the unfamiliar

Even though I had made the journey the day before, I got lost anyway.  I missed a few important turns and ended up on streets even more narrow and unfamiliar than the ones I had navigated the day before.  There is nothing that makes me more anxious than being lost: it stirs up all my feelings of incompetence, and once those demons have set upon me the way is open for more to rush in.  And so I arrived at The Hospitality House exhausted and without confidence.

It was the oppressive heat that hit me first – that, and the overpowering stench of cat urine.  A row house in a heat wave is like an oven.  Suddenly, all those people hanging out on their front steps made much more sense to me.  One of the young residents of The Simple Way showed me around the house, set me up in the one room with a tiny window air conditioner, and said as he left, “lock as many locks as you want.”  There were two.

The sounds of a neighborhood like Kensington are entirely different than the sleepy little borough of Ambler where I live: the constant din of traffic, emergency sirens, honking horns, speeding vehicles, barking dogs, the ice cream truck making its rounds, the Market-Frankford Line pulling in and out at regular intervals — the automated voice announcing, “Doors are closing,” the occasional but distinctive sound of colliding automobiles, and the pulsing beat of competing cultures both in the music that lives in the neighborhood and in that which drives by with regularity.  Families pour out into the streets to escape the heat of their homes and all manner of communication takes place right there on the sidewalk – carried on at great volume.  Everyone else’s language always sounds like an argument to me – loud, insistent, indecipherable.  Probably more likely, they are discussing the weather or the economy.  But with four different languages audible through the walls and windows, it’s hard to know.   And finally, there is the occasional sound of firecrackers or gunfire or the backfire of a passing vehicle.  It could be any of these things and probably is all three.

I’ve been thinking about my Dad a lot lately.  After Rob and I moved to Philadelphia 24 years ago, Dad made the trip from California by train.  He visited with his mother in Boston and also with us.  I was still getting used to the culture shock of an east coast city and I must have told my Dad that many parts of Philadelphia felt very dangerous to me.  Dad said something like, “What’s unfamiliar feels dangerous.  When you get to know it, it won’t feel that way so much anymore.”

I miss my Dad.

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