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DSC_3154My first Halloween night in upstate New York was spent hiding from angry children.

The holiday was never one I really followed when I was growing up, coming as I did from an ultra-religious family where to speak of ghosts was tantamount to swearing. Indeed, even the classic cartoons giving homage to All Hallow’s Eve were banned from our home. The night itself was rife with little hoodlums scattering near and far in search of candy (the treats), or ways to deface houses and property (the tricks).

In our house we were always in well before nightfall, and the night was treated like just another night, with family games, wholesome television shows, and an early bedtime. The next day was always interesting, though, because some of the kids at school would have plastic baggies chock full of candy, and they would taunt those of us who had nothing. It made me a bit jealous to see them lord it up over us but my mother always told me all candy did was rot the teeth, and did I want rotten teeth? I most decidedly did not.

As the years went by the jealousy passed into the ether for the most part, but on occasion I would still see those kids wandering from door to door and wish I were them. But my mother was unrelenting so I stopped asking and decided it was my lot in life. Eventually, though, when 11th grade rolled around I guess Joy and I were old enough to make our own decision. Of course the irony of it all was that by then the novelty of the experience had mostly worn off for other adolescents. Teenagers were buying their own candy, or just trashing yards and egging houses instead of lugging baskets from door to door.

children-trick-or-treatingBut we decided to go for it anyway — me, Joy, and our friend Karen — rather spontaneous that year. You see, we were supposed to be heading to the church basketball game at our old elementary school. Rather than going straight there, though, we had our other friend drop us off 10 blocks away, and we followed the kids around Mt. Airy begging for candy. First, though, we had to make ourselves legit, and we all happened to be wearing ballcaps, so we called ourselves the Hat Squad. Then, at the first house we “hit,” the nice lady gave us all plastic shopping bags. And we were in business.

That remains the only time I ever went trick-or-treating in my life, at least for myself, and the memories of it were totally worth the wait, and the subsequent absence of it. Perhaps that’s all I needed, to know how it looked from the other side, just that once, and it was enough. Besides, going as an 11th grader was kind of hip in a weird way, but going as a 12th grader would have just been creepy. All I know is that the candy we got that filled up our plastic bags tasted better than any other candy I’d had before or that I’ve had since. Continue Reading »

My recent trip to Philadelphia gave me a greater appreciation for its architecture and ambiance. I took a lot of photographs of the experience, of the moments strung together and separate that to me made up the City of Brotherly Love on this journey, the ones that also spark up nostalgia. Here they are, in no discernible order…

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Frank Rizzo, Philly legend. And a girl.

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Tourists taking video of the festival at Dilworth Park.

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Subway entrance. We were heading North.

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The neverending line at Jim’s Steaks on South Street.

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There’s always a bride at City Hall.

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Sidewalk art gets a new definition.

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Acrobatics at the Pumpkin Festival on 2nd Street.

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The outdoor living room.

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Library fountains.

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City Hall fountains.

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That social message at the Love Park.

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That iconic Clothespin.

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Pumpkins on a stoop on Christian Street.

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The Julian Abele mural on 22nd Street.

Sam

Going Downtown, Part 3

We took the long way back to Joy’s apartment, traversing Rittenhouse Square and tiny streets that have been pretty much the same since our founding fathers walked them in the 18th century. The cobblestones are worn thinner than they were back then, though, and the UPS truck at street’s end also shattered the illusion, but I still imagined it the way it was.

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We also peeked in shops that were beginning to shut down for the night as it approached 5 o’clock, window shopping at places like a pie shop and a tailor. I wondered what it would be like to go to those places every morning and work there all day. At the pie shop they were holding a class on how to create some confection or another. As I peered in through the glass I noticed that most of the people inside appeared to be couples. It felt like one of those romantic comedies with the beautiful people who don’t know they’re beautiful. Which is the real funny part of it all.

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I hadn’t walked that much in years, at least on streets and not in grandiose circles at work all day. And the day was a beautiful fall day as it motored toward dusk and we finally arrived back at Joy’s place. For a Friday night it felt surprisingly calm on the streets as passed person after person, all of whom were involved with their own insular worlds, on their phones as they walked in wavy lines to get to their destinations. We passed them and smiled to ourselves as we kept talking.

