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 graduates out celebrating in their caps and gowns, despite the 90-degree heat. At 16th and Norris there was a group of young black women in maroon. They walked under a row of waving Temple University flags, talking with smiling family members in crisp white suits and wide-brimmed hats that deflected the blazing sun. At 10th and Susquehanna, a short, square Section 8 house sat decked out in orange and black balloons with a big banner proclaiming, “PROUD GRADUATE.” In the front yard, a Muslim woman in a simple black head scarf set chairs around a folding table decorated with party hats and horns.

On Frankford Avenue in Fishtown, Latinas in cream-colored satin gowns hung out the window of a Honda Civic, waving their caps in the air as they cruise north past the Rocket Cat, their long sleeves flapping in the wind. At Dauphin and Frankford, there was a heavy-set white kid in a striped polo shirt and bleached-out, oversized jean shorts with swollen hands and forearms rocking a hard Oxy nod on the colorful stone bench across the street from Bob’s Happy Hour. His forehead rested on a balled fist; he looked like a heavily sedated urban parody of the Thinker statue. The commotion from the screaming girls startled him, causing his head to slide off his hand, snapping him back into confused, slow-motion consciousness.


TODAY I SAW a chicken on north 2nd Street. It was a white bird with belly feathers stained gray with dust and grime. It was walking in circles on the sidewalk between Berks and Norris, near the auto repair shop, pecking at pebbles and bits of glass like they were bugs in a barnyard.

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.

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