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.”

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Hey Drew,

Let’s Pretend that it’s story time

And I’ll tell a tale to you.

I’ll tell you a story of make believe

And all your dreams will come true.

And when the story’s over

And when we reach the end.

We’ll live happily ever after, Where?

In the land of Let’s Pretend.

I guess you can see where I’m heading with this.

That guy, Gene London, early 60’s, singing to us on the television on saturday mornings from Cartoon Corners General Store was telling us that there is a better place than where we are. And you know what kids? It’s in your mind, man. The part that is really impressive man, is how we will live happily ever after in the Land of Let’s Pretend, after the story is over man. After! We are goin’ out there man and we are not coming back man and it’s gonna rule man! I shit you not Drew, that guy was a stone cold freak. No wonder we loved him.

You know the story. In the not too distant past a kid joined the family business, was apprenticed to an acquaintance or simply sold to a stranger. Life was simpler then. Our generation was, to a greater degree than ever before, free of those constraints. Consequently, of course, we were also free of that iron fisted guidance. But television abhors a vacuum and guidance appeared in the form of televised animated role models. And if you take a second look at the messages we were getting man, they are a glorious trail mix of fruits, nuts and seedy characters. The old wicked was a new viable alternative lifestyle.

In the old days man, in the old days the old allegories hammered home the old values. You see, the message of fables and fairytales was that if you stepped out of line you were dead meat. Killed, cooked and cannibalized by an unforgiving natural order. And we remember those stories but it didn’t end there with us. We bridged the past perfect and the future shock. Fractured Fairytales was our New Testament and it revealed to us that the past wasn’t so perfect and the shock was more like a delightful buzz.

We were the link between the Brothers Grimm and Warner Brothers. From Mother Goose to Merry Melodies from Mothra to Hanna Barbera we watched it all. We were the passive aggressive receptors in a psych-o-social mind fuck.

Huckleberry Hound, Drew. Huckle fuckin’ Berry Hound! Need I say more? That dog had his paws deep in the shit, noooo doubt!

Underdog, man. When Sweet Polly’s in trouble I am not slow! The rest of you can go scratch yer ass cause Polly wants more than a cracker, you know what I mean man? Bird is the word man. Bird..is..the..word!

Casper the Friendly Ghost? Great. Really great. You tune in to turn on to a little scare me time, a little adrenaline rush and what have we here man? What a little apple polishing, boot licking, brown nosing, goody two-shoes! No wonder he’s a ghost. I’d pop a cap in his ass myself. And you know he’s such a transparent suckup. Really makes you think twice about being a good guy. I mean, if he’s a member of the crew your hangin’ with, you need to get yourself a wolf pack and go wilding.

Bugs Bunny, amigo! Come on!! Now there is a hometown homeboy! There isn’t a soul alive or dead who doesn’t love Bugs Bunny. Cross dressing, Fudd kissing, carrot obsessed, sarcastic flamboyant bitch. A role model for millions man. Undeniable!

Mickey Mouse? Nice guy. Kind of a chameleon. Trying to be all things to all people. Genial, with a castrato’s voice. I think I liked him best when he dressed like Bing Crosby. Cool yet wholesome. No undercurrents. Minnie was pleasant enough; a female without allure or any sexuality what-so-ever, which is saying something. They were like warm broth. A pair of role models we might choose for our parents but for ourselves? No way man! Ain’t happenin’!! They didn’t know how to have a good time. To them fun was exciting and a little scary. No man, for us it was Goofy, man. Fuckin Goofy! The dude didn’t know how to have anything but a good time. Goofy was the man, dog! He could have the best time ever just trying to figure out his own shadow. I can just hear my old man saying ” who would look up to a character named Goofy?” Silly question, right? The answer is “Me! You! Everyone”! When we were kids you had to have a nickname. To this day my three best friends are, Dink, Funk and Zonker. Say no more, por favor.

Road Runner? I don’t know man. Everyone I know would rather be Wile E. Coyote. Wile E. was the Don Quixote of murderous stalkers. I’m convinced he pointed the way for a generation of punk bands and paparazzi.

Popeye? Smoking, cursing, muttering, substance abusing, twisted freak of a snap case.  I’ve had all I can stands and I can’t stands no more. What’s not to love?

Foghorn Leghorn, Drew! Freakin’ Foghorn freakin’ Leghorn. Without a doubt among the most imitated of all characters. Drew, we were all emulating a chicken! And not just any chicken. A stuttering, conniving, lazy, shit stirring common domestic fowl (Gallus gallus) with delusions of grandeur. Who could resist?

