Friday, June 16, 2006

Philomena the Hair Dresser

I've not posted for a few weeks, haven't felt all that well. So let me make up for it with a second post for today for your amusement.

I've already mentioned one local hair maven who kept us amused in our youth, the Mad Barber, John Toresse. Today we move to the female side of the hair spectrum and remember one Philomena (last name unknown), a hair dresser from South Broad Street.

Growing up here in South Philly, you remember those establishments that never seemed to do any business, yet survived for years. What were those places thought to be? Uh-huh, everyone said they were "mob fronts", although we never really knew. It could have been a funeral home, steak shop, whatever, there were a number of places like that around here. Philomena's hair shop was like that, never did any business. But I don't think any of us would have hung the "mob front" moniker on her shop. Hey, it would have been good for neighborhood folklore, but the reason she never had business is because she scared it away. She was just off the wall and everyone knew it.

What would make us think that? Oh, I don't know. Maybe it was her sitting on the step of the shop or in the window, glaring at those walking by. Maybe it was her method of transporting bags of groceries from the old Penn Fruit supermarket at 20th & Oregon. That was an all-day affair. I remember she would have four bags. She would carry two of them a block down the street, then go back for the other two and walk them two blocks. She'd then go back for the bags she walked the first block and walk them another...you get the picture. Anyhow, imagine how long it would take to walk those bags the six or so blocks to her shop. If she weren't so scary, one of us would have given her a hand.

I remember my sister would call her once in a while to make an appointment. Not really, just to get her reaction to the call. She would ask just a few words, such as "I'd like to make an appointment to get my hair..." and wham, Philomena would be screeching and shouting at her in no time. So she never got her hair done there. You've gotta wonder though. Did Phil ever really style hair in her life, or did she buy someone else's shop and not know what to do with it? Who knows? But she's gone, and I've yet to find someone whose had a magic coif from that lady.

Petey Igor - Local Legend

I've already mentioned a few folks from the neighborhood that most here would consider to be local legends. Today I look at another, Mr. Petey Igor. Pete was a perpetual fixture in the area, living somewhere around 15th & Shunk Streets. We would see him just about every day in the summer time.

Pete was a legend more because he overcame than anything else. He was one of those souls who had physical and mental challenges, but it didn't keep him from doing his thing. Although he couldn't speak with much more than a grunt, he got his point across. In the days of the old Veterans Stadium, we saw him one day getting a hot dog and he found he was short-changed when completing his purchase. If it was done purposefully, that person giving the change soon found out that he was not to be taken advantage of. He started jabbing at the change in his hand and then pointing up to the prices on the menu board. The bewildered cashier soon put the proper change in his hands and saw that he was sharper than some would give him credit for.

People not understanding handicaps can sometimes get a man in trouble. There was one incident where a young girl saw him come up the street behind her, and had the wits scared out of her. She ran down the block screaming. It's enough to get you put on the sexual predators list today, but no harm was done. At least not to her, whether it upset Pete or not was never determined.

We never knew what happened to Pete to cause his troubles. One legend says he was hit by a bus in his youth. There have been others who said differently. Let speculation run long enough, and eventually someone would have probably speculated that he was born near a chemical plant or that his mom gave birth while hearing of the JFK assasination and the trauma caused his problems. Whatever.

Anyhow, Pete's long gone. I haven't seen him in decades. I don't know whether he's alive or dead. But I do remember him vividly. So hats off to Petey Igor, local legend!