Friday, April 28, 2006

The Mad Barber

OK, I'm on a roll, with my first post below about drug stores in over a week. I've felt good enough today to write, so my memory is springing into action.

Most of those I hung with around here remember the "Mad Barber", Mr. John Torresse at Bancroft & Oregon. No, he didn't give himself that name, we did. The Mad Barber was not a tolerant man. He did not like anyone hanging on his corner, even if you were perhaps a monk in a saffron robe sitting there silently meditating. If you did hang there, you were an open target. It was said he was a race car driver back in Italy. He had a pair of Alfa Romeos that he drove, at one time he had a third car, all were the same model. Whether he actually did race or not we'll probably never know, I think that the photos on his wall of racers and cars gave that impression.

I think every one of us had at one time or another been chased or felt his wrath in some way. I remember waiting for someone on his corner - actually not even in front of his shop - and he chased me up Bancroft Street with a straight razor. Fortunately my youth made me faster than he was, i may have avoided being sliced and diced that day.

Another time, my friend Kenny (aka "The Professor") walked into class while we attended Bishop Neumann and told me he was going to kill that man. He said it out of anger and the Mad Barber wasn't in any danger, but Kenny was upset. The Mad Barber had seen him standing on the corner with another person and tossed an M80 out the door at them, leaving them unharmed but with ears that rang for a few days from the explosion. I think I would want a piece of someone who did that to me, so I fully understand The Professor's anger.

What was strange is that normally, you do stupid things as kids and then make peace growing older. With us, it was in reverse. The Mad Barber had a water ice stand that he operated in the garage at the rear of the barber shop during the summer. We got to be friendly with him because of that. But as we got older, it seems we were perceived as the enemy, and open targets for him. Well, we all lived through it, none of us were ever truly physically harmed.

And yes, like many of the old characters mentioned in this blog, he's no longer with us.
I remember he moved into a local nursing home some years ago and sold the property. Flocco's Painting is now located there. I heard a few years ago that he had passed away. The memories are still there though, part of growing up in South Philly.

...Vito's Barber Shop on Broad near Porter Streets. Vito's was the first place my dad ever took me for a haircut. He shut the place down sometime in the late 1960s.
...Bob's Barber Shop at Bancroft & Shunk. Bob Golden was the shop owner where Johnny of Johnny's Place got his start. Bob had a glass eye. I remember John telling me that he liked to play a joke with some customers where he would hang over the chair from the rear and drop his eye into their laps. That had to spook some guys. I remember him in my youth, Bob was a nice guy.
...Johnny's Place still stands and he's my barber. I remember in my early teens, I was getting the kid's rate because John didn't know my age and I didn't know at what age he charged adult rates. One of the neighborhood guys, Enzo, blew that for me. I was in the chair shortly after my birthday. Enzo was there and said, "Hey, thirteen years old now huh?" John took notice and said, "ah, I thought you were younger than that. No kids price for you anymore." I could have had some pocket money saving the difference if he didn't know, but honesty rules and I'm still paying the adult rate today.

The Old Time Neighborhood Drug Stores

The term "Drug Store" has just about faded from the American lexicon, at least when it comes to South Philly. Today most people will mention CVS, Rite Aid, or Walgreens to name a few chains when asked where they get their prescriptions filled. But those places aren't the "Drug Stores" we remember growing up pre-1980s. Nope, those stores were neighborhood corner operations run by people who had a stake in the neighborhood.

If you remember the old time drug stores before the explosion of prescription medications that can do everything from keeping your legs from shaking to putting a thin rug of hair on your head, you'll know that the druggist had a small arsenal of medications on his shelf behind the counter. He didn't operate in a world where the medications your doctor prescribes may be dictated more by the incentives offered by the drug company reps than your true needs. You were the person who mattered most.

There were a ton of drug stores in the neighborhood until the late 80s, and the advent of the chains were the signal for their demise. If you lived here in the 17th & Oregon vicinity, you remember Gallegher's at 17th & Shunk, Overbeck's at Broad & Shunk, Max's at 16th & Oregon (where City Pizza now sits), Packer Park Pharmacy, Nichols at Broad & Jackson, and a few others. All of them are gone, but older folks will remember them all. It was always known that Nichols had the best prices on prescriptions, those being the days before you had drug coverage as part of your benefits, most folks paid cash.

