CHAPTER 1: THE FOUR STORIES
CHAPTER 2: HOOKERS, METH, LOFTS, AND CONDOS. IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA.
It's just a little past one in the morning on a Saturday night. It's Labor Day weekend, it's officially the last weekend of the summer. The night air is already crisp and cool. It even smells like fall already.
But the city is bustling with activity. There are men and women pooling out onto the sidewalks from the trendy new Fishtown bars, fumbling their way to the corner to chain smoke their American spirits and Camel lights. The men are all wearing their shiny muscle tees and open button ups with the collars popped. The women are all miniskirts and daisy dukes cut so off short that the bottom of their ass checks hanging out and if you look closely enough you can even see the razor burn around their bikini area. All of their legs and arms shake and tremble from the surprisingly bitter breeze on this late August night. It's too cold for this attire; no one is dressed for comfort. It's already jacket weather. But all of the exposed skin is more symbolic than practical. This is the one last hurrah before the weekend warriors all hibernate for the winter.
I'm driving my cherry red 1995 Buick Century station wagon north on Frankford Ave when Iggy Pop's The Passenger starts playing on the radio. I light a cigarette and turn the volume up to full blast. There are few experiences as powerful and pure as listening to this song with the windows rolled down in a huge boat of car as you cruise through a city's actual red backside.
I see the stars come out of the sky
Yeah, the bright and hollow sky
You know it looks so good tonight
I'm on my way home but decide to take detour and enjoy the night a little more. I decide to ride up Front Street under the el tracks. I make my way from New Kensington through regular Kensington past old Kensington. I drive along a road once referred to as Hooker Row. Gentrification has come and pushed out the majority of street walkers who used to line their way up and down this 2 mile stretch of pavement. No longer are there the throes of cranked up, bottomed out women in outrageous outfits selling their goods in the middle of the street.
The city has done its best to give this area a new coat of paint, to make it more attractive to all of the young and budding yuppies and hipster types that have been moving in en masse lately.
Cheaply made and quickly built modern condos are everywhere now with more and more going up every day.
But the old paint job was never fully stripped before the new coating was slapped on. It's all surface. Just because you don't see the hookers, tweekers, shooters, and crappers doesn't mean they're not still there. This area is still plagued by meth and economic despair within its true native community.
I spot a halfway passable African American transsexual strutting up the side walk about 50 yards ahead of my car. She's wearing a hot pink halter top, tight denim shorts, and fishnet stockings. She has one hell of an ass and she's done a convincing job with her bra stuffing.
The only two dead giveaways are her linebacker shoulders and the cheap Halloween adventure wig. There's no way to tell if she's working or clubbing. In all likelihood, she' doing both.
I stay under glass
I look through my window so bright
I see the stars come out tonight
I see the bright and hollow sky
Over the city's ripped backsides
She hears the music coming from my car and stops in place to turn around and face me. She's definitely working.
I notice her smile first, then her one hand waving at me, and then her other hand holding a massive half erect black cock lounging out from her pants which she's pulled halfway down.
Singing La la la la la la lalalalala.
She's shaking her cock at me while simultaneously pissing out into the street. As I pass her, she continues to walk north on the sidewalk, cock still in hand; urine still streaming out as she moves forward.
To the right of my car is a former paper mill that's recently been renovated into high end lofting that rents out for over $2000 a month, and next to that is one of those super fancy new trust fund baby dormitories for rich assholes in their 30's who refuse to grow up. And behind me is a transsexual hooker, probably high on meth, literally pissing in the wind.
I love it. The city comes alive at night.
He looks through his window
What does he see?
He sees the sign and hollow sky
He sees the stars come out tonight
He sees the city's ripped backsides
I pass a popular Puerto Rican biker bar owned by a former police commissioner. There's a lot of that for whatever reason here in Philly, a lot of dive bars in dilapidated violence stricken neighborhoods owned by retired cops.
