Postcards from the End of America


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Tuesday, September 1, 2015


PIERDA 10 LBS X MES--Italian Market

PIERDA 10 LBS X MES--Italian Market (detail)

Half a block from my apartment building's front door.


Yesterday, as I walked past Wings and More, a skanky Korean-owned bar at 9th and Washington, Jimmy ran out to get me. Jimmy is a cook at Anastasi Seafood, right across the street.

Since I had expressed an interest in meeting some of his Mexican co-workers, Jimmy dragged me inside. The first guy I talked to had so little English, however, we didn't get very far, but then I met Humberto.

When Humberto asked me what I do, I said I'm basically a teacher and a writer, then I actually ran nearly two blocks home to get my two books that are available in Spanish, Otra vez la noche: Cuentos contemporáneos de Vietnam, published in Madrid in 2006, and Todo alrededor de lo que se vacía, published in Mexico City in 2012.

Here's the title poem, as translated by Luis Alberto Arellano:


Vivo aquí porque no tengo mucho dinero y eso es cierto, también, para todos mis vecinos. En esencia, soy uno de los vagos y perdedores de la vida, esos que huyen de las responsabilidades donde sea que aparezca. Después de cada comida, lamo mi cuchara de plástico en un gesto de solidaridad con un objeto inanimado. ¿Sabías que una vez me cogieron con mi propia cuchara? Esta misma cuchara. Y, más tarde, con la mitad de una navaja de rasurar. Desde la costura de mi escroto hasta el borde de mi ano hay 15/16 de pulgada. Se llama perineo, que en griego significa, creo, todo alrededor de lo que se vacía.

Since I had extra copies of Otra vez la noche, I gave Humberto the book. "This means a lot to me, my friend," He said. He was red-eyed and drunk.

Leaving behind a wife and two children in Mexico City, Humberto came to Philly in 1998. By 2000 or so, his wife had found another man, but Humberto's mother didn't tell him about it until 2002, "When she said, 'I must tell you something. I have something to tell you,' I knew something was wrong. Then she told me. She said, 'Do not drink." She knew I would drink to not feel the pain."

In 2003, Humberto got back to Mexico to try to salvage the situation, but his wife wouldn't even let him see their children.

"My wife, she was an angel. She still is. She was my everything. I came to the USA to make money to build us a house. Now I can't even see my children."

Humberto has found himself a new woman, though. "You're lucky, I said. Many people have nobody."

"I know, my friend. I can go out, get any woman, but it's not the same. I can talk about it now. Before, I could not talk about it. In Mexico, when you get married, you make a vow to the Virgen De Guadalupe, and my wife did that. You're supposed to be together many years."


"Yes, forever."

Humberto is a beefy dude, with moustache, whisker and slicked back hair. On his arms are tattoos of the Virgin of Guadalupe, "Hecho en Mexico," tragedy and comedy masks, a stylized puma and something I couldn't quite see. On his neck is "El Rey." He wore an orange mustle-T showing Japanese cartoon characters. His nickname is "Cornish Hen," however.

"Why do you let them call you that?"

"I didn't, but you know how it is. The more you complain, the more they call you that."

Another guy in Wings and More was called Chinito, "Little Chinese." He is small and has East Asian features.

"That guy is a good boxer," one of the guys said to me.

"Him?! You must be joking."

"He drinks more beer. He good boxer!"

Everyone laughed.

I brought up Chino Maidana, whom Humberto very much admires. Humberto then recounted the knockout punch delivered by Sergio Martinez against Paul Williams. He even showed me how it was done.

"Sergio said, 'You have to show your opponent some meat.'"


"Yes, bait. You have to bait him."

"Then you counterpunch..."

"Yes, like this. Bam!"

It is one of the best knockouts ever.

I brought up the Chavez / Meldrick Taylor fight, the one that went 15 rounds and was stopped by referee Richard Steele with only two seconds left. Slick, quick and nail tough, Taylor is a Philly guy. He never recovered from that loss.

Humberto, "People think Taylor was winning, but Chavez worked the body. He hurt him. Chavez was winning."

When Vicente Fernández' "Por tu maldito armor" came on, Humberto sang along with tremendous feeling, "Por tu maldito amor / No puedo terminar con tantas penas... "

Not counting me, the only patrons there were six Mexican men.

"Humberto, there are never any women in this bar."

"I know. They cannot come in because they get attacked."

He didn't mean that literally, of course. He just meant these lonely drunk guys would pay her way too much attention.

Fights do break out here regularly. Cops have been called.

In 17 years, Humberto could only return home once, "I said to my mother, 'Don't die before I can see you again.'"

Thirty-six-years-old, Humberto makes money by riding a bike to deliver pizzas. His mother is 60-years-old.


Monday, August 31, 2015

Postcard from the End of America: Champ Ali in Camden

As published at Unz Review, Smirking Chimp, OpEd News, Intrepid Report and CounterCurrents, 8/31/15:

Going from Philly to Camden, I take a train across the Ben Franklin Bridge, then get off at Broadway. In 1969 and 1971, fire bombs were thrown, shop windows smashed and businesses burnt and looted all around this area.

The 1969 riot was sparked by a false rumor that a black girl had been beaten by a white cop. An unknown sniper then killed white policeman Rand J. Chandler and a 15-year-old black girl, Rose McDonald.

Days later, 125 heavily armed cops raided the Martin Luther King Memorial Center and arrested Charles “Poppy” Sharpe. The Associated Press reported that “a half dozen machetes, and quantities of switchblade knifes, bows and arrows with ‘killer tips,’ home-made axes and spears, a shotgun and a .22-caliber pistol” were confiscated. Also seized were “43 bags of heroin valued at $500 and three ounces of marijuana.”

As a young man, Poppy had his own gang, the Monarchs. Later, he founded Black Believers in Knowledge and Black People’s Unity Movement. BPUM hijacked a school board meeting and tried the same with city council before being thwarted by a pistol-waving white councilman.

Poppy openly acknowledged inciting the 1969 riot and relished the time he spat on a police commissioner. In 1972, several Camden cops testified that those bags of heroin had been planted, however, and there were other frame-ups. As Camden turned from white to black, Poppy became part of the establishment, but he never achieved a higher post than head of the Mayor’s Youth Council.

Poppy on his beginning, “I was a tough guy. I had an enormous criminal record.”

On his gang, “We fought for prestige and bragging rights. Today they fight for the right to take your life.”

On his power, “I think my tongue was just as deadly as their bullets. They couldn’t handle it. I’d get in their face and point my finger and they couldn’t move. I think their souls left them.”

On his legacy, “They talk about history. It’s not his-story. In Camden, it is my story. I put the faces where they are today.”

