SUPPORT THIS PROJECT--Over 10,200 photos of Philadelphia, Albuquerque, Allentown, Ann Arbor, Ardmore, Ashland (PA), Atlanta, Atlantic City, Austin, Baltimore, Battle Mountain, Bellows Falls, Bensalem Township, Berkeley, Bethlehem, Bolivar, Boston, Bordentown, Boulder, Brooklawn (NJ), Buffalo, Burlington (NJ), Cambridge, Camden, Carbondale, Carlisle, Carmel, Cedar Rapids, Centralia, Charleston (SC), Charlotte, Chelsea (MI), Cherry Hill, Chester, Cheyenne, Chicago, Claymont (DE), Cleveland, Collingswood (NJ), Columbus, Cupertino, Daly City, Denver, Des Moines, Detroit, Dexter (MI), Dupont, Durham, El Cerrito, El Paso, Emeryville, Ewing Township (NJ), Fort Indiantown Gap, Fremont, Gary, Glassboro, Glenside (PA), Gloucester, Grinnell, Haddonfield (NJ), Harpers Ferry, Harrisburg, Hoboken, Houston, Jackson, Jersey City, Joliet, Kansas City (KS), Kansas City (MO), Kennewick, Knoxville, Lancaster, Langhorne, Laurel Springs (NJ), Levittown (PA), Lindenwold (NJ), Livonia, Los Angeles, Los Gatos, Marcus Hook, McCook, Media (PA), Milpitas, Minneapolis, Mount Laurel, Mountain View, New Haven, New Orleans, New York, Newark, New Harmony, Normal, Norristown, North Charleston, Oakland, Old Forge, Omaha, Orlando, Osceola, Overland Park, Palmyra (NJ), Palo Alto, Pasco, Penndel, Pine Barrens, Pittsburgh, Pittston, Portland, Providence, Raleigh, Redford (MI), Redwood City, Reno, Richmond, Richmond (CA), Riverside (NJ), Riverton (NJ), Roebling, Rutland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Bruno, San Francisco, San Jose, San Leandro, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, San Xavier del Bac, Sausalito, Savannah, Scranton, Somerdale (NJ), South San Francisco, Springfield (IL), St. Louis, St. Paul, Steelton, Stockton, Stratford (NJ), Sunnyvale, Taylor (PA), Trenton, Tucson, Union City (NJ), Ventnor, Vineland, Washington, West New York, Westmont (NJ), Wichita, Wilkes-Barre, Williston, Wilmington, Wolf Point, Woodbury (NJ) and Youngstown, etc. Outside USA: Akreiy Ksatr, Alforja, Arles, Barcelona, Batam, Ben Tre, Berlin, Beziers, Brighton, Budapest, Burgazada, Cambrils, Castres, Certaldo, Chanthaburi, Chau Ly, Dresden, Ea Kar, Ea Kly, Florensac, Frankfurt, Girona, Gorlitz, Grimma, Hanoi, Halle, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Johor Bahru, Juarez, Kiev, Kinaliada, La Gi, Leipzig, London, Luban, Markkleeberg, Marseille, Mexico City, Montreal, Olargues, Phan Thiet, Phnom Penh, Prades, Prague, Puigcerda, Quy Hop, Reus, Reykjavik, Ripoll, Rivne, Saigon, Salou, San Juan Teotihuacán, Sete, Singapore, Tarascon-sur-Ariege, Tarragona, Tepotzotlán, Thanh Mai, Thep Nimit, Thuan Nam, Tokyo, Toluca, Toronto, Toulouse, Van Loi, Vic, Vinh Long, Vung Tau, Wegliniec, Wurzen, Zgorzelec.
If you have a PayPal account, you can save me the fees by sending money directly to my email address: . Thanks!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Postcard from the End of America: Levittown, PA

As published at Dissident Voice, Information Clearing House, CounterCurrents and Intrepid Report, 5/17/14:

In 1947, the first Levittown was built in New York State, then in 1952, an even bigger one was erected in Pennsylvania. Marketed as “THE MOST PERFECTLY PLANNED COMMUNITY IN AMERICA,” Levittown was the prototypical American suburb. For only $10,990, or $100 down then $67 a month, you could own three bedrooms, two bathrooms, front lawn, back yard and garage, plus access to five Olympic-sized pools, with free swimming and diving lessons thrown in. Most soothingly, you no longer had to deal with strangers above, below or abutting you, or dark skinned neighbors who may alarm or irk you as you went about your white routines. Government, banks and developers all agreed that suburban living was a white proposition, so if you weren’t pale enough, it didn’t matter if you had risked life and limbs for Uncle Sam, for he wouldn’t back your mortgage should you want to move into a mixed neighborhood, not that anyone would sell a wholesome, Leave it to Beaver house to your Ma Rainey ass anyway.

