The Old Neighborhood

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The Old Neighborhood

Post by Neil_Lamagna on Mon Jul 17, 2017 10:08 am

The Old Neighborhood

Upon Neil's discharge from the service in 1991, his old neighborhood, Passyunk Avenue just became a fading afterthought. As time went by, he would pass through Philadelphia when traveling to the west. Like most Los Santos rat-racers, he considered all of Philadelphia “fly over country.” You know, as most obnoxious bi-costal elites considered the eastern United States.

When Neil lived in Passyunk Avenue, the high rise apartment complex was a combination of mostly Jewish and Italian ethnic families. It was built for those escaping the deteriorating ethnocentric neighborhoods of Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. This exodus included leaving behind the major crime that invariably accompanied urban blight. It became a time warp to finally physically set foot in and walk around the old neighborhood. Immediately interesting was noticing the physical changes to old structures and the new structures replacing those now gone and just remaining in my memory. Neil's overall impression: smaller, more congested and dirtier.

Those 1960‘s Passyunk Avenue families are now gone, replaced by multi national first generation immigrant families. It is reflected in the type of retail merchants spread along Schuylkill. There is an overabundance of Hispanic bodegas, Russian, African and Indian food markets. Neil had wandered around aimlessly. After about an hour, the only familiar person he recognized was Tony Provolone. He seemed to be loitering in front of Bootsie's Cream Scoops.

Tony was looking the same except for the thinning grey hair and his now seventy or so extra pounds. An attempt at engaging him in a simple greeting didn’t work. He did not even acknowledge Neil's existence by looking right past him. Neil decided to buy a large Watermelon Italian Ice for his consumption, telling him he knew it was his favorite from back in the day. That jared his memory. Neil could see those wobbly wheels turning behind his suspiciously brown bloodshot eyes.

“Neil...Yeah... From Passyunk (he pronounced it Pash-unk). Yeah, Laura was your sister, right?” He struggled to remember who Neil really was. “I used to sell her weed,” he laughingly continued, still searching his pea brain for a final conformation. Neil's appearance had changed dramatically, but then again, he always was a dumb senseless fuck.

Tony continued thinking, as the melted Italian ice rolled south down from his toothless mouth along his double chin, landing on his already stained and undersized New York Mets tee shirt. Tony then rubbed his exposed hefty and hairy stomach sporting an outtie belly button and finally he completely remembered who I was. That look of recognition, resembling a cartoon character with a lit light bulb shining over his head slowly encompassed his two day old stubbled and acne scared face.

“Neil. Shit! Neil! The half-bedlamite! Shot Tony Gabbo on Point Breeze Avenue! Yeah, I remember. How's the sun?” Tony said, continually shaking his head in an affirmative nod while not missing a lick of his Italian Ice.

Tony and Neil hiked over to the Geno's Cap (a name given to Capitolo Playground by the locals when shooting heroin first became fashionable). The two guineas found a bench not vandalized and littered with bird shit. They then sat down to shot the shit.


Tony Provolone is a burned out leftover acid freak pseudo-hippie who probably still operates on the outer fringes of organized crime. He hails from a part of the neighborhood made up of circa 1920’s one family houses: Manayunk.

Manayunk, this once old Italian-American enclave is opposite the sprawling giant apartment complex. This area is where the old world met the new world in the 1960‘s along Passyunk Avenue. That’s when and where Sam Lefrak uninvitingly infringed on Philadelphia’s empty south side and built Passyunk Avenue. Then heralded as “Total Facilities For Total Living.”

Neil was inherently interested in what happened to some of the characters from the old days. Luckily for Neil, Tony said he never really left the neighborhood. Then again, Tony’s remembrances may not be a true rendition considering his many years of uninterrupted drug indulgence. But Neil was willing to hear what he remembered. The only trips Tony had ever taken were of the LSD variety. He still lives in the same pathetic illegal studio apartment over his Uncle Madicuhe’s barber shop on 10th Street. Tony has never really left the neighborhood.

By default, Tony has become the unofficial or de facto oral historian of the entire Passyunk neighborhood, including Philadelphia. Seemingly one of the few leftover neighborhood residents from Neil's past, what choice did he have?

He talked, Neil listened. Tony decided to proudly start with the infamous and still legendary Italian-American street gang known throughout Philadelphia as Geno's Club. Back then they were the reigning youth street gang and were headquartered and populated from Passyunk Avenue. Both neighborhood sections (Manayunk and Passyunk) shared Vare-Washington High School. Teens from both areas had to mingle. Geno's Club hoods would follow Manayunk kids home or come by Manayunk Avenue after school to beat them up and extort money and other items of value. Tony still thinks this was quite amusing.

Everyone shared a zip code, but Geno's Club had the muscle, organization and zip guns. These tough second generation Italian kids were known as “Hitters.” In Philadelphia there were two groups, “Hippies,” and then just regular kids like Neil.