One of those mugs was Angelo Errichetti, Camden’s last white mayor. He was jailed three years for corruption. After Errichetti came five blacks and one Latino to mislead this post-industrial, post-white flight disaster of a city.

Milton Milan was convicted of numerous crimes, including extortion, taking cash from the Mafia, laundering drug money and using campaign contributions to take vacations in that island of enchantment and “sun-washed backyard of the USA,” Puerto Rico. Milan was put away for nearly seven years. In 2011, his 24-year-old son decided to give the Milan brand another try. Announcing his candidacy for city council, the young man shared, “I believe my father… was pretty good. Some negative things happened.”

Arnold Webster was snagged for wire fraud and sentenced to six months’ house arrest. Leaving office, Webster sneered, “They are talking like somebody’s mismanaged something. There isn’t anything here to mismanage.”

To be fair, Webster did manage to snuff out Mischief Night. Like Devil’s Night in Detroit, Camden had its rash of arson fires on the night before Halloween. The worst was in 1991, when an army of firefighters fought 133 fires over two nights, and abandoned houses weren’t the only structures targeted. Grass, trash, cars and businesses were also lit up. After nine years on Haddon Avenue, Krazy Discount was burnt down. The Camden Courier Post quotes Sook H. Lee, its Korean immigrant owner, “It’s all gone. Business was good. I like this neighborhood. Some people are bad but not all of them. I want to rebuild as soon as possible. Before Christmas,” and she has. Her store is still standing in 2015. How much is Lee’s insurance, I wonder? Trying to save Camden from burning to the ground, firefighters became targets for bottles, rocks and bricks lustily hurled by “teens” and “youths.”

Year in and year out, Camden’s rape and murder rates rank among the worst in the country, but it also spends much more per student in its abysmal public schools. This shouldn’t surprise, since it’s costlier to handle undisciplined and violent kids, of which Camden is abundantly gifted. For 2014, 23 of its 26 public schools rank among the bottom 70 for all of New Jersey. Addressing state representatives, Chris Christie held up three fat fingers, “How bad has it been in Camden? How ‘bout this—Last year, only three students graduated college ready.”

Chris Hedges on Camden, “The only white people visible daily on the city’s streets are the hookers.” Though certainly not true, it is a memorable statement that’s akin to Paul Theroux’ “Since arriving in Albania I had not seen a straight line.” Crossing six-laned Martin Luther King Boulevard, I spot two Caucasians, only one of whom is a literal whore. Amanda shouts at me, “Hey you!”


“Do you have a couple of bucks?”

“I have to see this guy first. I’ll see you later. ”

When I saw Amanda just three months earlier, this once-beautiful woman was already a mess, but she’s much worse now. There’s a black spot on her diseased gum and her yellow teeth have rotted further. Like old, leaning gravestones, they’re ready to be knocked from their foundation. A crusty black scar oozes from her right shoulder blade. Old scars from two stab wounds are hidden by her dirty tank top. Living on the streets since 2011, she’s been raped, beaten and stabbed. Locked up twice, for eight and six months, Amanda was rather safer inside, but it was much harder to score behind bars because, well, she couldn’t put out.

Twenty-nine-years-old, Amanda is from Brownville, NJ, population 2,383 and 74 miles from Camden. Amanda got married at 16, then at 19, she tried to join the Army. After scoring 92 on her Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, Amanda discovered that she was pregnant, however, and so her military career had to be aborted. Amanda then became a nurse for eight years, “I was a good nurse too.”

When Amanda was 24, her four-year-old son died of leukemia at Children’s Hospital in Camden. He was her only child. An intern nurse had injected the boy with an antibiotic to which he was allergic. “Mommy, I’m going to die, my son told me. I don’t want to die, he said. I kept hearing that over and over and over, and that’s why I got on drugs, because when you’re high, the pain goes away.”

“How long have you been on heroin?”

“Three years.”

“So you only got on it when you came to Camden?”


“Did you do drugs before? Did you do coke?”

“I only smoked weed. I tried coke but I don’t like uppers.”

Amanda said she needed money for a bus ticket to go see an aunt in Toms River, so I gave it to her. An hour and a half later, though, I still saw her wandering up and down Broadway.

“I thought you were going to Toms River!”

“I bought food. I hadn’t eaten in three days.”

“There’s The Cathedral,” a soup kitchen. “You know about that. Come’on.”

“That’s where I just went, on Friday.”

“You don’t starve for three days. You can always go to The Cathedral.”

“I couldn’t go.”


“I was too busy that day.”

“Doing what?”

“Getting high,” she said rather sheepishly. We cracked up.

“You’ve got to get your priorities straight!”

“I know.” Then, “Hey, are you going to take pictures of the President?”

“No. Obama is in town?”


“I didn’t even know. Why is he coming here?!”

“I don’t know.”

“He’s coming here to hang out with you!”

“Yeah, right.”

“Where will you take him?”

“Somewhere where I can pick his pockets,” Amanda laughed.

“You should put him in a headlock.”

“Yeah, right. I’m going to fuckin’ have the fuckin’ secret service fuck me up! Beat down my ass!”

“I just heard a black woman say, ‘Obama is sexy as hell!’”

“Fuckin’ no! He’s fuckin’ definitely not!”

“You wouldn’t fuck him?”

“No, he has gray hair, and I don’t go with black guys.”

I laughed. “You don’t like black guys? But he’s half white.”

“I don’t care. There’s still the other half.”

All around us, black people were walking back and forth. Later, Amanda repeated, “I don’t like black people.”

“But you’re in Camden! There’s nothing but black people here.”

“I know.”

“You should go to Toms River and chill. Get out of this shit. Your luck is going to run out.”

“My luck is going to run out.”

“One of these days, you’re gonna be, you know, dead. This city is so fucked up.”

“That’s right.”

“It doesn’t matter how tough you are.”

“You ain’t tougher than a gun or a knife.”

“Some crazy motherfucker! Some loser!”

“Desperation is a motherfucker!" Then, "You know what you should do? You should write a story. You should write about three different girls and make it a book. Sex sells.”

“I just want to hear stories of how people are getting by.”

So that was on May 18th, 2015. Appearing at a community center, Obama declared:

“I’ve come here to Camden to do something that might have been unthinkable just a few years ago -- and that’s to hold you up as a symbol of promise for the nation. (Applause.) Now, I don’t want to overstate it. Obviously Camden has gone through tough times and there are still tough times for a lot of folks here in Camden. But just a few years ago, this city was written off as dangerous beyond redemption -- a city trapped in a downward spiral. Parents were afraid to let their children play outside. Drug dealers operated in broad daylight. There weren’t enough cops to patrol the streets.

