Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Jay Gertzman's Pulp According to David Goodis: KENSINGTON IN GOODIS' TIME

Philly''s older industrial neighborhoods, including Kensington/Pt Richmond, had the same set of resulting problems at the time of out-migration, factory shutterings, and the closing down of long term support services such as drug and food stores and cheap appliance and specialized clothing stores. It did not help that younger people who remained, aware through TV and the movies of the instant gratifications of consumerism, quit school to get whatever menial jobs that were available, which brought money for the kicks of a car, clothes, parties, night clubs, and trips to the shore, gambling, and fast women. Crime was also a temptation: the K and A gang started their highly organized house break-ins in the wealthy suburbs in the 50s.
At this time, resentment against African-Americans became evident in the form of race riots. African Americans were constricted in housing choices by red-lining and lack of money. They needed to live in areas where properties had declined in value, as they had in areas like Kensington.
The state of Kensington and Port Richmond in the 1950s is at the center of what might be Goodis’ masterpiece, Down There (Shoot the Piano Player), 1956. Much of the action takes place in Harriet’s Hut, near John’s (“best food in Port Richmond”), where Eddie and Lena dine after a night shift. It is the self-sufficiency and caring for one's own that Piano Player brings to life. Eddie is accepted, and the regulars and owner of Harriet's Hut protect him when police investigate the death of Plyne, the bouncer, at Eddie's hands. Harriet is an iron-fisted but sympathetic figure, not only to Eddie and Lena, but even to Plyne, and to Eddie's addled brother when he stumbles into the place as the story begins. And he had a right to feel disoriented, even if he hadn't just run his skull into a light post. Part of the unique aura of The Hut is that it is an oasis in a kind of time warp, with its sawdusted floors, 1920s-vintage pictures on the walls (Lindberg, a Dempsey-Tunney fight), and aging clientele.
Making Harriet’s Hut the vortex around which the events of Down There (1956) circle, Goodis demonstrates once again his sensitivity to what was happening to the industrial neighborhoods which had provided the muscle and spirit to build the post-war city that was now neglecting them.
The image below is of Richmond St near Allegheny c.1955.

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