Friday, July 29, 2005

Mikal not in Philly

Yesterday we cleared the final remnants out the apartment in "unStable Court," loaded up the pickup truck until it looked like we were the Beverly Hillbillies, had a final Mexican dinner near the Italian Market, and said goodbye to living in Philadelphia as we drove over the Walt Whitman bridge towards the Jersey shore. We drove slowly, so the leaves wouldn't blow off my 50 year old grapefruit tree.

Moving twice in a year is complicated enough. Moving to two places at the same time borders on bizarre.

We wanted some time at the shore before taking off for the Midwest. We have a half-renovated cottage in a funky bayside town called Villas, New Jersey that we've decided to keep rather than "flip" so we can spend part or all of our summers on the East Coast. There's a short interlude before my wife starts working as a professor in Carbondale. So we're spending it almost camping in our cottage.

That meant packing our apartment into two categories: those things going to Illinois and those things going to New Jersey. And of course, the subcategories, like those things going to New Jersey now but going later to Illinois. What a circus. Oh well, we're almost done. The wing chairs and piano and big-screen t.v. are on the moving van headed west, and the rest of what we own is in New Jersey. (Except for the stuff still in the storage unit in Indianapolis.)

My friend Jeffrey Zeldman listened to my plans to live in a cottage with a kitchen consisting of a microwave and a dorm-style refrigerator and said, "what are you, still in college? I'll really get worried when you tell me next you're going to backpack around Europe."<

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The short hello and long goodbye

Each day's errands take me through the streets of Center City Philadelphia, a place I've lived for just over a year. I keep seeing new details and gaining new understandings of the complex place that will be my home for just nine more days. This photo shows Headhouse Square, where I walk to the nearest cleaners, drustore, Wawa, bar, and coffee shop. The building on the right is a Colonial-era covered market a block long. It was almost torn down in 1959 and each time I pass it that thought makes me shudder.

We never expected to make Philadelphia our long-term home. The main reason for me was I am an activist at heart who can't leave well-enough alone, especially when well-enough means things are going to hell in a handbasket. Coming off a decade-long quasi-career in Indianapolis as a social critic and agitator, I needed some rest. In Philly I'd be drawn in to an endless series of battles against political corruption, bad urban planning, horrible race relations, depressing crime, environmental degradation, and a school system where students routinely get killed. I wouldn't know where to begin in picking my fights, so I decided to leave well-enough alone this time, to accept this city as it is.

So instead of spending my free time at neighborhood meetings and writing letters to the editor, I immersed myself in Philadelphia's culture and history. I went to old graveyards and poked around in off-the-beaten-path museums, and found myself inspired by the revolutionary fervor that once held this place in thrall. I dug through history books and old maps trying to figure out how this vast and confouding urban center grew and developed. I took off to explore the lush suburbs and exurbs, from the Main Line to Chestnut Hill to New Hope, feeling myself a strange conglomeration of tourist and resident. And I loved what I saw.

Tomorrow I'm off on a four day business trip to Seattle, a city on the other coast, a city with a whole different sense of itself. In truth, more the kind of city in which I'd like to live. But I'm not going to live in a city this time. We're moving to Carbondale, Illinois. After life in Indianapolis, Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia, my urban days are over for now. A college town of just 20,000 people, pretty much in the middle of nowhere should be interesting. As interesting as Philly? Getouttaheah!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Imposter on the Upper East Side

Alone on business
dinner at a sidewalk café
small table, small candle, small flower
attentive waiter, foreign accent and style.

A Brooks Brothers jacket
camouflage for my Midwestern self
because it’s a sultry July night
and who but the upper crust would dress this way for dinner.

I eat penne pasta and drink chianti,
eavesdropping conversations of people nearby
whose lives in sprawling pre-war apartments
I can only imagine.

Plans for this weekend’s house party in Southhampton
discussions of money management
praise for how the one guy made the others’ teeth look perfect—
and with a furtive glance, I saw, they did.

Mostly beautiful people pass by
self-satisfied and self-assured
they hail taxis in a nonchalant
New York sort of way.

A breeze in from Central Park
that great lung of the city
mixes with cigarette smoke
from the bored valet.

Faint smells of garbage
waft up Lexington Avenue
disturbing the picture
of perfection.