So two years ago, the police department was overhauled to implement a new model of community policing. They doubled the size of the force—while keeping it unionized. They cut desk jobs in favor of getting more officers out into the streets. Not just to walk the beat, but to actually get to know the residents—to set up basketball games, to volunteer in schools, to participate in reading programs, to get to know the small businesses in the area.

Now, to be a police officer takes a special kind of courage. And I talked about this on Friday at a memorial for 131 officers who gave their lives to protect communities like this one. It takes a special kind of courage to run towards danger, to be a person that residents turn to when they’re most desperate. And when you match courage with compassion, with care and understanding of the community—like we’ve seen here in Camden—some really outstanding things can begin to happen.

Violent crime in Camden is down 24 percent. (Applause.) Murder is down 47 percent. (Applause.) Open-air drug markets have been cut by 65 percent. (Applause.) The response time for 911 calls is down from one hour to just five minutes. And when I was in the center, it was 1.3 minutes, right when I was there. (Applause.) And perhaps most significant is that the police and residents are building trust. (Applause.) Building trust.”

Wow man, that sounds pretty damn good, with murder down 47 percent and all, but is that true? Here are the figures:

2005—33 murders
2006—32 murders
2007—42 murders
2008—54 murders
2009—34 murders
2010—37 murders
2011—47 murders
2012—67 murders
2013—58 murders
2014—33 murders
2015 as of August 31st—57 murders

From 2005 to 2014, this city of 77,332 people averages 43.7 homicides a year, but Obama took 2013, which has the second highest murder rate in the last decade, and compared it to 2014, the second lowest, and triumphantly declared a 47 percent reduction. There are still four months left to 2015 and Camden already has 57 murders, one of the highest ever. Will Obama come back next year and celebrate the doubling of Camden’s murder rate from 2014 to 2015?

As for violent crimes being down, the local head of the NAACP has suggested that the police is downgrading many aggravated assaults to simple assaults to brighten the grim statistics. If you’re whacked across the forehead with a tire iron in Camden, perhaps it’s only recorded as a high five gone bad? Maybe a drive by shooting is just a transit strike? A slug through the heart is an emphatically enhanced love tap?

Neighborhood Scout just ranked Camden as the most dangerous city in the entire country, a crown it’s well familiar with, so if Camden is our “symbol of promise for the nation,” it’s best we visit our local firing range more often.

To get a longer perspective on Camden, I’ve here today to chat with Jamaal “Champ” Behnett Ali, owner of Total Car Care. First, though, I must get into a jabbering mood, so I slip into Off Broadway for two bottles of Yuengling. The afternoon crowd is a bunch of middle-aged farts like myself. This bar has signs everywhere prohibiting just about everything. “ANYONE LEANING ON MIRROR WILL BE ASKED TO LEAVE IMMEDIATELY” is one I haven’t seen. On the jukebox, the O’Jays bark, “What they do!” Then croon, “They laugh in your face / All the time they want to take your place / The back stabbers.”

I follow Champ into his spartan office. He’s only been open since February. “OK, Champ, so you were born in Camden?”

“Yes, born and raised, and I’m 62-years-old.”

“You never lived anywhere else?”


“OK, so you’ve seen all the changes in Camden…”

“Yes, I have.”

“You think it’s getting better or worse?”


“Wow, really? What do you mean?”

“The policing is better. The mayor is better. There are fewer drug sites. If a neighborhood had 50 drug sites before, now it’s down to five or six.”


“No, fifty! Fifty or sixty!”

“Fifteen is bad enough, but 50?!”

“Yeah, but now there are much less. Camden’s no longer an open air drug market.”

“But the demand is still there.”

“Yes, but they’re making it a lot harder for the drug dealers. The police have a new method. I don’t know exactly what it is, but they’re there. Their presence makes a difference.”

Hanging on the wall is a large dinner table-sized rug showing a young man with long, thin dread locks framing his mild face. It’s Champ’s only son, Jamaal “Scoot” Barker. His size 12 black sneakers rest on the windowsill. Champ also wears dread locks. Though bear-thick, imposing and with huge hands, Champ exudes gentleness.

“Champ, I want to ask about your son’s name. Your last name is Behnett Ali, but his is Barker…”

“In some circumstances, the children take their mother’s name, and not the father’s name because, uh, it might not be the father. I’m not saying that’s the case with him.” Champ looks over his shoulder towards the rug. “That’s how you keep your lineage.”


“Because you know for sure that’s your mother, you know what I’m saying?”

“But you know that’s your son, though.”

“I know that’s my son, yeah, and he was in the process of correcting his name also.”

“The first time I met you, you said you wanted to open a halal store, so I thought you were Muslim.”

“I am.”

“So you’ve changed your name?”

“No, I didn’t, I corrected it. All I did was add a title to the end of my last name.”

Ali means “elevated.” Plenty of folks in Camden are elevated, of course, night and day. To get elevated, Amanda has become a borderless body. Hundreds pass right through her. Raised as a Jehovah Witness, Champ first became aware of Islam at age 15, but his conversion was gradual and he only fixed his name at age 47.

“My mother died when I was twelve, and I got sidetracked for a while, for maybe ten years. After that, I started to get conscious again. I was confused. My mother was a good person, and I blamed God for her passing. It’s because of my lack of knowledge.”

“Did she get sick?”

“She had cancer.”

“Where was your dad?’

“He raised us.”

“So he was around?”

“Yeah. I have three brothers and eight sisters.”

“Wow, that’s a lot, that’s twelve kids! What kind of work did he do to raise so many kids?”

Champ tilts his head back, laughs.

“That’s insane, man,” I continue.

“Yeah, he’s old school.”

“What kind of work did he do?”

“He did labor work. He worked for the American Dredging Company, then he started his own business. He had what’s called these days a bodega. At one point, he had three of them.”

“That’s pretty good!”

“Yeah, he was one hell of a dude, man. He was an entrepreneur. He was also a mechanic. He owned houses. He had 15 or 20 of them.”

“So you got that from him, your business sense.”


“You learnt how to handle money from him.” (I know a Vietnamese businessman who had his young kids count wads of cash, so they wouldn’t be intimidated by money, he said.)

“I don’t know about that,” Champ chuckles, “but I do have a lot of skills. I went to Pennco Tech to learn how to be a mechanic.”

“How many businesses have you had?”

“This is my biggest endeavor, but before that, I had a towing business. I also did cleaning. If a business went under, you know, we’d go in and strip everything, get it all out. You just keep at it, man.”

There are half a dozen cars and vans in Champ’s garage. As we talk, his employee Bill, around 50-years-old, is busy working on one.

“You mentioned old school.”

“I’m old school now.”

“Yeah, I met the guy at the Universal Tonsorial Parlor…”

“You’re talking about Russ Farmer.”

“He’s also old school.”


“This is a funny question, but I feel that old school values are slipping. Would you agree?”