I can hear the meringue playing from inside the joint. There's women in gaudy prom dresses that all fit two sizes too small standing in a huddle, laughing and smoking. Their boyfriends are comparing each others' souped up rice burner bikes around the corner. They're all wearing sunglasses with plain white T-shirts and bedazzled jeans that are two sizes too big. The bar's doorman looks like a henchman from a Michael Bay film. He's wearing a kevlar vest with a full sized .45 caliber Glock holstered at his hip.
Once you pass Berks street, it's a completely different world. Most of the bars from this point forward have bouncers packing heat.
I pass the long strip of closed storefronts that line both sides of the street under the train. This particular area never really moved beyond the great recession early 80's. Everything has that same darkened yellow tinge to it that always make me think of a cancer patient's bedpan. The air around here even smells like the hospice wing of a hospital, like decay, rot, and death.
Sign after sign after sign advertise Rent a Centers, Check Cashing, Cash for Gold, Pawn Shops, Halal food, and $5 dollar clothing made by orphan slaves in India.
I pass an adult book store, one of the last left in the city. I know that no one is going in there to actually buy their porn. This is a cruising spot for older, middle aged, blue collar straight men, although I guess the word straight should be applied loosely here.
I see a lumberjack looking guy in a trucker's cap pacing outside by the door. He hasn't shaved in days, and he has that wide eyed stare of a man who's just smoked crystal meth. He's drinking a bottle of water and just like that Daft Punk song that everyone's calling the song of the summer, he's up all night to get lucky. He's waiting for another stoned, sexually confused, married man to come along. It should only take another 10 minutes until the pissing tranny should make her way up to here, this guy might just score yet tonight.
I wonder what the inside of this dirty porn shack must look like. I'm tempted to stop and go in but it's far too past the witching hour and there's no telling what's happening in there right now.
And all of it is yours and mine
So let's ride and ride and ride and ride
Singing la la la la lalalala
I decide I've headed north enough. The song's coming to an end and I'm reaching no man's land, a north eastern stretch of Front Street that's notorious for undercover cop stings. I've already spotted 3 unmarked cop cars and I'm an artsy looking white guy in a huge fucking station wagon driving with a 4 beer drunk around an area where I certainly don't belong. I'm likely to get pulled over on suspicion of intent to buy only to end up landing a DUI.
So I turn around and make my way back south. I make my way down past the El Bar, a small shit stain of a dive bar that's equal measures Road House, North Philly crack den, and a Williamsburg hipster party.
Ten years ago, you never would have spotted anyone whose skin tone was any shade lighter than off beige brave enough to dare enter the place. This is the kind of bar that opens at 7am and you'll always find people drinking at that time too. And it's not romantic or oddly charming like a Bukowski book. It's a bunch of dopers who are finally coming down desperately trying to chase the crash away.
The inside of the bar has a permanentsmell that's like an awful combination of a dried up cum rag, high school locker room, and frat house piss trough.
Everyone that's hanging out front looks like they belong in the Do and Don't fashion snapshots in Vice magazine. I see the Bettie Page wannabes in their leopard print miniskirts, ripped up Misfits shirts, wearing their prescription-less sexy librarian glasses with their hair up in a bun. I can see their Black Flag tattoos, their Nyan Cat ironic internet meme tattoos, their cheesecake pinup tattoos, their cupcake tattoos, even their Cannibal Holocaust tattoos. I see their boyfriends with their pyschobilly side burns, massive tree trunk forearms; pot bellied beer guts, and slicked back hair.
For a moment, I half expect to see Mike Dugal standing outside instigating a fight. But I breathe a sigh of relief because I'll never see that again because Mike Dugal is dead. He's dead because I killed him. Because I stabbed the mother fucker 18 times.
I spot a recent ex flirting with a man who's nearly old enough to be her grandfather.
I knew from the moment I met Debbie that she was fucking nuts. I've learned that just about every woman in existence who has the trifecta combination of purple hair, septum piercing, and giant back covering tattoos are fucking nuts.
But they're also the best in bed.
