Saturday, October 30, 2010
Readers, please go visit and spend a peaceful moment with a nice lady named Gigi at her "In the Throne Room" Blog. You can click here or on the Post title to get there.
The picture above was taken on Independence Mall in 1966 looking toward Independence Hall where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were signed. The city was named by its Quaker founders after one of the seven cities mentioned in Revelation. It was one of the only two the Lord did not have anything against, the other being Smyrna (which is a town here in Delaware, by the way). The name means Brotherly Love (Greek: philos = love; adelphos = brother). It is often called "The City of Brotherly Love", but is more affectionately known as Philly.
Not all the changes have been been good. There have been two serious social phenomena lately. One is the sudden appearance of Flash Gangs. These are large groups of young people who suddenly appear anywhere at anytime, their gatherings coordinated through the use of social networks, such as MySpace and Twitter. Some, perhaps most, mean no harm. They do it just as youths have always done such things, just to see if they can, to have a laugh or to meet each other. But others, too many others, come to terrorize and harm. They bump and shove other pedestrians to the ground; some turn to vandalism and looting.
This has reached a point where my wife and I, and others we know, who use to be regular visitors to Philadelphia think twice now about going there to walk, shop or dine.
The other phenomena is even more disturbing for this involves grade school aged children , 11 and 12 year olds for instance (both boys and girls), playing a savage game called "Catch and Wreck". Aimed mainly at people they think are homeless, groups of preteens swoop upon them, knock them down to beat them with sticks or whatever is handy. Certainly, Philly has had its share of the homeless these last few decades, you sometimes step over them in the street or see them sleeping on the park benches, so these become easy prey, especially if elderly. (Photo on left is a homeless man sleeping near Carpenter Hall, 2006)
These things sadden me, for I have a long love affair with The City of Brotherly Love. But I suppose in a city with one and a half million people resident and another 4.3 million living in the immediate metropolitan area, the fifth largest in the country, one can expect some will practice decidedly unbrotherly behavior. However, the nature of the acts seems to be becoming more random and evil.
But enough of that. I want to write about my long tryst with Philly.
It goes back a long time, almost to my very beginning. My first memories are of Christmas visits. At some early age, my mother and grandmother began to take me on jaunts to see the Philly festivities of the holiday season. We lived in a town that had once been the halfway stopover for stages rolling between Philly and Lancaster. At the edge of our town was a milestone left from those times. It look every bit like an old white tombstone and carved upon it was, "35 Miles to P." Obviously such a thing made for a number of semi-gross jokes, but it meant there were 35 miles from our town to Philadelphia straight down the Old Lancaster Pike, Route 30, The Lincoln Highway.
We didn't go straight down the Old Lancaster Pike, however. It was an adventure getting there in the late 1940s - early 1950s. We caught a bus on what was called the Short Line and rode it to the county seat seven miles away. There we boarded a trolley that went along Rt. 3 into the edge of the city and the 69th Street Terminal.
In those days there would be a giant sliding board erected for the season fronting the terminal. It wasn't really a favorite of mine, for you had to climb a twisting staircase to the top and I was afraid of heights. Neither those particular trolleys or the slide exist anymore. Well, I know for a fact the trolleys disappeared on that line decades ago and I think the slide is gone. Anyway, at the terminal we would change to the Elevated-Subway Rail Line for the final leg into downtown Philadelphia, emerging from underground onto Market Street in front of the Old Wanamaker Department Store. Alas, Wanamaker's is also among the departed, although the store itself survives as a Macy's.
John Wanamaker founded the store in 1861 and it was the first department store in the United States. It had a great inner court on the first floor with a center piece of a great eagle statue. At one time the the most familiar saying between friends was , "meet you at the eagle", and you always knew where to go.
The grand court was rimmed by a mezzanine overlooking it from a half-story up. In 1959 I was attending an IBM Technical School in Philly and a fellow classmate and I, who had become friends, had went into Wanamaker's before we were to catch the train to his hometown in Jersey. We dawdled a bit too long and had to rush out to make our transportation, but we got lost. Thinking we were headed for the exit down to the train platforms below the store, we accidently ran into the the large and opulent Ladies Room upon the mezzanine, dashing through red faced to the screams of the patrons.
The Grand Court was where we often started those Christmas visits of my boyhood. Among the cosmetic and perfume counters were fountains and at Christmas the waters danced in sparking colors to Christmas music. The show went on every half hour for about fifteen minutes and at some point a great board that hung above when depicted Frosty or Rudolph or the Nativity in animated lights.
A decade after I was married, Wanamaker's had a "Breakfast with Santa" each week. As far as I am concerned it was a Rip-off, part of the ever increasing commercialization of the holiday. It cost something like $12 for a child to eat with Santa and they weren't given much for that. Nonetheless, my wife worked there at the time (and she said those repeating Christmas shows all day use to drive her crazy since she worked a perfume counter in the Court) and she became a Holly Dolly. Yes, at Santa's breakfast he was accompanied by a bevy of beauties rather than elves. These were supposedly dolls who came to life. On those mornings my wife would ride the subway to work in her Holly Dolly makeup and Baby Doll nightgown costume, a special Christmas treat for the early morning commuters I am sure. My wife, a former model, at nearly six foot tall, had great legs (and yes, that is a mini-skirt she is wearing, the style of the times).
After the fountain show at Wanamaker's, we would wander slowly down East Market Street, below the wreaths and silver bells and red ribbons hung upon the lampposts, gazing at mechanized displays through display windows. Oh, there is Tiny Tim upon Bob Cratchet's shoulders, or Scrooge cowering before a Spirit. Over there is a round, plump St. Nicholas filling a stocking or a clusters of busy elves building rocking horses in toy land.
Always in front of the Reading Railroad Terminal at Twelfth stood a vendor straight out of Dickens, a somewhat sooted figure with fingerless gloves roasting chestnuts in a large round pan, selling them by the bagful. I wasn't into chestnuts, but I'd probably get a Philly Soft Pretzel at a corner stand or perhaps a hot dog.
We would hit each department store, all gone now, as we moved to tenth and ninth to the great Gamble's at eighth, where the Thanksgiving Parade ended and Santa Claus would ascend a long ladder upon the back of a fire truck several stories. He would pause and wave, then climb through an open window into his kingdom until Christmas Eve. We would eventually visit him there with our wish list.
