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Friday, July 24, 2015

Postcard from the End of America: Lisa from Clayton, NJ

As published at Unz Review, OpEd News, Smirking Chimp and CounterCurrents, 7/24/15:

David Swanson, author of War is a Lie, declares, “Yes, I also want to say Free Mumia. In fact, I want to say Free all the prisoners. Turn the prison holding Mumia Abu-Jamal into a school and make him dean.” Now, only a white man living outside the city can even think of, “I want to say Free all the prisoners.” Most city dwellers, white, black, brown or yellow, would retch in disgust at such a statement.

The left tend to see all losers, even criminals, as merely victims of circumstance, but from the right perspective, just about any destitute person is a lazy bum who’s made too many wrong decisions. To a pure leftist, one’s birth traits override individual complexities, so if you were born into wealth, for example, then you’re inherently guilty of, well, just about everything, but if you’re black and living in a white society, then you cannot be guilty of anything, not even of racism, that most basic of human instincts. A black man doesn’t have to overcome his racism, since he can’t even be racist, according to many a leftist brain, but to deny such a moral agency to anyone is to see him as subhuman. One has to be a racist, or just plain stupid, to believe any man incapable of self love.

On just about every issue, immigration, race, religion or law and order, the American left has alienated itself from the lower class, one that it still pretends to represent, but the right is also out of touch, for too often, it downplays systemic reasons for individual failures. If you’re relying on food stamps, for example, you must be a parasite, but the fact is, with job outsourcing and a deliberate policy by our ruling class to not just allow, but import, cheaper foreign labor, it’s becoming harder by the day to put food on the table.

In April of 2000, the Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate stood at 67.3%. Now, it’s 62.6%. Not only are far fewer Americans employed, the current batch of jobs also pay less yet inflation has only skyrocketed, if measured honestly. One of the funniest terms in our increasingly Orwellian epoch is “core inflation index,” for it leaves out the costs of food and energy, the two core necessities of life. Heartless, our masters sure know how to laugh in our faces. In 2008, 18% of American children lived in poverty. Just seven years later, it’s 22%. Housing prices are going up thanks to low interest rates, speculators and foreign buyers. Though this only shoves more destitute Americans into homeless shelters, garden sheds, garages and cars, if not under bridges and onto sidewalks, it’s trumpeted by Wall Street and Washington as a heart warming sign of the recovery. The latest housing trend is tent rental in someone’s backyard. For $65 a night, you can curl up in Chula Vista, CA, but it’s only $20 in La Verne. What’s next? Lean to? Air mattress under the stars?

Traveling to a poor country, Americans can be overwhelmed by the sights of beggars. Grimy children may pester you as you carve into your meat. Slumped on sidewalks, the deformed or maimed beg for their next meal. These impressions contrast sharply with the skyscrapers and gleaming boutiques that can be found now in even the most bankrupt and dysfunctional countries. Dysfunctional is not readily measurable, but debts sure are, so I’ll give you just one guess. Which nation is the most bankrupt in this galaxy? The US has dug for itself such a deep, wide and ghastly hole, nearly all of its wealth, capabilities and initiative have been sucked straight down to China.

In any case, beggars are always an indictment of a society, and their number, nature and even techniques are reflective of its condition. The March 18th, 1882 issue of the British Medical Journal has this entry, “SELF-MUTILATION IN CHINA”:

“Dr. R. A. Jamieson of Shanghai has recently presented to the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons a pair of feet, to which the following remarkable history is attached. Some months ago, a Chinese beggar excited much pity, and made a very profitable business in the streets of the foreign settlement, Shanghai, by showing the mutilated stumps of his legs, the feet belonging to them being tied together, and slung around his neck. Warned frequently by the police, he was knocked down by a carriage one day when scrambling out of the way of a constable. He was brought into hospital, under Dr. Jamieson’s care, being slightly injured; and, on recovery from his bruises, he sold to his medical attendant his feet, which otherwise would have been confiscated by the police. He admitted that, for the purpose of making himself as attractive as possible to the charitably disposed, he had, about a year previously, fastened cords round his ankles, drawing them as tight as he could bear them, and increasing the pressure every two or three days. In about a fortnight, the bones were bare, and he had no more pain. At the end of a month and a half, the bones were quite dry; and, by this time, according to his account, he was able to remove the feet by partly cutting and partly snapping the bones. The feet were quite black and mummified; on the wounded surface of the right foot, the upper aspect of the astragalus was seen, no trace of the malleoli remaining; but the external malleolus lay in its normal position in the left foot, and it had evidently been removed by cutting and snapping, as the patient affirmed. The stumps were perfectly healed, and conical; the ends of the tibiae and fibulae were apparently fused, and both stumps were covered in with a good cicatrix, puckered at the centre, and admitting of a very considerable amount of pressure before pain was produced. Such instances of self-mutilation appear to be frequent in China; and, when performed for such a motive as in Dr. Jamieson’s case, they throw a light on that singular mixture of courage, deceit, and sacrifice of almost anything to advance low enterprise, which characterise the lower orders in that country.”