The American Dream was understood to be white, and in Levittown, white living precluded even selling and buying nearby, for all businesses were banished from the residential enclaves. To get a cup of joe, it was necessary to drive a few miles, and to down a handful of beers, you might end up flying through the windshield, but it was definitely worth it, for no Negroes were in sight. That’s just how it was, and in more subtle ways, still is, but to what degree? You tell me. Abraham Levitt explained, “As a Jew, I have no room in my heart for racial prejudice. But the plain fact is that most whites prefer not to live in mixed communities. This attitude may be wrong morally, and someday it may change. I hope it will.”

Just over half a century ago, most Americans were convinced the races should be kept apart. In my teens, I spent three years in suburban Virginia, and there, I was told by a friend, schoolmate and neighbor, W. Salo, that blacks had been kept out of the neighborhood until the early 70’s, “Realtors just wouldn’t sell to them, and even now, many people don’t like to see them around.”

Salo and I were among a group that played basketball regularly. There was Kelvin, a black kid and son of a lawyer. Kelvin would go on to graduate from the University of Virginia, become a real estate broker and move to Dallas. He made a bundle during the housing boom.

Since Salo was a fan of the Washington Bullets, I said to him, “What if Wes Unseld moves in?”

“Get that nigger out of here!” Salo laughed.

In 1957, a Jewish Levittowner alerted a friend, World War II vet and aspiring electrical engineer William Myers, that a Levittown home was for sale, but when Myers moved in with his wife and three children, an American hell opened up, for the Myers were black. For more than a week, up to a thousand people protested nightly in front of their new home. An ice cream man serviced this enraged mob, and reporters and photographers also showed up. Sticks of dynamites landed in the Myers’ driveway and rocks were thrown, with one hitting a white policemen, knocking him out. Windows shattered. A Confederate flag was unfurled from an unfinished house nearby, and racially charged music was blasted day and night. “Gone are the days when my heart was young and gay / Gone are my friends from the cotton fields away.” Mrs. Daisy Myers heard footsteps in the dark outside her children’s bedrooms, and picked up the phone to receive threats, such as “Do you want to die in that house?” A woman sneered, “I’ll never let my children drink chocolate milk again!” A nearby neighbor bought a black dog and named him “Nigger.”

The Myers also had many supporters, white and black, who brought flowers and food. A white woman showed up and offered to clean their house. These allies were also threatened, naturally, with some having crosses burnt in front of their own homes. Finally, state troopers were brought in to snuff out this dangerous and embarrassing situation, and the Myers were left alone to live in Levittown for four years. Many of their neighbors did apologize and Mrs. Myers was even made President of the Dogwood Hollow Neighborhood Association. Contrary to rumors, the Myers had not been brought in by Communists or Jews to stir up trouble, but simply wanted a decent place to live, and when a job opportunity for Bill Myers opened up elsewhere, they moved away.

Levittown also made international news when a gas riot, this nation’s first, erupted in 1979. When OPEC pushed gas price to $1 a gallon ($3.25 in today’s money), 60 truckers decided to block a Levittown intersection, Five Points, to protest, and there, they were cheered on by thousands of locals. “More gas! More gas!” They chanted. Soon, though, the mood turned ugly, with gas station windows smashed, gas pumps broken and cars and car tires set on fire. A rig plowed into a line of cops, injuring several. Cops beat up protestors, sending a hundred to the hospital. Two hundred people were arrested.

