoma City and Baton Rouge have their charms, but how they can compete with the scrapple and pitiless brutality of Philadelphia and its audiences?

PW: Some tales of the weird this week, courtesy of JV. Strangely, his piece on murder and cholera on the railroad is only blurbed on the cover, but it’s the actual cover story. Putting aside that disarming bit of placement, though, it’s a marvelously creepy story with some dedicated paranormalists on the trail of a historical cover-up. I believe Dr. Peter Venkman put it best: “Back off, man! I’m a scientist!”

081810pwcoverv.jpgA dark shadow looms over the valley at Duffy’s Cut, dubbed Dead Horse Hollow because the carcasses of dead horses were allegedly dumped there back in the day. Some say it’s cursed, other say it’s haunted. But for the 178 years since the 57 Irishmen died there, the valley has remained untouched by development or, for that matter, any manifestation of modernity.

“Bad stuff happened there and you feel that the longer you are there,” says Frank Watson. “I’ve been down there a couple of times by myself and it creeped me out. When this all started, none of us wanted to be there by ourselves.” Today, a housing development stands at the top of the valley, and former residents have told the Watson brothers about the strange, unexplained phenomenon they witnessed when they lived there. Two separate teams of ghost busters have gathered evidence of paranormal activity at Duffy’s Cut—photographs that captured eerie phosphorescent orbs and recording devices that picked up disembodied voices with startling clarity. One such recording reportedly captured a voice saying “Help me.”

In fact, the ghost stories surrounding Duffy’s Cut stretch all the way back to September of 1832, just weeks after the 57 died. An unidentified man walking home after dark from the nearby Green Tree tavern took a shortcut along the railroad tracks. He describes the night as “hot and foggy,” according to an account found in the Pennsylvania Railroad’s files, and when he got to the section of track by Duffy’s Cut he claims he saw the ghosts of dead Irishmen dancing on their mass grave. “They looked as if they were a kind of green and blue fire, and there they were hopping and bobbing on their graves,” he said.

It’s a hazy mix of history and hunches, but the Watsons come across as on-the-level, historically-minded guys transfixed by something they can’t explain. It’s not exactly “Murder on the Mainline” — any guesses as to how long until we see that phrase on the cover of Philly Mag? — but it’s a part of the past and of this area that is worth exploring further.

INSIDE THE BOOK

CP: Blood From a Stone Dept.: Business privilege tax for freelancers and bloggers. I literally laughed out loud at several of these. “My God, it’s full of dodo corpses.” Oral sex and Legends of the Hidden Temple: The Adam Erace we know and love. Straight to the point: “Um, ma’am: Who the hell do you think you are?”

PW: This raises a number of questions; namely, “Are you fucking serious?”  and “You call this journalism?” I am, and I don’t. Attention white people: the New Black Panthers want you dead. Tweed: A kind of jacket, and now a jumpin’ joint. Two-question interview yields fun, concise answers. Love it.

WINNER: I can’t speak for the ads in back, but there are no actual handjobs portrayed in CP this week, which gives them the edge over PW. Can’t wait to see Nile Parrish’s expense report. Cost of journalistic cred? Priceless.

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