THERE HAVE been days when I wished I didn't have an editor so I could say exactly what I wanted, without worrying about pesky libel issues or about crossing the line of civility.
Joshua Scott Albert doesn't worry about any of that. For the past three months, the 25-year-old North Carolina native has been lobbing hand grenades at some of the city's most prominent restaurateurs, and whether they admit it or not, getting under their skin.
On his website StaphMeal.com, he has attacked restaurateurs Georges Perrier, whose legal threat led the formerly anonymous blogger to identify himself; Stephen Starr; Marc Vetri (whose stutter Albert mocks relentlessly); Chris Scarduzio; and Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney, owners of Barbuzzo, where I met the blogger last week for an interview.
But now, because Albert spends three nights a week camped outside City Hall as part of Occupy Philly, he has turned his venom on city Managing Director Richard Negrin, who he believes is "an enemy of the movement who has been lying to the press and that's pretty foul."
Albert wasn't satisfied with calling the man a liar. Instead he wrote a despicable post about a Negrin family tragedy, which led me to ask my editors why we were giving this a------ any attention at all.
Even Albert admits he has no moral code.
"It's a morally bankrupt thing that I did, but I'm OK with that," Albert said of the Negrin post.
After decent people with a moral compass attacked Albert about the Negrin post on Twitter, he responded by posting a Wikipedia link to the First Amendment.
It's unclear how much his core audience of restaurant insiders cares about his political invective. Albert said he averages between 500 to 1,500 hits per day, a number that he admits grew after Perrier (whom he called a racist) and chef Shola Olunloyo threatened to sue him. Albert said Perrier's legal threat was "the best thing that ever happened to me."
The blogger has no limits. "I'll say whatever I want to say. You can't sue somebody for what they don't have." (He's broke.) "To sue me it's a very long process, and they have to prove that what I said was false," said Albert, who has retained a pro bono lawyer to represent him.
Most of his information comes from "disgruntled restaurant workers, what I hear and just general knowledge from working in the industry," said Albert, who worked briefly at restaurants including R2L, Supper, a. kitchen, Bistrot La Minette, and Fork, where he says he spit in the face of a manager after being fired.
His feelings about StaphMeal.
com mirror his view on the Occupy movement. "People are talking about it. I don't mean to sound cliche, but that's how revolutionaries start - in the mind," he said.
Albert has used his blog to garner support for at least one populist cause. He encouraged readers to contact City Council members in support of Councilman Jim Kenney's gratuity-protection bill that would prevent restaurant owners, and the employers of any tipped employee, from siphoning off part of the tip to cover credit-card fees.
He communicated with Kenney about the bill and offered information about how restaurateurs hold that money in interest-bearing accounts.
Kenney said he spoke a few times with Albert, whom he described as "an anarchist," but said the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (RocUnited.
org) was really the source of the research that went into the bill.
Although Albert doesn't consider anything off-limits on his own blog, he remains upset that the Inquirer referred to his own criminal record in a September story about the threatened Perrier lawsuit.
"I was convicted of a felony when I was 18. I had a credit card that wasn't mine. I didn't even use it, I just found it," Albert said.
Although he doesn't consider himself a journalist, Albert did manage to get a White House-issued press credential to cover President Obama's last visit to the area.
Albert said he's always been a "rabble rouser" and believes that's a result of "growing up the way I did."
Albert said he was raised in group homes from age 6 to 18 and received Supplemental Security Income payments after his mother's suicide when he was 12.
"I am a firm believer that with chaos brings change. I just have a different method of going about it. I walk around Occupy wearing Bostonians and a sweater and looking like a college kid. I like the idea of being really disruptive but not looking the part," Albert said.
StaphMeal.com has no ads, so what does Albert do for money?
"Nothing. It's a bittersweet subject. It's next to impossible for me to get a job in the city now in a restaurant, but that's all I've ever done," Albert admitted.
After an upcoming trip to St. Louis, he said, he needs to "focus on money."
"Eventually I just want to sell the f------ website. I'd sell it right now if someone offered me the right price. I'd probably hightail it to New York."
Albert, who prides himself on being able to move in "two duffel bags," has been in Philadelphia for 14 months but lived here previously two other times. He says he moves a lot because "I'll get in a s----- situation and, instead of working it out, I'll just leave."
What he'd really like to do is open a bar or restaurant in North Carolina.
Albert asked how we were going to play his story, even though he told us several times that he doesn't like attention and that he doesn't want to use Occupy Philadelphia to promote himself.
"I guess one of the things I go for is shock value and with that naturally comes attention. I do things for shock value, which drives people for the website."
Is he punking the press, we asked, by being provocative just to get his name out there?