I hate Philadelphia. It’s Detroit — with one major difference. There are actually people LIVING in Philadelphia.
Which begs a serious question, why the fuck would anyone want to LIVE in Philadelphia?
The first part of this blog will be an attempt to fill in that elusive blank with some kind of explanation. Call it a Hail Mary of logic.
I always feel compelled to give some background to these rants. I lived in the Northeast for ten years. I visited Philadelphia at least 100 times, so I’m no stranger to the scene. Ninety or so of those visits were passing through on the way to Atlantic City, but many occasions turned into what I can only describe as an anti-vacation vacation.
So, let’s play a little game, shall we?
Question: If I say a word, what word immediately comes into your mind? What image immediately comes up when confronted with the word “Philadelphia?” For instance, when one thinks of Denver, the rocky mountains come to mind. When one thinks of St. Louis, maybe it’s the famous Gateway Arch. With New Orleans, it’s probably the French Quarter.
My mental flash drive of Philadelphia pretty much is an crash dump of rusted out ship hulls, decaying half-empty warehouses, lead smelters, oil refineries, welfare cheats, and dark, dirty, cold impersonal streets littered with filth.
I know. Stereotyping is wrong, except for when it just so happens to be dead on accurate.
And so, I arrive in this hellhole on a Tuesday night. It’s 35 degrees, drizzling and getting dark, which seems like the ideal metaphoric mood for this miserable place.
From the outside, the so-called PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT looks EXACTLY like the new Aria (Las Vegas) — only if it were laying on it’s side. The airport is a giant gray steel and glass structure — kind of a cross between some Orwellianesque stage set and what one imagines the headquarters to the Social Security Administration to look like.
I remind myself that this will be one of three times I will actually fly into Philadelphia within a six-month period — which is three times too many as far as I’m concerned. I was here for two weeks back in December (nothing spoils the holiday spirit more than spending the Christmas preamble in weary action-starved Atlantic City).
What’s most astonishing is that some people actually take PRIDE in being from Philadelphia — which is sort of like admitting you were birthed out of the ass of a pit bull. I know people can’t help WHERE they were born. But show some fucking humility. Listen. No one is fucking impressed that you grew up where they filmed “Rocky” — correction. Make that Rocky 1, Rocky 2, Rocky 3, Rocky 4, and Rocky 5 — or that you flunked out of Penn. I mean this is a place where everyone in the city looks like Burt Young — and I’m talking about the females here. You’ve got nothing to be fucking proud of.
When I meet someone from Philadelphia, here’s what I EXPECT to hear. Takes notes:
“Hi! My name is Sal. Even though I have lived most of my life in a filthy hellhole with scumbags, it hasn’t rubbed off on me (too much) and I’m actually a pretty decent guy….if you give me the chance.”
I’m reasonable. I don’t judge.
That’s an introduction I can accept. Someone who speaks truth, from the heart.
In obituaries which appeared over that last 24 hours, he’s been described as a writer and protagonist.
He ran for office (losing both times).
And, he provoked — and he certainly did that far better than most.
Like his more recent now deceased contemporaries Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and William F. Buckley and in the mold of great thinkers of yesteryear such as H.L. Mencken, Upton Sinclair, and even Mark Twain, he was a fixture on the intellectual circuit. He basked in the spotlight in a time when writers were afforded the same celebrity as rock stars. One colleague pined, “he was the man who knew everyone.”
Vidal was a wildly controversial figure, no doubt. Audiences — those who cared enough about society and culture to follow his ceaseless parade of provocation, now increasingly dissolved in what’s spawned into a grotesque 140-character Twitterized world — would describe his ideas as eccentric and hopelessly out of touch.
As if that’s a “bad thing.”
To the contrary. We need more eccentrics. We need more thinkers who are out of touch. And, we need more Gore Vidals. And sadly, we now have one less.
The intent of a great writer and meaningful prose should not be — to be right all the time. Writing, discussion, debate, inquiry, and ultimately provocation is not about prim and proper conformity to expectations and comfort zones. Indeed, great writers should shun such a horrifying prospect. You will forgive me for admitted bias, but whatever inside the box “is,” the thinker should be standing on the outside and perhaps as far away from the middle as possible. And few stood any further from the apex of old-fashioned traditions as Gore Vidal.
Indeed, great writer does not necessarily implant what one must think. But he (or she) should inspire one TO THINK.
There is a profound difference. And no one understood that different better than Vidal and his fellow lions of intellect.
