Philly Vignettes

Today was hot, but not as hot as yesterday. Still, the air was stale and it doesn’t help that it is garbage day. Unlike my old neighborhoods in California where they use automated trucks that lift and empty the standard cans with hinged lids, Philadelphians put their plastic garbage bags out on the curb. On occasion, you will see the blue recycling receptacles, but hardly anyone in Philly recycles. The point is, garbage day smells in this city. Walking down 45th, there are three thrift shops: one for household items, one for clothes, and one for furniture. They are all owned by the same company. Sometimes I’m amazed that they are still open, considering their rather dismal inventory. I stopped in the household items store. A wiry thin Black man who was younger than he appeared due to the ravages of substance abuse walked in. As he strolled to the back of the store he began to say, “Let my people Go!” to the white woman at the counter who also looked as if she lived a hard life of partying and despair. He said “Let my people go!” again and she replied with her back turned, “I hear ya!” The man said it several times. Then with a slightly ironic voice, “Power to the people, fight the power!” After he left, I continued to stroll through the store with two hipster/anarchists who typically roam this West Philly neighborhood. Like a proper nonconformist, they too had tattoos on their forearms and calves. Both apparently found useful items. Before walking out disappointed, I overheard the woman at the counter talking to another woman. She said that the doctor told her that if the bumps weren’t from mosquito bites, they they may be from bed bugs or scabies. She said her friend had them and said you could only get them from lying in bed. I made my way out of that store, vowing not to buy anything from there. I strolled down 45th street, a little bit more unnerved by the grunge of this city. All the houses had set out their garbage and household junk. I noticed a woman picking through a pile of discarded blankets and comforters. I thought about the lady with bed bugs and shuddered. I stopped in CVS and wandered around for a bit looking for cleaning supplies and storage units. The woman who helped me at the counter was holding a conversation with her coworkers about paying back her girlfriend money. Although her weave wasn’t over the top, I did wonder why she felt the need to put on fake eyelashes. She, like nearly everybody else in this town, had arms covered in what looked like prison house tattoos. Black folks tattoos are never as fancy as the anarchists. On my way back, I kept smelling something terrible. I began to wonder if I stepped in something because no matter where I went that smell followed me. People love dogs in this city and very few people have backyards. So they have to walk their dogs and follow them with a bag to pick up their dog’s feces and drop it in one of the rare receptacles designated for that purpose. The immigrants in this neighborhood don’t have dogs, but the hipsters are more on point about picking up after their dogs than the Black folks who walk their dogs in Muhammad Park. Even as I walked the length of the parking lot, I kept smelling the terrible smell. After checking my shoes I realized it was just the smell of West Philadelphia on a hot summer day. I just got in, time to shower the Philadelphia grime off me.

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5 thoughts on “Philly Vignettes

  1. I have visited East LA in the summer and I have spent considerable time in Watts. California is less densely packed and the hoods are deceptively attractive. I don’t remember it smelling like a muggy day in Philly. There is much less humidity in California and I have to admit that despite the smog in LA, I’d say the air is fresher than big East Coast cities. I just overheard somebody else talking about bed bugs. I think I need to get out of here!!

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  2. WOW Are you serious? They don’t have automated trucks in Philly? You would think in a major US city they would have better if not the same technological that small cities in Cali use. We been having automated trucks in Cali for almost 20 years why is Philly so backwards? I’m thinking this may be union related issue.

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  3. Assalaamualaikum Margari!

    Nice to see you back, sis. Wow, a powerful piece of writing. This reminds me of my last trip back to NYC since my move from Queens to the rural area of Southern Jersey where I live now. When I first left the city I was in so much despair and bored out of my mind.

    On my last trip to New York after leaving friends I walked about 10 blocks to the subway around 12:30 am in Midtown. I must admit I felt that electric feeling of the city and the thrill of anonymity but then the human waste funk of the subway hit my nose and those giant, funky rats were everywhere.

    Out here I ride past cornfields and lakes. I hate to be giving in to the country/city dichotomy but the quiet has grown on me.

    Now what to do about those look at the Muslim lady stares…

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