The 3 Stooges Visit Philly
Tom, Dave & Amy's Killa Thrilla in Philla
(July 31, 2010)
Having broken my Philadelphia cherry a few weeks ago when I drove up to see Brian May's book-signing at the Free Library of Philadelphia - and thoroughly enjoying the experience - I suggested to my girlfriend Amy and my world-traveling pal Dave Cawley (aka "King of Men," "Unofficial Mayor of Cockeysville," and honorary "Chairman of the Bored" of Borders Books in Timonium) that we repeat the experience by taking a Saturday daytrip there to explore more of the Eastern seaboard's Cheesesteak, Creamcheese & Hoagie Capital. The Phillies were out of town and the weekend date meant that we wouldn't have to navigate through downtown weekday rush hour traffic, so I figured, why not see more of the City of Brotherly Love (aka the Birthplace of America, The Cradle of Liberty, Quaker City, and The Town Tom Warner Is Ashamedly Unfamiliar With)? So, armed with a cooler full of beverages, some Tommy Keene CDs, my GPS (because even driving on I-95, my pathfinder skills are only slightly better than Amy and Dave's borderline vertigo/autistic directional sense), and an Akira Kurosawa biography to keep the perpetually chatty Dave Cawley occupied during the two hour drive, we set off at 9 a.m. Our primary target and first order of the day was the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, better known as the Mütter Museum, on 22nd and Market Street.
After finding street parking near the Trader Joe's on 22nd Street, we ran into a couple who were participating in that day's "PhilAmazing Race" (aka "City Chase"), a localized version of the popular TV show The Amazing Race, in which contestants had to race all over the city (traveling only by foot or public transportation) to follow clues, complete challenges,and take photos at checkpoints.
Looking for clues: "City Chase" contestants queuing up
The scavenger hunt-cum-race event started at a nearby pub on Market Street, and one of the first pitstops to look for clues was...the Mütter Museum! And one of the "team challenges" was to ask a stranger to sing the National Anthem...thus, when we stopped to ask two contestants where the Mütter Museum was, they asked us if we would sing the National Anthem while they videotaped it on their iPhone. Which we proceeded to do; you don't have to twist "Karaoke King" Dave Cawley's arm to sing a ditty at the drop of a hat, and he led our tuneless trio in a rousingly off-key version of the Francis Scott Key classic, which will no doubt pop up somewhere in YouTube cyberspace. (Just Google "retards," "national anthem" and "Philadelphia"!)
"Hey, you got a bonus by asking us!" I told the couple. "We're Baltimorons - you got natives of the town where our homeboy Francis Scott Key wrote the song...you should get extra credit!"
A gaggle of "City Chase" contestants were gathered on the steps in front of the museum. Knowing that Amy and Dave Cawley were not exactly Diane Arbus or Audrey Bodine when it came to taking pictures, I asked a young Amazing Racer gal if she would snap a photo op of us.
Tom & Amy outside Mütter Museum
(taken by a stranger who, unlike Dave
and Amy, actually knew how to work a camera!)
The results were professional as I knew they would be, for today's gadget-savvy youth take to digital technology like ducks to water.
Dave looks dour, Amy looks excited as they
prepare to take on the horrors of medical science
inside the Mütter Museum - the perfect way to work
up an appetite for a big lunch!
"C'mon, Warner!" Dave bellows. "Let's get this Atrocity
Exhibit over with so I can look for unlicensed Ultraman
toys and Mazinger comics in Chinatown!"
We Pütter 'round the Mütter
The Mütter Museum
The College of Physcians of Philadelphia
19 S. 22nd St., Philadelphia, PA
Mütter Museum: A picture is worth a thousand repulsive words!
Wow, what a great museum of medical anomalies and atrocities! Anyone who appreciated Baltimore's old American Dime Museum or James Taylor's Shocked and Amazed mag would feel right at home here (in fact, I felt like I was in James Taylor 's house!). Though I had heard about this place for years from Scott Huffines, who always used to sell out of the popular Mütter calendars at the his old Atomic Books store on Maryland Avenue (where erstwhile Mütter director Greta Worden - who passed away in 2004 - once gave a slideshow presentation ), this was my first sally forth into its hallowed halls of "terrifying beauty" and curioddities.
