Postcards from the End of America

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Friday, February 27, 2015



Giordano's in the Italian Market, my neighborhood. The guy in photo is Vietnamese, however. He said to me in English, "Are you from the FBI?" Then, to his coworkers, "Hey, this guy's from the FBI! Ha ha!"

I've lived in the Italian Market for about 12 years altogether. There is no neighborhood on earth I know better than this one, but here's the thing, I still don't really know it.

Of the Giordanos, I'm only acquainted with Felix. An artist, he's somewhat of a black sheep in the family. Felix studied at the Academy of Fine Arts at the same time as David Lynch. At some point nearly every day, Felix will show up in the Friendly Lounge at 8th and Washington.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

OK, guys and gals, do help me out here if you can afford it. For any donation of at least $20, I'll send you this new PDF, READ. Granted, some of the images are recycled from other PDFs, but they are presented in a new context. Sample pages are below, but in the PDF, they will be much bigger.

If you'd rather have a PDF of my upcoming book of poems, A Mere Rica, just say so and I'll send you that. If you're in the US and have a PayPal account, you can save me the fee deduction by sending money directly. My email is . Thank you!--Linh


* Thanks for a $50 donation from Damak, Nepal! PDFs have been sent.

* Thanks for a $20 contribution from a repeat donor in Kitchener, Canada. I've sent her both PDFs!

* Thanks for a $20 donation from Florida. PDFs have been sent!

* Thanks for a $60 donation from Palmyra, NY. Three PDFs have been sent!

* Thanks for a $50 donation from Austin, TX. PDFs have been sent!


Postcard from the End of America: Center City, Philadelphia

As published at OpEd News and Information Clearing House, 2/26/15:

Ah, to be in perfect health, good looking, with all the possibilities in the world spread out like an extravagant buffet, begging for your attention! Should I become a recording star, the next Obama (or Hillary) or precocious billionaire? Maybe I’ll marry a rich yet good looking one and see the world before I turn 22? These days, though, a young person’s daydream must meet the sick reality of an economy sinking into quicksand as weighted down by a bloated and criminal government. War is constant though distant, for now, and the media, dominated by a fistful of puppeteers, purvey nothing but lies and idiocy. “No Bra, No Problem: Beyonce Wears a Completely Unbuttoned Shirt to Lunch.” A government that ignores not just international laws but its own legal foundation is a rogue regime, but as long as its abject subjects can’t peel their pupils from FaceBook, boxscores and pixelated genitals, all is good.

Though the most visible homeless are still the old and middle-aged, they are becoming younger and younger, and the other day, I met 30-year-old Stephanie sitting behind a plastic cup with a sign, “HOMELESS AND HUNGRY / ANYTHING HELPS / THANK YOU.” Born in New Jersey, she was a waitress in Delran, Palmyra and Cinnaminson, mostly white, working class towns just across the river from Philadelphia. Losing her apartment six months ago, Stephanie had to come to Philly to beg, so there she was in two pairs of ugly pants and a scruffy, oversized men’s jacket, her teeth chattering. It was 27 degrees. Behind Stephanie was a recycling receptacle, but she herself, like so many redundant workers, risks becoming unrecyclable in our increasingly ruthless society. How many Americans are thinking, Maybe I’ll never get another job?

A block away, I ran into Angel, aged 21 and homeless for three weeks. Also from New Jersey, Angel came to Philly two years ago and found work as a bartender at Beau Monde, an upscale French restaurant that's particularly popular among the gay crowd. Above Beau Monde is L'etage, a dance club with the same owner. With business rather slow at Beau Monde, there weren’t much tips, so Angel moved to Cantina Los Caballitos. Starting as a hostess, she eventually became one of four managers. Her peak salary was $1,600 a month, but that's before tax. With rents so high in Philly, Angel opted to pay $350 for a room in a house she shared with six people, "All of my co-workers were paying around $500 a month, but none of them had their own space. They were all sharing."

I told Angel that twenty years ago, I had my own apartment in Center City for just $350 a month. Her eyes widened, “That’s unbelievable!” The bank-inflated housing bubble made housing unaffordable for many poor people.

At Cantina Los Caballitos, workplace politics was very complicated, Angel said, because managers, bartenders and servers slept with each other, “If a bartender was sleeping with a server, a female manager would get pissed off and try to get even.”

“Because she wanted to sleep with him?”

“Yeah, because she wanted to sleep with him. There was a lot of corruption there,” meaning sexual harassment or retaliation.

The most insidious abuse of power, however, was how employees were discarded, “In the bar and restaurant business, they will overhire, then get rid of whoever they don’t like, but without firing them. If they find someone that they like more than you, they’ll keep it hush hush and find ways to push you out, and they will do this with any position. It’s not just with a server or kitchen worker, they will also do this with a manager.

They do not want to give fired employees unemployment. They will find any way of going around paying people unemployment. So if they want to do a mass firing, they’ll cut people’s schedules. They’ll cut their hours. For people they want to get rid of, they’ll just give them one or two shifts a week. This usually forces people to quit, because they’re so broke. This way, they don’t have to fire ten people and pay unemployment.”

Long time employees also expect periodic raises, so by forcing them out, owners save money. It’s very passive aggressive, these tactics, “They will give you the shittiest shifts or they can cite you for every little mistake, every little thing that you do that they can make into an issue. What they did to me was, they’d suddenly email me and say, ‘You’re not in charge of that anymore. Why don’t you do this,’ then they’d give me these very childish tasks, these very boring tasks, and I was like, ‘Why am I doing this if I’m the manager?’ They’d email me and say, ‘Oh, you don’t have to come in today.’ They phrased it in such a way that you’re like, am I being rewarded with some time off? They kind of fucked with your head a little bit, so you’d think, maybe I’m being rewarded here, but at the end of the month, you’re like, holy shit, I hardly worked at all. So they push you off. Holy shit, you know, they basically fired me, but they didn’t do it outright, but only in the most passive aggressive way.”

From talking to workers at other restaurants and bars, Angel found out these nasty practices are very common, “This is definitely going on, but no one talks about it.”

As long as there is a surfeit of workers, these abuses will continue, I’m afraid, and it will only get much worse, since the economy isn’t getting any better. Among Angel’s coworkers were people who had been in law schools.

Next evening, I found Angel sitting across the street from her previous spot. Since her face was hidden by a furry hood, I could only identify Angel by her large, heart shaped glasses and the “god bless” on her sign. With much better eyesight than mine, she recognized me immediately and even remembered my name. Across Broad Street was the Bellevue-Stratford, and half a block away, The Union Club. There, Philly’s blue bloods congregate to play arcane board games, kick the help down the stairs and worship Satan, most likely.

Behind Angel was Robinson Luggage, an upscale store that closed in 2013 after 29 years. Though in a prime spot, this space is still unoccupied. When I was a housecleaner, a woman I worked for took me there so I could carry her new suitcases from store to taxi, then from the taxi to her apartment, two flights up. Never comfortable in a nice anything, I stood outside as she shopped.

“Angel, why do they kick you out of the shelter at 5AM? Why can’t they let you stay until 8 or something? It doesn't make any sense.”

“No, it doesn't,” she answered. “There is no reason for it. It's still dark and very cold out, but that's what they do, they wake us up at 5AM.”

“And you're expected to be out by when?”


“What about people who have trouble getting up at that hour? Like the really old and weak?”

