July 12, 2012 – Outside in Philly
“Ready?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say, “sorry it took so long. The agent just got here.” I’d been in the ship’s office waiting for the agent to make sure we really didn’t need an escort on and off port, and that I didn’t need my passport or a shore leave pass.
“No problem,” he says. “Just one minute, okay?”
He disappears and a few beats later he’s back carrying a seaman’s bag which he slings over his shoulder. I’ve got my messenger bag with my laptop, camera and some money. We’re set. We trot down the four flights of stairs, down the hall, wave at the officers in the ship’s office, then we’re out walking past the hold and the gangplank duty seaman, down the gangplank and onshore.
We hazard our way across the concrete towards the area where the agent had said the guard shack was. When we get to it—dilapidated, in need of a paint job, and sad looking—we peer in the windows to get the guards’ attention. One of the guys opens the door.
There’s a swimsuit issue calendar on the wall behind the second guard. The girl is bare chested, scarcely swim suited. I have a feeling there aren’t too many female passengers that pass through here. I have the feeling it wouldn’t really matter. Actually, to be honest, it doesn’t matter to me either. The model has really nice teeth.
“Nah,” the seated guard says.
“And you’ll let us back in?” I ask with a smile.
“Yeah.” They make it sound like I’m being silly. Like Houston and Wilmington hadn’t needed to see IDs and permissions and passes. Like they’re the norm.
“Is there a place for shopping?” Josko asks.
“Maybe an internet café?” I ask, hopeful. Philadelphia will be my last stateside connection.
The guards look at each other. “There’s a bunch of fast food restaurants. There’s a Target and a Home Depot.”
Josko wants to buy some overalls and I don’t know what I need except for some time to check my email one last time and to post a blog. We look at each other and shrug. The guards give us directions. We thank them and get to walking.
It’s about a two mile walk and we pass the time in companionable conversation. I feel at ease. Happy.
We start with Target. I’m a little unsure how shore leave with a seaman goes. I don’t know if we’re supposed to separate to shop or if we’re in it all together. A day ago, Josko had asked me if I was going to go outside in Philadelphia and I had said I wasn’t sure since the taxis in Wilmington had been so much and I didn’t know if I wanted to spend that kind of money again. “We can go together and split the cost,” he’d said. It had sounded like a good plan.
I open my mouth to ask him what we do, but he’s already heading towards men’s clothing to see if they have overalls so I just follow. The lady working the sections looks sad when we ask for what they don’t have. “Do you know of any place that might have overalls?” I ask. Josko had said he hadn’t been able to find them except for children since he’s been looking for them.
She can’t think of any place.
“Do you think Home Depot might?” I ask.
Her face brightens. “Yeah, they might have them there.”
We hit the toy section. Josko has a two year old son and a three month old daughter of his own and a three year old neighbor boy that he also brings things home for. I tag along behind. Disregarding the instructions from my childhood to not touch anything, I touch and look at things and press buttons. I make some remark that prompts Josko to ask, “You don’t have kids? You aren’t married?”
“No,” I say, and leave it at that.
“Why not?” he asks it--the same question as many other have asked--but with him there’s no accusation, no, “what’s wrong with you?” implication, nothing in the words but a faint curiosity.
“I haven’t found anyone I like yet,” I say.
“In a city of two hundred and fifty thousand you can’t find someone you like?” he asks, mocking me. I grin and shrug. I don’t know what city he’s talking about; Dallas where I grew up has 6 million people, Colorado Springs where my house is has 600,000 and Lima which I just left has 9 million. But yeah, point taken. It’s the proverbial, “It’s not you, it’s me,” line coupled with the fact that I apparently don’t want to be married at this point in time.
He rummages through some toys. “I have a brother-in-law. He’s a nice guy. He’s single.”
“Well,” I say. There you have it.
He finds a nerf football for the neighbor kid and that’s all the success we have at Target. We check out. There’s a Starbucks in the front of the Target. “Does the Starbucks have free Wi-Fi?” I ask the cashier.
“I think so,” she says.
“You want a coffee?” Josko asks.
“Yeah, if you’re getting one.”
We get espressos and sit. I pull out my gigantic laptop and power it up. Josko pulls out a very refined, small notebook or ipad or something. I don’t even know the names for these devices. I feel like a lousy American at times. He’s on the internet before I am.
I take up our time and check my email. Hastily scanning the text and responding to the easiest ones. I check up on the social networking sites I frequent and download the latest pictures of my niece. Josko and I are trading stories and I feel my attention is divided. I post a blog, worried that I’m keeping him somewhere he doesn’t want to be.
“Seamen know how to wait,” he tells me. “We’re used to it.”
I settle in a little better. It’s still early in the morning.
“How long do we have?” I ask him.
“I’m the chief engineer,” Josko says, “as long as I want.”
“If I were on a ship I’d want to be a chief or the captain,” I tell him. I don’t like being told what to do. Or where to be. I don’t like to be tied down, under someone else’s time schedule, or confined. Yeah,
I’ve got freedom issues.
