We walked through parts of the city that were kicked down, and sometimes marginally repaired with bits of plywood. Everywhere, plywood. We walked across the cracked and twisted sidewalks between buildings that slumped into each other, roots from trees destroying the symmetry of the walkways, and brushing into your eyes and mouth as you moved past. Sidewalks where groups of people set up chairs, cooked things on small barbecues close to the ground, and didn’t bother to shift when you needed to walk by. People who were happy, and who didn’t like you, and would watch you walk away.

Through sections of town where you heard nothing but the sound of rushing cars and loud Jamaican accents, into a little eatery that made its money by selling a wall of mysterious beers I’d never heard of to the local college students. White letters pressed into brown grooves above the counter spelled out, without punctuation or a breath, the food that they could make for you. I ordered a burger and fries, because it seemed safe, and she bought a beer that I’d never heard of and something without any meat in it. We sat at a table in the back, thick with grease and filth, while a partially obscured television played something in the kitchen, and the old locals debated, and the teenagers outside the window climbed up onto stone planters and groped each other and let their bikes fall on the ground.

They forgot my fries, and decided to charge me again when they finally delivered them ten minutes later. I didn’t argue. The atmosphere was angry, like I didn’t belong there because I had never been there before. The burger couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, and it was a challenge to get packets of ketchup to try to disguise it as something edible. Why couldn’t I just buy beer and get out like the rest of the white kids?

We took a trolley across the city on her birthday to go to a fancy restaurant called ‘The Saloon’. I’d called everywhere I thought we could get to in order to find her the perfect eggplant parmesan, and we finally settled on this, after some debate. There was always debate, and it was unpredictable. It could be about a pause, or a word, or the absence of a word, or some personality quirk or failing that had been imperceptible until now. We wore nice clothes. She was beautiful and I watched her perfect, jet black hair cascade down her back as we walked, and I couldn’t wait to get her back to the apartment. We sat in wooden chairs and we felt like kids playing as adults. Our waitress was pretty and bright, and things felt right, for a few minutes. The food was delicious, and the meal came to $100 or so, and I paid, and we left, and I was glad that I could give her something special to remember. This was going to be her new life. She cheated on me a few months later.

I don’t think that the night went well. Sleeping arrangements required that I stay on a bloated inflatable mattress in the middle of the floor with a small fan directed somewhere between us, because her small mattress wasn’t large enough for two, and she had very precise sleeping needs. Mathematical pillow positioning, exact temperatures, no light touching, a specific blanket in a specific place. You could not shift without disrupting the entire order of things and the ritual had to start anew, so I slept elsewhere. It was simpler.

We walked around the corner from her apartment, past the Blockbuster and the colorful fruit truck that was always there, give or take a few feet. We ordered ‘sour cream and onion’ fries, and a sandwich. They advertised ‘flavor fries’, and as a fan of french friend in general, I felt an obligation to sample their wares. A young black kid was painting a giant pizza on the wall and getting it terribly wrong, but talking about going to art school. His plastic box of paints and brushes took up a table, and he offered to move them for us to sit down. Some arcade game squatted in the corner, and the cashier would disinterestedly wander out every so often to plug in a quarter, and walk away again when the phone rang. An obese, grey, unfriendly couple took over the other booth.

The fries arrived in a round foil container, wet, in a pale, off-white gnarl of sour cream and onion dip. We ate them anyway, and threw most of the mess away when we were sure they weren’t looking.

My favorite dining in Philadelphia was eating sandwiches out of paper bags or Chinese food with plastic forks, on her filthy couch, watching really great or really awful movies on TV, dozing off with a full stomach and feeling her fleshy stomach under the side of my face, trying to ignore the piles of garbage and dirty dishes that her and her roommates let infest the breadth of the apartment. I was inclined to never walk barefoot there, but the food, safe in paper bags from someplace outside of the apartment, was great.