“Yeah, but it’s the way this thing is set up, man. Poverty is set up by the gun. That lack of control is part of it. If you can’t do what my parents did for me when I was a kid to keep me in line, then you’re going to lose control of that kid, and that kid is going to start disrespecting people and… it just boils over.”

(When I talked to Russ Farmer seven months earlier, he stated, “The world that I knew 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?”)

“But, but, what do they gain by breaking down this discipline?” I ask Champ.

“It’s a business, man, it’s a business. It trickles down. It’s the court system…. For instance, if you get locked up for something stupid, if you’re a kid and you have some marijuana on you or something, what’s your chance of getting a job when you get out? You ain’t getting no job.”

“Your life is ruined.”


“Over nothing!”


“But Champ, what does society gain from this breakdown?”

“It’s money, man, it’s money. You can look at it this way: If you’re in poverty, then there’s going to be more crimes, and I’m going to have more control over you, because you’re going to come back and see me again anyway. You ain’t gonna have no means to be self sufficient, so I’m gonna get paid for housing you, for feeding you and you’ll have to buy what you need off of me. It’s the whole nine… It’s just like what they’re doing in Missouri now. They changed it. They were making it so people couldn’t even pay a ticket. If you don’t have all the money, they’ll lock you up!”

“But Champ, I’m genuinely… I’m baffled because I see a kind of decay in many cities, and even in many small towns, so there’s a social breakdown.”

“OK, all right. They’ve got a war on opiates now, but in the 60’s and 70’s, it was an epidemic, and they didn’t have no war on it then. They’re having it now because it only affects people that look like me.” Junkies do come in all colors, however. Champ sees this as an accident, “The heroin wasn’t intended for them. It was intended for us, to keep us down.”

“OK, Champ, I want to talk about your son. He seemed to be doing all right in high school, but after that, he got in trouble quite a bit.”

“Well, my son, ah… he got my DNA. Like I said, we’re entrepreneurs, but what actually changed my son was… we had a home invasion. Some guys came in and it was him, his daughter and his daughter’s mother. They pulled guns on my son and announced a robbery, whatever, and that changed his outlook on life.”

“How old was he when that happened?”


“So did he decide to become a tough guy?”

“Well, you don’t lay down like that. That’s when he said, ‘That ain’t gonna happen to me no more.’”

“So did he get a gun or something?”

“No, I never seen him with a gun but, you know, kids are kids… I never seen him with a gun.”

“But this home invasion changed his whole personality?”

“As far as the street, yeah. As far as the street because, ah, my son was a rapper. He did music. He wrote lyrics. He was like that, that was his thing. I used to tell him, ‘Hey man, I don’t like some of the stuff you write,’ and he would say, ‘Dad, it’s like going to the movie. This ain’t real. It’s like you go to a movie, you watch the movie and then you leave. That’s it!’ So I said, ‘OK, as long as you don’t act it out.’ It’s just kids having fun, you know.”

Online, there are 14 tracks by Scoot and Ty of the Young Legends crew. Among the titles are “Homicide,” “Want War,” “Now It’s A War” and “I’m Rich Bitch.” “Cannon” is punctuated throughout by gunshots and here are snatches from “Life Getting’ Crazy”:

“I ball without the jersey and wristband… I play the block like I’m 6-10… Working on my million, living each day like it’s my last ‘cause niggas are killin’… Camden is where I’m from, and it’s the realest / You gotta feel it, motherfucker, it’s the Murder Cap… Life is getting’ crazy now / Every day is getting’ worse and the day is gettin’ shorter now… Bitch, just one shot, I get him murdered.”

It sure ain’t Fats Waller with his “I don’t stay out late / Don’t care to go / I’m home about eight / Just me and my radio,” or even RUN DMC with their “We are not thugs (we don’t use drugs) but you assume (on your own) / They offer coke (and lots of dope) but we just leave it alone.” Homicidal hip hop is no more intrinsic to black culture than, say, Miley Cyrus, Honey Boo Boo and the Jerry Springer Show are to white. Who want it this way? Who benefit?

Scoot rapped the above at age 21. For two years before that, he warmed the bench for a division II basketball team in, of all places, Oskaloosa, Iowa, population 11,555 and 93.3% white. Scoot didn’t like William Penn University very much. Back in Camden, he ended up in and out of jail for drugs, theft and forgery. Champ only remembers the theft charge, for which Scoot got 20 months. It was just his son being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Champ explains, “He didn’t have anything to do with it. The people who did it picked him up, then the cops pulled their car over.”

All of Scoot’s anxieties, dreams and troubles were emphatically dissolved on November 30th, 2011 when he was shot 15 times by a 27-year-old drug dealer, Daron Trent. Scoot left behind two daughters, Adaiye and Asiya, by two different women.

Champ never went to the trial, “If he got twelve or a hundred years, it’s not going to bring my son back.”

Most curiously, there’s a “R.I.P. Scoot ‘Jamaal Barker’ Public Figure” FaceBook page with entries from the dead man himself:

October 27, 2012 •

Loving and missing my two beautiful girls adaiye and asiya,daddy watching over you.Mom i love you, your the glue that’s keeping this family together while I’m gone. YL/E.O.S/G.M.E keep making me proud i hear yall niggas.

December 3, 2011 •

December 3, 2011 •

December 3, 2011 •


With rappers dropping left and right, there must be so many stus in the beyond, bless us all, blasting the nastiest rhymes. Make sure you wear industrial strength headphones in your coffin.

Champ, “My son was the sweetest kid. If he saw you talking to me just once, he’d do anything for you after that. He helped me with my towing business. My son knew how to get down and dirty. He was a family man. He loved his daughters.”

Often, people are the worst judge of what’s closest to them, whether it’s a parent, child, spouse or hometown, but why should this surprise, since we’re also nearly always the worst at assessing our own talents and character.

“All right, Champ, one last question… Do you think old school values can be recovered?”


“No?!” I guffaw.

“No, nothing stays the same, bro.”

“That doesn’t sound good. I’m talking about basic stuff like family and discipline. The new stuff is not doing anyone any good!”

“The new stuff ain’t been around that long. You never know how it’s going to turn out.”

“When did you get married, by the way?”

“1985, when I was 32.”

“And you’ve only had one wife?”


“That’s rare these days. That’s what I mean by old school. You don’t believe in, like, dumping your wife if you see somebody better.”

“But that concept is gone, bro. It’s not coming back. That’s not how they do it now. It’s done.”

“Would you like it to come back?”

“Yeah, but there are too many reasons why it ain’t gonna happen.”

“What are the reasons?”

“People don’t have no respect.”

“But that better come back too. Self respect. Respect for each other.”

