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Wednesday, March 25, 2015



The tuition at Dickinson College is $49,014 for 2015-16. If you live and eat on campus, that's another $12,812, and student health insurance is $1,822 more. No matter how you slice it, it costs more than $60,000 for a student to spend 9 months in Carlisle. Its downtown, then, has all these nice looking bars and eateries, but the rest of the town has plenty of fast food joints for people with much thinner wallets. The folks depicted here are locals and they're sitting in Alibis. Though a nicely appointed bar with plenty of microbrews, you can still get a pint of Yuengling for $2.50.

Each day, a guy walks into Alibis and orders a double shot of DL Franklin for $5, knocks it down quickly then walks out. He neither tips nor talks. It's unclear why he doesn't just buy a liter of DL Franklin for $15 or so and drink it at home. He obviously has very little money. When I was there, he was paying for his vodka fix with quarters, dimes and nickels. It took him longer to count out his change than to swill his liquor.

Above is Sheenah, 30 years old. A single mom with a daughter, she's a lifelong waitress. Unemployed at the moment, she's trying to get work as a medical assistant. For the last 7 months, she's applied at every doctor's office, clinic and hospital in the area, but so far no luck.

"They all want a year plus experience, but how am I going to get the experience if you don't hire me?"

"So how many applications altogether? Fifty?"

"At least!"

Sheenah's mom is 57 and has been waitressing since she was 16.

Next to Sheenah is 27-year-old Steve, a construction worker. Steve has also worked in kitchens, which he didn't like at all, and at the Amazon warehouse. Since it paid $12 an hour, Steve thought it was a pretty good job, and he only quit because construction work pays more, and he also enjoys swinging his hammer. The work at Amazon can be so grueling, especially in the Summer when it's so hot, that workers sometimes pass out. When I brought this up, they all said yeah, that's just how it is.

Nearly three years ago, a second floor window pane landed on Steve's leg as he was walking by. He showed me a long scar on his calf. This day, he had just come from court, and though Judge Guido fell asleep at the bench, the jury seemed sympathetic to Steve's plight, he said. The case was scheduled to be finished the next day, and Steve was hopeful to receive at least $10,000 for his medical bills, pain and aggravation. His lawyer had tried to settle out of court with the building's owner but the man refused.

Austin, next to Steve, was rather quiet and, since he sat so far away, I didn't get a chance to talk to him. Twenty-eight-years old, he does construction work with Steve.



Ali said...

Too many people for too few jobs.

Ali said...

There is something to be said about marketing, isn't there? Somehow, Amazon's abuses are either well-hidden, or somehow accepted, that the people who might not shop from Walmart may buy stuff from Amazon.


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.