But Debbie liked her drugs and she stole a bunch of shit from my house before she disappeared. Most of it, I couldn't care less about, but she stole a copy of my favorite book, a hardback first edition of Charles Burns' Black Hole personally signed by Burns and given to me as a gift from my high school art teacher who had introduced me to him in person when I was 14.
I pull the Buick over and brace myself for a fight. I generally don't like confrontation, but after the year I've had, I no longer fear them. I want that book back, or at the very least, I want her to know that she's an inconsiderate thieving piece of shit for taking it.
I'm not going to jump out screaming insults; I'm going to handle this like a cucumber, cool.
But the guy she's flirting with, I know him, or at least, I know of him. He's a motorcycle mechanic working at a shop down the street that now has its own reality show that's airing on the Discovery Channel. I think it's already been canceled but half a season was aired and now all the guys working there have become instant local celebrities. And celebrity means pussy, and these guys are knee deep in it.
But this one is a self proclaimed hard ass and I can tell he's already got his 58 year old mind set on fucking twenty two year old Debbie. And the moment I step in to scold her, he's going to come at me. He's going to try and prove his dominance, his strength, his man hood. He's probably going to take a swing.
But I take solace in knowing that I've got a kubotan in my back pocket, and in a worst case scenario, a .380 Ruger LCP tucked in next to my crotch.
But as I unbuckle my seat belt, I notice that I have some missed calls logged on my phone, 11 of them, all from my father.
I talk to my father once a month or so. He rarely calls. And he's never called this late before.
Eleven missed calls.
There must be an emergency. Someone must have died. Dad must have gotten locked up again. Dad must have killed someone. Something really bad has happened.
I don't want to deal with this. I want to go outside and make a scene with Debbie, and then I want to beat the ever living shit out of her new fuck buddy if he has a problem with me having a problem with Debbie stealing my stuff.
I don't want to talk to my father right now. I don't want to hear any tragic news, nor do I want to hear the pissed of ramblings of a man on a whiskey binge.
But I'm an adult, and I do need to deal with this, so I hit the redial button. He picks up instantly.
"Hey, dad. What's up? Everything ok?"
"Sure. What are you up to tonight?"
"Right now? It's nearly 1:30, I'm about to step in a bar for last call and get a night cap before bed."
"You know of any good after hour places in the city?"
"Yeah, but what does that have to do with anything?"
"I'm down town; I swung by your place earlier tonight to see if you're around."
My dad hasn't been to the city in over a decade, and he's never just swung by my place. He's never gone out and visited me since the divorce, period.
"What? What happened Dad?"
"Nothing's happened. Can't a father just want to hang out with his son and have a beer? That a fucking crime?"
"Where are you right now?... Oh wait, I think I see your car."
He hangs up and I can hear the revved up engine from a customized exhaust on a 1996 Triumph Adventurer motorcycle. I already know that my father has just pulled up beside me.
I've seen the gates of hell swallow an entire party live, I've had a shoot out on a ski lift in Park City; I've seen nearly an entire town drugged and turned into a zombie sex slave army. And yet, this is the most surreal sight I've seen yet, my father dropping by unannounced just to visit me for a beer down town.
He gets off of the bike and looks around at all of the young drunks playing pretend biker in front of the bar and says, "Look at these silly faggots will ya?"
I see a young man with a handle bar mustache shoot my father an angry look.
My dad has always been asshole. He intentionally said that loud enough for everyone to hear.
I know that I've inherited a lot of his assholery as well, but I don't need to get into a fistfight with 35 offended drunk vegans right now.
I see that Debbie is also looking us. I think she just winked at me, or maybe it was at my father. It's hard to tell. I think my dad is just about the right age for her.
My father continues talking.
"You look like you're too shocked to speak."
"I almost kind of am."
"Well, where can we sit down to get a beer and a shot that's not going to close shop in the next 15 minutes?"
"I know a place in South Philly that you'll like, get back on your bike and follow me."
