Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

University City Universe


By March's end I was working at Philadelphia Gum and doing a lot of freelance writing of one kind or another. Loop was departed, but Eugene Lawrence and the real me still lingered on growing callous on the tips of our hunt "n" peck fingers. Eugene was starting to recede. I was surfacing from the underground like a worm seeking a brighter day. I was living sort of, more or less, at the Bucktown home of my parents, and crashing different heres and theres when not.
Romantically, technically,  I was squiring three women about town, so very Hugh Hefner of me.  My little harem consisted of Mary Ann DiPiti, Janice Griffin and clandestinely, my wife. I was spending more and more time with Lois trying to convince her we needed to go back together. My only condition was we couldn’t continue to live at her father’s.
I went home on the evening of April 4 and told the family I had rented an apartment in Philadelphia. This terrorized my mother, who viewed the big city as the most dangerous place on earth. It had been scary enough that I worked in a metropolis for ten years, but living there was certain death. I spent all the 6th moving things, kitchen stuff and books, out of my parents’ attic and taking them to the new apartment anyway. Lois was along to help in the evening.

On April 14 Lois spent the evening with me at my folks’ watching the Academy Awards on TV. At 2:00 AM her grandmother died. She was buried on the 16th.
Zoe Schnell Raab was Lois’ maternal grandmother. After Lois’ mother died, Zoe became a substitute mother and her protector. Lois was only 18 at the time. She moved into the Cobbs Street house, telling her other daughters, “I’m not leaving that girl in the house alone with Harry.”
Zoe was already aging when Lois was born. She was 60. So by the time Dorothy Raab Heaney died, Zoe was 78. Her husband, Lois’ grandfather, Maurice Penrose Raab died a month and a half after Lois was born, so Lois never knew her maternal grandfather and Zoe was a widow a long time. Zoe was 87 when she passed away.

Both of Lois’ paternal grandparents had died before 1950 so her memory of them is fairly short. Her grandfather shared the same name as her father. He was the son of an Irish immigrant who settled in and became a policeman in Brooklyn. How the senior Harry Heaney met his wife remains a mystery? She was a Native American, a member of the Creek tribe. One of the problems is the family wouldn’t talk about this fact. They were prejudice against Native Americans and ashamed one married into the family.
Actually, Emma wasn't the only Native American in Lois' family tree. There was also Lota Lowe Kent down in Texas.

We had a big fight with Lois’ father over renting the Philadelphia apartment. He didn’t like the neighborhood; but he was a man of many dislikes. He threatened to disown her if she went there with me. He also accused us of stealing from him, which was patently untrue. Lois on the other hand said he had been spying on us, sneaking into our room and going through our drawers, where he might have seen some interesting photographs of us. She had remained adamant about his snooping, although I never thought he was doing such a thing. At any rate, we left on not the best terms.
We moved onto Chester Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets, a block above Clark Park and the statue of Charles Dickens. This was within an area known collectively as University City. The campuses of the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and the University of the Sciences were all nearby.  Dorms for the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (part of the University of the Sciences) was just around the corner from us. Most of the block were apartment building on our side of the avenue and a lot of students lived in them.

We moved into the center of the block in a building called The Commodore. It was owned by an elderly lady, who did most of her business dealings through the Superintendent, a man originally from Jamaica. The lease was not overly restricted, but it did contain a clause stating “No pets”.
We owned a hamster and an iguana.

