A friend was in town from DC this weekend, a city that seems to pride itself on being the civic embodiment of purgatory. It's not until I entertain visitors from out of town that I realize just how weird Philadelphia can be. Sure, we went to the Mutter Museum and looked at the Soap Lady. But I'm not talking about fetus jars on display. I'm talking about the fetus jars hidden in the basement.
Good, bad, or downright evil, I'm talking about Philadelphia's beloved weirdos.
Other cities pride themselves on their resident oddities. It's a show. But naked bike rides and red dress runs are corporate. Trying to be weird for the sake of being weird is as unique as downtown Atlanta. Instead of an environment naturally breeding its weirdos, places like Seattle or Los Angeles employ a counter culture to boost their over all image.
Even New York's colorful characters have been trademarked so many times that the sloppy hipsters of Williamsburg seem mundane. Being a disenfranchised oddball has become so popular that you'd have to dress like you're from Dallas to stand out in Austin.
But in Philadelphia we have a loving disdain for our carnies. We love to hate them because we know we're one of them. Like a 1.5 million-clown circus act, being bizarre becomes effortless once you've been indoctrinated. Painting yourself silver and performing in Pioneer Square requires work. It's a cry for attention. Philadelphia's weirdos need no recognition nor want it. Kitsch and nostalgia are meaningless in a city with a "trolley hole". Vintage means nothing here because the past never died.
We name our bums. We name our trannies. We know where the sinking neighborhood is. We know there's a street made entirely of wood and it's not roped off for tourists because we still drive on it.
At 12th and Market we walk past the bag lady with too much lipstick, the man singing karaoke from his Rascal, the guy who looks like Mr. T wearing a powder blue negligee, then pass several Amish girls on their way to work, and we don't take a second look. It's white noise.
We can throw on a parka and khakis, but deep down we know we're just as weird as the bum hopping after the other bum who stole his leg.
Sure, we love to hate our eccentrics, mainly if they get in our way. But we hate them the same way we hate our family. And while there are a handful of transplanted posers, it doesn't take them long to realize that even the most unassuming blue hair isn't shocked by ear plugs and tattoos. Besides, that WASP has several bodies buried under her Main Line swimming pool.