Philadelphia Metropolis


Inside the Magic Garden

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By Jim TataliasMargic Garden.jpg

As my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter gazed up at the stuck-out broken bottles and painted-on old man genitals, I second-guessed my judgment. Maybe everyone was right when they said I was too young to be a parent.          It was too late for thoughts like that. Already she had stumbled down the shallow staircase and into the great big belly of Philadelphia's Magic Gardens. And it looked like she was about to meekly charge headfirst into those nice-looking old women and ruin their day out.

I caught her by the arm and told her to hold my hand. I was 23. I still am. That's not too young. Before life expectancy was what it is now blahblahblahbrabrah. But as long as I keep her fed, not dead, and happy, two cops and a woman with a clipboard won't show up at my doorstep to take her away forever. I think. Also, she should be bathed regularly.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, on South St., seemed like such an unexpected, grand place to go. There are mosaic walls all over town by the artist Isaiah Zagar, with shards of mirrors and strange painted words, and they all converged here. We had to stop in.

Her legs were going to freeze. Barely dodging a bare bicycle wheel hanging from the wall, I grabbed the bottom of her pant cuffs and pulled them to her ankles. A tiny hand plowed into my face, and she took off again.

I made my way back up some stairs and into a narrow corridor. Foreskins on my left at eye-level, labias on my right. I try not to make eye contact with the young woman next to me. That would be awkward, no matter what expression I had on my face. Like, if I were really excited about the foreskins, or if I were really prudish and difficult about them, there's no good option. I keep my head down and hunt for the tiny person.

            I find her where the path opens.


            "Lucy, you've got to hold my hand."


            "Yes. Hold my hand."


            ". . . did you hear a truck?"

            "Fuck! Fuck!"

            "That's great. Did you hear any cars, too?"


            "Great, now hold my hand."

            "No, no, no, no, no!"

She backed against the spliced-mirror wall and cried. I hoped this wouldn't ruin the foreskin woman's experience here. We settled that she gets to walk on her own if she doesn't stray too far from me. Another fail for discipline. The diaper bag was starting to dig into my shoulder.

I had heard that this place combined Old Testament imagery with self-beatification. I approached a wall that was basically a shrine to Isaiah Zagar and his wife. It was very sweet, and they were very naked. I wondered if she had a problem with that. They were together for over 40 years, so I guess not.

My wife stopped by and offered to take our daughter so that I could look around some more. I waved bye-bye.

I passed by misspellings, an abundance of painted eyes, chips of chalk and mortar. I descended again into the deepest pit of the exhibit, walked to the farthest corner of the sub-underground, sat on the ground, and looked up. From there, I could see the full glory of three stories of panoramic insanity unfolded before me. I sat in the heart of some guy's magnificent, deranged hallucination made incarnate. And I think I got it.

It was a nice day with a warm breeze. You know, this might've been worth doing in the first place. My daughter wasn't going to remember the three-headed penis man with enormous hands; she wasn't going to remember anything. But she was enjoying a warm spring day out with her family, and maybe, years from now, when she has to decide whether to put her dad in a nursing home against his will, that lingering feeling of happiness will sway her just enough to let me slobber all over my own stuff to the end of my days.

"Honey, are you ready to go? Lucy's kind of irritable. She hasn't had a nap all day." I guess the nursing home people will be friendly, too.

We'd left the Magic Gardens behind, and we were almost a block away.

I looked over to my wife. "Hey, do you think we'll be together in 40 years?"

She smiled. "That would be cool."

"And once that happens, I'll turn myself insane and draw hundreds of naked paintings of the both of us on the side of a building."


            "Don't worry. That's a ways off."

"Please don't."

"Just forget we had this conversation."

"I'll remember that I said, 'No.'"

"You know, don't even remember that. It's so far off."

Our daughter had fallen asleep.


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