Tuesday, August 30, 2005

My Kind Of Town

Lest anyone misunderstand me, I say this with love about the City of Philadelphia, my home for most of my life:

We are a city of losers.

But, and this is important, it is by choice.

It is something so ingrained in the Philadelphia psyche that to extract it or change it would be to kill the essence of what it means to be a Philadelphian.

We don’t want to be New York or Boston or Chicago. We don’t need or desire sophistication. We aren’t sissies, for god’s sake.

Yes, we have a Social Registry and Debutante Balls and such. After all, our Kelly Drive, which escorts you into the heart of Center City, is named for Grace Kelly’s family. But our socialites seem ill-at-ease in their formal wear, as if they’re waiting for the wedding reception to be over so they can go home, change, and watch the game.

We have a fear of success and we jealously guard our mediocrity by making certain that anything we attempt will be done in an enthusiastically half-assed fashion.

If we ever won an award, we’d trip ourselves on our way to the stage to receive it.

On the other hand, don’t talk smack about us. We fully understand where we stand in the hierarchy of American cities, but our official line is that we’re just as good as any of those other big cities. Don’t screw with that illusion or we’ll give you a real Philly welcome.

We’re much happier not trying, not changing, and only doing something after some other city has tried it first.

For all intents and purposes, we are culturally retarded.

Sure, every once in a while you’ll see us make a half-hearted attempt at brightening the place up, but it’s like watching an entire city change its position on a couch.

It’s why so many people never leave and fresh blood never makes us their destination. You can’t simply “become” a Philadelphian, as Neal Pollack found out. It’s like our plentiful political patronage jobs: you simply have to be born into it. If you don’t grow up with the Philly mindset from birth, no amount of training or experience is going to give it to you. Most people can’t be deprogrammed into wanting less.

David Lynch got it right when he made Eraserhead. It may look surreal to most viewers, but to the denizens of the city that inspired it, it’s more or less a documentary.

Which is why it’s so wonderfully ironic that the motion picture the city is most identified with, 1976’s Rocky, is the story of a scrappy little underdog who triumphs over all the odds. A winner.

We don’t want to triumph over anything. We just want to be left alone.

Do you think we want to run up the Art Museum steps? Hell, no. In fact, we wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near an art museum. Or any museum.

Do they play football or baseball at these museums? No? Then we’re not interested.

Unless the museum is serving drinks.

A few years before Sylvester Stallone hiked up those steps, though, I found myself standing on that very same plateau with an accordion in my hands while my girlfriend screamed into a microphone about drugs.

It’s a story that will have to wait for now, a story we’ll call…

Next: Rude Descending A Staircase


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