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Musings On A Life Gone Right In Spite Of Myself 

An Unauthorized Autobiography by Phillip J. Giambri

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 Last Trace Of Pure Spirit

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
                                                                                                     
Bar 82 Reading October, 2011

  Fading Snapshots

Both of my parents worked, so I was a “latch-key” kid from early on. I spent winters in Philadelphia and when school ended, my sister and I were shipped to my grandmother's bungalow in rural New Jersey for the summer.  We raised and killed chickens, tended cows, chased goats, collected tadpoles, rode horses, and picked and ate fresh fruit and vegetables from my grandfather’s garden. We had an ice box, a cesspool, and no hot water. We bathed on Saturday evenings with hot water from the stove; in order by age. It seemed like living in heaven to a city kid like me.

I contracted polio during the summer of 1944 and was in quarantined isolation for three months in a New Jersey hospital. My mother rode a “trolley car” to the hospital after work each day from Philadelphia to visit me. I remember most the sadness of watching my mother leave each night and the fresh smell of soap and starch on the nurses crisp white uniforms. I learned early to be skeptical of doctors who where always quick to say, “this won’t hurt much”, or “it’ll only sting a little"…………..yea, sure… spinal taps and muscular electric shock treatments are still a very vivid memory.

My first professional public appearance was as a Polio survivor in 1948. I made both the TV news and the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer along with a group of other kids taken on an outing to an estate where I was photographed holding hands in the pool with an attractive Rita Hayworth look-a-like redhead………….I was eight years old and smitten.




 
Life Shaping Events
 
Watched the very first Howdy Doody show on my grandmother’s nine inch screen Philco TV.
 
Saw Atom & Hydrogen bomb tests live on TV.
 
Watched all of the Kefauver Crime Committee Hearings and many years later would watch the entire Watergate Hearings in anger and awe.

Saw Joe Lewis fight on live TV. I met Rocky Marciano and other Italian American boxers at our neighborhood gym.

My 4th grade teacher Miss Porter, normally very stern and grumpy, told my parents that she felt I had the potential to become the first Italian American president of the United States……..That train left a loooooooong time ago.

My 5th grade teacher Mr. Schwartz gave me a book called “Valley of The Kings” and imbued me with a love of archeology and a curiosity for science that lasts to this day.

Was an Altar Boy and “served” the 8:30am funeral mass every morning for two years.

Was both a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout.

In 7th grade I wrote an “autobiography” that won an English prize.  With delusions of grandeur, I dreamed of being a a "famous Irish Poet" who would die early of alcoholism..... DUH! ...not Irish!


At thirteen started listening to Jean Shepherd every night on WOR radio from New York. He stands as one of the greatest storytellers of all time. He had a profound influence on my mind, my spirit, my sense of humor, and my outlook on life. He’s the reason I decided to leave home at seventeen and eventually work my way to New York.

Started smoking and drinking alcohol when I was fourteen years old.

At sixteen years old my father had me listed by the police as a “chronic runaway” for unauthorized hitch-hiking and motorcycle trips to Civil War battlefields on the East Coast. I was a history buff and liked to travel.

Left Catholic High School in 10th grade for disciplinary reasons related to religious rebellion. I published an anti-Catholic newsletter, organized a strike against the school bookstore, and staged a school walkout. I have no regrets and have never considered myself a Catholic since.

A key lesson learned early “on the street” in South Philly was that in order to be respected and accepted, you had to be a “stand-up guy” and you were expected to “do the right thing.” We grew up understanding what that meant and it bonded us and shaped our lives forever.  At seventeen my best friend and I were arrested and punished for a crime committed by my sister’s boyfriend. He thought it was funny and never thanked us. We spent a night in jail, got a beating from our parents, and had probation and loss of driver’s licenses for a year.

Went to South Philadelphia High school with Chubby Checker and Fabian. After school, Chubby Checker plucked chickens at Al’s Meat Market in my neighborhood. He soon would become a millionaire.
    My 11th grade English teacher, Mr. Paravicini suggested I consider writing as a career.

