Friday, October 7, 2011

When I Was Sixteen

or as Philadelphia People Say:  
Y O !

When I was sixteen years old,
I rented a room in West Philadelphia,
and attended an alternative school 
in center city. 
Back then I traveled mostly by bicycle.

Philadelphia's City Hall - From Wikipedia - "At 167 m (548 ft), including the statue, it is the world's tallest masonry building: the weight of the building is borne by granite and brick walls up to 22 feet thick, rather than steel;...It was the tallest habitable building (although surpassed by monuments) in the world from 1901 to 1908." 

 Every night, I bicycled past City Hall
checking the time on her tower clocks;
10 minutes till 11pm-
I'll be on time for my job

Painting by Robert Finale
Independence Hall
The US Declaration of Independence was signed here
July 4, 1776
I can close my eyes and see the pale old face of her clock also.
Roman Numerals - I'm right on time.

I headed all the way east 
towards the Delaware River
and the historic part of town.
Today they call it
"Olde City."  

Back then, it was just old.

There she is, 320 Walnut Street.
Just one little office building in a big city full of them.

  My dad's tiny building maintenance company
had the contract to clean her.

  I arrived at 11pm to sign out the cleaners.
  Then I spent the night there
replacing the paper products in the restrooms,
touching up the cleaning;
  Checking in at night watchman stations
where I inserted a big key
and left a timed record of my visits.

She was mine till morning,
all six floors of offices, 
and east & west office 'penthouses'

  320 was one of the buildings
that I had visited with my father
since I was 12 or 13.

  Back then she still had only a 
manually operated elevator. 

Have you even BEEN in such a contraption?
I learned to run it from floor to floor -
in fact I now recall 
that on a few Saturdays
I was elevator operator all day!

  Close the lobby door, close the
inner metal gate,
then pull back on the 
brass handle
to send us UP. 

You could see the floors
and innards of the building
as they went past the gate.
I became quite good at stopping
RIGHT at the floor I wanted.
  But if someone was annoying,
I could stop the car a few inches
below grade
and make them step up.

  It's true what they say:
"Be nice to the people you meet on the way up.
  You'll meet them on the way down too. "

And I had the power to make you wait. 
"Where IS that elevator kid?!" 
They rang a bell for service. . .

The ground under this piece of
Olde Philadelphia
had once been the Quaker Almshouse
where Evangeline, of the great American
Wadsworth poem,
  reunited with her love at last!

  Back then,
ghosts were people I hadn't personally known
in life.
It was all very cool and abstract,
without the tugging on one's heart.

A block further down Walnut
towards the river was
the First Bank of the United States -

- Looking much as she always had.
  Only the city changed around her.

The Old Customs House was also a neighbor.
  I could see into that glass cupola from my building
and marvel at that small, still, space
full of morning light
and history's dust motes.
Sailing ships had been
espied from there;
Documents written with quill
by lamp light.

George Washington, Franklin,
Jefferson had all
walked these streets!

During long stretches of the night,
I could sit by the window of the east penthouse, 
an architects office,
and watch the river traffic of lighted tug boats
and freighters from ALL over the globe
in the tidal Delaware River.

William Penn had first landed
on her banks near-by
to found his City of Brotherly Love,
the capitol of his 
Comonwealth of Pennsylvania,
"Penn's woods."
(Pennsylvania does not call herself
a "state'
though she technically is
one of the fifty.)

When I was growing up,
the Delaware Valley
was called:
"Workshop of the World."

   The great Ben Franklin Bridge
to New Jersey
presided over the river scene,
like the local god
of the 20th Century's triumph
over river ferries
and sail.

How many nights
I watched her tower lights 
blink RED off
and on.

Listening to the sounds of the city,
so close,
yet so far below
my locked princess tower;
Sirens, 24 hour industry.
Refinery flames lit the skies
over South Jersey.

I felt very alive
and expectant,
As one does at sixteen.
Eager to get away. . . 
into all that tumult.

Little did I know,
that in my marvelous future 
I would muse with such love
over these formative years,
and value the memories
so very much.


In the morning, when I exited 320's lobby
these colonial homes
and their present-day sleepers
were what I saw across Walnut Street.

 I peddled to breakfast at Dewey's,
rest at home,
and the school day.

We can do anything
when we are young.

I was making my way in the world.
I was a working adult - not a dependent child.
That was very important to me.

Today, Google Street View shows
the brass we polished,
the lobby I mopped on snowy mornings,
in disrepair.

According to Google Search,
  320 Walnut is now for sale. 

If I was as rich as a Russian oligarch
I would buy her,
and she would be a museum
of ME-
and Dad too.

That Philly kid didn't know
that today this would be my city view at night.
My Honolulu Town - 

Though not born here, 
I have worked, lived, laughed
& cried here.
Here is where Dad breathed his last.

The only wonder I wonder
is which city I shall choose
to haunt?

My birthplace of Brotherly Love-
or the Aloha home of my adulthood?

These are the wonders
one wonders
in the depth of night
with a great city
in view. . . .

Thank you for sitting beside me here-
and there.

It means the world
to share these musings
with you.

Leave me a little comment
to keep the magic going.

                                              Warmly, cloudia