Gems of Philadelphia

Olde City. Fezziwig’s ice cream. An excellent pub an Race Street. A flawed bell.
I try to enter any travel experience with eyes wide open, so I didn’t know what to expect on my first visit to America’s one-time capitol. My thoughts were, to no small degree, tinged by Bruce Springsteen’s sad, iconic “Streets of Philadelphia” which accompanied the 1993 Jonathan Demme film. (I was a relatively-cloistered eighteen-year-old when the movie came out.) Since then, tales of angry sports fans, crime statistics, a mean-streets boxer’s saga, and Mark Bowden’s Finders Keepers were my windows on a city that seemed forgotten. (Maybe it was thought of as New York’s lesser cousin, which is inaccurate.)
Tree with cool roots, foliage and brickwork in Philadelphia park
The Philadelphia I found was a trove of gems. We stayed in the Wyndham Historic District (very nice staff, great rooms, no complaints) which sits among the brick and cobblestone of the original city. The presence of Benjamin Franklin is everywhere, from his oversized bust beside a fire station to his actual grave (steps from the hotel) to his namesake blue bridge across the Delaware River. The guided tour of Independence Hall was short and sweet. I’m no history buff, but it was pretty amazing to be standing in that room looking at that furniture where the magical birth of our country took place (at least, in codified and legal form). Of course, we also took in the Liberty Bell, which is as much about the Abolitionist Movement as anything. Seeing the actual symbol of something so representative and positive was a first for myself and the kids.
A dessert-first sandwich board outside Fezziwegs Ice Cream, Philadelphia
Our discoveries went on. We stumbled upon brand-new Fezziwig’s Sweet Shoppe and quickly decided they offer the best milkshakes in the known world. (Their sandwich board outside compels one to indulge a little.) Olde City Grille offers excellent pizza, Stromboli and Spanakopita. The Race Street Cafe is really a pub worthy of any British city, tasty food modernized to present day. Beyond, the Race Street Pier juts out beneath the behemoth light-blue of the Franklin Bridge. Elfreth’s Alley, a centuries-old residential street, begs to figure prominently in novels. Lunch at Reading Terminal Market is a crowded but worthwhile mess of options. Nearby are numerous parks and green spaces for a few minutes of peace and contemplation (and shade for hot summer days).
Across town, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a gorgeous building flanked by amazing statuary (including the famous Rocky figure, removed to street level).
Side branch of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Yes, there are still problems and more than a few ruined people. The Delaware River is dominated by industry and rusting ships. The city is, naturally, far from perfect.
Many faces I saw, however, were happy and vibrant despite the heat and weight of the past. Philadelphia seems to be rising steadily, her people buoyed and her diverse gifts celebrated.
Sometimes, if we choose to focus on the positive of an experience, that’s what we’ll get in return. And we’ll feel welcome there.
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Fear Not the Dog Bowl

I do not fear dog bowl. Say it again, mantra style. I do not fear dog bowl!

For those of us who have iron-gut, there is an implicit challenge. Enjoy the mixture, revel in the insanity.

Wait, Pal. What’s dog bowl?

Exactly what it implies–a bunch of leftovers and odds-and-ends that don’t really go together, but you know the dog would enjoy. The first dog bowl, at least in modern Edison lore, consisted of Thai food leftovers (2 dishes) mac ‘n cheese, goldfish and half-a-cheeseburger. It was delicious in its own weird way. To me, anyone who can stomach mayonnaise-peanut better sandwiches (yes, they exist) can handle dog bowl.

My friend once consumed cinnamon french toast, a seafood omelet and chocolate milkshake in one breakfast sitting. Go ahead, let that culinary hurricane sink in. The only way to make that one weirder would be to throw in lime Jell-O with some tapenade-asparagus. Did he get sick? No, but his brother was almost nauseous watching him eat.

Dog bowl, which is Edison's Man-Hash, some sausage-bell pepper mix and Cheez-Its on top.

We all get our inspiration (and revulsion) somewhere. Man-hash was just dog bowl with a little forethought and a skillet. Whenever my wife sees me working on dog bowl, she walks the other day. I offer some to the kids, no thanks. But my son’s gaze lingers, his curiosity piqued. He, like me, is of the Iron-gut Clan. And he can handle spicier South Indian food than I can. So there may come a time.