“Listen, none of this is important. It’s just a test. The important thing is you pass this test. God gave us a blueprint to live our lives by, and you have to follow it to the best of pour abilities, but if you don’t do that, if you don’t attempt to that, then old school ain’t coming back, bro.”

“So you think God is important as a foundation?”

“Yeah. If you pray five times a day, you don’t have time to think about bad stuff, do you?”

“Do you do that every day?”

“I try to the best of my abilities.”

“But your son didn’t do that. He wasn’t Muslim.”

“Yes, he was. He took his shahada.”

“OK, Champ, one last question… Camden used to be more mixed, but now it’s almost all blacks and Hispanics. There’s something about the segregation of this society, you know, that’s overlooked.”

“Yeah, and that ain’t going away. Even when they were here, it was segregated. When I first moved into South Camden, it was an Italian neighborhood, and Whitman Park was Polish.”

“Race has been in the news a lot lately because, you know, Ferguson and… the shooting just yesterday, so are you optimistic about racial relations as we moved forward?”



“Like I was saying, it don’t have nothing to do with race. If you follow God’s teaching, then it don’t make a difference what color you are, but if you start making your own rules, then all of this stuff happen.”

“OK, one last question… You said they want it this way. They want this confusion, right?”

“If you want to call it confusion, yeah, but it’s a plan. There is no confusion, bro.”

“But who are they?”

“Ah man, I don’t know if we have time for this… It’s the people who run this country, bro, the one percent. They want it this way. Nothing is gonna change.”

“So you’re not optimistic about the country’s future?”

“No, but I don’t even care about it. I hate to put it that way, because my grandkids are coming behind me, but they already know that Allah is where it’s at, so they ain’t got nothing to worry about either. This is nothing. What I’m doing here is nothing. It’s just something to keep me focused and out of trouble, but it’s nothing.”

Camden’s most famous resident ever is Walt Whitman, and in 1888, our egalitarian bard opined to Horace Traubel, “The nigger, like the Injun, will be eliminated: it is the law of races, history, what-not: always so far inexorable—always to be. Someone proves that a superior grade of rats comes and then all the minor rats are cleared out.”

Quite a few people can be categorized as minor rats these days, and they are certainly at the mercy of the superior rats. Unable to reach or even identify these superior rats, billions of minor rats are left to fight over scraps of garbage and tear each other apart. This carnage will only get much worse.


Thursday, August 27, 2015


Jamaal Behnett Ali on 8-27-15--Camden

Jamaal "Champ" Behnett Ali at his business, Total Car Care at 710 S. Broadway. Another photo.



Carnegie Library on 8-27-15--Camden

[Same Carnegie Library 1, 2]



Man sleeping next to crutches on Broadway on 8-27-15--Camden

[Broadway, Camden's main drag]


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tuesday, August 25, 2015





Missing person flyer for Imani-Danielle--Center City

Missing person flyer for Imani-Danielle--Center City (detail)



Death shrine for Seamus McNichol--Kensington

"On May 27, 2009 Philadelphia resident Donald Willis pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle and was sentenced to 6 ½ to 13 years in a Pennsylvania state prison by Bucks County Judge Jeffrey Finley.

Mr. Willis has a substantial record of criminal convictions but his most recent charge, the one to which he pleaded guilty on May 27, stems from a fatal Bucks County car accident which occurred on November 17, 2008. Mr. Willis and his friend Seamus McNichol, also of Philadelphia, were out drinking at a club in Levittown.

Mr. Willis was intoxicated when he left the club and got behind the wheel of his vehicle, with Mr. McNichol as his passenger. Mr. Willis swerved across the road and struck a guardrail, causing his pickup truck to flip over. Mr. McNichol was pinned inside the car and pronounced dead at the scene. At the time of this fatal Bucks County car accident, Mr. Willis was driving with a suspended license due to a prior DUI conviction."





Monday, August 24, 2015

Postcard from the End of America: Don Hensley in Huntingburg, Indiana

As published at OpEd News, Smirking Chimp, Unz Review, CounterCurrents and Intrepid Report, 8/24/15:

I’ve prowled around Gary, relaxed in New Harmony and explored downtown Indianapolis after midnight. There is a bronze statue of John Wooden. Kneeling and suited, the basketball coach is surrounded by five young pairs of male legs, their bodies disappearing above the pelvis. It is very creepy and gay. One of these days, I must barge into the dismal looking Whistle Stop, just across the street from Indianapolis’ Greyhound station. I need to see more of Indiana, that’s for sure.

In New Harmony, I ate a brain sandwich at the Yellow Tavern, then gave a talk about utopia at the opera house. Out of towners and locals were equally receptive. I concluded, “Why this fear of the unmediated experience, the direct experience? Maybe we can’t stand how beautiful life really is. I think the way to move forward is to say no to these interruptions, to these barriers. It might not be utopia but it’s better than what we have right now.”

The one friend I have in Indiana, I haven’t met in person. On July 31st, 2015, 62-year-old Don Hensley emailed to say he appreciated my articles. Then, “Our family farm is gone and I’m the last from the old homestead. Dad made me and my twin brother promise to find any other job but farming. He used to joke that the only certain way he knew to become a millionaire farming was to start out with $10M... You’ve made me shed a tear more than once, but I’m left feeling that I’ve met people I never would have. Home, a job, family and food on the table is really all most of us hope for out of life.”

Our subsequent email conversation has revealed a world I know so little about, being a city dweller for most of my life. With automation, fewer farm hands are needed than ever, and most of those who are still bent over under the sun are fresh arrivals from Latin America, Jamaica and even Thailand. Indoctrinated into the semantics of cement and asphalt, most Americans are entirely divorced from animal logics, fresh manure and plant husbandry. Even growing tomatoes has become a mystery, much less plucking and gutting a chicken.

Don is retired and lives with his wife, Deb, in Huntingburg, six miles from Dale, where he was born. His remembrances are too interesting not to share. With a pair of dollar store scissors and Elmer’s glue, I’ve cut and pasted them into this configuration:

“Some of my fondest memories are of the little tin-roofed log cabin Dad let us build back in the woods. We built a small sandstone fireplace outside, the pot-bellied stove was just for cold weather.

No honor could be bestowed on me to compete with the feeling of sitting in my favorite spot with beans & franks simmering near the fire while reading a book and listening to the baby squirrels run up and down the tree at my back while a mama rabbit and her little ones watched from just a few feet away.

