The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, June 10, 2004  

Requiescat in Pacem

My next-door neighbor, Giovanni Petri, was killed today, struck down by a motorcycle while the crossing the street, in front of his house, as he was heading to the store.

I didn’t see the accident, but I heard it.

Thud. Slap. Bang. Crash.

My housemates and I ran outside and then back in and outside again.

Where the hell was the ambulance?

S.A. called 911 three times. I heard another housemate, R.H., on the same line. “What? . . . A man. . . . What?” Stupid questions they were asking: Is it a man or a woman?

“Jesus Christ! There’s blood everywhere! Tell them there’s blood everywhere!”

Towels. They wanted towels. For the blood, I guess. I brought out towels. I couldn’t look. I didn’t know then who it was who was hurt. All I saw was blood.

Giovanni’s blood.

It took too long to sink in. The bleeding dead man lying on Spruce Street was Giovanni.

That Giovanni. The Giovanni next door.

His wife was home at the time. She sent him off to the store, most likely with a cheerio, see you later, and all that. There’s a daughter living there. A son came by in time.

And now he’s gone.

When you live in a large city and you happen to reach or touch your neighbors, it means something. Giovanni did that. The reaching and touching I mean.

Giovanni did that by talking. He was a talker. Oh, what a talker. Just ask anyone in the neighborhood.

I’m not sure everyone understood him, as he spoke with a rather heavy accent. When he and I spoke, we did so in Italian. It was easier that way. For him and for me. And it was good practice. For me.

His tag line was “If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.”

Giovanni, we’ll miss you, and I only wish there were something I could do for you now.

[Post-publication addendum (June 12): Mr. Petri’s obituary from the Philadelphia Inquirer.]

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