Since I’m a writer who writes about stuff (lotsa stuff) I offer this: Start throwing things together–characters, objects, places. The combination may be unworkable or toxic, or now and then produce something unexpectedly awesome. This weird world calls for a little zany. Taking a stroll through the loud, vibrant circus carries no obligation to move forward with it. Plus, you never know.

Very few rational people would follow a real-life Jack Sparrow. But he sure is fun to listen to.

Tick-Tock

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

–Time, by Pink Floyd

 

I have a couple irrational fears in my knapsack–plus a few that aren’t so irrational. My recent 42nd birthday was neither a panic moment nor a boot in the arse, but it did seem to herald middle age. So, again (with feeling): What have I done with my life?

Copied image of Pink Floyd in concert

Pink Floyd concert from Pulse CD booklet

When I look around my house–and it is undoubtedly messy–the first part of the answer is easy (responsible for 85% of the mess), two great kids. Happy, well-adjusted, confident and fun to be with. (My wife, Luanne, is a huge part of this, naturally.)

The second part is also easy: My books. Three down, a fourth (“Tempest Road”) planned for September release, and the fifth (“Destruction”) and sixth under way.

Justin Edison's three available books on a shelf

Justin Edison’s three available books on a shelf

For the sake of sanity, I’m bypassing the questions of value or worthwhile investment these things occupy in my world and the hours of my life. (The Churning probably took 3,000 hours, all told.) This is an issue that all artists wrestle with–unless they’re an arrogant ass–yet the answer is defiantly evasive. (I’m a storyteller. Does anyone benefit/learn/see the world differently through my work?) Suffice to say, this is what I know how to do best.

Back to that irrational fear, though. The Pink Floyd song “Time” scares me quite a bit. “Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled line.” Call it a poetic urging to do something! (For each of us, that something is different, of course.)

I’d be kidding myself if I said my time was unlimited. Statistically, the fact that I’ve personally avoided cancer and bad auto accidents and death by violence, so far, doesn’t favor my avoiding them all in the future. Factor in my upcoming work plans and, well, my window of opportunity may be slamming shut. Only so many hours in a day. The fear of not doing enough looms large, every day.

A song calls. How do I answer? One turn on the merry-go-round, after all.

B&W pic of Justin's watch showing 4:10pm

 

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Poem – Start of the Day

Clean arcs of water in buttery just-dawn light.

A rustle of tree leaves.

Distant mountains silent. Roars yet to be discovered.

Cinnamon smoke.

Mornings of cloud, plaintiff meows, one-counts for 2% dispensing.

Engine rumbles.

A puffy white blob–pursed lips with trailing attendants–against a sheet of blue-gray. Turning slowly.

The mother-ship has finally come for me.

 

Asiatic lily, magenta color

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Man-Hash Recipe

(For lack of a better title.)

I goof around in the kitchen, fair enough. Since I’m not afraid of incendiary events (rather, I’m not likely to cause one) I’ll occasionally throw stuff together. On my honor: Though I offer these creations to the kids and my wife, they are under no obligation to try anything–thus saving my ego the gratuitous ding.

So, Man-Hash:

  • 1 package of bacon (kitchen shears are a plus for this)
  • 1 can of garbanzo beans/chickpeas
  • red cabbage (1-2 cups) chopped
  • apple (1-2)
  • onion (1-2 cups) chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper and spices (I threw in some thyme and maybe marjoram)

Spray the skillet. Using the kitchen shears (at $10, a real moss-free, tape-free bargain) cut the bacon up into 1-inch pieces. I cut 3-4 strips at a time. It all separates in the pan, anyway. Cook the bacon to desired crispiness. Set the cooked bacon aside (the manly way is to put it in the bowl you’re eventually going to use to eat–fewer dishes, cha-ching!). Drain the bacon grease however you see fit. (The way I do it is to pour it on a section of cedar-tree litter. It looks a little trashy, but it’s efficient.)