There was the Enchanted Village to enchant us and the Magic Lady to wave her wand in greeting, the crowds and smells and chimes and joy of childhood Christmas, ending in the grand finally at Gambles, waiting nervously in line to visit the Big Guy of the jolly laugh and the red suit.
But Christmas wasn't the only time this boy experienced the wonders of Philadelphia. Halfway around the year, six months later came my birthday and on my birthday we made that bus-trolley-elevated-subway trip again. This was my wish, the thing that always topped my birthday list. One year we might go back into history. We would take the tour of Independence Hall to see the neat little chamber of desks each with their quill pens and inkwells and then touch the Liberty Bell. The Bell was inside the Hall in those days and yes, back then they allowed you to touch it. In later years they moved it and today it sits in a glass enclosed shrine of its own. You are no longer allowed to touch it since they found the many hands were wearing away its surface. Oh, it is so important we not lose our touch on freedom or rub away the surface of liberty itself.
We'd go to Carpenter Hall, to the Marine Museum, to Betsy Ross' house with the thirteen star flag flapping by its door. Once we even made the trek north to 7th and Spring garden Streets where Edgar Allan Poe had once lived. Not a big house and I suppose appropriately gloomy. His beloved young wife and cousin, Virginia Clemm and her mother lived with him along with their tortoise-shell tabby, Catterina. Poe was my inspiration to write poetry and stories and he wrote some of his most famous in Philadelphia, "The Gold-Bug" (the first I had ever read), "Tell-Tale Heart", "Pit and the Pendulum", "The Black Cat" and "The Fall of the House of Usher" among others. It is thought he began "The Raven" there. How could I not go there. I even had my own Poe-ish look in the 1970s when I too lived in Philly as a writer.
It wasn't just the Colonial and Revolutionary or literary history that drew me. It was the museums as well, the majestic Philadelphia Art Museum, looming above those steps later turned into the cliche of running up them to dance with waving arms by the "Rocky" movies. It seemed so vast and sacred with its high-ceiling rooms and echoing halls festooned with the brushstrokes of genius.
On Logan Square, where the magnificent fountain that cooled the heated youth in summer stood, was the spooky Academy of Natural Science. I could gaze upon Caribou and Mandrills, safely stuffed and mounted behind glass or see the villages of the Lenape recreated or a skull of an Neanderthal. The greatest thrill was to stand beneath the gapping jaws of a bony Tyrannosaurus Rex, which I anticipated with almost as much glee as gazing at the wrapped bodies of long dead Egyptians at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.
But the piece d'resistance was the Franklin Institute. Outside you were greeted by missiles and rocket ships, inside you were greeted by unlimited invention. There was a giant ball on a giant chain that hung the length of the stairwells swaying over compass points. There were mechanical devices and engineering marvels that you could actual touch and operate. It was like an amusement park for the imagination. It had everything. Eventually it even had a heart, a great big huge heart that actually beated that you could walk through, from ventricle to ventricle. How cool was that! (My wife was to work at the Franklin Institute many years later.)
Built into one side of the Institute was a round building, the Planetarium. You sat in seats that encircled an open floor. In the center of this arena was a great machine like something a mad scientist might use in the Saturday matinee serials at our local theater. It was black and resembled a giant ant reared up on its back legs. But when the place went total black, this ant whirled to life and on the domed ceiling above appear all the majesty of God's universe. Oh, the beauty of these projected night sky stories with their meteorite showers and flashing comets, with rising moons and exploding stars. How could you watch the precision march of the constellations or understand the necessity of distance and gravity that had to be exactly so between suns and planets to hold it all in place, yet still deny the existence of an intelligent Creator? I was in love with astronomy as much as the other sciences I adored as a boy, chemistry and entomology. I bought the museum's books on the stars and had my own backyard telescope. And while at the Institute you could go up to a shed like room at the very top and gaze through a great telescope into space.
How could a boy not fall in love with the City of Brotherly Love with all these enticements and lures. I couldn't help myself. I waited with biannual excitement for these trips that were made throughout my childhood years. But I clasped the city to my breast even more in young adulthood and that is next time.
All photos by the author, except the American Flyer and Lionel ads.
There had been a few occasions when my dad took the family, and sometimes a friend of mine as well, into Philadelphia to a movie. But all the films I remember him taking us to were before we moved north into the country.
There was, "This is Cinerama", an experiment in 3-D films that didn't required special glasses, but that was in 1952 and I wasn't even out of grade school yet. We went to see "Oklahoma!" in Philly, but that was in 1955 and he took us to see "Giant", with James Dean and that was 1956, the year we changed addresses.
But trips to Philly were about to begin again, but for a different purpose.
What I wanted to be was a writer and a cartoonist, but wasn't getting much encouragement about this "childish fantasy". My mother had sprung for me to study art through a correspondence course ("just don't say anything to your father.") when I was in 11th Grade and I continued it for two years before I dropped out. I had started well enough with straight A's, but after a year my enthusiasm began to wane and I practiced less and was getting slower and slower in returning my lesson work. Oh, I could draw realistic vases, pieces of cloth, rocks, wooden boards, horses and bunnies and dogs. I even got to where I could do a good sketch of a human hand, which believe it or not, is one of the more difficult things to draw, but all the emphasis was on commercial art. I wanted to draw funny little pictures over punch lines, not toasters and shoes for department store flyers or design wallpaper and bed sheets. I dropped out with a B average. There was value in those earlier lessons teaching such things as point of view, proportion, perspective and shading. I was able to use techniques I learned in art in my later careers.
There was a bit of a recession at the end of the Eisenhower years. My friend Ron (of the "Retired in Delaware" Blog) and I sometimes went out job hunting together, sometimes not. Ron joined the Army. He wanted me to join with him on the "Buddy System", but my parents were against the idea and wouldn't have signed the papers. (Back then you couldn't do such things unless you were 21 or older without parental approval.) Doors of opportunity were shutting all around me. (As you can see in the photo I didn't have much fashion sense. Art training hadn't helped me there, so not much future as a couturier.)
