Jonathan Revusky was in Philly for a few days, and I had a great time showing Jon around. We went to Kensington, Fishtown, Camden, Point Breeze, Little Cambodia and Rittenhouse Square, all but the last at the sinking end of the economic scale, places I’m well familiar with. At Jack’s Famous Bar, we ordered a cheesesteak and a roast beef sandwich for just $4 each, my kind of price, and I thought our lunch excellent. In Camden, I steered Jon to a bodega where a cheesesteak was just $3.50. Jon said, “I would never have walked into a place like that, if I wasn’t with you.” Most Americans wouldn’t go to Camden, period, even if you paid them.
Jon also introduced me to an alien Philadelphia, for he treated me to fancy joints like Paradiso Italian restaurant and Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steak House. When you can burn a Ben Franklin for dinner, life certainly becomes so much more civilized and soothing, and the lower class is mostly reduced to beautiful and smiling servers. “Is there anything else I can get you?” beamed the wholesome, slim waitress with the cute dimples.
Though living comfortably in Spain, Jon is well aware that his homeland is in steep decline. Unlike me, he’s not so sure there will be civil unrest, “I go to places like Brazil, with its vast favelas, and the poor people do carry on. Perhaps Americans will just become poorer and poorer, and get used to it.”
As we strolled past Center City’s best collection of chi-chi shops and restaurants, Jon remarked, “Any top-tier Chinese city, like Shanghai, Shenzen, Guangzhou, etc., is, in most respects, so vastly superior to any American city at this point, it’s crazy. Not only do Americans not know this, but, as you pointed out, some would even get violently enraged at you if you said this. You mean this isn’t the best place in the world??!!”
Campaigning, Trump said, “Our airports are like from a third-world country,” not that anything is going to be done about it, for we’re worse than broke. Living in a near continent-sized country, it’s not easy to experience any other nation’s achievements, so few Americans have had a chance to be awed, say, by Berlin’s Central Rail Station or Seoul’s Incheon Airport.
After Jon left, I returned to one of the bars we hit to interview a bartender I’d known for a while. I thought of Katy because she had spent a decade mingling with the rich, if only as a server. As a housecleaner for many years, I did the same.
Katy agreed to talk if I would neither photograph her nor name her Center City bar. Deal!
I was born in Frankford. I went to a Catholic grade school, St. Joachim. I read, four years ago, one of the most horrific stories ever. This girl was coming home from the bus. She’s walking down Church Street, past St. Joachim. She was pulled into the school yard and raped, brutally. When the police found her, they said she was unrecognizable. It was one of the worst brutalities they had ever seen. She was in a coma for three weeks. Not only that, he gave her AIDS.
I remember reading this article and thinking, This is where I grew up. This is where I spent the first eight years of my life. Frankford is like Compton now.
I went to Little Flower, then FrankfordHigh School. It was lame growing up in the Northeast. I had no favorite subjects.
I love music. Both of my parents were jazz musicians. My mother was a jazz singer. She was so awesome! My father played drums. He was pretty well known in South Philly.
I came out of the womb with music, although I never played anything, which is kind of odd. I can sing a little. I love Miss Ella.
I went down to Delaware Avenue to hang out when I was 18. I started to bartend. I worked at the Aztec. I came in, I applied and that was it. I also worked at Rock Lobster.
It was really good money. I liked the diversity of people. It was a little glamorous. I got to meet a lot of people. At a restaurant, you don’t have to wait for a table after a while, because you may have waited on that waiter. Things like that.
I broke my toe. I was working at Rock Lobster, and I was limping. This guy went, “What’s wrong?” It turned out he was a foot doctor. I said I didn’t have any insurance. He said, “Don’t worry about it.” He operated on my toe, everything, and all for free!
I used to be really wild. I did a lot of drugs.
My friend was a bartender at the Cave. They had male strippers in the back, lots of bachelorette parties. It’s so fuckin’ hilarious. This lady, she tipped him a ten-dollar food stamp!
My manager was meeting a girl after work. She lived in Gladwyne. It’s, like, the most prestigious area in Philly. Very, very money oriented. He just smoked a bowl, so he’s a little paranoid. He thought he was going to get pulled over because he was black. They went through these back roads. He said, “What are these three Great Danes doing in the middle of the road?” They were deer! He was a manager at one of the hottest clubs, so he got a lot of ass. Ha, ha!
During the Blizzard of ’93, I went to Miami for a vacation and decided I was going to stay. I still have tons of friends down there.
You’re just in a better mood when it’s sunny out every day. When you have such a bad winter, and everything’s gray, gray, the sky, and there’s black snow on the ground, and it’s piled up, you know what I mean, and it’s freezing. You go to Miami, and it’s bright! Instead of pigeons outside, you see two dozen parrots. It’s beautiful.
I was a cocktail waitress at the number one club in the United States. It’s called the Velvet. They’re actually doing a documentary about it. It was so crowded, people would wait for hours to get in. It’s so bizarre.
We had the Money Party on Monday nights. You paid the cover, and everybody received an x amount in fake money. It was, like, anything goes. Whoever accumulated the most fake money at the end of the night won a grand prize. People would do the craziest things. Let’s put it this way, no cameras allowed! Girls would be going at it, on the bar. People would get naked. It was out of control.
We had a room called the Blue Room. One day, the Sugarhill Gang came in, so the DJ put their song on. There were, like, 14 of us in the room. He got up and he went, “See, I am Wonder Mike, and I’d like to say hello! To the black, to the white, the red and the brown, the purple and yellow!” He picked up my hand and he started singing it, so I was, like, with the lead singer of this band. It was so fuckin’ awesome! He was singing to me.
I met Charlie Sheen. He was so down-to-earth. I loved him. He’s one of my favorite people, as far as, like, famous. He started telling me jokes, and if I laughed, he gave me 20 bucks. Then I had to start telling him jokes. If he laughed, he would give me 50 bucks!
A lot of them were cheap. John Cusack was cheap. Charles Barkley was a good tipper. Dave Grohl, of the Foo Fighters, would tip people a thousand dollars.