“It doesn't matter. They come round and clap in your face really loud and shout, 'It's time to wake up! It's time to wake up!' It’s the most annoying sound. There are three counselors and they rush the shit out of you. I swear, when I'm 80-years-old, if I ever hear someone say the words, ‘It’s time to wake up!’ I'm going to, like, have a seizure, because just the memory of hearing it over and over again, and being clapped at, like, in my ears, it’s going to haunt me forever. It’s terrible.”

Angel's shelter is Broad Street Ministry, “Many of these shelters are closed down churches. Each night, they’ll only let up to 75 people in. If it’s below freezing, if it’s 20 below, I think they let up to 80 or even 100 in. They can easily fit 100 people in there. We all sleep on the floor and there’s enough space. They can even fit 300 people in there. There are two floors, but the second floor, the bigger one, is only used for meal time. At 7 O’clock, they serve dinner, and at 10PM, they let people in who want to stay for the night.”

“So that’s two separate shifts?”

“Yes. I feel that a lot of normal people who have jobs and places to stay, they go in there for free meals as well, which is really strange, so they reserve the second floor just for the meals, instead of filling it up with homeless people who just want some place warm to sleep for the night.

You line up outside, and at 10 O’clock, they open the door. There is a priority list. Apparently, you have to have been going there every night for at least six months to get on the priority list, so most people aren’t on this priority list. It’s mostly elderly women that I see on the priority list, and they line up at the right door. That means that if there are 75 on the priority list, the rest of the people standing outside the left door will be turned away. It doesn’t matter how early they got there, or how many there are.”

“How often does this happen?”

“A lot! Sometimes I go there at 9:30, to try get a good spot in line, and I still get turned away at times. One lady who works there, her name is Shelly, she’s really nice. If she’s working, she’ll let you come inside even if you’ve been turned away, and she’ll tell everyone, ‘I can call outreach to get you placed in another shelter,’ but if you don’t want this to happen, you can go back outside and figure it out, you know.

Other shelters around the city are dangerous, though. Broad Street Ministry is the only one that’s kind of clean, and kind of safe. Although I did get my phone stolen in there, there are no rapes. Broad Street Ministry is also coed. Most of them only allow just men, just women, or just women with children. There are maybe two or three shelters in the city that are coed. An issue that a lot of people have, and that I have, is that I’m out here with my boyfriend, my fiance. A lot of people are out here with their husbands. If outreach picks you up, they will separate you. Normal people have this misconception about outreach as this great thing, but so many times, I’m just sitting out here with my boyfriend, trying to earn enough money to eat, but a police officer or a normal person will call outreach. You can think of outreach as the homeless police. That’s basically what they’re out here for. They’ll come up to you and they’ll tell you, ‘You know, you can’t sit here.’ If it’s below 32 degrees, outreach will scour the city for every homeless person and harass them. It’s called Code Blue. Basically, you can be outside and freeze to death, as long as you’re not trying to make money. They’ll tell you, ‘Get up, I can either take you to a shelter or you can move, but you can’t sit here.’”

Granted, if it’s zero degree or so, Code Blue can save lives, but 32 is nothing to most homeless people. For the last two weeks, it’s been well below freezing nearly each day, so outreach had a pretext to sweep many people like Angel off the streets even if they’d rather be left alone, “If you go to these shelters, you lose control. You don’t control whether you end up in Bumblefuck, North Philadelphia, where you don’t want to be, and then you’ll also have to figure out how to get back to Center City or wherever you want to be, wherever you feel safe. It’s not like they drop you off in North Philly and give you five tokens [for public transit], so it’s like, OK, I can sleep inside and be warm in this shitty, dingy shelter for a night, but in the morning, how am I going to get back here?”

Shelters are often in the worst neighborhoods, obviously, since middle or upper class people, even super liberal ones, don’t want poor folks, much less the homeless, anywhere near them. Though they may mouth fair wage, fair trade or even absolute egalitarianism, they keep themselves way clear of anyone with bad teeth and worse shoes. Orwell wrote, “Sometimes I look at a Socialist—the intellectual, tract-writing type of Socialist, with his pullover, his fuzzy hair, and his Marxian quotation—and wonder what the devil his motive really is. It is often difficult to believe that it is a love of anybody, especially of the working class, from whom he is of all people the furthest removed. The underlying motive of many Socialists, I believe, is simply a hypertrophied sense of order. The present state of affairs offends them not because it causes misery, still less because it makes freedom impossible, but because it is untidy; what they desire, basically, is to reduce the world to something resembling a chessboard.” Harsh statements like that have made Orwell a perennial target for many mojito sipping, armchair revolutionaries.

For the last year or so, I’ve been hounded by a cyber heckler who’s determined to prove that I’m a slumming bourgeoisie who actually hate the people I talk to and write about. Though I’ve tried to ignore this gentleman, I must admit that it wounds, tickles and saddens me to be so denounced. I don’t consider myself above anyone and, short of the homeless, I’m as poor or even more pinched than most of the people I mingle with, and it’s not like I enjoy having my checks bounced or going to bed dressed like I’m hiking up a mountain. Always scratching lottery tickets, the empty pocketed dream of becoming millionaires, and if I saw a few bucks lying on the gum-blotched sidewalk, I’d knock you out of the way, too. Finders, keepers! Though I don’t festishize poverty nor idealize brokeasses, I will continue to grind out these Postcards that no one has commissioned simply because I need to make sense out of what’s happening to people who resemble me in so many ways. Crammed into this nauseating steerage, we exhale our cheap beer breath on each other. Another commenter even suggested I should depict perfumy places like Nantucket, to balance out the picture. Sure, buddy, I’ll book a room there for a week, but first, I need to get over my fidgeting over whether to order a $1.12 cup of coffee from McDonald’s, and that’s before tax.

OK, enough of that interruption. Sorry. I asked Angel, “Do they feed you at these shelters?”

“Not always, and if they do give you dinner, then they won’t give you breakfast. It’s usually just one meal.”

By this time, a young man had come to sit down next to Angel. He was her boyfriend, Seth, a 30-year-old from north Jersey. Like Angel, Seth was a bartender, but in Jersey City.

“How did you two meet?” I asked Seth.

“At her bar. I was a customer.”

“You could afford to drink at Cantina!”

“Yeah, man, I had money then.”

“Yeah, we had money,” Angel jumped in. “We went out.”

“So did you lose your job in Jersey City?” I asked Seth.

“No, I lost my apartment. I had my job, but I was jumping around all over the place, and it wasn’t working out. That’s why I came down here.”

Unlike Angel, who spoke in a clear, emphatic voice, Seth was murmuring, and he mostly avoided eye contact. I don’t know if this is just how Seth is, or being on the streets for just more than a month had subdued this tallish, trim man. He had a very oblique presence. Unlike Angel, who spent two semesters in college with an aim of studying psychology, Seth had only finished high school.

“With Seth, it happened in reverse,” Angel explained. “He lost his housing, then his job, whereas I lost my job, then my apartment.”

Hoboken, West New York and Jersey City used to be affordable if you wanted to be near NYC, but with the housing bubble, they became yuppified. Opening in 2004, the 42-story Goldman Sachs Tower lords over the Jersey City riverfront. The rise in housing price is used as an indicator of the economy’s health, but like so many other things, what benefits the moneyed hurts the poor. I’d love to see housing price collapse completely so I can rent an apartment for less than $500! The poor live in terror of seeing their rents raised. A bump of just $50 or so can mean skipped meals. Angel spoke of the strangeness of seeing people with jobs and apartments eating at her soup kitchen, but that has become the new normal for many poor Americans.

