Archive for the 'Philadelphia' Category


flying in

Turning to my neighbor and enjoying an excuse to use the cliche, I said, “I can literally see my house from here.”

He turned toward the window as if he could see it, too. Out of politeness or empathy, I suppose. Just a reflex. I might have done the same thing.

I’d avoided talking to him so far. If there is anything I hate on an airplane, it’s verbosity, but we were so close, I thought I could risk it.

He wore a fedora and a black short-sleeve oxford shirt. He looked to be in his late 50s. His arms were covered with coarse brown and gray hairs, and the backs of his hands were spotty and freckled. I mention these details, because I looked at him so little, I believe it’s all I saw of him. I think he wore glasses.

I imagined he was a man who said “cat” and “cool” and “babe” a lot and who liked to sit in bars and recommend jazz clubs to tourists.

I was probably completely wrong.

It wasn’t strictly true that I could see my house — but it was possible, so I let the syntax stand. We were close enough. I could see my block. Ergo, I could see my house.

We had just curved slowly over Center City. The edges of the crystalline spires of Liberty Place glowed red that night, and the mirrored panes of glass shimmering like spangles from one to the next as we rotated past seemed close enough to touch.

From there, I could trace my way through the lighted grid below us. The streets spread out like a geometry problem. There’s Broad. There’s East Passyunk. That’s the Acme. So that’s Reed, Dickinson, Tasker, Morris, Moore, Mifflin. There’s the Catholic high school. My house should be just about… there.

Seemed a shame to go all the way to the airport to catch a cab all the way back up here. Couldn’t I just parachute out and walk home? Surely I’d land somewhere nearby.

But of course not. That would be silly. I had a checked bag that I needed to claim.

“Coming from Detroit,” my neighbor said, “this place must seem so beautiful.”

It was beautiful. And where I came from had nothing to do with it.


Fa ra ra ra ra …

Joy Tsin Lau, 1026 Race St. Try David's Mai Lai Wah or Tai Lake instead.

Thumbs down to Joy Tsin Lau, 1026 Race St. Try David’s Mai Lai Wah (1001 Race St.) or Tai Lake (134 N. 10th St.) instead.

We should have known that, on a night like this, when all our first choices in Chinatown had a long wait to get in, the restaurant without a line would probably not be all we hoped for.

It was Christmas. Jeff and I were excited about having a night out with friends in Chinatown on Christmas with chopsticks and fortune cookies and red lanterns and silly tropical cocktails.

My mom laughed when I told her. She recited that little bit of good-humored racism from A Christmas Story. “How does it go?” she said. “Deck the hars with bars of horry…”

But the place we chose turned out to be nothing to laugh at. Continue reading ‘Fa ra ra ra ra …’


It’s not delivery

The importance of fixing our oven lay not just in the Thanksgiving dinner we had to host, but also in the unbaked DiGiorno pepperoni pizza and the box of Mrs. T’s jumbo fish sticks in the freezer just waiting to be consumed.

During a visit in the spring, my mom treated me and Jeff and a couple of our friends to some serious Polish-lady cooking: golabki, chicken stew and biscuits. The huge baking dish full of stuffed cabbage boiled over. We had a baking sheet on the lower rack, but it wasn’t placed well, and tomato soup spilled right on through to the gas valve and shorted out the electronic controls. If you’re going to go out, go with a bang, I guess—and a sizzle and a pop.

We had to bake the biscuits for the chicken stew at our neighbors’ house. They were repaid the next day with my mom’s home cooking. Continue reading ‘It’s not delivery’


‘And you put it in here?’

“And you put it in here?” I heard her ask as I hopped off the last step down to the subway. She was pointing at the change slot on the turnstile.

The man in the booth answered. I couldn’t hear him, but I knew what he said.

“You put it where it says ‘coin return’?” she asked.

No. That’s the coin return button, he explained.

A newbie. Marvelous. Continue reading ‘‘And you put it in here?’’


Lessons in salesmanship

When it comes right down to it, I just can’t say no to free beer. But I almost did.

Having decided to stay home on a Friday night, I stopped to pick up a six pack on the way from the subway stop.

This was one of those mix-and-match places, where you can build a six pack out of $3 or $4 bottles and walk out $20 or $30 lighter, or you can just grab a pre-made six pack of something cheap and basic. I knew I shouldn’t be spending any money, but I figured I’d just get some lager for $8.50, one of the cheapest options there. So I quelled my guilty conscience by reasoning that going out would cost even more, so in a sense I was coming out on top.

Outside the shop, I saw a man standing with a stack of post cards in his hand. I avoided eye contact, because I was sure I didn’t want what he was selling.

“Want to save $10?” he asked, holding out a card as I tried to pass him by.

Continue reading ‘Lessons in salesmanship’


Conflict avoidance

When I got out of the subway and turned the corner, there was a fight happening in front of my destination, so I turned around and started walking in the other direction.

I would have to go to the 7-11 instead of the Rite Aid, I decided.

All I saw at first was a quick burst of isolated action among a loosely gathered crowd of people. I thought two kids were rough housing, joking and shoving. And people were always loitering on that block. I thought of maybe just making a wide arc around them to get to the front door. If I minded my business, they’d leave me alone.

But then I noticed one of them had his belt in his hand, doubled up, and as he backed away from the other guy, he took swipes at his head. Continue reading ‘Conflict avoidance’


Have a nice trip. See ya next fall.

The first thing I thought as I fell was I’m going to tear my pants.

I knew I was going down. No way to stop it. No time for anything graceful. Just minimize the damage. Oh, shit. My phone.

And then I heard myself say it, casually, calmly—”oh shit”—as I landed on my right knee (There’s the tear.) and my left hand, scuffing the palm. The right hand swung out and landed somewhat more lightly, just to steady me and stop me from rolling forward, the corner of my iPhone scratching hard against the ground. (Its just the case. It’s just the case.) And my gym bag pivoted around my body on the strap across my chest and slammed down on the sidewalk behind me. I heard the combination lock, in an outside mesh pocket, rattle against the concrete.

The high school kid in front of me, on is way to school, looked terrified and suddenly wide awake. My headphones were still in my ears, but I heard the panic in his voice: “Oh, god. Are you all right?” Continue reading ‘Have a nice trip. See ya next fall.’

the untallied hours