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.


Anonymous said...

couple more barber shops...Mike at Watts and Shunk, he also repaired bikes.....also there was one a few doors down from Sharkey's Cafe in one of those below ground spaces. Vito got shot, he lived on 2500 Rosewood and his German Shepard was killed by a car at Rosewood and Ritner. Tony took over the shop and was always good for a slice of pizza. He was a young guy

Brian said...

You've got a fine memory of the neighborhood. I always wondered what became of Vito. I'm sorry to see he fell on misfortune between being shot and his dog dying. He was a decent guy from what I remember.

Mike at Watts Street, that's the same owner there now, right? He's a long-time guy, most of them have retired or passed away. I don't remember Tony, but getting pizza along with a haircut seems to be a decent bonus, as long as no hair finds it's way into the pie!

deb said...

whatever happened to Sharkey's Cafe at Broad & Porter and the DeJohns

Anonymous said...

Bill Torrellis barber shop at mole and wolf never forget getting the back of my hair being singe with a wax stick that he use to light on fire bill also was a liberity clown on new years day ( i think he was a captain of the club

Stephen Roberts said...

"Before shaving, one should know what razor is good for his skin. Razors are something personal and it is up to the user what type of razor would give him the closest shave possible, but of course, with less nicks and cuts.

Male Grooming "

Brian said...

My apologies to the last two posters. I'm embarrassed! I never saw a notification from blogspot that either of these comments were made. I found them by routinely moderating postings. I guess I need a more rigid routine! Sorry folks, I vow to do a better job.