What’s meant by poor varies greatly from country to country, obviously. Each year, I get paid $200 to write an article in Vietnamese for a California journal’s Tet issue. Even people inside Vietnam read Viet Bao. I translate a passage, “Poverty in the US is much different from destitution in Vietnam because in the US, even the poorest have something to stuff into their mouths. In Kensington, a neighborhood in North Philly, more than 350 people eat dinner each day at Saint Francis. After 5PM, you can see them lined up outside the gate. Slovenly and smelly or neatly dressed, they are the homeless, the old, the young and mothers pushing strollers. In the US, the biggest worry is the monthly rent or mortgage. Unable to pay, roughly 1.5 million people must sleep in their cars or outside at least a few days a year. Every American city has hundreds if not thousands of homeless. In some places, they take over an entire neighborhood, as with San Francisco’s Tenderloin or Los Angeles’ Skid Row.”

Orwell wrote that an Indian or Japanese coolie “can live on rice and onions,” and in Vietnam today, there are those whose normal meal is just the cheapest rice fried up with some MSG. In downtown Saigon, however, there is a buffet that charges $130 a head, and another that docks you a mere Ben Franklin. [And no, my inquisitor, I haven’t crashed into either one, so don’t get your boxers all bunched up!] At each, you can feast on tapas, prosciutto, lobsters and steaks, and guess who frequent such haunts? Foreigners, of course, but also the nouveau riche and high ranking Communist Party officials.

Most “Communists,” from a police captain and certain college professors on up, can get fat on graft alone, but the most powerful Party members also own multiple villas, send their kids to study in London, Paris or Berkeley, and vacation in Dubai. The most opulent nightclubs in Saigon and Hanoi are also owned by Communists, and the ones that aren’t must pay off a raft of cynical, cognac swilling Reds to stay in business. These are the pigs depicted in Orwell’s Animal Farm, but they weren’t born pigs, however, but became pigs through totalitarianism.

Which comes first, though, the power or the pig? First of, there’s a latent pig inside each of us, no matter how meek our current station. This means anyone can morph into a pig at any time. A lifelong sheep, dove, butterfly or microbe can suddenly become a pig on his death bed. With power, though, a pig can balloon to any size and become even larger than the earth itself, so the trick is not to outlaw piggishness, since it is merely a state of mind and always lurking, but to limit the amount of power any individual or entity may have over anything, and that’s true of a media company as much as a political party.

The point and attraction of having power is to collect blings and kick asses, so if you consolidate power in fewer hands, you will increase suffering for a greater number of people, but that’s exactly the world we’re living in. Nationally, Washington has more power over an American life than ever, and internationally, this earth is divided into a few major blocks dominated by a handful of power centers. The windfalls of cheap oil have cushioned and masked the true state of our global oppression and inequity, however, though millions have simply been blown to bits in that ruthless scramble for cheap oil.

With resource depletion of all kinds across this blighted earth, war will likely rain on your head, specifically, but eventually, the power centers will lose their grip on the local, though each remaining oasis, if there’s any, will also be deprived of all the miraculous perks we’ve come to expect. No more plastic and polyester for you, dude, and no more food that’s fertilized, farmed, refrigerated and shipped via petroleum. No more 500 channels. No more gadgets. Instead of that nice, smooth ride down the endless highway of prosperity, we will travel back in time, if we’re very lucky.

I only believe in what’s fair and sane, and have never identified myself as a “progressive,” for in the name of progress, so much destruction has been unleashed, and so many innocents slaughtered. Fascists and Communists declared themselves progressives, and before them, European Colonialists looted and killed in the name of progress. During Mao’s Cultural Revolution, a staggering number of ancient temples, tombs, statues, books and other antiquities were destroyed, but China’s core beliefs and aesthetics could not be wiped out, and as soon as the boot was lifted from the people’s faces, they reverted to old customs. Confucius was attacked as an advocate and symbol of the slave owning class, and yet, his tenets continued to guide and inspire, so now, the Party has rewritten history to claim that Communism is but an extension of Confucianism, and all over the world, it has set up Confucius Institutes to represent China. In Russia, traditional beliefs and values have also made a fierce come back. To cherish one’s heritage doesn’t mean that one must hate all changes, obviously. As Putin said recently, “our priorities are healthy families and a healthy nation, the traditional values which we inherited from our forefathers, combined with a focus on the future, stability as a vital condition of development and progress.” It’s a question of balance.

The foundation of the United States isn’t some guy caricatured in fortune cookies but the Constitution, and now that it’s used to wipe the asses of the president and all members of congress several times a day, each day, what’s left of this country, really? Just about nothing is right, but with so much vehement hatred between liberals and conservatives, there is little hope of forming a coalition to challenge our common enemy. As we spit venom at each other, the war profiteers and banking cartel will continue to destroy our lives through their unctuous lackeys inside the Beltway. As rage builds up, however, there’s bound to be lone wolf attacks against symbols of power, and anticipating this, our rulers have repeatedly warned against domestic terrorism. When it finally happens, for real and not as false flags, hundreds of innocents will also be rounded up as the population froth, bay and cheer. Totalitarianism makes the stupid even more imbecilic, the wise cynical and the brave dead. The next chapter of our history has already been written by our masters.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015




Monday, February 23, 2015



21-years-old and homeless for three weeks, Angel was born and raised in New Jersey. Two years ago, she came to Philadelphia and found work as a bartender at Beau Monde, an upscale French restaurant that's particularly popular among the gay crowd. Above Beau Monde is L'etage, a dance club with the same owner. With business rather slow at Beau Monde, there weren’t much tips, so Angel moved to Cantina Los Caballitos. Starting as a hostess, she eventually became one of four managers. Her peak salary was $1,600 a month, but that's before tax. With rents so high in Philly, Angel opted to pay $350 for a room in a house she shared with six people, "All of my co-workers were paying around $500 a month, but none of them had their own space. They were all sharing."

I told Angel that twenty years ago, I had my own apartment in Center City for just $350 a month. Her eyes widened, “That’s unbelievable!” The bank-inflated housing bubble made housing unaffordable for many poor people.

At Cantina Los Caballitos, workplace politics was very complicated, Angel said, because managers, bartenders and servers slept with each other, “If a bartender was sleeping with a server, a female manager would get pissed off and try to get even.”

“Because she wanted to sleep with him?”

“Yeah, because she wanted to sleep with him. There was a lot of corruption there,” meaning sexual harrasment or retaliation.

The most insidious abuse of power, however, was how employees were discarded, “In the bar and restaurant business, they will overhire, then get rid of whoever they don’t like, but without firing them. If they find someone that they like more than you, they’ll keep it hush hush and find ways to push you out, and they will do this with any position. It’s not just with a server or kitchen worker, they will also do this with a manager.

They do not want to give fired employees unemployment. They will find any way of going around paying people unemployment. So if they want to do a mass firing, they’ll cut people’s schedules. They’ll cut their hours. For people they want to get rid of, they’ll just give them one or two shifts a week. This usually forces people to quit, because they’re so broke. This way, they don’t have to fire ten people and pay unemployment.”

Long time employees also expect periodic raises, so by forcing them out, owners save money. It’s very passive aggressive, these tactics, “They will give you the shittiest shifts or they can cite you for every little mistake, every little thing that you do that they can make into an issue. What they did to me was, they’d suddenly email me and say, ‘You’re not in charge of that anymore. Why don’t you do this,’ then they’d give me these very childish tasks, these very boring tasks, and I was like, ‘Why am I doing this if I’m the manager?’ They’d email me and say, ‘Oh, you don’t have to come in today.’ They phrased it in such a way that you’re like, am I being rewarded with some time off? They kind of fucked with your head a little bit, so you’d think, maybe I’m being rewarded here, but at the end of the month, you’re like, holy shit, I hardly worked at all. So they push you off. Holy shit, you know, they basically fired me, but they didn’t do it outright, but only in the most passive aggressive way.”