While the banner outside advertises the Mütter as "advancing the cause of health and upholding the advances of medicine," I prefer the layman's description offered by the folks at Roadside America:
The Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia promises -- and delivers -- an afternoon of esoteric and incredible sights. The sophisticated, high-ceilinged gallery that houses this collection of medical monstrosities helps us rationalize our interest in it. Designed for perusal by present and future members of a dignified overpaid profession, the museum is two floors of dark wood-trimmed display cases with a library-like stateliness. Shouts of "Will ya look at this MONSTER BABY?" are entirely inappropriate.
(Read RoadsideAmerica.com's full Mutter Museum review.)
Words cannot suffice to explain all the cool stuff here, but there's a cool virtual tour of the museum on their web page and the Travel Channel did a nice segment as well (as shown below).
Watch "Strange Medical Mysteries, Part 1" (Travel Channel)
Watch "Strange Medical Mysteries, Part 2" (Travel Channel)
Dave Cawley was really grossed out by the syphillis displays upstairs and suddenly had an urge to watch his hands (and probably his eyeballs!). "Hitting a little too close to home, eh Dave?" I asked, sympathetically, as he winced and fidgeted uncomfortably.
Yes, we came, we saw, and we grimaced, but for my money, my fave exhibit has to be the Giant Colon exhibit downstairs (aka Mega Colon or Hirschprung's Disease).
Giant Colon and...
...Jabba the Hut - Separated at Birth?
This condition occurs when the nerve supply to a portion of the colon fails to develop. The muscles receive no signals to contract and move waste through the system, causing "chronic constipation" (aka Big Loads - I'm sure you've seen the signs on bridges and highways and naively assumed it referred to trucks) that leads to over-development of the colon.
For years I myself suffered from a bloated colon (TMI?) until I discovered the one-two punch of 1) Metamucil and 2) the good old Coffee/Banana combo that unclogs clogged pipes faster than Liquid Plumber. Yup, I could have helped this man! But, admittedly, this one would have taken a major dose of Colon Blow to fix!
Truth be told, the colon kind of reminded me of some of the entrees I've seen at Korean barbecue restaurants, where every part of a cow or pig finds its way onto the menu. Hmmmmm...or maybe I was just getting hungry!
A hungry Tom snarfs a slice of Mega Colon into his pie-hole
"Me like Mega Colon too!" says Amy. "It looks like kalbi short ribs!"
(To learn more fascinating facts about my colon (TMI redux?), be sure to check out my "Deep Inside Tom Warner" colonoscopy photo set on Facebook!)
Also downstairs were the displays of preserved baby fetuses (aka "pickled punks"), conjoined twins (including the famous Chang and Eng!), and some preserved face peels that were way creepish! (They reminded me of that Doctor Who episode where the only remaining "human" Earthling was a partial face mask connected to a bunch of tubes and machinery - it kinda looked like Joan Rivers, come to think of it!)
This face was tres a-peeling!
Believe it (or not!), there's is also a section here containing bound books, wallets and leather hides made from human skin. Yup. Apparently, some 19th century narcissists considered it an honor to have their their skin turned into leather, a condition continued today by actor George Hamilton and House Minority Leader John Boehner.
But Amy's favorites were the drawers full of miscellaneous objects that people had accidentally swallowed - including toys, jacks, and game pieces - and had removed. Over 2,300 objects fill these drawers, officially called "The Chevalier Jackson Collection." Most impressive, I must say, but I'd really be impressed if they also had a drawer full of objects removed from people's butts!
On our way out, we passed through the Mütter gift shop (full disclosure: Amy and I really only visit museums as an excuse to buy stuff in their gift shops!) and fought the urge to splurge on items like Soap-Lady-on-a-Rope (a Scott Huffines recommended purchase!) and posters explaining the menstrual cycle (shown below)...
...and the dangers of poison (it kills!).
We opted instead to get the cheapo Mütter buttons that just have the letter U topped by an ümlaut (after all, ümlauts are pretty important - without them, Stieg Larsson couldn't have written his "The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut"!).
We told the friendly cashier that we were from Baltimore, and she exclaimed, "I love Baltimore! I went to MICA and lived there for two years." Small world, huh?
Leaving the Mütter, we noticed it was smack in the middle of a little porno district, with video stores on one side of Market Street and something called the Adult Film Forum on the other (two shows daily - it reminded me of Baltimore's Apex in Fells Point!).
