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 an ancient toilet attached to the back of a house on Old York Road near Erie Avenue. It was an unearthed relic from another time; an antique that was once covered by an outhouse shed. It had a wooden seat and lid that was worn by time so that there was no indication of its former painted color or shade of stain. It was dull, dead looking wood attached to a porcelain base that was eaten away in spots with what looked like brownish rust. To get to the toilet I had to walk down a long alleyway that was over grown with thick hedges that had sprouted long, snaky wooded tendrils. I bent over and lifted the lid on the toilet, revealing a pipe that vanished into blackness. The bowl was filled with thick cobwebs and what looked like sacs of either thoroughly cocooned spider food or perhaps unhatched spider’s eggs.
Today I saw an old junky standing in the middle of Boudinot Street about a block from the Somerset El stop. His head was down and he was still as a statue as cars swerved to get around him. As I passed him I knocked on the window and he slowly opened his eyes and looked up as if emerging from under water. His lips hugged the curve of his toothless gums. He didn’t acknowledge me, but started to move slowly forward towards the curb in a heavy lidded lurch. It reminded me of last week when I saw a junky riding a bike down the center of Allegheny Avenue in the rain, oblivious to the four lanes of traffic speeding by, snaking in wide arcs with his eyes closed and his mouth hanging open.
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.
[Photo by R Bradley Maule via Phillyskyline.com]