Philadelphia Psychosis Part 1

9th street was less vacant than usual for a Friday morning in early May. Tourists and old people converged like schools of fish on the dirty pavement that was hemmed in by stalls on one side and stores on the other. Dave was sitting on a plain wooden bench outside of his favorite cafe while intermittently smoking a Camel Filter and drinking a sixteen ounce cup of La Colombe coffee. He couldn’t stop thinking about how there could be glass shards in the breakfast sandwich he would be eating in the near future, as the girl with soft-looking curly brown hair behind the counter had shattered a mug while preparing his Painkiller, which consisted of microwaved eggs and cheddar on an everything bagel.

Dave had stood by the counter pretending like he didn’t notice that anything unusual had happened while she was sweeping up pieces of ceramic, but he was too outwardly unassuming to say anything, like usual, and so stepped out front for a smoke, even though he decided on cutting back the night before while hacking up mucus in bed.

An old man named Jeffrey, who was sitting at a table by himself across from Dave, was also smoking a cigarette while sipping coffee. They both stared vacantly ahead of themselves. Dave briefly thought about saying hello to Jeffrey, but decided against it, because the man seemed condescending the last time they had a discussion about literature.

One time Dave had overheard another regular say that Jeffrey looked like Larry David, and that Jeffrey became angry when this person had told him that he looked like Larry David. Dave thought about telling Jeffrey that he looked like Larry David just to spite him.

Dave realized that he had taken a drag of his cigarette after it had burned past the filter; he stood up as a kind of silent overreaction, and then spit out brown phlegm. He tried to stop thinking about other people because he was self-aware about often being under the impression that others were out to get him. As he stepped back inside he wondered why the cafe was named The Seeker, and noticed for the first time that it shared the same name as his college’s sub-par student newspaper.

The girl behind the counter looked bored while idly pressing her thumbs against her neon-green-rubber-encased smart phone. Dave assumed that his microwaved egg sandwich was in the brown paper bag on the counter in front of the girl, and tried to recall what the girl’s name was, while simultaneously trying to decide whether or not he should say anything to her. He walked up to the counter and stood parallel to her, facing her, staring at her momentarily. She didn’t look up from her phone. When Dave reached for the bag he saw that there were still tiny white shard fragments on the wooden floor beside the girl’s expensive-looking boots.

“That sucks.”


Dave realized that what he had just said was so vague that it could have been construed as a comment on almost anything, but then became annoyed at how quickly she had questioned him in a monotone that resembled a declarative statement. “I don’t want to live anymore” he thought. He often thought this phrase, but not often actually meant it. Her eyes fleetingly moved up and then to the right. Dave momentarily became worried that she could hear his thoughts. There was the sound of footsteps coming from the basement.



The sound of footsteps reversed back down the stairs. She went downstairs. Dave had heard that voice before, it was her manager. Dave didn’t like the manager of The Seeker. When he had applied for a job there a few weeks before he didn’t get a response. He would have preferred to work at a cafe that was only a block from his house, as opposed to one twenty blocks away in Rittenhouse Square. He came to the conclusion that the boss only hired good-looking females.

As Dave walked out of The Seeker he couldn’t stop thinking again about how there could be glass shards in the breakfast sandwich he would be eating in the very near future. There could be microscopic shards that he wouldn’t notice right away, not even while swallowing and ingesting the eggs and cheese and bagel, but that the tiny glass or ceramic or whatever it was could slowly stab his insides for days and/or weeks until he died a horribly painful death.

“She could have slipped some shards in while I was out smoking,” Dave thought. “That girl never liked me anyway, always giving me dirty looks for no good reason.”

While walking out the door of the cafe, he looked up in order to avoid eye contact with the Larry David look-alike. The color of the aluminum awning was the same as the sky beyond it. He didn’t feel like a form-of-life anymore. Everything was so mundane for him; it all unified into a non-personal generic pronoun. Dave didn’t like to think philosophically, instead he decided to just cope with the feeling of dread. It started to drizzle a little while he was walking home, up 9th street, where it was also starting to get less crowded. He considered stopping at Lorenzo Pizza and just throwing out the egg sandwich, but then remembered that he was broke. He also felt guilty about starving people. Then he remembered the summer when he first moved to the city, and was half-starved half the time. He was standing at the corner of 9th and Christian waiting for the stoplight to turn green when the aroma of pizza began to overwhelm him. He crossed the street, was distracted by some dogs he walked by, and then tried to ignore the impulse to run in to Rite Aid in order to buy another pack of cigarettes.

After Dave opened the door to his house he sub-consciously slammed it shut because it normally wouldn’t close all the way otherwise. One of his housemates shouted something from upstairs, perhaps in criticism. He ignored whatever was said and walked to the living room, where he had to move a bunch of dirty jackets off of the couch, and didn’t feel like clearing the table of beer cans and malt liquor bottles. He opened his breakfast sandwich that was wrapped in aluminum on his lap. His coffee had become cold, but he finished it anyway before lifting the top half of the bagel and thoroughly inspecting its insides for any ceramic. Even though he didn’t see any, Dave thought that “there is a good chance that some glass got inside this bagel.” Although he ate it in a vociferous manner, partly because it tasted so good, partly just to get it over with, and he knew that there would be some sort of psychosomatic reaction in his throat, but he dealt with it.

When he was finished he went and got his laptop. He preferred sitting in the living room during the day when no one else was around in comparison to his dark bedroom whose only window faced an alleyway. Dave enjoyed the soft yellow light that he could almost feel shining through the large storefront window and into his body while he was lounging on the stained striped couch.

He stared at the intricate yet thinly painted over floral design on the ceiling while waiting for his Macbook to reboot. It re-loaded to Google Maps, allowing Dave to recall that he had passed out drunk while searching for satellite images of North Korean concentration camps again the night before.

Dave typed “Philadelphia, PA” because he had reasoned that his mind wouldn’t be as desensitized to the thought of emaciated-children-prisoners eating rats in this sober state of awareness. While looking at an image of Philly from space, Dave realized that the city looked like a giant sack of geographic testicles sandwiched in between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. Then he started to fall asleep despite the caffeine.

3 replies on “Philadelphia Psychosis Part 1”

The detail you express through your writing makes even a menial task like getting breakfast seem interesting. I want to know more about this person, although I think I already might. I appreciate the imagery of Philadelphia, the street outside, the messy townhouse, even the girl’s cell phone.

On another note, I think blocking google maps for a week or two might be good for your sanity. I love you, great work, keep writing. I read your chapbook forward and back and now I am bored and want more.

I’ve been trying to identify the voice that speaks in some of Sean’s prose. It reminds me of the voice that speaks in a classic of American Literature, Call It Sleep, by Henry Roth, published in 1934. That novel contains so much emotion, and actual Religion, and sympathy for human suffering. Five stars.

Alexander Marshall

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