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Thursday, January 15, 2015







Universal Tonsorial Parlor. Born in 1939, Russell Farmer moved to Camden in 1949 with his family. In 1958, he became an apprentice to a barber, then bought his boss's business in 1963. At one time, Russ had three jobs at the same time, "I worked for the city. I was in charge of the cemeteries and city parks, and I had a job at the race track."

Russ is very optimistic about Camden, "It's coming back. It's inevitable. I see resurrection everywhere I look. It's turning around. It's the natural order. It's climbing back up."

New Jersey has given a handful of companies huge tax breaks to relocate to Camden, and its riverfront is also a prime candidate for upscale development. A riverside jail has already been torn down to make room for condos. All these plans will go up in smoke should our economic collapse accelerate, however, and I don't doubt it will happen this year or, at the latest, 2016. Moreover, should Camden's downtown and riverfront become gentrified, the poor people of Camden will have to move out, and businesses such as The Universal Tonsorial Parlor will also be evicted. Too often, urban renewal doesn't mean lifting up the bottom dwellers but flushing them out of the way, and when the national economy is tanking, very localized improvements are but tiny cosmetic dabs on a huge patient with wounds and sores all over.

Russ on limits, "The world that I knew, at my age, has been taken from me, simply because they've erased all the existing boundaries that were created for me. You see, I had boundaries in my life. I had limitations. I knew where to go, what not to do, what to do. My parents created boundaries. The neighborhood created boundaries. All those boundaries--have been erased. I didn't know kids killing their parents, or parents murdering their children. Education was always quality education. Everything was in place. Where are the boundaries today?"

"You're talking about license!"

"I'm talking about society as a whole, mankind, and not just Camden."


As for Larry Gaines, here's a video about his anti-violence basketball tournament.


I had come to Camden by train, as usual, and getting off at the downtown station, I saw a young man sitting on the floor to put on bright pink, anti-breast cancer stockings. Since I doubt he’d buy or even shoplift those, they must have been charity. Outside, I noticed the belongings of a homeless old head. Besides ragged blankets and quilts on top of cardboard, there were also clothing, shoes, two bars of deodorant, a notebook and, inside a plastic container, toothpaste, toothbrush and a couple of pens. Reasonably neat, this setup was like a wall-less efficiency apartment. It was 26° Fahrenheit.


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About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of a non-fiction book, Postcards from the End of America (2017), two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), six of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007), Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009) and A Mere Rica (2017), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.