Sunday, March 26, 2006

Remembering Neighborhood Characters - Guy Sommobeech

In the movie "The Boys in Company C", there was a character named Alvin Foster who was writing a journal about his Marine Corps experience while in Vietnam. Narrating the movie, Foster's character says something to the tune of "...but who would believe it" when pondering the content of that diary.

And so it is in South Philly. There are so many characters doing so many odd things, it makes you wonder "who would believe it" should you tell someone about it. Yet everything I write here is true. Maybe a few fuzzy details, but all true.

One of those unusual characters we grew up experiencing was a person who came to be known as "Guy Sommobeech". Guy was an elderly man, maybe late 70s or early 80s when I first saw him on the street. He was always dressed in a long black rain coat, whether you saw him on a December winter's day or a warm day in June. You probably wouldn't even thought twice about him if you saw him on the street. Just an old guy who walked his dog every night down the same few blocks. I didn't think twice until...

My first encounter with Guy was while we were hanging on the corner at 17th & Oregon, back when Uncle Virgie had retired and the abandoned luncheonette still stood. One evening, sitting there with my brother, sister, a friend Kevin, and maybe a few others, Kevin says, "Hey, here comes Guy Sommobeech". Now anyone with common sense just knows that this isn't a man's real name, so I had to ask why they called him that. As Guy and his aging mutt approached, Kevin tells me to reach out and pet the dog and I'd see why. Alright, that seemed harmless enough. So sure enough, I reached for the dog.

"Sommobeech! Sommobeech!" yelled ol' Guy. You would have thought someone had attempted to reach out and steal his life savings from the man. With rage in his eyes, he screamed those immortal words, swinging at me in a swaying motion, twisting his upper body from left to right and back again in comic fashion. Probably the only person in danger of getting hurt that night was Guy himself. He would have probably bruised his own ribs or did something else to himself. I've never seen a man swing in that way at another before or since them.

If someone did that today, he'd get a different title, something other than "Guy Sommobeech". Serial killer comes to mind, and you'd start wondering where the bodies were hidden. For a few years afterward, Guy would continue to walk the dog, same routine every day in the same black rain coat. And then as all aging folks do, he disappeared, no longer to be seen.

I was never compelled to bother with him again. After all, who wants to be responsible for an elderly man hurting himself because you tried to pet his pooch? I didn't feel the need to mess with him, but then there was Kevin's nephew David.

Apparently, Guy also did the same thing to David, swinging at him and screaming at him. Me? I see an old man who's at the least upset and at the most disturbed. David I guess saw a man who had payback coming to him. One evening, he approached my brother and I with an extenion cord in his hand, with the head cut of of it. Just a plug at one end, and two bare wires at the other. David asks, "You guys want to come with me? I'm gonna electrify a fence and have Guy Sommobeech chase me into it. I'll duck, he's gonna get jolted."

If I didn't believe it would fail, I would have steered clear of this mayhem. David insisted it would work. Amused and curious, we had to see what he had in mind. So we took a walk to 18th & Oregon where the pipe company had a chain link fence on the Oregon Ave side before that land gave way first to the Telesystems Cable TV building, and now the medical offices. David took the cord, twisted the wires to the fence, and then ran the cord to the outdoor outlet at the William Penn gas station on the corner. He figured Guy would be coming by soon, so now was the time to plug it in and get ready. We watched, David got ready, to do...nothing. Having both positive and negative wires on the chain link, all he did was cause a short-circuit, and the lights in the gas station went out. Guy Sommobeech would live to see another day.

...The Sinclair gas station with it's green and white Dino the Dinosaur logo at 18th & Oregon (later BP, later William Penn, now a Dunkiin Donuts).
...Various characters from the streets of South Philly including:
Duck Lady, Camoflage Man, 40's Woman, Foschi, and a whole host of others.
We'll look at some of those other characters in future posts, so stay t


Kevin Karns said...

Don't forget:
Petey Egore and his you-hoos.
Phyliss the hairdresser and Lisa calling for an appointment.
The Twins (I can't believe I ate the Whole Thing)
The mean "WHIP GUY"

Brian said...

Hey Kevin, who can forget the twins, two "special needs" brothers who probably enjoyed life more than some who consider themselves normal. Give them a "Poppin-Hoppy" and they were as happy as you could get. For those of you who don't remember those toys, you can see them at:

I've actually been thinking about some of those people, I have a lot of memories of those folks.