I’ve never been in any religious institution that felt more hallowed than that little woods during a heavy snow. :)

Heavy lifting for me started at the age of 10. During the winter Dad kept the cattle’s access to the water trough penned off. That was so that they wouldn’t get hurt in the frozen muck around it (that’s what you have kids for) so that meant we had to water them at night when we got home from school (Dad worked swing shift at ALCOA). At that age I only weighed about 70lbs. A 5 gallon bucket of water is about 40lbs so that meant that each trip I was carrying about my body weight to the barn through about 12"-16" of a mixture of slush/mud/cowsh*t that wanted to pull your boot off with each step. Dad always kept around 100 head of cattle, that’s a lot of thirsty animals when they’ve gone all day without water. Since my brother was the ‘chosen twin,’ you can imagine who pretty well always made the most trips.

Picking up hay, I was on the wagon handling every bale while my brother walked along with the guys from town grabbing every 6th or 7th. Back at the barn it was the same. I fed the elevator while Danny was in the loft. On a 100 degree day the peak of a hayloft is about 7 degrees hotter than H*ll!

Every time I ever brought up getting any kind of pay, I always got the same smart-*ss remark, ‘You ate breakfast this morning, didn’t you?’

I’ve lost track of how many malignant skin tumors I’ve had removed, as well as two basal cell carcinomas and three squamous cell carcinomas on my scalp and face from all the years in the sun.

My nose was broken three times before I started the first grade at 5 years old. Dad had told me early in life that I wasn’t welcome when he and Danny left for the day to go to farm sales and auctions. That left me at home with a psychopathic b*tch many times my size that always said that if I wasn’t going with my father and brother, I d*mned sure wasn’t sitting on my lazy *ss.

Mom used to stand behind me as I washed dishes and critique every piece before it was allowed to go into the strainer. A fleck of food between the teeth of a fork or on the back of a plate got me a mixing spoon or whatever was handy.

It’s taken me many years to come to grips with it. Knowing that you are messed up is one thing, knowing why is another... I really AM a spiritual person, so when people heavily into the Bible want to give me words of encouragement, I accept them because of the intent in which they’re given...

My last breakdown (my 3rd) was considered a medical miracle. It kept a 5 or 6 man team working around the clock to try to figure out. My wife Deb was under tremendous pressure early on the third day to sign the papers and let them turn the machines off. They kept insisting that once you go to less than 5% brain stem function, there is no coming back. My only prognosis was as a vegetable... Then, once again, I came back after six days of being ‘brain dead.’ The lead doctor made the remark that, since they had no answers as to the beginning of the episode or the recovery, he was totally fine with the word miracle.

The years of beatings and physical and emotional abuse left me damaged, absolutely... Under periods of great stress I go into what they call a dissociative disorder and the change is so subtle that only a very few that know me are even aware of it.


You ask about animal cruelty. The general public is unaware that what is seen in the mainstream media is almost always in connection with ‘factory farming.’ Sometimes, religion is also partly to blame. A man who holds the conviction that we are to have dominion over all the animals of Creation isn’t going to form emotional attachments to any of his livestock. By the same token, an employee at a factory farm holds no more value in a turkey/hog/cow/horse than a furniture factory employee does a center drawer or a modesty panel. It is the slow death of the family farm that is creating the kind of environment that leads to incidents like what you’ve seen in the news.

None of the cattle on our farm had any way of knowing it, but they all lived on a ‘Cow Country Club’ in comparison to most other farms. During warm weather they were cycled through three different pastures each with fresh water from a creek and plenty of shade. They could still come to the barn to take advantage of the salt block and mineral block as well as use the back scratcher apparatus that had a large hemp rope saturated with an oily insect repellent to deal with the spots bugs like to bite where a cow couldn’t reach with their tail. There was also always some kind of hay in the mangers. For instance, to them, the stubble left after soybeans have been harvested was like a candy treat. Dad would bale it so during the summer they had variety in their diet that they also happened to love (unlike factory farm beef which has little room to move around and is only fed corn). Two other things they looked forward to were the ground corn cobs Dad would buy at the mill in bulk (& which I got to help shovel onto the truck) and, believe it or not, they loved to see that Deb and I were coming down to camp. After we’d packed up and gone home, Dad would let them into the woods for a day or two and every bit of ashes from our camp fire would be gone. There are some kind of minerals in the ashes that cows crave to the point of fighting over!

The news footage of factory farm abuse is much more upsetting when you have first hand knowledge of just how intelligent some livestock are. We had one heifer we named Curly because of her forehead and she was far too bright for her own good. Dad had one of the old electric fences that are illegal now. They called them ‘weed-burners’ for good reason. The hair on my arms is standing up as I type this just at the memory... If you pulled up something green that was long enough to drop over the wire and still have one end grounded, it would sit there and sizzle until it had burned all the way through your weed.

Dad sent Curly to market because she figured out that after a driving wind with rain she could walk the electric fence and put her ear down by the glass insulator on the metal post. If she heard buzzing, she knew the wire was still ‘hot.’ When she found one that was silent, she knew the fence had shorted out and would walk down a bit and then just walk through the fence knocking it to the ground. After one too many times of rounding up his cattle in a neighbor’s crops during a summer storm, Curly lost a good home.

Just something to think about the next time you see a news item about livestock abuse. They are far more self-aware than a lot of people realize.

Farmers have to be a combination of veterinarian/accountant/lawyer/weatherman & have a working knowledge of a slew of other fields that don’t come to mind at the moment, yet they’re held in such low regard. A foreman I used to work under insisted that ALL farmers were much more wealthy than they’d ever let on. A direct quote... ‘I’ve never heard a G*d D*mned farmer admit that he’d had a GOOD year!’

People would steal from farmers and think nothing of it. Anybody living in town would go nuts if a farmer parked out front and stripped an entire row of vegetables from their garden or carefully selected blooms from their landscaping to put together a bouquet for his wife’s birthday or their anniversary, but each “corn on the cob season,” 8 to 10 rows of corn would be stripped from the nothern edge of Dad’s field. People from town would fill an entire car trunk with ears of corn and feel no guilt because Dad obviously ‘had plenty.’

I’ve had a deep dislike for Bill Maher after the night (several years ago) when he quipped on CNN’s Larry King Live, ‘I’ve never understood why farmers should get special treatment just because they happen to live in the middle of a big garden.’

Guess he thinks all that happens by itself, just like magic. If he had to buy the building, furnishing, media equipment and all the other necessities in order to get paid to sit and smirk at the camera, I might have a little respect for him. As it is, I just figure he’s not getting enough fiber in his diet...

We have a nationally known poultry processing plant just outside Huntingburg. Over the years I’ve heard some pretty gruesome stories from guys that have worked there (like sticking gross things inside the giblets package, spitting phlegm or tobacco juice into the body cavity). The worst, though, is something that the ‘hangers’ (the guys that take the birds out of the truck and hang them by the ankles on the brackets on the chain feeding them into the plant) know is impossible to get caught at unless someone in authority sees you do it. If a bird fights back and the hanger is mad at it he will grab it by the wings with it facing away from him and jerk back, breaking its spine and making it impossible to carve. If you get one of those turkeys all you can do is pull the meat off the bones with your fingers. The ribs will be splayed outward in some places and in at others.

