Last night, I went to Kensington to give a printout of my last Postcard to Melissa. She's mentioned near the end of it.
At Bentley's Place, a man came in to sell calendars, CDs and a DVD player. Melissa bought a KISS calendar for $1 to give to a friend, and the seller told her to take another for free, so she chose the Awkward Family Photos one.
The guy, 47-year-old J, had come up from South Philly. J makes his living going from bar to bar in the crappy neighborhoods. He also does odd construction work and, in the past, washed windows, something I've also done. When I asked J where he got his stuff, he said he dumpster dived.
"But what about the DVD player? You didn't find that in no dumpster!"
"Hey, man, you're asking me too many questions. In South Philly, we know how to take care of people like you! Ever heard of omerta?"
"Hey, man, I'm just curious. Maybe I want to do what you do."
"You'll have to figure it out yourself. Do I ask you how your teeth got that way?"
"I was born this way."
"So I'm born this way too."
"That was a low blow, talking about my teeth. Fuck you, J!"
"My teeth ain't perfect either," and he opened his mouth to show a bunch of missing molars on his lower left jaw.
"Yeah, but your missing teeth are hidden. Fuck you, J!"
J summed up his situation, "I'm just barely getting by. Some days I even have to ask. Like, 'Can you spare a buck so I can have something to eat?' But I'm still here, and you're still here, right?"
After J left, I said to Melissa, "J said he got his shit from dumpster diving."
"My dick!" she snorted while making a jerking motion. "He steals them."
"I ask stupid questions because I want to hear people say it. I don't assume nothing, and you know what? People tend to tell me everything. People have told me they've killed someone. I hear all kinds of shit."
"Working in bars, I hear all kinds of shit too. The other day, a guy told me he lets another guy suck his dick because a mouth is a mouth. Can you believe that?! A mouth is a mouth!"
"That's pretty funny. He should just spread peanut butter on his dick and let a dog lick it."
"Did I tell you that story?!"
"The peanut butter and dog story. Remember I told you I had dated a cop? I broke up with him when I saw him spread peanut butter on his dick for the dog to lick. I was like, what the fuck? I was walking downstairs when I saw it."
"Did you think it was funny?" I briefly thought about asking her what kind of dog it was.
"No! I didn't know what to think. I still don't. It was like I was looking at this animal! Now I know why he always wanted the dog in the house when we had sex. The guy's married now. I wonder if he still does that."
"It was like a threesome with a dog!"
"Something like that."
"Isn't it weird as hell, Melissa, that I brought that up when it actually happened to you?"
"Yeah, it is very odd."
"I mean, the coincidence. Somebody told me about it once, but I've never talked about it. It's not something I think about."
"It's still on my mind, because it was so weird."
"Maybe I read your mind," I smiled.
Melissa is studying to be a medical assistant. She just got back from two weeks in California. Her sister is in the Marines and stationed in San Diego.
Born and raised Catholic, Melissa only goes to church these days "when somebody dies."
Later I talked to 53-year-old Ernest. Born in Puerto Rico, he mixed chemicals for 19 years for Estee Lauder in Bristol, PA, but yesterday was his last day. They're giving him a decent severance package, however.
"I'll get $125,000 right away, plus two years' unemployment, so it will add up to $175,000."
"You're like the richest guy in this bar!"
Ernest has a house in Kensington, plus a house and some land in Puerto Rico. He doesn't want to sit around doing nothing, however, so he's applying to be a custodian at the Visitation Roman Catholic Church and School.
"Hey, it's a great school! I know a teacher there. The kids in there are very respectful. Lots of them are Dominican, but they have all kinds of kids there."
"I talked to a nun on the phone, and I'll come in for an interview on Tuesday."
Divorced, Ernest has two grown kids and a younger girlfriend, "I don't want them too young. A 20-year-old woman doesn't know anything. She has to be at least 30."
Ernest wants to go to Spain someday. His dad raved about Spain, but Ernest has never even been to Europe.
When I told Ernest my name, he said it means "good looking man" in Spanish. I know "linda" is beautiful, but how could any phonetic interpretation of my name possibly mean "good looking man" in Spanish?! Whatever...
Friday, February 13, 2015
- Linh Dinh
- Born in Vietnam in 1963, I lived mostly in the US from 1975 until 2018, and have returned to my native Saigon. I've also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of a non-fiction book, Postcards from the End of America (2017), a novel, Love Like Hate (2010), two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), six collections of poems, with a Collected Poems soon to be released from Chax Press. 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 Japanese, Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in Tokyo, London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.