We decided we could sneak our pets into the apartment at midnight when no one was around. We had just come up the steps into the hallway. I was carrying the larger cage containing Ian and Lois had the smaller with our hamster. We had overs over both. It had ben dark and empty on the street and the hallway seemed quiet and deserted in the dimmed down overnight lights along the hall. We sort of tiptoed in and were past the lobby and first apartment door when we heard the Superintendents lilting accent talking to someone and moving our way. We rushed to get our caged animals into our apartment before he came into sight. Fumbling wth the keys while balancing our large burdens, We just made it inside and shut the door as we heard these other people pass by. The Super was helping them move
 “Who moves at midnight,” I asked.
Lois gave me a look. Well, we were.
We set the cages down and I threw off the coverings.
“Where’s Hammy?” asked Lois.
The hamster cage was empty, I mean the wheel was there and the wood shavings, but no hamster. I dashed to the door and threw it open. There sitting in the middle of the hall carpet was Hammy looking up at me. I scooped him up and in.
This was not the first time we lost Hammy. We hadn’t been there very long when Lois discovered the little Houdini had slipped his cage. We frantically searched the apartment without success, and then we heard a scream from other apartment. We both looked at each other.
“There goes Hammy,” we said in unison.
We thought that was it. People would think he was a mouse and stomp him. Three days later I was making myself a sandwich and there came Hammy, skittering out from under the refrigerator. He was a covered in grease, but otherwise unharmed.

Our apartment was not large. The rent was $90 a month. We were on the first floor at about the middle of the building. We had two windows close together, looking out at the wall of the apartment building next door across a narrow alleyway where the trash cans were stored. The entry for opened into the main room. This served as the living room, bedroom, rec room, meeting room and office, and home to Hammy the Hamster and Ian the Iguana. My desk and typewriter were in one corner. A small TV sat on a folding tray in front of the windows.
There was an eat-in kitchen to the left of the entry door, which may have been used by the Victorians. It had just enough space on the side for a small table and two or three chairs. One of our first tasks was cleaning the kitchen, which contained grease and dust left over from the Continental Congress days. Lois then painted the kichen a dark blue with some Pennsylvania Dutch designs upon it. It didn’t help very much.

To the right of the entry door was a wall of glass panels behind which was a large closet. You went through the closet to get to the bathroom, and what a bathroom we had. It was nothing to look at, but it had magic sound abilities, allowing us to listen to every word and movement of our upstairs neighbor, who happened to be a prostitute. Our bathroom was one of the greatest erotic broadcasting booths in Philadelphia. 
So, let’s talk about the occupants. First of all, there was the Superintendent. He turned out to be a pretty friendly fellow. It didn’t take him long to discover we had pets, though. He didn’t say anything about our animals, although, from time to time he threatened to eat Ian. He said they ate Iguana in his country and it tasted like chicken. It seems every exotic meat in the world, whether Iguana or alligator or boa constrictor, tastes like chicken. I somehow have my doubts.
The lease may have said no pets, but the interpretation must have been pretty liberal. There were several beasts in the building, not counting the ones living in the walls. Every day this young couple would come down the stairs from their apartment to walk their enormous St. Bernard.  (The Commodore is now called The Lexington. Ronald and I visited the area late last year and other than the name it hasn’t changed at all, although the neighborhood looks a bit shabbier.)
Now, the prostitute upstairs was not the only one. I never saw her, but boy did I ever hear her, Besides more censorious sound emanating from above, there was the constant tap-tap-tap of her high heels. She apparently had no carpets and she also apparently never took her shoes off. You knew she was home by the parade of tapping across the ceiling (lucky only audible in the bathroom). I don't think she even took her footwear off to provide her special services.
There were at least two more prostitutes plying their trade both on our very floor.  One night I was awaken by a strange sound. I looked at the clock and it was after 2:00 AM, yet out in the hallway I heard this very distinct “Click-click-click”. It went down the hall, then back up, back and forth. I got up and peeked out the peephole and there was the young son of one of the prostitutes riding a Big Wheel up and down. One of the pedals rubbed against the side and was the source of the clicking I had heard. This kid was plopped in the hall whenever mama brought a client home.
One afternoon I came home and another  boy of another trick turner came running out of the doorway just as I got there, almost crashed into me. He went off yelling, “Mama, mama, the cops took daddy away again.” I really don’t know beans about his daddy, never saw the man and don’t know if their was a legal marriage or not.
Other than “working women”, we were generally surrounded by students from the various institutions within walking distance of the address. Most of these I only saw entering or leaving with books under their arms. Most seemed to be female, but there was a young couple down the hall from us and I don’t know if they were students or not. Our hallway went straight so far, then it did a kind of dogleg off the the right and continued on from there. This couple dwelt in the corner of the dogleg. Our hallway could be a hotbed of noises in the night. Besides the kid and his Big Wheel there might be this couple out in the hall. She would be screaming at invisible beings, yelling, “Get them off me, get them off me” and he would be wrestling with her, trying to drag her back to their room. I happened to come in one day and their front door was wide open. There was no furniture inside their apartment except for mattresses strewn wall to wall across the room.
Despite the motley nature of the occupants, I never had any trouble with anyone. I generally felt safe at the Commodore; however, Lois harbored a constant feeling of apprehension. It wasn’t so much our neighbors than the fact we lived on the first floor in easy reach of anyone lurking in that little back alley.
Now there was also a chapter of Black Panthers who held regular meetings in our front lobby. I passed through several times and we always said hello. One day they came to my aid and helped me get my refrigerator up the front steps.
It was an eclectic neighborhood; ideal for a writer.

