The City of Brotherly Love

Okay so I’m in Center City Philadelphia walking south on S.18th street. I’ve only just moved here after 35 years in NYC. It is very hot, very humid and very bright under the August sun.

I’d gone to lunch, arm in arm, with my 87 year old, 92 pound, intensely forgetful mother. We always travel arm in arm; partly for her stability but also because it’s kind of our thing.

My father’s very long glide path to his finale had prioritized his care and, at least from my own perspective, we are making up for time lost to our own relationship and her developing needs.

After lunch I’d taken her to the tailor to have a fitting for pants that she’s having made and then returned her safely to her apartment for her afternoon rest. 

Now I’m heading back to The Studio, formerly my father’s photography business and now my new residence.

Ordinarily I would turn east on Spruce Street because that is the shortest distance to The Studio but there is less shade and more mental illness on Spruce. I don’t know that there’s a connection there but I don’t know that there isn’t either.

I decide to go the extra block south to Pine Street; it’s quieter, it’s prettier, there is far less commercial activity and the older trees provide better shade.

I make the turn onto Pine and as I’m walking along at the casual pace suggested by the heat, a tall lean 20 something black guy on roller blades passes me on the sidewalk going in the opposite direction and moving at a pretty good clip. He’s smiling and sweating and deep into whatever groove he’s cultivating. He appears to be delivering a small pizza. 

The sidewalk is rough, unevenly laid brick, typical of residential streets in this colonial era city, but he is graceful and navigates it beautifully. His hair is multicolored but predominantly a bright acid yellow. He is topless with mid-length NBA basketball shorts, probably the Sixers but I’m sidestepping him so I miss that detail.

The sidewalk is narrow and his left skate is in danger of hitting the brick edge on a slightly raised tree pit. I cringe in anticipation of a fall but it effects him not at all. The wheel kisses the brick lightly as it rolls up and over and then he is gone.

I continue down Pine doing what a lot of other Philadelphians seem to be doing these days; scanning tree, ground and stoop looking for Spotted lanternflies, a recently arrived invasive and destructive species. Killing them is an activity that all Philadelphians appear to be united around.

Crushing a Spotted lanternfly is rarely successful on the first attempt. They are very fast but their flight path is equally short and they seem to tire easily. A few tries usually accomplishes the deed. The pursuit itself involves stamping and chasing and more stamping and no small amount of laughing and in that way the whole thing shares a lot in common with The Hokey Pokey. And in truth, it also represents one of life’s rare occasions in which to take unbound pleasure in slaughtering one of god’s creatures. Little wonder it’s such a popular diversion.

I walk and look, my predatory search for invasive species giving way to my A.D.D. and thence to the incremental details of life’s great pageant; taking note of a newly dead infant squirrel and the collection of masculine souvenirs littering an interesting barbershop window along with…….

What is this ?!?

It cannot be !!!

Under an old Sycamore, obscured by the deep shade and splayed out like a dead bird against the dark red fractured brick sidewalk is a bulging ziplock sandwich bag.

I lean over to look more closely and see that it is a bag of buds. I don’t need to smell it to know that it is strong but I do anyway.

It is very strong.

I look around. There is little foot traffic but there is some. I consider the options; leave it in hopes that it’s owner comes looking before someone else grabs it; take it into protective custody; possibly pass it along to a friend and I’m not sure what else but surely something.

In my mind I do the numbers and I’m now rewriting my understanding of the skater and I’m 75% sure he’s delivering more than pizza. Maybe 80%.

I don’t smoke so this bag has no value to me but it does have value to somebody. Somebody is going to miss it. The dramatic possibilities compound around worst case scenarios. Finally I decide to pocket the bag because there is drama surrounding it and I want to see what happens.

I look back up Pine Street in the direction the skater was heading. I wait for a few minutes to see if he returns but he does not. Either my instincts are wrong or he hasn’t figured it out yet. I’m holding out for door #2. I continue on my way home, turning occasionally to check and scoring a single kill of a Spotted lanternfly.

I come to Broad Street. It is a wide boulevard and a natural dividing line. If nothing happens now it feels like the story will end right here.

The light is against me so I turn around one last time and there he is, a long block behind. He’s skating more slowly and my estimation of the situation goes up to 100%.

He’s about a half block away when I point directly at him. As soon as he makes eye contact with me I wave him over. He’s still about 30’ away when I smile broadly and say:

“you lose something ?”

His face and body instantly reflect this sudden change to good fortune.

“yeah and I need it back.”

He does a sort of pirouette around me as I reach into my pocket and seamlessly make the handoff and he’s away without ever having stopped.

Between the expanding distance and the noise of traffic I barely hear him as he calls back:

“love you bro.”

3 Responses to The City of Brotherly Love

  1. Lnozickart says:

    Arthur !!!!I love your writing, thanks so much for including me on your list.OK, so did you move to Philadelphia permanently?  Alone? With the whole family?  What about the house in Brooklyn?Please write and let me know everything and also your updated email address because the one I have keeps bounding back.Did you know I moved to LA in March?? Sold my condo in Miami and came out here.We have a LOT to catch up on.Please call or write me.Miss you,Lori3450 Sawtelle Blvd #119Los Angeles, CA  90066914-473-1588

  2. Jeff Devers says:

    Putz. Why didn’t you call me first?

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