Where's the Bear? Will she ever prowl again?
When I hear those words, I know readers are curious about the alarmingly absurdist saga I chronicled earlier this year, a tale of volunteer firefighters winning a $1 million, federally funded boat they dubbed "the Bear on the Delaware" and hoped to use to fight nonexistent riverfront fires and troll for IEDs.
The 40-foot fireboat has seen no official action, unless you count crashes into unidentified underwater objects and a dock box, and the destruction of a $25,000 hydraulic lift.
The FBI opened a case into this comic waste of Homeland Security money, but ultimately, the U.S. Attorney's Office did not bring charges. Why? Because the Federal Emergency Management Agency does not regret throwing so much dough at the tiny Union Fire Company of Bensalem. No victim, no crime.
In July, Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran suspended the troubled fire company, forcing a change of leadership and scaled-back ambition.
The firefighters regrouped and proved a vital part of Bensalem's response to Hurricane Sandy, according to Deputy Public Safety Director Pat Ponticelli. "They manned their station during the storm. We couldn't ask for better cooperation."
As for the Bear?
This fall, the boat was quietly relocated - FEMA orders - from a marina in Tullytown to Bensalem. There, it remains in government-mandated limbo.
"FEMA's trying to get someone to take it," explains Harran. Check out the dream machine (http://www.maritimedelriv.com/psgp08-24.htm), which he notes can now be had for a song.
"For just a quarter-million, you can get a million-dollar boat."
A teachable moment
In 20 years, Cecilia Ready is the only person to suffer a stroke while I was interviewing her. Given that we wound up in an emergency room, I'm amazed she still takes my calls.
Ready, a 71-year-old adjunct professor from Delaware County, had made the financially unavoidable choice to teach through a third bout of cancer.
As a low-paid, no-benefit workhorse hustling between St. Joe's, Widener, and Villanova for $3,000 a class, she can't afford to retire. Annually, her salary amounts to a fraction of the $50,000 students pay to spend a year listening to poetry and literature lectures like hers.
"I got through chemo. It wasn't terrible," Ready cheerily reports. "I have a fabulous wig - short, sassy, and white. The problem is, everybody likes my wig so much, they'll be disappointed when my real hair grows back."
Tenured academics may never see adjuncts as equals, but alumni sent me gushing recollections of the woman who still ranks as their favorite professor.
"One day this fall, I walked out of class and a woman I didn't recognize was waiting for me," Ready shares. The woman, the mother of a Villanova student, had studied under Ready decades earlier at Cabrini.
"She looked me up just to tell me how much of an impression I made on her."
Art for art's sake
"I got a show!" Ric Owens yelps. "At the Balance Gallery. In February. In Center City!"
Owens, you may recall, is a self-described "accidental artist." Once an executive chef, he suffered a concussion in a 2011 car accident on the Blue Route that forever changed him.
Psychiatrists use the term acquired savant syndrome to describe the otherwise inexplicable transformation in which people experience newfound obsession or dexterity at an activity - music, math, art - they didn't pursue prior to illness or injury.
"I see geometry now, I see the planes, the angles," the 55-year-old Owens told me while showing off the visual explosion at the Roxborough home he shares with his husband, Harry Richards, a social worker. "I never understood architecture before. Now, I stop and draw it."
Owens has spent the last few months Dumpster-diving for raw materials, speaking about his unexpected gift, and exploring new methods involving airbrushing and layering a "weird" mix of modeling paint and acrylics.
He's revamping his novice website (http://www.richardmichaelsart.com/) and asked Santa for a most unusual gift: A MIG welder, to manipulate stainless steel.
"I'm doing a lot of sculpting," Owens says, excitedly. "I've got this huge piece in my head just dying to come out - something erratic and with a lot of energy."
He still suffers from memory loss, but says it's a small price to pay for such an awakening.
"I wouldn't say I'm 'better' than I was before, but more content," he concludes. "I know who I am now."