Real Help for Real Living: Where in the world is Belleville, N.J.?

by Rev. Tony Marciano

The Broadway play “The Jersey Boys” invaded Charlotte for a second time recently, telling the story of singing group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Three of the original group members grew up in Belleville, N.J., a city I’m familiar with since my dad had a laundromat there in the 1960s.

Belleville was across the river from where I grew up. When my dad owned the laundromat, I would go with him to clean out the lint traps and restock the vending machines. In the play, Frankie Valli said his mother used a laundromat when her washing machine broke. I wondered if she came to our family’s laundromat.

We had Italian friends who lived in Belleville. I always thought they were crazy. I coined the phrase, “Belleville Italian” for an overly dramatic Italian. As the Four Seasons talked about the neighborhood in the play, I had visions of being back there and going to Jackie’s Italian Ice stand which had the best Italian hot dogs.

I knew the plot of the play. Nick Massi was the one who got Frankie off the streets and into the group. He was the manager of the band. He also squandered the group’s funds. Just before the intermission, the audience finds out Nick was in debt to the mob for $150,000. The group also owed taxes bringing the total debt to $500,000. When the total amount of money owed was learned, the most incredible argument (not discussion) took place.

Frankie decided the group would pay off the debt. Both the bass singer Tommy DeVito and the songwriter Bob Gaudio argued with him. They didn’t borrow the gambling money from the mob. They weren’t the ones entrusted with the group’s finances and the debt to the IRS. Frankie stood strong. He would not be swayed. The Four Seasons would sing and earn the money and pay back the debts.

I wondered what I would do? Would I side with Tommy and Bob and walk away or join Frankie and work to pay off a debt I didn’t even owe? Nick owed a debt he could not pay.

As Christians, we celebrate at Easter that Christ came to pay a debt he did not owe. I also realize that I owed a debt to God for my sin I could not pay. Just like Nick Massi, I needed someone to intervene in the mess I created. For Nick, it was Frankie Valli and the Four Season. They sang wherever they could and paid off the debt. For you and me, it was one payment. The death of Jesus  satisfied an impossible debt.

Think about that on Easter Sunday. Just don’t expect the choir to sing “Sherry Baby” for the offertory.

I’ll be back in two weeks. Until then, live well, my friend.

The Rev. Tony Marciano is executive director of the Charlotte Rescue Mission, which provides a free, long-term Christian recovery program for men and women addicted to drugs and alcohol.

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