Author’s latest book is a collection of tales too crazy to be true – but they are

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UNION COUNTY, NJ — For some writers, they have only to take a look at their life to find all the material they need for a book. For Robert D’Ambola, it was enough for several books.

D’Ambola, who grew up in Hillside and has lived for much of his life in Cranford, has a unique background for anyone, especially an author. A retired police lieutenant in New Jersey, he spent more than 45 years working in law enforcement, emergency management and corporate security. According to a press release from his publisher, D’Ambola continues to provide security training for clients and the community. During the pandemic, he served as the emergency management coordinator for Clinton Township. He’s also provided security training for several top-rated New Jersey hospitals, including “Active Shooter” and “Workplace Violence” preparedness skills to hospital workers and in particular nurses – who, according to D’Ambola – are the most assaulted employees in today’s workforce.

An advocate for Ethics in Law Enforcement, D’Ambola has instructed classes to thousands of NJ police recruits for more than 25 years. The class was documented in his fifth book, “The True Test is When No One Sees: O B P O S,” which was published in November 2020.

But none of this remarkable background has anything to do with “Just an Average American Joe Vs. The World,” the first one he has co-written by his childhood buddy and best friend, Neil J. Welks.

“That was my sixth book. I started writing books in 2011 and I’ve been doing one every two or three years. It’s a hobby. I enjoy it,” said D’Ambola in an interview with LocalSource on Friday, Dec. 15.

D’Ambola started writing when he was a police officer, often in the middle of the night when he was on the force. He said it was cheaper than therapy. He wrote several books containing a collection of short stories, which were a conduit for his special brand of humor, mixed in with some real-life police drama, with the name of course changed, and boyhood experiences growing up in Union County during the ’60s.

“The first three were collections of stories,” D’Ambola said. “The first one was ‘Shut Up when You Talk to Me: The Moronic Chronicles,’ stories of things that happened to me. Then I had ‘Just Plain Stupid, An Unauthorized Biography.’

“Then I had a prequel to ‘Just An Average American Joe Vs. The World,’ called ‘Knights of the Forest,’ about my childhood growing up in Hillside,” he said. “My friends were about 10 years old. We’re still in contact, most of us. We get together and you pick up right where you left off.

“Back then, everything was different. It was a different world, a different time. Everybody shared the time period.

“I’m in a 55-and-older neighborhood now and a lot of people read it and they say they remember when it was like that.”

All of which leads up to his latest book, which depicts hilarious and often absurd everyday obstacles, so ridiculous that you can’t help but say, “You just can’t make this stuff up!”

“Neil and I have been friends for 65 years,” D’Ambola said. “He was at our table at the prom. He (now) lives in Bath, Pa. We will get together and he’ll tell me a story and I’ll crack up and I said you need to write this down. So first he gives me a pile of looseleaf pages of written stories. I liken this to him handing me a blank coloring book. It’s outlined, but I color it in. I put the stories in order. Between the two of us, it took us a year and we agreed on everything.”

This level of agreement can be traced back to their roots.

“We grew up with the same mindset,” D’Ambola said. “I attended Calvin Coolidge Elementary School, which has changed its name to some teacher who was killed (Deanna G. Taylor Academy). There were probably not 300 kids. Our class was the ‘baby boomer’ class. It was a circular neighborhood between the (Garden State) Parkway and Route 22. Just in that neighborhood, we had 20 kids our age.

“We were on the Union line. We would walk to Two Guys and Valley Fair in Irvington. We’d take the bus to Union or Elizabeth or Newark. Hillside High School was on the other side of town. We’d walk there, a couple of miles. We all stayed together until high school, then we started making different plans. We kind of lost touch. Everyone went away to college.

“His businesses were in northern New Jersey. Neil had all these adventures. Then, after he retired, he moved to South Carolina, where he found out he didn’t like hot weather, and then and then he moved back to New Jersey, and then he finally moved to Bath, Pa. I’m in Washington, NJ.”

How does he like his current home? Maybe it’s too soon, but
D’Ambola’s writing mind is already at work, planning a future book.“I’m only here a year in Washington,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of Vietnam vets here. That might be one of my next books. I can’t believe how nice everyone is.”

Back to his youth, D’Ambola filled in some holes, specifically, what he did after high school.

“I was in Hillside until I graduated high school,” he said. “I got married to my high school sweetheart, who lived just outside the neighborhood. When we got married, we moved to an apartment in Hillside for a year, then we moved to Cranford, where we lived for 40 years. I became a police officer in Summit, where I was for 27 and a half years, but I commuted. I was in Summit before (Routes) 24 and 78 were finished.”

As for his latest book, D’Ambola is quick to give much of the credit to Welks.

“This is all his story,” he said, although he did admit to figure in some of the early stories. “I was in the car when we had the race with the GTO and, in the early days, driving his brother’s car.”

D’Ambola reflected fondly of his youth, the way things were different then.

“Adults treated us not like kids, but like customers. At the junk yards. We knew the parts store guys. They knew their stores like the back of their hand.

“Amazingly, all of us got out of our teens. The rest of us are still around. We lived through our crazy years, which was a feat in and of itself.”

This is not to say that health scares have been completely avoided.

“He (Neil) just got over thyroid cancer,” D’Ambola said. “We’re writing the book together and we find out we both have cancer. He had thyroid and I had bladder cancer.”

One of the big parts of Welks’ life and of the book they wrote together is Welks’ dogs.

“His dogs were amazing. You’d go over the house and he had two great danes that were bigger than you,” D’Ambola said.

“His dogs were a big part of his life. He’s always had females. They’re a lot of work. They eat a lot. They’re beautiful.”
These days, the pair still try to get together as often as possible.

“They’re coming here next week and then we’re going there for New Year’s,” D’Ambola said. “We try to get together a couple times a month. No TV, no phones. We just talk. We never run out of things to talk about.”

“He self-taught himself how to do just about everything. He designs his own homes,” he said, praising Welks’ ability.

“He does all the interior work and his wife is just as talented. She does needlepoint. We moved here a year ago and we purchased a photograph and had it framed by somebody we knew in Pennsylvania. It’s 42 inches wide. He comes over and builds a whole structure so we can hang the picture,” D’Ambola says with a laugh.

“He’s interesting and he’s a nice guy. Every once in a while, he tells me another story.”

“Just an Average American Joe Vs. The World” can be purchased on Amazon.

Photo Courtesy of Robert D’Ambola