Aimée Lê in T-Barr's Bar. Aimée is doing her PhD at Royal Holloway in London, and half of her thesis is about me, while the other half is a long poem about her Vietnamese dad. Born and raised in Ann Arbor, Aimée graduated cum laude from Dartmouth, and while there, co-founded its Occupy Movement. Hearing about her happy mom and dad, I said, "Your parents are unusual. There are so many unhappy Vietnamese families."
"My mother is white."
"I never want to assume anything. My friend Phan Nhien Hao has some Caucasian features, but I never asked until he told me one of his grandparents was French."
Aimée's mom, a lawyer, is a vegetarian and reads up on Buddhism, while her dad, a computer programmer, spends time after work sitting in bars. Combing through this country for years, I never encountered a Vietnamese barfly en flagrante, so I said, "I'd love to meet your dad!"
Studying in England on scholarship, Aimée will remain in London at least through the end of next year, but likely longer, since the school has hinted it will award her more money. Aimée feels fortunate to have a relatively bright prospect, at least for the near term. She said her generation know damn well how dire the job market is.
Here are two links of Aimée as poet, reading "Women's Rugby" and on HBO's Brave New Voices, and below is a poem I wrote about T-Barr's Bar:
On two televisions: Phillies and monster trucks.
On a shelf behind bar: Pluto the Disney dog,
Taoist scholar Lu Tung-pin, a unicorn and
Other kitschy figurines. On the wall: a guitar
With “Jack Daniel’s” painted on soundboard,
Gift shop print of two Mexican peasants,
The Twin Towers, “Legal Capicity 40 People,”
Marlon Brando as the Godfather and famous
Photo of sailor kissing girl in Times Square
On Victory Over Japan Day. They didn’t even
Know each other, and he was just grabbing
And kissing every female, young and old.
We’re on the edge of Little Cambodia, but
There are no Cambodian pubs near, just as
There are no Chinese taverns in Chinatown.
“Do Cambodians come in here?” I asked Jimmy,
The bartender. “Yeah, sometimes, but usually,
Just for takeouts, and since it’s Sunday, they’re
Down by the lake, having their barbecues.”
(That would be Meadow Lake, by the
Out-of-commission Navy ship yard.)
On my right, an old black guy would shout
“Strike,” “Ball” or a phone number off the TV.
He jokes with himself, “He said it’s just off
The plate, but I don’t see no plate! Do you?”
Suddenly, he sings Meatloaf, “I want you,
I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m
Ever gonna love you, but don’t feel bad.”
Then, “Baby, we can dance all night!”
When a middle-aged black woman
Comes in, he yells, “Hi, baby girl!
How are things?” “Things are things.
Bills, bills and more bills, but what
Are you gonna do? Things are things.”
“Bye, big girl,” he says as she leaves.
Another minute, and she may outgrow
Her shoes and clothes. “Every pretty lil’ girl!”
On my left, a tattoo-coated white guy says
To Jimmy, “I’ve been drinking since three.
I couldn’t sleep. I got up early.”
To his left, a young black guy gulps,
In silence, glasses of Hennessy. He’s
An oddity in a joint that deals mostly
In Bud, Coors, Hurricane and Colt-45.
When he steps out, Jimmy turns to me,
“I can’t stand that guy! He’s so ignorant,
But they’re all like that. I can’t stand them!”
The old black gent has also left. Soon, though,
The Hennessy dude returns and starts to bitch
About what happened to him last night.
“Me and this homie was at the titty bar,
And he must have robbed me, man, ‘cause
I woke up and my money was gone, and
I know I didn’t spend all that. I had
At least 7,000 by the time I left.
Fuck this motherfucker, I’m gonna
Blow his fuckin’ head off. I’m gonna
Give him one chance to make right.
You fuck with me, I’ll blow your head off!”
After Hennessy leaves again, Jim says,
“Now, who talks like that? You don’t say
You’re going to blow someone’s head off,
‘Cause you don’t know who’s in here. There
Might be a cop sitting in here,” as in me,
Jim probably half suspects, “and he didn’t
Have 7,000 either. He’s just blowing hot air.
I know he’s a drug dealer, but still, he didn’t
Have 7,000 on him, but they’re all ignorant,
Like I said. They talk all kinds of bullshit but
They don’t care about nothing. They don’t care
For their parents or even each other. They’re
Just ignorant, that’s all. I can’t stand them!”
The Phillies will go on to lose another, while
Monster trucks careen and flip, delighting
A mostly white crowd. They have names
Like War Wagon, War Wizard, Grave Digger,
Brute Force, Martial Law, White Knight, Havoc,
Toxic, Americrush and Blown Income.
Drivers also have nicknames. There’s Medusa,
Who’s also known as The Queen of Carnage.
A small man sits with his can of Steel Reserve.
He confesses he is Luis, but not how long
He’s been here. Judging from his English,
He got here a while back. Rising at 5:30,
Luis travels each day to Allentown for work
At a gardening center. Luis pots plants.
At his previous job, in a candy factory,
Luis had a Vietnamese manager, so
He has learnt, “Đụ má mày, làm biếng!”
[“Fuck your mother, you lazy bum!”] When
Your boss or manager jokes, you better laugh.
Forty-five-years old, Luis has two grown kids
Who won’t talk to him, because he couldn’t
Provide for them. He has a lady friend
Who calls him “Pappi,” but for variety,
He also meshes with Guatemalan and
Mexican whores, for they’re reasonable.
“Thirty dollars! I don’t lie. Thirty dollars!”
“Man, that’s cheaper than Chinatown!”
“Fuck Chinatown! It’s 150 in Chinatown!”
“They do wash your balls in Chinatown, though.”
“I can wash my own balls! If you want,
I can take you right now. Thirty dollars!”
Everyone knows Mexican prostitution
Is in Philly. Hell, there’s a Mexican whore house
Two doors from me. I didn’t know it was so cheap.
Also, I’ve seen no cholo yet, but soon
Enough, they will come, guns ablaze.
Luis agrees. “The cholos don’t play, man.”
Buzzed, I leave with “Chinga a tu madre”
To Luis, who yells back, “Đụ má mày! Làm biếng!”
I ask Jim, “What time you open in the morning?”
“Ten O’ clock, my friend, but for you, 9:55!”
Cheap bar, true people, I give T-Barr’s five stars.