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 a man with his dick out on the corner of 15th and Poplar. He was an unkempt black man, probably in his 40s, with a receding hair line and a full, nappy beard. He looked dirty and mentally ill, as a lot of the transients in and around Francisville do. I was sitting a stop light when I first noticed him; he was pulling branches off a tree set back just a little from the sidewalk, malingering and looking for attention. I didn’t notice his dick at first and instead turned to watch one of the local prostitutes as she walked through the intersection. There seem to be fewer prostitutes in the area than last year, but I still see them pretty regularly. The pay-by-the-hour Hotel Carlyle is only a block away and Ridge Avenue, a well-known hooker stroll, is within eyeshot. The girls work out of the Carlyle and then walk back down to Ridge. You can spot the prostitutes, because they favor white tank tops made of such thin cotton fabric that they’re practically sheer and they don’t wear bras. It’s not very attractive, but I guess to a street-trawling, nickel-and-dime monger it is. That’s what guys who pick up streetwalkers call themselves, mongers, as in pussy mongers I guess. This particular prostitute was also missing some teeth, had a bandanna wrapped around her head and was sweating profusely in the swamp-like heat.

I watched the hooker as she passed through the intersection, feeling sorry for her but also thinking that at least the local prostitute population seems to be falling when I noticed the dick. I thought maybe he was wearing an oversized leather belt; my eyes aren’t the best and from that distance all I could make out was a strap of dangling brown hanging in front of his pants. I squinted for a second to see better and then realized what it was. He smiled coyly while twirling one of the tree’s long fronds like a girl playing with her hair while she makes eyes at boy in the park. I shook my head and thought, “You sick, sick motherfucker,” as he turned and walked down Poplar Street, having gotten his jollies and not wanting to attract more attention. I saw that he had no socks on and was walking on the tamped-down backs of his beat up sneakers. The skin of his feet was dry, cracked and ashen.

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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