Frankly, I wasn't suited for anything. I had worked at various jobs since I was in grade school, but they were not skill-building positions. In my high school years I worked on farms in the summer, enduring stoop labor along with the migrants. I picked tomatoes and strawberries. I knew I didn't want to do that the rest of my life. I had worked as a truck loader in the tomato fields of the Amish, worked for Proctor & Gamble hanging Mr. Clean samples on doorknobs, worked as a caretaker and house sitter, a car washer, a snow shoveler, a babysitter, a paperboy and a celery scrubber. There wasn't much there I saw as a lifetime career choice. (Although I had really enjoyed being a paperboy and though perhaps being a mailman would be the greatest job in the world.)
And I had always swore I would never work in the confines of a business office. Like ugh!
Because this involved operating machines, albeit ones none of my family had ever heard of, my parents allowed we to go to this school; after all, operating a machine was a real job. The only thing, this school, The IBM Automation Division of Florence Utz Schools, Inc. was in Philadelphia. I was about to resume my long time affair with Miss. Philly.
This was a scary proposition. I had been to the "Big City" many times once upon a time, but always with my parents. I didn't feel confident enough to drive there, so I would be going by train (there were no buses, trolleys or elevated-subways anywhere near where I now lived. The closest public transportation to Philadelphia was the Reading Railroad.
I had only ridden a train once in my life (not counting those subway cars) and I was very young at the time. It wasn't a passenger train, it was a freight pulled by a steam engine. My grandfather had taken me on a ride in the caboose with the rail workers. That rail line doesn't even exist anymore. Today where the tracks were is a nature walk called the Struble Trail.
In the midst of July I drove five miles to the nearest Reading Station and caught my ride. I've always had a certain anxiety about missing such things as trains, planes, boats, buses, so I was there early. Not much confusion at this little station. Two tracks, one running west, one running east and each with a platform along it. There was one ticket master. It was a piece of cake. The return trip would be a little more adrenalin raising. Reading Terminal in Philly seemed huge. There were rows of ticket windows, rows of boarding doors and platforms and rails. There were crowds of people going in all directions and constant announcements of arrivals and departures in some unintelligible garbled language struggling to be English.
Once on the Philadelphia Street I felt a familiarity. It was East Market Street, where the Christmas lights had lit my childhood, where the Magic Lady and Uncle WIP and Santa Claus dwelled. The school was along this boulevard, on the same side as the terminal on the block right next to City Hall. I found it easily.
It was not on the ground floor. It was up above a store front somewhere. You used an elevator.
There was another new experience. I think I had been in some elevators in those big department stores along this avenue, my mother or grandmother holding my hand, but I can't remember that for sure. There certainly had been no need for elevators in the small towns and little villages I had lived in. A skyscraper might be the hayloft of a barn where I came from. I wasn't sure how you operated these things.
I need not have worried. Back then you had elevator operators. The doors opened and this old guy (he looked old to this 18 year old kid anyway) yelled, "Going up!" He was dressed like the movie ushers I had seen with a little round cap upon his head held on with a chin strap. I stepped inside and he leaned his head into the corridor, looked both ways, stepped back and pushed shut a lattice-like gate, then the outer door closed with a bang.
"What floor?" he asked.
I told him again. I'm a low talker, I admit it.
He turned this lever with a handle and we rose with a sudden shutter, clanging and swaying till he turned it the other direction and we stopped with a jolt. He swung back the gate, the door opened and I went to school in the city.
I made a friend almost immediately, a fellow named Tom. He was going to be in my class here and he was also studying art through a correspondence course and he wanted to be a cartoonist. (He's the one with whom I accidently invaded the Ladies Room at Wanamaker's with.)
Here we go, man, I am about to be a star in the Job of the Future! (By the way, the last time I saw anything related to the Job of the Future, it was on display at the Smithsonian Institute as the Job of the Past. Talk about feeling old!)
I signed up with an Employment Agency and began my pursuit of a TAB Operator position. This should be easy. There seemed to be thousands of such positions in the want ads everyday and with a crackerjack employment agency looking out for me, how could I miss. What I couldn't miss was the old bugaboo, the Catch-22 of the entry level jobseeker. It was either I wasn't experienced enough or I was too experienced.
"Oh, we're looking for at least six months hands-on experience, sorry."
"Oh, six-week school experience? We want someone we can train. We couldn't pay you want you'd want, sorry."
Pay me what I want? I just wanted to be paid. I didn't have some figure in mind. I once was paid a penny and a half a newspaper, 15 cents a basket of strawberries, I had no idea what the value should be for six-weeks of TAB Operator training.
It looked like my job courtship in Philadelphia was about to crash to an end even before a chance at engagement. Goodbye big city lights, back to the country nights.
Next: Working Philadelphia.
The illustration at the top of this Post is the control board for programming an IBM 604 Card-processing Electronic Calculator. Once upon a time I could have wired this thing up to do varied tricks.
What I still didn't have was a job.
One day the phone rang, and when you are job hunting you always answer the phone. It was a friend from high school. He and I had collaborated in both writing and performing and sometimes socialized in the teen world beyond the classroom. He wanted a favor.
He was job hunting, too, and wanted to be a telephone linesman, but had to go to Philadelphia to take some qualification tests. He had never been to the big city, but knew I had and wanted me to go with him. Well, my calendar wasn't completely full...wait, oh yeah, my calendar was pretty much empty, of course I'd go.
I don't remember exactly, but I think the telephone company building was somewhere around 15th and Chestnut. It seemed futuristic when we entered, a lot of glass, a long bright waiting area to anguish in while fretting over the coming ordeal. I had no desire to be a linesman. With my fear of heights shimming up telephone poles wasn't a good fit, but as long as I was there I might as well take the tests. It was something to do while waiting for my friend.
There were two to take. One to see what your electronic aptitude was and one to test your mechanical attributes. I passed the electronic test just fine. It must have been my electric trains. Every year I had built an elaborate platform layout for my trains. I didn't just plug them in and run the transformer, I build a main control board and wired up all my little Plasticville buildings with lights that I could bring on in stages. Overhead I hung a thin sheet of plywood drilled with pinholes and behind the holes I strung more lights. My switches allowed me to simulate day and night along with the gradual rising and setting sun and the appearance of stars in the night sky. Perhaps that and the TAB training gave me enough basics of electronics to pass that test.
