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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Ars Alcoholica

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Tit for Tat, “I was wondering why it seems
That a majority of your interviews take place
In bars? Is it because there is where one can
More easily connect with a cross section of
The local public, or is it something else?
As one who has spent very little time
Hanging out in bars, it just seems that whole
Other cross sections of the ‘America’ you seek
Out and expose are not appearing in your work.
I do have to admit, that like your most aggressive
Detractor, these pieces seemingly appear,
And I have read many of your pieces, more
Monochromatic, not very inclusive of other
Potential sources for thought and discovery.”

Me, “If you have limited time in a town
In which you know nobody, you go
To a public place where people gather
And in the United States, that’s a bar.

If I had the means, I’d infiltrate other venues,
But I don’t. I don’t get paid for my articles,
Though people Paypal me money to support
My wandering. If you want me to write
From more pricey haunts, you’re welcome
To bankroll me, but if you’re not inclined, then
This is what I have to offer. Working class people
Meet in bars, so even if I wasn’t writing Postcards,
I’d go to bars. The working class, underemployed
And unemployed don’t go to concerts, art openings,
Fashion shows or golf courses. They hang out
In cheap bars, often for many hours at a time.

They don’t care for the bar’s decors or
How many beers it has, they just want
A place to sit and talk with their similars,
And when in a bar, they certainly don’t
Talk about the bar itself, but everything
Outside of it, so if you find their stories
Monochromatic, then I’m afraid there is
Something wrong with your vision, for I
Can never find people’s lives monochromatic.
Ten thousand more nights in bars would be
No waste of time, if I could soak in anecdotes
About the joys and sorrows of their existence,
Which is also my lot in life, though not,
Apparently, where you’re coming from.

The thin walleted also go to bars to get out
Of their cramped quarters, especially if all
They have is a room in a shared apartment.
A crappy bar, then, becomes their communal
Living room, and a luxurious one at that, since
It has pictures on walls, free music and
Televisions showing sports, which many
Can no longer watch at home, not since
They canceled their cable subscription.

Finally, there’s a sign in Di Nic’s, a bar
Not too far from my front door, ‘Never trust
A man who doesn’t drink,’ and beyond the
Jokey inducement to alcoholism, it’s a
Admonishment against rejecting what
Every other man and woman is doing.
In many cultures, there are no separate plates
At meal times, so you simply eat and drink what
Everybody else is eating and drinking. If they
Drink sake, chianti or thin beer, you do that. If
They eat snakes, snails or blood pudding, you eat.”





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16 comments:

Chuck Olroski said...

Linh: Terrific poem! The last line reminded of the diet "savages" had in "Brave New World" reservations.

Bars can be like "Focus Groups" for U.S. politicians, but they'd have collective heart attacks after learning what common people really think about them.

Linh Dinh said...

Yo Chuck,

Neighborhood bars anchor the social life of blue collar folks in both cities and small towns, but if you're a heavily car-dependent suburbanite or above a certain income level, then you're not going to be familiar with or care for neighborhood bars.

Orwell wrote about slum dwellers being moved into new housing. Though they had larger and cleaner living spaces, these poor people also had their social life torn away from them, "Many a small shopkeeper is utterly ruined by some rehousing scheme which takes no notice of his existence. A whole section of the town is condemned en bloc; presently the houses are pulled down and the people are transferred to some housing estate miles away. In this way all the small shopkeepers of the quarter have their whole clientele taken away from them at a single swoop and receive not a penny of compensation. They cannot transfer their business to the estate, because even if they can afford the move and the much higher rents, they would probably be refused a licence. As for pubs, they are banished from the housing estates almost completely, and the few that remain are dismal sham-Tudor places fitted out by the big brewery companies and very expensive. For a middle-class population this would be a nuisance — it might mean walking a mile to get a glass of beer; for a working-class population, which uses the pub as a kind of club, it is a serious blow at communal life."

So Tit for Tat comes from this new thinking. He or she doesn't understand the ambience of these bars or the people who feel a need for them.

Linh

Linh Dinh said...

P.S. As for the foods at the end, I could have written "escagot and black pudding," which would have sounded nicer. Black pudding, though, is just those dry, blackish slices made from cow's blood that are common in England and Scotland,
whereas blood pudding also means the much more bloody Vietnamese version, made from duck's blood.

Ian Keenan said...

My grandpop spent much of his adult life in North Philly bars and would also say 'never trust a man who doesn't drink.' He would seat the family at church on Sunday and then sneak out to hit the bar. He was a sort of ghost that imprinted my childhood even though he died before I was born and I didn't form the view, especially after I created a suburban drinking club at 15 that met multiple times a week, that I could keep a secret from someone, repress a long held thought, or deceive someone.

Pubs in the British Isles (especially Ireland) are law courts, hiring halls, and everything else.. you have to settle up with people and if you jerk someone over you're going to see them again and again.

The cross section idea is asking you to devote equal time to people who express themselves through facades, though they aren't going to be straight up with you, or people who are so focused on a created system it becomes a form of escapism, whether or not it performs practical functions.

Anonymous said...

