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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

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Kathy-in-Bentley's-Place--Kensington











Kathy-in-Bentley's-Place--Kensington-2








57-year-old Kathy in Bentley's Place in Kensington. I asked her if she was doing alright economically, and she said, "I'm doing great! I'm always doing great! I have three beautiful daughters and eight grandchildren and I can't be happier!"

"Are you always this happy?"

"I'm always happy, baby, and no one can take that away from me!"

Suspecting she might be a manic depressive, I asked, "You're never depressed?"

"Never! I've never felt down a day in my life! If you go to bed angry, you'll wake up angry, but I always go to bed happy, and I wake up happy!"

Laughing, I asked a younger woman sitting to Kathy, "Is she always like this?"

"Yes, she's always like that. That's my mom. She's like that at eight in the morning."

"What do you do, Kathy?"

"I've been with a man for 28 years. He's a security guard. He's been doing it for 40 years."

"But what do you do, Kathy?"

"I don't have to sell my body. I don't sell drugs. I get my SSI checks, and all of my children are taken care of. One is 35, another 32, and Dana is 31. Today is her birthday!"

She played the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hanging On" several times, and made me dance with her, so I had no choice but to show off my unique sense of rhythm.

At Bentley's Place that day, I also talked to a new bartender, Melissa. Thirty-years-old, she has twin 12-year-old sons and they're all living with Melissa's mom. She's not from Kensington, but Bridesburg, a white, working class neighborhood a few miles away. She got her new job through a Craigslist ad. Kensington is a lot more dangerous than Bridesburg, so I asked Melissa if she had anything for self-defense. She showed me a large folding knife given to her by her sister, who's in the Marines. She also has a pistol and knows how to shoot it, since she once dated a cop, but she can't take her gun out of the house without a permit.

Junkies come into Bentley's Place and there have been many shootings in the immediate vicinity. Last year, a guy was hacked to death with machetes across the street.

The outside of this bar appears in Rocky V.

When Melissa visited her sister in California, they hung out in San Diego, but never hopped over to Tijuana because "it's too dangerous."

"Melissa," I said, "Kensington is a lot more dangerous than Tijuana." Seriously.

Melissa is trying to save so she and her kids can move out. She commutes to work by the elevated train, which stops just across the street, so at least she doesn't have to walk several blocks to a car.


..............................
Speaking of Tijuana, here's a post about it. Originally published in 2008 at the Poetry Foundation, it has a translation of mine of Tijuana poet Roberto Castillo Udiarte's "Vita Canis."



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5 comments:

Linh Dinh said...

Chuck Orloski:

Yo Linh,

Although out-of-focus, not your fault, I liked the barroom photo of happy 57-year old Kathy who looks like she's doing karaoke, in particular, the gyrating late-Joe Cocker song, “You are so beautiful.”

Remarkable how many Americans are so externally happy with their every day lives, and at any moment might O.D., take Walt Whitman Bridge. Although I did not expect a “Dressed for Success” answer, Kathy's daughter Kathy's defensive reply to your reasonable question, “what do you do?” – was a real pisser. Good news for the State of the Union that she's not “selling body, drugs, and gets SSI checks... children taken care of” ?

Finally, on Christmas Eve which used to be a holy day and is now a holiday, I can understand why you told armed-bartender Melissa, “Kensington is a lot more dangerous than Tijuana.” The Empire successfully stokes American fears about “crazy & murderous” Sunnis and Shiites on loose in places like Damascus, Mogadishu and NYC. Given our nation's exploding racial and class warfare, would you feel safer making rounds, doing a Postcard in Fallujah, rather than Kensington? Am serious here, Linh... please consider, respond?

Knowing your background, and respectful of present worldview, my family and I wish you and Linky a “> KATHY HAPPY” Christmas Eve. A question before I go? Did you pop the unused whiskey bottle yet? Too bad for alcohol's bad effect upon my blood pressure, we could have gotten Bentley's ripped that night.

Chuck Orloski
Taylor, PA

Linh Dinh said...

Yo Chuck,

Kathy is blurry because she was jumping around so much.

About Tijuana: During my one visit, I walked over from San Ysidro, CA, then got on a random bus and stayed until the end of the line, maybe five miles from downtown. By the end, I was the only one sitting on the damn bus, but the driver let me sit there until he resumed his run. This was on the outskirt and quiet, unlike downtown.

I've visited two other Mexican border places, Ojinaga and Juarez, both of them several times. For many years, drug infested Juarez was the deadliest place on earth, with more than 10,000 homicides from 2008 to 2012 alone. Ten thousand! Many victims were dumped in the desert. Many were women. Via email, Clayton Eshleman warned me, "I would stay away from Juarez at this point. Anything could happen to you there."

In El Paso in 2012, I met a retired Vietnam vet who had spent 13 years in Juarez, but the increasing violence and extorting cops chased him back stateside. We did agree, though, that Juarez has its sweetness and charms. It’s not just cops with assault rifles and flyers everywhere seeking loved ones. At any time of the day, it’s more alive than El Paso, that’s for sure. With its bustle and colors, Juarez reminded me very much of Vietnam, I told him, and he concurred, “But if they feel like shooting you, they’ll shoot you right in the middle of a crowd. Even if it’s sixteen bullets, they’ll all hit you, with none hitting anybody else!”

