I'm gonna plead ignorance here. I did some research, but it only turned up bits and pieces and not a full explanation.
For some time now, I've seen these guys selling pies. I don't know if it is purely a Philadelphia phenomenon or if it exists in other cities. I've spotted them in several places, but mostly on the median strip in the middle of bustling Broad Street and Windrim Avenue and sometimes at the foot of the escalator off of 15th Street at the entrance to the Market-Frankford subway line and Suburban Station.
They pace the street, facing oncoming traffic, waving a shrink-wrapped pie in the air, silently offering it for sale. They don't call "Pies for sale!" or anything like that. They just pace and wave. Wave and pace.
The pies look vaguely homemade, with golden crusts and golden-brown filling, not unlike pumpkin or sweet potato. The salesmen are all African-American and their appearance is reminiscent of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. They vary in age from early thirties down to barely seven or eight. Though not in uniform, per se, they all dress similar, as though they are following a dress code, sort of like Target employees. Solid color ill-fitting suit with pants that are too short to cover their white socks. Shined, two-tone shoes. White shirts adorned with a tiny red bow tie clamped tightly at the neck.
I don't know if they represent a particular group or movement or religion. I don't know the significance of their appearance. I don't know what the sale of the pies supports. And I don't know how the pies taste, but they sure look good.
Who are they and have they made it to your town yet?
Why are Christians so concerned with non-Christians' current convictions and afterlife fate? And why do they need to spread the teachings of their scripture to followers of other scripture and convince them that theirs is better? Proselytizing is a predominately Christian phenomenon and I just don't get it. (According to the sage source Wikipedia, the groups noted for their extensive proselytism include Anglicans, Episcopalians, Born-Again Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews for Jesus [affectionately called Christians among Jews], Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists — all Christian-based sects. It should be noted that Jews do not actively seek converts, as we are not completely happy with all of the members of our current natural roster.)
Guerrilla preaching is everywhere. I've gotten crucifix-emblazoned pamphlets proclaiming my inevitable trip to Hell handed to me in the train station. I've had leaflets — warning the grim consequences if I don't accept Jesus as my one true savior — waiting for me under the windshield wiper of my car at a mall. And if you live in or nearby a large city, you'll see that a bustling street corner is the perfect pulpit for preaching "The Word" according to.... whoever.
Street corner religion is most intriguing. There's a guy I pass most mornings in Philadelphia's busy Suburban Station on my two-block walk to work. For the most part, he is dirty and disheveled, save for a Philadelphia Phillies cap proudly perched on his matted hair. He is dressed in torn sweats and a windbreaker that has seen better days. He offers passers-by small, black & white circulars of a religious nature. He mutters an unintelligible speech punctuated with a random shout of "Jesus" after every third or fourth word. During baseball season, when the Phillies were suffering through an extended slump, I figured his Lord had better things to attend to and was ignoring his loyal service.
I am fascinated by another single prophet addressing his permanent al fresco congregation at the corner of 16th and Market Streets, a weathered volume of (possibly) scripture in hand, screaming his own interpretation to anyone within earshot. On various occasions, I have heard snippets of his doctrine to include advice on how to raise children, dealing with unconfessed sins, following Jesus' predestination for working as a stockbroker or at McDonald's, and the Blessed Virgin Mother offering transportation service to the airport. A co-worker tells me that he sputters out the word "lesbian" whenever she crosses his path on her way home.
I'm not much for religion. Most of it makes no sense to me. And when you have a guy like this as your spokesperson, I'm gonna need a little more convincing that this is the pathway to salvation. Although, I may take Mary up on that ride to the airport.
Look, just because my house happens to be next to your house doesn't automatically make you my friend.
After two years of marriage, my wife and I moved from a rented apartment in northeast Philadelphia to a three-story, six bedroom twin home (it's tall and narrow, before you get too impressed) just outside the city limits. A fire wall separated us from our connected neighbors. Occasionally, we heard muffled voices through the walls and once in a while there would be an odd "cooking" aroma, but I'm sure they had similar complaints about us after our son was born within our first year.
The neighbor we saw most often was just across our side-by-side driveways. She was a single mother of two boys. My family's relationship with her family was a friendly "hello" if we passed each other on the driveway. Sometimes I would have to remind her boys not to ride their bikes across my lawn. They apologized. Once, she sternly requested that I not mow my grass at 8 AM on Sunday morning. I apologized.
And then she moved.