From talking to workers at other restaurants and bars, Angel found out these nasty practices are very common, “This is definitely going on, but no one talks about it.”

As long as there is a surfeit of workers, these abuses will continue, I’m afraid, and it will only get much worse, since the economy isn’t getting any better. Among Angel’s coworkers were people who had been in law schools.




30-years-old, Stephanie was a waitress in Delran, Palmyra and Cinnaminson. Just across the river from Philadelphia, these are working class, mostly white towns in New Jersey. Stephanie only came to Philly when she became homeless six months ago. Since the shelter doesn't let her in until 10PM and kicks her out at 5 in the morning, Stephanie must spend most of her day outside. Her teeth were chattering from the cold.




27°, but that's at street level, where there's sunlight. This was one floor down, in the subway concourse.


Friday, February 20, 2015




Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

If you can read Vietnamese, I have a new piece here.


Thursday, February 12, 2015


Last night, I went to Kensington to give a printout of my last Postcard to Melissa. She's mentioned near the end of it.

At Bentley's Place, a man came in to sell calendars, CDs and a DVD player. Melissa bought a KISS calendar for $1 to give to a friend, and the seller told her to take another for free, so she chose the Awkward Family Photos one.

The guy, 47-year-old J, had come up from South Philly. J makes his living going from bar to bar in the crappy neighborhoods. He also does odd construction work and, in the past, washed windows, something I've also done. When I asked J where he got his stuff, he said he dumpster dived.

"But what about the DVD player? You didn't find that in no dumpster!"

"Hey, man, you're asking me too many questions. In South Philly, we know how to take care of people like you! Ever heard of omerta?"

"Hey, man, I'm just curious. Maybe I want to do what you do."

"You'll have to figure it out yourself. Do I ask you how your teeth got that way?"

"I was born this way."

"So I'm born this way too."

"That was a low blow, talking about my teeth. Fuck you, J!"

"My teeth ain't perfect either," and he opened his mouth to show a bunch of missing molars on his lower left jaw.

"Yeah, but your missing teeth are hidden. Fuck you, J!"

J summed up his situation, "I'm just barely getting by. Some days I even have to ask. Like, 'Can you spare a buck so I can have something to eat?' But I'm still here, and you're still here, right?"

After J left, I said to Melissa, "J said he got his shit from dumpster diving."

"My dick!" she snorted while making a jerking motion. "He steals them."

"I ask stupid questions because I want to hear people say it. I don't assume nothing, and you know what? People tend to tell me everything. People have told me they've killed someone. I hear all kinds of shit."

"Working in bars, I hear all kinds of shit too. The other day, a guy told me he lets another guy suck his dick because a mouth is a mouth. Can you believe that?! A mouth is a mouth!"

"That's pretty funny. He should just spread peanut butter on his dick and let a dog lick it."

"Did I tell you that story?!"

"What story?"

"The peanut butter and dog story. Remember I told you I had dated a cop? I broke up with him when I saw him spread peanut butter on his dick for the dog to lick. I was like, what the fuck? I was walking downstairs when I saw it."

"Did you think it was funny?" I briefly thought about asking her what kind of dog it was.

"No! I didn't know what to think. I still don't. It was like I was looking at this animal! Now I know why he always wanted the dog in the house when we had sex. The guy's married now. I wonder if he still does that."

"It was like a threesome with a dog!"

"Something like that."

"Isn't it weird as hell, Melissa, that I brought that up when it actually happened to you?"

"Yeah, it is very odd."

"I mean, the coincidence. Somebody told me about it once, but I've never talked about it. It's not something I think about."

"It's still on my mind, because it was so weird."

"Maybe I read your mind," I smiled.

Melissa is studying to be a medical assistant. She just got back from two weeks in California. Her sister is in the Marines and stationed in San Diego.

Born and raised Catholic, Melissa only goes to church these days "when somebody dies."

Later I talked to 53-year-old Ernest. Born in Puerto Rico, he mixed chemicals for 19 years for Estee Lauder in Bristol, PA, but yesterday was his last day. They're giving him a decent severance package, however.

"I'll get $125,000 right away, plus two years' unemployment, so it will add up to $175,000."

"You're like the richest guy in this bar!"

"I know."

Ernest has a house in Kensington, plus a house and some land in Puerto Rico. He doesn't want to sit around doing nothing, however, so he's applying to be a custodian at the Visitation Roman Catholic Church and School.

"Hey, it's a great school! I know a teacher there. The kids in there are very respectful. Lots of them are Dominican, but they have all kinds of kids there."

"I talked to a nun on the phone, and I'll come in for an interview on Tuesday."

Divorced, Ernest has two grown kids and a younger girlfriend, "I don't want them too young. A 20-year-old woman doesn't know anything. She has to be at least 30."

Ernest wants to go to Spain someday. His dad raved about Spain, but Ernest has never even been to Europe.

When I told Ernest my name, he said it means "good looking man" in Spanish. I know "linda" is beautiful, but how could any phonetic interpretation of my name possibly mean "good looking man" in Spanish?!  Whatever...


I wrote to Elizabeth Hayes


Hi Elizabeth,

In a new article, I brought up 1984 and got this response from an "Andy Perry":

"Believing that the Anglo Saxon sex fantasy '1984' is a serious political book and trying to base an analysis upon it, is the very definition of bourgeois!"

So even being middle class, which I'm not even, is to be guilty among these armchair Communists, and I'm sure this man thinks himself very clever for calling 1984 an "Anglo Saxon sex fantasy"! See, Elizabeth, you've been teaching pornography all this time!

Elizabeth Hayes responds:

Well, I'd be teaching Henry Miller if I could, but some "post-modern" professor by the name of Jones, the first infiltrator from that baffled school at CSU way back in the 80s, told me it was pornography. When I told him that I'd noticed that little children I knew who'd grown up on welfare always seemed far brighter than little children who grew up in middle class homes, he said that that was interesting and such children should be adopted into middle class homes. I think he missed my point.

What an asshole. Not just for those remarks, but also for what came next. This was the mid-80s, and I was for the first time a grad-ass taking Jones's class, and when I turned in my final he asked me out, very not cool. Actually, though, he asked me if I was going to have lunch, and I said yes and I thought was OK. I assumed he meant in the student union, and there's nothing at all objectionable, as far as I saw then anyway, with having lunch with a professor in the student union. So I was walking with him there but he steered right, and a bit confused, I walked along. He walked me toward a pricey joint some blocks away and I just went along. That he had my grade in his hand wasn't really it; frankly I was somewhere between curious and baffled as to how to respond. Anyway, I had a nice free lunch and that was that, I thought.

I didn't hear from him until the fall, when I found out that during the summer he'd managed to talk my thesis advisor, a really socially incapable intellectual type, to turn me over to his advisorship. I found this out when Jones called me into his office, explained it all to me, and gave me an outline of exactly what he wanted me to say in my thesis. As he was saying this he was staring at my legs. I wasn't exactly dressed sluttily, in case you're wondering--I was wearing a baggy sweater and a loose skirt that came to my knees and opaque tights and a pair of men's dress shoes--this is one of those memories when you remember stuff, and I was a bit astonished that he was looking at me like that as I was trying to talk lit shop. He'd been dating this other grad-ass, a pretty but frankly stupid young woman, and it looked like he'd decided I'd be her replacement. He explained that I would be watching his toddler daughter, Yulia, while finishing this thesis of, er, mine?