He raises his eyebrows. It’s characteristic of him; something like a smile, something like an upturned palm, something like agreement.
We’re back in our separate worlds. I sip the last of my coffee. His is long gone and thrown away.
“Here,” Josko says, turning his computer device my way. “This is my brother-in-law.” I keep my grin inside. I’ve got to give it to him, the guy is nice looking. He’s playing with Josko’s son in the photo. Dark headed, good with kids (at least in pictures), the dude already has some points in his favor, I think.
“I’ll have to come to Croatia,” I say.
The raised eyebrows again. Then he shows me pictures of his kids, his wife, his town. I show him pictures of my niece. We’re up to par.
“I’m really almost done,” I say. It’s taking me longer than I’d thought. Then, finally, I am as done as I can be for now. I shut things off and close up my computer. We pack up and go across the road to Home Depot.
No one has coveralls or overalls for grownups. Not even the paint store. There’s a motorcycle shop across the street. I remember an ex-boyfriend and his obsession with bikes and all the fancy gear he bought. “They might have something over there,” I say, pointing at the shop.
“It’s too bad we’re not close to downtown Philly,” I say. “It’s pretty nice.”
“We can get a taxi.”
There’s a statue of Rocky over to the right of the museum. Josko and I go stand close by until the other picture takers leave.
Then I take a few pictures for him, of him.
We’re about to trade off cameras and let it be my turn when a guy comes over, “You want a picture of the two of you?”
“Okay,” we say.
He gets us to pose in the raised fist Rocky stance.
“Now pretend you’re fighting.”
I’m game, Josko’s a little dubious. It reminds me of my Colombian friend who I’d taken a similar picture with at an Inka Kola and Coca Cola sign. I have an instant of wistful nostalgia and miss my distant friend.
“Don’t be shy,” the man calls out.
He snaps the shot.
I go to collect my camera.
“Could you spare a dollar for a bottle of water?” the man asks. I figured he was a street worker, not just a handy picture taker. Today I can spare a dollar so I hand it to him and say thanks.
“Y’all have a good day,” he calls out after us.
We climb up the steps. I’ve run them before. I’ve done the celebratory raised arm jumping. I don’t need to do it today. Neither does Josko. From the top we admire Philadelphia. Now what? we both think.
“You want to go inside?” Josko asks.
I’d wanted to go inside the museum ten years ago when I’d been in Philly for a Judo tournament. But the day I’d had free was Monday and the museum is closed Mondays. I’d had no idea he’d want to museum, but why not. We go in and pay our entry fees. I’m not used to being with someone that’s not skimping money like me. He works hard for his money, spends months at sea away from his family and friends, he absolutely earns it, but I think (if I heard him right) that he makes more in one month than I spent altogether in the six months I lived in Peru. It bothers me that I think about money like this.
We store our bags in the coat room. “It’s complimentary!” the cashier tells us energetically, after she sees how big they are and advises us to check them.
We see a lot of art. I get to see the Gauguin, Matisse, Cezanne Arcadia exhibit I’d wanted to see and much much more. There are entire rooms from Paris, England, and the New York of the 1700 and 1800s. Entire rooms that were cut out and transported to this museum. So that when we walk up to them, walk into them it’s like walking into the past.
“Where is the television?” Josko asks, tongue in cheek, in a pale blue room with chairs lining the walls, side tables, a large chandelier hanging from the ceiling, and an imposing rug stuck in the middle of the floor. Did they yell at each other from across the room? I wonder to myself. It seems like such a stiff and formal sitting room. I’m glad I don’t have to socialize in it. I’m also glad I don’t have to wear dresses where the hip extensions are bigger than doorways or the bustles so bustly that sitting down isn’t an option.
There are facades and columns and fountains that have been removed from their in situ and brought here. I’m a little astounded.
We see all the kinds of protections, like armor and shields that men use to keep from being killed by others. “This one reminds me of the shield of Heracles,” I say of one gold shield in bas relief, taking a picture of it. “That I read about in the Iliad.” At least that’s where I think I read about it. Maybe I’m mixing up Heracles’ shield with Ajax’s armor. Or maybe Ajax cried about not getting the shield or Achilles armor. I can’t remember now. It’s all Greek to me.
Amid the saints and apostles and crucified Christs, there are creepy demon pictures, and even creepier images of cherubim or seraphim.
“They were obsessed with nudity and demons,” Josko says after I point out another creepy demonic looking figure.
“Yeah,” I reply. It’s like literature where it’s death and sex that sells. For art, it’s the nekkid and scary.
We hit almost all the sections, walking through room after room.
Tapestries, paintings, ceramics, illustrated books, whole rooms, statues—we see it all except for the modern art and the Asian section. I would have liked to have seen the modern art, but Josko’s not a fan. He’s said as much when we walked through the museum’s doors. By the time we even get close to modern art, we’re both cross eyed, hungry and more than arted out. Down a white walled corridor, I see a round red splotch which might have been modern art or my vision going. It’s enough modern art to satisfy me.