Edison's man hash, a skillet dish of bacon, onions, chickpeas, red cabbage, olive oil and spice

Without cleaning the pan (unnecessary!!!) apply cooking spray and start cooking the onions. As they’re cooking, you can chop the red cabbage (1-inch pieces will do) and apples and anything else you want to add, like carrots. (No worries: cooking apples takes out the strong flavor, so the finished product works in a lot of autumn recipes. You can also use old apples for this.) Throw in a can of garbanzo beans/chickpeas, the olive oil, salt, pepper and spice. When the onions are soft and grilled-looking (a real chef knows the term for this) add the bacon and stir it all for another 5-10 minutes. The cabbage is pretty stiff to begin with, so cook and stir until it’s softer.

[For those who don’t know: Red cabbage and chickpeas both have a mild taste while being high in protein and fiber. In other words, they’re awesome for you!]

Serve as a side for steak or burgers, probably with a beer. Bam!

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Auto Choices

Yesterday, while making a turn in my town, I noticed an all-electric BMW i8 turning to follow. The car is jazzy, no question. With the air channels down the sides, it looks capable of taking off like a 737.

I live in an affluent area (sometimes, my wife and I feel it’s too fancy for us) so sights like this aren’t rare. Nor are the Teslas, or the black Ferrari 458 that occasionally cruises by our house. While I admit I wouldn’t mind a sunny-afternoon ride in one of these cars, I’d never drive one or own one for myself. The i8 runs around $145k. The Ferrari 458 would be an especially ridiculous choice–as I can’t even properly drive a stick shift (how sad) and costs around $300k. That’s a flashy liability, at best.

A red Ferrari 458 with racing stripes.

These are beautiful objects, no doubt. Toys, really. Nobody regularly commutes to downtown Seattle in an Italian race car. As my mother is fond of saying, ‘They’d have to have their head examined.’

Confession

Because I’m a judgemental person (yup, guilty) and a kind of anti-snob, I wonder about the motivations at work. These are–I’m guessing–predominantly male drivers with wealth and healthy egos. (The Teslas are a little more understandable, based on price and eco-friendly green technology.)

I drive a minivan. My wife is happy driving her 2008 Highlander. What really puts our choices in perspective (thanks to her hard work, we have these choices) is the older gentleman in the neighborhood who drives a gold late-model Camry. The first time I saw him, I was impressed. He appears well north of 70 and this was the car he chose for what was most likely his last auto purchase. It’s a solid, good-looking (if boring) car that costs half of what some of his contemporaries are driving. (Here, it’s pretty common to see retirees in Porsches and Jaguars and Mercedes SUVs.) This man’s choice is functional rather than flashy. It’s un-impressive. I think it’s admirable. Assuming he (like so many empty-nesters) had ample resources, he chose to do something else with his money. Help for the grandkids, charitable giving, whatever.

The most visible way we Americans show off our social status and accomplishments is by the vehicle we drive. You can’t take your house around and show people. Clothes (especially for men) seem kind of vapid. I, for one, am not interested in $300 jeans with stitched swirls, and I certainly can’t spot them from a hundred yards down the street like an Italian sports car. There’s a fair number of muscle-car drivers who pass my house, guys who want the world to know about their big engines by revving them or peeling out. Why? Oh, right, because anyone within earshot is going to be impressed. Really?

Wealth and Character

One of the quirks (drawbacks/advantages/puzzling attributes) of being an altruist is that I don’t see material goods as an indicator of sterling character. In this increasingly me-first country, I’d rather award the lottery jackpot to the special-education teacher driving a 15-year-old Honda Accord. The world, of course, doesn’t work that way. Trickle-down-economics (for those old enough to remember Reagan-era policies) was a nice theory, never a reality.

Last summer, on a Lake Washington cruise, I saw the house belonging to the founder of the Value Village chain. It’s a grand palace occupying a “corner” of Bellevue lake-front property. It probably costs more than the combined incomes of…how many Value Village regulars? Hundreds? Thousands? (While I haven’t checked up on this man’s charitable giving–it’s really not my business–there was a sharp irony in seeing this abode purchased with profit from what many of us see as a kind of public service.)

Guilty as Charged

So, I’m judgemental. And a bit full of myself. And, to some, an insufferable prig. My sister once chided me along these lines, certain that I would, in fact, own that BMW X5 someday (when I’ve worked hard enough for it). Naturally, I swore on my life that no such thing would ever happen (like me ever voting for the GOP, the decidedly un-altruistic party).

