New Years Eve fell on a Friday this year, so Sunday was a built-in day of recovery for those who chose not to party right-on-through ‘til Monday morning. I’m unemployed, grappling with a year I wouldn’t live over-again at gun point, so I was more than delighted to see 2010 out with a bang. If “bang” is indeed the right word. You’ll have to forgive me. I haven’t blanked out or anything, but the weekend remains a bit foggy in my memory with regard to the sequence of events, and why I landed my ass in the ER at Pennsylvania Hospital.
You gotta believe me.
I didn’t’ start the fight on Two Street, honest, I didn’t. Nor did I throw the first punch. I wasn’t even responsible for shoving the $20 bill down that hot straight boy’s pants. After all he, HE was the one dancing provocatively in the picture window of the townhouse across the street from the party. Any hot dude dancing provocatively in a window while their front door is open will draw a crowd even during the final hours of the Philadelphia Mummers Parade. In the circles I travel, it’s only ‘polite’ to stuff a $20 bill down the pants of a humpy dancer.
But it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do it. The Mummers Parade starts on Two Street and circles the city ending where it began – on Two Street.
If you’re not from Philadelphia, you might not know about the Mummers Parade. Here it’s a tradition with a variety of cultural roots, resembling Marti Gras. Most Mummers are from South Philly, known for raising sexy young Italian men filled to the brim with raging hormones. Testosterone is Philadelphia’s primary world export. You don’t talk ‘trash’ about our ball teams even when they deserve it, and the Mummers Parade is a peculiar time honored tradition commandeered from generation to generation by straight dudes. That said, it‘s the gayest damned parade in the world. Most Mummers seem to me to resemble giant microscopic enlargements of body lice, decorated with sequins and feathers – not that I know first hand what crab-lice look-like of course. Ahemn.
Now that the Mummers Parade is open to both sexes and all races colors and creeds, it’s become a singular time when the entire city can band together and throw-up on the sidewalk as one people united.
That said, the Mummers Parade remains a testosterone packed event. Even as belligerently heterosexual men of all ages dress-up like female Raggedy-Ann dolls with fluorescent braids and parasols strutting to quaintly out of date music played by banjo-string-bands, it‘s still kinda “butch.” Everyone’s got different colors of glitter on their faces, and grown men wear feather headdresses that require back supports tailored to suit each parader’s build and costume. Many costumes are, if nothing else, engineering feats unto themselves. And ‘flashy’ to put it mildly.
But I still didn’t start that fight on Two Street. The cops got nuthin’ on ME. My glasses got broken this weekend, and my face bloodied, but I’m innocent I tells ‘ya.
South Philly men tend to be gorgeous, sometimes on the short-side, but sexy, built and handsome. And if you have the nerve to bump and grind in your picture window on an evening when strong men wear a full-face of make-up — then you oughtta’ be secure enough with your masculinity to handle a compliment regardless from which gender it‘s offered… In this economy, twenty dollars is twenty dollars.
Two Street is really Second Street — unless you’re near Washington Avenue where the locals ‘do’ and ‘say’ what they like. And dey callz it TWO Street. So TWO Street it is. Deep South Philly is a place where people park in the middle of the street all the time, but only out-of-towners get tickets. Restaurants still have ‘drive-by shooting windows for the safety of the patrons, even though the mob’s gory-glory days are long gone. And during the holidays entire neighborhoods are lighted-up like the Strip in Las Vegas, only more vulgar in a Catholic sort of way. I myself live in South Philly, but in the center city part near the historic sites on one of the tiny 19th century Federal alleyways. Two Street is a world away – even though one can conceivably walk there from my house in under an hour. Boys wear ball caps sideways with their underwear hanging out of their jeans swaggering down the street. And the only thing tougher than the men, are the women – or “Tess Tosteroni’s’ as I’ve heard them called. They closed Saint Maria Garetti Girls High, because even the nuns were scared to death of those tough chicks — and nuns I’m told are sadistic dominatrix’s with a habit.
But I’m off track again. The course on which my life runs…
The holiday weekend began with a visit to Grandma Betty at the home. She has a new roommate now that the bus has left the station for her last one. I loved her last roommate, Aurelia. I used to bring Aurelia airline bottles of Crown Royal to help soften her burden of sharing a room with my oddly-tempered mother. Mom mistook Aurelia for one of her sisters from her childhood years and picked fights that had absolutely nothing to do with Aurelia or her own life’s history. Aurelia was given a proper gospel send-off with a fine soloist, and beautiful flowers while wearing her best outfit. I helped carry the coffin to the hearse, but I didn’t attend the interment. I felt a sudden and overwhelming need to see Grandma Betty, who is herself now on hospice.
