Cheese Steaks & Crank: Prelude to the Coronation in Philly

Written by Alan Cabal on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.

Cheese Steaks
& Crank
to a Coronation

I never make phone calls
from my room. I like to think of each day as the prequel to something. It’s
part of a positive-attitude thing I’ve been working on. I want to blend
in as best I can with these conventioneers. Viva Las Vegas.

Philadelphia has never been
one of my favorite cities. It has its good points: the beautifully preserved
architecture of the colonial period, a fine array of good restaurants, a decent
public transportation system, nice parks and museums, and a vigorously prolific
art scene. There are a lot of really stunning women around, and they are generally
much easier to approach than women in New York. The Philadelphia Inquirer
is my favorite daily newspaper outside of New York; it’s vastly better
than The New York Times. I lived in Philly for a brief time in the 70s,
but I will never live there again. It’s one of the most viciously racist
communities I have ever lived in and the climate just plain sucks. It’s
too far from the ocean and it’s overly humid. The rich in Philly are boring
and lack imagination. The city has no style; it’s like Boston or Baltimore.
The police have been getting greenlighted by the politicians since Christ was
a cowboy and God was an Irishman.

Really, the two things that
I remember most fondly when I think of Philadelphia are cheese-steak hoagies
and bathtub crank. They get terrific methamphetamine down there and those sandwiches
are actually worth going to Philly for.

City Paper is by
far the best thing that the so-called "alternative" press has to offer
down there. They just did a truly ballsy cover piece on the Dominican drug racket,
and they were offering a bus tour of Philly I couldn’t resist. For some
reason I got it into my skull that this tour was starting at 10 a.m, so I got
up last Thursday at the crack of dawn to set out for the City of Brotherly Love.
As I staggered out of my apartment building and made my way to my car, I was
greeted by a most encouraging omen. My neighborhood, being largely Dominican,
is afflicted by noise. It keeps the yuppies out. The neighbors yell a lot, at
all hours of the day and night, mostly at night and mostly in Spanish punctuated
heavily by the words "fuck," "yo" and the ever-popular "nigger."
Dominican culture apparently does not believe in doorbells. They sit in their
cars and beep. They use the horn instead of their brakes when driving, and they
have a particular fondness for installing flamboyant sound systems in their
cars. They cruise around at night blasting gangsta rap and that crack-influenced
hyperactive merengue shit they listen to at volumes easily capable of drowning
out my timid Scott Joplin even when I have the windows closed and the air conditioner
on. The cops do absolutely nothing about this.

This one young pup in my
neighborhood has this cheesy little foreign car decorated with decals that say
things like "SOLDIER" or advertise the outfit that installed his rolling
120-decibel boombox. The arrogant son of a bitch likes to park this thing across
the street and turn it way up while he and his buddies deal crack ’n’
smack and guzzle 40-ounce bottles of gruesome tasteless formaldehyde shit like
Olde English.

Well, last Thursday morning
my heart fluttered and flew when I saw his window shattered, two speaker wires
trailing out of the wreckage. One less goddamned noisy car around and I knew
it was going to be a great day. Nature corrects: the mosquito that buzzes loudest
gets swatted first.

Hauling ass down the New
Jersey Tpk. from the George Washington Bridge I drove straight into a raging
monsoon, visibility maybe six feet in any direction, torrential rain, a biblical
downpour. All the really stupid and selfish assholes these days seem to be driving
these monstrous gas-guzzling SUVs. It’s another symptom of mass cultural
insecurity, like cellphones or Kosovo. Trapped behind one of these things, a
person in a normal car has no way of seeing what is happening up ahead. Additionally,
the dickless cowards driving these tanks tend to enjoy hauling along bumper-to-bumper
in the driving rain at 65-70 mph, simply because they feel invincible. I can’t
wait to see one roll.

There were some scary moments,
but the rain stopped south of Exit 12 and I celebrated by getting some Rice
Krispies and some gas. It was then that I examined the e-mail printout regarding
the bus tour and realized that it was not scheduled for 10 a.m. at all; it was
leaving Broad and Pattison at 6 p.m. I have no idea where I got that 10 a.m.
notion, but I figured it had something to do with fate. I got to Philly around
9 a.m. and headed straight to South St.

Back when I was a young
sprout acclimatizing myself to the ins and outs of being a dope dealer and a
whore, South St. was my stomping ground, my turf. The best dope connection I
ever had in my life lived down there, and it was an easy walk over to 13th and
Locust where tiresome, polyester-clad closet queens from Bryn Mawr and Cherry
Hill would stroll by and offer me cash money for the privilege of sucking my
rather normal cock in their large cars with the Nixon/Agnew stickers and the
flag decals on them. That’s how I learned to love Sinatra.