We can’t know how “frequent” such self-mutilations for coins were, but it’s interesting that from one “remarkable” and frankly freakish example, the writer could conclude that it “throw a light” on “the lower orders in that country.” It almost sounds like, “the lower order of that country.” Again, beggars are an indictment of a society.

In our land of fuzzy and often quite devious euphemisms, where a prisoner is a “detainee” and an illegal immigrant is just an “undocumented worker,” it’s only appropriate that we don’t have beggars, really, but only panhandlers. Though we have enough strange bodies on the streets, most of our beggars are remarkably normal in appearance and demeanor. Just today, I talked to Marty, a 31-year-old from Winslow, NJ. Reasonably well-groomed, clean and without tattoos, Marty wore a long-sleeve T-shirt, basketball shorts and Polo sneakers. He sat on his bedding next to a platic cup of soda. Marty served four years in the Army. He loves his brief glimpse of Berlin and the “brotherhood” of the military. Afghanistan was “a mess” and Iraq “not what we had been told.” Marty’s been homeless for three weeks. To gain an advantage over other beggars, Marty had come up with a clever sign, “FREE TO A LOVING HOME. HOUSE TRAINED ALREADY!!” In a tiny scrawl beneath that, there’s also, “Trying to Get a Buck to eat.” Two blocks away, I then found an old lady of about 80 dozing in a wheelchair next to two tote bags. I’ve seen men this ancient dumped on our sidewalks, so why not this woman? Most of our homeless shelters kick people out during the daytime, and there are no storage facilities. Here was your average greatgrandma nodding off on a comfy armchair in a cozy living room, except that there was no armchair and no living room. For the many hours that she’s out there, thousands of people, locals and tourists, walk by this exposed woman. This is the new normal.

An American who’s at the bottom is no less representative than Steve Jobs, though only Jobs’ biography is scrutinized. In fact, since the ratio of American “losers” to “winners” has become so askew, with the losing camp swelling to include just about everybody by now, one can understand nothing by ignoring the bottom. Let’s meet, then, Lisa from Clayton, NJ (population 8,216). I found her sitting on Walnut Street near the Holiday Inn. At the time, Lisa had been homeless for 10 months. It was a gorgeous spring day, warm and sunny. Freezing temperatures would not return for at least four months.

“It doesn’t make sense to be anywhere else, right? It doesn’t make sense to be in Atlantic City?”

“No. Now that it’s getting nice, it’s OK to be in Atlantic City, but during the winter, no, and they really don’t have much to offer there.”

“Don’t they have a pretty good shelter there?”

“No, not for women.”

“Were you familiar with Philadelphia before you came here?”


“It wasn’t too much of a shock, right?”

“Uh-uh, I’d been here a lot in my younger years, so I’d been around and I’d seen homeless people then, so I knew where the areas were.”

“Did you come over here for music?”

“Yup, yup,” she laughed.

“That’s what most people come over here for, you know, for rock shows.”

“Yup, yup.”

“Where did you go?”

“I was more into going to the Phillies games, and concerts. I was in South Philly. I went to clubs.”

“Which clubs?”

“I used to go to Egypt. That was a long time ago.”

“That’s on Delaware Avenue, right?”


“That’s a nice one too!”

“Yeah. I was a normal person!”

“What kind of music were you interested in?”

“Club. I liked hip hop. Now I’m into country.”

“How old are you?”


“I’m just wondering, you know, your generation.”


“So what kind of work were you doing?

“I was a secretary. I was doing billing, medical billing.”

“How long were you doing that?”

“Six years.”

“And before that?”

“Before that, I worked at a retail store. From there, I became a secretary, then from there, I ended up out here.”

“Did you have to get a degree?”


“Did it cost you money?”


“But you made it back.”

“Uh huh.”

“So when did it go bad?”

“Two years ago. Um, but for the first year, I was able to maintain still, and then, the last year, I just lost everything, so that’s what put me out here.”

“You had an apartment in Clayton.”

“Clayton, yup. I’m actually now trying to get back up, so, and get out of here.”

“So what’s the plan?”

“The plan is to get back to New Jersey.”

“So how are you straightening things out?”

“With the help of my family, and getting a little part time job, which I’m starting Thursday.”




“In Philly, in Reading Terminal Market.”

“OK, cool!”

“Yeah. It’s something. It will help me get off here. I’m going to rent a room, and then from there, try to get home.”

