Yesterday, I took old Mrs. Russo shopping at the Italian Market in South Philadelphia. She was buying seven fishes. I had my goal list all ready:
• Olive oil, prosciutto, capicola, and imported pasta from Claudio’s
• Olive salad and cheese from DiBruno’s
• Lamb and pork roasts, and ground beef from Esposito’s
• Locatelli and fresh produce from Giordano’s
• Spices and coffee from the Spice Corner
• Some pastry from Isgro’s
I was looking forward to a refreshing walk, while enjoying the sights and smells of the South Philly marketplace and maybe do some Christmas shopping.
I was asked to pick Teresa up at her sister’s house.
Teresa Russo has been a friend of our family for years. She went to school with one of my aunts. She was born and raised in South Philadelphia. Her temperament is a bit surly, but expected, as she grew up in a tough neighborhood. She doesn’t get around much by herself anymore, so taking her shopping was my idea and good deed for the day.
I decided to take her to lunch at the new BBQ brisket place that just opened up on 9th Street, instead of our normal visit to Pat’s Steaks.
When I picked her up, I noticed that the jacket she was wearing was wrinkled and out of shape.
“What’s up with the jacket?” I asked, as she got into the car.
“Flak jacket underneath.” She answered. “I got it from Louie ‘The Nose.”
“Come on, Teresa, you’re 80 years old. Who’s going to mess with you?”
“Hey, they let that Gambino guy off last week. You know, John ‘junior’ Gatti. Now, they call him ‘Teflon John.’ He don’t have friends in South Philadelphia. Two guys came down from New York last week and started something near the Sports Complex. I smell trouble. Plus, it’s December 7th, like we got the malocchio or something. Maybe we shouldn’t go today.”
“Teresa, people don’t believe in the ‘evil eye’ anymore. You shouldn’t be so superstitious. Of course we should go shopping. Those guys all hang out in a different neighborhood.”
“Yeah? What are we gonna do if they decide they want to eat something at Mama Mia’s and start a fight?”
“Teresa, they don’t mess with old ladies.”
“Speak for yourself, I’m not old.” She said.
When we got to the Italian Market and parked the car at the three dollar lot on Washington Avenue, we were approached by some guy, who said he was from Social Security and was taking a poll. Teresa broke his pencil and told him to get lost.
“OK,” I said. “I take back what I said. They don’t mess with NICE old ladies.”
“Statazete! (Shutup)” she snapped. “We should have stayed home. That guy was a pickpocket. Check your wallet.”
“I have it” I said. “Nothing is missing. Will you just relax and enjoy yourself? Put on your happy face, that should confuse everybody.”
Everything went smoothly until Teresa spotted a black limousine driving up 9th Street. She dove under a vendor table and about 50 live blue crabs and two dozen oranges went scurrying and rolling in all directions. Crustaceans were everywhere. I saw one of them booking down Montrose Street. You could hear the screams for blocks.
“What, are you on somebody’s hit list, or just crazy - are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m sorry.” She said.
“Yes, what? Yes, you’re crazy or yes, you’re OK?”
“Alright already - both!”
The guy, who rented the vendor table, was furious, cussing in Italian, and running around with tongs trying to gather up the runaway crustaceans before they pinched someone.
“Che cazzo...?” he shouted, “C'è un casino della Madonna qui.” (Meaning “What the hell…?” and his vocabulary went down-hill after that.)
After we paid him for the crabs that were still missing in action, I swore to myself that I would never do another good deed like this again. What started out as a fun shopping trip had turned into a total nightmare.
We never got to Isgro’s.
On the way home, Teresa apologized for her behavior all day. She told me she is into Ronny ‘The Rat’ for $100 to pay for the exterminator.
Apparently, while she was getting out her Christmas decorations two weeks ago, she found mice running around in her basement. Ronny had threatened her. She was supposed to pay him $125 by yesterday, or he would import a hundred mice and set them loose in her house. So, for the rest of the week, until she pays him on Friday, Teresa is spending nights with her sister.
“Ronny is a spostata (jerk).” She said.
“Teresa, the next time you need money, call me. I will lend it to you, no mice and no interest, capiche?”
I went home, poured myself a Chianti, and listened to a little Lou Monte.