Americans have come to accept high gas prices, but as their incomes continue to shrink while inflation rises, they will wish they weren’t marooned in a place like Levittown. Without the car, this place would be dead. Walking 25 miles through Levittown this week, I often felt like an intruder, as well as a rat trapped in a maze. There, most streets are curved to slow down traffic, and many arc and loop in loony ways, making orientation difficult. Further, many sections are without sidewalks. Bewildered and even edgy, I became acutely aware that Levittown had been built for the automobile and not pedestrian. Levittown hates the human body, frankly. Denuded of a four-thousand-pound steel carapace, one feels silly and obscene just wandering around. I crossed the street to avoid disturbing a flower-pruning housewife, ignored the stare of a man in a muscle-T, drinking a beer on his porch, while four girls in their early teens eyed me curiously. As dogs barked at me from behind wire mesh or picket fences, I looked at my shadow on the asphalt and did my best to keep going East and North, but those serpentining roads were seriously messing with my head. This layout is designed to deter through traffic of all kinds, for Levittown does not want outsiders. It chases visitors and their money away. Waiting for their kids to be released, a long line of cars waited outside an elementary school.

To encourage neighborliness, fences were originally banned in Levittown, but they went up almost immediately, and the Levitts had to relent. Folks move out of the city primarily to distance themselves from other people. Though many Levittowners loved the public swimming pools, others set up tiny ones in their fenced-in back yards. In 2002, four of the Olympic-sized pools were finally closed. In Levittown, you often see portable basketball hoops set up side by side on the curbs, so kids from adjacent houses can shoot in solitude. If moats and draw bridges were more affordable, I’m sure there would be thousands in Levittown.

Irrationally walking, I ended up at a spot I thought I had left behind permanently, just like Jonah after he had been spat out by the whale, but unlike him, I needed not preach, for there were churches all over Levittown. Among their signs, “JESUS SAID YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN. DELIVERY ROOM OPEN.” Another, “PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU PRACTICE.” At St. Michael the Archangel, I saw a sign for an upcoming flea market. A spot could be rented for $15, and a table for $5 if you didn’t have your own. The day itself would likely be festive, and it is exactly this kind of small time selling that’s missing from so much of America, not just Levittown, so why not make it all the time, all over, and not just in a church parking lot once a year? By eliminating zoning laws that ban commerce, Americans can earn cash in these difficult times, and keep money in their communities besides. With people selling on their front lawns, porches and stoops, and others wandering around offering potato chips, iced tea, beer, cigarettes, socks, hats and pirated DVDs, etc., each neighborhood will be enlivened, and neighbors will finally get to know each other as they haggle over a ratty couch, beat up hair dryer or set of baseball cards of the 2010 Seattle Mariners. They can discuss the dada farce of electoral politics after swapping Xanax for Oxycodone, for example, or perhaps a shoplifted bottle of cough syrup. A pop up restaurant can appear in any kitchen or beneath any tree. Instead of pushing rancid tacos with brown shreds of lettuce for a monster conglomerate, you can be your own boss by offering chili and corn bread on a sidewalk table behind a hand-scrawled sign, “TEXAS CHOW.” It better be great, though, because not ten feet away, there’s a guy dishing up some mind-blowing squirrel po’ boys.

Since small time selling also develops business skills, it would be an excellent alternative to a bankrupting college miseducation, since we don’t need more majors in ambulance chasing, speaking in tongues economics or tattoo-art appreciation, etc., but simply people who know how to survive by squeezing a dollar out of 50 cents. Ah, but we’re living under a government that sucks all money upward, towards the biggest banks and corporations, so if they don’t even allow the mom and pops to survive, how are they going to tolerate this kind of freewheeling commerce? Further, Americans have been well-conditioned to despise the busy sidewalk. Sure, they might go to New Orleans to drink, holler and vomit in the French Quarters, but when they get home, they want everything to be placid outside their bay window. Destitution, though, will change behavior for sure, and I’m sure Americans will come out of their isolation to not just sell or barter, but also to establish common cause so they can fight back, at last.

In the here and now, though, all is superficially pacified, with many citizens still eagerly displaying their allegiance towards one or another of our bank-jerked marionettes, Obama, Clinton or Romney, etc. Walking around Levittown, I also encountered many flags, including POW/MIA and Marines Corps ones. The US must lead the world in patriotic flag display per capita, and I can’t imagine too many other countries where countless citizens erect flag poles in front of their homes. God, country and racial purity were the concrete foundations of Levittown, except that it’s 2014 now, so I did see a few black children getting off school buses. I also ran into a Turkish-American Muslim Cultural Association, a Turkish-American Social Club and a Liberian restaurant, the last two side by side at a strip mall.