Not so well in the mechanical test. I had nothing to fall back on there. The only thing I learned in school shop had been to count my fingers when I left.
Unfortunately my friend failed both. It made for a morose trip home. I don't know what happened to my friend. Actually, I know what happened, I just don't know why. He became, I've heard, a reclusive alcoholic and he died in his early thirties. Sorry I couldn't have done more than just take you to those tests, my friend.
Another time the phone rang and it was the agency. They had an opportunity in Philadelphia with a major company. The job was as a TAB Operator in the Data Processing Department, was I interested? Why ask? Wasn't that the description of my one educational highlight I had listed on their file card? I was off to Lady Philly again.
I was given a battery of tests at Personnel, back in a time when we were still "persons" and not "human resources" sounding akin to a plug-in component on the assembly line. The telephone company had two tests, here there must have been ten, motor skills, logic, mental agility and mental depravity, aptitude and attitude, whether you took your egg yolks hard or over easy, not to mention a lot of questions about race and creed and genders that are illegal to ask today.
After the wait for scoring, I was called to a little room by a lady who held my fate in her hands. She had good news, bad news and good news. I had passed all the tests, indeed had done exceptionally well. However, I was applying for a position as a TAB Operator and the lowest such level in the Data Processing Department was a Grade 6. It was company policy not to hire people at any position above an entry grade. Generally this meant men began as Grade 3s in the Mailroom and woman started as Grade 2 Messengers. (See how times have changed, sometimes for the better? This is why tyrannical governments don't like keeping we old people around. We can remember what once was.)
But, she continued, I had done so well in the tests, rather than starting as a Mail Clerk sorting bails of envelopes and toting barges of correspondence all day, perhaps I would be interested in a Grade 3 Junior Clerk position in Sales Accounting. Would I? Perhaps? I practically sang, Yes. Thus I began a nearly ten year stint with the Atlantic Refining Company later the Atlantic Richfield Corporation (aka ARCo) and by then well up in the Fortune Top 50 (not just the 500, the 50).
I'm not going to spend time discussing my jobs, which is not what these Posts are about. These are about my affair with the Quaker City. I'll save my struggles, successes and sufferings working for The Man for another time. I will tell instead about another love affair I owe to joining Atlantic.
We became a regular thing. We really liked each other and by the end of spring had become serious indeed. Serious enough it showed, because one morning she met me as I arrived at work with tears streaming down her cheeks.
"We can't see each other anymore," was her greeting. (Strike up the Soap opera organ music here, please.)
"My parents say we can't because" (low ominous cord) "you're not Catholic," and with that she dashed away into the Ladies Room.
I certainly wasn't Catholic. I wasn't much of anything. I would have said I was a Methodist if someone pressed me on my religion, but I didn't go to church anymore, didn't pray, didn't read the Bible and more often than not would snarl at anyone trying to foist religion upon me.
Pat and I hardly ever spoke to each other after that morning. We might nod politely in passing, but she was obedient to her parents wishes despite the true heartbreak she felt that day. I admit I felt betrayed and was angry. I felt it was a silly reason for a breakup. She and I were in love and I felt she should have defied her folks and stuck with me. But technically we were both still children under our parents control. Remember what I said last Post, you were not legally an adult until age 21 in those days, and we were but 19.
I had passed that tall girl in the hall everyday. She also worked in Credit with Pat. We had always said hello in passing, but what I didn't know was she was telling people I was the most stuck up guy in the world. Recall how I told you I was a low talker? She would say hello and I would say hello, but she never heard me. She thought I just ignored her, yet she kept giving me her friendly hello anyway, and despite me being "the most stuck up guy in the world", who probably deserved to be dumped by that sweetheart Pat, she still showed kindness and concern that morning; very odd.
As I waited for an elevator that evening at one end of the corridor while Pat waited at the other, I discovered this tall girl standing right beside me. I am six foot, she stood eye to eye with me. We entered the same car, pressed close by the crowd that jammed in before it got away. We rode down together and on the sidewalk outside turned in the same direction, so we walked along and began to chat. Several blocks down, she went through the subway entrance between Walnut and Chestnut Streets and I continued on to the train terminal.
This ritual continued on each day at quitting time. I'm not certain how many days it took, but one rainy afternoon we walked the route underground in the subway concourse. At the platform I paused as she started for the turnstile and blurted, "Would'chaliketogotothemoviesSaturdaynight?"
I figured if she said, "yes", fine, but if she said "no" then she could go right through the turnstile and I could continue on and save us both a lot of embarrassment.
What did she answer? I'll put it this way. I'll have been married to that tall girl for 49 years come this September.
That's a lot longer than I lasted at ARCo. I left short five months of ten years. Maybe I should have held out those last few months. Ten years would have vested me for a pension, but hey, life's about living not pensions. I'd went about as far as I could at Atlantic. I mean that in terms of job level. If I had stayed I would have went very far indeed, for in a few years ARCo up and moved their headquarters out of Philadelphia to Los Angeles. I've been to the plaza where they went and would have hated it there, no place to take long walks.
So I left. I was moving into a new life. I was taking a risk.
Next Time: Psychedelphia - Hip, Hip, Hippy!
Things began to change in the 'sixties, both in society and in my life. Our married life began as an idealistic stereotype out of a 'fifties sitcom, some laughs, a few tears and mostly tranquility.
I was 2o, she was 19. We bought a house halfway between our families, a four-bedroom Cape Cod sitting on the crest of a hill.
We had a new 1960 Studebaker Lark.
We had money to eat out at a "good" restaurant if we wanted, take a vacation trip each year and pay all our bills on time.
It wasn't because we were well-to-do. Neither of us had come from more than blue-collar lower middle class homes. Our families hadn't given us money to start married life on, beyond her dad paying for the wedding and mine giving us some living room furniture. No telegram had come announcing an unknown rich uncle had died and left us his fortune. I had a high school diploma and a certificate from a TAB Operator School that qualified me for a job I was never to actually have. She had a high school diploma and an Associate Degree in Secretarial Skills from Peirce College (now University). She was a former teenage model, I was a former jack-of-all-unskilled-labor-writer-wannabe.
