Philadelphia Metropolis

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By Dalyn Montgomery

I start each morning by arguing with a four year old about whether or not her dress makes her look like a tomato.  The dress is blue. I don't understand the argument so I usually lose. Next we drop Tomato's older sister off at school.

Doing this consists of firThumbnail image for IMG_1294.JPGst parking illegally by a fire hydrant, a risk made necessary because the school buses take up all the curb space. With the flashers on we abandon the car and join the screaming children and chatting parents in the school yard. It is one of those rubberized school yards that make you feel a little like Neil Armstrong as you bounce past the monkey bars and slides. I only partially pay attention as the loosely uniformed kids line up by class and grade, I'm looking for the parents I think of as friends. They are the ones I have three-minute conversations with at eight in the morning. These are the people whose names I forget but cannot ask again because I have talked to them every morning for three years. Next, I get dropped off at school.

I love my school. We talk about important things using big words. I get to read books, write high-minded papers, and sit in big leather chairs. Kids wearing polo shirts and boat shoes flirt with each other in libraries or on their way to club meetings. Occasionally, or more often, I pause to take pictures of arches, ivy, or statues. Here I have longer conversations with people whose names I have just learned, who are usually younger than I am, and I assume are much smarter. When we finish talking or reading I go catch the train.

On the train I talk to no one. Sometimes I will nod to the lady in nurse's scrubs as I take the empty seat next to her, or when I get up to let the pregnant woman sit. I try notIMG_1380.JPG to be conspicuous when I read the title of the book being held by the old man across the aisle and I try to name the song I hear coming from that kid's earphones. The older I get, the less often I can name the tune. I bite my tongue when the high school kids are cursing and one of these days I will start participating in other people's loud cell phone conversations. Sometimes I get to catch the sun set behind the sky scrapers before my stop.

It does not matter what time I reach my stop, or what day, or even the weather; the faceless men will be at the bottom of the steps asking what I know are questions even though I don't understand the words. "Box? Box?" or "I got you?" the bone skinny guy will ask. A girl loitering down the block will try her best to make eye contact with me as I step past the two men passed out on a sofa that is strangely on the sidewalk. I continue on down the street where people sit on the stoop with the door wide open and I try not to look too hard at people's living rooms. Moms and Dads call to kids in IMG_1381.JPGlanguages I don't understand, usually Spanish, but not always. Plastic bags and chip wrappers blow around my ankles and I catch the voice inside my head reminding me to stand up straight, walk with confidence, and act like you belong here. I do as I'm told.

As I get to my block I wave to my barber through his window. My neighbor is getting dropped off from work carrying a tool box and wearing dusty work boots. Another neighbor is smoking a cigar while sitting on a bench that is chained to his stoop. I'm too lazy to dig through my bag and find my keys so I knock. I wave through the little window at the top of the door so the kids know it's me and the seven year old opens the door, still wearing her ballet leotard and tights from ballet. The little one still looks the same but doesn't mention the tomato. Now she has moved on to replaying the puppet show she saw earlier at Please Touch. I go kiss my wife, move spelling sheets and paperback books off the couch, and have a seat. I could watch TV, but if the game isn't on I would rather not. Why?

Because I won't see anything more interesting than I saw during my day.

I live in Philadelphia.

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