Why Philly Matters: Return to Sender

Like an illicit affair, the city gets into your blood, and can still drive you crazy years after you’ve left it. In a love (hate) letter to the town that launched her career, LISA DePAULO proves that while you can take the girl out of Philly …

Because you don’t take any shit from anybody. Exhibit A: Did Sarah Palin really think that just because she was running for vice president, she could go to a Flyers game — a freakin’ Flyers game — and not be booed? Even though she brought that little Piper kid with her (the one we know is hers) in a Flyers jersey, and the other teenage daughter (you know, the un-pregnant one), you Philly dudes weren’t buying. As Sarah would say, “God bless you! And God bless America! And I can see South Philly from my house!”

Because you guys don’t give a rat’s ass about celebrities. (See Caribou Barbie, above.) Of course, this could have something to do with the fact that there are no celebrities in Philadelphia. But let’s not be picky. Philadelphians know something that people in New York and L.A. will never grasp: It isn’t about celebrity, it’s about characters. (Notice I did not say character. I said characters. Which is sometimes the same thing, but not necessarily in Philly.) I can tell you with absolute honesty that in a quarter-century of writing profiles, I’ve met a lot of celebrities. And I’ve met a few real characters. The characters are better, trust me. And they were all from Philadelphia. (See below.)

Because only Philadelphia could have produced both Leonard Tose and Bobby Simone. May they rest in peace. Though that would probably piss them off. I loved these men. I miss these men. These were real men. Not to mention the best subjects I’ve ever had the pleasure (and torture) of writing about. (Sandy Newman, you are third, sister-girl. But even with that closet full of shoes, you weren’t fucked up enough to be in the top two.) Leonard and Bobby, I will never forget you. Leonard introduced me to the best Bloody Mary in America (at the Vesper Club, with shaved ice, though you kinda had to be with him), and taught me one of the great lessons in life: “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” I will always cherish the day he took me through his soon-to-be-repossessed mansion on the Main Line — which he stubbornly refused to leave, even though all he had left was a chair and a bottle of Dewar’s, because Wife Number Five (not the one who cut all the legs off his suits) had allegedly taken everything that wasn’t nailed down, and some of what was, including the -solid-gold Sherle Wagner toilet-paper holders. And yet … and yet … the man still had his dignity. He was still dressed like James Bond, still sipping Dewar’s White Label (tall glass, rocks, twist), still chain-smoking elegantly. Leonard, Leonard, Leonard. You gotta respect a man who can smoke, drink and gamble his way through five wives and a sports team and still live to be 88. And Bobby. Where else but in Philadelphia could a young, innocent writer (yes, I actually was at the time) call up the biggest Mob lawyer in America, who’s just been convicted of a zillion or so RICO counts, and ask to “hang out” with him until his sentencing? “Yeah, sure, come over,” said Bobby. We spent the next several weeks getting sloshed on martinis in every gin joint in town, with Bobby imparting more wisdom than a gal could ever ask for. Namely: Fuck ’em all! God, I loved that guy. Years later, after he got sprung from prison, I would return to Philadelphia only because I knew if I walked into D’Angelo’s, I would find him on a bar stool. And we would talk into the wee hours about everything and nothing. And he’d tell me how much he hated the story I wrote about him. And loved the story. And hated me. But loved me. That was Bobby. Love/hate, love/hate. Just like Philadelphia.