The Burning Stump
Two first-hand accounts of Felix Paino's crime against nature:
After his wife died, I got the feeling that Felix went a little feral -- back to his bachelorhood or Navy days. I'd walk past his house and occasionally the front door would be open and I could glimpse the labyrinthine piles of crap he had accumulated. I imagined that, (not to sound sexist, but this would be Felix' mentality) without a woman on the premises, the house hadn't been cleaned for years and I could almost smell it from out on the sidewalk. It looked like some dark seventh circle of hell, like a lair for a grouchy old badger or something. Of course, after kids broke his front window and he put a piece of plywood up instead pf fixing it, I suppose the natural light ceased to break through his fortress (that plywood was still up when we walked by a few months ago)

There were Felix' stoop-side pronouncements, complaints, wacky recommendations ("don't get your cheese from Claudio's -- their scales are bad" ) -- but the most telltale sign of Felix' urban ferality was his scorn for plants and trees and nature in general.

The sidewalks of 6th street were littered with a lot of flotsam and jetsam, but Felix really had it in for anything that dropped off the decorative trees the city had planted along the curb. Sap, bark, seeds, leaves -- anything that might drop from that pathetic tree in front of his place just drove him crazy, especially if it sullied his car (one of two '70s-era dung-brown landsharks he had parked on the street, like something Kojak might drive).

He chopped the tree down. But that wasn't good enough. He hadn't removed the roots so, as trees are wont to do, it tried to grow back. So he attempted to kill the tree once and for all by torching the stump. (I can only imagine how Felix would deal with a lawn.)

One night after work I was pulling into my parking spot on 6th street and noticed a fire out in front of Felix' house, him tending it, standing there admiring the flames, holding a bottle of beer, right there along the curb. "Barbeque?" I wondered, but nahhhh, nothing so wholesome in this neighborhood. A couple of the old Italian ladies from the neighborhood were sitting out on the sidewalk in their lawn chairs, as they did on warm nights, tsk-tsking the bonfire up the street, shaking their heads.

"What's going on? What's with the fire?" I asked.

And the one who always called me "hon" didn't explain, just burst out with "That guy's crazy! He's nuts!" and the other one nodded. Then I saw a police car drive up...the flames subsided, the matter seemed to be settled and I guess Felix taught that tree stump a lesson.

Felix kinda summed his feelings for nature up during the drought of 1999, when I said I'd been out in farm country and the crops were really suffering.

"There ain't no drought, the media made it up," he said.

"But no Felix, the fields are all brown, the corn crop is dying," I said

"Anything green can die as far as I'm concerned," he said. "Food comes from the supermarket."

Maybe he'll come back in his next life as a farmer.

-- Susan Van Dongen

One day I was walking along 6th a few blocks from Montrose and saw a column of black smoke twisting in the air, and a queue of cars backed up and honking. There at the head of the line was Felix, looking uncharacteristically sheepish as a female cop gave him hell for smoking up the place and impairing motorists' visibility. It turned out that, upholding the South Philly Italian-American tradition of maximizing masonry and minimizing foliage, Felix had cut down a tree in front of his rowhouse. He figured the easiest way to get rid of the stump was to douse it with gasoline and torch it, never mind that it was the afternoon rush hour.

-- Sylvia Colwell-Davis