Originally, there were only six different types of houses in Levittown, but after half a century, each has been modified enough to appear reasonably unique, with a different landscaping in the front yard. Here, there’s a miniature windmill, and there, yet another fake well. Cutesy flags with birds, lady bugs, sunsets and such abound. On a little pole, a cartoon frog rides a rainbow colored bicycle. Maybe he’s a queer amphibian, but to each, his own, man. It’s none of my business. At some homes, though, overgrown grass, weeds and dandelions have taken over, even if there’s still an old car in the driveway. A handful of large apartment complexes have also sprung up, but hey, when you have no taxes from manufacturing, and not that much from local commerce, you can’t say no to more tax-paying residents, even if they’re just low-income renters. At Five Points, I saw four check-cashing joints, with one that’s also a pawn shop, then I passed American Dream Realty, with its flashing sign that promised to save you from your life-sinking mortgage. Unattended, two used lawn mowers and a lawn tractor were for sale, with the last priced at $450. That can easily buy a month’s grocery for a family of four, and you can’t eat grass.

Levittown was born during a time of unprecedented confidence and hope among average Americans. This country was on top of the world. Eager to move up, thousands of Joe Sixpacks lined up to buy Levittown homes. There were no FOR SALE signs baking in the sun day after day among the dandelions. To observe, and hopefully meet, a few contemporary Levittowners, I decided to duck into a bar, as usual, but the first one I chanced upon, Cazz’s Sports Bar and Grill, didn’t quite do the trick, since I could only overhear, and not talk, to anybody. Still, it was very instructive, for at one point people were discussing their lunch breaks.

First dude, “I don’t even have a lunch break. I work right through, seven hours straight, and I don’t mind it, since they wouldn’t pay if I stopped to eat anyway. I’d rather go home early.”

Second dude, “You should feel lucky to have a job.”

Third dude, “But that’s the wrong attitude, man! Everyone should have a lunch break, a paid lunch break, and a couple of smoke breaks too.”

Second dude, “Good luck with that.”

Woman, “I use my lunch break to run errands. I’d go to the bank or something. I get an hour.”

They also mentioned a young man who had died of a drug overdose, another who had hanged himself and a recently deceased old fart who was a pack rat. Though the juke box was quiet, three televisions stared at me from the opposite wall, and as I was seated at some distance from the conversing group, I couldn’t catch everything. It was clear, though, that several of the men were Army veterans, for they started to talk about Okinawa, sake, Vietnam, “Me love you a long time” and getting coochie coochie in the Far East. With so many overseas “commitments,” it was practically an American male’s rite of passage to catch syphilis or gonorrhea from a foreign whore and/or leaving his likeness behind in the forlorn face of a bastard child.

At the same strip mall, however, there were two other bars, including My Brother’s Pub, and I’m very glad I discovered it, for here I was able to make the acquaintance of Brian, Dave, Rob and Joy. Soon as I walked in, I could tell it was my kind of dump. Rob explained, “Cazz’s is like a family bar, while Rio attracts a younger crowd. You’ll find some nice chicks in there. Here, you’ll hardly ever see a woman. This place is like, I don’t know, maybe this place is a gay bar.”

“Hey, speak for yourself!” Another patron piped up.

Picking up my pint, I noticed the beer mat said, “The only lasting peace between a man and his wife is a separation—Lord Chesterfield.” Beneath a large TV on the opposite wall, there was an image of a flag, with “HONORING THOSE WHO SERVED,” and another of Uncle Sam pointing, with “This finger wasn’t made to press ‘One’ for English.”

Fifty-three-years-old, Rob wore a faded tanktop and an old polyester cap. Stubbles invaded his lined face. For 18 years he owned a printing shop, with the last eight in Manhattan, in the West Village. Now he clips hedges, cuts grass and sells earnestly kitschy paintings of landscapes, one of which was propped on the floor at the bar, “It takes me four hours and a half, on average, to do a painting, and I can sell it for 65 to 75 bucks, but then you have to subtract the cost of the materials, which comes to about $13 a painting.”

“Hey, maybe you can cut your cost by using cheaper paints? Paints are expensive!”

“I know, I know, but I only use the best! I only use Windsor Newton.”