But we both worked at Atlantic Refining Company in Philadelphia at above average pay for the times. I was making $64 dollars a week when we married and she made $68. That's right, she made more than me. She had started at Atlantic right out of High School. It had taken me half a year to get there. Even though she had to start as a Grade 2, one level below where I began, she was now one Grade above me. As two single "minors" living with our parents, we had saved enough to have the $3,000 needed for the 20% down payment and settlement costs on that $11,000 house. (Can hardly buy a low-end new car for that these days.) We bought a green one.
Together we made $572 a month before taxes, which were relatively low in those times. Our mortgage, including interest and insurance was $98 a month. The car payment was around $55 a month, but for only 24 months. Our utilities bills came to $20 a month. A meal for two at a fine restaurant, including cocktails, was $12. Our monthly round trip train fares to Philadelphia were around $30 each. We had no credit cards, other than my Atlantic Gas Card, and no other loans beyond house and car. You do the math. Yeah, you pay those major expenses and you're left with just over $200 a month for groceries, gas for the car (at 24 cents a gallon) and entertainment. The majority of that money left could be used for entertainment if we wished. That is why we could take vacations. Our Honeymoon had been a ten-day trip through New England, Canada and New York State. We started on the trip with $500 in my wallet and came home with around $150, and we had stayed in nice motels, eaten at the better restaurants and visited a lot of tourist attractions.
Don't think we ignored savings. When I got married I had told a friend my plans and they included having $10,000 in the bank by the time I was thirty. That was considered a lot of money then. Atlantic had something called the Credit Plan and I joined it the day I was hired. They automatically deducted a percentage of your pay and invested it in the Credit Plan and they put in fifty cents for every dollar you did. You had a choice of how it was invested, either at a set interest rate or in the purchase of Atlantic Stock. I choose the stock, probably one of the smartest ignorant choices I ever made in my life. When Atlantic merged with Richfield and became ARCo, the stock took off and doubled and doubled and doubled again. By age 27 I had $15,000 worth of stock.
But we didn't have the house anymore and at age 30 I didn't have $15,000 in stock anymore nor did I have $10,000 in the bank. I had zip, zero, nana. And a lot of bad experiences in my memory bank.
What happens when 52% of your income suddenly is gone, but your expenses haven't materially decreased? Something has to give, that's what.
My wife lost her job. My wife got pregnant. My wife had a still birth -- at home -- alone. (I've told this story in earlier posts, check out Best Days in the labels. Best Days: Oasis in the Valley of Death) We put the house up for sale. We had black friends. My wife's best friends were an inner-racial couple. Our friends visited. We got threats. Someone was going to break all our windows, do other things, worse things. The real estate market was in a slump. We finally sold the house at a lost. We moved in with her father. We bought an iguana. (Read "Ian") She took a job at a nearby hospital. She got pregnant. She fell on the sidewalk of the local political party ward healer who hadn't shoveled as the township ordinance dictated. I complained to the township authorities. The ward healer called me a liar. I complained even more when my parents visited and almost had an accident because of a missing stop sign that had never been replaced. The ward healer threatened to punch me in the nose. My wife's family started getting threatening calls if I didn't shut up. They begged me to, so I shut up. The threats were that serious and would have happened. My wife lost the baby. We bought a VW Beetle. Her father was spying on us and searching our room when we weren't there. We bought a hamster to keep the iguana company. She had an affair with an orderly at the hospital. We separated. I moved back with my parents. I dated a couple other women. I went on a ski trip with one. I quit my job at ARCo and lived off the stock sale. I wrote a novel. I took a dollar an hour job with a chewing gum company working 20 hours a week. I slung wads. I welded bubblegum. I came home covered in powered sugar. I wanted my wife back. We made a kind of peace. The guy she had the affair with began stalking her. I quit the gum factory. We tried to seek religion, but felt unwelcome at mainstream churches. We tried to join the Catholic Church but the night we were to meet with the Priest he stood us up and we said forget it. We tried non-mainstream churches, but all they wanted to do was protest the war. We tried the Ethical Society and found it silly. I got into Satanism, then Buddhism and finally Atheism. She had a fight with her father.
Our new home was an old apartment building in West Philadelphia, in what they called University City. It was eclectic to say the least. Tight behind it was a dorm for the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. They partied a lot. We would look out our window into the wall of the dormitory. In our building were some students from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel living off campus, but it wasn't exclusively students. There was a prostitute plying her trade in the apartment above us, drug-addled hippies in a crash pad down the hall, a couple with a Saint Bernard and Black Panthers meeting in the lobby.
My wife got a job as a Secretary at the University of Pennsylvania, and I spent my time writing or studying. [And the politicians tried to take my voting rights away.] By this time I had somewhat established myself as a writer, although I wasn't making a life-supporting wage doing it. I had also discovered a few years earlier there were alternative ways to go to college and I was enrolled as a Sociology Major at Temple University, going to classes in the evening two or three times a week.
I didn't stay unemployed for long. Between paying for college, that VW, the rent and going to those coffee houses it didn't take long to see an end to that Atlantic Stock money. I went to work for a publisher, managing a circulation department and writing book reviews for one of their magazines ( Review: John Neufeld's "Edgar Allan" ).
And in all this, I expanded my love of Philly. I walked a lot to where I went. I walked to jobs I held, walked to writing assignments, often walked north to my college classes and just walked around to walk around. I had jobs during those years in West Philly, Center City, South Philly and North Philly. I rode the subways and the elevated, the buses and the trollies. And of course I began exploring a lot of the sleazier activities that cities offer and was slipping further away from the fingers of a God I denied existed.
And my wife lost another baby.
But many of these things are for other posts at other times. This series was supposed to be about a love affair with Philadelphia, not about how I began racing down the stairway to Hell while there. So next time some final brighter views of my favorite city.
To read semi-autobiographical/semi-fictionalized accounts of some of the things mentioned in this post go to: Six Stories of the Sixties
It was a one room, first floor apartment with a small kitchen, a bath and a kind of dressing room closet.