"Hey guys, can we check out these medical anomalies next?" Tom asks,
standing in front of Adult Video World, but Amy and Dave declined,
fearing there might be Mega Colon-sized genitals on display
We then drove around for ages looking for parking near our next destination, Chinatown and realized, parking is expensive in Philly! Oh well, Big (Spenda) Dave Cawley pulled out his money wad like a flashy Vegas high roller and said "This exhorbitantly priced car park is on me, 'cuz that's how I roll!" as he graciously agreed to the wallet-gouging $20 all-day parking tithe at some lot. Locking up the car, we put boots on the ground and headed down the street.
"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
At last we reached Chinatown at (the appropriately named) Race and 10th Street! Ah, Chinatown! So many sights, sounds, smells, and distractions on offer for our threesome of avowed Asiaphiles and Sinophiles!
Tom goes native in Chinatown; the naives were not amused
Yes, while Amy called out the names of all the diverse Chinese, Vietnamese - and even Burmese! - foods on offer, Dave and I pretended not to notice the VPL (an almost lost phenomenon in this post-Sisqo "Thong Age") on the attractive mother walking ahead of us (a diaphanous distraction in white jeans if ever there was one)...
VPL in Chinatown: always a distraction to sightseers
...until her gruff-looking husband joined her and we wisely turned our attention once again to the street vendors. I studied the faces of passersby and, still recoiling from the trauma of the Mütter Museum's STD display, automatically assumed that anybody with a pimply face was exhibiting tell-tale signs of first-stage syphillis.
When we spotted a big store called Shanghai Bazaar, it looked like a promising place to shop for knick-knacks, so in we went...
Shanghai Bazaar/New China Book Store
1016 Race St, Philadelphia, PA
Shanghai Bazaar in Chinatown: Like NYC's Pearl River,
this place was a treasure trove of geegaws and tchotkes!
This place really reminded us of NYC's Pearl River store in Manhattan's Chinatown. While Amy started looking for gifts for her Japanese mother who, after years of complaining that "The Chinese were very mean to us after the war" (gee, I can't imagine why!), has suddenly become a Sinophile since she started watching Chinese television (for some reason her mom's regular antenna-signal TV picks up international channels in her Dundalk home; I pay a frickin' fortune each month in cable TV bills and all I get is 725 channels of crap - go figure!), I looked through the dollar bins of lookalike Cantopop and Beijing Idol singer stickers - and noticed that a sticker set for David Beckham went for $3 (the man has international cachet, what can I say?).
"Hey Tom, look at this!" Dave Cawley called out, pointing out a comic book of my favorite red-headed Belgian boy reporter, Tintin - dyslexically renamed here Nitnit! (Hmmmm, is it because the Chinese read right to left, mirror-image like?)
Dyslexic Chinese call Tintin "Nitnit"
Upstairs was a place called New China Book Store (www.xinhuabooks.com, 215-627-4507), where Dave and I scoured the shelves for Chinese movies and music. I noticed two attractive girls named "The Twins" seemed to be the most prevalent and popular Cantopop chanteusses...meanwhile, over in the DVD bootlegs department, Dave was looking through the Hong Kong action and martial arts movies. A helpful clerk who spoke fluent English came over to assist us.
"What kind of movies you like?" he asked. "Kung-fu? Gangster?" When we mentioned a few names and genres, he instantly handed me the Andy Lau crime film The Protege ("I saw that one in the theater when I was in Hong Kong!" Dave exclaimed, enthusiastically) and four Donnie Yen martial arts movies, including the one Dave Cawley had been raving about for ages: Ip Man. Donnie Yen (Iron Monkey) portrays the Wing Chun master from Fo Shan who fought the Japanese, survived World War II, and moved to Hong Kong - where he set up a kung-fu school in the early '60s; one of his most famous students was the legendary Bruce Lee! Bythe way, just to make things confusing for us gwailos, Ip Man is also known as Yip Man. (Dave and I both picked up Ip Man and were wowed by the quality; though a digital dupe, it was a beautiful letterbox edition with choice of English and Mandarin subtitles. Yessir, when it comes to bootlegs, the Chinese are world class!)
Got a yen for Yen? Look no further!
I also got Ip Man 2, a pan-and-scan (and historically inaccurate) sequel which isn't nearly as good and substitutes racist British colonists in Hong Kong for the Japanese as the film's villains. And though it's entitled Ip Man 2, all the subtitles refer to its star as Yip Man (admittedly a minor quibble, but yet another inconsistency between the original and sequel). Still, it's a Donnie Yen martial arts film. It's good to see Donnie getting his due, as well as Andy Lau; when all the big stars (Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Chow Yun-Fat, Maggie Cheung, Michelle Yeoh) left Hong Kong following the 1997 handover to mainland China, these two remained to prosper in their native film industry.
