Being in Philadelphia


Once again, the NYTimes "Happy Days" blog has a great story about what being is all about. Philosopher and shrinks talk about being and happiness, but the place to find either is out there in real life. Linh Dinh, a writer living in Philadelphia, authored today's column. The lines that I found most illuminating were these coming after a lot of talk about the seamy side of Philly.

Economically, my life is one long depression, punctuated by rare episodes of relative affluence, which to me is the cash to buy any entrée costing more than 10 bucks. But am I unhappy?

Absolutely not.

To mingle and chat, experience each other face to face, is a basic human need, but in our culture, this necessity has been deformed into the virtual — Facebook, chat rooms, e-mailing, texting. Philadelphia is not immune from this or any other social malaise, but there is an upside to living in the city. I bet many people moved here, like I did, to avoid being marooned in an exurban home with 500-plus channels, a vast CD collection and a dozen porn flicks. Leaving a Philly bar, I can just stagger bedward without endangering anyone but my pickled self. Everyone I know here, I first met at a watering hole. Where else can one socialize? In America, a plaza is not a square where folks gather to mix with neighbors, but a strip mall — and don’t you loiter!

I've the same criticism of the technologically filtered relationships so characteristic of today's world. But it is pretty rare to find this sentiment coming in the Times. And then, Dinh comes up with this zinger about consumption.

Confronted by a torrent of bad news from our capsized economy, many people anticipate at least the kind of unrest that has already broken out in many countries, but we are so docile, really. Some people I know speak of heading for the hills and stocking up on canned food, potable water, guns and slugs — the bunker mentality. But instead of fleeing one another, like we’ve already done for half a century or so, shouldn’t we figure out how to be closer in every sense? Why not shorten distances and trim all excess from our lives?

More Americans are experiencing poverty by the day, and I’m certainly not making light of destitution, but it doesn’t seem to me that increasing consumption — “growth” — is the answer. My ambition was to become an artist, before I switched to something even more practical, poetry, but one need not be a bohemian to value activities that reward the mind and spirit.

It would be great to see the Times continue this blog even after the economic mess starts to get cleaned up.