Fuck Tit for Tat. I follow your blog, Linh, because you tell me things I can not hear and show me things I can not see. These things I know because of you. --Gordon in Nebraska

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Gordon,

He/she has America in quotation marks so, right off the bat, this oh-so-correct-liberal is faulting me for calling my blog Postcards from the End of America. I mean, the people who live here are called "Americans" because the country is called "The United States of America," so "America" for short. Kim Petersen, editor of Dissident Voice, also puts Canada in quotation marks, and it was his objection to my use of "Indians" that ended my association with DV.

These oh-so-correct-liberals nitpick over bullshit and congratulate themselves for it. As for Tit for Tat, he/she has a follow up comment in which he/she tells me he/she takes bike rides and meets people at campgrounds. So fine, do that, but I like to walk around and when I need to meet people, I walk into bars, and it's not like I only talk to people in bars. In the DC Postcard, there were no bars but encounters in a Vietnamese restaurant, a cafeteria and a museum, and in the Center City Postcard, the person most quoted was Angel, a 21-year-old homeless woman on the street. So take your damn bike rides and leave me to approach people my ways!

A commenter at Information Clearing House suggested I should go to places like Nantucket to round out the picture, and another said I should go to Cuba. I mean, these people are insane, Gordon! The one who said I should go to Cuba is a deranged bloke from London. An armchair Communist, he's been railing at me for over a year because I don't endorse Communism. This is how he characterizes me, "a self confessed political drop out and loved by the oligarchs."

For the past several years, I've survived by giving an odd reading here and there, but mostly by donations to my blog, and with that very limited resource, I've managed to cross the country several times and meet a huge range of people, and at each place, I've learnt so much. Each bar is already a universe, much less the streets and bars of places as diverse as Jackson, Osceola, Wolf Point, Joliet and Williston. With no institutional backing, I went on air regularly at Press TV and also at Russia Today to debate people who were amply funded by foundations. I'm as outside as you can get, so it's not like I'm duplicating the work of other political commentators.

To become accepted by the oh-so-correct-liberals, however, I should put quotation marks around all place names, take long bike rides and have leisurely chats at campgrounds with health conscious upper middle class people (most working class people are too exhausted from their physical labor to take long bike rides), go to Nantucket in Summer and winter in Cuba.

Linh

Linh Dinh said...

Yo Ian,

As political hubs, Irish pubs are also like black churches, but this and other social functions have been waning thanks to television and the internet.


Linh

Chuck Olroski said...

Linh: In this poem, minus institutional stipends, I liked how you firmly asserted, "this is what I have to offer." Have read quite a lot of Hunter S. Thompson works, enjoyed, and I understand he got paid to attend & record events; for example, those ranging from national political conventions and the Kentucky Derby.

The late-H.S.T. did a helluva memorable job, but as you asserted, working class people DO NOT go to Conventions, major horse races, "concerts, art/fashion shows, and golf courses." As working class fortunes further decline around here, and as a daily reader of Scranton "Times-Tribune," I see more and more desperate people given to take chances, do stupid things, hold-up local Turkey Hill stores, and stand convicted before a Judge.

Past two weeks, am reading Tom Wolfe, "The Bonfire of the Vanities." Although Wolfe does not enter joints you typically do, Linh, and is focused upon Wall Street "Masters of Universe" lifestyles, I see POWER in Wolfe's recordings which remind me of yours. Here's a quote from "The Bonfire...", one among many where working families make token but dramatic appearance, "The courts were a form of day-care center in the Bronx."

Wish Taylor Borough would get a pub. I don't like going to the V.F.W. bar on Main Street. Remember Linh, this is the place next door to the weird home, the one completely blanketed by a huge U.S. flag? Here's why.

February 2002, my father Charlie was in Taylor Nursing home, spending final days with < 10% heart function. One day, Carol and I picked-up Charlies' mail, and he had a warning-letter from the V.F.W. Post 306 Commander. The letter asserted how his V.F.W. monthly dues had fallen behind, and asserted that if he continued to NOT pay-up, he'd NOT have a uniformed Honor Guard at his funeral. A wounded WWII vet, my dad was a humble "Fowler & Williams" Teamster truck driver for 28-years, and he managed to shrug-off the Commander's slap. However, my Uncle Dave Surgent, a Korean War vet, became enraged and took the V.F.W. Commander to the woodshed. In July 2002, Charlie passed, and since then, I only went in V.F.W. ONCE in order to buy a 6-pack on-the-fly, and get out.

Thank you for doing what you do.


Linh Dinh said...

Yo Chuck,

It's incredible what you shared, "The letter asserted how his V.F.W. monthly dues had fallen behind, and asserted that if he continued to NOT pay-up, he'd NOT have a uniformed Honor Guard at his funeral." Your dad, you and so many others can recount millions of these insults, however, and it all comes down to being unable to pay one bill or another.

Meanwhile, the scuba diving, marzipan nibblers are speaking in our names and screaming at us for farting in the wrong direction!

Hey, how come we hear so much about Nazi crimes but no one has ever heard of Lavrentiy Beria, for example, though this Communist goon had his thugs go out to kidnap young girls so he could rape, then kill them? His official title was Minister of Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union.

