Part One: How Brandon and his dear friends forever lost the South Philadelphia Athenaeum, and an account of the events immediately preceding and following the upheaval.
You probably assumed, from the previous post so long ago, that a certain plot development, a discernible line-of-action, had met its curtain call. If so, you assumed correctly: the so-called South Philadelphia fragments have met their end. My time in wider Philadelphia, where ever it may be, is far from over however.
We merely encountered what, after Aristotle’s Poetics, are called peripeteia in the Life-Narrative. Reversals-of-fortune. An ineluctable fact or event that radically cleaves the Life-Narrative into a before and an after. Like an amputation or a deliriously reckless decision, the events— the peripeteia— create a stark color-contrast between two halves of experience. All plans are conditioned by what side of the event they sit on. And with the eviction, it really seemed as if some Sophoclean device had been employed, dropped on us; as if the Fates were forcing a play.
Perhaps some divine interest was testing our metal; or perhaps it was just hubris and stupidity summarily answered.
Here’s a fun fact: before the eviction, there were many dreams in the Athenæum anticipating the upheaval. Make of that what you will; there had also been plenty of foreshadowing to signal the end. Strange men with clipboards had been lurking. Mark Wahlberg was shooting Invincible on our block, bringing unwanted attention to our hideaway batcave, and to the Sunburnt Hand of the Man show happening inside of it. Somehow nothing came as a surprise. The eviction came as an instinctual plot development. And I wasn’t even there when it happened; which leads me back a few days into another subplot…
We had arranged a Northeastern getaway to Massachusetts, Jonny and I. A four day change-of-scenery. I just needed to breathe the air of other cities and places; and crisp Boston and Cape Cod sufficed. Originally, the plan had been to form an off-kilter mariachi band, rehashing Mexican death songs by combining my fake classical guitarmanship with Jonny’s fake Spanish. But, neither of us being real collaborators at heart, we couldn’t even agree on something as simple as the moustaches in our costumes. So we cast aside planning and just left.
The trip up to Cape Cod, to Red Barn pizza, was a bit dazzling too; leaving at 4 AM, and riding through the morning with the sun cooking the grease on our faces. What were we thinking? Connecticut in the morning rush. One giant parking lot stretching the entire length of 95. It’s tragic that there are working people who consider the 5-hour commute to and from New York City a reasonable loss of time. Fortunately, Jonny knew a shady, car-commercial-perfect, short cut and we made it to Cape Cod by noon.
We rested up a little, then jumped in and started scrubbing dishes and spinning pizza dough. Merry enough that we were in a novel environment with free soda. We were bored by sundown, though, and decided a little later to check out nearby Provincetown. Our gas gauge was low, but we figured we could refuel in Provincetown, unaware that not one single gas station is open past midnight in Provincetown. So these two sturdy young men, without a clue between them, ran dry just inside the city limits, to discover that they were staying overnight. Another peripety; another ineluctable fact presented to us on a serving tray.
Provincetown, you may or may not know, is the gayest and gay-friendliest town in the Northeast. Every business has a name like Macho Man or Fudge Factory—- or even, I swear, Seaman’s Bank. It’s awesome but so overwhelming that the initial feeling is sort of Dorothy in Munchkin Land, right down to the color and architecture. We scrawled signs on pizza boxes explaining our situation, hoping to find either gas or diversions. Turns out, it was the latter, coming in a shiny, gift-wrapped box named James.
James started out unremarkably enough, complimenting us on our handsome features, and offering us shelter until morning. (This shelter was, apparently, the beachhome of the writer of Kool and the Gang’s Joanna… How about that).
After a few rum-and-cokes, though, James transmogrified from a wirey beachpartyhopper to an insane oneman cabaret show. The evening opened with some highschool poetry, before launching into showtunes of his own invention and schizo stories of secret love affairs with Ricky Martin, not to mention cautionary tales of the dangers of substance abuse.
“I wrote this for Ricky. I was in Miami, outside Ricky’s house, and I read this poem out loud. I wanted to go knock on his door and jump into his arms….Instead, I just smoked some crack and went for a long walk.”
