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Sunday, December 14, 2014



Twenty-four-years-old, Rob has been on the streets for a month and a half. He's from Vorhees, NJ, a 30-minute drive from Philly, but his family has gone back to Puerto Rico without him, "They got sick of me. I went bad for three and a half years. I was on heroin."

Rob has found a girlfriend, so it's a little less cold sleeping outside. He wants to go to Ohio where he has a friend, but when I asked him which town, he couldn't tell me. He didn't even know which city it's near.

Rob confirmed that black women are most generous at giving the homeless money. An old black woman gave him $20. As we were talking, however, a white woman gave him a bag from Dunkin' Donuts. Inside was a hot chocolate and a chocolate chip muffin.

A block from Rob, I talked to a Vietnam vet in his late 60's. Two years ago, I had asked him if I could take his photo, but he said no, "It's like you Orientals, I don't want to lose face." Talking to Ken this time, I found out he spent the Vietnam War shuttling back and forth between Vietnam and Okinawa, where he was based. In Da Nang, Cam Ranh Bay, Qui Nhon and Saigon, Ken's job was to unload supplies from ship, "I love Vietnam, because I was never in combat. Many Vietnam vets get nervous around Vietnamese because they can't tell if you're Viet Cong or not, but I don't have that problem."

Ken has been living in his car and has a girlfriend. Intriguingly, he declared himself a political prisoner.

"Since when?"

"Since I was in Vietnam."

"Wow, man, you have to tell me more!"

"If I tell you more, I'll have to kill you!"

When I kept asking him to explain, Ken said, "Are you with the FBI or CIA? Lots of Vietnamese worked for the government."

I changed the subject, but before leaving Ken, I said, "One of these days, you're going to tell me why you're a political prisoner."

"What? Are you going to torture me?!"

"No, that's your job!" I laughed. He laughed.



Anonymous said...

Is this something that you have witnessed? That black women are typically more generous than other people when encountering homeless people?

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Anonymous,

Yes, I've seen it even as I talk to homeless people, and a bunch of white homeless guys have confirmed this. One man theorized it's because black women are often employed as caretakers. Another guy told me that before he had to beg on the streets, he always heard nigger this, nigger that, but then these black women would show him such kindness as he sat there on the sidewalk.



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 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.