And what could you find in those stores? They were pretty much bare-boned compared to the super-stores of the chains. You'd find mainly healthcare needs, along with a few candies, magazines, and a small list of sundry items. Now, you can get a full array of Easter or Halloween candy at the same time you buy your toothpaste, or all your Christmas stocking stuffer needs while you pick up something to help you over the hangover of the pre-holiday party at the office. Almost all of the old stores had the old scales where you could weigh yourself for a nickle. And in many cases the pharmacist knew your name.

A few stores that kept the old model of drug store do exist still. Broad St Apothecary in the 2400 block of South Broad is one of them. The store that used to be Vitale's at 10th & Oregon is another. I know there are a few more, but they're mostly gone, the small-time guy brought down by the big chains.

Well, the old stores may be gone, but there are still good things found in the big stores today. With all the meds I take, there's bound to be some issues about getting them or questions about how to take them. I go to the Rite Aid at 15th & Moyamensing, the ladies and gents there are always helpful, even to an extreme. An experience last week proved this, where one outstanding lady helped me find a prescription that I needed immediately at another store. I spent a full afternoon tracking it down with no success, but she got me what I needed with a quick phone call, and said she'd make sure it was in stock for future months. Big points were scored with me that day.

...Overbeck's Drug Store at Broad & Porter. Yes, they filled prescriptions, but I think I remember this store more for the gaggle of old men who sat around the counter talking all day.

...Nichols at Broad & Jackson. There's a Rita's Water Ice there now. But Nichols always had what you needed when bringing in your prescription, and had good prices too.

...Max's at 16th & Oregon. Max was a big guy, and very friendly. He lived in the back of the shop, and was always ready to fill your prescription. These were the days before you needed to jump through hoops to get painkillers. I remember my mom had me go there a few times to get Paragoric, which is a morphine or opiate-based drug when she had stomach problems. Max would ask if she had a script, and when she didn't, he'd still fill it and ask that she get one from the doctor to account for it. You can't do that today. Max died in the mid-70s of a heart attack, a sad loss for the neighborhood.

...Packer Park Pharmacy. This store was a bit far from home to get prescriptions filled. Most of those I hung with only knew this store because they had magazines that you couldn't find anywhere else in the neighborhood, along with a variety store at 16th & Pollock (which was simply known as the Magazine Store). And some of those characters had sticky fingers when it came to getting a copy of Rock Scene or Hit Parader magazine. No one ever got caught, and hopefully those who did those youthful indiscretions had regretted them.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Philadelphia Naval Hospital

Photos © 2001 by Brian Bennett. All rights reserved, use without permission and credit is prohibited. Permission is granted to those using photos in personal blogs where no financial gain is made from sale or use of these photos.

That slick site you now see west of Broad Street on Pattison Avenue wasn't always a practice facility for the Philadelphia Eagles. What's now known as the "Novacare Complex" (corporations get to buy their way into naming just about everything sports related these days) was once the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. Younger folks will remember it as an old building that seemed to stand vacant, gathering cobwebs and dust. But for us who have a few years behind us, we know that it was a premier facility for treating troops of every military service during the Vietnam War. This hospital had one of the top programs for prosthetic limbs nationwide, and some of the top surgeons in that field. Today, it's just a memory. Which brings us to this post.

I remember back during it's heyday my uncle Pat was a patient at the Naval Hospital. He suffered from advanced lung cancer, succumbing to it in the late 1960s. Uncle Pat was a master sergeant in the US Air Force stationed in Dover, DE at the base there. Out of tragedies come good things, and the one good thing that came out of his illness was that we got to meet my aunt Ruby and my cousins. My brother, sister, and I had not yet met them until his illness brought him go Philly.

Being able to get on the grounds of the hospital as a kid with their family, you could see it was a big, busy place. And while it was a place where people went because of suffering wounds and illnesses, you could see it was a grand art-deco structure. Buildings like that just aren't made today. At best you get faux art-deco with a lot of glass and steel, but not the real McCoy.

I went to watch the end of the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, to witness the implosion that would bring it down. I've always seen implosions on TV, but this one was in walking distance from my home, so I just had to go and photograph it. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry. For me, it happened at the hands of an ignorant, misinformed Philadelphia Police officer. That woman made my set plans go awry.