Later I asked the Chinese clerk about The Twins and realized I had confused them with another photogenic Cantopop duo The 2Rs - Race and Roseanne Wong - who starred in the Pang Brothers' surface-pretty-but-shallow horror flick Ab-normal Beauty.
The Twins: Charlene and Gillian
The 2Rs: Race and Roseanne
Though the 2Rs are sometimes called "The Twins" because they are sisters, The Twins are, in fact, Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin and Gillian Chung Yan-Tung, are are well-known to all Chinese people thanks to the Edison Chen sex scandal (he took some racy photos of his one-time paramour Gillian!). Yes, I learned that two Wongs do not make a right Twins! Boy, this New China Books Store guy sure knew his stuff! (And aren't you glad I clarified this misunderstanding about singing groups you probably have zero interest in? You're welcome!)
Finally sated with our wares, we headed back to the streets to look for food as it was getting on towards 3 o'clock. Neither Dave nor I had consumed anything other than coffee that day (what else is new?), and the perpetually hungry Amy was starting to get hungry signals in her stomach as well. We walked around for ages as I waffled over eateries...I had a outdated Frommer's guide book that listed restaurants that either weren't around or were closed for renovations. We eventually ended up at the pan-Asian menu stop, Sakura Mandarin (1038 Race Street, corner of Race and 10th Street, 215-873-8338) because it looked crowded (always a good sign) and looked to offer everything from sushi to dim sum.
Sakura Mandarin @ Race and 10th Street
Since Amy and I already had leftover Chinese food in the fridge back home, we opted for sushi, while Dave - initially dejected by the the menu's omission of his beloved Hunan Chicken - was pleasantly surprised by his subsitute platter of sticky sweet Sesame Chicken and brown rice.
"My mom says only peasants eat brown rice in Japan," Amy observed, amused that in America it's more expensive (at least going by Whole Foods prices!) and considered healthier. It sure didn't deter the ravenous Dave Cawley, who immediately joined the Clean Plate Club before disappearing to complete his OCD ritual with a rigorous handwashing worthy of Pontius Pilate in the restaurant bathroom. (Reminds me...I think Pontius & The Pilots was a one-time band name Dave and Scott Wallace Brown considered for their theoretical mod band.)
Though the place is called Sakura Mandarin, the menu is dominated by Shanghai and Cantonese food, and probably run by a Cantonese staff. That's why our waitress understood Dave when he said thanks in Cantonese ("Dor-jeh!"). (Oh that Dave - an international charmer!) (Click here to read the Philadephia Inquirer's review of Sakura mandarin.)
Finally sated with our food, we decided to walk it off by heading down to the South Street shopping district we had heard so much about. Dave had been there before, but he thought it was called Broad Street, so we walked over toward that street, made a fortuitous turn left and southward and tried our hand at human GPS-ing.
Municipal Services Building - Penn Square at Center City
Walking north past City Hall we saw the cool sculptures and fun art installations adorning the Municipal Services Building Plaza (aka Penn Square at Center City). This large plaza is a tourist magnet (not to mention a mecca for breakdancers - we saw a gifted dude do one-handed cockscrews and Marine pushups to the beat of a boombox while there), and understandably so with sculptures by Jacques Lipchitz, Zenos Frudakis, and Joe Brown. Our fave was the art installation by Daniel Martinez, Renee Peteropolis, and Roger White called "Your Move"; this 1996 work features giant-sized game board pieces from Sorry/Parcheesi, Monopoly, chess, checkers and dominoes. (Now if I saw these in the Mütter Museum's drawer of ingested objects, I'd REALLY be impressed!)
"Are those blue things land mines?" asks a hesistant
Amy as she navigates the game board pieces
"Look sweetie," Amy says. "It's the Domino Theory!"
Amy's on top of her game abreast of the Monopoly Top Hat
"We're not in Chinatown anymore Amy," Tom says.
"So can I please put down this rickshaw?"
Hats off to Big Dave Cawley!
"Now I just need a MAN of Iron!"
Ironing out the kinks: "I finally found something
to straighten my hair with," says Amy.
