I got to the Friendly Lounge around 12:45PM, and for the next 3 ½ hours, there were just me and 54-year-old Jimmy in there. If a decades-old neighborhood dive can’t attract old heads in the afternoon, you know the economy is gasping. Granted, the heavy rain didn’t help. To save money, Jimmy had a transistor radio to play Van Halen and AC/DC. If Don the owner was there, Jimmy would have had to shove bills into the jukebox, but today it was Stephanie behind bar.
After my Postcard about Steph and Jimmy, I’ve found out more about their lives.
Jimmy went to Frankfort High School. It was 1/3 black, 1/3 white, 1/3 Hispanic and every day, there were fights, “I was just this scrawny son of a preacher, but I had to learn how to fight. I was tired of getting beaten up.” Jimmy still remembers the name of his regular tormentor, Dave Swanson. To battle the chaos, security guards with K-9 dogs were brought in.
“In junior high, a black kid hit one of the teachers with an oak chair, knocked him out. He was pissed because he had failed a test. They had to bring in an ambulance, take the old guy out in a stretcher.”
In 12th grade, Jimmy got his first job as a dishwasher at the Holiday Inn. Seeing that he was an excellent worker, the head chef soon turned Jimmy into a cook.
“‘Will I get paid more?’ I said to him. ‘Sure,’ he said, ‘and you’ll get to eat all of these shrimps for free too.’ I was always hungry so I said yeah. It was weird at first because all of these people were screaming at each other all the time, there was so much stress, but at the end of the day, it was all forgotten.
We would drink a punch made of brandy, Coke and oranges, cut into halves, and we would also do coke. We could only do this after the chef had gone home. The sous chef was cool. At the end of the day, we also threw hot, stuffed tomatoes at each other.”
Recounting her own kitchen experience, Steph said that she and her co-workers used to play baseball with onions and knives.
After the shift, the male kitchen staff and female servers would party in the parking lot. Sometimes Jimmy would get home at 4AM, and be in class by 8:30AM.
After high school, Jimmy got married, enlisted in the Marines and was sent to Twentynine Palms, California, “Being in that desert made me realize why Arabs and Jews are always so pissed off! Newsbreak! There’s grass everywhere else!”
Stationed in the middle of all that sand also wrecked his marriage, though the final dissolution didn’t happen until Jimmy had left the military and was working in Santa Barbara as a manager at Jack in the Box, the burger chain.
Though Jimmy has done some construction, he has spent most of his working life in kitchens. His back isn’t getting any stronger, so he has to wear a weightlifter’s belt to keep it from wrenching. Three of his co-workers must do the same.
“Some morning, I’m like, ‘Man, do I have to go back there and start all over?’ But it’s not like they’re going to kill me, I don’t think. You just do it and they pay you. It is physically and mentally exhausting.”
Jimmy wouldn’t let me photograph him, “My psycho second wife would go after me.”
“Oh man, she’s not going to see my stupid blog.”
“I can’t take any chances. I don’t want her to find out where I am. She tackled my mother, slammed her against the wall, and the old lady was 65 years old at the time. I had to grab her hair and I was ready to hit her when my dad said, ‘No, you don’t do that.’ Another time, she stabbed me with a butterfly knife,” and Jimmy showed me two scars on his right arm.
“You must have been a shitty husband.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“Did you cheat on her?”
“No, I didn’t. She cheated on me, all the time!”
“Well, at least you got some good memories out ot it,” I laughed.
“She was great in bed.”
Jimmy has been with 138 women, he said. Jimmy spoke of goofing around with his buddies, “We would throw firecrackers at each other, and we did it indoors too. One time, we burnt the carpet and there was a burnt mark this big,” and Jimmy held his hands about a foot apart.
“That sounds crazy, man, and dangerous. Why would you do that?”
“Cause it was fun! One time, a guy stuck a firecracker into my back pocket so I got even by tossing a bunch of firecrackers into the bathroom while he was sitting on the toilet. He was a big guy too, nearly 7 feet tall, so it wasn’t like he could quickly jump out the way!”
Though Steph works seven days a week, she still has a hard time paying her bills. She’s qualified for food stamps and has applied for it, but they’re making her jump though so many hoops, she may never get it. Steph’s boyfriend, Michael, works for his dad building fences in Northeast Philly and so lives at home. Steph and Michael want to have their finances on sounder footing before they get married.
Steph’s parents were in the Marines, and so is her 24-year-old brother. He will be sent to Afghanistan soon.
At far end of the bar is 67-year-old Felix Giordano. The Giordanos is a big family and own several stores in the Italian Market. Felix’ great uncle enlisted in the U.S. Army at 14, got killed at 15 and the compensation the family received got them started in business.
Felix’ dad owned a store. “The only time we had red meat was when a customer forgot his purchase on the counter. Don’t give me this shit about white privilege. We weren’t even good enough to be slaves! In Italy, a few families owned all of the land for hundreds of years. There was nothing left for anybody else.”
Felix lives in an apartment complex for old people.
In 2006, Philadelphia Weekly profiled Felix Giordano:
“In his younger days, back when he was studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, or when he was crashing in the huge Old City loft he shared with his blond wife and artist friends, Felix looked like Serpico and lived like Gully Jimson. With his burning brown eyes, flowing brown hair and wild beard, he was filled with anger, sadness and passion.
He was a drinker, a fighter who'd beat men twice his size. And he painted manically, as if his life depended on it. Soulful, disturbing portraits of Ninth Street merchants and loan sharks, bloodied boxers and dead mob bosses, portraits of his friends, self-portraits, nudes, pastels, watercolors, landscapes, striking depictions of his favorite artists and historical figures: Lincoln, Custer, Zapata, Mailer and Kafka. Galleries offered shows, and the press hailed him as one of Philly's best up-and-coming artists.
There were rambling years spent traveling the country. Girlfriends. Success. Highs. Lows. Life.
But Giordano is home now. He still drinks, but not like in the old days. He wears spectacles and walks with a slight limp brought on by arthritic knees. He lives alone in a cramped apartment in an alleyway off Washington Avenue.
His temper is gone. He’s a pleasant man. Kind.”