I had it all scoped out. I had checked out vantage points earlier in the week, finding a great spot at 16th & Packer Avenue. There you could see straight down to the hospital with an unobstructed view, dead-on. Firing quickly, I could have captured the fall of that building and had a great sequence of shots. As I set up my tripod and started mounting the camera, Officer Know-It-All came up to me and told me I had to move. As she told it, the area I chose was the viewing area for former hospital employees and neighbors. Yet there were no viewing stands, no police lines, no nothing to indicate it was an official area of any type. An older man came to join me and wanted to witness the implosion from that site too. Again, our erstwhile officer tells us we'd have to go, repeating that only neighbors and former employees could stand there. "Plus", she said, "someone standing here could be hurt". Whether she was talking about from flying debris, the concussion of the blast, or her own foolishness remained to be seen. Just as I was about to protest, the older gentleman said, "What about you? Are you going to stand here and risk getting hurt?" She wasn't pleased. I set her over the top when I asked her why neighbors and ex-employees would be put in harms way. "If you don't get out of here right now, I'm waving that (police) wagon over and you're both going to the police station!" she yelled. What to do? If we stay, we're going into the wagon, and we miss the implosion. Best just to move on down the road.

I made my way over to Broad & Geary, finding a spot to watch, but not a great one. It would have to do, as we were only a few minutes away from zero hour. I didn't even have time for the tripod, I would have to shoot hand-held and risk movement, or else lose the shot. And so, we watched the fall of a great institution on that early spring Saturday morning, June 9, 2001. The few memories I have of that place are etched in my mind, and the few photos of the implosion are found here.


...The Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in it's heyday. The yard still stands, although not as a military facility. As time marches on, more businesses are occupying the Naval Business Center and the Kavaerner shipyard (or whoever runs it now) continues to slowly crank out ships. Thousands of men and women worked there during WWII building and maintaining warships. Now the only naval ships are those mothballed waiting to become razor blades or whatever else they'll someday use the scrap for.

...The Defense Support & Supply Center - aka "The Quartermaster" complex. Another once-extremely busy military facility. You could stand on the corner of 20th & Oregon and watch bus after bus full of employees empty out and huge masses of bodies stream towards the gates on any given morning. There they made and distributed things like uniforms, medical supplies, and battlefield rations for our troops. The center made it to the presidential list of facilities for base excellence, as it was recognized for it's efficiency and quality. Recognition sometimes means nothing. A year after Bill Clinton recognized it, the government announced it would close, and since has. Now the center has become a retail shopping center at 23rd St. and a light industrial/manufacturing area. Some of the base still remains vacant to this day.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Phone Before Cellular

What device as we knew it was more simple than the telephone? We remember a time when you picked up the phone, dialed seven digits, and connected with the person you called at the other end.

It was a time before you had to dial the area code to call a local number.

A time where you may found yourself joining in on someone else's conversation because of a "party line". Today a party line is a 976 number that kids call to meet new friends and talk about whatever kids talk about today. Interesting thing about the new party lines. They seem to be marketed to kids although they're supposed to be for adults only, and the only adults who seem to join in are those who haven't realized they're no longer kids anymore. This can include adults in their 40s or 50s with accounts, and if you live here in South Philly, you know your share of these folks.

A time when it was a big thing for a kid to get an extension phone in his or her room. No, you didn't get your own number, let alone a cell phone to glue to your ear while walking down the street or standing on the corner. Suddenly we know more than we want to know about a person's life because they're not smart enough to be discreet and talk in private. Where they were once your neighbor's darkest secrets, now you only have to be within earshot to know that they've cheated on their taxes or spouses, that they have some sort of sexually transmitted disease, or that their kid is the biggest screwup in the neighborhood and they feel so hopeless about it. Thanks, but if I want to hear your conversations, I'll buy a police scanner and listen in to your cordless or cell phone calls so I can hear both sides. Hearing only your end will bore me. (Note: I'm being sarcastic, it's illegal to listen to someone's conversation through electronic means. So I guess I do have to be satisfied to listen to your one side.)