It was between 41st and 42nd Street in West Philly up the street from Clark Park. (If you read any of my Philly Stories (Six Stories of the Sixties) you can easily guess that "Claire Square" is a stand-in for Clark Park. The statue in the center of the real Clark Park is of Charles Dickens, who once spoke there on his visit to America. (Friends of Clark Park)
We lived not far off the University of Pennsylvania campus and my wife would walk to her job as a private secretary to the Chairman and co-Chairman of the Chemistry Department where she would type books and papers full of odd symbols and formulas. I think it must have been very difficult to type things when you couldn't understand what you read. She had a very similar situation when she later worked for the Franklin Institute.
(God Resurrected 1966) I considered myself a mercenary writer, a typewriter for hire so to speak. Since "The Communicator" was a paper for college students my pieces always took a contrary view from the convential wisdom of the student trends of the times. Thus I wrote a pro-Vietnam War piece, a pro-God piece (sort of) and an anti-Drug piece. I liked to stir the pot and rile things up. It didn't matter what my personal views were, I always took the least popular side. (I also wrote under the pen name of "Loop" because as a non-student I wasn't supposed to write for this publication.)
We had asimilated a Hippy lifestyle, as I explained previously, but it was to deteriorate to something else just as the Love and Peace Generation was already beginning to deteriorate in delusion after the Rolling Stones concert at Altamost and the Kent State Massacre. For us you might say Love and Peace became Sex and Drink. We became Hedonists, especially me.
"Dirty Pictures" had hooked me in junior high. My only case of criminal activity had been stealing men's magazines at the local newstand (where I picked up the papers for my paper route). I got caught stuffing three such rags in my shirt one day, was told by the owner exactly and precisely where he was going to stuff those magazines if he ever caught me stealing again, and I never stole anything anywhere anytime after that.
However, a few years later a used book and magazine stand opened at the Farmer's Market just east of town. There was a section hidden behind a curtain with a sign saying, "No one under 21 allowed". I would edge to the side of this barrier and peek in and there were all these nudie magazines. One day the proprietor, a man who looked like Ratso Rizzo in "Midnight Cowboy" sidled up to me as I peered through the crack in the curtain.
"Hey kid," he says and I jumped a foot. "Interesting, eh?"
I didn't know what to do. I just shook my head or perhaps I was just shaking.
"Look," he says, "I can see you ain't 21. (No, I was more like 14 or 15.) "But you look like a good kid, like somebody who wouldn't tell anyone if I sold them to you."
And so I began buying my pornographic fix from a sleazy stall at a Farmer's Market. The magazines behind the curtain were basically two kinds. There was "Sunshine and Health", a Naturlist Publication that promoted Nudism and had a lot of pictures of ordinary people in the buff playing volleyball. The other kind had titles such as "Artist and Models". These other magazines came mostly from Sweden and each page consisted of a nude woman in some pose. The blurb of text in the beginning claimed these were for the use of "serious artists" interested in "painting the human form". Yeah, right, I ran home and got my sketch pad at the ready.
Eventually this guy and his bookstall disappeared and my supply was cut off, so I was reduced to buying "Playboy" to hide in a secret crevice back in my bedroom. (Hmm, interesting now that I think of it. Although the Farmer Market guy had a sign banning anyone under twenty-one, the regular newsstands would sell "Playboy" and other men's magazines to you if you were 16 or older. Of course, much of what the Farmer's Market guy sold was more raw than early "Playboys".)
It wasn't easy to get hardcore pornography in those days. There were no legal outlets (what the Farmer's Market guy sold was borderline pornography, not the real thing so to speak) and no Internet.
Somewhere between the Civil Rights Riots and the Anti-War Rallies, Peepshows opened in Philadelphia, the first volleys of the "sexual revolution". The first I remember and which I frequented a lot was above some stores on Walnut right across from Rittenhouse Square. There were Retail Stores in the basement of the building and you went up these steps between them to the Peepshow place. If you stood on those steps, the scene on the right is what you would be looking at.
I heard this place or at least the first peepshows in Philly, true or not I do not know, were started by Ira Einhorn. He was the man who took credit for starting the first Earth Day and later became imfamous as "the Unicorn Killer". Einhorn was a big deal counterculture guru in the sixties and early seventies, until he killed his mistress and kept the body in a trunk in his apartment. He later fled the country for France. (Senator Gaylord Nelson also claims to be the founder of Earth Day, but as far as I know never stored any bodies in his trunks. Being a politician he might have had some skeletons in his closet, however.)
My wife and I took an active part in that first Earth Day. ( Pollution Trail: Where is Man? ) It wasn't the first or last activism we took part in during those years. But by the 'Seventies we had become more interested in the "earthy" than the Earth.
On the dirty heels of the peepshows came the Adult Bookstores. Funny how when they stick "Adult" in front of something it usually means it is pretty immature and at least slightly depraved. There were Adult Bookstores, Adult Films, Adult beverages and Adult Language, hardly any of which represents very adult behavior.
I hate to think how much money I spent in Adult Bookstores. But there they were, popping up like pimples all over the face of Philly. Eventually, they seemed to concentrate, whether by choice or coercion, on Arch Street between Juniper and 13th Street just before the Old Reading Terminal, which became the Philadelphia Convention Center. This was only a block away from the publisher I worked for on Cherry Street. How convenient.
There were a number of movie theaters in the city called Art Houses, another misnomer. They sounded like they showed European films by Fellini, Bergman, Tarkovsky or Pontecorvo, but no, they leaned toward directors such as Russ Meyer and Joseph Mawra, with films with title like "The Immoral Mr. Teas", "Olga's House of Shame" and an unending string of grainy black and whites of those Nudists playing volleyball.
My wife and I use to go to the Art Holiday and Art Walton together. We also went to the Globe Theater in Atlantic City, which did old time burlesque back before the casinos came and took over the town. It was kind of funny. At "Art" houses such as the Holiday and Walton, my wife was a rare woman in the audience; at the Globe it was almost all couples. I guess people figured they were out of town at a tourist trap and no one back home would know. The Globe seemed racy at the time, but you can see much worse on TV these days.
There were also two or three little theaters grouped together on East Market Street, I believe on the corner of 17th Street that showed stripper and nudie movies. By the late sixties they added live shows that went further than anything at the Globe. The women in these shows went to full nudity and then some.