Jacques Lipschitz called his 1976 piece "Government by the People";
I call it "Clusterfuck" because it looks like Sexual Congress is in session!
"Ben Franklin, Craftsman" by Joe Brown (1981).
Ben also crafted the Ben Franklin Five & Dime discount stores.
Dave Cawley "King of Men" shows off
his Pawn-crushing kung-fu stance
You'll be Sorry!: Area man pleasures himself
atop giant Parcheesi-shaped butt-plug
This young hottie pressed all the right buttons
(if y'know what I mean - and I think you do)!
(But she wimped out when I asked her to
straddle the Parcheesi piece! Hmmpfft, I
thought girls just wanted to have fun!
Dave Cawley seemed fascinated by Zeno Frudakis' Soviet-style homage to lovable warm-and-fuzzy former Mayor of Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo.
"Let's see who's the tough guy now, Rizzo!" he taunted Frudakis' 1998 sculpture, wisely clenching his fist of steel and striking the man of marble.
"OK, here goes..."
"Take that Rizzo baby!"
Long Day's Journey into Blight
In City Center, we asked a hotel bellhop how far away South Street was, and he said it was about 10 blocks, easily accessible for three fit adults like ourselves (even if Amy's hip was sore and I had a sore hamstring and two-mile-day-jogger Dave Cawley was wearing his "fashionista Pumas" that didn't provide him with much arch support but looked cool - and guaranteed blisters the next day). Somehow we completely missed South Street and continued walking past this allegedly hip neigborhood straight into an increasingly depressing looking stretch of urban blight.
We passed this bustop in South Philly
"I'm getting an uncomfortable vibe here," I told Amy and Dave as we passed a Popeye's, then a McDonald's, then a check cashing joint, then a "Gold Exchange" joint, then a Bail Bondsman building. "I think we're in some sort of barrio, oh no, I think we're in the 'Hood!"
As we walked farther and farther past abandoned store fronts and litter-strewn streets, I started to feel like Marlow/Willard heading further upriver in Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now. The horror...the horror!
Finally I stopped two non-threatening looking Latina mothers who were armed only with bambinos-in-strollers if they knew where South Street was, and they kindly pointed us about 10 blocks in the opposite direction. Ooooops! Gracias senoritas! As my GPS would say, "Recalculating..."
Pickup on South Street
Our long day's journey out of blight reached fruition when, after following the mamacitas' helpful directions, we finally saw the blaringly obvious sign for South Street that we had so blithely ignored half an hour earlier. (For future reference, we'll be sure to check out the area's official web site, www.southstreet.com, the next time we go!)
Philadelphia's South Street is kind of like what you'd get if you merged Baltimore's Hampden (for artsy-fartsy hipness), Fells Point (for college-friendly bars), and Canton (for the Yuppie Consumer Aesthetic, represented here by Starbucks, Trader Joe's, and pricey high-end boutiques) neighborhoods and added a pinch more cultural diversity. The diversity here is seen in the half-dozen or so Rastafarian craft, music, and braiding stores we passed (which elicited cries of "Hmmpfft, I smell pachouli!" and an upturned nose from Dave Cawley), a few Irish pubs near the Society Hill end of South Street, and even one German bierhall called Brauhaus Schmitz at 718 South St Philadelphia (267-909-8814).
Brauhaus Schmitz: Philly's only German bierhall/restaurant
The latter brew-and-bratwurst bistro seemed to strangely fascinate Amy. (What is it about the Japanese and their German beerhall fascination? Even, in her case, Japanese-Americans from Baltimore's Dundalk Prefecture?) Her interest reminded me of that scene in Hiroshi Teshigahara's The Face of Another in which the alienated protagonist (the great Tatsuya Nakadai) goes downing beer steins at the famous Sapporo Lion Beer Hall in Tokyo's Ginza district. East is East, West is West, and only in beerhaus suds the 'twain shall meet? I dunno, but when I later mentioned the Sapporo Lion brewhaus, Amy said that she had actually been there on her last trip to Nippon with her folks and that it was every bit as kitschy as one would expect a place with frail Japanese women dressed up as German frauleins and carrying beer steins bigger than their heads to be.
The cultural diversity even extends to superheroes, as we spotted homages to The Dark Knight everywhere in this I-95 North Gotham.
Tiny Tom and Big Dave send out the Bat Signal!