It was a time when you could make crank calls and no one knew who the heck was on the other end. Especially annoying for someone was when we were on summer vacation and friends stayed over. We'd stay up til 3 or 4 in the morning and someone had their night ruined. Those who yelled the most were those who got repeat calls and no sleep. There was no such thing as caller ID then, and although the person you called said they'd "have this call traced and have your a@@ thrown in jail", you knew it wasn't going to happen. So did they for that matter, which meant that it was even greater mental torture for them. Yep, caller ID ruined it for a new generation of American kids. Now if they're up until 4 AM, it's because they're checking out some "hottie" on the aformentioned whose profile says she's 19 years old, 104 lbs. and 5'-7" with long blonde hair, yet you just know she's a few years older, many pounds heavier, and she hasn't washed her hair in maybe two weeks. The photo in her profile? She found it online.

If we grew up in the cell phone era, my dad would have probably told us to get lost should we have asked for one. I don't even know if he had a phone growing up in the meager home they did in Tampa, FL, ten kids being raised during the depression of parents of modest means. Our generation didn't know those hardships so parents are more free to give their kids what they want. A cell phone? Dad would have probably slapped us in the ear rather than letting us spend half our waking hours with one welded to our ear.

And who can forget growing up in a home where there you had two or more siblings contending for the phone? Your sister's latest boyfriend's on the phone with her talking to her about nothing and you want her off. Why? Because your friends are going to call and talk about nothing. Your mom wondered why she hasn't heard from her best friend in months, and it was because we spent too much time on the line. That person got a busy signal when she called, no such thing as Call Waiting then.

Let's not forget how business was done with the phone company. Today you mail in, phone in, or electronically pay your phone bill. Mom used to have us take a walk with her once a month to Broad & Passyunk to pay the bill at the Bell Telephone Company office. Verizon still owns the property, but I believe it's only for their internal use. Back in the day, you could see all the different phone styles for RENT, no one owned their own phone until the feds broke up AT&T and the "Baby Bells". I'm told there are still a few older folks paying rent on phones that they could have owned 1200 times by now. And what were your rental options? Perhaps a Princess Phone or slimline model? Nothing too fancy, and as the characters who used to reminisce on Saturday Night Live used to say, "...and we liked it!". Today we use the phone lines to do everything from surfing the net to faxing to it's traditional use, talking. Alexander Graham Bell would have his mind boggled if he could only see what his invention wrought.

It's after 1 AM as I finish writing this, and I can only think of those poor souls that I mentioned earlier Those crank calls were another thing Mr. Bell couldn't have anticipated. Or could he have? Maybe, just maybe, one of his reasons for his inventions was to give millions of unstable citizens a way to have fun when the nights were long and... Then again, probably not.

..."At the tone, the Bell Telephone Company brings you the correct time." - You can still call TIME-123 and get the time, I checked tonight. But only a geek would really do it today. I remember reading an article of a mistress who entered her the home of the man who jilted her and dialed the number for time in a foreign country. He was an airline pilot, so he'd be away for a while. His bill was astronomical. Fortunately for him, they let him off the hook.
...When extensions were letters instead of numbers - HOward5-xxxx, DEwey4-xxxx, FUlton9-xxxx, MUnicipal6-xxxx. Since the 1980s we've been using all numbers, but older adults still give their number in the old way.
...When 411 was the information number, and you didn't have to dial the 555-1212 number.
...The days before 911 was used to dial the police. Their number here was 231-3131, and you'd better dial the Operator to get the fire department. Their number was so obscure your house would be gutted before you got the call through.
...The neighbor on Bancroft St. who would call the police regularly and then swear it wasn't her when they arrived. One night after they arrived twice, she said "Next the fire deparment will be coming." Someone heard her say it and surely they did. Of course no one believed her when she said it wasn't her. And no, it was NOT me who called the fire dept. Even I am smart enough not to do that.
...When phones had dials instead of push buttons.
...The previousely mentioned party lines. Those already in conversation would get irritated that you picked up and interrupted, and you'd get angry that you couldn't make a call. Back then, the phone books all mentioned that it was a crime to tell the other parties you had an emergency in hopes of getting them to give up the line. I don't know if anyone ever did this, but you could clear the line quickly.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Lack of Individuality

I don't know whether it's amusing or disturbing - or both - but it seems lately that young people today, especially the guys, lack individuality. Put 100 young men under 30 in a room together and chances are that 90+% of them are going to look exactly the same.

