Postcards from the End of [the] America[n Empire]

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Postcard from the End of America: Pennsport

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Drive-in theaters are practically extinct, diners are dying, but go-go bars are still common in working class neighborhoods across America. It’s wholesome afterwork entertainment for the sweating man.

When I was a housepainter over twenty years ago, our crew would hit The Office in Center City or Penn’s Port Pub, on Christopher Columbus Boulevard. After a long, hot day of scraping paint or standing on a 40-foot ladder, it was somewhat soothing to see lovelies pole dancing.

Yesterday, I went with Felix Giordano to Penn’s Port Pub to rekindle some old memories and, well, long lost sensations. “This may bring a dead man to life,” Felix joked before we walked in. He’s 71, and I just turned 54.

Yes, the doors to a movie theater also separate real life from fantasy, but entering a go-go bar, you’re really descending into your simmering, frustrated id. Of course, it’s bizarre to stare so hard at someone’s orifices, with all your clothes on, in public. Being in a go-go bar is akin to witnessing a public execution.

In the early afternoon, there were only six aging, contemplative gents in there. We chose a reasonable vantage point and ordered two Yuenglings.

Within a hundred yards, there were also Club Risqué and Show & Tel, but they’re gentlemen’s clubs, and Felix and I just don’t patronize such snobbish and exorbitant establishments. Once, a Club Risqué dancer did ask Felix for directions outside Wal-Mart, “She was stunning. I couldn’t believe such a beautiful woman would ask me for directions!”

All the Christopher Columbus Boulevard big box stores, Wal-Mart, Target, Ikea, Staples, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Best Buy, have destroyed most Pennsport mom and pops, but what are you going to do? Small businesses gone, the city tried to build casinos in Pennsport, but locals blocked the plan.

There are often beggars standing in the median on Christopher Columbus. Sometimes, you’ll even see a homeless person sleep within sight of the Penn’s Port Pub.

The SS United States is docked in Pennsport. Since its last vogage in 1969, all schemes to convert it to a casino, hotel, cruise ship, troop transporter or naval hospital have failed. The largest ocean liner to ever been built in the US, it molders and rusts on the Delaware River.

At Penn’s Port Pub, they show all and don’t bother with pasties, and it’s generally assumed that’s because it’s a cops’ go-go bar. Pennsport is still heavily Irish.

The Mummers are big here. They rehearse all year long for New Year’s Day, when they can finally wear sequins, colored feathers and/or some outrageous, custom-made dress. Strutting down Broad Street, they strum a banjo, blow on a saxophone or twirl a gay umbrella.

As a blonde lady jiggled, writhed, hung upside down or spread, a man stared at his smart phone. There were two televisions on, but with the sound off. On a cooking show, seafood was being seasoned. Felix recognized an older black man at the end of the bar as the cook, “He’s good. They have good food here.”

Trawling for tips, the ladies will walk on the bar, so be prepared for one to wiggle her assets over your plate of chicken wings.

As dark-haired Damiana squatted in front of my placid, resigned face, I confided, “Me and this guy haven’t been here in twenty years. I don’t think you were working then.”

“No, I wasn’t,” she giggled.

“Were you even born then?” I complimented her.

The man next to us was 50 and balding, “I have hair all over me, on my back, growing out of my ass and my balls. I’m Italian, you know. Maybe if I walked upside down, hair would grow from my head again.”

When Damiana came on, her nether shave reminded baldy of the most evil man, supposedly, who ever lived, “Do you know that Hitler had a secret train? It was used to transport gold, inside a tunnel!”

The blonde didn’t look older than 25, but she admitted to being 40, “I’ve only been doing this for five years. I’m going to quit next year.”

“You should look into art modeling,” Felix advised. “They don’t make bad money.”

“Hey, that’s an idea! I don’t have any problems taking my clothes off!”

“You can model for individual artists too, not just art schools,” I chimed in.

Leaving, we went to 2nd Street and had a couple beers at Shamrock. The dark dive bar had small American flags all over. A sign listed champions of a basketball league, with “Drop the Bomb” the winners for 1991. Going to the bathroom, I passed an image of a serious John Wayne in “Green Berets,” “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”

On a bulletin board were death notices, dart scorecards and thank you notes for benefits staged. One example:

Words could never express how thankful I am to all of you for the beautiful benefit that you had for me and my family.

I am so grateful for all the good friends and family for all your love and support through out my journey.

