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
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.
Camden is not invincible, far from it. Instead, it remains only a dream, an etched expectation in the stone of the city hall and the city itself. While the people Whitman loved still live their very real lives, in its neighborhoods and streets, in its tenement buildings and churches, in its playgrounds and backyards.
We went to Camden and spent the day in what has become known as Waterfront South, a former shipbuilding neighborhood, anchored on the corner of Broadway & Ferry by Sacred Heart Church. We spoke with three members of the community, a reluctant landlord storyteller, an urban farmer activist and a firebrand poet priest proclaiming a message of common sense for the common man. And despite the darkness, all three still believe in the dream, invincibility? Nah, survival, restoration, a future…..the future.
♥ [February 1940] If they say to us, “We must fight this war to preserve democracy”, let us say to them, “There is no such thing as democracy in time of war. It is a lie, a deliberate deception to lead us to our own destruction. We will not die in order that our children may inherit a permanent military dictatorship”.
♦ I begin to realize why people believe that Hollywood corrupts writers. But they’re quite wrong. All Hollywood does is give them enough money so they can get married and have kids like normal people. But it’s the getting married and having kids that really corrupts them.
Mike I don’t know what the file you sent me is or even if I sent it. Life has come down to thinking that many answers to the present ‘confusion and lies’ leads to the phrase ‘follow the money trail’. I’ve been a landlord for 42 years in a city that has been swallowed by corruption, drugs, killings and fear. With a smattering of faith, love, compassion and births. I think one of the reasons that so many women in the have children is to give hope to the future and their ‘shadowed’ dreams…not shattered. It’s not always about the $$.
I have felt and seen too much pain and joy, whether direct or indirect experience (landlords become an unintended voyeur by default). I am also confused with an aspect that I have become. I rent to families with young children..a good thing, and then sometimes, down the road, I have to personally evict those same kids who called me Mr. John. Lunacy. Camden was a sweet, safe working class town with the support of the Italian and Jewish business mentality. The Irish were the tough kids and the police. The blacks were elevator operators and they also shined shoes for a livinhg. The Puerto Rican family’s didn’t even have a footprint, they sold shaved ice cups on the sidewalks. Latino’s were not even here. The American Indian, and there were some…they existed on TV and we felt good when they were shot. And still people don’t know that there is maybe a %10 population of the folks we stole America from. And every group has a one day holiday except the American Indian. I think Jersey City celebrates over 100 ethnic groups every year (riddle me that one). Like David Byrne said ‘how did I get here, who is this beautiful wife?
I do have an idea though…I propose that every politician who calls for war, has to go serve in a nursing home and a hospital ward with the amputees and a tour in an insane asylum for 2 months…a requirement. Then send them back to office.
I will tell you one thing for sure, if the politicians that are responsible for steering this country into chaos ever stop ‘food, water and healthcare’ to citizens…you better find that un-bought ticket to Mexico we talked about in the 60’s. I’m going to be 73 this month and I go to work with my 5th metatarsal on my left foot that I broke in October. I still where a foot boot 4 months. I have a broken toe on the right foot and diabetes type 2. So Amy and I got to Social Security to see if I am eligible for anything. I can’t apply for SSD because you need to apply before you are 62 or 64. I can’t get SSI because I own property in Camden…regardless that half of what I have is un-rentable because 5 houses have been broken into since last year, as the plumbing and electric wiring was more important in the junk yard than in a home. One house was firebombed by my tenant’s boyfriend, Oh she asked me for her security deposit as the 7 alarm firemen and trucks pulled away from the smoke filled sky on 4th street.
I don’t have the $$ to repair them, let alone keep up the taxes. I don’t receive Social Security benefits because my aunt, who I worked with for 25 years never paid into my SS, just taxes! So I explained to the human android that I have worked since I was 16 and is this is what it comes to???
I’m not complaining because I’m still alive, married and putting food on the table. And now our country is run by a megalomaniac who disrespect women, has robbed many an employee and lined his administration with billionaires and misguided killers. Not to mention wanting to start a war with Russia., China and Iran. WTF!
Well when my uncle Gus died at 92 he said Johnny the first hundred years are the hardest, then it’s downhill from there. I felt so much better. Your friend Mr. John. Live long and prosper.
Dear Little One, You have not been perfect. Far from it. Do you remember the time you crept downstairs while everyone was sleeping and snuck the Kool-Aid from the refrigerator? Do you remember how, when you got caught, you lied and said you didn’t do it? You’ve punished yourself for that transgression for long enough. You are forgiven. Release your shame.
You are not the poor decisions you sometimes make.