“That is the best, but most people won’t know the difference if you use something cheaper. A tube of Windsor Newton can run you $20!”

“Cheaper paints have a different consistency, and I can tell when I mix them or slap them onto the canvas.”

“Man, you’re really picky.”


“And the colors are different, too, I know, but you’re not making that much from these paintings in the first place.”

“If I charged more, no one would buy them. I know what people are willing to pay, and also what they want. I can’t use too much blue, for example.”

“Hmmm, I never thought of that… Who buy your paintings, by the way?”

“Mostly the people from this bar. Dave, the cook at Hurricane Jack’s, told me his boss wanted a large painting of palm trees in a hurricane, so I made 150 bucks from that deal! It took me seven hours, man, wore me out! Palm trees always sell well. Hawaii scenes.”

“You ever been there?”

“No, of course not! But I can picture palm trees without seeing them. I have them in my head.”

“You never paint from life?”

“I don’t need to!”

“Well, you’re lucky to sell anything, because most people won’t touch any painting, period. Tell me more about your printing shop. How did you lose it?”

“Simple. The landlord sold the building in 2009, so I lost my business, but it was partly my fault for not paying attention. If I had found another place before that happened, I wouldn’t have lost all of my clients, and I was raking in the bucks too, man. After all the expenses, I was making $6,000 a month! I was eating well, drinking well and I took vacations when I wanted too.”

“You can’t start it up again?”

“No way! My clients are gone. At this point, I’d be happy with anything. It used to be, you could always get a job that paid $10 an hour, but you can’t even do that any more. You see Brian there?”


“He bartends here three or four nights a week, but Brian also has a day job. Brian is a drummer so he works at a music store, and you know how much he’s getting paid? Eight dollars and fifty cents an hour. After tax, that ain’t shit!”

“I know people who are making less than the minimum wage.”

“Is that legal?”

“It is if you can’t find another job. I mean, you’re not going to sue your boss.”


“About the printing business, you said you weren’t paying attention, but what do you mean?”

“Personal shit, man. My girlfriend was leaving me, so I was very distracted.”

“Hmmm. How long were you two together?”

“Eleven years! And we had a kid together! I also treated her son like my own. We were a family.”

Before this girlfriend, Rob was married for 16 years, so he has three kids altogether. With his business gone, Rob couldn’t keep up with the mortgage, so he took in renters. Even though he only charged $550 a month, none would stay long. The place has become rather run down, Rob intimated, and the cable TV has long been shut off, “I was paying $95 a month for television, but now I just watch the same DVDs over and over.”

“The Sound of Music?” I joked.

“Yeah, The Sound of Music!”

Rob figures he has four or five months before he’s kicked out. Before that happens, though, the electricity will have been turned off, for he hasn’t paid those bills either. Sitting in the dark, Rob will have to sing these lines to himself, “Doe, a deer, a female deer. Ray, a drop of golden sun. Me, a name I call myself. Far, a long long way to run.”

“What will happen then?” I asked. “Where will you go?”

“I guess I’ll have to move in with Joy,” his current girlfriend.

“Does she have kids?”

“Four, but only two are living with her.”

“How old?”

“Twenty-six and seventeen. The older one is a manager at Home Depot.”

“Will they like you moving in?”

“Probably not, but what can I do? I’m not going to lie on the street.”

Though going broke, Rob goes to the bar everyday, where he spends $20 for beer. If you tip properly, that’s only five pints. Rob also smokes two packs of L & M daily, so that’s another $10.50, “But I can’t just sit home and brood, man. I’ve got to come out and talk to people. What do you want me to do?”

To make matters worse, Rob hasn’t managed to finish a painting in a year, though the urge to depict snow capped mountains and tropical beaches may just resurface tomorrow, or at least Rob hopes so. In any case, the Hawaiian sunset has been sitting on the floor for a while, so maybe Rob has stopped because he’s tapped out his small roster of Medicis.

Suddenly, some orchestral music erupted. I had no idea what it was, but was later told that it came from the soundtrack of Gods and Generals, a film about Stonewall Jackson. Rob’s reaction, though, was immediate, “Hey, what is this shit! Don’t you know how to put a good song on the juke box?!” The guilty party was also a regular and, to spite Rob even further, played Los Tigres del Norte afterwards.