I’ve never hunted and the only fishing I enjoy is catch and release. I have never been in a (physical) fight in my life. There have been shouting matches and times that I was pushed and threatened but I’ve always found a way to somehow either defuse the situation or vacate the area. One of the reasons all the present day violent talk gets to me so much is the idea of having to seriously hurt someone else in defense of myself or my family.

At graduation (1970), I enrolled at United Electronics Institute in Louisville, KY. You did the first six months by mail and only those who met the grade requirements got to finish out the last year and a half down there. My grades were near perfect, but Dad informed me that he not only didn’t believe in college but didn’t believe in going into debt to go, either. So I lost all of the money I’d saved up by picking up hay for other local farmers for 50 to 75 cents an hour. I would have been perfectly positioned for the coming tech revolution.... :(

I worked for Insight Systems. Part of the reason I was hired was because of all the modding I had done on my Atari computers. At a time when a new IBM compatible only came with 256K of memory and a monitor that let you display two colors (as long as one of them was black [Big Grin], I’d already heavily modified my Atari 400. I replaced the membrane keyboard with a third party, full-stroke keyboard and tripled the internal memory (16K to 48K). Once I proved to my boss that even the first little 16K Atari could put 256 colors on a TV by running a simple little ten line BASIC program, he offered me a job.

Other than about 4 years when I did IT support, I got trapped in the furniture industry much like those in Detroit fell into the black hole of the auto industry (without the benefits of anything like the UAW...). Now I just get by on SSD with too many physical problems to mention. It isn’t as if I wasn’t industrious or hungry, I’ve been a lead-man, a foreman and the Customer Service Manager of a local Value Added Reseller.

What it comes down to is something that I was told about 30 years ago... ‘Your Life will be much simpler once you accept the fact that we are all Dixie Cups. Nobody in their right mind ever patches a Dixie Cup. They are a dime a dozen. Throw it away and get another...!’ :(

My wife’s cousin and her husband both have taken bus routes to supplement their farm’s income. Around here drivers are locked in at the beginning of the school year and there have been times when, because of fluctuations in fuel prices, they have lost money every time they start a bus. My wife and I don’t know anyone who isn’t struggling in one way or another. Maybe that’s why I appreciate your articles so much.

The recession during the Carter years was brutal. Many people today don’t know that the country went through a financial crisis during the late Nixon - Carter years that the country has never recovered from. Double digit inflation is something that doesn’t reset after a recovery. I am much more than sad for what has happened to our country, I am heartbroken.

They were hard times but I still marvel at the change we’ve had in our country. My pay grade was 2nd from the bottom yet a family of three could live on my 40 hour check. Years ago Deb found our old budget box and we could feed three on $13 a week. I filled up my 1965 Plymouth Fury III for a shade over $25 once a month (25 gallon gas tank). Even at that, though, we were falling behind. We had all the bills everybody else does and there was more going out than coming in. I finally swallowed my pride and went to check on some kind of assistance. We got turned down four times!

That’s when I got stubborn, broke out my guitar and started doing every pickup job I could find. When I had my first nervous breakdown I was 6’1” and weighed 118lbs.

Maybe I should have sent back that big $25 wedding present Mom & Dad gave us for a rainy day...

We struggled to live within our means. That usually meant we were broke by Saturday morning. Everybody I owed money to got SOMETHING and that meant there were weeks when we had literally less than $5 to live on. For the first ten years we were married we got by with a 13” Western Auto TV. (Yeah, I know... Wish I still had it. They’re collector's items now!)

Deb knew before we were married that I would never be wearing a wedding band... I know three farmers that lost their ring fingers in accidents. Just in case you don’t keep up with the Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon recently tripped at home and caught his ring on the counter on the way to the floor. He was very, very lucky they could save it. None of the guys I know had that chance.

A ring is just a ring and my guitar meant too much to me to risk just because of a tradition. On our 30th anniversary I offered to have one tattooed on, but she didn’t like the idea.

Reading about Bernie Sanders having his speech hijacked reminded me that I’ve been wanting to write you about my thoughts on the young lady (black rapper) and her comments about hating America and those ‘white farmers sitting out there in the Midwest.’

[On August 8th 2015, two belligerent Black Lives Matter activists prevented Sanders, our most liberal presidential candidate, from delivering a speech in Seattle. As for the rapper, Don is referring to 23-year-old Azealia Banks. Interviewed by Playboy, she declares, “I hate everything about this country. Like, I hate fat white Americans. All the people who are crunched into the middle of America, the real fat and meat of America, are these racist conservative white people who live on their farms.”]

I have no animus toward her because our life experience has been so different that we might as well live on different planets. How could I possibly be mad at someone I will never meet just because there’s no way she’ll ever have a clue?

Azealia Banks
[Azealia Banks singing Yung Rapunxel in a video directed by Jam Sutton]

Ever since our oldest grandson first came home from college wanting to lecture everyone about our ‘White Privilege’ it’s been a pet peeve of mine. He’s now 25 and out of college. He’s always been bright.

The first time that we had a conversation that I filed away for future reference was when he’d just started his freshman year of high school. I don’t remember exactly which celebration it was, but we were enjoying the visit and chatting about all the usual stuff. Someone brought up a topic that included taxation and I’d just said how I felt about it when he looked up at me and said, ‘Grandpa... Goods and services cost money.’

This insight was delivered as if the thought had never occurred to me. I just made a mental note that we’d reached a milestone in his growth, but I said nothing to discourage him. The only advice that I give without reservation and often is that, should you find yourself in the presence of someone claiming to have all the answers, run like H*ll the other way because you are talking to either a willful liar or a fool!

I was taken aback the first time I was ‘made aware’ of the fantastic boon that my White Privilege had been in my life. I wish I could remember where I read this quote, because it couldn’t be more appropriate than describing what passes for a ‘Higher Learning’ in 2015 America. ‘After a certain point, education becomes indistinguishable from indoctrination.’

My twin brother and I graduated from high school in 1970. There were still lynching and other atrocities happening as we moved up from grade school. The memory of the country during the ‘60s is still fresh in my mind.

Just so you understand the irony, shortly after seeing Hendrix perform at Robert’s Stadium in Evansville, Indiana in ‘70 I moved to Nashville hoping to find a miracle. A tiny miracle would have suited me just fine. Between the Musicians’ Union and the good ol’ boy network, I couldn’t even find someone to let me sweep a studio floor!

It wasn’t a total washout, though. In short order I made some friends. I met three black brothers (actual siblings) in Centennial Park during a weekend music festival. We became close friends and they were a tremendous help because I had no car and if I had I probably would have become hopelessly lost, anyway.

