This blog is made up of of many stories, It is about a city that I was born into in February 23, 1944. I work in this city as a landlord, manager, mechanic of many and master of none. These are stories of peoples on their path from somewhere and someplace and moving toward their dreams as we all want to do. Some are and were tenants, some are strangers, some a blur in time and some learning to be real in a real tough but dynamic city. Camden, NJ has held the distinction of being the poorest and highest crime city in the country. I heard that it has, for its size, more warrants for arrest than anywhere else. I even get them on occasion. It is in in some ways J. Conrade’s “Heart of Darkness”. It is also a city of comedy, heart evoking, mean and a sometime distrustful place with acts of murder, confusion, theft, lies and ignorance. Sounds like many places on this planet. Despite this horn of plenty, it is vibrant with love, hope, joy and expectations. Children, spirituality, wonder, nature…and always full of dreams and magic. And it is an opportunity to learn about cooperation with each other. Uncle Gus tells me once in a while that man can do anything in this world except get along with his neighbor. Well he still lives in this city :-). Here I will recount some of the Camden chronicles as I as they happened and happen. John A Gialuco
“In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person — Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates — ask them five questions: ‘What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?’ If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.” Anthony Wedgwood Benn, RIP
A Historian on Donald Trump
Thanks to Bill Tomaszewski
Camden is a city, is a metaphor, is a filter, is a fear collector, is a stereotype, is a once upon a time maybe some day, is a nightly news story, is a nightmare, is a dream. The motto of the city of Camden was adopted from a line of a Walt Whitman poem from his Leaves of Grass.“I dream’d in a dream I saw a city invincible.”
In late June 2015 one of my tenant’s friends came by at around 3 am and thru a Molotov cocktail into the back door of one of my homes. He intended to burn my tenant and her 4 year old daughter to death while they were sleeping. Fortunately neither my tenant or her daughter were home. My tenant came up to me, at the end of the day and apologized for the home being destroyed AND then asked me when could she get her security deposit BACK!!! I was speechless.
Many people on the block knew who the arsonist was yet no one knew his name. No one knows anything. I am told that he still drives around the neighborhood…to this day. It has been 6 months since the fire Marshall gave me her 10 page report stating the investigation is still pending! It has bee 6 months since the Camden City police department has yet to responded to my queries about the investigation!
My wife and I have had a face to face meeting with the NJ state senator, in her office, for discussion and assistance…no word as of yet! However she did say that the police department would install a ‘eye in the sky’ camera on a telephone pole in front of my shop building. There use to be one there last year but for some unknown reason the camera was removed in October.
I now know what it must feel like when I see, on TV, some person or family who has had their home destroyed by a drone or and madman who wants to kill the inhabitants. If anyone is interested in buying one charbroiled home please contact me. $50K up in smoke. As they often say in Camden…”Thanks Be to Jesus.” Mr. John
From Mike Tarnpol on June 22, 2015: “John, we should have gone to Australia when we had the chance in ’68. We were considering there or Mexico. If you snooze, you loose.”
Reply: Mike we didn’t snooze. Mike we were having to much fun in those 68 daze. We were expanding and exploring our being-ness and consciousness. In retrospect you are right about Australia or anywhere else we could have destined for, but none of us were that psychic to see decades into our futures. Who could of thought that the face of America had a cancerous underbelly of greed growing…that we are now beginning to feel and experiencing it’s voracious teeth.
Ah…and then let us not forget those beautiful 60’s sirens in their sun dresses…remember now, can you not see the sun shining through those diaphanous fabrics to light up a young beautiful, curvious, thin…Sorry I digress.
Anyway we were alive and living the moment. Just like we are now. Mike I sat last night, on a bed next to Oscar, Amy’s 94 year old father in Selma and Oscar’s bedroom. A poor Jew who had nothing but food and ‘kid-ness’ as a young boy. A Russian immigrant’s son. A grocer’s son. (like my father). Oscar’s father walked out of Russia to escape the draft and the pogroms…walked out! Probably not an uncommon thing to do in those hellish days. (people are still doing it from the Middle East and Africa). Oscar became, in his lifetime, a Jewish lawyer, silently battling a Wasp laden class from the Main line in surrounding upscale Phila. The tiers of ethnic pecking order was that the blacks in the inner city were buffered by the Italians who next were buffered by the Jews who were buffered by the Irish, then they all protected the Main liners. The status quo.
He became the head of his class in Penn Law school and Temple, a valedictorian. He aced all of his contenders to the death…to the death. The more they ridiculed him as a kike, money lender, poor Jew, rat face, the more he dived into his ‘psychic well’ and gathered up his armaments of words, terms and legalities of the Common Law to do battle and to eventually become a state prosecutor and then be picked by the governor of Pa. as a common pleas judge in Doylestown for 20 years. A man of wisdom. Raised 3 bright beautiful and graceful girls. They can also do battle with the best of them. They inherited aspects of his mind, strength and heart as well, as developing Spirits.
An artist wife who taught art at college level and has successfully painted pieces which are now permanent museum hangings. What she sees and paints no one can touch. She did an exposition of ‘abused women’ in Princeton, NJ that blew me away…her best. And I might also add rose from the foundations of a grocer father. Her father when arriving from Russia made a friend on board the ship that carried them from their homeland to Texas. They both headed towards what they thought was Philadelphia but instead got lost and walked to Cleveland. BTW his friend was Neiman Marcus, founder of the department store.
I sat there, last night, as he was only days away from death’s beckoning, grasping for the now only valuable commodity in his life….His breath! I could feel and sense the immeasurable loss and heaviness of his daughters and wife as they sat in the father’s kitchen. They were all being exposed, for the first and last time in their lives, the passing of a ‘Father’. The death of their ‘Everyman’… 94 years coming. I told them, later, that this is a natural and most important thing they will ever feel. To cherish it, for many a daughter will never get this special moment that exposes one’s heart to their soul. It is one of the most valuable things you will ever experience. No one will ever steal it from you. This is a good thing. There is no guilt to bear, it is all good. He will die in grace, as we all will.
But I sat there… next to him for a long time and said nothing, not a sound did I make. Like I sat next to my father years ago. The only thing I asked myself, in his room, was that timeless question ‘what’s it all about’. And really there was and is no answer in this moment. But it is to be, as Ram Dass said, “Be here now”. And so I sat, quietly. I also realized, last night, that what I could not do with my own father, at those moments before his passing, I could now do with Oscar Bortner.