What surprised me was the venue, SNL's Jan. 27 "Weekend Update" segment with Seth Meyers, who can deadpan with the best of the snark brigade while seeming to polish the angelic halo above his bright boyish face with each blink of his baby blue eyes.
"A restaurant in Philadelphia has created a taco that replaces the shell with slices of bacon," Meyers reported. "Of course, no matter how good it tastes, you're still in Philadelphia."
It was like a midnight visit by the Ghost of Put-downs Past, a rewind of petty digs and silent humiliations suffered by those of us too proud not to care. We were defensive and insecure about Philadelphia. We never doubted our love, but we doubted the success of our mission to persuade others that Philadelphia wasn't as bad as yada, yada, yada. We were boosters, but ...
So what surprised me was the complete absence of a personal visceral reaction to this civic slight. My private blush mechanism was never triggered. My pride unaroused. My sense of truth and fairness undisturbed. My forgiveness untested. My judgment certain and serene: "That was really a stupid joke."
This was not anger management. This was weirdly wonderful, like singing, "I feel pretty" with Robert DeNiro just because I wanted to. It was liberating, this peaceful reaction. I finally understood the famous remark in response to newspaper gossip about one's private life: "I don't care what they say about me, so long as it isn't true."
And there isn't a whole lot of truth about any number of Philadelphia put-downs. For instance, W.C. Fields never savaged his hometown with such vaudeville-era chestnuts as "I spent a week in Philadelphia one day," or "First prize, one week in Philadelphia. Second prize, two weeks in Philadelphia." Nor does his tombstone read, "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."
The latter story grew from a humorous feature in the June 1925 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, in which celebrities were asked to write their graveside epitaphs. "Pardon my dust," was the famous contribution from Dorothy Parker, the New Yorker magazine's theater critic. Fields' humorous homage in the magazine feature read, "Here lies W.C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia."
Actually, the plaque on his modest tombstone in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles simply states his name and the years of his birth and death, 1880-1946.
As for the "I spent a week in Philadelphia one day" gag, that appeared as early as 1908, as a cartoon in Life magazine (this was an earlier, lesser-known Life, published from 1883 to 1918). Two businessmen with walking sticks and bowler hats chat on the sidewalk:
"And I spent a week in Philadelphia," said the first.
"When?" asked the other.
"Day before yesterday."
Who knew that such a gentle joke would haunt the city's self image for the better part of a century?
Younger Philadelphians have no sense of the sad reputation of our proud city as a national punch line waiting for the strip-club house drummer's rim shot.
In hipster-infested Northern Liberties, Tommy Up embraces the SNL Philly put-down about his creation, the bacon taco shell, which one foodie website described as "a mini heart attack ... wrapped completely in a weave of crispy pork fat."
"We have it printed on our menu: Home of the Bacon Taco," the Fishtown-raised owner of the PYT fast-food restaurant boasts. "Yes, that one. Featured on Saturday Night Live."
Where some of us were nothing but insecure and defensive about our city a generation ago, the younger breed of ambitious homeboys sees a half-empty glass of a city getting fuller all the time.
Where I saw a put-down, Tommy Up saw a payback by SNL writers in Manhattan, whose network is owned by Philly's own Comcast - mocked as Kabletown on the series 30 Rock.
"They're just mad because the corporate headquarters of NBC are now located in Philadelphia," Up says.
Dude, that Philadelphia half-glass of yours must be spiked with Kabletown Kool-Aid. Drink up!
Clark DeLeon's column appears regularly in The Inquirer. E-mail him at email@example.com.