After a while I got the chance to meet their younger sister. We were the same age and Nashville suddenly became a much more enjoyable place to be visiting. With very little money, I couldn’t invite her out for much but it was nice to have a pretty girl to share a pizza with or catch a movie.

Oh yeah, remember that ‘White Privilege’ things. B-U-L-L-S-H-*-T!!!! A majority of what my grandson was telling me has absolutely no connection to Nashville in 1970.

Depending on where we went, her big brothers either made it known they had my back or wound up making it VERY clear to someone that messing with their sister meant messing with them. Having chaperons is not always a bad thing. Besides, we were just friends and we both knew that however long it lasted, it would still be temporary.

Telling me about how I can walk anywhere I want because of my skin color is ludicrous. When we went to the youth center, her brothers even told me that they had my back, but not to take it personal if they seemed a little different. If anything happened, they’d step up in a heartbeat but I should watch myself, anyway. There were only three or four other white guys there but I wound up mostly just losing at pool with some friends of theirs and sitting at the booth nursing a soft drink.

The inevitable finally happened... I got to meet Yvonne’s dad. I hadn’t PLANNED on meeting her dad and he SURE hadn’t wanted to meet me!! We reached an agreement in short order and my Privilege didn’t afford me the chance to even tell her goodbye...

I know now it wasn’t true, but hearing that Hendrix had died of a drug overdose was like a kick to the gut. ‘So how do you feel about your hero now? F*cked up, didn’t he?’ Those *ssholes I roomed with had to turn on the radio before I would believe them. I went to the closest liquor store and bought a six-pack of Colt 45 tall boys and sat up listening to the marathon tribute a local stations was playing.

That was it for me as far as Nashville was concerned. I had to get out of there. When I called Mom & Dad about getting back to Indiana, Dad said that if I’d come back he’d get me a full-time job working for a local farmer.

Sometimes it feels like my entire life has been one long ‘Good News/Bad News’ joke... Yeah, Dad had a job lined up. I went to work for an elderly farmer and his wife who had a small farm on the county line. It was eight hours a day, five days a week for $1 an hour. Thankfully they were wonderful people and his wife fix noon meals that were so good they should have been illegal. But then Friday came and my ‘White Privilege’ kicked in again. Mom was waiting at the door and deducted rent, laundry, groceries and utilities from that $40 check! By the time I put gas in my motorcycle, I worked all week in the dirt and the heat for $3 or $4 a week! Oh Yeah, and I was still ‘Privileged’ to pick up hay for free whenever Dad baled.

When my wife & I got married our ‘wedding gift’ was $25. :( I WILL NOT stand and let someone lecture me about how I don't know what it’s like to be oppressed and taken advantage of.

There’s no need to list cliches our grandson came home reciting. I’m sick of hearing them and seeing them all over the media and even sicker of the idea that college takes bright young minds and sends back well indoctrinated malcontents that have forgotten what they originally went for in the first place! He’d wanted a career related to oceanography but came home a self-styled econo-anarchist, whatever the H*ll that’s supposed to be. He lists his current occupation as ‘Struggle & Resist’!

Every person I meet is treated as a potential friend until they show me otherwise. I don’t intentionally hurt anyone and am quick to sincerely apologize if I accidentally offend someone. That’s really all you can do. The past is behind. How can we ever see the kind of future that the likes of Dr. King envisioned if we’re always looking behind instead of forward? This country is in for some really, really rough times...

The next time you are on a bus trip do keep an eye out for something. When we are on the road and I see a pile of weathered wood and rusted tin that used to be the barn roof sitting next to a bleak little house still bravely trying to stand and surrounded by crops with no lane going back to it, my heart always breaks a little. There was a time when those paint-less grey walls contained all of someone’s hopes and dreams and the wall echoed with laughter and the slap of bare baby steps...

That is another reason I avoid big cities. I see the rows of run down houses crammed together, most likely owned by some slumlord who has as little respect for the houses as he does the people renting from him, and the thought of trying to have a life and family without ever having a place that felt truly your home is so oppressive I can feel it eating away at my spirit.

It really is my idea of H*ll on Earth and I wish with all my heart that I were a wise enough man to have some answers.”



Garbage and graffiti on 8-23-15--Kensington



Hai-Dang at Jack's--Kensington

In 2003, Hai-Dang Phan came from London to Certaldo, Italy to see me, and since then, we've hung out in Madison, Milwaukee, Dekalb, Chicago, Des Moines, Grinnell, Cedar Rapids and New York. This weekend, though, was his first time in Philadelphia. Here he's photographed in Jack's. Hai-Dang has published in the New Yorker and, soon, will have a poem in Poetry Magazine. Thirty-four-years-old, he's working on his first poetry collection. I believe it will be much talked about when it comes out.


On day one the photographer walks into camp
and immediately starts shooting. She shoots us

at breakfast eating our c-rations, in our hammocks
reading Stars and Stripes. She shoots us in her sleep.

When we first cross paths at the creek, she says,
“Hello, Tiger! Nice combat boots. Is that thing real?”

pointing to my Special Forces jungle shirt.
“I’m afraid so,” I say nonchalantly, trying to mask

my satisfaction. Day two: no more messing around.
The photographer has agreed to join the action.

“So what’s the scenario?” A lone guerrilla left over
in a booby-trapped village jumps out of a hidey-hole

and ambushes the platoon on a search-and-destroy.
“Good thing I brought my black pajamas and sandals!”

What a trooper. She also plays the captured prisoner,
the native informant, and the beautiful turncoat.

The sniper girl is her favorite role because
it’s like taking pictures. “The beauty, the beauty!”

her voice volleys spookily from behind some rocks
as she picks off one of my men after another.

Sometimes the photographer shoots herself.
I know she must have her own personal baggage—

later I find her sobbing in the bamboo grove.
I tell her it’s okay, these wars only last three days.

“What will you do when it’s all over?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I say, “Plan the next one.”

On day three, after another routine patrol we sit
together on my favorite log, in the shade of oaks,

and devise more scenarios. The topo map
unfolds across our laps like a magic carpet.

She’s got killer bangs above camera eyes.
I mark all the booby traps and landing zones

as she speaks of controlled light and the hole
that opens up when you press the shutter button.

At twenty four hundred our hands nearly touch.
There was a meteor shower. I call in mortar fire.

[New Yorker2/16/15]



Jamaal Behnett Ali--Camden



Sunday, August 23, 2015


IT'S ALL ABOUT ME van--Camden



About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy and England. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), 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 Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, among other places. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013), and translator of Night, Fish and Charlie Parker, the poetry of Phan Nhien Hao (2006). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. 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, Reykjavik, Toronto and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.