It was menacing smoke. Dense, impenetrable smoke that gyrated from a massive junk heap at Philadelphia Metal and Resource Recovery and unfurled across the Delaware Valley, visible for miles around. Like a small hellmouth had opened in the Earth, punching fireballs into the night sky. Those who were far enough away to know that their families and their lungs and their homes were safe from the inferno, they remarked they’d seen fires, but not like this.
The last thing hanging on Tom’s refrigerator is a real-life meme of Tom. Photo: two-hundred-seventy pounds of marine stock gone avuncular with time, mugging in the same half-buttoned Bermuda shirt he’s wearing right now. Caption: “Everybody just wants to be liked and accepted. Except Tom. Tom doesn’t give a shit.”
Edgar Allan Poe looms in the background of Frank Taylor’s childhood memories growing up at the Spring Garden Apartments public housing complex at 7th and Green Streets. Taylor, 63, used to scale the walls of what is now a one-story Philadelphia Housing Authority office building. From its roof, the neighborhood kids could reach the high limbs of the apple trees that grew in the backyard of Poe’s old house. Grapevines also shot up within reach. “We would pack bags with the fruit,” Taylor says. “You know how the 1960s were. We were poor. But we’d enjoy ourselves with the little things we could get.”
I follow the streetsweeper’s directions down King Hussein Street towards the Roman Steps, swiveling my head for a glimpse of the building from the photograph I had seen in a glossy magazine. According to the article, the Philadelphia Hotel was the first of its kind in Jordan, a valve in the heart of Amman. It signaled an unseen standard of tourism in a country that now depends on the industry. Perhaps its founder, Anton Nazzal, saw the future coming, or perhaps he just saw a market for new visitors (regional dignitaries, Gulf kings, Peter O’Toole), people who were accustomed to Western amenities like cotton mattresses and flushable toilets.
It is a 626-page book. It consists of one unbroken paragraph. This paragraph contains common words we all know—words like man, woman, shovel, and artichoke—and these words are used repeatedly. The verb “laugh,” for example, appears nearly twenty-eight hundred times in its various forms, roughly four laughs per page. The book presents some strange and new words as well, like “turq” and “elbowthumbs.” It is worth noting that, to my knowledge, no word appears just once.
Cory Popp's latest video evokes a kind of present-tense nostalgia for its subject. Like, oh, here’s the endless, gorgeous city you forgot you lived in. The one you see evolve from I-95 after a long trip out of town. You can feel good about this city, it seems to say.