As a teenager, was an exceptionally good “fast dancer”, and for four years I entered dance contests throughout the Philadelphia area. I always won.

Worked for free in a Photography Studio after school to learn photography.

Mostly stopped eating meat and fowl in 1959. It’s nothing religious, I just don’t care for the taste.


Am “qualified on submarines” and entitled to wear the Submariner’s “Dolphins”. 
    Was a Sonarman on one of the first Fleet Ballistic Missle nuclear submarines.  I crossed the Arctic Circle four times and was initiated into “The Royal Order of The Bluenose”
    Was a daily contributing writer to the “Silent Service Breakfast News”, my ship’s newspaper.

In spite of an intense “fear of flying”, crossed the Atlantic Ocean eight times in propeller driven planes with multiple “mishaps” and “close calls”. I later flew in a glider and a WWI Biplane to try to get past my fear.  I still dream of flying in a WWII P51 Mustang.

Studied Stock Transfer Procedures and Commercial Law and briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a lawyer.........no regrets about letting that one go. 
 
Was elected Chief Shop Steward in a south Jersey local of the I.B.E.W. partially because I had a big mouth, but mostly because I spoke English.

At twenty-four, and after ten years of pretty serious drinking, was well on my way to becoming a depressed, mean, alcoholic. I quit my job and returned to school. It was the beginning of my new life.

"Officially" moved to New York City in September 1968 after commuting for two years from both Philly and North Jersey.....Whew!  Just in time!
 
Was writer/editor of my drama school newspaper.

Attended School Of Visual Arts for three years when it was “unaccredited”

Studied acting with Stella Adler for a brief time.
    Am a member Actor’s Equity Union
    Am a member of The Screen Actor’s Guild


Toured for two years with a movie star in the twilight of her career as her personal assistant, Stage Manager, and "Go-Fer". Sporting a pony tail and parts of used military uniforms, I attended dinners and ceremonies with politicians and movie stars. I doubt that I impressed them much.


Was Editor/Writer for the Saint Marks Block Association Newsletter and on occasion” I did inhale”.

Participated in the successful struggle to save and landmark the Emlen Physick Estate in Cape May, NJ (now the The Mid-Atlantic Center for The Arts) and Lucy The Elephant Hotel in Margate, NJ.

Didn’t marry until I was thirty-seven. I met my wife on a blind date.

There were twenty-one Methadone Clinics, a Men’s Shelter, a Woman’s Shelter, the Hell’s Angels, and countless homeless Hippies and Vietnam Veterans in the East Village when I moved there in 1971. I lived across the street from The Electric Circus and there was a twenty-four hour a day party on our block. The crime rate was also astronomical. I became a civic activist and our block association representative to the NYC Police Dept. at monthly community meetings. I helped acquire free “burglary gates” for our community and assisted in procuring twenty-seven flowering pear trees for our block during the Bicentennial Celebration. We held three very large and successful fundraising block parties to help fund our neighborhood projects.

Am a certified Scuba Diver

Am an ordained minister in St. Alban’s Church of the Way

Am a licensed Master Barber

My wife and I have been doing genealogical research as a hobby for the past forty years.

Have been an “amateur photographer” for fifty years

Have always wanted to sing, play guitar, and “honky-tonk” piano but seem to posses no ability or talent whatsoever in the musical arena other than a “good ear” and appreciation for others with musical gifts. It certainly helped with my work as a Recording Engineer

A life member of Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and NY City Base of United States Submarine Veterans.

Am a proud member of both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association


From my very earliest memories, all I ever really wanted to be was a COWBOY! It never occurred to me that an Italian-American kid from South Philadelphia didn’t stand much chance of  becoming a real cowboy. As an adult, I rode horses for several years in upstate New York. I also took English Jumping classes with rich ladies who drove Jaguars to class in Briarcliff Manor, not far from where Bill and Hilary now reside. I was a decent Western rider but a lousy English jumper. The “Jaguar Ladies” were even worse. In my heart, I will always be a Cowboy!.

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