If you are seeing something of a downward progression here, you are. Almost like a drug, pornography can demand stronger fixes. As a teen I was thrilled by a nude model in a static pose. By my late twenties I was seeking more and more stronger stimulates, more and more weird stuff. And my wife and I were becoming ever more daring in our own actions.
One day we were at a large mall and my wife went into a lingeree shop. She took some back to the dressing area and I waited, the ever stoic husband holding his wife's purse, as was another fellow nearby. We nodded to each other, both sharing this kind of moment, when suddenly this medium tall blond woman came out of the dressing area wearing nothing but a fishnet body stocking. This was the other fellow's wife. About then my wife called to me to see what she had on and so I told her to just come out. She did and a kind of contest began between the women of stepping out in brief or transparent items. The other man and I exchanged telephone number. When my wife and I left the store, there was a large crowd of gawkers in front of the broad display windows who applauded as we left.
We began to get together with this other couple, either at their apartment or ours. We would stay over night, play sex games, take poliroid photos of each other. I want you to understand, my wife and I never got into "swinging" or "wife-swapping', we never had any interest in that, but doing it in front of others, yes, that wasn't a problem. As we had transitioned from the Hippy culture, I was back into office jobs. I changed jobs several times and each time I made more money. We were able to move to better apartments than that one in University City. The one we lived it at this time had a closed cuircuit TV channel. If someone rang your buzzer, you could change to channel two and see who it was before letting them in. You could also talk with the caller on an intercom. When they would come to our place, she would show up wearing only a coat, which she would fling open when we answered their ring. Obviously anyone in the building who happened to turn to channel two at the time would have seen her show, would have seen her everything.
As with such things, again their was a progression. However, there were some things about the guy I didn't particularly like, thing he would say that were more perverted than I felt I was and after a while we also began to suspect they wanted to take that step toward wife-swapping. That was when we dropped them.
But we had another couple we were good friends with, even better friends. They lived in the same apartment building and we began getting together with them regularily. There was no nudity, no sexual games involved, just some smutty talk sometimes. He was the very jealous type and prone to violence, so that kind of stuff didn't fly. We would get together and play cards and drink.
Now, I am some kind of freak. I don't know why, but I could consume great quanities of alcohol and not get drunk. I have never really like alcohol very much actually. I didn't really begin drinking any until well into my twenties, but drinking was very much a social thing in the groups or with friends we had and so I drank. I could drink any of them under the table. My wife certainly didn't have my capacity. I almost killed her one night.
We were in the apartment, still in Philly at the time, and she asked me to make her a Manhattan. I didn't know anything about mixing drinks. I had a book. It said mix 1 part Vermouth to four parts Whiskey. I decided to make her a double, so I took a shot glass and put eight shots of whiskey and two shots of dry vermouth in the shaker. Added a couple dashes of bitters and shook it up. My wife gulped it down, lost any idea where she was, felt sick and made it to the bathroom before collapsing. She fell striking her head on the toilet so hard she cracked the tank. Thankfully she didn't also crack open her noggin.
Usually it wasn't us passing out. It was out friend. Most nights we got together, he would eventually drift off to oblivion on beer, which is all he drank usually, but he drank a lot of it. Evenings would end with me carrying him to his bed. He wasn't a big man. He was perhaps an inch or two shorter than I, but very thin. But a dead drunk is nothing but dead weight.
He also had seventy-six tattoos and this was long before getting tattoo became the fad it is today. The song from the "Music Man" always came to mind, "Seventy-six tattoos led the big parade..."
Going out with our friends could be an adventure. It wasn't unusual for his wife to stash silverwear and salt and pepper shakers into her pocket when we left restaurants. There were times I had to pull him out of bars before the fists flew and on at least one occasion grab him and push him into our car to escape arrest. This occured one drunken evening when he decided to join some kids playing street hockey. He always claimed he had played semi-pro hockey at one time. He butted into their game and one of the mothers called the police.
What purpose did life have? I was making enough money we could "enjoy" it. It was just us living in a series of apartments. We had no children encumbering us, no great obligations. I was an Atheist, so there was no higher power to worry about, I only answered to me and what I desired. I worked hard, I was still going to evening college, I was still writing, even selling some stories. This was as good as it gets, wasn't it? Nobody was getting hurt, were they?
Oh, sure, I didn't ever feel satisfied. I always seemed to find something irritating about my jobs. And my wife kept falling into these deep depressions, sometimes talking about suicide. She would cry for no reason (in my opinion) and often complain because she hadn't been able to have children. But she would get over it I was sure, and at last it seemed she had accepted the fact she never would be able to have children. After we lost the sixth one she had her tubes tied.
We no possibility of children, just the two of us, it seemed reasonable not to worry too much about the future. When we reached 40, say, we could begin putting away for a rainy day. We were still young, so we could just go on trying to have fun for some more years. More parties, more travel, more nights out and ever more darker pornography. The pornography I was buying at this point was so dark I was even hiding it from my wife, although she had never objected to me reading the stuff.
Although, our closest friends were our drinking buddies, we did have other friends who were pretty main line suburbanites. I had made good friends with a fellow at my latest job, one I did enjoy and would hold for six years. He and I played tennis most of our lunch hours and we went golfing on the weekends. He had some parties at his place. There was some drinking, but not heavy and no one was putting on lampshades or doing anything foolish. These other friends were never aware of the sex and drink life we had engaged in so often for so long.
My wife and I were not involved with any other couple in sexual activities anymore, but that didn't mean we weren't misbehaving. We were risk takers and we were probably fortunate we never got caught. I'm telling you nothing more, except the things we did would not be acceptable to you I'm certain.
So there I was and where do you think I was headed? There really didn't seem anything would change my mind about God. I was laying down a nice fast road to Hell, except I didn't believe in Hell. So that was no worry for me.
And then my wife got pregnant.
Yes, for the seventh time. Perhaps this was Lucky number.
It's a miracle, right, cause she had her tubes tied.
She was determined to have a child of her own.
And now we were five months along and my wife was lying in a hospital room and the child was doomed.
Number seven, the number of completeness. Like a never-ending slow march to completeness. A wait in a death chamber accompanied by the constant beat of a drum. Beat Beat Beat Beat
I sat in that room every day for a week with the beat of a drum. Beat Beat Beat Beat
But it wasn't the beat of a drum, was it?