Dinner was frozen pizza, fries, and whatever else we could throw together from the freezer and fridge. It was quite the contrast from the night before, when we were worldly and ensconced in the trappings of weekend extravagance. It reminded me of the juxtapositions in life itself, but we had to eat quickly or we were going to be late for the night’s event. So we took a moment to pause and get our fill before heading right back out the door and into the evening air that was cool as a cucumber and just as refreshing.

Then we hiked the ten blocks to another theater that was both the same and different from the one the night before. A young man met us in the deserted lobby and checked us off of a list of prepaid patrons. It felt good to be on the list, like we were guests at a ritzy nightclub that had a name like “Paul’s” or “Swim.” The atmosphere of the place was an eclectic one, with a narrow, winding staircase that seemed like it would fall apart as we climbed. The place had what I would call character. I liked it immediately.

The theater was on the third floor and it was dominated by older folks, who were mostly talking in clusters or at the small bar in the next connecting room getting spirits. We slid into seats that were as narrow as the stairs, and onto cushions that were as bare as those cobblestones, and readied ourselves for a series of three one-act Irish plays. Ahhhh, I love all things Irish so it was an especially fulfilling treat.

And they spoke with varying degrees of Irish accents, too, which was the perfect icing on the cake. I love Philadelphia for many reasons but the small theater scene has to be somewhere near the top of the list, and my sister knows me well enough to appreciate that as well. After another lovely evening out we headed towards home, or at least my home away from home, tired but satisfied.

Sam

Going Downtown, Part 2

Even though we had gotten to bed pretty late the night before, my body betrayed me by forcing me awake at 6:27 on Friday morning, the side effect of normally getting up early for work (and of having young children). Of course my sister has no such internal alarm clock, so I was on my own for a few hours. The city was out and about, even at that time of day, the noise of the traffic drowning out all the white noise of the apartment. It was somehow soothing.

The last time I had woken up in downtown Philly was some 17 years ago, hungover from the night before, in a rundown house that could have belonged to anyone. Ah, the bohemian lifestyle I espoused back then, but Friday morning was worlds away from that time as I wrote in my journal and sipped some egg nog instead. I couldn’t recall the last time I had gotten up on a Friday and hadn’t had anything specific I had to accomplish. It was a great feeling.

After a relaxing shower Joy was finally up and our day was ready to get underway. The order of the late morning / afternoon was to head downtown and see what we could get up to. It was fun hopping on the 17 bus and riding packed like sardines in a roll top can. It brought back a flood of memories, riding the G bus on lazy autumn afternoons in the city, with a constantly changing cast of characters by my side.

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We got off at 13th and Market Street without having to pay. It was the first time I had ever ridden public transportation without paying, but Joy seemed nonplussed. The smell of downtown assaulted my senses right away as we hit the sidewalk and got swept away by the lunch crowds recently set free from their jobs for a precious few minutes. My stomach growled in agreement with them as we tried to figure out a stop for our own lunch.

A trendy falafel place called to us but the lines were long and the reward didn’t seem all that substantial, so we passed on it. The Marathon Grill similarly went the way of the dinosaurs as we passed by the former spot of HMV and was hit with another wave of nostalgia… for what is sadly now just another clothing store. We finally settled on Joe’s Pizza, one of many such places downtown, and it just felt right. We eased inside and took our place in an eclectic downtown Philly lunch line.

The order was familiar. First the selection, and I had to go with the classic Philly staple — the hoagie. I bad forgotten how much I missed those now that I live in the land of the submarine sandwich. If you’ve never had a true Philly hoagie you’re missing out. Big time.

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I ate it so quickly you’d never know it had ever been there save for this photograph.

Then it was off to the Free Library main branch where we had spent countless after school hours when we were young and restless. I hadn’t been back in years, but it too was like an old friend, beckoning me further in and giving me as much as I gave it. We checked out the Shakespeare exhibit and the rare books, and the smell of those books was incredible. And familiar.

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The whole time we never stopped talking. That’s something I forgot I had missed when it came to my sister. We’ve developed a dialogue that is easy and comfortable even after all these years. Perhaps it’s because of so much shared experience growing up and growing out, but I realized as we kept up our banter that I had truly missed it, the connection. We needed that Friday afternoon wandering the halls of the Free Library, the walk back down JFK Parkway, even the sight of those people rappelling down a tall building…

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That still scares me, but luckily we didn’t stay long. It just goes to show that anything and everything can be seen and experienced in the city I used to call home. And on that Friday afternoon it felt like home again. I breathed it in and we kept walking back the way we had come.