Dave asks Batman for tips on where to find Philly's best cheesesteak sub; "I'm a vegetarian myself, good citizen" Batman confesses, "But the Boy Wonder raves about the ones at the 'Red Robin' burger chain!"
The Batman sightings meant we were near a comic book store, always a magnet to Dave Cawley. We stopped in a really cool one called Atomic City Comics.
Atomic City Comics
638 South Street, Philadelphia PA
Atomic is a blast!
I was really impressed by this place, which in addition to tons of American comics from indies like Dark Horse and Fantagraphics and the Marvel/DC empires, seemed to have every conceivable Japanese manga in its manga/graphic novels section.
"Wow, this is the best comic store I've ever been in," I blurted, but otaku fanboy Dave, while impressed, reserves such high praise only for places like the Rotunda's Comic Kingdom (or whatever it's called) back in Baltimore - or his own bursting-to-the-seams home library collection. Regardless, I told the kid behind the counter, "You know, in Baltimore we have a place called Atomic Books that is similar to this store, but with non-comic books as well. But both are worthy bearers of the Atomic name-brand!" He thanked me and seemed interested to check out our Atomic Books.
We left and continued our South Street tour...following are some more highlights.
538 South Street, Philadelphia PA
"Record stores can't save your life. But they can give you a better one."
- Nick Hornby, High Infidelity
It's funny, when we passed this new-and-used record store (with new-and-used CDs as well) on South Street, I thought, what the heck, might as well continue my lifelong search for Tommy Keene's first album Strange Alliance. Who knows - you never know what might turn up in a used record store, right? Well, upon stepping into this funky little shop of some 3,000 LPs and CDs (which reminded me of Baltimore's True Vine Records in our Hipster Arts Mecca, Hampden), I found not one but two Tommy Keene records! Alas, neither was Strange Alliance (the quest continues!), but one of them was Tommy's long out-of-print rarity, a vinyl copy of his Places That Are Gone EP (Dolphin, 1984).
Score! The much-coveted "Places That Are Gone" EP!
"Wow," I exclaimed, while Amy was looking through the bins for Turtles records, "And it's only 5 bucks!" Nick Hornby was right; record stores can give you a better life!
Sensing my glee, the girl behind the counter pipped, "Oh yeah, Tommy Keene. Doesn't he have a new record out?" Initially, I was amazed that someone outside of the Washington-Baltimore corridor had actually heard of Tommy Keene. When she asked if we were from the DC area like Keene, I told her that we were Baltimorons.
"Really, I love Baltimore," the record store girl replied. "I lived there for a while, in Hampden." Cool, I thought: our second Baltimore ex-pat living-in-Philly-but-fondly-remembering-Charm-City sighting of the day. Too bad this wasn't one of the scavenger hunt challenges in that day's "City Chase" race; we might have won!
We looked around some more and I thought, no matter how convenient digital technology and the Internet have made it to download, buy and share music, independent record stores are still da shizzle (and no, I'm not referring to a menu item at Brauhaus Schmitz!), the places that people remember like a second home. Like Chick's Records in Mount Washington...As Joan Jett once mused on National Record Day, "The indie record stores are the backbone of the recorded music culture. It's where we go to network, browse around, and find new songs to love. The stores whose owners and staff live for music have spread the word about exciting new things faster and with more essence than either radio or the press. Any artist that doesn't support the wonderful ma and pa record stores across America is contributing to our own extinction." To which Shelby Lynne adds the irrefutable self-evident truism: "You can't roll a joint on an iPod - buy vinyl!"
Plopping my record into Amy's ever-handy Baggu reusable totebag, we bid the Repo Record girl adieu...
This isn't the Repo Record girl, but it could be...maybe...after hours
(OK, I just like this picture, so please willingly suspend your disbelief!)
...and headed back down South Street to take in more sights, sounds, and smells. And one of the first smells we smelt was a little whiff of Paradise at the corner of South and 3rd I like to call Jon's Bar & Grille - "The Birthplace of Larry Fine"!