I wish there were a more meaningful word then thank you. It dosen’t seem to be enough.

Again thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I truly appreciate it.

Love Paul, Renee, Justin and Jordan

For many uninsured, working poor, a medical emergency will send them to the local bar for assistance, for that’s their social hub. I’ve seen benefit announcements at many dives across America.

My friend, Ian Keenan, shares:

My grandpop spent much of his adult life in North Philly bars and would also say ‘never trust a man who doesn’t drink.’ He would seat the family at church on Sunday and then sneak out to hit the bar. He was a sort of ghost that imprinted my childhood even though he died before I was born and I didn’t form the view, especially after I created a suburban drinking club at 15 that met multiple times a week, that I could keep a secret from someone, repress a long held thought, or deceive someone.

Pubs in the British Isles (especially Ireland) are law courts, hiring halls, and everything else… you have to settle up with people and if you jerk someone over you’re going to see them again and again.

As a social glue and balm, then, the neighborhood pub was even more important than the church. Thanks to the zombifying television and internet, the pub has lost much of its grip on our hearts, minds and livers, however, for we can just ogle sports and nudes at home. Modern urban planning has also done its job. In his 1937 Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell explains:

Many a small shopkeeper is utterly ruined by some rehousing scheme which takes no notice of his existence. A whole section of the town is condemned en bloc; presently the houses are pulled down and the people are transferred to some housing estate miles away [...] As for pubs, they are banished from the housing estates almost completely, and the few that remain are dismal sham-Tudor places fitted out by the big brewery companies and very expensive. For a middle-class population this would be a nuisance—it might mean walking a mile to get a glass of beer; for a working-class population, which uses the pub as a kind of club, it is a serious blow at communal life.

This day, the conversational topics at Shamrock never got more serious than the Eagles’ excellent play, the pros and cons of former coach Andy Reid and, strangely enough, the size of Horace Grant’s hands. Though Felix and I were clearly outsiders, we were warmly welcomed into the jive and bantering, for that’s how old school Philly rolls.

Recounting how we had just visited Penn’s Port Pub, Felix opined between chugs of Guinness, “God has fucked up everything, but he got the woman’s body right. It’s a work of art.”

No one could disagree.





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Friday, November 17, 2017

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Shamrock Pub--Pennsport 5











Shamrock Pub--Pennsport 5 (detail)











Shamrock Pub--Pennsport 5 (detail 2)








[Shamrock Pub]



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Shamrock Pub--Pennsport 4








[Shamrock Pub]



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Shamrock Pub--Pennsport 3








[Shamrock Pub]



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Shamrock Pub--Pennsport 2








[Shamrock Pub]



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Shamrock Pub--Pennsport








[Shamrock Pub]



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Thanks for a $20 contribution from a long-time supporter in Lucerne, CA!




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Saturday, November 11, 2017

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NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION and Uncle Sam--Bridesburg










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Thursday, November 9, 2017

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Chuck Searcy and I just happened to be in Nguyen Qui Duc's bar when he was filmed by CNN.



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Naked male doll and Mickey Mouse--Center City










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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Back to the USA

As published at OpEd News, Smirking Chimp, Unz Review, Intrepid Report and TruthSeeker, 11/4/17:






To go home, I had to take a taxi to Saigon’s airport, fly to Hanoi, then on to Hong Kong, where during a 5 ½ hour layover I’d take a train to Central to hang out a bit, then back to the airport to fly to JFK, then hop on two trains just to get to Manhattan, then two more to reach Philly’s 30th Street Station, from where I could, finally, take two subways to my South Philadelphia neighborhood. With so many legs to a trip, a thousand things could go wrong.

Riding through Saigon at 3:30AM, I noticed a bunch of restaurants were already open, with people sitting at sidewalk tables, eating noodles or drinking coffee. Tired, I said nothing to the driver. No jokes about a national homosexual policy, strictly enforced for half a century, to reverse the runaway population growth.

Before taking off from Saigon, the Vietnam Airlines stewardess warned us that to open any aircraft door during flight would result in a $880 fine.

A sign at Hanoi’s airport, “NO MOTORBIKES, BICYCLES OR PRIMITIVE MEANS.” During a month of hectic travel through urban and rural Vietnam, I saw just one ox-drawn cart and maybe a dozen pedicabs. SUV sales are surging, however, and there’s also a growing market for Harley Davidsons. They cost $16,000 to $52,000, twice as in the US. In Phan Thiet, I spotted a US Army jeep, meticulously restored, parked outside the ultra-trendy Ocean Coffee.