I took a cab to the home driven by a very nice gentleman who strongly recommended I read the Qu’ran. He mentioned it several times. I saw no point in arguing the issue with him nor do I see harm in reading anything of any sort – I merely have no intention of doing so. Organized religion and I parted company a while back. I think for myself in that arena. The cabbie seemed friendly enough, except he kept looking back at me when he addressed me – as if not looking me in the eyes while talking would be rude. I suppose It’s a cultural thing. I’d have preferred him to have kept his eyes on the road. I was relieved to get out of the cab in front of the home in one piece.
Grandma Betty’s in a recliner-gurney now. While we visited in her room the custodial nurse’s aid refilled the 4-roll toilet paper dispenser in the adjoining handicapped-accessible bathroom. Betty said, “I won’t live long enough to use all that toilet tissue.” Betty is getting a second-wind now that she’s on hospice and they’ve taken away all her life-sustaining meds.
“I see you got a new roommate.“ I said to Betty, glancing over at the silent glazed-eyed old lady in the next bed over. “She won’t live long enough to use-up all that toilet tissue either“ Betty snapped.
The woman looked somewhat stricken – but she looked that way even before I got there.
Betty’s been trying to tell me for years how her doctors have been poisoning her. I never believed her until they started-in on me. Now that I’m 60 and on a medley of medications, I see her point.
Even as I write this, Grandma Betty on her deathbed eating chocolate bon-bons and battin’ zingers over the net. I was told she has a form of Alzheimer’s and ‘failure the thrive’ – but on New Years Day she was full of ‘pith and vinegar’ to quote an old friend. Physicians start addicting you to meds in an effort to benefit the pharmaceutical industry’s bottom-line well before you hit 50. And now that all the life-sustaining toxins are out of her system – like old light-bulbs and flickering candle-flames, Grandma Betty is unusually ‘spry’ for a dying woman. She knows she’s circling in line for take-off in God’s Assisted-Living Waiting Room.
She fell asleep, I kissed her forehead, and left.
But what was I doing in the Emergency Room of Pennsylvania Hospital? Glasses broken… Blood on my face and hands… Even a black eye and a sprained ankle. Things can get wild on a New Year’s Weekend. I’d attended polite parties with ladies and gentlemen. And some not so polite parties too. Like any major metropolitan American city, there are many faces and facades. I travel comfortably between them all.
I remember walking to the ER by my own volition.
On entering the ER, a handsome, studly paramedic pointed me toward admissions, asking “Watcha do buddy, get churself all beat ’da hell-up?” I looked terrible, blood was on my jacket, but my dignity was what stung the worst. Who did he think I was? ME getting beaten-up? Not on your life. I’m a city boy who’s seen around town walking a fierce Jack Russell terrier. Nobody messes with ME…
After signing-in and waiting for my name to be called, I became fascinated with my lightening bolt Z-shaped finger – looking at it from all sides and angles. It looked like one of Grandma Betty‘s fingers, as crooked as the Wissahickon Drive. My first reaction was to pull on it and straighten it out with a POP and go about the business of partying. People hadn’t yet started arriving at the ER with hamsters up their asses or having swallowed foreign objects. The automobile accidents were still a shift away. It was dark out but still early. I had the ER to myself.
The triage intake nurse was an attractive no-nonsense black woman with beautiful skin. She asked me a series of questions including ’whether I was afraid of walking or standing. I said, “only in heels” and she attached a bracelet to my wrist identifying me as a “falling hazard.”
I told her I was on my way to a party at the home of a Pennsylvania Hospital nurse. “Who?“ she asked. I said “tall Kevin with the raspy voice.” And suddenly I got the movie-star treatment. Everybody loves ‘em some Kevin. No matter where I went in the ER, I was wheeled from place to place and told, “we’re gonna get you outta here in time to ring in the New Year at Kevin‘s party.” and “tell him Rick says ‘hi’” In Xray, Toni said to say ’hi’ too.
My personal Nurse Ratchet was an hilarious woman named Kim Milano, who couldn’t have been sweeter. She turned-out to be the person who’d hired Kevin. We exchanged a couple of old war storied about cocktails with Kevin that ended with spinning-pirouettes at Woody’s Bar. The staff was great, and allowed me to see the Xrays of the triangular section where my finger was broken. I got copies of the Xrays. I love shit like that. I still have the camera-capsule I once swallowed for a colon-test. I keep it in a baby carriage in the attic of my dollhouse. Crapped it out days later during a yoga class, clean as a whistle.
Damn, I’m off track again.
But I most certainly did not throw the first punch at the Two Street brawl where the police had to be called. Grandma Betty raised me better than that.
