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Friday, May 30, 2014



As I was photographing the "NO WIFE BEATERS HOODS" sign, Tina walked into the frame, so I asked her, "Is this a cool place to drink?" She just laughed. I walked in.

She had been drinking since 9AM, when the bar opened. Just after 4PM, the bartender stopped serving her, so Tina got pissed off, screamed at the bartender, then knocked a full pitcher of beer off the bar.

No one I talked to at My Place Tavern liked Tina very much, and it doesn't look like she will ever be allowed back in. She will have to do her boozing at Tellup's Tavern, four blocks away.

The bartender, Paula, said that Tina had "started to act sporadic." She then complained of losing her cell phone even as she was holding it. When Paula pointed this out, Tina said she had two cell phones. "She's lucky that pitcher didn't hit me, because if it did, I would have jumped over the bar and whooped her ass!"

The woman to my right scratched five or six lottery tickets in a row. People called her "Bunny," so I asked, "Were you a Playboy Bunny?"

This made Bunny laugh so hard. She shouted at Paula, "This man asked if I had been a Playboy Bunny!"

56-years-old, Bunny was a P.E. teacher for 27 years. During that time, she coached girls in ten different sports, from swimming to softball to lacrosse. When her mom and sister got sick at the same time, however, she had to quit her job to take care of them. Later, she also took care of an aging aunt, but by this time, she had found work at Aramark, the food service company. She was wearing her Aramark uniform in the bar. At work, she would advise her younger coworkers to take night classes to improve their stations in life, "I'd tell them, 'This is a good job, but it shouldn't be your career. Don't make food service your career.' When one of the young girls managed to buy a house, I said to her, 'You should have everyone over for a housewarming party.' I wanted the other girls to see what they could do if they knew how to save and plan ahead. This girl was only 27 and she already had a house." Bunny's 19-year-old son has just finished his freshman year at Delaware State, and her 18-year-old daughter will enter college next year.

Paula's sister, Tyrene, came in. She sat two stools away from me. She asked Paula, "Who is the sexy new man?" She was actually talking about me.

Tyrene said she was half black and half Puerto Rican, so she must not have the same father as Paula. Ty is a social worker. Though I had already told her I was Vietnamese, Ty made some strange noise at me, then asked, "What did I just say?"

"I have no idea."

She made the strange noise again, but even more emphatically this time.

"I still have no idea, Ty."

"I just said 'Fuck me' in Japanese."


Everyone in the bar was black, except me, but later a white woman came in and sat to my left. She challenged me to guess her name.

"I don't know. Becky?"

"Hey, that's pretty good! That's my mother's name. Try again."

"Uh. Katie?"

"Hey, that's my sister's name. You're, like, psychic! Try again."

"Uh. Candy?"

"Wow! You're getting real close! You're off by one letter."


"Yes! It's actually Lucinda, but everyone calls me Cindy."

48-years-old, Cindy majored in English, read Chaucer, Wordsworth and Whitman, but could find no related work after college, of course, so she studied nursing, then became a nurse until today. And she still reads, about 18 books a year in fact, but only junk like Mary Higgins Clark and Robert Ludlum. Cindy's never been married and has no children, "I wanted to have kids, too, but it's too late now."

She spoke of the love of her life, "He was the smartest person I have ever met. I knew he was my soulmate, but he was a bit older."

"How much older?"

"Eleven years."

"That's not so bad. How come you never married him?"

"It just didn't happen. We knew each other for nine years, and it wasn't even sexual. In fact, we only had sex once."

"That's unbelievable!"

"And he died because of me. A man I was with got jealous of him, and that's how he died."

"So, uh, your boyfriend killed your soulmate?"

"It's too complicated to explain right now."

As I was bending down to get my camera, a guy walked up to Cindy, "What is he doing, eating you out?"

Still later, he barged in while we were talking, so I laughed and said, "Hey man, I ain't taking your woman!"

"Yes, this is my woman!" He put his arm around her. "You can have that one!" He indicated Bunny with a nod of his head.

"Hey, who are you to give me away?!" Bunny growled at him.

"I ain't giving you away. I'm giving him to you!"

Have I strayed into North Philly's swinging bar for the postmenopausal and erectile dysfunctional? Old heads come here to get goofy, that is, to become kids again. Downing hard liquor, they dream of that favorite chowder, custard or pumpkin pie, or being hoisted by two strong arms. Here, they can find a new mom or dad to undress and forgive them, for though they have done just about everything wrong in life, they will be embraced, skin to skin, and absolved in the pre-hangover half dark, and it’s not the repetitive movement they’re after, really, but the improbable, unearned and even wrong embrace, a night collision on the open sea. Come to mommy or daddy, it’s OK, for though you’ve been a very bad girl or boy, you’ll still get your mushed reward, or maybe not. It’s not worth it. Yes, it is. No.

There was a guy in his 50's whom everybody called Chinaman, so on my way back from the bathroom, I asked him, "Hey, man, how come they call you Chinaman?"

The lady next to him said, "It's his eyes. Look at his eyes."

After staring at this man real hard, I said, "You ain't no Chinaman! I'm the Chinaman!"

The longest conversation I had in the bar was with 63-year-old Bobby, a housepainter. Bobby makes at least $250 a day, so he must have an excellent reputation. He starts work at 6:30 or 7 and is done by 3, when he heads to the bar. Except for his time in the Marines, Bobby has spent his entire life in Philly. Lucky to not be sent to Vietnam, he only served in Guantanamo. Bobby fondly recounted the four trips he took to Jamaica, where he stayed for two days each time. "You could get a girl for 15 to 20 dollars, and that included the room too, for an entire night. From the Liberty Boat, as we used to call it, we could see the girls lining up on the dock, waiting for the American soldiers."

Bobby has been married for 38 years, "I've known my wife from when I was 14 and she was 12. Julie used to roller skate right by the door of our house. We broke up a few times when we were dating, but after we got married, I've never thought of divorcing her. Julie has always been my number one. We have three sons, all grown, and five grandchildren. She has put up with a lot from me, I must admit."

"You cheated on her?"

"Yes, I cheated on her. I had two girlfriends after we got married."

"And your wife knew?"

"Of course she knew, because my girlfriends brought that drama to our house! Like I said, my wife's put up with a lot from me, but she has always been my number one."

The owner of My Place Tavern is Johnny, an Italian guy from South Philly who now lives in the leafy suburb of Elkins Park. I've painted houses up that way. Johnny has hired Bobby several times to paint the bar, inside and outside, and his house also.

I have already written a North Philly Postcard, so I'm not sure if the material above can be incorporated into a new Postcard. Probably not. Where I was last night is Fern Rock, a place I first visited when I had an older girlfriend. I was 21, she was 36. Twenty years later, I would see Grace Dollar again in Milwaukee. "You haven't changed," Grace said. Yes, that's really her last name.


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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.