“I think I’ve had enough art,” Josko says.
I’m relieved. “Me too.” We herd ourselves out through the exit signs and collect our bags.
We ask two guys selling Rocky shirts at the first step platform if there are any restaurants around.
They point us in a nebulous direction and we go. We pass the church they’d given us as a landmark and I hone in on a lady carrying groceries to her car.
“Excuse me?” I’m trying not to startle her. She’s looks us up and down and accepts us. “Is there a restaurant close to here?”
“What kind of restaurant are you looking for?” she asks.
“One with food,” I say. I’m not being smart. I’m not being obnoxious or facetious. I’m just hungry.
“Oh sure,” she gushes. “Just up the street there’s a market or a pizza house.”
“Just straight up this street?” I clarify.
She nods. Then she gets excited. “There’s also a--” but I lose track of her words as she lists some other options. I know that straight ahead we’ll be good.
“Thank you so much,” I tell. “Thanks!” We wrench ourselves away and sure enough, just a block up there’s a pizzeria. Even better, on our side of the road just across the street is a pub. “You want pizza or pub food?” I ask.
“Let’s go there,” Josko says, pointing at the pub. “They’ve got Guinness.”
It’s an all-around win, especially when I see they have a black bean burger and sweet potato fries. We drink Guinness, fill up on food, and talk.
“You’re a very strange American,” Josko tells me when I can’t finish all my food (this is actually kind of unusual especially considering how hungry I’d been). He says this because I don’t eat my whole meal and because I’m not fat. He helps me eat finish off my fries. I feel bad for my country’s stereotypes. Sometimes, these days, I don’t feel exactly American, but then, I don’t feel exactly Un-American either. I’m still finding my equilibrium after being in South America for a year.
When the girl brings the check I make a face and say, “Sorry, I forgot to ask you to make separate bills.” She doesn’t fuss and brings the check back and processes our payments.
Our things slung over our shoulders, Josko and I head back the same way we came. “I think some people get the wrong impression about us,” Josko says.
“What do you mean?” I ask, taken abruptly out of my thoughts.
The guy who took our picture together for us, the girl bringing us a combined check—who knows what the seamen and officers think.
“Oh. Yeah. Right.” I take the thought in. Then, “Let them think what they want,” I say carelessly.
We both know what’s what.
“What else is there to see?” Josko asks me.
I try to remember what I’d walked around and seen ten years ago. What other things Philadelphia holds. “I know there’s some old buildings and stuff up this way,” I point out away from the museum, into the pile of skyscrapers. “The Liberty Bell is somewhere around too. I just don’t know exactly where.”
“I thought that by coming outside with you I’d get a good tour of Philadelphia,” Josko teases me.
I don’t know that I could give a good tour of Dallas where I spent twenty years of my life. I could show someone around Colorado Springs and the mountains, and I’ve got a tiny handhold on Lima, Peru. But Philly?
“I’m a bad American,” I confess. “I knew the Rocky steps, but the history stuff…” At least I know the Liberty Bell is in this city. That’s something.
My phone rings. It’s my sister-in-law.
“Hi!” she says.
“Hi!” I say, but more subdued. She’d called me while I was at the museum and I’d told her I’d call her in a couple hours. It’s been a couple hours. She’s beat me to the call back.
“Are you with someone?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say. I don’t know why I’m being shy.
“Your seaman lover?”
I laugh. “No. No. Hey! Are you close to your computer? Can you look up where exactly the Liberty Bell is? I mean the streets?” I strain around to stare at street signs. “We’re at Eighth and Race,” I tell her.
She works her magic and tells me that we’re about twenty blocks away from the Liberty Bell. She gives me two options for directions and I thank her and promise to call her when I’m back on ship.
Josko and I decide twenty blocks is too much. “I’ll see it next time I’m here,” he says. I think he’ll probably be here again way before I am. I’m glad I saw it when I was ten years old. We call a cab and wait outside the Four Seasons hotel in front of a statue of some Polish guy in a tri corner hat who I say must be Ben Franklin.
“How can you say that looks like Benjamin Franklin?” Josko asks me incredulously.
“Well, you know,” I say with a wink in my words, “all statues look alike.”
We get dropped back off near the motorcycle store and go back inside. Josko’s wife had sent him a message that he could get the jacket if it’s good for winter weather and if he wants it. It’s not and he doesn’t, so he passes on it. And we walk back to the dock.
“There’s my ship,” Josko says.
I look up. There’s the DALIAN. Her cranes reaching up towards the heavens.
“There she is,” I say. “Waiting for us.” I’m overwhelmed. I wasn’t expecting this. It feels just like coming home. It’s a feeling I haven’t had for a place in over a year. Suddenly, I’m in love. With a ship.
We hardly get glanced at as we pass the guard shack. The guard only acknowledges us when I give him a subtle wave. “I feel real secure,” I say.
Josko raises his eyebrows.
But what does it matter? Who needs check points and hassle? Who needs shore passes and IDs? Who needs border control and citizenship differentiation when we can go up the gangplank and, there we are, at home?