“Was there a problem getting hired, ah, as a homeless person?”

“I didn’t tell them, no. Now they know!”

“Now they do?!”


“It didn’t hold them back?”

“No, they’re really, really nice there.”

“Were you nervous about…”

“Yes, it’s embarrassing.”

“You know, people make all kinds of assumptions.”

“I’ve been assumed to be everything, and no one knows anything.” We both laughed. “It’s crazy. I’d rather people not say anything at all than to just be mean. There’s no need for it.”

“How mean can they get?”

“Very! Yeah. They curse you out.”

“For no reason?”

“For no reason. And I don’t say anything to people. I’m not sitting here asking, I’m just sitting here quietly. So they just come by and say whatever they want.”

“Like, who are the meanest people? If you can generalize a little bit. Younger, older?”

“Younger. I’d say between, like, 19 and 23, that age group. Guys.”

“But, you know, they haven’t been out.”


“What do they know?”


“I wonder if it’s some kind of anxiety that they feel?”

“Could be.”

“Because they haven’t been tested.”

“Right! And I just don’t get it, because it’s always the same group of people, the same type of people, but I don’t pay it any mind.”

“What do you mean the same type?”

“Like, same age group. Guys, it’s always guys, never girls.”



“That’s so perverse!”


“I mean, how do you get off insulting people you don’t know?”

“Exactly! And how do you know you’re not going to be sitting here one day?”

“You might not last until 35. You might be in jail or dead.”

“Exactly. You don’t know what the future holds.”

“Are they black guys? White guys?”


“Black guys tend to be a little bit more…”

“Yup! Even to the point of kicking your cup over.”

“Black guys will do that?”


“You know, I keep hearing this shit about black guys.”

“Uh huh.”

“But black women tend to be nice.”

“Yes, very. Extremely, extremely. Ninety percent of my drops come from black women.”

“You know, I keep hearing that.”


“Isn’t that amazing?”

“Yeah, they help immensely, immensely. It might even be ninety-five percent.”

“Wow, and they’re nice to, like, white guys too?”


“That’s what I hear.”

“Yup, very. I don’t know if it’s because they feel compassion because they grew up struggling, or they didn’t have things growing up, but they’re the ones who help the most. White people will walk right past me and look at me like I’m dirt under their shoes.”

“Well, black women also have to take care of a lot of people.”


“A lot of them don’t have husbands, right?”

“Yup, that is true.”

“And they also have to take care of people at their jobs, you know, like nursing care.”

“Yup, nursing, yeah.”

“Um, I know that Angel has Seth.”

“Uh huh.”

“Do you have a boyfriend out here?”

“Yup, right there,” and Lisa indicated with her head a man sitting across the street by the Korean owned buffet.

“So you’re safe that way?”


“Do men try weird shit?”

“Yeah. Everyday.”


“Uh huh,”

“In the daytime?”

“Daytime, nighttime and they think I have six heads because I say I don’t do that.”


“It’s expected.”

“They come by and say some shit?”

“Yeah, and if you say no, they’re like… They expect it. They expect that, if you’re sitting out here, you’re a prostitute.”


“And I’m like, no, I don’t do that.”

“I bet you, like, are they older guys? Middle-aged guys?”

“Forty, yeah, forty, forty-five.”

“Creepy, huh?”


“And what do you say?”

“I just say, no, I don’t do that, and they look at me like I’m crazy. I’m like, I don’t do that!”

“You should say, You’re a fuckin’ loser!”

“Yeah!” She laughed.

“Do you ever say that?”

“I told one guy off because he just wouldn’t leave me alone. And I’m like, get away from me, you creep. Like, go get a life!”

“What did he look like? What did he look like?”

“He was, like, fifty. White.”

“Did he look, like, skanky?”

“Yeah, dirty. He looked like he was more homeless than me!”

“Well, I’m saying… He probably hasn’t been laid in, like, twenty years!”

“Yeah.” We both laughed. “Probably. Yeah. Desperate. He’s a weirdo. I see him every once in a while now, too, walking around, but as soon as I see him, I run the other way.”

“So what does he say?”

“Do you date?”

“Do you date?!” I cracked up.

“Yeah, do you date? No, I don’t. And he’d just stand there and stare at you.”

“Stand like right there?”

“Uh huh. Yeah, he’s a weirdo.”

“How is he dressed?”

“Sweat pants and a T-shirt, always, and sandals with no socks on.”

“Something goofy on the T-shirt?”

“No, just a dingy white T-shirt. It was during the winter time, and he didn’t have any socks on. I remember that.”

“And he always say that?”


“He doesn’t vary it?”

“Nope. Just do you date?”

“I bet you hear ruder shit, right?”