I'll narrow my thoughts here to the South Philly - South Jersey area. I'm not ready to say the rest of the nation has gone that way. Lately it's become like some sort of B movie, maybe we'll call it, "Attack of the HipHop Clones". But maybe we should just call it "The Uniform". You know what I'm talking about. The weather's going to get warmer. Check out the guys hanging on your local street corner on a warm spring evening. What do they look like? They're probably in "The Uniform". Long white t-shirt down to their knees, baggy pants, black baseball cap turned backward or sideways. And all have the same hair style and facial hair. They go to the barber and get their scalped shorn down to as close a crop as you can, and trim the musctache and beard to the same narrow lines as the next guy. I recently had to get a family member to the ER at Methodist Hospital and literally saw no less than 8 guys in less than a few hours all looking the same. Whether it was the security guard, guys waiting for treatment, or some other guy. At least the security guard didn't have the t-shirt and baggy pants, and he did keep his cap with the bill facing forward, but the hair style was the same. It's ridiculous.

What ever happened to being yourself and dressing yourself? Growing up and heading into our early adult years, most kept to the styles of the day. At least something was different that made the guys stand out at that time. Today if a guy hooks up with a young woman, she'd better keep him isolated and away from the corner.Otherwise, she'll have the needle-in-a-haystack dillema trying to find him in the crowd.

I don't know what bothers me more though, the styles or the language. Communications skills are at an all-time low. While we've always butchered the English language here in South Philadelphia, at least we formed sentences. The "Hey, whattsup man?" of yesteryear had de-evolved into simply "Sup?" or "Yo", with voices of some of the young dudes sounding more like hip-hop wannabees than that of a person who has been getting an education. It's just pathetic sometimes what you see and hear.

Sorry about the rant in an otherwise nostalgic and/or humorous blog. I couldn't help myself. Maybe some young guy out there is going to read this and step up to the mirror and realize what he's seeing is the same thing he saw earlier in the afternoon when he looked across the lunch table in school at his classmates. If it causes him to toss that tent of a t-shirt and six sizes too big pants in the trash and go out and buy some duds that look like they didn't come out of some strange cartoon, then I've made an impact on society. And if it carries on to where more guys do it, young ladies may find that I've given them some hope. They'll find more guys out there who look like individuals than a regiment of men who have adopted "The Uniform" and have a very limited language. And maybe there's a Nobel Prize or something else to give me notoriety for what will be this post's great impact on American culture. As I pause to think about it, probably not. So what. If I see just one young guy dress in your everyday t-shirt or button-down shirt and a pair of Dockers or boot-cut jeans, and chuck the ball cap, it's reward enough for me.

Other styles from the past that were different, but at least still more individual than "The Uniform"...

...Bell Bottom pants - Especially the louder ones. I had a pair in my pre-teen years with vertical blue and yellow stripes. I wouldn't be caught dead wearing them to a snake fight these days.
...Terry cloth shirts - We were wearing our bath towels with collars and short sleeves during the Disco Era.
...Gold chains - Wait a minute, forget that. The guys wearing "The Uniform" are wearing them too. Gold chains on guys almost always give a stereotypical image.
...Leisure suits (see photo above) - I had two during my freshman year in high school. I think there's one photo that survives of me wearing one of them, a baby blue polyester number. Don't ask, there's no way that picture will ever see the light of day. What was humorous is that at Neumann, a lot of guys' parents bought them for them during the summer before school started, and the leadership decided that leisure suits were unacceptable dress. A firestorm ensued with those said parents furious that those dubious pieces of 70s fashion were to sit in the closet, never to be worn to school, or anywhere else for that matter. But the parents were able to get a meeting with the school bigs, and sure enough, the guys got to wear their leisure suits.