Crystal meth was now offlimits, he said, because he would always end up tearing his clothes into strips and pieces. On one particular occasion, he had ruined a beautiful snowsuit— “very blue, very meshy”—-by wrapping around his neck and ripping it so that he could tie it in knots around his testicles.
We agreed that this was a problem.
The James show continued with its star leaping up onto a coffee table and doing the entire musical Batboy, from start to finish, accompanied by his stereo. Jonny and I were sinking in our seats, unable to laugh anymore, or react, or even acknowledge the reality for what it was. With sunrise coming, Jonny upped and said “James, I think we’re gonna go, buddy. It has been a real pleasure.” Which it had; we genuinely liked that guy and left astounded at the man’s inner circuitry.
We pulled into the gravel of Red Barn again. Tired beyond words.
Inside, for no reason, I opened my hotmail to read in the subject lines “WE CALLED IT” and “EVICTION.” I told Jonny, and in utter submission to a new truth he said “great… wonderful… perfect.” License and Inspection was going to give us two hours, on Monday, to gather all of our worldly possessions. Thirty people, two hours.
“We have to go,” I said.
We were running on reserves the whole ride back, our dreaming brains mapping out all possible scenarios. An anxious reality had serrated the wonderful flow of things. It had the feeling of Lacan or Zizek’s “intrusion of the Real,” not in the obvious sense of a “wake-up call,” but of blind forces coming to the fore.
From secondhand accounts, the raid was swift and definitive. The Lieutenant Commissioner of License and Inspection, with a number of his fellows, accompanied by a horde of police officers, stormed in on the night of September 23rd, or more accurately, on the morning of the 24th. A few inches after midnight.
Cybele was the first to see them. According to Adam, they entered with guns drawn.
Kristie and others tried to signal warning, but it was too late. License and Inspection knew the lay-out of the Athenæum, which was not altogether that obvious. They burst into the kitchen, which is another building entirely, and ordered everyone into the mainspace. Cops were opening every door in the place, screaming for people to get upstairs, flinging girls’ doors open without warning or introduction.
The scene in central space, I’m told, was one for the ages. The cops had expected to find, I can only assume, some kind of wild, PCP-fueled cockfight, amid crates of firearms and stolen Asian merchandise. They found, instead, a handful of dorky white kids, half-dressed in sequined Mummer’s costumes, on their way to a costume party.
They interrogated Alan. “Are you an entertainer? Who pays you? Who runs this place?” Inspectors carried videocameras and snooped around at leisure. I want to be perfectly clear about this: if you are living in a non-residential situation, you do not have search and seizure rights. The same may even hold true if you are living in a residentially-zoned building, I don’t know. License and Inspection does not have to obtain warrants or give warnings. As such, they are used by police officers as a way of circumventing certain petty details… Just keep that around for handy reference.
It was obvious that some homework had been done. That someone had been inside, and so on. It just makes me curious what sequences of events lead to the raid; what clowns had hatched which theories about our warehouse. To the degree that a raid was necessary on a Friday night; rather than, as our landlord put it, “a little girl with a clipboard.”
The cops and inspectors told everyone to grab a few articles; then locked them out in the middle of the night on the streets of Philadelphia. Jay Purdy—- and this is really the classic part—- had had the wherewithal to capture parts of the raid on videocamera, by hiding a camera in his bookbag and pressing record. The best is hearing everyone, in some last ditch delusion, referring to their rooms as “workspaces” meanwhile clutching pillows and blankets on the way out.
Or better yet, seeing cops with flashlights reading about the time travel artifacts. Or having Jay turn the corner outside and seeing the armada of police cars and vans surrounding the entire block. What the hell? What was the meaning of that?
License and Inspection— and the police— had orchestrated the whole affair to make a point, and make it as dramatically as possible. I only wonder what exactly that point was. Maybe: don’t start experimental spaces in this town. Or: boss don’t like anything he can’t spell. Whatever it was, I doubt it originated in the lack of battery-operated exit signs.
What dramatic magnitude. Few other people get to enjoy the adventure of being evicted with such gusto. To have their dispossession on the local radio, in newspapers, and so forth. Taken down like a Colombian drug cartel. Yes, real, high-seas dramatic magnitude.