Friday, September 9, 2011


I have spent the last two days--very long days, at that--sitting in a seminar on the psychological treatment of insomnia. The fact that I have nodded off during the 5 pm sessions, TWICE now, was NOT intended to be ironic. It's more a reflection of what happens when one rises early, tussles with the local transportation systems, and the proceeds to sit, and sit, and yes, sit some more, with only intermittent trips to the coffee pot and the ladies' room. (Warning to the reader: I get to do this one more day, a day in which we have been promised that we will actually learn how to do the voodoo that if we do well, can improve the sleep quality of willing and cooperative patients. So more sitting and more caffeination awaits me.)

So to be out and about in the city this evening is a welcome reward. J and a friend are at a concert and I am ensconced in the coffeeshop across the street. We're in the hip, punk part of town, with an entertaining, continuously-changing show passing down the streets. (My goodness, that woman's leopard-print mini skirt is tiny. Hmmm.)

After all that sitting today, I felt the need for a stroll--good for the legs--and some serious people-watching--good for the mind. It was a humid evening, but as the day faded, glowing light illuminated the passing scene. Pleasant. Beautiful.

If only I had a camera...

To capture the two small Chinese-American children sitting on a stoop, a boy of about 7 and a girl, maybe 5 years old. They were folding placemats--those ubiquitous red-bordered Chinese Zodiac placements--into hats and paper airplanes.

To recall the lean, elegant black woman in a white pantsuit, astride a yellow motorcycle as traffic inched down the road.

Would the optical illusion work on film, the one of two uniformed police officers standing on the street corner with a smiling African-American man in a red plaid shirt towering over them? (He was actually a reflection in the window of a shop).

A camera would prove that I did not imagine the middle-aged couple--he in suspendered shorts with black-checked bandanas dangling from each back pocket, and a feathered cap on his head; she of the Pippi Longstocking braids in a wildly-printed dress, striped stockinged feet inserted in red Crocs. They were not an advertisement for the local German Bier Garten, but a pair of local residents out for a night on the town.

Maybe a photo would give a glimpse of the huge, amazing mosaics imbedded into the walls of area homes. The mosaics of found objects--dishes, painted tiles, mirrored glass--displaying the faces of and telling the biographies of neighborhood residents, focusing on the Zagar family. The Zagars are the artists who created Philadelphia's Magic Gardens (Google it!)

I could preserve the expression on the face of the chunky Israeli man, a 20-something, looking for "4th and Bainbridge, are you sure it's that way?"

A photo would reassure me that I had not imagined the bowler hat on the tall, lanky, moustachioed man in a white tee shirt and black suspendered trousers, smoking outside a tattoo parlor, looking like he had walked off the pages of some Edward Gorey Victoriana.

And it would record the activity in the adjacent airbrush shop, of the back of an overweight man, sketching on a white tee shirt with a pencil. Would it prove that he was glancing back and forth from the shirt to an unseen design grasped in his left hand?

I could prove that sadly, Chef's Market IS closed, a dusty, cluttered shell awaiting a new tenant. Now I can only imagine the crusty sandwiches and scented peaches I once bought there for a picnic lunch.

I could puzzle out why, oh why, was that 50-ish woman wearing a black long-sleeved baby-doll dress in the heat. And why her balding companion seemed so much older than she, in his striped golf shirt. And how that woman in those 8-inch gold heels managed to keep from being stabbed by her giant hoop earrings studded with spikes. And why that woman in the frayed blue quilted bathrobe still wore her red armband from the local psychiatric hospital.

And maybe I would photograph some of the trash bins, painted to resemble Maurice Sendak-esque monsters. Sometimes inanimate objects need a little attention too.

What I do have is memories, though, Snapshots of an evening spent in the city.

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