I had told my parents I rented an apartment back on April 4. I hadn’t mentioned Lois and I were living in it together. I imagine they guessed as much since Lois kept showing up at their place with me. I didn’t tell my parents I had quit my ARCo job and was now making four bucks an hour part time at a Bubble Gum Factory until May 5. That was the same day Lois and I had the big blowout with her father.
Finally, on May 12, Lois began working at the University of Pennsylvania as a secretary to
the two heads of the Chemistry Department, Dr. Donald Fitts and Dr. Hank Hameka. The pay there was much better than what she made at the Title Company, plus now she could walk to work. I forget her exact salary, I think it was around $90 a week, but it was what we were basically living on. I wasn’t making a great deal writing.
My days were fairly routine. Lois would leave for work and I would spend the morning typing out manuscripts. I would break for lunch. Since our cash was growing thin I would go out and wander the nearby streets around the trolley stops. I was looking for dropped change in the gutters and I usually found enough to go buy some lunch at O’Malley’s Grocery on the corner of Baltimore and 42nd Street.
I was having some rouble with the car. Often it would not start without a push. Still we daringly went places in it and took our chances. One night we had been our particularly late and we had a different kind of trouble having nothing to do with the car not starting.  It was somewhere around 2:00 AM and we were headed home. Our route took us through Valley Forge Park. It was extremely lonely there at such a wee hour of the morning and somewhat eerie. One expected ghost riders and the Hound of the Baskervilles to come bounding across the empty fields. I was coming down Route 23 completely alone on the road when from behind came a police car with its lights blinking and its siren breaking the early morning silence. I pulled over on the shoulder and the cop pulled up behind me. He strolled up to my window.
“Do you know how fast you were going?” he asked.
I had no idea. It was a 35 mile an hour zone, but you wouldn’t think it would matter all that much this time of morning. The park was a virtual empty wasteland. “I don’t know,” I said, “maybe 45-50 miles per hour.”
“I clocked you at 90,” he said.
Man, I thought, I don’t think so. I don’t think this Beetle could do 90, especially with the hills in here.
He said, “Just a minute,” and he walked back to his vehicle and got in. I figured he was checking out my license plate or something, but then he suddenly pulled out, swerving around my car and hightailing it down the road. I sat for a few minutes then we left, somewhat shook up by this encounter. I expected I was going to get a ticket in the mail.
We were even more shook up a few weeks later when a rogue cop was arrested. It seems he had recently shot a Rabbi and his wife and then later attempted to kill some others driving through the park late at night. It turned out he hated Hippies and he had mistaken the Rabbi for a Hippie because he had a beard. The Rabbi was also driving a VW. I do not know why the cop sped off  the time he stopped me, but I have always believed Lois and I were very lucky that night.


Joe wasn’t quite so lucky. He was on a plane flying to Seattle. By the middle of July he would be 12 miles north of Saigon in a place called Zion and a member of the 1st Infantry in Vietnam.

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