Right now, there's some classmate somewhere rummaging through shoe boxes and photo albums, looking for any pics of him wearing that pink or peach colored polyester wonder. Hopefully his wife or girlfriend will look over his shoulder and catch a glimpse of him before the photo makes it to the shredder or burns in a trash can. I'd love to be a fly on the wall when she cries out, "What the heck is that thing? You look like a dork wearing that" and grabs the picture and shows it to her girlfriend. Guys, if this is you, some's better to say nothing than to say "My mom bought it for me." Why make an embarrassing situation even worse?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Manny Hoffmann’s Close Encounter of the Unusual Kind

Growing up on Chadwick Street, we had two grocery stores up the block at the corner of Shunk St. One of them was Jim Campbell’s on the SW corner, the other Manny’s on the NW corner. Manny operated the store for decades with his wife Sylvia before finally retiring. Toni’s Market now stands at that site, she and husband John are good grocers in the old-time sense of the word.

Just about all of the local groceries employ young guys to do things such as stock shelves, make deliveries, and help clean up at the end of the day. Manny did that too, and had Kevin’s nephew David working there for some time. You may remember David from the episode with Guy Sommobeech and the electrified fence debacle. In retrospect, maybe he was the kind of guy you just best left alone.

A few of us can remember a time when he got upset with Manny and wanted to work out his frustration on the grocer. Manny had this large fiberglass awning that wrapped around the perimeter of the storefront, held up by metal braces ever few feet. David had this plan to crash the awning down on Manny as he opened the store at the beginning of the morning. He wanted to loosen the bolts holding the braces in place, tie a rope to the awning, hide, and pull it all down when Mr. Hoffman entered the store.

Maybe it’s good that he was often a man with intention but without a plan. Some of us asked him, “How are you going to pull that off?” Looking at the structure, there was no way to get up to the braces short of renting out a high-reach truck with a bucket or growing wings. David gave it some thought, and it just wasn’t going to work. No way would he get to those braces. Manny would survive to retirement age, and David would move on to points unknown,

There’s a difference between thinking of doing something and actually doing it. Today, kids act too quickly. Arguments are often settled with a gun rather than meeting on a street corner after school or razzing your soon-to-be former boss. Kids need to stop and think today. Is it worth that person’s life (or yours when they send you up to Curran Fromhold or Graterford with a life sentence?). Young folks are dying today over simple, stupid things. Unfortunately, more knuckleheads will soon learn that they have the rest of their lives to think about how stupid it was to pull a trigger because they were bumped into, insulted, or wore the wrong colors.

...Jim Campbell's Market. Jim gave away a pint bottle of Manashevitz to his customers every Christmas. Our parents may not have realized, as most years the bottles never made it home.

...A time when the state didn't need to enforce tobacco laws. If you weren't old enough, you didn't get the cigarettes. No one had to tell the grocers to check cards.

...Tom's Butcher Shop at Smedley & Oregon - Back in the day when a butcher could survive simply by selling meat and nothing but meat.

...Tony's at 17th & Oregon - Tony operated the market for decades with his wife Jill until she passed away and he retired soon afterward. Their nephew James was a constant fixture there, sharing the operation of the store. Last word was that another nail salon would open there, but that seems to have fallen through. Yeah, just what we need in South Philly, another nail salon.
I remember a kid in there once who kept asking for "enema cakes", leaving Tony a bit bewildered. It turns out the kid didn't know how to say "Entenmann's" and Tony couldn't figure it out. I'm not sure what irritated Tony more, the kid asking for that, or my snickering at the kid's request.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Duck Lady

There may be a million and one ways to mingle with people and not feel lonely in life. Everything from churches for Christian folk to clubs for the hedonistic and bingo for older folks who need something to do. And now in the electronic age, even online chat rooms of every kind.

There was an elderly lady in the neighbohood who would use the funeral homes along south Broad Street either to socialize, just have something to do, or both. We called her Duck Lady. All you had to do is hear her speak once and you understood why. She had a voice like Donald Duck in the old Disney cartoons, and she spoke loudly so you heard her at the other end of the block. You knew when the Duck Lady was around.

We would see her many times a week, yet there were only two memories I have of her. One is that she would often pull a shopping cart down the street on the way to the store. She would also visit the funeral homes each night to pay respects to each person. From Stolfo, to Monte, to Grasso, to Gangemi, to Leonetti, she had them all covered. If Carto was there at the time, she would have been visiting there too.

