Thursday, July 27, 2006


Old Pete the Water Guy usually kept to himself. In a blue collar town, he was the archetypical working man -- out the door at dawn, scrapple and eggs at the diner, an honest eight hours at the plant and then a cold one or twelve at the taproom to watch the Phillies.

Then the misery would begin.

On the surface, he seemed just like the rest of us suffering Philadelphia faithful, who, unable to control place of birth, are hopelessly damned to a life of futility rooting for the losingest sports franchise in human history. But Pete was different. As he watched every pathetic loss unfold, the old man would knowingly shake his head, offering no banter or solution to the team’s woes as his drinking buddies would dissect the Phillies’ manifold vulnerabilities.

As it turns out, Old Pete kept to himself for a reason -- he knew a lot more than he was letting on, and he was scared, terrified that if his secret were ever revealed, he’d be out of house and rowhome. He was a water guy, and he knew the root cause of the fans’ ailments.

But as retirement looms and death becomes a palpable thing, lips are loosened. And as Old Pete told it to me the other night, the Phillies and their fans’ woes start with the water.

“You heard the old saying, ‘Must be something in the warder,’ Pete murmured to me as he emptied a pilsner of Yuengling at Shamrock 13, our favorite Tacony tavern. “Well, in Philadelphia’s case, there is something in the warder.”

Our rotund bartender with the watermelon tits and sunny disposition approached and interrupted our tete-a-tete.

“Ya wanna anudder, hon?” she asked me.

Before I had a chance, Pete ordered for us. “One of what he’s having, a Ying for me, and two ice warders, sweetie,” he instructed the drink-slinging heifer.

I didn’t know quite what to make of his claim. Of course there’s something in the water…or at least there better be, considering it’s drawn from the Delaware and the Schuylkill Rivers. Wait a minute. There was something other than chlorine and other cleansers in the water? Old Pete mumbled on.

“I started at the Warder Department back in 1964. I was 23, fresh out of the Army, and I should say, happy as hell to get my discharge before Johnson escalated the shit in ‘Nam. Anyway, I had a buddy, Mickey Guerin was his name, get me in at the Department. Good gig, still is.”

Pete took a drag off his Pall Mall straight, coughed up a wad of green phlegm, wiped it on his blue Dickies pant leg, and weaved his tale further.

“I read meters for four years. Then I run into Mickey and he tells me, ‘Petey, I can get you into a better slot right inside the Torresdale plant, and you can work here until the next century if you keep a lid on how we do things here. That’s all there is to it. Are ya innerested?’ And I said, sure, it beats running away from German shepherds in North Philly backyards. So my first day inside the plant, Mickey goes, ‘Let me show ya somethin’. So he takes me to this room adjacent to the filtration works, and shows me these 55-gallon drums. Big deal, I’m thinking – it’s just chlorine or some shit like that. But it wasn’t chlorine. The label says ‘methylphenidate’ – most people know that as ritalin.”

“He had ritalin stashed at the water works?” I asked.

“No,” Pete said. “It wasn’t his stash. It was the city’s. And his job was to put it in the warder.”

When he told me that, I almost dropped my Jack Daniels. This guy’s a crackpot, I thought. No wonder he’s a little anti-social. No, this couldn’t be the truth. But still…

“I know what you’re thinking,” Pete said. “The old man’s off his rocker. Okay. I’m crazy. But let me ask you this: What makes us so hostile here in the City of Brotherly Love?”

“Any number of reasons, Pete,” I countered. “The natives don’t need ritalin to be assholes. We’re born that way.”

“Yeah, you’re born that way and drinking the fuggin’ warder. I’m tellin’ you, the warder supply is tainted. You drink it, I drink it, the Phillies drink it…and the whole while, as the ballclub loses year after year, they reinforce our irritability and depression. It’s an endless circle.”

“You mean endless cycle, Pete?”

“Whatever. It’s a circle of shit, that’s what it is. And I’ll tell ya what else. It ain’t just ritalin in the warder, either.”

“Oh, come on!”

“Look, I’m not shittin’ ya. They put LSD in the warder back in ’72. And how many games did the Phils win that year?”


“You are correct. That’s why Carlton won 27 of them – he only drank the wine. And when the team was goin’ good in ’80 and ‘83, they panicked. Thought the chemical balance would be thrown off by success. So they threw in PCP right after the last World Series in ’83 – what, with the Sixers winning it a few months before, something had to be done. And two years later, in ’85, look what happened. Wilson Goode ordered the MOVE house bombed and set Osage Avenue on fire. And what was the Phils’ record that glorious season?”

“Ridiculous, Pete,” I said. “How many of those Yings did you have?”

“Six. I’m not feeling a thing, though. I had a chaser of warder. We put a little morphine in the mix this week at the plant. But mostly, it’s still ritalin, is what it is.”

I looked at the ice water in front of me, and all of a sudden I felt a cramp in the pit of my stomach. Ritalin? That’s what psychiatrists give hyperactive kids to calm them down. If taken by someone with normal brain chemistry, it has just the opposite effect. It’s like a hit of meth. Even with the properly diagnosed patient, it has unsavory side effects. I was starting to see Pete’s point.

“Look at this place,” Pete said. “Philly fans are the most aggressive in the country. We chuck snowballs at Santy Claus and batteries at J.D. Drew. The city had to build a courtroom and jail at the Vet because of all the fights. And not because of the booze. Remember that Dallas Cowboy that got carted off on a stretcher? Wazhisname…Irving? They were cheering that like we just nailed Osammy bin-Laden or somethin’. And remember – the players drink the warder, too.’”

“So how’d this all start,” I asked him.

“Rizzo,” Pete said. “Police Commissioner Rizzo, back in ’68, right about when I started inside the plant. Mickey said he figgered if we doped the warder supply and calmed people down, the hippies and the Black Panthers and all the other radicals would get the stick outta their asses and we wouldn’t have riots like they did in Watts, Detroit or the South. They was different times. People were talkin’ revolution and shit. But as it turned out, the ritalin calmed the freaks down, but made the normal people hyper. We’ve had 40 years of people up all night shootin’ each other and all kinda mayhem. That’s what ritalin does. Rizzo was a good cop and a great mayor, but he wasn’t a chemical engineer, that’s for sure.”

I did my shot and washed it down with the ice water, bracing for the worst. Or maybe it was the dose I needed to even me out. Maybe I’d run screaming down the Boulevard with a machete, screaming at an imaginary Mitch Williams…there was a whole bunch of shit I never considered before. But one thing was certain.

I hate paying for bottled warder.


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Anonymous Kingsessing Exile said...

Great blog! I lived in Philly from 1979-1994: saw Tug throw that last pitch from the bar at Murphy's Tavern at 44th and Spruce. And speaking of what's in the water, in the late '80s-early 90s I taught a class on the Philly infrastructure, which included a tour of the water treatment plant out on City Line Ave. One day we go there and in the course of the tour were told that they had just fished a body out of the settling tank -- some guy was being chased and jumped in the tank to hide, and couldn't climb back out (or maybe that was another morphine week....)

20/7/07 1:31 PM  

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