A couple, slightly older than my wife and I, with a small child moved in to the vacant home. He was a spaced-out hippie holdover. Harmless but clueless. Their boy was a quiet and unusual child who rarely spoke and took to instant idolization of my son (much to his dismay). She was... was... a... um... total whack-job. She was very, very vocal about how her old neighborhood was wonderful and how this neighborhood was unfriendly. Could it possibly be you, I wondered. I had an immediate dislike for her.
Soon, they got a dog. A big hound that soulfully howled twenty-four hours a day. The loud howling was coupled with her loud yelling trying to quiet the animal. In the early morning hours, she would stand on her driveway (which is directly under our bedroom window) and scream at her son's protests over going to school.
The couple divorced. He moved out and things got worse. She got another dog. A small thing with a high-pitched "yip" that created cacophony when blended with the other mutt's wailing. She clamors about on her driveway at 5 AM, sorting her glass recyclables and loudly singing an off-key medley of show tunes for her own amusement. Then, she erected a basketball backboard at the top of her driveway, so her ridiculously uncoordinated son could rebound a basketball off our car every time he missed a shot (which was quite often). Then, she took in a boarder who, we later discovered, was a recovering drug addict that had fallen off the wagon. Two weeks ago, he broke into my car and stole my ashtray filled with pennies (about forty cents), then disappeared.* I am constantly picking her blown-over trash cans off my driveway, along with the trash remnants that accompany them. I regularly find empty bottles and food containers (from brands I do not use) in my yard. She installed motion-activated spotlights on the side of her house that are aimed at my house. She extended her driveway over the property line and spilled mud and debris onto my driveway during the concrete-mixing stage of the construction.
This morning, I was awakened by the sound of her crying and screaming loudly on her driveway. In my darkened bedroom, and without the aid of my glasses, I squinted at my alarm clock. It was 6 AM. "What the fuck is she doing now?" my wife whispered in the dark.
Okay, so yesterday I was sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's office. There were a few other people — three men and a woman — each seated in a plain brown armchair, some thumbing through magazines, one reading a newspaper. I was the only person in the room who was under the age of seventy. One man and the woman were having an inane and pointless conversation about the availability of Phillies playoff tickets. Each offered incorrect information to the other about how they understood tickets to have been distributed. I was about twenty minutes early for my appointment, so I knew my name would not be called any time soon.
Suddenly, the door creaked open and another potential patient joined us in the waiting room. This man, a hulking figure with a shaved head, dark and weathered sport coat and ragged Dockers, lumbered to the reception area, his heavy shoes crushing the carpet with each step. To confirm his appointment, he announced his name to the woman at the desk. Silently, she scanned the appointment sheet. She gave it the once-over again. She studied it a third time, this time she used her extended index finger as a guide, running it over each and every entry on the sheet. She glanced up at the man.
"Are you sure your appointment is today?," she asked.
"Uh, I think so," he answered, shrugging his slumping, though massive, shoulders.
She scrutinized the list again, this time more slowly and meticulously than her three previous attempts. She briefly conferred with another younger woman in hospital scrubs seated at another desk.
"Could your appointment have been yesterday?," she asked.
"I dunno. I thought it was today., " the man muttered, the words slurring together, barely intelligible.
The receptionist politely offered a solution. "I can make an appointment for you right now, if you like. Maybe for later this afternoon. Would that be okay?"
"That'll be alright," he accepted.
The young woman in scrubs interrupted. "Here it is!," she said. She directed her speech to the man.
"Tomorrow!," she said, "Your appointment is this time tomorrow!"
"Okay," he said, "I'll come back tomorrow." He turned and headed towards the exit, almost knocking over a frail older man who had entered during this exchange.
My name was called and I was directed out of the Twilight Zone and into the first consultation room on the left.
History was made today in Philadelphia. If you are not a baseball fan, this will mean nothing to you, so you might as well just stop reading now. I am a baseball fan, so I will continue...
Today, Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay became the first pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball to pitch a perfect game in the regular season and a no-hitter in the post-season, both in the same season. Halladay is a soft-spoken, reserved thirty-three year old who goes out to the pitchers mound every fifth game and quietly does his job without pretense. When Halladay is "on", he can send chills down your spine.
I understand that he didn't cure cancer, or feed the hungry or bring world peace. His feat is pretty insignificant in the scheme of the universe. I know he's just a guy throwing a stitched leather ball in a game that eight-year-olds play. But in the eyes of baseball fans in Philadelphia, Roy Halladay represents a hope that has eluded them for way too long.