I could see if there was food or drink served, there would be something to draw her to those funeral homes. Or if she was a very sociable lady and had lots of friends passing away. But the Duck Lady would simply walk in, stay a few moments after "paying respects", and off she'd go to the next one. I don't believe she attended the morning viewings just before departing for the cemetaries, only the evening viewings. Still, there are wakes every night but I think on Saturday at those places, so she always had somewhere to go.

The Duck Lady is long gone. I think she disappeared sometime in the early 1980s, most likely going the same route we all do in life. One has to wonder if her own viewing was well-attended. With all the wakes she walked into, had she gotten to know the families, it would have been standing room only at her own viewing. I'd believe that she would have had only maybe a few family members or neighbors though. With her being such a figure on Broad Street, one of the funeral directors should have held her funeral at little or no cost. Well, that may be a stretch being funerals are so expensive. Okay, they could have at least laid a plaque in the concrete sort of like they did around Broad & Spruce to honor Philly-area recording artists. There they have the names in stars embedded into the sidewalk. What could they use for this lady to remember her? A bronze plaque shaped like a tombstone or a coffin?

Where have all the characters gone? Walk down South Broad today and you'll see the same old faces over and over, but they're characters aren't as defined as those we knew in our youth. We need more Duck Ladies to keep things interesting.

Appparently this isn't a local phenomenon. I saw a rerun lately of an old Good Times show on TV Land. It was the episode where James Evans passed away. Near the end of the program, I can't remember if it were the preacher or funeral director, but someone had said good bye to an older woman and said they'd see her tomorrow - at yet another funeral. She was a regular just like Duck Lady? Could it be the writer of that episode spent some time on Broad Street?

Going to confession at St. Monica's on a Saturday afternoon and raising the priest's ire. Rather than the usual standard "Bless me father for I have sinned, it's been 1,472 days since my last confession...", many of us who hung together took a shot at approaching and saying "
Bless me father for I have sinned, I peeled a potato and ate the skin" and then ran out of the confessional. Some of the priests ran out after us, some never did, I guess they just sat there and shook their heads. What does this have to do with Duck Lady or funerals? Absolutely nothing. It's too short for it's own article and I wanted to post it before I forgot about it.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Hey, It's RJ!

Dick Clark's American Bandstand is probably the "gold standard" for all TV dance shows. It started here in Philly back in 1957 and stayed here until 1964 when Dick moved the show to Los Angeles until it's demise in the 1980s. If it were true that he sold his soul to the devil, he got a bum deal. Dick Clark's show didn't last forever, he had his health problems of late, and the restaurant in King of Prussia where I and some of my co-workers sometimes did lunch is no more.

Since then, there have always been dance shows on the tube. Most of them were laughable in my humble opinion, whether national or local. Remember Denny Terrio's Dance Fever? Perhaps you do, but probably not because it's one you've grown nostalgic over. Another show for the TV junk heap.

OK, does anyone remember RJ's Hollywood? RJ (real or alleged real name Ron Joseph) was a local host back in the 1970s. There were a number of kids from the neighborhood who would dance on the show on Channel 29 (WTAF then, now WTXF), my sister included. Whether she'll want to admit it or not, I don't know. Sometimes we'd rather forget our past. Then again, it's just my opinion. I never liked that dance type music. Back in my teens, I had strange friendships that somehow worked. One of my best friends would indulge in smoking pot often while we hung out, I never touched it. Other friends who I hung with regularly were disco fans, with their designer jeans, gold chains, and velour shirts. I listened to rock, wore Lee's and Wrangler's, and non-descript T-shirts. They said disco would rule and rock would die. Of course, history proved them wrong. They missed RJ's show by a few years. Would they have danced on that program if it had still existed during their time? I don't know. Would they have admitted if they did? I doubt it, I know I wouldn't have. Every so often someone brings back bad memories with the question "Do you remember when you..." This would be one of those times. Back in that era, there were no VCRs. Maybe that's a good thing, saving a generation of kids from blackmail tapes as they ramble through their adult lives and careers.

Photo borrowed from the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia website at

There was another show that came on in the mid to late 70's on Channel 6 in the late afternoon, in the spot now occupied by Oprah and her annoying gabfest. They were big on playing KC and the Sunshine Band and Wild Cherry's greatest hit (Play That Funky Music, White Boy). Can you remember the name? I can't, so no, this isn't a trivia question, I'm just grasping for an answer.