Sam

Going Downtown, Part 1

I guess it was one of those things I took for granted coming from Philadelphia, that feeling of culture and grit tied up and twisted together into one beautiful… thing. And we spent too much time at the end living in the suburbs, that place we called “Almost Philly” where everyone dressed the part and went to places like the King of Prussia Mall instead of the 7-Eleven. It became our universe for so long, but we broke free and rediscovered the joy of downtown, if even for just three days in October.

A play, a pie, and a pint was next, an unusual way to see a local play at a little place just off of 8th and South. The premise was that everyone got a slice of pizza, a bottle of beer, and the play (if we were so inclined). The place was packed when we arrived, but we still got the guy behind the table to take our photo.

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The play was actually good too, a modern one with a lot of swearing and a few scientists. The playwright was in the audience, too, which was a joy to see, and the pizza was actually good, but one slice was nary enough. I enjoyed the beer, but I must not drink that often because the one gave me a buzz. Oh boy.

It continued later that night on 21st and South, at a place called Ten Stone, a combination bar and restaurant but more a bar than anything else really. I went with the hard cider, you know, because I could. The screen behind me had on the football game that I would have usually been watching, but I still heard it. And our server was Amanda. She had good penmanship, and a perfume that just would not go away even when she occasionally did. The ambience was classic downtown, with a good mix of blue collar and white collar coalescing into one organism.

The hard cider was good, the veggie burger in a wrap not so much. At least the conversation was good. See, I don’t get to talk to my sister, just the two of us, very often, so we just talked about anything and everything. The place reminded me of an Irish pub with its eclectic mix of music throbbing from the walls and the guys behind us singing along with it. I was singing too, and at the intersection of our voices was something that approached harmony. When we left they were still singing and I kept singing along with them in my head.

And I kept singing along with them in my head.

Sam

Dear Journal: Solitary

long-road-tripDear Journal,

It was quite an experience driving home today from Philadelphia by myself. The car is usually so full of noise on that trip — the sounds of iPad games, of videos, of music through the stereo speakers, and of off-and-on conversation — that I can’t hear myself think while I drive, but this time was different. Yes, there was still the noise of the stereo (this time the football game on a spotty station), and occasionally the sound of my own singing to the music in my head, but no conversation, which made all the difference.

Time dragged on, even though I made the journey in record time, so I had to entertain myself with pictures in my head, and by imagining the lives of the people I passed, and of the people who passed me on the road. I even imagined picking up a hitchhiker and the stories we would have told each other in that scenario. I realized that people just weren’t meant to be alone, that in the grand scheme of things, that’s why we’re social creatures, to avoid that feeling of being alone that can suffocate and make us hallucinate. It’s sad but true.

It got me to thinking about how many people do go through their lives alone, for whom a trip of that length by themselvesĀ  would have been normal, even natural, and of all the things they would be missing out on by doing that all the time by themselves. Of course if they had never known the noise of community, I guess it wouldn’t be so bad. If we don’t know what we’re missing, how can we possibly miss it? And yet I guess it’s possible, if we see enough the way it’s supposed to be, or how the “other half” lives. We could pine for those things we wish we had.

When I pulled back into our driveway after the trip I let out a pent-up sigh of relief, because no matter how loud and crazy my family can be, they’re my family, and I feel a comfort being ensconced in their noise. I grabbed them and held them close as they chattered away, and I couldn’t help but smile. Of course, though, after a few days of this noise I’ll be ready to pull my hair out, but for now it sounds like angels’ voices.

Sam

Over-Wrought

Love-Is-Pain-imageThe weight presses down heavy
Like a crown of wicked thorns
Unmanageably thick and gnarled
Knobby hands gripping fiercely
Twisting firmly into place
As delicate as pedantic love
In the face of dulled conscience
Worn thin from experience
Chained to a desperate need
This substitute for affection
Dressed up in period finery
The death of perfect emotion
Pressed down impossibly flat
Suffocating in its intensity
Faced with the potential of love
So black and contentious
Unnerving in its complexity
Shackled to expectations
Gone awry at a moment’s notice
Under a pressure so thick
It crushes into oblivion
And leaves shards in its wake.

Sam

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