My Fading Accent

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This December, a week before Christmas vacation, I flew to Philly alone. As often happens during my trips north, I thought of my friend “The Kid,” Chris Poulos. I had been out of touch with The Kid. There was no falling out; we drifted apart as people do when they grow families, when they move, when their lives get more and more complicated. Every time I went home to Philly, I would always think of him. My family was big and spread out all over the region, and all the family visits demanded all our time. I would never get a chance to see The Kid, but there was always the next trip. After all, it’s not like 35 year old men suddenly die. Actually, they do, and I was going to The Kid’s funeral.

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I read the book “Silver Linings Playbook,” but I haven’t seen the movie. It’s about a mentally ill man who lives near Philly, in a Jersey exurb, just freed from years of observation. He has obsessive fantasies about his ex-wife, a remote father and the inconsistent performance of his beloved Iggles (Eagles). In the book, you could almost hear the accent I’ve come to love. For example, you drink too much wooder (water), you’ll go to the bee-a-throom (bathroom). Eat a beggle (bagel) and check out this byuo-diful city. I had a touch of that accent, but then I moved.

To me, The Kid was Philly. He was from a section of the “Greater Northeast” called Summerdun (Somerton). Remember how no one could understand Benicio Del Toro in “The Usual Suspects?” His accent was that thick. The Kid was a cliche in a comedy film, a rough talking kid from the city making the rich folks turn up their noses, never realizing he was a lot smarter than they are. He was a lot smarter than most of us, and if you could hold his attention and set him to task, the results were impressive.

I never really knew his family, so I don’t know how he died and likely never will. We were lawyers in the same firm, happy hour friends who ended up inseparable during the work week. He would laugh out loud at you if you fell. He would self-sabotage his personal life in ways that was breathtaking. In quiet moments, his mouth and head would twitch at times as if there was an unseen speaker whispering to him. He was another kind of cliche, though. The guy who would give you the shirt off his back, the guy who drive miles to help you out? That was him. He treated everybody kindly. Everybody.

People recognize “brotherly love” as a sarcastic phrase. If you wear a Giants Jersey at “The Link,” the Eagles stadium, you won’t get a clap on the back and a free beer. Come to think of it, you may in fact get a clap, and you may be wearing that free beer. But anyone’s who’s spent time there knows this city is the last stand of kindness in the northeast. The people there are fiercely proud of their city. For Philly folks, it’s all about heart.

Moose and Zee, two animated characters on Nick Jr., taught my kids lessons about shapes, about colors.  One day Moose told my kids, “Today, we’re learning words that rhyme.” The screen shows a drawing of a dog and a log. Moose: “Does ‘dog’ rhyme with ‘log’? Yes. ‘Dog’ and ‘log’ are words that rhyme!” No they’re not. The words don’t sound alike at all. Nowadays, people don’t hear the difference.

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I miss you, Kid.

About Robert Phillips

Robert Phillips is a Miami lawyer still deciding what he wants to do for a living. Once a lover of Pynchon, Pinter, and any other artist whose work he barely understood, he has since "come home" to genre fiction and fandom, where he truly belongs. He focuses most of his fan-attention on his wife Elena and his three little girls, who will one day be a female president, a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and a supermodel/astrophysicist. (He's not sure which one will be which yet.)
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