“Oh, great, now we get to hear some Italian shit!”

“It’s Mexican, Rob,” a couple of people shouted in near unison.

To purge these insufferable sounds from memory, Rob then played some John Lennon. By this time, his girlfriend, Joy, had shown up to become the only female in My Brother’s Pub. About Rob’s age, she was cheerful enough yet worn out. When I told her I liked to walk around and hear people’s stories, Joy said, “I’ve got a story for you! You should hear my story!” And she leaned over Rob, who was between us, so I could hear her better, “You know I raised two kids by myself because my husband died three days after our wedding!”

“Jesus, that’s like the worst luck ever! How did that happen?”

“He had health issues, he was a crack addict, but I had no idea he was going to die like that! I had to write thank you notes to the guests for having come to both the wedding and funeral!”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“People did give me money, though. I’d get, like, fifty bucks per person.”

If Rob dies, Joy can pocket another round of bereavement contributions, after deducting the minimal burial cost. A cardboard coffin will do. Unemployed and still awaiting to be certified as disabled, in body and mind, Joy can certainly use the cash. As for Rob, he can still frequent My Brother’s Pub post mortem, just like George, a deli owner when alive. Brian has seen this ghost, and Dave will swear that a stool got knocked over without anyone touching it. This happened just before I walked in.

“So you raised two kids by yourself?” I continued.

“Yeah, we already had two kids. I have four altogether, but my oldest two are not talking to me. I haven’t seen them in 17 years. I can’t do anything about it. It’s a long story.”

“So now you have this guy!” And I patted Rob on the shoulder.

“Yeah, so I guess it’s working out in the end, because this is true love,” and Joy looked at Rob with tenderness.

Rolling his eyes, Rob said to me, “Look at who I’m stuck with.”

“Ah, he loves me!” Joy said.

“It’s not like I have a choice,” Rob smiled.

“You know, I didn’t even like Rob in the beginning, but he kept following me around. He kept saying, ‘You want to party? You want to party?’ And I don’t even do drugs, but after a year, I finally went with him."

“That’s not how I remember it.” Rob grinned.

Rob’s parents moved to Levittown in the early 60’s, then he himself bought a house here. Joy, however, can’t be counted as a true American Dreaming Levittowner since she’s only living in an apartment complex, and perhaps the worst in this frayed, perplexing and faux arcadia. Online, I found several comments along this line, “This apartment complex is filled with reasons of why you should not live here! I can’t wait until my lease is up. The neighbors are loud and disrespectful at all hours and the facilities are dirty and dangerous (ex: broken glass pieces, rusty metal, roaches). I cannot get rid of the roaches, ants and centipedes in my studio! My bathtub and toilet actually have filled up, from the drain, with sewage […] Over a month ago someone broke into all four buildings’ laundry facilities and ruined the machines to steal the quarters, the machines haven’t been repaired yet. They haven’t even cleaned up the broken glass from the windows and the sharp metal from the broken machines.”

So that’s where Rob is moving in four months, and where a Home Depot manager must live with his mom and kid sister. Rob said that many locals have come to refer to Levittown as “Leave it Town,” but where does one go now to find a decent job and home in a national landscape that’s increasingly leeched of possibilities? At Five Points, I saw an armed forces recruiting station, but Rob is too old to be shot at by Russians, Chinese, Iranians, Syrians or whoever our masters decide we must fight next. In the meantime, all he can do is drink away his worries, and his last pennies also, for old habits die hard. When the Founding Fathers wrote “the pursuit of happiness,” perhaps all they meant was having regular access to bad beer, but this simple, working class pleasure has become out of reach to many Americans.

Not long ago, nearby Trenton, Camden and Philadelphia were world-class industrial centers, adjacent Bristol had factories and even tiny Fairless Hills, next door, had a steel mill. Now there is nothing. Without high-paying manufacturing jobs, Levittowners are reduced to serving beer and cheese fries to each other, or mowing each other’s lawn. If this continues, soon there won’t be just a ghost or two at the local bar, this entire town will turn ghostly.

It is dark and I’m alone on the train platform, waiting for my Philly-bound. Hearing sounds of bottles and cans clacking, I turn to see, in the dim orange light, an apparition pushing a shopping cart. Leaving this at the station, he carries several plastic bags of what he’s managed to scavenge this day and enters a tunnel. Less than a minute later, he appears on the other side, then quickly vanishes into the inky dark. I wonder how much he will get for his trouble?