Nobody would ever characterize me as an extremely sensible type, but I decided to decline his offer. That wasn't hard; unlike a lot of female college students, I didn't think fucking a professor was a good idea, not unless I really wanted to fuck him anyway; and besides, I found him repulsively grandiose; but given that a lot of those young women would have taken the offer with glee, I just walked away and did not notify the authorities. The entire department had watched him have a quite open affair with the last grad-ass, so I assumed they knew what was up with Prof. Jones, and if somebody else wanted the vacancy, I figured we're all adults. Besides, I avoid authorities whenever possible. I ended up dropping out for a time to become a fake economist--aren't they/we all?

Fast forward a decade. I'm at a party, and this woman Clara who was getting her PhD in mathematics out in some western US state had come back to Cleveland for a visit. She was talking a bunch of postmodernist literary theory, which I found strange for a mathematician. Then she started talking about her attempts to get her daughter back from her ex-husband, who had abused her and lied to the courts about her abandoning her daughter when she had only split for the refuge of a women's shelter for a couple of days because he was beating her up and she was horribly depressed from a couple of years of abuse. I put two and two together and asked if her daughter's name was Yulia.

Well, then the story came out. Yes, that was Clara's daughter Jones was asking me to take care of while I wrote his, er my thesis. Jones hadn't gotten tenure at CSU, and had not gotten tenure at a string of universities since, but at each one he'd found some grad-ass to accept the deal he'd offered me.

Clara finally got her daughter back when Yulia was 13, already richly tatooed and pierced. Jones had had this long string of women do all the research for some book he never completed or never got accepted or whatever, and by the end he was stalking a number of them and finally got arrested exposing himself in front of one of those women's apartment building, probably in the same leather trenchcoat he used to parade himself around in way back at CSU. He was for a time working with poor youth in Los Angeles, not exactly a boon to those kids, as Jones was a total snob despite all his drivel about class consciousness and attacking the bourgeoisie (which is why, in case you were wondering, I dredged this old story out of my memory banks--he was a classic asshole intellectual ideologue). I Iost sight of the tale because Clara and Yulia moved to DC when Clara finally got her PhD and a job as a code-cracker for the CIA. It sounds like I'm making this shit up, but I'm not.

I suppose I should have stood up for my sisters and gotten Jones in trouble. Maybe. But here's the killing thing. While I was having that first conversation with Clara, she and her friends kept on asking me what had gone on during my "affair" with Jones. I kept saying I didn't have an affair with Jones, and then five minutes later they'd be asking me the same thing. This happened several times before I was able to convince them that, no, I did not have an affair with the asshole. Apparently I was the only one who hadn't. I mean, the offer was pretty bald, and numerous women took him up on it? They'd formed a sort of support group in the midst of Clara contacting them as Jones moved from one to the next, and the next. She was desperately trying to track her daughter.

What's the moral of this story? I dunno, quite, except the way people perceive each other and themselves according to ideology seems really askew to my muddled brain. Plus I assume you like interesting anecdotes on the human squabble. Clara, as far as I could tell, had gotten into an abusive marriage when she was very young for whatever reason, LUV I'm guessing from talking to her, but all those other women can't really be counted as victims as far as I'm concerned. If somebody asks you to put a dog collar on with a leash attached and you do, then you've agreed to be a dog, so don't complain that you've been jerked around. Particularly if you have other options, like cleaning houses.

Among those really creepy comments on ICH, the one by "Guest" kills me, the one that starts with "So I take it you don't support Cuba Linh? Surely you are not a proponent of Blair's 3rd way! What government or system do you support? You`re not one of those squeaky clean anarchist types whose ideal society exists only in the realm of theory?" He wants to know what side your family was on. You were how old?

He proves your point: he wants to know what tribe you arose from. He says he's living in Vietnam himself: "If things are so bad in Userland maybe you should come back to Vietnam. I'm sure your yank twang wont be out of place with all the other Viet Kieus who are once again taking up their rightful place at the top of the scrapheap!" Sure, Linh, you're just one more fucking capitalist pig. Praxis is messy, he says, and I think, what, like Pol Pot? Am I to believe he is writing from Vietnam, or am I just being paranoid in thinking that he said that because it sounded better than telling you to go back there, where you belong? Who knows? But surely your perceptions are inconvenient to the armchair communist, not only the endorsement of what Orwell had to say about betrayal in revolutions, but also your remarks about how, as the food is pulled away, the masses will not come together in some national, let alone global, utopia, but will instead band together in their own little tribes.

Sometimes I tell ardent lefties that they might want to figure out why people on the right reference 1984 as often as people on the left. Ideology can indeed make people blind and stupid, as somebody on your blog said. Who do these angry young men of ICH think you are, some elitist propagandist infiltrating their little virtual enclave? Indeed they must. It’s hard to discern where blindness due to ideology ends and just blatant excuse for being a nasty asshole begins. The threads can be brutal, and I seldom read the ICH ones, let alone post there. Talk about yer roving band! When discussing Israel, they don't even pretend that it's not about hating Jews.

I did respond to that guy who called 1984 an "Anglo Saxon sex fantasy" with "Maybe you're the one who wrote of the NSA some time ago that privacy is so bourgeois?" I can't remember where I read that comment about privacy--it was on an article somebody emailed me. But on the ICH thread in question, another poster wrote that "Putting theory into practice is a messy business Linh but you have to support the one that ticks most of the boxes." Right. Who creates this little form with the boxes to check? Is romance, family, privacy, freedom of thought, speech and action on there? If so, how are they weighted, and again, who's doing the weighting?

I’m certainly no ideologue, and don’t pretend to know which social engineering will make people content and peaceful, if any, although I have plenty of ideas about what’s fucked up. Don’t we all? But I do think that a lack of empathy is at the crux, and as I see the schools dictate less and less literature and more and more science, I sense something chilling. Literature teaches empathy just by the fact that the reader puts himself in the protagonist’s shoes, and empathy is not all about being nice. It’s about trying to bridge one’s understanding beyond one’s desires and point-of-view, and as far as I can see, nobody can assess situations without it, not with any modicum of sanity. You’ve written about the idea that we are really one, and our connectivity is cut so that we see each other as discrete organisms—or more to the point, discrete mechanisms, as nearly all investigations into cognitive science will have it. It was through trying to write stories that I came to see that we must really love our enemies--because in taking the usual advice that the writer must love all her characters, even the most vile, I saw that without doing so my stories did not read as true.

I originally started posting for two main reasons: first, I began reading the news and various people’s responses more carefully as the 21st century began with irrational rationales for the massive military invasions, and their hugely enthusiastic endorsement; and second, I wanted to disabuse the progressives of their notions that Amerikan public schools and the mental health industry are unmitigated goods. I’ve spent time in schools of all types, and known people from all types, and read the unschoolers and deschoolers and met homeschoolers and some amazing autodidacts, and it’s clear to me that the public schools are not designed to create capable, discerning, loving and tolerant individuals who could begin to create a healthier, more equitable society. As for the mental health industry, I’m a psychiatric survivor and have listened to the fake science blither blather about the wonders of psych meds and have personally seen many people suffer and die in their hands. And I’ve been appalled by how many of my students have been put on psych meds from early ages. First of course it was the ADHD “epidemic,” and now I’m getting reports from the ground of very young children diagnosed bipolar and schizophrenic, and are now fed massively powerful psych meds to “help” them. They are doing this quite a bit among the poor, and the fact that poor families get extra money from the government for having a kid with a disability is a spur for people to get their kids diagnosed. Few psychiatrists, or even pediatricians, will not feed into this game. The supporters of these measures show up regularly on progressive sites shilling for more public funding because there are so many more people who need this tender care.