Jon's Bar & Grille
606 South Street, Philadephia PA
"Birthplace of Larry": Jon's Bar & Grille on 3rd & South Street
"Ohmigod!" Amy said. "I know you want to go in here!" Yes, it was true. "The Middle Stooge" Larry Fine (1902-1975) was born to a Jewish family as Louis Feinberg in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the corner of 3rd and South Streets. And the building there is now a restaurant that proudly hails itself as "the birth place of Larry Fine" - though it's probably not the actual building where he was born (that would be the hospital!) but where he was reared. A friendly waitress, sensing our excitement, got the mistaken impression that we were Stooges Pilgrims who had traveled all the way from Baltimore to pay homage to the Mecca of Larry Fine - which was "fine" by us - but she kindly took great pains to give us a tour of the place, even pointing to the bathroom area, which she claimed was literally the spot where his mother passed water (hmmmm...I think she got her waters mixed up!) (Though Dave and I were tempted to visit the men's room, we were afraid we'd risk blaspheming Larry's arrival into this cruel world if we urinated over his sacred birth spot.) Upstairs we saw the gift shop and I had to purchase a Larry t-shirt that fit me perfectly (which is to say, it was a Lady's Large tee!) (I love a good snug fit!).
Of Larry, Stooge fan Peter Farrelly (of Farrelly Brothers fame) once observed that "Growing up, first you watched Curly, then Moe, and then your eyes got to Larry. He’s the reactor, the most vulnerable. Five to fourteen, Curly; fourteen to twenty-one, Moe. Anyone out of college, if you’re not looking at Larry, you don’t have a good brain."
The ladies diddled when Larry fiddled around
Yup, that's Larry: The Thinking Man's Stooge. The Ego to Moe's Superego and Curly's Id. The Buffer. And, of course, the Chick Magnet (he was, after all, the musician of the trio, having started out playing his violin in vaudeville, a veritable Fiddler on the Hoof!). Even our waitress at Jon's Bar & Grille agreed - when pressed (uncomfortably) - that Larry was the Stooge she would most likely have carnal relations with. That is, if he were still alive and she lived in a future post-Nuclear Apocalyptic world in which almost all living creatures were wiped out and it was absolutely necessary in order to further the human species. (Oh, and only then if he was quick about it.)
Hmmmmm...This conversation made me realize that I don't think any two people on Earth have ever contemplated the sex lives of The Three Stooges more than Dave Cawley and I...I recalled a similar discussion years ago at a New Jersey horror convention with me, Dave, Lovely Lisa Petrucci of Tease magazine and Something Weird Video fame, and Cult Movies Editor Buddy Barnett about Dave fave Joe Besser, a latter-day post-Curly Stooge - whose autobiography (Not Just a Stooge) has been read by Dave Cawley not just once-in-a-lifetime but repeatedly (!). While pondering which Stooge most women wanted to sleep with (Larry again placing high on the list!), Stoogeologist Buddy Barnett opined that "I'm not even sure Joe Besser's wife had sex with him!" Ouch!
Two blocks down at 400 South Street, we passed a huge line that curled around the corner farther than the autograph queue we had waited in during Brian May's book-signing a few weeks back at the Free Library of Philadelphia. It was a line waiting patiently to be admitted to Jim's Steaks, the eatery that apparently settled the debate over where to find Philly's best cheeseteak sub. The people clearly have spoken, and they sure have many options to choose from - there are 13 places to get cheesesteaks just on South Street and roughly 2,000 more all over the metropolitan area!
According to its web site (www.jimssteaks.com), Jim's Steaks has been a local tradition since it opened in 1939, and inside its walls are filled with vintage Philadelphia landmark photographs and autographs of celebrities (like Billy Joel, Hall & Oates and - are you sitting down? - Gong Show emcee Chuck Barris!) that visited the restaurant over the years. There's also such fascinating trivia to followers of "competitive eating" such as the knowledge that on January 3, 2007 "Humble" Bob Shoudt set a record by eating 13 steak sandwiches in one hour at Jim's. Oh the humanity! (I wonder if the stout Mr. Shoudt is related to the owner of that Giant Colon at the Mütter Museum?)
Outside Jim's Steaks, I spotted a guy in a black Joy Division Unknown Pleasures t-shirt and complimented him on his rock/fashion sense. He said was in town for some big retro rock show at a local club and had decided to stay to check out the town's most lauded cheeseteak. After chatting a while about Joy Division and the two excellent JD-related films - the fictional Closer and the documentary Joy Division - we journeyed on...but when we came back 90 minutes later on our way back to our car, he was still there waiting to get in! This place must be good, because Lord knows I wouldn't wait that long even for Buzzcocks tickets!
Oh, almost forgot to mention our sighting of a cool-looking museum that reminded us of Baltimore's own headquarters for fun and wacky "Outsider Art," the American Museum of Visionary Arts.