Gore Vidal did plenty of thinking, urging others to contemplate their own existence, their own sense of right and wrong, during an 86-year adventure, ultimately a fruitful life filled with the handiwork of books, plays , articles, essays , debate appearances, speeches, and participation in all forums which encouraged the free exchange of ideas.
This has been a tough year for writers, no doubt. Eight months ago, we lost Christopher Hitchens, a thinker of extraordinary immensity. Now, we have lost another.
Although I never met Vidal, I think of myself as someone who knew him — through his words and ideas. Perhaps his greatest contribution and of those like him was to inspire others to carry on and push the envelope of ideas, to challenge conventionalism, and blaze new paths towards enlightenment.
Marieta and Nolan visit a favorite restaurant in South Florida — “Michelle Bernstein’s,” located in Palm Beach.
V: SINGER ISLAND — IN SEARCH OF BLACK TAIL
With Orlando mercifully in the rear-view mirror, it’s a two-hour drive south to West Palm Beach. The game plan is to relax on the sandy beaches of the coast for a few days and then begin a two-week work assignment, when the WSOP Circuit starts in mid-February.
During my previous visits to the West Palm Beach area, we always stayed on Singer Island, which is an exclusive coastal causeway of ritzy hotels and condos located just north of the city. It’s basically a giant retirement home for people with money. The sad fact is, however — every time I’ve gone onto Singer Island since, there are at least a half a dozen construction cranes destroying what was once an uncrowded pristine beach, turning into another Miami. Now, it’s pretty much wall to wall whitewashed high rises stacked along the ocean side, which makes me sad.
Unfortunately, the hotel prices have gotten so fucking ridiculous on Singer island that I can’t afford to stay there anymore. In the past, it’s always been around$150 a night, for a four-star hotel on the beach. Now, double that as the rack rate. And that’s the rate for a room facing the street on the second floor over the loading dock. It gets worse. Now, these fucking hotels charge you EXTRA for — an ocean view, a pool view, parking, and a refrigerator. Shameless thieves double the prices on the rooms and then try to double whack you with the extras.
During my preparations, I obsessed over a dozen websites looking for good hotel deals, to no avail. My previous favorite was the Hilton Singer Island, which I always thought was a good deal and location during my four previous stays there. This time, they wanted $279 a night plus tax, plus the extras. I figured five nights meant about $1,500, which is way over budget. So, I basically said SCREW THEM, and decided that Marieta and I would instead stay on Juno Beach, which is about four miles due north.
In short, Juno Island is NOW what Singer Island was ten years ago. Which means the greedy bloodsucking developers are eventually going to skull fuck it to death over the next decade until they milk every dollar out of the sand. Then, they’ll move on up to Jupiter, and so forth and so on. That’s how the game works. They call that “progress.”
This photo was taken in December 1989, just after the Romanian Revolution. I’m standing In front of Casa Republicii (House of the Republic) in Central Bucharest a short time after the fall of Nicolae Ceasescu. Casa Republicii, then under construction, was to be the new government center for the Romanian Communist Party. Ceausescu oversaw its construction personally, which essentially bankrupted the nation. It still stands as the world’s largest office building. But he never saw it completed. He was shot by a firing squad on Christmas Day in 1989.
Note to Readers: Thanks for coming and visiting my site. This week, I’m playing in several poker events here in Las Vegas (BARGE 2012). Accordingly, I’ll be posting an unpublished series of trip reports from earlier this year. Next week, I’ll begin a new series on the events that led up to the 1989 Romanian Revolution and the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. This will be the first time I have shared my experiences of living in Romania during this period. I’ll also be posting many photographs, which have not been seen publicly. Over the next month, look for commentary on politics, religion, and just about any topic this happens to pop into my twisted mind that day.
Each and every time I must endure a trip to Florida, I’m reminded of the musings of writer Dave Barry.
Barry is (in)famous for his witty non-stop Florida-bashing. Since Barry actually resides in South Florida, he gets away with offending just about everyone in the Sunshine State. For two decades, Barry was a writer for The Miami Herald, penning a masterful column that was eventually nationally syndicated. Barry’s writings were routinely infused with humor at the expense of all the gator-skinned sun-baked Floridians — which he characterizes as doddering elderly, angry Cuban exiles, and crazed dope dealers all entwined in chaotic bliss. Okay, so actually that’s *my* characterization — not his.
I suspect that Barry got away with much of what he wrote largely because he’s one of “them.” It’s sort of like a family, or a fraternity, or a minority group. You can’t criticize and be funny at anyone’s expense without actually being a member of the crazy family.