I’d considered going to a different party in a stately mansion out in Mount Airy. But I’d have to have gone as someone’s guest. I’d once been on that guest list, however I didn’t feel right about barging-in as someone’s guest to a party where I’d been cut from the invitation list. They’re good guys. No hard feelings. I never see them during the year – only at their parties. Besides, I hate being in a car traveling through the Wissahicon Drive. In part I’d chosen not to attend the fancy black-tie party with it’s historic ballroom, not only because I wasn’t on the list – I could no longer afford to rent a tuxedo. If I wasn’t so friggin’ poor I might have braved the white-knuckle flights to crash the party. It‘s a wonderful party, like being an extra in a Merchant-Ivory film. And I look great in a tux, so long as no one mistakes me for the help. Always keep your jacket ON or you wind-up working in back…
My mind was made-up. I hate the Wissahickon Drive, it scares me. It’s a treacherous obstacle-course in the best of times, and roads were still slick with black-ice from the recent snowfall. Those hairpin turns bother me in perfect sunny weather, let alone New Years Eve. In past years my designated drivers have turned-out to be not quite “designated” enough. Looking back on 2010, I’d sustained plenty calamity to last a lifetime. Out of work, fighting foreclosure, a dying parent, a lawsuit, I‘ve had it. I made the common-sense decision to ‘party’ close to wherever I could walk. Specifically so I wouldn’t end-up ringing-in the New Year in an ER somewhere.
Well, that WAS the original plan.
With my left pinky finger shaped like a lightening bolt, and one cheek protruding-out like ‘half-a-Katherine-Hepburn‘, I was determined to spit in 2010’s eye even as my own left eye blackened. I was going throw caution to the wind like an unlocked barn – let the animal in me run free !!! Earlier in the day, I walked under a ladder mysteriously leaning against a building – odd for a holiday – shortly followed by a black cat crossing my path. But I’m not superstitious.
On Two Street, as the string bands, clowns and the fancy division all made their way to the nighttime carnival atmosphere, I recall the aforementioned “private-dancer” belligerently throwing a football at the house where I was attending a party. He was throwing it with tremendous force, trying to break a leaded window. Mister-Straight-Heterosexual-Insecurity wanted his pound of revenge. He wanted to fight to prove his manhood. Oh, for Christ’s sake, dude — you just made twenty bucks for looking cute in a window. Take the money and say “Thank you.“ But he wanted to turn it into an international incident. He hadn’t counted on gay boys being more athletic than straight boys, don’t let anyone tell you different. No matter how hard he threw the football across the street, the faster the queens were catching the ball and throwing it back at him, but in a playful kinda way – and with more accurate aim. So it got him in the nuts. That happens in football. Good throw, bad catch.
My date was my handsome friend Frankie. Frankie’s not a boyfriend. I’m sort of like his own personal ’Eve Arden’. He tells me his romantic sorrows – to me – a man with only sorrows and no romance. But I give great advise. Frankie’s a horse-trainer out in Westchester County. We have a drinking-buddy relationship when he drives into town. For the life of me, I can’t understand why with his Marlboro-man good looks and his muscular sturdy build, he can‘t land and nail a good one and settle down(?) Secretly I suspect he doesn‘t really want to.
As “Dirty Dancer” across the street got more and more fired-up, I suggested to Frankie we take a spin across the 4 corners partying outside at Two Street and Washington Avenue to look at and mingle among the crowd. We carried our flutes filled to the brim with Persico-champagne making our way through the good-spirited but vaguely rowdy crowd. In front of the Mummers Museum stood 5 handsome rooky cops in uniform. The rookies get the rough holiday shifts. We toasted each and every handsome one of them while drinking-in the contours of their uniforms with broad-shouldered leather jackets. I freely admit to being a little tipsy by this point, when I saw a sign being held in the air by a guy manning his station behind a card table. To my eyes that sign read “Poppers, Pot, Smack.” I said to Frankie, now THAT’S South Philly. The cops are right across the street from the dealers and nobody blinks an eye. Frankie replied, “That says ‘Pepper-Pot Soup’. Even with my poor eyesight, I still get the award for being the drunkest.
All the house parties on Two Street spill-out onto the sidewalks and narrow car-paths. There was a huge crowd in front of our party. “Dirty Dancer” was even more enraged that queens can not only catch and throw a ball better than him – they had the nerve to look at him while he made a spectacle of himself. Entering the house to get our coats, the football just missed hitting the back of my head, instead deflecting off the door-frame.
So by now, dear reader, if you’ve followed me this far into the abyss, it about time I told you how I broke my hand. I most certainly did NOT start the fight on Two Street. Frankie and I left before it escalated to the level of a full-scale ‘police report.’ Nor did I place the $20 bill in the homophobe’s jeans, that actually was someone else named Bill. Truth to tell, I tripped over a cobblestone, coated with black-ice, 40 feet from my own front door, stone-cold sober early on New Years Eve on my way to a party to get drunk before any of the reveling had really begun. I am, without challange, as stated, a “falling hazard.”
While Nurse Milano along with the orthopedic nurse told me to brace myself while they painfully pulled and straightened-out my finger – I indeed farted – with five loud “POP -POP – POP – POP – POPS” of bone and joint. They straightened-out and splinted my finger telling me “If you’d been drunk you’d have had a softer landing and most likely never been injured.” Words to live by.