Pipe Dreams

The hood was life. We ate it, slept it, sucked it in like air, but that ain’t leave too much time for nuthin’ else. Hell, me and Ricardo ain’t even know there was no big world out there til we was twelve, and then what good it do us? Ricardo always talkin’ ‘bout movin’ on up, but we ain’t got no ladder, no stairs, not even no step stool cuz Bubba Jones took it last Tuesday and momma said we ain’t gettin’ it back.

“Y’all don’t got no prospect, ‘cept what the hood give y’all,” Seph Mason told me and Ricardo that summer we both grew in our wisdom teeth.

“Momma say sky’s the limit,” Ricardo told Seph. Seph backhanded him upside the head. Ricardo’s ratty Phillies cap flew off.

“Yo momma don’t know no better,” Seph said. “She always smokin’ that crack, make you have them delusions and shit. She wudn’t ever no good.”

Which is what everybody say about Ricardo’s momma, but I stay out of it. ‘Sides, we was gonna get a taste of that Jefferson movement ‘cuz our school got a field trip downtown next week.

“How you think they build them big buildings and stuff?” I asked Seph. He got out his crack pipe and lit up before he got to respondin’.

“They use slave labor, same as always,” Seph said, looking me and Ricardo in the eyes. His was bloodshot. Continue reading “Pipe Dreams”

Not ’95 Anymore

“Our love is like water, pinned down and abused for being strange.” ~Live

It was the summer of ’95 all over again, when Live was on everyone’s lips, when they sold out amphitheaters and arenas seconds from the tickets being available, when they had the rock world by the throat and weren’t easing off. It was taking the ferry across the river knowing that on the other side would be anthems you could sing in your sleep, and a band that truly connected with its fans in a way I hadn’t seen from many bands in live forums before.

But that was 23 years ago, the summer of ’95. That was a simpler time, before digital took over, before CDs went the way of Betamax, before concerts became passe, before rock bands took a back seat to what passes for hip-hop and rap anymore. Yet, for one night, it was easy to believe we were back there because, for one night, it was Live again, doing what they’ve always done better than most — rocking a live show. I guess they were aptly named.

Of course, during the summer of ’95 I hardly ever had good seats to shows. I saw Live about 20 times that summer, and the closest I got was section H in the Spectrum (think nosebleeds — Michael Jordan looked small from that spot). In amphitheaters like the Mann Music Center and the Camden Center for the Performing Arts I was always on the lawn, fighting my way through the crowds to the barrier that separated us from the roofed in portion of the venue. I screamed my lungs out, but we were too far away, even though we were in the same place, at the same time. Continue reading “Not ’95 Anymore”

Still Got Love

LOVE-Philadelphia-rs
Still

“I’m representing for them gangstas all across the world. Hitting them corners on the low-lows, girl. Still taking my time to perfect the beat, and I still got love for the streets.” ~Dr. Dre – Still D.R.E.

We all come from somewhere. I have a saying I learned a long time ago. You either love the place you’re from or you hate it. There is no middle ground. Now, loving it doesn’t mean you love everything about it, and hating it doesn’t mean there weren’t some bright spots, but it’s the place that helped make you the person you are today, for better or for worse.

For example: I am from Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection (hey, it’s a moniker). I lived the first 21 years of my life there, and I have about a million memories surrounding it. In fact, every single time I go back “home” I am reminded of a plethora of firsts, places I went, people I went there with, and times spent in those places with those people. I went from sheltered child growing up in Southwest Philly, to Temple University student in North Philly, to everywhere and everything in between.

I remember Chester Ave and the barbershop on the corner where I almost passed out on one hot summer day in the late ’80s. I remember getting lost on the first day of school at John Bartram High because the building was just so big. I remember taking the subway late at night after having a little too much fun at a party I wasn’t even supposed to attend. I remember sitting on a wall smoking because it seemed like the cool thing to do once. I remember seeing one too many drug deals and pretending I hadn’t. I remember the public library with its graffiti that was supposed to be there, and its graffiti that wasn’t.