South St. was fun then and
I am happy to report that it is still fun. Jim’s Steaks still offers the
very best cheese steak subs to be found on this or any other planet, and there
are plenty of loony shops and off-the-wall venues that are quite unique to Philadelphia
and its very hungry weird-ass second-tier urban scene.

I parked the car in a tended
lot that I favor, just $5 for the whole day, and then set off to get a beer.
I had a few joints rolled up and smoked one in an alley, hiding under my J.
Peterman Panama hat and feeling that wonderful illicit adolescent thrill all
over again. Half the fun of smoking dope consists of the fact that it’s
illegal. I had a hell of a time finding a beer. Philly is a drinking town, for
sure. There is very little else to do. They start a lot later than we do, though,
and none of the bars on South St. open before noon. I downed a couple of Budweisers
and went over to an anarchist bookstore on 5th St., figuring to scope out what
the ruckus crowd had planned for the coronation festivities. I met this fellow
there who calls himself "Albo." He runs the place and has some really
interesting queer stuff going on after hours. The lefties are planning their
usual identity politics bullshit, the Exquisite Corpse of American dissent,
no news there. They all look so angst-ridden. Albo looked kind of relaxed, like
Caligula on a good day.

Albo plugged me into some
really keen depravity, like the jackoff parties he hosts every Thursday night,
where at least one big butch black Log Cabin Republican is a regular. Considering
the political persuasions of the bulk of my clientele back when I was a fag
whore, I figure this could be a venue worth visiting during the convention.
Jackoff parties are a weird phenomenon with which I am totally unfamiliar, some
post-AIDS adolescent atavism reminiscent of the ancient teenage boy "circle
jerk" ritual. It’s bound to be fun, watching a bunch of guys sitting
around jerking off, a useful metaphor for what passes for presidential politics
these days. I am listening to late 19th-century Protestant hymns as I write
this. Maybe I really am a werewolf.

I wandered around Philly
for a while, drinking in the old-school blue-collar vibe and the sultry liquid
car exhaust that passes for air, chainsmoking American Spirits. I walked past
many of my old haunts, and past St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, on Locust
St., near 16th St. That was where my dear departed friend Clive, a crazy and
amazing old queen maybe 65 years old at the time, was busted in 1968 or ’69
for dancing naked down the street waving an 8-foot silk scarf a la Isadora Duncan.
He was tripping. The cops asked him what he was doing and he said, "I,
sir, am a POET! A poet of LOVE, and the revolution!" They thought enough
of the turn of phrase to record it verbatim for posterity and the court, but
hauled him off to the drunk tank anyway. This event makes me think of him; it’s
a shame he’s not here to see this, to inflict some goofy cheerful outrage
upon it. His great heart gave out in Vegas during a poker tournament in 1972.
I like to think it was perhaps the shock of a winning hand, a sure thing.

I caught up with Howard
Altman from City Paper and his bus, down at Broad and Pattison near the
convention site, at about 5:50. He and his associates took me for a very cool
ride around the city. We cruised past the corner where Victim Culture poster
child Mumia Abu-Jamal greased Officer Daniel Faulkner, and stopped at Dirty
Frank’s for a round. Dirty Frank’s hasn’t changed a bit since
I last walked out of the place maybe 25 years ago. There was free beer and lots
of it, although I had to supply the weed. I was kind of hoping to see what Philly
had to offer these days, but it was cool, everybody got high and that made me
feel good. We rode past the Mayor’s house and checked out his collection
of SUVs, then we cruised through what Philadelphians call "The Badlands."
It looked pretty nasty until I thought about the patch of hell across the river
in Camden. They dropped me off back down by the stadiums and I walked off my
buzz circling the Spectrum on foot. I can’t count how many times I’ve
tripped in that place.

I drove back to Jersey and
checked into a cheap motel room for the night, under the usual alias, got up
the next morning and headed back to Manhattan.

Saturday I went back down,
locked and loaded for the whole convention. I hit Exit 4 running on vapors,
tanked up and checked into the first clean motel with a pool. I took a quick
dip and drove to Philly. It was midnight when I pulled into the Mako Bar on
South St. This place bills itself as "The Retired Surfers Bar," even
though there are no retired surfers in Philadelphia. It is decorated in Key
West style and populated largely by bikers. I was finishing up a pound of Alaskan
snow crab legs, discussing the cost of public housing and the problem of tax
bases with a guy I suspect of being a member of the Pagans, when some pig-faced
bitch staggered out of the crowd and puked on the two of us. This was not a
good omen. My biker friend was pissed, but he handled it gracefully.

I came back to the motel,
cursing her all the way. She had clearly been eating corn.

