New Takes on Everyday Slants: The Infinite Possibilities of Horseplay.
Now what do I mean by horseplay? I mean leaping chinhigh fences in a single bound. Skiing down large marble staircases in the rain. Climbing around on pieces of multimillion dollar sculpture. Buttsliding fifty-step banisters at speeds that bruise the heel upon dismount. Leaping steep thirty-foot grass hills and landing in one piece only by virtue of the incline. Entering by window rather than door. Cannonballs into foodcourt fountains. American Gladiator games in midnight construction sites. Sloppy pirouettes around stopsign poles. Looney-Tune chases through malls, with us on skateboards and security in hot pursuit. Walls, bars, stairs, signs, sidewalks, doors, floors, balconies, and gravity all control our flow through space and time, whether we know it or like it or not. Horseplay, in this respect, is emancipatory. We can go over, under, and sometimes through tables rather than going around them. Non-Euclidean drifting just might be the greatest sport of the twenty-first century.
For most, the first obstacle to freeform horseplay is the need to maintain your composure. It is always, in the words of Blake, the “mind-forg’d manacles” that keeps the hopelessly grown-up from turning a walk to the post office into a Buster Keaton-slash-Jackie Chan routine. If you don’t believe me, spend an afternoon in the trainstation, watching one person after another as they bark, powerwalk, and miss their train, just so that they wouldn’t be caught in the middle of a full-on sprint. Think, when was the last time you saw a thirty-year-old geometry teacher hop a turnstile or climb up the inside of the Christmas tree in Love Park? None too recently, I’d bet. And why? Merely from fear of being ridiculed by little children and the opposite sex. People stare, without a doubt. But, if you intend on swimming against the directives of space and concrete, it will be necessary to make an ass of yourself in public. It’s part of the game. Another obstacle is the more understandable fear of self-endangerment; fear of splitting your face in two on an iron-wrought fence. But this is half the fun; the whole gamble of amateur stuntmanship. And should something go wrong, at least you’ve won your wager with Blue-Cross Blue Shield; think of it that way.
But many out there just don’t know where to start, all fears aside. All their colleagues walk in straight lines; they’ve never once noticed the similarities between launch ramps and handicap ramps. Well, for those in search of a second childhood, I’m here for you. Beginnings can be scary, I know; so we’ll wade into the tutorial with something nearly all of us have experience with: buttsliding handrails. Or, as we like to call it,“silversurfing.” Almost any rail will do, preferably over ten steps. I might suggest the bunny slopes around the Society Hill Towers or the concourse exits near City Hall. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the curves; sliding down over and over again until you have a firm grasp on the essentials. Once the knack is second nature, you can move onto bigger things: the twin rails in the Market East Station. There are two, leading from 11th Street down to the Gallery level. With two bars closely in parallel, you can face forward in a lazyboy recline and slide down in kingly comfort. And then-— when you’re ready— try the “kinked handrails” on the Perlman Building across from the art museum. They fall and flatten and fall again. The gods never intended us to have so much fun with their creation.
Silversurfing does not necessarily even involve silver. Black-rubber escalator banisters always slide with superb handling, and Strawbridge’s Clothier has a whole series of slick little beauties snaking between its floors, with butt-sized strips of metal between the rail and wall that are as slippery as the banister itself. You may have noticed that, in most cases, metal strips between and beside escalators have raised notches specifically designed to discourage would-be silversurfers. Which is a pity; but at the same time, a wonderful testament to the incorrigibility of the human spirit; that sober-minded civil engineers must burn serious time around the drafting table thinking up ways to keep people from screwing around. You will often find strips without buttblockers. In the Prague metro, for instance, especially on the yellow line: three hundred foot escalators, scores and scores of passengers, and not one single, solitary notch. When some Brazilian friends and I stumbled upon this miracle (and in spite of the corrupt police presence on the former Eastern Bloc), we spent two weeks luging away at the Flora Stop, as hundreds of longfaced Czechs cheered and jeered along. It remains, far and away, my favorite memory of the richly historic capital.
Even when the strips are notched— or when there are no strips at all— there are ways. One method, fleshed to form by the Center for Experimental Living, is to straddle the banisters of two escalators simultaneously; one banister going up and one down. To see what I mean, enter the Pennsylvanian Convention Center from Market Street and swing an innocent-looking right after the security desk (or continue upstairs into the Marioland of the Mariott lobby). There you’ll find a pair of gorgeous banisters tailor-made for the method mentioned above. Wait courteously until the coast and escalators are clear; then throw your legs up and— swoosh. Like an afternoon at the waterpark.
I hear you wondering “won’t the rent-a-cops nab me for this kind of crap?” The answer is: not if you outrun them they won’t. A return to the crimescene is always possible unless they get a fullname or photo. “Sir, we were only polishing the brass. No harm done.” But, if apprehended and banned for life from your favorite spot, just remember that so much of the earth’s surface consists of slippery incline. It’s all a matter of developing The Eye. Right next door, as a matter of fact, outside the Aramark Towers, is an adorable little marble slant that makes for do for kicks on a desolate Sunday night. In the Free Library even, the grand staircase is flanked by wide, polished stone, just out of view of the Information Desk. And, my god man, let’s not even begin with Independence Plaza or Philadelphia in snow or ice. There should be a sign: Welcome to the Concrete Jungle Gym.
So below, we list— in no particular order— the best and brightest of Philadelphia’s horseplay superdudes:
Silversurfing Handrails, or Handrails Deserving of Some Comment:
1. The Front Kinked Handrails at the Perlman Building,
The intersection of Fairmount and Ben Franklin Parkway.
2. The Double-Handrails,
from the Market East Station to 11th Street
3. The Escalators bannisters,
Strawbridge’s Clothier, in the Gallery Mall.
4. The escalator bannisters,
Pennsylvanian Convention Center
5. The Escalator bannisters (and more),
The Center City Marriot, or “SuperMarriottLand”
6. Kinked Handrails,
from central concourse down into train platforms
7. Curvy Hanrails,
Society Hill Towers
8. Marble Slides,
Free Library of Philadelphia.