In 2006, I paid $35 for an El Paso room with no toilet at the Gardner Hotel (where John Dillinger once stayed!). My room was sordid, my bed sagged and my sheet had cigarette holes in it. Up by 5, I had to go over to Juarez to get some breakfast. I walked past darkened doorways where prostitutes rested on couches after their night's labor. Near the cathedral, I spotted 100 people eating inside a bright eatery. The sign outside said, COMIDA CHINA, so it was clear an enterprising Chinese owner had decided to serve before anybody else. Other places were starting to open, however, so near the border bridge, I had an excellent plate of tripes and refried beans.

In any case, Tijuana is not Juarez, and with so many people and businesses in downtown, it's positively festive, not at all like Kensington. In Tijuana, I met an American Jesuit priest who drove me around and showed me his church and school. I ate lunch with several priests. David Ungerleider pointed out the people getting ready to cross the border illegally. Waiting for darkness, many of them were dressed in black, like ninjas, to be less visible.


Linh

Chuck Olroski said...

Yo Linh,

Thanks for writing fascinating response, a mini-Postcard, Tijuana and Juarez. Given Mexico's proliferating shooting-sprees, sad social dissolution, I suppose even John Dillinger would hesitate seeking asylum in border towns?

Thanksgiving 1970, on pass from Fort Polk, Louisiana, my fellow recruit friend, John, a Brownsville native, drove me to Matomoras in order to show me some border sights. Before John's Impala pulled into town, he told me how "beggar-kids" will approach car, and beg to wash windows for tips. Sure enough, they did, leaped upon car hood, until John shhoed them away.

Come January 1971, my friend called from Fort Ord, drunk, he let me know he's assigned for stint in Vietnam. At June 1999 D.C. protest against NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, I saw John's name on the Vietnam Memorial. Funny how he used to comically call me a "Pollock Yankee," and said I could not hit a barn door with M-79 rounds at ten feet. .

Linh Dinh said...

"I'll be waiting in Matamoros":

Jacinto Treviño

Ya con ésta van tres veces
que se ha visto lo bonito;
la primera fue en McAllen
en Brownsville y en San Benito.

En la cantina de Bekar
se agarraron a balazos;
por dondequiera volaban
botellas hechas pedazos.

Esa la cantina de Bekar
al momento quedó sola;
nomás Jacinto Treviño
de carabina y pistola.

“Entrele rinches cobardes,
el pleito no es con un niño;
querían conocer a su padre,
¡yo soy Jacinto Treviño!”

Decía Jacinto Treviño
que se arrastraba de risa:
“A mí los rinches me hicieron
los puños de la camisa.”

Decía el sherife mayor
como era un americano:
“Ay que Jacinto tan hombre,
no niega ser Mexicano.”

Ya con ésta me despido
aquí en presencia de todos;
si me quieren conocer
los espero allá en Matamoros.

My rough, real rough, translation of above corrido:

Jacinto Treviño

This makes 3 times
beauty reveals itself;
the first was in McAllen,
then Brownsville and San Benito.

In Bekar’s cantina
a shootout erupted;
shards of broken bottles
flying everywhere.

In Bekar’s cantina
only one was left,
only Jacinto Treviño
with rifle and pistol.

“Come in here, cowardly rangers,
you’re not messing with a kid;
if you want to know your father,
that’s me, Jacinto Treviño!”

Jacinto Treviño tried to stifle
a laugh as he spoke: “To me,
rangers are only suitable
to sew my shirt cuffs.”

The sheriff then spoke
as an American: “Jacinto’s
too much of a man, there’s
no denying he’s Mexican.”

With this I’ll take my leave
from all those present here;
if anyone wants to find me,
I’ll be waiting in Matamoros.

Linh Dinh said...

The first section of Roberto Castillo Udiarte's poem, in my translation:

VITA CANIS

Amorous compliments
allow humans to fly
like small angels.


We are, without exception, angels
who were expelled from the sky;
angels who roam the earth
with wings much atrophied
from familiar deaths
and small quotidian wars.

Angels populating mountains and rivers,
forests and thousands-year-old deserts;
angels plucked yet filled with happiness
who wander smoking and drinking tequila
in cities that are labyrinths of pleasures,
cities that are imaginary maps.

Angels who fall in love easily
with the small details of life,
childish winks and unchecked lust;
angels who fall in love with the queen,
as well as with a petite waitress
at the eaterie closest to home.

Angels who travel fearfully
on planes, ships and endless trains;
who shoot pools and play dominoes
while the night music sings
in tones derived from poetry
or simple adolescent love notes.

Angels who snort lines of coke
with eyes as brilliant as stars;
angels who know miracles,
histories of worlds distant from
those who could only get there
through the artifices of words.

Angels of human smiles,
sweet carriers of beliefs
and splendid hearts in flames,
of words pleasant to the ear
and caresses that remind us
we are made of joyful skin.

Angels who cry silently
over small daily defeats,
who survive street battles
and cold death threats
because they have hope
like a whisper in the heart.

Angels who are passionate
about daily trifles,
glasses of beer and fruits,
and when they make love,
make little white feathers fly
inside a cheap motel room.

Angels who, after all, stir
their memories of wings
before going to sleep
to dream earthly dreams
where desire and memory
are their lives’ sustenances.

[...]

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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 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.