CHAPTER 3: THE WORST IDEAS ALWAYS START WITH THE BEST PROPOSALS
So I take my father to The Republican Bar, a private after hour's club on the other side of town. This is a small city, so the other side of town is only a ten minute drive. This is where all of the strippers and escorts go when they finish their shifts and want to score.
The drugs aren't flowing nearly as flagrantly as they used to. The management has tried hard to get that shit under control, and if you even mention the way it used to be, your ass is getting kicked out. But there's no doubt that there's still a lot of dealing happening around us. It's just not as open anymore.
And by 2:30am, the strippers and escorts start stripping and escorting in the back room again. Only, they're not even looking for tips at this point, just fun and attention.
As you would likely assume, this place can get rowdy in the early hours.
And the drinks are dirt cheap. It's a recipe for disaster.
And I can tell within 5 minutes, my father is happy to be here. This man who now tells me stories of his time dealing drugs and sleeping with countless women back in the 70s but has turned into a fully fledged suburbanite who rarely leaves the confines of the small town that he now resides in with his new girlfriend.
But I can see the gleam in his eye. This place is bringing back memories, good memories, memories that remind him of who he really is, and not what he has become.
Generally, in our conversations, my father has 3 questions that he asks me. When I answer them, the conversation ends.
How's your car? How's your hair? How's your health?
But for the first time since I can remember, my father is asking about my life. He's asking about my love life, about my job, about my art, about anything that might be happening for me in the film world.
I tell him that I just got back from Montreal and will be heading out to Toronto this week to cover the big film festival there.
"How much you are getting paid for this shit these days?"
"Heh. Paid? I'm lucky that I've gotten to the point where they're putting me up."
"What? Your hotel? They cover your hotel and that's it?"
"But all of the other expenses are on you? Gas, food, drinks?"
"So you're still paying out of your own goddamn pocket to work for someone else?"
"But it's a great opportunity."
"Opportunity? You've been talking about all of these great opportunities for how many fucking years now? And what have these great opportunities lead to? Just more opportunities. You're a fucking chump. It's time to grow up. You're 30 now. You know I was your age now when I had you? It's time to stop playing Peter Pan."
"Yeah, you had me at my age, and how well did that turn out for you?"
My father doesn't answer. He's too busy ogling two topless women doing body shots off of each other at the other end of the bar.
I order another round of shots when my dad starts talking again.
"So how are you getting to Toronto?"
"Haven't decided yet."
"You're supposed to be there in a week right? Cutting it pretty close to be wishy washy ain't
ya? How long of a drive is it?"
"About 13 hours."
"That's not too bad. You can easily do that in two days."
"Yeah, but I don't know if the Buick will make it."
"What if I come with you?"
"Ya know, I was thinking, we don't see much of each other, and I don't really know much about you and your life. I never really went to any of your movie or art things. But I'd like to see Canada. I'd like to get to know my son. We drive together, I pay for the gas and any meals, and you'll have a mechanic in the car with ya if anything goes wrong. We get to Toronto, you see your movies, and I get a chance to see a new country. It's a win win for everyone."
Every son, all they ever want is their father's approval, even if their father is a bastard that they can't stand to be around. We're all fighting to make him proud. I haven't spent more than two hours at a time with my father in the last 15 years, and now we're going to be traveling together in a car for three days? This is a horrible idea, but I feel flattered. I feel like this could be good. I'd like to show my father that I've made a pretty cool life for myself.
We drink our shots and I notice the large stain on his jeans. There's a dark crusty brown splotch on his upper left thigh, and there's still fresh bright red blood seeping through the denim around it.
He catches my glance towards it and assures me, "Had a spill on the bike earlier today."
He raises his pint glass for a toast.
"So, Greg, think you can stomach a little road trip with your old man? Teach me something about the movie business?"
We clink glasses and I wonder, "What's the worst that can happen?"
Then again, I should probably have learned by now, that's the worst question I can ever ask myself.
TO BE CONTINUED