A Day in the Life of a Philly Arts Lover

From Zoe Strauss's billboards to a Bloody Mary at Fergie's, this city has all I need.

This past Saturday, I spent the first half of my day in a 1998 Nissan Maxima, by choice. I went on a driving tour of Zoe Strauss’s billboards with Sarah Rose Etter and Courtney Bambrick, poetry editor at Philadelphia Stories.

Our first stop was Ultimo. Not only was the coffee exceptional, but they bundle their used coffee grounds and leave them outside for home composting, so Courtney’s day was already made.

We got lost. We got stuck in traffic around the Italian market. We wanted to pull over and just stare at the photo of the “I love you tattoo”; the skin texture and body hair blown up to billboard size was just stunning.

We got lost again. We got stuck in traffic around the Wells Fargo Center but got to beep at folks tailgating before the Flyers game.

We saw “Three Mile Island” and “Nila Holding Shirt” and thought about what a good writing prompt Nila would be.

Along the way, we talked about the editorial policies of different literary magazines. I thought I would win the “fastest-rejection-ever-received” competition, what with receiving one in about 18 hours, in the middle of the night, and later finding out that this particular magazine allows undergrad readers to reject after being the only reader, but Courtney won with a boilerplate rejection in 57 minutes.

We got lost again.

We instituted a Silence Policy. It lasted 2.5 minutes. We drove back to South Philly and left the car in Sarah’s neighborhood, then took the subway up to Fergie’s Pub. Fergie himself was there; I hadn’t seen him since he judged the Literary Death Match that Painted Bride Quarterly hosted last May.

I told him what we had been up to, and he let me know that he is one of the “William Way friends” co-hosting a behind-the-scenes tour with Zoe Strauss and would be meeting her for the first time next weekend. I told him that sometimes I dream about the Moules Dijon at Eulogy, then sat down and ordered one of the top five Bloody Marys I’ve ever had.

After an amazing brunch (try the macaroni and cheese and the brisket chili), with others arriving and joining us, we went upstairs for Philadelphia Stories‘ launch party for their newest book, Stripped.

The place was packed, and the reading was being livestreamed. The first reader was Devan Goldstein, who was introduced as a “web-user analyst, strategist and architect,” prompting an older man at a table near me to comment, “What a world we live in … ”

Stripped gets its title from its premise: The flash fiction within is published anonymously, so that even genders are unknown to the reader and therefore, the “read” is unbiased. We were told the readers would not be reading their own work … or would they?

Eight people reading would normally be a lot, but not when they’re reading Flash. I left, thinking of images from the reading and my day, the husband who turned into a bear, the woman who bought the haunted house, Oranginas in France, Pimm’s Cups at Fergies, Zoe Strauss’s neighbors, and whether I’d be able to tell which story in the book I now had in my bag was written by Michael Martone.