U.S. Navy Photographer
Felix was a nut. A crank. An authority-hater. A pack rat. A conspiracy theorist. A leather-skinned, wiry, high-strung South Philly Italian. A photographer. A walking thesaurus of epithets, racial and otherwise -- although some of his best friends and favorite neighbors were black, or homosexual, or whatever. In fact, the epithets were directed only at people he specifically didn't like.
He was the busybody of 6th street -- he knew everybody and their secrets; and whatever first-hand information he lacked about any given neighbor, he would invent in his own mind, then proceed to disseminate his own pastiche of information mixed with disinformation to all passers-by who cared to listen. In any case, you were unlikely to hear the same story-line twice.
He was always in a feud with any number of neighbors, or claimed to be in a lawsuit against various & sundry parties -- individuals, city agencies, real-estate developers, you name it. He was also prone to violence, or at least said he was -- he would rant and rave and threaten to shove a tire-iron down so-and-so's throat if their dog was even thinking of urinating on his property."If I'd had a gun when he did [this or that], that asshole would be DEAD! I'll kick his ASS!" This behavior was most pronounced after he'd had a can or two of Schmidt's beer.
Felix spent warm afternoons sitting on his front step on a folding metal chair reading the Inquirer or Shutterbug Magazine. He was a camera buff, even somewhat of a collector, probably stemming from his years as a Navy photographer back in the 1950s. He was also an automobile collector of sorts -- he owned two identical maroon Oldsmobiles, probably vintage mid-to-late 1980s, their seats ripped to shreds, front bumpers held in place with grey duct tape; through various connections he'd even procured a couple of handicapped parking spaces in front of his house so that he'd always be guaranteed a spot. On cool days, Felix would often read his newspapers inside one of the cars. The cars served as a sort of enclosed moveable front porch as well as portable storage bins for his crap.
On those hot days reading the paper, he always wore a grimy tee-shirt, workman's pants, white socks, black work shoes, and half-eye reading glasses. If the sun was too direct, he would move his chair across the street and sit in the shade of the building on the opposite sidewalk.
Felix was actually pretty well-read about current events, thanks to his voracious newspaper-reading; it was his interpretation of what he read that was skewed and bizarre -- "The government's in cahoots with the terrorists and that's why this whole town's going down the toilet thank GOD I'm too old to see this goddam place go down the toilet -- it's goin' down the toilet!"
...Come to think of it -- maybe he wasn't so insane after all.
He had no qualms about telling me that the newspaper that he read daily (which he also knew signed my own paychecks) was a worthless rag and that he was never going to read it again. He told me this on numerous occasions over the years.
And like I said, Felix had been a photographer. Not for art's sake or advertising agencies or for the press -- he was a Navy photographer. Aerial. Damaged equipment. Reconnaissance. Munitions testing. He actually worked as a photographer. A real job working for the US Government. Not some art fag.
Anyway, I walked past Felix's house in mid-February (2005). The door opened, a stranger came out and placed a box full of plates and bowls on the landing where Felix had always sat on his metal chair reading his newspaper during the summer. The man then went back inside and closed the door. This seemed odd because I'd never seen anyone other than Felix enter or exit the property; then I noticed that both the maroon Oldsmobiles were missing. The man came out with another box, so I asked him:
"What happened to Felix?"
"Oh my! I don't believe it! When did this happen?"
"December 9th. Heart attack."
"I'm shocked. I had no idea. No idea!! 2 months ago????"
"Everybody was shocked. But apparently Felix thought he was gonna live forever judging from all the stuff he packed into this house."
(Turns out the man was his brother-in-law. Felix had stashed so much stuff in his house that it was going to take weeks to clean it all out.)
The old neighborhood is gone forever.
By Ted Adams