The express train from the airport to Central Hong Kong runs every 10 minutes from 5:54AM to 12:48AM, and takes but 24 minutes to cover 23 miles. Nearly every world-class city has a direct train to connect its international airport to downtown, but Los Angeles, New York and Washington DC simply don’t, and Americans just don’t give a flying, exploding cockpit! We’re number one!

Since the Washington Metro opened in 1976, politicians have talked about extending it to Dulles. Forty-one years later, it has crept within seven miles of the badly designed, unfriendly and decrepit airport, opened in 1962. It may even get there before the much welcome controlled demolition. In 2014, news.com.au asked of Dulles, “Is this the world’s worst airport?”

Year after year, East Asian top airports rank as the planet’s best, with Seoul’s, Singapore’s, Tokyo’s and Hong Kong’s nearly always in the top five. In Europe, London’s, Amsterdam’s, Frankfurt’s and Zurich’s are also first-rate.

With twice the population density of Saigon’s, Hong Kong’s streets are nowhere nearly as clogged, thanks to its excellent subway system and a vast fleet of private buses. Like Singapore, Hong Kong is also a hundred times cleaner and more orderly than my native city. Most impressively, Hong Kong’s murder rate per 100,000 people was only 0.4 for 2016. With 7.347 million people, it had 28 murders. By contrast, Philadelphia tallied 278 homicides for a population of 1.568 million.

Year after year, American blacks commit murders at roughly seven times the rate of whites, a fact that’s blamed by many on socioeconomic factors, historical resentment and/or ongoing racism, while others attribute it to a low IQ, innate lack of impulse control and/or propensity for violence. A century from now, will blacks still be an underclass in any multicultural societies still existing? How about in five hundred years?

Without a significant black population, East Asian societies don’t have to deal with this debate or problem. I’ve wandered unfamiliar Saigon, Hanoi and Singapore streets in the middle of the night without any fear of being shot or stabbed, and I’ve done the same in many European cities, including Istanbul and war-time Kiev.

In recent years, Africans have started to emigrate to Vietnam, and in Saigon’s Gò Vấp District and on Phạm Ngũ Lão Street, there are even black male prostitutes, a phenomenon that’s particularly pleasing to certain middle-aged Vietnamese women. The Africans’ prices are high for local standards, around $25 for a quickie, $50 for an overnight. A recent police raid brought in 50 Africans for questioning.

Wandering around Hong Kong’s Central, I spotted a graffiti, “DESTROY RACISM.” Nearby, there’s a pretty, young, blonde model on an ad for a high-end real estate firm, Man Hing Hong. A few steps away was another blonde, this one merely a teenager, on an ad for an ordinary hair salon, mina dev’ wil. Noticing racial differences means having racial preferences. We will never be color-blind.

As an adult, I’ve had two 2-year stints away from the US. Living in Saigon from 1999-2001, I missed Mexican food, Seahawks games on TV and some jazz, so I asked a friend, traveling to Saigon with the Philadelphia Orchestra, to bring me Django Reinhardt, and Lester Young accompanying Billie Holliday. Returning to the San Francisco Bay Area, I asked my brother to drive me straight to a Mexican joint. Now, there are good Mexican restaurants in Vietnam, and you can listen to anything on YouTube.

Living in Italy from 2002-2004, I missed decent fried chicken, tolerable Chinese food, bullshitting in bars and watching the Seahawks on TV. The Italian ways were so wonderful, the people so hospitable and sweet, I had several nightmares in which I suddenly found myself back in Philly. Opening my eyes, I discovered, with tremendous relief, that I was still in Italy.

Flying into Dulles, I noticed how wide the freeway medians were. So much space wasted, I thought. The currency exchange girl gave me several hundred dollars too much. Catching her mistake, I returned the cash. “Whoa!” She laughed.

During my month in Vietnam, I checked Seahawks games in progress, answered a few emails from Philly buddies and knew I would be back to eating canned chili, baked beans and clam chowder soon enough.

