Even if this economy was gravy,
James would still be in deep shit.
At 57, he sleeps in a trailer in a
Camden junk yard. In exchange
For this rusty haven, plus sporadic
Cash and food, he’s the nightwatchman,
A slurry backup to the crazed bulldog.
The trailer has no water or electricity.
Each month, James gets 140 bucks
In welfare, plus 200 in food stamps,
Which he sells for $100 cash. Most
Of his meals are taken at soup kitchens.
Born in Camden, James has spent most
Of his life in Millville, NJ, the home of
Mike Trout, the 150-million-dollar slugger.
James has been to California and even Alaska,
But never out of the country. At 16, James
Fell in love with Linda, 14, and they had sex,
But they would not become husband and wife
Until 11 years later. They had twin girls, then
A girl and a boy, but the marriage
Didn’t even last five years. A lifelong drunk,
James just drifted away, but each time
He showed up again, Linda would let him in,
Even after she had a new man. Sometimes
James wouldn’t leave for two weeks. “I got along
Good with her boyfriend. I would introduce
Them to people as, ‘This is my wife, and
This is her boyfriend.’” James spent decades
Working as a carpenter. He built houses.
Three years ago, Linda committed suicide
By swallowing a bottle of pills. Jame’s children
All live near Scranton but won’t talk to him.
He has never seen his seven grandchildren.
Five years ago, James took some vodka and crack
To this woman’s house, “I was trying to
Get some pussy, you know, and we were
Partying over at her place, but I passed out.
When I got up, I noticed that my wallet wasn’t
In my pocket, but sitting on this counter. When
I opened it, my money was all gone! I had
Six hundred bucks, man, but it was all gone!
“She denied she had anything to do with it, so
I said, ‘If you don’t give me back my money, bitch!
I’m going to burn this place down!’ She wouldn't,
So I went home and got a container of gasoline,
Returned and poured it on her trailer. I wasn't
Going to light it, I was just trying to scare her,
But she called 911. That’s how I went to jail.
I plea bargained for five years and ended up
Serving four. I had never been homeless until
I got out of jail.” While James was locked up,
His mother, a brother and Linda died,
But he didn’t go to any of the funerals,
Since it’d have cost him 500 bucks
To be released each time, and he would have
To show up in handcuffs and shackles. “I didn't
Want to see my ma in a box anyway. My brother
Said she didn’t even look like herself. She was
All bloated. I prefer to remember her sitting
At the kitchen table, reading her book.
That’s how I still see her.” This day,
James trekked across the Ben Franklin Bridge
To panhandle in Philadelphia, and that’s how
I met him. James smiled, “Some people collect
Coins, others stamps. I collect jokes.” He told me
Several unlaughable tales, including one about
A rueful Italian who’s selling a blind horse.
His honest pitch, “He not looking so good.”
I asked James if he had a photo of Linda,
And he said no, “It would make me cry
To look at her face.” I said Linda means
“Pretty” in Spanish, and James said the only
Spanish he knew was, “Te quiero mucho!”
James has seven siblings, all brothers,
But three have died. A brother offered
To take him in if he’d sober up, but
James declined. This brother is also
Trying to quit alcohol. James has owned
Seven cars, but lost his last license due
To a DUI conviction. Female homeless
Drug addicts will offer sex for $20, even 10,
But fearing diseases, James is not tempted.
James doesn’t have a woman now, “Because
I have nothing. I have nothing to offer a woman.
I take it one day at a time. At night,
I thank God for having given me a good day.
In the morning, I thank God for another day.
I thank him during the day too. I thank God.”
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
- Linh Dinh
- 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 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 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). 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, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.