Do you remember the time you accidentally brought home someone else’s homework, feared getting into trouble for making a mistake, and stuffed the homework beneath our house, where you thought no one would find it? You’ve lived in fear long enough. Release your shame.
You are not the things you do when you are most afraid.
Do you remember the bullies on the playground? You were trying to figure out how to become a man, and with every bruise, you doubted more and more if you could become one. The bruises on your skin became bruises on your heart. Your skin has healed—it is time now for your heart to heal, too. Release your shame.
You are not defined by the bruises you’ve picked up along the way.
Do you remember when you became the bully? Do you remember how you teased that poor, sad, lonely kid on the playground? You’ve wounded people. This is true. But the shame you’ve felt about it is a wound that festers, infecting you and everyone around you. Release your shame.
You are not the desperate things you’ve done in order to belong.
Do you remember all the subtle ways you’ve arrogantly looked down upon your peers? I get it. You think you’re fighting for a spot in a very tiny winner’s circle. You’ve fallen into the same trap as the rest of us. You are forgiven. Release your arrogance, which is really just another guise for your shame.
You are not the games you’ve played and won, or lost.
Little One, I pray you will release your shame, because the truth is, you are me. Though I’ve written many letters to my own children, this is a letter to you, the child I once was, the little one who still exists somewhere within me. In fact, I think all those letters to my kids have also been a letter to you—the scared, ashamed, confused, and desperate little kid I was and, in some ways, still am.
Little One, there can be no true healing for this adult version of me until there is, first of all, healing for you. So, please, listen closely. Please hear this grace I pass along to you. Please receive these truer words about you:
When you arrived in this world, pink and slippery and shrill, you were good enough.
Life and time and brokenness have caused you to doubt your worthiness—in other words, they’ve caused you shame. That’s okay. It happens to all of us. But if we are to truly embrace this one sacred life, something else must happen to each of us as well—we must embrace this truth:
Nothing has, will, or can alter our original worthiness.
Little One, you have not been perfect. Far from it. But if you can trust your worthiness in this way, you will be free to embrace your people and your purpose with a blessed abandon. So…
Do your best, make your mistakes, be honest about your messes, and move on.
Go ahead, live in fear—that’s part of being human—but confess your fears and invite other people into them. Life is less lonely that way.
Take your risks and take your lumps, but know that your hidden heart is without bruise or blemish; it has always been whole and holy—love from it, live from it.
People will not always be kind. This will hurt. Cry when it hurts. Then, as often as you can, summon your own kindness in return. When you do, be surprised by the joy you find within you.
And most of all, refuse to play the games people tend to play—know that the battle for your worthiness is already won.
Because you were, are, and always will be, loveable.
Together, This Bigger Version of You
In a response to my friend Bill Tomaszewski, living in England, a few days before Xmas: You are so right Bill. I had to remember the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence in 6th or 7th grade in current events class. I hope I don’t get memory loss as I grow older… we are led into confusion so much today. I really can feel tears inside. Bill you wouldn’t know but my father, John Sr. had one brother, Louis. Well Louis had three daughters… 2 twins Margie and Laura, and Patti was the third daughter. I found out last night that Margie died of ovarian cancer. I hadn’t seen them for close to 60 years or more. This is what I wrote to her daughter Mary-Lou Profera …
Mary-Lou. I feel a great loss for one of my only cousins who tried to teach me to dance when I was only 8 or so. Margie, Lolly and Patti were untouchable jewels to my little self. They were 3 vivacious balls of energy to my father’s only brother…Uncle Louie. As an only child of my parents, Evelyn & John Gialuco.. the 3 of them were a magical mystery that has always stuck to me since a child. A huge xmas tree and a burning fireplace in a secure living room in Fairview Village where we all grew up. The 3 girls taught me to believe and trust women for the rest of my life. I am very grateful for their love and playfulness which the feminine energy constantly nourishes mankind. I share your loss with all of my heart in this time of your life. You were born into a great family. Love and Loss John
That being said I am really feeling confused and a great loss. Only Patti is left of the 3 girls and her health is not great. I will try to see Patti and Margi’s daughter after the holidays. This has been very moving for me Bill. It throws me back to a time of safety and affection that I have grown out of decades ago. It is almost painful to feel the memory stir my 72 year old ‘John’. It is within my reach but not quite my grasp…. Very, very moving. I just have no idea what I am feeling now. I almost feel a bit crazy. Really.
Thanks for listening Bill.
Lately I can’t imagine life without Amy. We have no children and we feel this. I sense a lot of desperation in a last few days. It is very un-nerving. John