The flight from Hong Kong to JFK took 15 hours 45 minutes. Most of the passengers were Chinese-Americans, a fact I discovered when all these Cantonese speaking folks took out their blue passports at immigration. On the plane, the stewardess kept speaking Cantonese to me, even though I had answered her in English the last time around. Vietnam’s eternal fear is to be blended into China. Two seats away from me was a young man in a yarmulke. Since he had his earphones on during each waking moment, we never chattered.

Recently in Spain, I met a Norwegian who swore he would never return to the US, “The immigration at JFK was so long, and the agents so unfriendly! After such a long flight, we had to stand in line forever, and there were children and old people. We were all trapped!”

Without a direct train to Manhattan, I took the AirTrain to Howard Beach, then waited at least 20 minutes in the cold for the sluggish A Train. Descending the stairs, I passed a portly black man in a burgundy suit. Staring hard at me, he made a sibilant fart with his mouth. “How are you doing, man?” I answered.

“Get on the A Train,” Ella sang. “Soon, you’ll be on Sugar Hill in Harlem!” Yeah, right. All around me were exhausted passengers with their luggage. After flying for countless eons from Dar es Salaam, Ulaanbaatar or wherever, they stood, shivering.

Unique in the world, the entire New York subway system runs 24/7 all year long, so at night, its stations and trains shelter hundreds of homeless. Well bundled and surrounded by bags, they slump on seats. The average rent for a New York one-bedroom is $2,895. If you think that’s astronomical, it’s $3,500 for San Francisco, thanks to a massive influx of Chinese money. Keep those borders open! No human being is illegal!

Since 9/11, American airports, train stations, bus terminals, buses and subway cars have been plastered with signs advising a cowed populace to report on their fellow citizens. In Cambridge, MA, I saw a 10-foot-tall backpack with this tag, “IT’S NEVER THIS OBVIOUS. Suspicious, unattended items don’t always stand out like this.” A new sign in NYC shows a well-armed, battle ready cop next to an ordinary schmuck, “Officer Greg Elkin is well equipped to keep our region safe. And so is Jason.” Arrows point to Jason’s eyes, ears and cell phone. “Your eyes and ears are some of our most important safety tools. So if you see, hear, or notice something suspicious, speak up.”

It was past 1AM when I finally arrived at Penn Station. Inside were several homeless people who slept while standing up. Had they sat or lay down, they would have been kicked out. I shoved $20 into a ticket machine, but nothing happened, and there was no one at the information desk to complain to. Like a Diebold voting machine, it did what it wanted and could not be held accountable. I had no choice but to try again with plastic and, miracle of miracles, it granted me a passage home.

An electronic ad showed a middle-aged woman sitting on stage, “New 3D holographic technology preserves Holocaust survivor stories in Illinois museum.” Then appeared a South Asian man at a podium, “Google CEO Sundar Pichai makes fixing hamburger emoji to have cheese on top a ‘priority.’” Just about everything an American hears, sees or notices is bullshit or propaganda.

With time to kill, I wandered outside to find a three-story-tall electronic ad for Justice League, a movie featuring a team of American super heroes, “NO ONE CAN SAVE THE WORLD ALONE.” Across the street was a young woman sleeping inside a Bank of America ATM terminal. Seeing several food trucks selling Middle Eastern food, I bought a plate of rice with lamb for only $7. Thank God for Muslims, I thought as I took my food inside to chow down.

Passing a convenience store run by Indians, I noticed the New York Times had a new, unintentionally ironic slogan, “Truth. It’s more important now than ever.” Hellish Rihanna was on the cover of Elle. In Vietnam, I had shown her extremely sadistic “Bitch Better Have My Money” video to a friend. Aghast, he asked, “Why do Americans put up with this?!”

The train ride from Trenton to Philly was so bumpy, I could have sworn I was on an ox cart, but as the familiar skyline came into view in the pale, morning sunlight, I happily reflected that I was only hours away from my Friendly Lounge booze mates. I was home.






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Holocaust survivor stories--Manhattan








[Penn Station]



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Google CEO--Manhattan








[Penn Station]



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Halloween donuts--Manhattan








Spooky Sprinkles, Spider, Ghoulish Glazed, Boston Scream, Scary Strawberry, Wicked Chocolate and Purple Potion.



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Truth. It's more important now than ever--Manhattan











Truth. It's more important now than ever--Manhattan (detail)











Truth. It's more important now than ever--Manhattan (detail 2)








[Penn Station]



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Woman slumped on wheelchair in Penn Station--Manhattan








[Penn Station]



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Followers

About Me

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