Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Another Slice of Life in Philly
I hope this letter finds you and your family well and happy. Previously, I wrote about my experiences while working for DPA in Philadelphia during the ‘70s. That got me remembering the west Philadelphia neighborhood that Pat and I lived in for two years during that time.
I didn’t have much money when I first moved to Philly and that made it difficult for me to find a nice apartment in “The City of Brotherly Love.” I also needed to find one quickly. Luckily an apartment materialized on Chester Avenue on a subway-surface trolley route just before the tracks snaked underground, which was convenient for me to get to work and back. It was located in a very old diverse neighborhood with large aging dirty-brick apartment buildings that reached 4 or 5 floors with no elevators.
I saw an ad for one of those apartment buildings and went to their “office” where I met the owner, who turned out to be a rather eccentric young man. I couldn’t help but notice that he was wearing a robe and slippers, and that his office contained a bed. In addition, lots of women seemed to adorn the room, and they also seemed to adorn him at times. Hey, I guess pimps can save enough money to buy up old apartment buildings! It was the carefree narcissistic early 1970s. The price was right and he wouldn’t be visiting my apartment with his robe and women.
I rented a small (actually tiny), third-floor, sparsely-furnished, one-bedroom apartment from the social-climbing pimp wannabe Hugh Hefner. Needless to say, the apartment lacked elegance. When you opened the door the tiny bathroom was only a few feet straight ahead. To the left was a small living room with an ugly sofa. Behind the living room, through an arched wall opening was a cramped kitchen with an aging gas stove, beat-up refrigerator, and a small table and two chairs. To the left of the refrigerator was a doorway (lacking a door) that led to the bedroom with a double bed. In addition, the refrigerator cord had to be plugged into an outlet in the bedroom. There was no other furniture and no closets anywhere in the place. In addition, the apartment was not air conditioned and it was very hot during the summers. I was living in the lap of luxury! I lived alone so it was no problem.
However, within a couple of months I could not live without the love of my life, who I had left in Pittsburgh. Therefore I journeyed to Pittsburgh to visit Pat and we got married about a month later. She was not enamored with my apartment. Even the psychedelic flower wallpaper in the bathroom did not appeal to her. Our kitchen window was very close to the apartment building next to ours and we could see into many of the windows of the building, which was often interesting. In addition, every morning an older gentleman in an open window directly across from us would repeatedly cough his lung out. He was a treat to wake up to. Pat’s negative opinion was solidified when a mouse popped out of the back burner of the stove one day and she smacked it with a spatula. In fact it was a struggle for two of us to live in that apartment, and eventually we were able to switch to a much larger one-bedroom, with a balcony facing the front of the building. Otherwise, our marriage would probably have crumbled.
That neighborhood was also very interesting. We were one block from Clark Park, which provided a small grassy area during the daytime but had to be avoided at night. Unfortunately, crime was a factor in the entire area, but we were city people and learned to deal with it. Parking was only along the streets and cars were often vandalized, including ours. Virtually all of the ground-level businesses had bars or pull-down metal locking grates on the windows and doors. Burglaries and robberies were prevalent and we had to learn to deal with those problems. Surprisingly, we were attacked by a small pack of dogs late one night while walking from our car to the apartment building. I had to kick the hell out of them to chase them away, but that could have ended differently.
There were a few “Mom and Pop” variety stores and restaurants in the neighborhood that were convenient for us. In addition, there was a very interesting pizza shop that made fantastic pizza and we often patronized it. All of the employees were Italian who did not speak English as far as we could determine. In addition, previous employees kept disappearing and new employees kept appearing from one visit to the next. The really amazing thing about that pizza shop was that it had no bars or metal windows/door coverings like all the other businesses, but it was never victimized by crime, i.e., no robberies, burglaries, broken windows, etc. Now how would you explain that?
We also had some interesting friendly acquaintances in the apartment building and in the neighborhood. One unforgettable character lived in another building near ours, but we would often see him walking his enormous Great Dane. We figured him to be a pimp, but he was always very friendly and we talked to him and petted the Dane frequently. Strange friends in strange places are amazing.
Bill, I think I drove you through the neighborhood and past our apartment building one time and you questioned our sanity. However, we survived that apartment building and neighborhood for two years and then moved out of the inner city.
Thinking back, Pat and I would not want to change any our experiences in that neighborhood. They broadened our knowledge of life and our compassion for others and enhanced our relationship. However, I don’t think I’d like living in a similar neighborhood these days.