And amidst all those memories were the streets themselves, cracked and bleeding water, and beer, and whatever other fluids happened to make their way onto them. And the people on those streets would have made a carnival very happy and very rich with their unique traits and memorable antics.

I always felt like I fit in there, too, even when I was living the sheltered life, and even when I walked through rotten out tenements where people were still living like animals, shut up in the dark. I had my first job on those streets, quite literally, walking miles each week for what amounted to essentially pennies. I bought my first hat on those streets, from brotherman on the street corner outside of the Thriftway. I had my first kiss on those streets, and my first soft pretzel, and my first breakup.

If it’s the streets that define a place then the streets I grew up on defined not only that place but also that time period, and, ultimately me as well.

…and I still got love for the streets.

Sam

Memories From Home

philadelphia_skylineThis city has always held a fascination for me, a kind of pull that comes from being the place of my birth.

Indeed, I recall the day of my nephew’s introduction to this world in vivid detail. It was raining, and I was surprised my sister let me into the room. And I remember my graduation day like it was yesterday, when I was almost late because I had to take the bus in my graduation gown.

And I think back on Friday nights hanging out on South Street with Anthony and Ken, two other inquisitive souls who will always share with me those nights spent wandering. It is all still so clear to me, although it has been fifteen years since I’ve lived here. Continue reading “Memories From Home”

Ode to Siren’s Silence

It was 10 o’clock of a Thursday night in the city of brotherly love, the witching hour in some circles, when only the crazies and pseudo-crazies were out and about on South Street, so you know I was there. The year was 1995, but it could have been 1996 or 1997 as well, because it was almost like time stood still on South Street then, where you could lose yourself in the record shops, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and the coffeehouses that IMAG0267.jpgseemed to spring up overnight. Not to mention the parade of goths who made it their home then. Dark of night, dark of clothing, it was a dark and magical time and place.

So on that particular Thursday night (it was a school night, but I didn’t care) I was out with a work colleague, who also styled himself a writer, because we were going to meet his writing group at a cafe just off of South Street. Now, I had been intrigued by his tales of the group for a few weeks by then, but no time had been the right time for introductions until that particular night. Until then, I had only written mostly for myself, the poems and short stories tied up and twisted in my own head for no one’s eyes but my own, so it was going to be a jarring experience, to say the least. But I was ready.

When we walked into that small cafe and made our way to the back, I inhaled the sharp aroma of coffee and unwashed saints, which was okay because it meant I was really in an artistic place, and not just some kind of generic Starbucks where the ambiance is never true. This was an honest to goodness old-style cafe, the kind that never stay around for long, but when they’re around they mean something. And in the back of that small cafe were a group of… bohemians, but they were more than that, a ragtag band of disparate souls who somehow also shared a soul. It was evident from the start that they had been together a while (I found out later that the group was three months old) and they knew their identity. I was introduced to them all, and I knew instantly that I had found a family. This skinny black guy was accepted by a group for the first time in his life, and he liked the cozy feeling.

Then the readings began. One after another the sharing was palpable, from the loud baritone of one to the quiet tones of another. From the angry vibe of one poem, to the sweet, calming groove of another. They kept rolling into each other, twisting around, and coming back again for more, and once everyone else had gone, it was my turn. Now, I had come prepared but after hearing all of them, I was reticent to share what I felt was inferior material. But after some prodding, I stood up and recited this:

Unseen

She glanced at me a minute

an hour

a day ago

Lost in her blinding idea of

who I am supposed to be

Fractured by the sight of me

And conscious of the passage of time

I sit on the hard-wire chair

in the backyard

by the barn

With the bugs flying nearby

As the dogs begin to cry

And she looks away at the encroaching underbrush

A game of tennis scheduled for noon

Small-town waves as we slowly pass

Leaves gathered in piles across the grass

I run my hands through my hair

and turn to go

As she walks into the house

and I vanish from her mind.