It was the beat of a heart that didn't know it should stop.
It was the throb of a life trying to be and wouldn't.
And somewhere in the deep dark night, watching my wife sleep, I heard Beat Beat Believe Believe
There is a God. There must be a God. I can hear his breath in every beat. Believe Believe Beat Beat Beat
But the baby had to be born. They could not delay longer for the sake of my wife the baby had to be born now.
Amy was born in July 1976 and Amy died in July 1976.
This is Good Friday a day itself marked by a death, the death of one as innocent, even more innocent than Amy. An unfair death that seemed to mark the end for so many. Those who saw him nailed to the cross ran and hid and wondered, "What now?"
When Amy died, my wife sunk in depression as close to death as possible while still alive.
But Easter is not the season of death. It is the season of Resurrection, the season of hope, a season of salvation for those who will only reach out and embrace it. Like the seed planted that must die to flower, so it was that year. Here at the end of all, at the number seven, at the completeness of things past I turned to belief I had denied and fought. I rose by dropping to my knees in the silence of my room.
He didn't say, "Go away you're filthy." He didn't say, "Go away and come back when you've changed."
Like Mister Rogers he said, "I love you just the way you are."
Out of death came life. Our friends left us, not because we ignored them or shunned them, but because we had changed and I suppose, to them, we weren't fun anymore. Our old ways ended, but what we didn't realize was so had the impossible.
We had went from Hippy to Hedonist to Heaven Bound.
And very real miracles lay ahead on this brand new road. He makes the impossible possible.
May you have a blessed Resurrection Sunday.
All photos by the author, except the photo of the Peepshow viewers, which is from Wikipedia.
The living there ended first.
Remember we had moved into an interesting, to say the least, cheap one-room apartment in West Philly, the area called University City.
At the time I had no steady job. I had begun to write freelance My wife took a job as a secretary at the University of Pennsylvania. We had very little money and several times I would go out and walk along the trolley stops of Chester and Baltimore Avenues looking for dropped change to provide some extra food. My lunches were quite often a bag of Philly Soft Pretzels.
We lived like that for several months before I took a job as a Circulation Manager and Book Reviewer for a magazine publisher downtown. Amazingly, I started at a higher salary than I had been making at ARCo. I was also beginning to get writing assignments from a local tabloid, being published in the "Underground" (cover of an Underground Magazine I wrote for on left, one of the few pages I could show here without gaining an X-rating.) and selling my short stories to an international publication. With our combined income, we certainly could afford something better than the small, rundown place we were living.
As good story fodder as our often exotic neighbors were it was bothersome late at night when the prostitute down the hall put her young boy out in the hall to play while she served her client. It was especially so when he began to ride his tricycle with the squeaky wheel up and down at one o'clock in the morning. It became something of a last straw when I came home one afternoon and he came running by almost knocking into me screaming, "Mommy, mommy, the cops took daddy away again!"
( Six Stories of the Sixties from Keep All the Animals Warm).
However, we still had months left on the lease. Then one evening there was a rap on our door. The elderly lady who owned the apartment house had sold it to two young gay men and they had come to call. They assured us they were going to renovate the entire building and asked us to consider staying. Thus, we signed on for another year and moved down the hall to a recently refurbished one-bedroom apartment.
In fact, do you recall the crash pad apartment with the wall-to-wall mattresses across its floor? This was where the girl who would run half-naked into the hall in drug-induced nightmares lived with her boyfriend. The new owners had begun evicting the less desirable tenants, which included this couple and the prostitute down the hall and the high-heel wearing one above us.
Here are some before and after photos. On the left are photos of our one-room apartment. (It looked worse when we moved in, but we painted it ourselves, which improved it some.) On the right is the one-bedroom apartment we moved into after the renovation.
Left: The doors are to the closet and the most erotic bathroom in Philly where you could hear all the doings of the High-heel prostitute upstairs.
The sofa is a fold-away bed, where we slept at night.
Right: Portion of our new living room.
Left: The one room was not large and doubled as bedroom-living room. The photos do it more justice than it deserves.
Right:You can see the living room of the One-bedroom was quite a bit larger. I could expand the bookcases for my growing library.
There were windows in each room. The scene that opened this Post was the view from these windows to the back of the building. The parking lot was for the students of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. You can just see the back of the Dormitory to the right of that photo.
The other buildings face Baltimore Pike.
Left: Our cramped and crowded lone window. The fan was our air conditioning, heat came from the radiator beneath. That is Ian's cage by the fan. He died here during that winter because we had no heat for a week. My writing desk is just visible.
Right: Again you see the expansion of space we had with the new apartment.
Perhaps you see the most dramatic change with the kitchen, our old on the left, the new on the right.
However, the kitchen became the center of the determinator for us leaving when our second lease was up.
For one, as nice a job the owners did in the renovation of this building, they overlooked one thing. They did not fumigate.
The rebuilding must have stirred up the roaches, for now they came in swarms at night. You could hear the click of them against the surface of the kitchen sink after the lights went out, holding their dances. I had never seen a roach in my life before we moved to Philadelphia and if I never see another it will be just fine with me. We had a few in the first apartment, but we had masses in the new. I couldn't stand them.
The clincher came one evening when I went out to the kitchen for something. I heard a strange noise. If you look at the bottom right of the photo, you will see a panel in the wall. Something was clawing the panel from the other side. I stood there staring and whatever was doing it began pushing the panel out. It was bulging.
I pushed the kitchen table against it, walked into the living room and told my wife, "That's it, we're getting out of here."
That was when we moved to a very nice apartment in Aldan in Delaware County.
When we moved from University City we left our Hippy days behind. It was at the apartment in Aldan we became hedonists entertaining either our sex-addicted friends or our drinking buddies. (Our drinking buddies are pictured to the right of us in this photo from New Year's Eve of 1974. That was in their apartment, for my wife and I had moved to New Jersey two years prior.) Does anyone look like they may have had a drink or two in this photo?
But in those last years of working in Philadelphia and living in New Jersey a lot of life changing events happened. We lost our seventh child. I became a Christian. And the first of the impossible miracles occurred.
Next time: Miracles Come in Threes.