There’s so much need in this world, in this country. So many people who could just use a leg up, a little relief, a kind act. I recently helped my son’s school group chip in at a food bank, and it was a rewarding experience. The people in line were good people. They just need a little help, that’s all. What do you choose to do with your time and resources?

Flawed or not, silly or not, I have a feeling my last car will also be of the un-impressive Camry variety. I hope, when I’m done, I’m fortunate enough to have resources and can make choices. I hope my kids hold me to my word. The sleek Beamer? No, Dad. Take the gold sedan, and donate the rest. You’d look ridiculous in a sports car, anyway!

Author Justin Edison, looking unimpressed with his reddish goatee.

 

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Damage

Listening to social media (dangerous for its utter lack of filter or categorization) I would have to count myself one of the lucky ones as far as relationships go. I’m happily married. I haven’t been damaged, now or in the past. That’s saying something.

Just now, an acquaintance from my kids’ former elementary school jogged by. She’s a nice, soft-spoken woman I’ve chatted with a few times. (Let’s call her Z.) Though I am ever-curious, I haven’t pried into Z’s colorful past. She has three kids–and a husband or ex-husband who lives with his partner in Seattle.

A boulder which fell and crushed a roadway in Ohio.

I don’t know if their marriage is/was an arrangement, or if this was a sea-change development during groggy days of diapering and bottles. “Oh, by the way…”

In case of the former, what does it say about Z that she thought it was an agreeable compromise for her life as a woman? Romance tossed aside? Motherhood re-defined? (There’s no written law, of course, which says a woman has to have children.) In the case of the latter, how does she feel about herself now? “My husband/wife chose to play for the other team,” is a line that’s been trotted out in many stand-up routines–usually to good laughs. And yet, how often do we think about the person who’s experienced this?

If our present mindset is a constant reconciling of our history, current status and foreseeable future, what does that in your past do? I have no doubt: If Luanne one day told me she preferred the ‘company’ of another woman to me, my self-esteem would resemble that highway in the above picture. Whether from change of mind or heart (these revelations, I’ve read, often happen independent or other people’s behavior) might seem irrelevant. That would be the emotional equivalent to the line, “It’s just business.”

Busted

Rocker/poet Dave Matthews says a rolling stone (a woman the speaker pines for) will “leave a trail of busted stuff.” He knows it’s going to happen, he’s not going to be blindsided. In some cases, we’re talking really busted stuff.

Gillian Flynn provides a bizarre twist to the idea of a psycho relationship in Gone Girl. Even if the brilliant story could be reduced to a cautionary tale–This is the marriage you don’t have!–it closes with lines both startling and persistent. “What have we done to each other? What will we do?”

It’s not likely to send many people headlong to the altar.

Here and there, I’ve wondered about the wreckage left behind from the whole Mary Kay Letourneau saga (two broken marriages, six children). Even if Mary Kay and Steve L. emotionally and psychologically trashed each other (fodder for People and “Entertainment Tonight”) before the appearance of Vili Fualaau, what becomes of the kids? Imagine that conversation at Christmas dinner. “Your mother did what?

I have a good friend who admits to being a home-wrecker. She’s not proud of it, and she married the man in question (this was no casual fling). Still, I wonder (I haven’t asked) if she wakes every day feeling utterly hated by another person (the first spouse).

Way back when, a college friend of mine carried on a long affair with an older, married man. She was ‘la otra,’ as an Ecuadorean colleague once put it. What are the odds that his wife didn’t find out? How did she feel?

Hurray for boring normal

Being tied to someone for all time isn’t easy. In Independence Day, Ford’s hero Frank Bascombe still defines himself by his (prior) marriage to a woman he loved–pieces picked up and swept, priorities reorganized, hopes gone to seed. Who could blame him?

“No marriage is perfect,” the saying goes. (In Gone Girl the ‘ideal’ marriage of the Elliotts is what gave rise to their ‘victim’ daughter Amy’s monstrous behavior.)

Every day, I look around and find myself grateful for the normal relationship I have. That my fingers are neither groping nor bleeding.

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