GOING ON A BENDER WITH THE UNDERGROUND LITERARY ALLIANCE
by Will Ratblood
If you find yourself in Philadelphia, the first thing you will want to do is get drunk. And what better way to go about that than to follow in the guiding, if erratic, footsteps of your frequently un-sober ULA brothers? Come with me as we go on a little drinking tour, a little bender, with the ULA.
You will want to begin underground (and isn’t that so aptly symbolic? The underground--where we all claim to be, where we’re all pure in the earth with the hippies and frogs, squishing moist soil between our toes, beneath the surface with the worms and termites where the audience for our writing is primarily groundhogs), in Suburban Station. There are many entrances but let’s descend on the steps at 17th street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard (if you happen to ask for directions, make sure you say "JFK" boulevard--some residents here may not associate the former president with the initials "JFK", or vice-versa). Walk slowly down the stairs. As you reach the bottom breathe in deep--are you getting an overpowering stench of urine? If not, I fear there is something wrong with your faculty of smell. No time to go to the doctor now however--best to wait till our little bender is over and have him at once attend to the many problems we will no doubt have at that time. C’mon in, step through the doors.
Most people really dislike the place, but I love this dingy, smelly, hot, dimly lit underground mall. I miss the area they have since taken away--a group of chairs and tables, just across from McDonalds, which was populated constantly by homeless. There were always spills, and "stuff" on the floor and tables, completely filthy. Something about that mix of excessive body odor, urine-soaked clothing and fried food McDonalds smell--it was magical.
We keep walking however because our destination today is the Penn Center Restaurant. One reason we are at this cozy triangle of an eatery is that it opens at 6am. Another is that you can get a can of Miller for $1.75, and if you want to splurge for an imported bottle of something, like maybe if you want to buy one for your ULA guide who keeps sending off signals that he’s broke from years of supporting "the struggle" and he can tell you’re flush with cash from your cushy life, corporate job, or the huge trust fund you no doubt sip from and he’d appreciate it if you bought him a few.
Neon beer signs. Glass walls look out into the hallways of the station. As I sit here now, at noon, there is Joe Lunch Pail: drinking a quart right from the bottle and smoking a cigarette, nothing else--I guess that is lunch. This is the man for whom we struggle; he probably has consumed every known valuable work of fiction and is starved, eagerly awaiting the release of the next lauded contemporary novel.
There is another similar to him. This man looks like a painter, only he is pouring his quart of Budweiser into . . . a Styrofoam cup! Eeegads, he is more hardcore than me, I can tell you. At least he is reading the newspaper, which is more than I can say for myself today.
ULA history is all around us in this place. Here there have been several meetings of strategy and theorizing between myself, Private Balgobin and The King. A few yards away was where--in a tragically flawed scheme to either A. convince him to join "our side" or B. duct tape his body to the Rocky statue on Broad street--some of us greeted the evil Nick Mamatas as he emerged from the train that brought him from the evil place of Jersey City, just across the river from evil Manhattan, one afternoon long ago. How we could not have known we were dealing with pure evil, I can hardly say; we were such babes in the woods.
But just outside I see an Asian man taking an Asian woman’s picture as she stands in front of . . . the train directory posted on a square pillar. And a sign above our table reads, "Beer customers please do not disturb the others around you"--wonderful as it is, this is clearly not a place where individuals intent on tying-one-on, and particularly the ULA, can linger.
Don’t stumble already, my friend; there are many more establishments we have to visit as we further our buzz.
Will Ratblood claims this is just Part I of a series, and that Part II will appear when he's through nursing his hangover. He used to be the Ombudsman for the ULA and hails from the City of Brotherly Love. He also publishes Rat Blood Soup, a zine that documents his adventures drunk and sober. Contact him at P.O. Box 26098, Philadelphia, PA 19128.