5 Things I Learned in Philadelphia, or how to love your double life

1. Delaware is a suburb of Philadelphia.

Which is why I didn’t feel bad about meeting my Delaware date in Rittenhouse Square.

I think I am developing a crush on Philadelphia.

2. Home Depot has a bondage aisle.

I hid from the cold at a coffee shop. He arrived while I was In the midst of my Americano. The inauguration intruded from the corner television. A commentator read the inaugural luncheon menu as if it were news.

We were both early for the date.

He was as normal as could be. A teacher. Handsome with a kind face. Nothing to prove.

It was way too cold to be clever.

We talked, filling the space between us. Two strangers – one trapped in a complicated life that was rapidly unraveling into simplicity, one spinning stories and making her simple life more complicated.

He is fresh out of a twenty year marriage and marveling at the world that existed while he was getting by. He’s a child set free in a candy store – that’s how he put it – and life is suddenly full of colors he didn’t know existed.

Life undone is a beautiful thing.

We hit on the subject of strange first dates, which is when he told me about The Aisle. A previous first date told him about The Aisle when they were talking about strange first dates. She brought him to Home Depot and showed him.

It is an aisle of rope, electrical tape, carabiners and clothes-pins. One stop shopping.

I guess these days, this is what a first date is like.

3. The Mütter Museum is a terrible place for a first date.

The Mütter is a museum of medical oddities – a respectable display of organs and limbs in various stages of disrepair suspended in formaldehyde.

They have a lady who turned into soap, a purplish, waxy mummy. They call her the Soap Lady and she’s enclosed in a plexiglass coffin for all to view.

There’s a plaster mold of a set of conjoined twins who lived separate lives, despite their biological bondage, a physical attachment that forced them to face each every day of their lives. One was a drinker and a fighter, the other a peaceful teetotaler. Both married. They spent every other weekend at the other’s farm, ignoring the other’s wife. Eating the other’s food. Arguing. Playing gin rummy. Smoking cigarettes. And stuff.

They house the largest colon known to man, the skeleton of a giant. and a slice of Einstein’s brain.

We thought we were in for a great adventure before we entered the museum, but once inside, facing the first of many anencephalic fetus, we knew we were in over our heads.IMG_5535

“This is a terrible place for a first date,” I might have muttered.

“Yeah,” he might have muttered back as we floated through the room.

There was nothing else to say.

4. Philadelphia makes good pizza.

And I am a cheap date. I should’ve made him buy me a second slice.

5. I can see the allure of leading a double life.

There is freedom in being who you are while pretending to be who you are not.

Your essence remains the same, but like a Barbie with a thousand different professions, outfits, houses, and cars, the wrappings change. And they can change with a simple word or two, which is the amazing part. You don’t need to change your shirt to be someone else, only your story.

The bus to Philadelphia is two hours from New York. Two hours worth of thinking, dreaming, scheming, wondering, sleeping. It’s like driving through a doorway.

Walking through a town you don’t know, but are pretending you do know, creating fake ghosts based on real ghosts who live in another city, shelving an old reality for a new-born reality, sharing stories and thoughts that never existed before with a stranger who never existed before, is a lot of fun. That stranger can’t not allow you to be someone else.

Unless they are an English teacher, in which case they might get on you for butchering the English language with nonsensical run-on sentences. Linguistic kill-joys.

Here’s the thing. There are these books that talk about our damaged, scared, and scarred inner-children. They say that we need to coddle them and tell them that they are loved and cherished because they didn’t hear it enough. And since they didn’t hear it enough, we grew up to be unhappy, uneasy, and worried that the best has already come and gone and it wasn’t that good.

I think it’s the other way around, at least with people who are lucky enough to have had a relatively safe upbringing, even if we were bullied, or peculiar, or our parents were severely flawed or inadequate.

I think we need to face our inner-children and tell them who we are, and what we’ve done. What we’ve seen. What we think.

We need to tell them that there are days when you grow up that you can eat only cupcakes, if you want. And that you live with the coolest dog ever. Or that you know how to drive. That you fell in love – more times than you can count – and it was different and full of wonder each time. That you live in a tiny apartment in the middle of hill and go to the park every day. That you work at a job that where people bring treats in and tell stories to each other and laugh. Or that there are jobs that require people to sing and dance and tell stories. And that you are one of the lucky ones who get see this every day.

That you fight fires or run marathons or that you make the best cookies on the planet because you a have a super secret ingredient that you discovered while you were traveling on a train to exotic… Toronto.

And then we need to stand back and watch their mouths drop open in sheer amazement and delight.

This has nothing to do with the allure of leading a double life, I guess. But consider this: maybe instead of looking at our lives through the lens of some murky future, or through the expectations of people who don’t understand us or know us or particularly like us, maybe we should look at our lives through the lenses of our much younger selves.

I’ll probably never see that lovely man again, since I told him a few too many tall tales. That makes me a little sad. But, if I sat my five year-old self in the yellow chair and asked her what she thought, I think she’s say this: “are there really days that you can eat popcorn for dinner?”

And I’d scooch in next to her and say, “there are days where you can have a martini for dinner.”

And she would say: “what’s a martini?”

And I’d say: “just you wait and see.”


I don’t want to change my life. I love my life.

What I want is to live a thousand other lives as well.

8 thoughts on “5 Things I Learned in Philadelphia, or how to love your double life

  1. I love this post. What I can’t remember is whether the aisle in Home Depot that contains the chain and quick-links is the same aisle as the rope and carabiners, or next to it.

  2. Pingback: One Zombie Sunday | JM Randolph, accidentalstepmom

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