Mr. Magoo? Forest Gump meets Foster Brooks. There’s a little Mr. Magoo in every stoner I ever met.

The Pink Panther? Pretty much self explanatory.

Woody Woodpecker. A name is like a picture without the image. Woody was playing in the same league as Beaver Cleaver, Peter Parker, Pat McGroin, Ashur du Smelbad, and I.P. Daly. Also the theme music was a big hit for Kay Kyser’s band in 1948. The band featured the cornetist comedian Merwyn Bogue whose stage name was Ish Kabibble. True fact, man.

When I was a kid I had a best friend. So did you and everyone else. The same held true for cartoons, right? It was match.com with a no divorce guarantee. Chip ‘n Dale, Heckle and Jeckle, Tom and Jerry, Beany and Cecil, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Fred and Barney, Sylvester and Tweety, Sherman and Mr. Peabody. Secret Squirrel and Morocco Mole, Tennessee Tuxedo and Chumly, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy (“Auggie my son, my son”! was that Jimmy Durante?) Libby the Lion and Hardy Har Har. Yogi and Boo Boo, Touché Turtle and Dum Dum, and the legendary Quick Draw McGraw and Baba Looey. I’ll do the thinnin’  around here Baba and don’t! you! for! get! it! Nobody ever loved a dim bulb better than we did.

Who’s to say who we’d be without the likes of Clutch Cargo (featuring real lips), the weirdo marionettes of Fireball XL5 and Thunderbirds and the final morph to H.R. Pufnstuf and The Banana Splits. These last two may have been live action shows fronting B grade toons but they were hosted by fully costumed, foam filled, fun furred, day-glow stoners. Gene London on acid. Two hits! By this time the kiddy gloves were off and the smoking jacket was on. I mean really man, H.R. Pufnstuf? That is, without a doubt, the name of a head shop somewhere!

Refocus man, refocus. What was the question? That always happens man. I get off, on these tangents, and the next thing you know I’m at the refrigerator door looking for a snack and, oh yeah, Saturday Morning Cartoons. So look, there are big issues here man. Big issues. Like was Crazy Cat really that crazy or was he just a product of his environment? For that matter was Felix the Cat really happy or was he just putting on a brave face. The facts of fiction are inscrutable man. And why so many cats and dogs? And mice too. Speedy Gonzalez had a totally positive mental attitude sure but I think it was the amphetamines. When he comes down he’s gonna be a high speed train wreck.

Top Cat; lazy, scheming, fancy-pants hoodlum. Gang leader of a ragtag band of miscreants. As if all that wasn’t enviable enough he had an awesome theme song. When I was growing up you had to have your own sound track because every character had their own sound track. And T.C. had street style. So we needed street style. In my school that meant you had to have your own walk. And a walk sticks. All these influences stuck. People I know can tell it’s me walking down the street before they can identify my face. The walk is so distinctive that it arrives before I do. I am aware that’s probably not a good thing.

Obviously Mighty Mouse was mightier than the Mighty Manfred, sidekick to Tom Terrific but Manfred was the man that Fred wasn’t. Fred, sidekick to Super Chicken, who wasn’t all that super but did take his Super Sauce Elixir in a martini glass, had to be reminded that he knew the job was dangerous when he took it. But then, that’s why we all picked up the martini glass in the first place, right?

Look, I could go on and on but all I’m trying to say is that George Jetson’s dog is Astro and Astro Boy is a robot who wants to be a real boy and Pinnochio is a wooden toy who wants to be a real boy too. Not a big issue for Pinnochio because he lives in a world with magic which is really a bullshit plot device. There is no magic in the future so Astro boy, who can live forever, will be disappointed forever. Dude needs to adjust his expectations. Meanwhile, Tobor the 8th Man was just Robot the 8th Man spelled backwards but he had no desire to move beyond his station in life. He was basically Iron Man without the man, man. Lacking desire maybe he should have been Tobor the 8th. Done! Give him the benefit of the doubt? I don’t think so. Takes us into murky territory. Makes the connection to Henry the 8th, I am, I am, as in I am Sam. Sam I am.

I Am. Two words. Three letters. The most powerful statement in any language. Self determining. Self referential. Bottom line? Deputy Dawg was not a real officer of the law, bro. You know, that’s all I’m trying to say.