BY JEFF DEENEY “Today I saw…” is a series of nonfiction shorts based on my experiences as a caseworker serving formerly homeless families now living in North and West Philadelphia. I decided not long after starting the job that I was seeing so many fascinating and disturbing things in the city’s poorest neighborhoods that I needed to start cataloging them. I hope this bi-weekly column serves as a record of a side of the city that many Philadelphians don’t come in contact with on a daily basis. I want to capture moments not frequently covered by the local media, which tends to only cover the most fantastically violent or sordid aspects of life there.
Today I saw feral animals prowling the cold streets of West Kensington. The first was a brindle dog with fat, dangling teats, slinking along 2nd Street just south of Lehigh. She trotted along, her head low to the ground like a hungry hyena, nosing piles of garbage on the sidewalk. The few neighborhood boys who passed by, braving the chill in bulky parkas and Timberland boots, gave her wide berth, watching her intently as she cruised along as if she might snap at them if they came too close. The rest were cats. Cats on Allegheny Avenue. Cats on D Street. Cats defiantly perched in the middle of the street with cars honking horns at them, and then dashing into the open spaces leading into the basements of abandoned houses.
Today I saw a young Latino boy in a Pittsburgh Pirates jacket, standing on the corner of A Street and Westmoreland. He had just enough dark down on his upper lip to qualify as a mustache. I wondered why he was standing there, in the midst of a deep freeze, when I saw a yellow school bus approach slowly. There was another young boy in a gray hooded sweatshirt waving at him from across the street. The first boy kept looking up the block toward the bus, and I thought he was watching to see if he had enough time to talk with his friend before hopping on. But when the boy in the gray hoodie crossed the street, he instead slapped a bill into the first boy’s outstretched hand, and received in exchange a glass vial that appeared from up the first boy’s coat sleeve. They pressed hands hard for a split second, before the second boy jogged away.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Deeney is a freelance writer who has contributed to the City Paper and the Inquirer. He focuses on issues of urban poverty and drug culture. He is also a caseworker with a nonprofit housing program that serves homeless families.
[Illustration By Alex Fine/Photo by R Bradley Maule, phillyskyline.com]