Charles Orloski said...


In the early 1960s, twice each Summer, in a 1952 Pontiac, my mother Mary & father Charlie brought me along to visit their friends who built a new home in Levittown.

This Postcard renewed this childhood experience which at the time was like visiting uptown Brentwood, CA. These days, and not getting out of N.E. PA too much, I am disappointed (but unsurprised) to learn locals presently refer to the place as Leave it town.

In general, your Postcard collection is accessible & indispensable for many Americans who can not afford travel like they used to. Are useful to those who would never set foot in places you persistently go, observe and record. Thank you.

Charles "Chuck" Orloski
Taylor, PA

Anonymous said...

Dear Linh,

you write:

"Government, banks and developers all agreed that suburban living was a white proposition, so if you weren’t pale enough, it didn’t matter if you had risked life and limbs for Uncle Sam, for he wouldn’t back your mortgage should you want to move into a mixed neighborhood, not that anyone would sell a wholesome, Leave it to Beaver house to your Ma Rainey ass anyway. "

So maybe a little reality check is in order for you. Just the facts:


Linh Dinh said...

Hi Anonymous,

I have long been aware of the issues raised in the linked article, but are you proposing the reinstatement of racial segregation as a solution?


Linh Dinh said...

From a reader in Cyprus:

"The first article of yours, the subject of which I forgot, impressed me - particularly, as it reminded me of my first time in the United States, way back in 1964, when the international company I worked for in Paris, France, sent me to one of her US-manufacturing locations in West Virginia, for training in its products, which I was - upon my return - to represent in Continental Europe.

My initial experience, after landing in what was to become New York’s JFK-Airport in early summer of 1964, a first encounter with police-patrol, a night at the Howard-Johnson near the airport and an intended bus ride to Manhattan gave me the idea to randomly seek or invite “chance encounters” with haphazardly chosen Americans and a fascination with what – through them - I might learn about their country, their lives and a vague notion for a book, then imagined under that very title.

On my first whole day on the, for me new continent, having the previous evening discovered that walking in built-up suburban areas may be mis-read as “loitering” by slowly patrolling police cars, or even thought of as evaluating places for a later burglary, I wanted to approach Manhattan in small stages by local buses or other public transportation.

A first bus took me to Brooklyn or Queens, where I decided to take a walk, and soon getting thirsty in the mid-morning sun, I entered a bar with a large horse-shoe shaped counter, where I saw a lone customer nursing a beer. Other than him, I saw merely a bartender. Though untypical for a Swiss, I did ask for a beer and if I could sit next to the only customer, who seemingly grunted acquiescence.
When the beer came I proposed “Good health to you” to the customer, whom I judged to be in his mid- to late fifties and whose response, if any, was imperceptible.

As the barkeeper remained at the very end of the bar, where the horse-shoe met the wall, and a door in its open end led to a room I couldn’t see, I felt like striking up a conversation with my silent neighbor, but, unaccustomed and inexperienced with such an endeavor, I eventually said something like: “Hi, I’ve only yesterday arrived here for the first time from Paris and would much welcome a chat”, or similar words, to which I didn’t get any intelligible response, but also no signs of hostility.

The man, who I felt oozing something like resignation, did look at me with a very faint – rather sad smile, but still didn’t say anything. – So I said: “I’m sure you would have a story to tell…”, and a minute or two later I added: “I guess each and every one of us has a story, often a bad-luck story to tell …” - letting the sentence trail off.

With this the silent spell seemed broken and the man, whose name I've forgotten, rewarded my curiosity with a tough-luck account which I suspect was his own and of which I haven’t retained anything, except the conviction that telling it was likely more important for and to him than it was for me.

(Still, I regret not ever having availed myself of any of the recording devices technology has developed since those way-back days and – except for occasional photographs - never to have written down any of the many “chance stories” I have heard in the more than 50 years since).

I am very grateful for your “Postcards from the end of America” and regret having read the few I did only by chance, when I know I would have found them of great interest, both with regard to the way folks – mainly those of modest status - respond to variations of the economy over time, as well as fads, tastes, fashions and opinions, not excluding political awareness, religious orientation, views on wealth distribution, etc. etc.

