I was listening to a public radio station out of Philadelphia on the way to work, yesterday. They were playing a show called World Cafe. On the show they played a Squeeze song. Every time I hear Squeeze I'm reminded of a guy I knew in the Navy named Lenny Jevic, who was from New Jersey. Lenny was nuts about the band Squeeze. Played them all the time. With a beard, Lenny looked like a cross between Cmdr. William T. Riker and that evil leprechaun from the bad horror films where Jennifer Aniston got her start. Without a beard, Lenny was indescribable. Lenny was one of those people who have irrepressible good humor. He liked practical jokes and had a laugh like a maniac. He sounded a lot like The Joker. You could never decide whether to love him or hate him. There was no middle ground with Lenny.
I saw a lot of Lenny while our ship was in the Philadelphia Navy Yards and we were living on a barge alongside. The barge consisted of living quarters in a ring around a central core with a dining hall. It wasn't bad, all things considered, but to me it often seemed more crowded than our cramped destroyer. So it wasn't long before I went looking for a place to live in town. I ended up renting a room in a house in Drexel Hill belonging to a shockingly red-headed woman named Marge Marziani. I got to know Marge and her family pretty well. Marge worked for the Philadelphia mayor's office. Her mother used to raise big cats and even took them on The Tonight Show once or twice. Marge's son, Bruce, was also shockingly red-headed. It was his old room I was staying in. Bruce had trained as a hair dresser but, despite the name and the occupation, he was a long way from gay. He lived up the street with his wife and new son. In addition to hair dressing, Bruce made his living by working in sandwich shops and by selling pot. Bruce made a killer tuna grinder but I may have thought so only because I was high on his grass. Oh, and no description of Marge's family is complete without Frank, her ex-husband. They were still on decent terms so I used to see Frank pretty often. At one point he even took to living in the house again. He and Marge stayed in separate rooms, though. Frank was one of those huge people who have a layer of fat covering another layer of pure muscle. He was a loud Ralph Kramden type who drove truck. I had an opportunity to go on a run cross-country with him once and I'll always regret not taking it.
Philadelphia was my first "big city" experience and I loved it. Every day I used to take the subway from the navy yards up to city hall to have lunch with Marge and every night I was running around downtown. I used to go to this New Wave club on Chestnut St. that stayed open all night (this was the early 80's, people). I lived way beyond my means and it wasn't long before I was living in Marge's house practically for free because I was always late with the rent money. We were good friends by that time, though, and I did pay her back with interest when Frank and I went down to Atlantic City one Saturday and I hit a jackpot on a slot machine.
Frank had $300 burning a hole in his pocket and I had bupkis. Frank suggested that we both play slots with his money and if I hit with his money he would give me 25 percent of the winnings. This sounded great since I was gambling with $100 of his $300 and riding in his big old beat up Lincoln Town Car for the day because Frank wanted company. Plus, being broke that weekend, I certainly had nothing else to do.
Frank plunked me down in front of the machine he wanted me to play and told me to just keep throwing in quarters until they were gone. Much to Frank's very vocal glee, however, I very shortly made us $10,000 richer. He almost broke my spine in a bear hug. We declined the offer of a comped room and tipped a security guard to escort us out to the Lincoln. With $2500 in cash in my pocket and $7500 in Frank's, we were a couple of Nervous Nellies. I later used my share to take my girlfriend and I on a whirlwind Florida vacation to Key West and Orlando. Live for the moment, that was me.
The Marziani's weren't the only colorful characters I knew in Philadelphia. When it was first determined that my ship would be going into the yards, the Navy gave us the opportunity to move our cars and whatnot up there first. Paid us per diem for it. I drove up with a girl I knew from the Pizza Hut in Atlantic Beach, outside Jacksonville, FL. She had family in Philadelphia and we stayed with her uncle, who went by the name Johnny Dallas, near Kensington and Allegheny. The K&A was, and I think still is, a rough Irish neighborhood on the east side of Philadelphia.
Johnny Dallas was in his 40's and still lived with his mother in a row house on a narrow street. I spent many weekends in his back yard drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon with him and listening to the radio. Once Johnny and I took a bunch of the neighborhood kids to see Rocky II. We all rode the El downtown and how those kids yelled whenever they saw a neighborhood they recognized. I think they had already made the Rocky statue by this time but it was still down by JFK Stadium. They moved it up in front of the art museum later. Another time, Johnny set me up on a date with a girl who was in the roller derby. No frail hippy chick this! She actually wanted to go roller skating on our date but I decided dinner and a movie was safer.
Johnny Dallas used to always wear a jean jacket and a gigantic bowie knife in his back waistband. Johnny worked in a little tiny cathouse on Sansom St. called The Golden Saddle. He gave me a stack of business cards and, like the friend I was, I handed them out to my fellow sailors to drum up business. I don't think Johnny ever had trouble at that whorehouse. It was Camel cigarettes that killed him. His mother called me after I had already gone back to Florida with my ship, now out of the yards, to tell me he was dead. I couldn't make the funeral and I felt awful about that.
I really need to stop listening to radio shows that play 80s music.