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Jennifer Bates, bookseller & artist who embraced the unexplained

THEY WERE a couple of kids living it up in South Florida. That's what you did in places like Miami Beach when you were young. You partied; you went to clubs.

THEY WERE a couple of kids living it up in South Florida.

That's what you did in places like Miami Beach when you were young. You partied; you went to clubs.

They loved the Screaming Sneakers and their favorite Ramone was Dee Dee.

"We were young and goofy in South Florida," said Ronda Goldfein. "Life was about having a good time."

Ronda was talking about a fascinating woman named Jennifer Bates, who would remain her best friend through a number of geographical, occupational and social changes over the next 30 years.

Both Ronda and Jennifer eventually got serious about life - sort of.

Ronda became a Philadelphia lawyer and runs the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. Jennifer, a talented if quirky artist, arrived in Philly in 1992 and within a few years opened a successful bookstore called Germ, in Fishtown, dealing in the occult and other paranormal phenomena.

But 20 months ago, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. She died Thursday. She would have been 46 on June 19. She lived in Fishtown.

Jennifer liked to affect black shirt and pants, black boots, even a black wristwatch to match her somewhat unruly black hair. She had tattoos of religious, mythical and occult symbols.

When she walked down the aisle as the maid of honor at Ronda's wedding in 1992, guests were either intrigued or horrified by the "glyph for science" tattoo on her left wrist, showing a beast ripping apart a star.

At one time, her business card read, "International Thug."

Yes, whether she learned to take life seriously might be an open question, but she was a brilliant woman with a sardonic sense of humor and was fiercely loyal to her friends.

"If you were fortunate enough to be among those she loved, she was somebody you could always count on," Ronda said. "She was without a doubt the smartest person I have ever known."

As an artist, Jennifer employed acrylic paint to create highly detailed images, often of unusual symbolism. No quick sketches for her. One of her works was a floor-to-ceiling mural of flowers, birds and insects that graces a corner wall of Ronda's office at the AIDS Law Project.

And Ronda's husband, David Lee Preston, a Daily News editor, wrote about a rather amazing chair she created for an auction to raise funds for the AIDS Coalition of Southern New Jersey.

An Inquirer columnist at the time, David described the chair as bearing plastic cockroaches, two giant pointing fingers, photos from his columns and an image of David with his dog, Agnes, inside a UFO.

The cockroaches, Jennifer explained, were to keep people from handling the chair "since most people have a very visceral reaction of horror to cockroaches. . . . It was a security measure."

Jennifer's unusual bookstore at 308 E. Girard Ave. was described in an Inquirer article by Jeff Gammage in 2004: "Bates' new and used books all fit under the umbrella of what might be called Apocalypse Culture: UFOs, Bigfoot, Kennedy assassination, ghosts, time travel, conspiracy, ESP, the unexplained, unknown and just plain peculiar."

Many of Jennifer's paintings hang in the bookstore and have been exhibited elsewhere. Although they were for sale, Jennifer hated to part with them and often priced them out of the reach of most buyers.

"She paints beautiful, disquieting artworks that combine elements of Judaism, American industry and atomic energy," Gammage wrote.

"Jennifer's wit delighted and awed," said Don Groff, a Daily News editor and longtime friend.

"She had a way of digesting a situation - be it news or fashion or music - and spitting out a quip that nailed the moment with intelligence, perfectly seasoned with humor.

"In a world of conformity, she stood out for her independence and individuality. She is truly irreplaceable."

Jennifer was the daughter of the late Clyde Bates, a Marine Corps intelligence officer, and the former Muriel Singer.

She bounced around from Miami to New York City, where she managed a few movie theaters, attended the Rhode Island School of Design, moved to Hollywood, Calif., bounced back to Miami and finally arrived in Philadelphia at Ronda's behest.

"You'll like it here, I told her," Ronda said. "Philly is cool."

She managed the Roxy Screening Room on Sansom Street, worked as a sales clerk at the Fuzzy Dude bookstore, and was with the Jewish Community Center when she opened her store.

"I wish I could say I was picked up by a UFO," she told Gammage. "A lot of people say I was dropped by one."

She is survived by her longtime companion, David E. Williams, and a brother, Cameron.

Services: Memorial service 1 p.m. June 2 at the Conservatory at West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd. *