Sunday morning I drove to
Dunkin’ Donuts and got a cop breakfast. Arianna Huffington’s Shadow
Convention was convening at the Annenberg Center over in West Philly and I had
to get my Republican Convention press creds, so I took a quick shower and went
over the Delaware. The press and just about everybody involved has been squawking
about the impossibility of parking in Philly this week, but everything falls
into place for Randall Flagg. I got a great space in front of a frat house on
39th St., blew a joint in an alley behind a dumpster and tumbled into Arianna’s

This Shadow Convention of
hers is like a theme park for limousine liberals. I just can’t find it
in myself to trust this woman. I was in California when she pissed away something
like $23,000,000 trying to buy her dimwit husband a Senate seat in Congress.
They were very much pro-business mainstream Reaganauts then. They blew it. Now
she’s fixated on campaign finance reform. Maybe she wants her money back.

She got up a half-hour later
than the schedule said she would and mouthed some platitudes about "opening
a conversation," about expressing "a collective longing to fix our
political system," without getting too specific about her agenda. She sounded
like Werner Erhardt on estrogen with an Eastern European accent. I kept waiting
for her to whip out a crystal and start chanting, but she whipped out Sen. John
McCain instead. He introduced himself with a folksy, self-deprecating monologue
that could easily have slipped out of a Preston Sturges or Frank Capra film.
He’s a whore, of course, but he’s the classic "whore with a heart
of gold." He’s a very charming man. So was Charles Manson. McCain
was warmly received right up until the moment he offered his obligatory endorsement
of George W., his apology for being there, his hedge against the wrath of his
controllers, at which point the audience began hissing and booing and he began
visibly squirming. It got worse when some youthful hecklers in the audience
shouted out random harangues regarding the forced relocation of various Hopi
and Navajo out there in McCain territory, an area called Black Mesa. McCain
apparently supports this maneuver at the behest of one of his corporate masters.
He threatened to walk off the stage, but Arianna came out like Glinda the Good
Witch and yanked his chestnuts out of the fire with a pithy remark about free
speech. He ducked out of a scheduled Q&A session with the audience, claiming
a schedule conflict.

There was a mass exodus
out the doors after McCain left, and the Huffington handlers began desperately
trying to coax the press down out of the balcony seats to fill the front rows
for the cameras. Nobody was buying that one, and people were straggling out.
I stuck around long enough to hear the president of Common Cause blather a little
about guns, tobacco and "people of color," and I saw a fairly neat
little movie about Camden wherein a bunch of black kids complained about Puerto
Ricans, the dope trade and the fact that the government picks up the trash down
by the waterfront but not in their neighborhoods. They also cried a little about
violence and waking up to gunfire. They seem to think this is government’s
responsibility, or something white people are somehow responsible for. It was
too funny, an overdose of irony on a Sunday afternoon.

I had to split. I went down
to Chinatown to pick up my press credentials and then hustled down to the First
Union Center (known to locals as the FU Center) to scope out the real action.
This convention spectacle is amazing. It took the contractor two months to load
in the monstrous complex of media tents and trailers and the indoor stadium
layout. It is like nothing I have ever seen before, and it is crawling with
feds of every shape, size and description, but mainly Secret Service, all of
whom bear a striking resemblance to some newscaster or weatherman from somewhere
in the not too distant past.

There will be no spontaneous
political gestures here this week. The delegates are getting swag bags that
include a "Convention Barbie." I want one. They don’t want to
give her to me, but I will have her. Convention Barbie will be mine, and I will
sing her Dominican love songs as I drive her home from the coronation.

Now, I understand that there
are bridges to cross and pools to dip into before that happens. Sunday night
there were fireworks and great hopes and expenditures launched into the sky
from Camden, of all places, to celebrate the coronation of George W. Bush, his
father’s son.

This summer it all comes
together, I can see it. I am walking to L.A., the long way. My traveling companions
are the talking heads of the television screen and other shills from Big Media;
ghosts and empty shadows, as the song goes. I find my comfort in the company
of outlaws. It’s a Stephen King novel, it’s a Situationist manifesto,
and it ends in Vegas. It starts in Philadelphia, with cheese steaks and crank,
in the rigid fascist stadium complex where rock ’n’ roll sold its
soul. It is happening now. I have never vomited on anyone or had anyone vomit
on me before. It is some kind of baptism. I saw Elvis today dancing and singing
outside the Stewart’s Drive-In on Rte. 38 in Cherry Hill, NJ. It was Fat
Elvis, the 70s Elvis, the dangerous one. He was wearing a cobalt blue jumpsuit,
in keeping with current trends. He was sweating like a pig in the heat and humidity.
It starts in Philadelphia, and it goes to L.A. It ends in Vegas, but that’s
just the aftermath. Nobody really wins this game, not even the house. The best
anybody can do is pay attention. That’s hard enough, especially with all
the noise and the SUVs blocking the view. I’m off to the pool. This week
the Republican National Convention convenes in Philadelphia. It’s a done
deal, what can happen here, what could surprise us now? Place your bets…