More people on these progressive sites are coming around to my understanding, but when I started making my arguments online I was called a right wing bitch hag paid plant etc for a couple of years. These ideas did not fit into their orthodoxy, and I could easily be lumped in with the right because my perceptions were indeed being voiced mostly in Amerika by right libertarians, so they HAD to be wrong. If I felt them to be correct, that meant I must also be a capitalist pig in all its manifestations. Well, a lot of ideas have blown in from the libertarians to the left, and I was taught to look at all sides of an argument, and to consider arguments openly (how elitist of me). I do not think they are wrong about everything, but even if I did I would not close my ears to all they say, if for no other reason that without open dialogue there’s little chance of convincing people on the right to see things differently. In any case, I’m convinced of the vital need to debunk everything, even what I most firmly believe, because enchantment is dangerous. I can imagine how effective these leftists are in opening the eyes of the people around them to advance their cause of revolution: it seems to me they wouldn’t be able to get two sentences out without sparking offense.

But the ideologue, whether left or right, will disregard what is happening before their eyes, they will filter out all lessons of history that are inconvenient to their visions, they will see all art as propaganda (except that which they endorse). I’ll tell you straight—if people like those posters on ICH ever got hold of the reins of power, we would be looking at a world very like 1984. I may be wrong, because like all mortals I live in a state of existential bafflement, but such types seem to look at society as if from far above, like Harry in The Third Man.

Well, enough of that. There was a lot in that Postcard and the responses to it that I’m still trying to figure out. In your Postcard, you write about not wanting to immediately assume that someone snubbing you is racist. I think that's necessary, not just to keep yourself somewhat sane but also to keep from falling into a victim mentality, which really smashes the spirit. It reminds me of that wonderful essay by James Baldwin, "Notes of a Native Son," where he nearly drives himself to murder, and being murdered, by refusing to back down and accept his N status.

And it reminded me of some other things, like the way identity politic wonks have so championed their causes that it has become fashionable to consider oneself a victim—like the women I wrote about last time. It also reminded me of an article on truthout which I responded to with another anecdote, this one about a sociopathic black woman who played political correctness to try to get an A, along the way unhinging a class, screwing over her black "sisters," and trying to get me fired, as an example of how easily people can play victim to force administrations' hands.

Somebody responded that "And the plural of anecdote is not data," and when somebody suggested he was being stupid he called my post "logorrhea masquerading as an anecdote and presented as evidence." There, that's what the ideologues say to anything that happens in life that interferes with their beliefs.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015



Friendly Lounge. Man has bought horse for his wife.




Friendly Lounge. From Lancaster, 26-year-old Max Stewart has lived in Southwest Virginia before coming to Philly. A cook for 4 years, he's now employed at Chris' Jazz Cafe. He has published science fiction in Trim and Real Fake Stories and, for the last ten years, has been working on a novel.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Postcard from the End of America: Bridesburg, Philadelphia

As published at CounterCurrents, Information Clearing House and Intrepid Report, 2/8/15:

Wait till you hear this one. So an Italian, a Pole and an Irish woman were sitting in a bar when a Vietnamese walked in.

“There he is!” the bartender, also Irish, yelled.

Ignoring the strange greeting, the Vietnamese guy sat down two stools from the cheerful Italian, “We knew he’d come!”

Grinning somewhat uneasily, the Vietnamese merely said, “Uh, I’d like a pint of Rolling Rock.”

Acting surprised, the bartender blurted, “He’d like a beer too!”

With the entire bar looking at him, the Vietnamese finally asked, “Who did you think I was?”

“The guy who sells DVDs,” the Irish woman jumped in. “We’ve been sitting here talking about ‘American Sniper,’ you know, the new movie, so when we saw you walk in with that bag, we thought you had DVDs to sell.”

“No, no.”

All over Philadelphia, there are itinerant peddlers who enter bars to sell pirated movies. In Frankford, one neighborhood over, I’d seen a Chinese woman do this. That day, I was in Bridesburg for the first time. Triangular, it’s hemmed in by a river, a creek and a freeway, so Bridesburg’s rather cut off from the rest of the city. You can easily live in Philadelphia for decades without ever straying into this poor yet very neatly kept, graffiti-free and nearly all-white neighborhood. Neither the elevated train nor the subway stops there.

From afar, a metropolis is always reduced to its iconic skyline downtown, but close-up, every city is a city of neighborhoods. There is nothing distinctive about this claim. If Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, so is Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and even Atlanta. A city dweller, then, is one who merely inhabits a village or town within a city. It is on this much more intimate scale that humans can truly feel a sense of belonging, if at all.

In Bridesburg, all the houses have two stories and few are detached. Most have no lawns, only a concrete porch, if that. Aluminum awnings shade doorways and windows. Flags droop here and there, including from utility poles. On Richmond Street is the second Veterans of Foreign War post in the entire country. Here, the bars are called What’s Its Name, Post Office, Ozzie’s, O’Rourke’s, Bridesburg Pub and Blue Moon, which was the one I stumbled into, and weaved out of. It doesn’t even have a sign. Bridesburg’s motto, “A Family First Community.” On a door, “FREE SNOW. HELP YOURSELF.” The Real Life CafĂ© has gone out of business.

The bartender turned out to be 42-year-old Matt, “I hadn’t seen a movie in a theater in 15 years, but I couldn’t wait to see this one. I was outside at 8:30AM on the first day!”

“What time was the show?”


“So how was it?”


Chris Hedges writes of this record-breaking box office hit by Clint Eastwood, “‘American Sniper’ lionizes the most despicable aspects of U.S. society—the gun culture, the blind adoration of the military, the belief that we have an innate right as a ‘Christian’ nation to exterminate the ‘lesser breeds’ of the earth, a grotesque hypermasculinity that banishes compassion and pity, a denial of inconvenient facts and historical truth, and a belittling of critical thinking and artistic expression.” Ah, if only Hedges could be at the Blue Moon to watch this American classic with the locals! I’ll bring the DVD.

One of the oldest white settlements in the Philadelphia area, this bend in the river was populated by Swedes, Germans then Poles, who came in the early 20th century to work in the tannery. It was shit work, literally, for dog shit was used to cure hides. Rohm and Hass and AlliedSignal, two chemical companies, then moved in to add cancers and birth defects to the stomach turning aroma. In fact, for several years Bridesburg was ranked as the most toxic zip code in all of Pennsylvania. Locals could also make bullets or forge steel for a living. Mike, a 57-year-old Pole, recounted the good old days, “With the Arsenal, Rohm and Hass and the Foundry, you didn’t have to leave the neighborhood to work. You could walk to work!”

With all of its factories gone, the people of Bridesburg now toss pizza dough, sling beer, become cops or join the military. Law and order is big here.
At the Recreational Center, there’s a large mural of Gary Skerski, a 16-year police veteran who was shot and killed at age 46 by a robber.

