I’ve been thinking- between being born and raised in a neighborhood, playing football and hose ball on the streets between parked cars, flicking bottle caps in the school yard, knowing how to cross the city on one bus fare, thinking that elevated trains and subways were as fast as comets, working the Docks for years where the sound of a ship’s fog horn was a match for any cry in the wilderness, earning a third of my living at the food center in South Philly where a hand shake was as good as any paper, and dodging the wanna-be gangsters was part of the scene.
I will always remember playing in a String Band that won First Prize at City Hall twice, trying to swim the Delaware River, being in a Street Gang at fifteen, running from the cops on summer nights with thirty guys meeting-up later on the roof of Jardel Recreation center, hanging on truck and car bumpers when it snowed, dying of laughter over what happens hanging on a corner, hearing rock–n-roll music like it was as sacred as the hymns the Nuns beat into us. Nicknames were more meaningful than your Christian name, mine was simply, Muc, or
more often, Jimmy Dean.
Then there was Pop Warner football and proudly wearing the gold and black uniform while walking across the neighborhood for a Sunday afternoon game. Five Points Tavern was written on the back of my baseball team shirt. Being kicked out of Connie Mac Stadium and sneaking back in. Going to Temple University by hitchhiking down 9th street because I didn’t have the money for the Subway or books for that matter, and then Community college for ten years, and seven years of classes at U. Penn where I have been the oldest and dumbest kid in class, but got a short story published, and being in the first graduating class at CD High, sledding at Burholme Park until you were so wet and cold even you had to stop and anyway your dog was freezing, waiting in the lines around the block to get into the Oxford Movies, being taken to the roof of the Philadelphia Art Museum to write about the place, playing football in Municipal Stadium with my name called out on the loud speaker for a tackle when I was twelve, drinking Iron City beer in brown bags after a great game of softball in our part of Fairmount Park with both the older gang “The Counts” and my gang, “The Streakers.” knowing people of every nationality on the globe, signing up for the Army at 401 North Broad Street, nearly drowning in the Schukle (and not knowing how to spell it). Maybe I’m proud about winning a short story contest, first prize for excellence, about Philadelphia that exposed the cold rejection of young black musicians by some jerks that were still influential in Philly’s 100 year-old Mummers parade. Then there’s, marrying “The Girl” I always met at the K&A Elevated Stop or 30thStreet Station after work, “The Girl” from Kensington. I got issued a girl from Little Flower High School who grew up in a row house on a street so narrow that only one car fits and in the back was an alley that took raw courage to trespass. The proposal was in the school yard at G and Westmoreland and it has stuck for over 50 years. I feel I have truly been a Philadelphian and I can write these stories.