I'm back in Philly to wrap things up, return my apartment, give a paid talk and say goodbye to my friends. With Felix Giordano, I've hit bars in the Italian Market, Point Breeze, Pennsport, Fishtown and Whitman. Soon, we'll run over to Billy Boy's in the Pine Barrens, where the owner/cook makes some of the best comfort food anywhere, and the hardy, friendly people soothe our souls. Mellowing in there, it's hard to believe you're only 30 miles from the mayhem of Camden. Even in the Piney, though, things have changed for the worse. "You can't really smell pig sh*t anymore," Felix pointed out. "It's not like when I was a kid, coming here. There's less pig farming now."
At Nickels', I had a $3.50 roast beef sandwich that came with pickle, peppers, horseradish and potato chips. Can't beat that! There was a sign, "DRUG ACTIVITY WILL NOT BE TOLERATED HERE." At a Fishtown dive, Teresa the bartender comped my second Guinness, "Welcome to the neighborhood!" There, I talked to a 56-year-old union electrician, Matt, about Poland, the economy, his fishing boat and heroin. We both know people who've died from it.
Matt showed me, on his cellphone, a young man nodding on a subway train. A couple years ago, Matt found a friend passed out on the street, so he lifted him onto a shopping cart, pushed him home. The man died soon after from an overdose. "This guy was a football player in high school, man, a super jock, and very popular." As we chattered, the pleasant smell of marijuana wafted in from the sidewalk.
As Felix and I were leaving Sit On It, a middle-aged black lady stood up and shouted at us, "I love you all! Love you all!"
With purple hair, eyebrows and lipstick to accentuate her cadaverous complexion, an out-of-shape, college-aged woman wore a jean vest that had a cupcake on each side. "EAT sh*t" "AND DIE," they said.
At Thomas Paine Plaza, there's a multi panel art project celebrating Dreamers, or underage illegal immigrants. One large image shows a Hispanic girl studying a book, Milk and Honey, with these words surrounding her, "Education THINKING Research Success FUTURE Expert SKILLS PROGRESS JOB KNOWLEDGE TRAINING DEVELOPMENT PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE ADVANTAGE FOCUS LEARN WORK SOCIAL LEADERSHIP EMPLOYMENT TEST HOPE HARD WORK," and so on.
Sticker on a steel pole, "THE LEFTIST AGENDA: DIVIDE AND OPPRESS."
At a bus shelter, a fat man with a vapid expression sat next to a poster advertising the TV show, Arrested Development.
Near City Hall, there's a white sign with a black arrow, pointing to the ground, "HUB OF HOPE." I have no idea if it's a joke.
Three days after I got back, I checked the Inquirer to find out nine Philadelphians had been shot within 18 hours, with five dead. Among the survivors was a 61-year-old man who had been hit in the groin, and a 28-year-old who had been blasted in the face. I was certainly not in East Asia anymore.
Six Temple students have been killed or committed suicide this academic year, with two business majors overdosing from drugs within one week. A 24-year-old was found dead in the library. In 2017, 1,217 Philadelphians died from drug overdoses, up from 907 in 2016. Per capita, Pittsburgh tops the country in drug deaths.
Discussing the opioid crisis last year, I was hissed at by a gaggle of pissy ostriches. One sneered, "What are these places he's talking about? And the commenters, too? Who are these degenerates? I don't know a single person or place that fits ANY of this. And I'm no spring chicken." It is hopeless.
One evening, I ran into a 41-year-old bartender who had been fired, months before, for being so fogged up, she couldn't give the correct change or even hear a drink order. It didn't help that Becky also downed shots of Jameson while working.
"You look great, Becky! You really do. The last time I saw you, you were pretty out of it."