Not feeling adequately safe with the regular police and Neighborhood Watch, Bridesburg even hired a private security firm, with each house chipping in $20 per year. These keystone cops didn’t even last a month, however. Bridesburg’s siege mentality is understandable if you consider that it’s squeezed by two high crime neighborhoods, Frankford and Port Richmond, with Kensington, Philly’s heroin bazaar, just two miles away.

Mike, “We’re friendly to everybody, as long as you’re a low life!”

“But you have to be the right kind of low life!” I suggested.

“Yeah, if you take care of your kids and your house and don’t cause trouble, you’re welcome. Basically, we don’t like niggas,” and he did say “a” and not “er,” a distinction Raychel Jeantel once took pain to explain to Piers Morgan.

It’s clearly no endearment for Mike, however, “In Germantown and Upper Darby, you have decent black people. Notice I’m not calling them no niggas. It’s the niggas we don’t like, and anybody can be a nigga. You can have black niggas, white niggas, chink niggas and pollock niggas. It’s the niggas we don’t like. Before we had Section 8 Housing in Bridesburg, kids could leave their bikes out, but as soon as the niggas moved in, they all got stolen!”

After a black woman moved into a Bridesburg apartment in 1995, someone broke her windows. Whites taunted her on the streets with racial slurs and her teenaged sister was even roughed up by a white. Though she appealed to the cops for help, for law and order, her sister’s assailant was never found. As for the slurs and hostile looks, there was nothing they could do, frankly, for social attitudes cannot be regulated. A mugger or rapist can be arrested, indicted and found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but not someone who mutters a slur or spits on the ground as he walks by you. After six months of Bridesburg hell, the woman moved out.

In the early 90’s, I’d occasionally stop by this breakfast joint because it had great scrapple, but the white waitress always gave me the coldest service, tight lipped and brusque. The first time this happened, I simply thought, maybe I’m catching this woman on her worst day, for as a minority, you can’t assume racism each time or you will lose your mind. Finally, I stopped going to that stupid place, though, twenty plus years later, I still remember exactly where it is, for a person is wired to register, very deeply, all acts of irrational hostility against him. Self preservation demands this. Believe me, I’ve experienced much, much worse. I’m bringing this up merely to show that it doesn’t take a whole lot to convey to someone that he’s not welcome.

To bypass racial aggravation, many people simply retreat into their own ethnic orbit whenever possible, with whites hanging with whites, blacks with blacks and Asians with Asians, etc. Beyond these divisions, there’s also an infinity of sub groupings, moreover, because many people can only love themselves, that’s all. Any sort of intolerance, then, is just an expression of narcissism.

In 1996, another black woman, 32-year-old Bridget Ward, rented a rowhouse in Bridesburg for $650. On her first morning there, the registered nurse woke up to find “nigger” spray painted on her door. Ketchup and some brown liquid, resembling blood, were also splattered onto her front and back walls. After news got out, some white residents did send her welcome cards and Easter candies, but a letter also arrived that threatened to kill her two daughters, aged 3 and 9. That was the last straw. Needing to spare her kids from such a miasma of hatred, Ward moved out after only five weeks, “I don’t want them to grow up mean and hateful. I don’t want them to feel that it has to be like this. I don’t want them to hate anyone.”

News reports from that time mention a Bridesburg man who unfurled a confederate flag at his house to greet Ward’s arrival, and snooping around the neighborhood 18 years later, I discovered this flag was still there. Although the Southern banner can’t be reduced to a single idea, here it’s clearly meant as an anti-black talisman. Ignoring the bad publicity, this man and others like him are determined to keep Bridesburg as white as possible, and though a handful of blacks have managed to move in eventually, it’s still the whitest working class neighborhood in the entire region.

Seen as a village, Bridesburg harks back to a time when nearly everyone within the community was of the same race, if not related by blood, and as a foundation and model for what a community is, the village was always exclusive. Normally, you weren’t allowed to move in, but even when you could, it took forever for your surly neighbors to warm up to your annoyingly alien presence. In a traditional Vietnamese village, an outside family had to live there for three generations before the locals granted it partial citizenship. In southern Europe, innumerable villages and towns were built like fortresses on top of hills to defend themselves against people from nearby settlements. Assisi and Perugia, for example, attacked each other constantly. It was like Bloods vs. Crips, only more vicious.

One village vs. another, town vs. town, these local allegiances and conflicts find modern expression in organized sports. At the high school level, the athletes are really local, but it is much less so with college teams and not at all with the professional squads that somehow provide civic pride and sense of community to the socially adrift city dwellers. The growth of professional sports coincided with rapid urbanization worldwide. Uprooted from villages and towns, those who have lost their organic and enduring ties to other people and this very earth must find consolation in purchasing over-priced cap, jersey, pennant, pajamas and blanket of the right colors and logo. On selected days, they can scream, curse or even weep, in joy or despair, at a television. Whereas the professional athletes are merely grafted onto a city, its gang members are truly grass roots, however, for they arise from its various communities.

When civilization declines, warbands proliferate as economic and security solutions. They also appear wherever central authority is weak or lacks legitimacy. In slums across America, warbands already operate, though we merely call them gangs. As the economy sinks, our social fabric will turn to shreds and crimes will explode because hungry, desperate and angry people won’t equivocate too much before they blow your brains out, especially if you’re alien to them, or seen as the enemy, for whatever reason. Even with foodstamps, violent muggings are daily occurrences in each American city, so imagine what will happen when our bankrupt government can no longer maintain its already inadequate Access Card soup kitchen?

War breaks out when there’s scarcity, and this is true not just between rival nations but gangs or warbands in your city, and remember, nearly all gangs are racially or ethnically homogeneous. There are no pan-Asian gangs but Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian or Hmong ones, and even when people speak the same language, the gangs are either Mexican, El Salvadorian or Columbian, etc. Yes, the Latin Kings includes a number of Hispanic groups, but it’s essentially Puerto Rican or Mexican, depending on the factions. As for whites and Jews, they share leadership in a most sadistic gang called the United States of America. Their foot soldiers are of every color, however, so that’s a heart warming triumph of integration and multiculturalism. Absolutely anyone can die for them, even you. Their current spokesman is also half black. If you think about it, the job of White House Press Secretary is totally redundant, since our so-called President is already a White House Press Secretary.

When all is well, racial differences can be somewhat ignored, though many people struggle to do just that, but with tension or disagreement, much less life-and-death competition, the tribal angle comes out. Notice how often insults are prefixed by a racial or ethnic signifier. It’s not enough to call someone a “piece of shit,” you must brand him a Polish, Italian, Jewish, black or Korean piece of shit. Responding to one of my articles, a commenter writes, “Long Duck Dong or whatever his name is, can go suck a bag of hot dicks.” The truth is, all differences are registered, stored away and used as bullets if needed, for we define ourselves oppositionally.

During the Occupy protests, the “99%” became a rallying cry for the supposedly unified masses, but there is no such 99%, not when Americans are rabidly divided between North and South, urban and rural, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, etc. As Paul Craig Roberts points out, “The great mass of people cannot evaluate what is said or written without first classifying it into a prevailing ideological box. If what is said fits their box, it is correct. If not, it is wrong.”