Philadelphia's Magic Garden
1020 South Street, Philadelphia PA
Amy studies the Magic Garden and concludes: "Fascinatich!"
That would be South Street's Magic Garden, a place that just beckons passersby to come in - which we would have done had we not been somewhat strapped for cash that day what with the parking and tolls on the commute up there.
We are beckoned inside, as if by magic!
Like Baltimore's American Museum of Visionary Arts (or AVAM), Philadelphia's Magic Gardens (or PMG) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, in this case one formed by artists and community members to promote and preserve the art and legacy of Philadelphia "Mosaic Mural Artist" Isaiah Zagar. We'll make it a point to stop here on our next trip north when we have more time and money.
A peek inside the Magic Garden
Then we passed a place called Condom Kingdom (aka The Mood, 437 South Street, 215-829-1668) that just begged to be visited. Amy and I went in while Dave "Every Sperm Is Sacred" Cawley begged off and stood outside. (I think it was because I told him they probably sold cilantro-scented condoms inside!) It wasn't at all as dirty as I thought it would be, rather, it reminded me of any Spencer Gifts kind of worthless/dumb/ephemeral/non-essential knick-knack store. The ones, in other words, that I am drawn to! Inside, Amy and I sifted through the buttons (we love buttons, especially little ones!) and I bought three for Dave that I thought summed up his Wilson-esque weltanschauung (that's "world view" in layman's terms for all you plebians who didn't attend my prestigious university of higher education, Towson State!):
"I may be old but I saw all the great bands!"
"Does it bother you that I'm always right?"
(A variation on Dave's motto: "It's just my opinion - but accurate!")
"Don't hate me just because I stayed single and happy!"
To me it was kind of like stumbling across the Dave version of the Buddha's 8-Fold Path as a mission statement.
As we neared the eastward end of South Street, Amy and I noticed that we saw more people who looked like us - old! Yes, as we passed a number of Irish pub-restaurants (had we entered Mini-Dublin?), we noticed an increase in age and Izod and Polo shirts, signaling the middle-aged Middle Class. But immediately after passing them and we saw a return to "street cred" in the form of street artists lining the South Street gate and the bridge beyond it.
Giant creatures march past the South Street Bridge
The South Street Gate
Dave, Darryl & The Furious Five
Darryl's street portraits
Walking by a street portrait artist who identified himself as "Darryl," Dave stopped and started naming as many of the celebrity caricatures as he could, adding, "You're really good!" Dave's knack for identifying the comparatively obscure one of Gian Maria Volonte (star of the Sergio Leone spaghetti western classics A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More) left Darryl astounded.
Gian Maria Volonte
"No one's ever recognized him!" Darryl said. "You're the first person to get it!"
Next, Darryl and Dave bonded over Dave's recognition of The Five Venoms (Dave can even name them: Centipede, Snake, Scorpion, Toad and Lizard - the latter not to be confused with the Marble Bar videographer of the same name!) aka the Venom Mob, stars of such Shaw Brothers films as Five Deadly Venoms (1978) and Chinese Super Ninjas (aka Five Element Ninjas, 1982).
The Five Venoms master the Five Elements
Five Deadly Venoms
Darryl & Dave bond over The
Five Venoms and Spaghetti Westerns
Darryl was so taken by Dave's enthusiasm for his art and his passion for The Five Venoms that he took down his Venoms picture and gave it to Dave.
"Cool!" said Dave. "I'll hang this up on my wall at work and let the whole world know of your greatness!"
And then we headed back on the long walk back to my car, I-95 South, and home sweet home in Charm City - where Dave the Insatiable wasted no time in plopping Ip Man into his DVD player during the wee small hours of the night while Amy and I slept after a long day of walking, talking, driving, and sightseeing.
So that was my Philly daytrip journal. My thirst for exploring hitherto unexplored treasures in my I-95 backyard whetted, I confided to Amy my next Big Adventure yearning...the wilds of Frederick - land of the Cultural Arts Center, monsters-and-pinup babes artiste Stephen Blickenstaff, legendary retro-psych-garage rockers The Skeptics, and the mythological swamp-haunting beast, the Snallygaster! But that's an adventure for another day - and another exciting daytrip!
Labels: atomic city comics, chinatown, Dave Cawley, jim's steaks, jon's bar and grille, larry fine, mutter museum, new china book store, philadephia, repo records, shanhai bazaar, south street, three stooges