Then there was silence. A silence that seemed so vast that I lost myself in it. I looked up from the page to find all eyes locked on me, and gradually, like the rising tide, they began snapping their fingers in a rhythm that drowned out my fears. I really had found a family, I thought then, and for the next year it was exactly that way. We spent our nights at the cafe, or on a street corner enacting impromptu performances for the populace. We even went so far as to do some major improv work as well.

But the major piece to our group, the thing I would remember the most, was just about to begin. One of our members had a cousin who owned a printing press and could get a periodical published for us for a nominal fee. That’s how Siren’s Silence was born, from the blood, sweat, and tears of fourteen people with a vision, with imagination, and with a cousin who owned a printing press. Armed with these wonderful gifts, we set about to edit and publish not only poetry, but short stories, plays, and artwork from submissions we would receive and cull from the general populace of Philadelphia. It was grandiose and took a lot more time than we had spent together previously, but it also brought us closer together as a unit. In the end, we came up with a monthly publication that almost spanned that entire year, we had more than 1000 submissions from all over the great city, and we created a bond that I didn’t even realize was possible.

And then it came to an end. Parts of our group began to move away, the cousin lost his printing press, and the group drifted apart. But forever and always, we will have that year, and we will have the proof of that year in the periodicals that I still have locked in my box of memories upstairs. We will always have Siren’s Silence, and the memories that started in that small cafe just off of South Street.

Sam

Broad and Oregon

I was driving into Philadelphia on I-95, Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” playing on my car stereo, and I looked out my window to see the sports complex. Towering over everything was Lincoln Financial Field. Not far off was the Wachovia Center. Near it all was Citizens Bank Park. Three amazingly modern behemoths to house the Philadelphia sports franchises, a testament to owners with deep pockets and a city that lives and dies with its teams. These are not the landmarks I grew up with, not the destination of my myriad trips to Broad and Oregon streets as a child and young adult living in the city of brotherly love, growing up on the teams of our forefathers. As I drove into Philadelphia on that afternoon not so long ago I thought about the change of landscape…

1990. The Spectrum.  Michael Jordan and the Bulls are in town to play the 76ers. We have nosebleed seats, the highest you can get without hitting your head on the roof. But we had fun. The rotting posts holding up the old roof are like old friends we wanted to high five (and then wash our hands immediately afterward). The game is one-sided with the Bulls winning big, but the experience of being in the same building where Dr. J had won the NBA Championship, it is incredible.

1996. Waiting outside the Spectrum for tickets to an Oasis concert (the first concert to be staged at the new Wachovia Center). There is a Phillies game tonight at Veterans Stadium and we see the crowds of people pass by as they queue to go in. They are rabid fans, I see, as they wear old-school Phillies jackets, shirts and caps. Remember, this is 1996. The Phillies are abysmal this year but the fans don’t seem to notice, at least not out here.

1997. The Spectrum parking lot. A free Metallica concert is raging for three hours.

1998. Veterans Stadium. The Eagles are playing the Giants, one of those grudge matches where everyone comes out muddy (it is raining cats and dogs). We are sitting in the area directly behind the player family seats and we see Holly Robinson Peete (her husband is Rodney Peete, our quarterback of the moment) pass by. She is as stunning in real life as she ever was on 21 Jump Street. My uncle is wearing a Giants cap. I swear there will be a riot if the Giants win this game and they get a hold of him.

I miss Veterans Stadium. I miss the Spectrum. I miss the feeling of those places. The history associated with them. Veterans Stadium opened the year I was born. That it had outlived its usefulness by the time I was 30 I just cannot wrap my mind around. Citizens Bank Park is a wonderful place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Same with Lincoln Financial Field, but the Vet was like home. Beaten down and overused, but like a member of the family. All this talk is paid to the “new” Yankee Stadium, but Veterans Stadium was the place to be in South Philly.

And I will see the Eagles play at their new digs. I will watch Halladay pitch in Citizens Bank Park. But I will also always remember the places I grew up in, the places that helped me become a fan. Of Philadelphia. Of sports. Of life.

Sam

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