What it comes down to, Chuck, is you have a class and type of people who need to maintain power across the board, including the power of dissent, and that's why poor whites and non whites are invisible in this culture except as "white trash" buffoons, uncle toms, ching chong idiots and other types of ass lickers.

Linh



x larry said...

lovely, thanks linh--nice to be reminded now and again of the pleasures of drinking

x larry said...

above posted before reading comments.
excellent stuff, both linh and chuck, also ian.
i still haven't been to ireland, but have lived in england for a long time--nice take on the london commie weirdo, linh! f off!
anyway, the pubs here have changed a lot. you can still find some pretty good ones, eg without tv's or with tv's off most of the time. music can be great in a bar, i mean when there's a good jukebox and you can choose the songs you feel like. there's nothing like that in britain that i've seen. i remember a great bar in korea called woodstock, run by a long haired dude, and you could write two or three songs on a little scrap of paper which they provided and hear just about anything--a whole wall, floor to ceiling, was covered in records.
also, there's a decent guy i came across looking up alan watts a few years ago. his name is alan watt, no 's', a scottish guy. he talked about the devastating effect of television to small scottish communities. before tv everyone gathered on the common and talked about literally everything. the very week after it was introduced, this ancient custom was no more.
i grew up middle class with parents who didn't drink, or almost nothing, and have ever since rebelled against this great suffocation--though i do recommend holding out till say young adulthood so your addictions aren't perhaps as devastating. cheers

Linh Dinh said...

Yo x larry,

In Brighton, your neck of the woods, there's the Evening Star, and I love it because it has neither TV nor jukebox, just a perfectly civilized setting for SUSTAINED conversations.


Linh

Chuck Olroski said...

Linh: Yea -- for the ka-ching V.F.W. Commander, it was either pay dues or you're nothing. When in Taylor, you can talk with Carol about this insult, , she too saw Charlie's huge stomach scar which resulted from being hit by Japanese mortar shrapnel.

In addition, and I believe I shared this with you..., since the first week or so at Taylor Nursing Home, my father tried to get residence in the Wilkes-Barre, V.A. Nothing doing, and a month later, as my father's petition must have been trashed, a wealthy & notable Scranton guy moved into Charlie's room, he too a WWII Veteran, and was almost immediately admitted into the V.A. hospital!

My father lasted 13-months in Taylor Nursing Home, and they took his Teamster pension & Social Security monies all the while there. When Charlie died (7/2002), he had his name on 1/3 of the house, and the Nursing Home put a lien on the homestead. Today, a corporation owns the house, rents it to a family.

Agreed how the scuba diving/marzipan set "speaks in OUR names" and howls when we fart. Ha, ha. I would have loved to see you in "Postcard" and camera-action during the Great Depression, on Speakeasy stool.

Anyway, Linh, you'd be very wealthy (today) had you decided to hit Gay bar scene and wrote Postcards for the liberal ching-ching set. Just think -- as approved P.C. journalist, you could be covering the NCAA "Final Four" in scandalized Indianapolis this weekend!

Ian Keenan said...

x larry, quite a good note and I should add that I don't encourage mid teen binge drinking but my group didn't have unusual substance abuse problems.. two others retained a taste for it and five others don't drink much at all, I had to eventually quit because of a hernia. Not to say habits are less likely to form later in life. Of course there's more binging in Anglo-America than near the Mediterranean where the kiddos sip with the parents on the evening walk - alcohol being a pejorative Arab word.

x larry said...

hi linh,
hope everything will be okay with your family.
thanks for reminder of the evening star. i haven't been there since living in brighton in the early 2000s, but it was great then. i completely concur on the canned music--i was going to mention this myself (but in fact went the other way--i can and do appreciate what i consider a good jukebox now and then for sure). i think i've mentioned this before, but i hardly ever go to pubs now, no money. when i do--there are some good ones. and people aren't, like, on crack here. i mean, you don't get the me me me treatment from bar staff that you get in america. (downside being that work in that industry sucks here, while it's one of the better livings in america, granted its one of the main professions i've had)
ian, thanks for comments, intrigued by your 'alcohol as pejorative arab term' comment. i knew it was an arab word, but didn't know it was considered pejorative--is it from islam's prohibition of booze and generally being a lout? yes, i've experienced the lovely civilized mediterranean myself. i've also heard that mediterranean races have much better tolerance for alcohol than the germanic hordes up north, hence their ability to have a drink or two and stop. i certainly fall into the northern group, unfortunately, half celt half germanic more or less, and i can't stop once i start. i was very lucky to have had a super healthy childhood and was 23 before i moved to philly, started smoking and drinking. i didn't even go to bars, only rarely, till i worked at the copa in philly. cheers

Ian Keenan said...

xl, I read that about the Arabic term in a book somewhere.. I'm not inserting myself into the etymological debate but there's a faction that traces it to "(al-ḡawl) or غَوْلٌ (ḡawl, “bad effect, evil result of headache”) instead of a term relating to the distillation process, which is favored by others.

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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.