Though many Americans fancy themselves independent thinkers, most are merely slavish adherents of some cartoon version of a political philosophy they haven’t bothered to research, for why read history when a slogan or two is good enough? Recently, when I voiced my objection to “Communism, of the dictatorship of the proletariat variety,” a reader responded, “Ah maybe Linh Dinh is revealing some of his middle class baggage here […] Why did u leave Vietnam Linh? Did you’re family not want to pull its weight and help with the revolution?” Ignoring my objection to “dictatorship,” this person is framing me as somehow a bourgeoisie who’s antagonistic to the proletariat! Judging from his millennial orthography, my accuser has many decades ahead of him, so perhaps he can take a few days to slowly read 1984. Studying Orwell’s frightful expose of any totalitarian system, whether left or right, perhaps he can reflect on how often a revolution betrays its most selfless, ardent or idealistic supporters, not to mention the lowly proles. Though fiction, the ruthless strategies depicted have been repeatedly confirmed by history, and since many millions have suffered, one shouldn’t so blithely endorse what killed or shackled them.

In many parts of the world, people still have fresh memories of traumatic societal upheavals, but Americans have never been subjected to nonstop terror from an alien control apparatus, sent to hard labor or reeducation camps, or made so desperate, they head for the open sea in flimsy crafts, knowing they might drown, starve to death or be raped or killed by pirates. Having no experience of totalitarianism, not quite yet, Americans can glibly wear it as a conceit. Also, there is a Western tradition of militant evangelism that stems from an arrogant conviction that whatever you supremely believe in, or just kinda like, sort of, must be the guiding light for the rest of the world, so if it’s not Communism, then it’s Catholicism, Capitalism, Neo-Liberalism and so on, all Western belief systems. If a nominally Communist country like China has been able to revive itself, it’s due to its people’ deeply ingrained qualities of tremendous industry, single mindedness, stoicism, eagerness to learn and shrewdness in business. From Singapore to San Francisco, Chinese everywhere have these traits.

Any global solution requires global policing and enforcement, so enough, already, with universal diktats, for in their names, villages everywhere have been devastated. To globalize you, they’ll make you unrecognizable to yourself if not turn you into a slave. It’s fine if you disagree, for that only proves that humans tend to differ, just as groups of people will always remain distinctive. Born different, we also live differently.

In The Chronicles of Bustos Domecq, co-authored by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy-Casares, there’s an account of the “Brotherhood Movements.” Mankind, it is explained, is made up of an infinity of secret brotherhoods, and here I quote from Norman Thomas di Giovanni’s translation, “Some of these societies are more enduring than others--for example, the society of individuals sporting Catalan surnames, or surnames that begin with the letter G. Others, inversely, quickly fade--the society of those who, at this very moment, in Brazil or Africa, are inhaling the odor of jasmine or, more culture-minded and studious, reading a bus ticket.” These brotherhoods are constantly in flux, since “the most trifling act--striking a match or blowing it out--expels us from one group and lodges us in another.” With so many commingling cliques, conflicts are inevitable, thus “the person wielding a spoon is the adversary of he who brandishes a fork, but very soon both are at one over the use of the napkin, only to split again over their Postum or Sanka.” Just as in real life, small differences can turn deadly, “the man getting off a train will pull a switchblade on the man who boards; the incognizant buyer of gumdrops will try to strangle the master hand who dispenses them.”

Telescoping both distance and time, oil has shrunk the world and created a crude illusion of a global hamlet. As the age of petroleum winds down, however, the local will make a fierce come back, and it may take a warband just to reach the next village.

Since we’re not yet there, I had managed to breach, all by my lonesome self, the considerable defense of Bridesburg, and sitting in Blue Moon, I could hear Matt recount his recent troubles, “After I lost 110 lbs, my wife became paranoid. She thought I was having an affair! She called up Verizon for my phone record and picked fights with me all the time. We’re getting a divorce.”

Matt married at 18 and, after graduating from Drexel with a business degree, managed to find a job with a medical supplies company. He bought a spacious home in suburban Montgomery County, had three daughters and everything was fine until he decided to shed a few stones. As his marriage imploded, Matt also lost his $125,000 a year job through downsizing, so now the local boy is back in the hood to tend bar six nights a week at Blue Moon and Ozzie’s.

“I remember exactly the day of our last fight, because the Bears were playing on Thursday Night Football. As I was just getting ready to watch the game, the bitch gave me shit again, and I was like, ‘Can’t I just watch the damn game?!’ Since she wouldn’t stop, I went to the bar to watch it with my buddies. When I came home around 2:30, she was already asleep, so I got into bed, thinking everything was OK, but as soon as my wife got up in the morning, she started again, and out of the blue, she called 911 and said I had a gun to her head!”

“She could have gotten you killed!”

“She sure could have. I walked outside in my swimming trunks, because that’s how I sleep, and when all the cop cars came, sirens blaring, I just stood in my driveway and raised my hands. There were about six cops pointing guns at me!”

“Why was your wife so paranoid? Did you ever cheat on her?”


“Seriously?” I grinned.


“Not once?”

“Never!” Then, “Since we separated, I’ve had about fifty women, though, and I have a girlfriend now.”

Let’s see, the Bears played the Giants on Thursday, October 10th, 2013, and I talked to Matt on January 28th, 2015, so what’s that, a woman every five seconds? In any case, with his American dream blown to smithereens, Matt had to crawl back to his native village because that’s his most enduring support system. It’s archetypical, this trajectory. Perched to my left, 56-year-old Tommy, the Italian guy, had heard all this before, so paid no attention. Deciding he wanted no more Coors Lite, Tommy roared, “I’m going to go home now and beat up my wife!”

“No, you’re not!” The Irish woman protested.

“Yes, I am. I’ve had enough!”

Talking to Matt, I found out we actually had one mutual acquaintance. Also a bartender, Melissa works in Kensington five days a week, though business can be so dead, she often has to close early. Thirty-years-old, she’s divorced, lives with her mom and has 12-year-old twin sons. Melissa’s sister is an officer in the Marines, and both of her kids plan on joining the military. Last Christmas, Melissa spent $700 on presents for Mike and Doug, which I thought astronomical, but she scowled, “No, it’s not! I love my kids!” Melissa’s own father, a Japanese junkie, was never around when she grew up. Her mom’s Irish. Soon after Melissa turned 21, her dad called to beg for money. She's not pissed off at him. “I’ve gotten over it. It's not worth it.” To prove that she was really half Japanese, Melissa pulled up a photo of herself at seven-years-old wearing a kimono. In Bridesburg, people go into a bar bathroom to do coke, she said, whereas in Kensington, they shoot up, so that’s another point in Bridesburg’s favor. To protect herself, Melissa carries a large folding knife, keeps a baseball bat behind the bar and, thanks to frequent trips to the gun range when she was dating a cop, can surely zap anything moving from half a block away. Seeing many photos of her kids always looking so happy and calm, I said to Melissa, “You must be a great mom.”

In every family, there are sweet, loving individuals as well as nosy, domineering, judgmental or backstabbing assholes, and so it is with each village or neighborhood, though in an urban setting, you can more easily avoid just about any meaningful human contact even as you’re swarmed by bodies and voices. Though Americans evoke community fairly often, their actions betray them. Regularly moving away and breaking up, many prefer, clearly, to be left alone. Politically, this means that there’s not even a unified 1% in opposition to the status quo, much less 99%. (During our last Presidential Election, the Green Party got 0.36% of the votes, and the Libertarian 0.99%.) Alone we eat, sleep and have sex, and alone we will confront the machine. Some of us, though, will save ourselves by organizing or joining a warband. We few, we dismal few, we band of brothers!




I'm sure he means "evoked" or, better yet, plain old "cited," but then again, many people can no longer differentiate between "your" and "you're," "its" and "it's", "there" and "their." This is no byline writer's gaff, moreover, since "invoking" is also misued twice in the body of the article. What's even more remarkable, well over a hundred commenters, so far, noticed nothing wrong.



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.