Also, I would be very keen to see some more of your photographic documentation.

I am now going on 84 years in November, and am living on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, whose language is Greek, which alas I do not know, Swiss-German being my 1st, French my 2nd and English my most used."


Anonymous said...

Hi Linh,

in my opinion there is no feasible solution at the moment and I am not proposing anything. As a resident of Germany I wouldn't presume to state any solutions for U.S. issues anyway.

Nevertheless some facts strongly indicate that black segregation under white rule would be beneficial not only for whites but for blacks as well. It certainly was under apartheid in South Africa compared to the hellish cesspool South Africa is now.

Of course it would be ridiculous to believe something like this would be possible to happen anytime soon if at all.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Anonymous,

I've been to Brixton in South London, and though it is a predominantly black neighborhood, it is not in disarray and menacing like American ghettos. The houses are well kept and there are plenty of thriving businesses. Granted, England has its share of race related problems, but it would be instructive to examine what allows Brixton to be functional and reasonably prosperous while American ghettos are hellholes, for the most part.


Linh Dinh said...

P.S. As for South Africa, all I can say is you can't have a biracial society where the smaller group is accorded all the privileges, while the majority must live as second class citizens. If it has gotten worse since the end of Apartheid, then the reasons must be complex, and I'm not one to discount racial or ethnic factors, but if the majority cannot rule, then the problem is with democracy itself

CC said...

To Anonymous (May 18, 1:56 AM):

Is that you, Jared Taylor?

Anonymous said...

Hi Linh,

it has gotten worse because South Africa is the rape and murder capital of the world. In times of Apartheid the Negroes were kept in check by whites. Now they are free to do what they want: rape and murder. Do you really think, this has anything to do with democracy?

Blacks as a whole are statistically more prone to criminal, violent and impulsive behaviour compared to every other race on the planet. And this is independend of the ruling political system:

Anonymous said...

Whew, that foul racism is turning my poor stomach. Let's see, brutalize a people for a couple of centuries, leave them out in the cold economically, then blame them for being brutalized.

Hey, Linh, you know why all the flagpoles, right? So we can remember what fucking country we live in.

I spent the first 12 years of my life in a suburb of Akron, Ohio. My father, an organizer for the radical electrical workers union, asked the union to wire him $40 for a down payment, and my mother was delighted to live in her first house ever (an automatic washing machine!). We did have sidewalks and there were stores you could walk or ride a bike to, but the knife-sharpener and the dry cleaner and other tradesmen came right to your house.

Linh Dinh said...

Lewis Mumford:

The ultimate outcome of the suburb's alienation from the city became visible only in the twentieth century. . . . In the mass movement into suburban areas a new kind of community was produced, which caricatured both the historic city and the archetypal suburban refuge: a multitude of uniform, unidentifiable houses, lined up inflexibly, at uniform distances, on uniform roads, in a treeless communal waste, inhabited by people of the same class, the same income, the same age group, witnessing the same television performances, eating the same tasteless pre-fabricated foods, from the same freezers, conforming in every outward and inward respect to a common mold, manufactured in the central metropolis. Thus the ultimate effect of the suburban escape in our time is, ironically, a low-grade uniform environment from which escape is impossible. What has happened to the suburban exodus in the United States now threatens, through the same mechanical instrumentalities, to take place, at an equally accelerating rate, everywhere else--unless the most vigorous countermeasures are taken. . . .

Under the present dispensation we have sold our urban birthright for a sorry mess of motor cars. As poor a bargain as Esau's pottage. Future generations will perhaps wonder at our willingness, indeed our eagerness, to sacrifice the education of our children, the care of the ill and aged, the development of the arts, to say nothing of ready access to nature, for the lopsided system of mono-transportation, going through low density areas at sixty miles an hour, but reduced in high density areas to a bare six. But our descendents will perhaps understand our curious willingness to expend billions of dollars to shoot a sacrificial victim into planetary orbit, if they realize that our cities are being destroyed for the same superstitious religious ritual: the worship of speed and empty space. Lacking sufficient municipal budgets to deal adequately with all of life's requirements that can be concentrated in the city, we have settled for a single function, transportation, or rather for a single part of an adequate transportation system, locomotion by private motor car. . . .


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.