Hitters were predators and the other two groups their victims, that was the extent of the relationship. Tony was a diplomat who operated in all three worlds and somehow survived. “Youse Passyunk guys were like the first ATM machine”, Tony observed. Geno's Club was like a prep school for Mafia Wise Guy wannabes. A true criminal enterprise. Tony Provolone was the court jester for the gang. He was into some small time criminal activity with the boys, but they wouldn’t let him become a member. Tony was considered a loose cannon, a hothouse flower. He says his rejection was because his mother had a heart condition, typical candy-ass bullshit.

Tony proudly informs Neil that all the guys from the gang are either dead or are indefinitely in the can. The only exception is Johnny Mendola, who became a Catholic Priest. The gang would visit Father Johnny in his upper middle class Westchester, New York Church. They wanted to help Father Johnny increase the collections on Sundays. “Father Johnny kindly rejected their benevolent offer.” Tony bewilderedly said to a quizzical Neil, making the sign of the cross and bowing his head.

“Do you think maybe Johnny Mendola became a Priest because he was a fag?” Neil questioned, trying to get some juicy info to make his trip worthwhile. He raised that supposition knowing if Geno's Club ever knew Johnny was a homosexual, even his family wouldn’t mind if they clipped him. Johnny might have had to hide with his homosexuality in the Church.

“No fuckin' way, oobats!” Tony said through tightened lips, giving me the “Murder One Look.” “No fuckin' Geno Club guys was ever fags... Never! Even those in the can!” He added. That look meant dummy up regarding the fag shit about Johnny. Tony quickly moved on to mentioned he was really proud of the fact that his cousin and former Geno's Club member Vincent Banduchi became a made man in Aniello Malangone’s inner circle. (Italians all have thousands of cousins.)

Vincent was eventually found violently tortured and whacked in the trunk of a stolen Ford in South Philadelphia. Tony was somehow proud of the way Vincent met his demise. “He took it for Aniello,” Tony whispered to Neil with true reverence. It is now 2017 and the gang is defunct. Its legend boasts: No member ever was a rat or entered the witness protection program. Stand Up Guys, that they were. Somewhere in Tony’s ramblings Neil deducts that Geno's Club is still respectfully remembered by the older pinky ringed wops in the last smoke filled storefront Italian social club on Passyunk Avenue.

Yet another sign that this part of the neighborhood has changed: fewer and fewer Italians and increasingly more and more Hispanics. They continued to talk about what happen to so and so, who married so and so, who overdosed on heroin as well as who became famous from the neighborhood.

They spoke of others that were then and are now still lesser known. Tony also proudly rattled off a list of Passyunk Italian Wise Guys profiled on various Cable Network Mafia Crime shows. Tony went on about how Geno's Club members easily got “Passyunk Jew Broads” to give head on demand in the stairwells and the roofs atop the tall buildings of South Philadelphia. A guilt ridden Tony then embarrassingly told Neil that his younger sister gave him head in 1987.

It may be true, but Neil's sure her Jewish Doctor husband of thirty five years, their two kids and her fellow members of The Sisters Auxiliary of Temple Beth-El of Glen Cove, Long Island are not aware of that part of her life. Neil clearly doubts it was him, but it might have been some other “Hitter.” His sister went through a “Hitter” stage before she became a “Hippie.”

Like most of Geno's Club, Laura was not an academic student. She knew Geno's Club from her classes so she kind of fit in. After all, we do have an Italian last name. Tony remembers one late fall evening: Neil was walking home and a group of Geno's Club thugs surrounded him intending to rob me and kick his ass. Then Tony allegedly said, before they pounced “Yo, Patsy, dis guy is Laura’s brother.” The group then left Neil, without incident, looking for an actual Manayunk je-bo (jew boy) to molest and rob. Neil, licking one of his back molars and feeling for his .38, undoubtedly remembered it as well.

Tony just laughed, sucking down one of his twenty Kool Menthols (in between belching and farting) so far while talking to Neil on the bench that day. Neil remembered this vile habit and then as it does now, only accentuates his vulgarity.

Upon the realization Neil had spent the better part of the afternoon with this anachronistic individual, he knew it was time to leave. So they said our goodbyes. Tony knew not to ask Neil for his cell number and Neil didn’t ask for his. Both he and Neil knew Neil would never return. It is so true, you never can go home. Neil was pretty sure where Tony was destined to be: hanging out in front of the Bootsie's Cream Scoops, just shootin’ the shit watchin’ as “the Deigos by.”

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Re: The Old Neighborhood

Post by Angelo_Ferrara on Sat Jul 22, 2017 6:04 am

Worthwhile read. Good job Neil.

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Re: The Old Neighborhood

Post by Frank_Juliano on Tue Jul 25, 2017 12:01 pm



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