Nice to Meet You, My Name is Mort Maimon.
Sometimes, when new acquaintances ask me about my background, I tell them I grew up in “West Philly.” To me, that identification signifies an informality, a down-to- earthiness that simply saying “Philadelphia” lacks. It also suggests a sentimental affection I still have for the old neighborhood.
As a kid, it never occurred to me that the area bordered by 54th and 55th streets, Chestnut and Sansom streets was a tight little world of its own. After school, I roamed that area with a large pack of noisy pals. Since there were no formal recreational facilities close by, we made our own fun. Mainly, we played wire ball, half ball, and box ball. These obsolete games were accommodations to narrow streets and the persistent oncoming traffic we had to dodge. I was happy and never envisioned a more lavish or varied world. I certainly had no consuming professional ambition, so, in retrospect, the future evolved bit by bit, in a seemingly pre-ordained progression. As a result, I lost the chance to savor in advance what could and did lay ahead.
With no previews of coming attractions (I hated them at Saturday matinees), the future turned out to be exciting and highly worthwhile. Still a resident of Philly, I received my doctorate from Penn and was a long-time English department head at Girls’ High, a selective public high school. I co-authored a widely used textbook, Stories of the Inner City. In addition, I taught various education courses parttime at Penn and other local universities. Then, in the early nineties, in an unexpected way, the scene changed, both figuratively and literally.
My wife Elaine, also a native Philadelphian, became head of Arizona State University West, and we re-located to Glendale, Arizona. The area had so much to offer us newcomers, including lavish amounts of sunshine, stunning cacti, and the Grand Canyon, which we visited in every season. Most notably, we spent New Year’s Eve 1999-2000 there with friends. What a memory!
While in Arizona, I served on a pro-bono county board and wrote for the Arizona Republic, that is, when I could spare some time away from the swimming pool.
After eight years in the Southwest, Elaine became head of the University of Alaska-Anchorage. From the cacti and the canyons, we became enamored by Mt. Denali and the yearly sled-dog race, the Iditarod. Once, I even had the chance to drive miles in a pick-up truck over the frozen Yukon River. Nervous? Who, me?
While in Anchorage, I tutored university students and wrote theater reviews for the Anchorage Daily News.
Finally, my wife’s presidential express stopped at Governors State University, south of Chicago. I again worked with students and I wrote for Inside Higher Education and the Chronicle of Higher Education. I enjoyed the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture of the Midwest, another set of experiences that added to a complex and inspirational overview I never contemplated as an active kid on the streets of West Philly.
Elaine and I are home now, reveling in our native city. I’m constantly surprised by how much seems new and unfamiliar. Having been away for twenty-four years, I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. We return to living in Philadelphia with the perspective of the fifty United States, especially the regions where we lived. They are part of us, just as the here and now is connected to other stages of our lives, which I see as the here and then.