“Not really, not with that. It’s more like, do you date? Or, do you want to take a ride?” I cracked up. “Do you want to do that? But I’ve been out here for ten months with him,” meaning her boyfriend, “so a lot of people see me…”

“Did you meet your boyfriend out here?”

“No, no, we… I’ve been with him for fifteen years.”

“Oh wow! So what kind of work does he do?”

“He’s a mechanic.”

“And you both just ran out of work?”

“Yeah. I stopped working before him, and then he got laid off. After that, we lost everything.”

“So you lost your job two years ago?”

“Yeah, and he worked for a whole ‘nother year. He worked under the table, so he wasn’t able to collect unemployment.”

“How old is your boyfriend?”


“Wow, it’s amazing, isn’t it, that people in their thirties… It doesn’t make any sense. I mean, Angel is in her twenties.”

“”Yeah, I think she’s only 23.” Angel is actually only 22.

Lisa then told me about Eli, a 28-year-old homeless woman from Pittsburgh, “She has a really, really interesting story. I tell her all the time that, once she gets out of this situation, she should go teach young girls, because she has an incredible story. I mean, she was, like, working with congressmen.”

“Lisa, I’m 51, and it used to be so easy to find work. I’m telling you.”

“Now, it’s a struggle.”

“I know, it’s insane.”

“It is. The whole economy is terrible, and the cost of living is higher, yet you don’t even make enough money to live.”

“And they’re lying about all the statistics.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Unemployment. Inflation.”

“Yup. It’s crazy. Even when I was younger, when I was 19 and 20, there were tons of jobs. From then until now is a huge difference, so I’m just hoping. I’ve got to take it step by step.”

“So how many hours will you be working?”

“Twenty, twenty-two, something to get me off here for twenty or twenty-two hours.”

Lisa and her boyfriend are hoping to move inside soon, “We’re going to rent a room. It’s by 22nd and, ah, Dickinson.”

“Point Breeze.”

“Yup. So we’re going to try to rent a room. We can’t afford an apartment now.”

“How much is it?”

“It’s about 130 a week.”

“Housing prices, too… 130 a week for a room, in fuckin’ Point Breeze.”

“Yup, and it’s just a room,” she chuckled.

“That’s kind of a pain, ain’t it? But what can you do?”

“It’s better than being out here.”

I told Lisa that in 1999, I had a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Philadelphia for just $350. Now, the same space would go for at least $1,100.

“It’s crazy. It’s absolutely crazy. To get into an apartment, you need the first and last month’s rent. You need a major chunk to get even in the door.”

“So that’s hopeful, you have this job, and your boss seems nice.”

“Very. Very nice.”

“How did he know that you were homeless?”

“Well, the way I got introduced was through a regular of mine that passes me all the time. He’s friends with him. At first, I didn’t say anything, but my regular said, you can tell him, he’s understanding, so I talked to him, and he said he’d give me a chance, and it didn’t matter that I was, you know… As long as I’m a hard worker, that’s what he cares about, so.” Lisa will be a cashier at her new job. “I’ve experience with it. I’m looking forward to it.”

“A couple more questions! What’s the biggest surprise that you’ve found out after being out here this long? Is there something you didn’t expect at all?”

“I guess. Really, it’s just that… the way people treat you is the biggest surprise. I used to be the person walking by that would give a homeless person a dollar, but I didn’t realize how people… It’s like you’re invisible. I don’t know how you treat people that way? I’m still a human being.”

“And the hostility is incomprehensible.”

“Yeah, yeah. I don’t know what the hatred is for. I don’t know what the anger is for. I’ve done nothing against these people. I get that if you don’t want to help me, you don’t have to help me, but you don’t have to walk by with such anger. That’s probably the biggest surprise, how people treat, and it’s not just me. It’s homeless people in general. I mean, I’m pretty fortunate. I’ve seen people get treated a lot worse. Um, a friend of ours just got, ah, beaten and he passed away. They beat him right over here by the Dunkin’ Donuts.”



“How old was he?”

“Forty-three-years old.”

“This happened recently?”

“Yup, this happened about a month ago. No paper, no news.”


“Yeah, they beat him to death. He was in a coma, and they finally got in touch with his family, and they pulled the plug and he passed away.”

“What’s his name?”



“Ah, his last name, I believe, is Taylor. He’s from Delaware, but he was out here for a good two and a half years.”

“And you said there was no newspaper coverage. I wonder why? It’s a murder.”

“Yeah. There were actually three beatings of three homeless people.”

“Within a month?”

“Within a week. One of them was left at the level of a five-year-old, Kenny passed away and the other guy, they put into a rehab facility. He’s an alcoholic, and he got beaten so badly, they didn’t want to put him back on the streets, so they put him into a rehab. Three, within a week.”

“And how did the news get out?”

“We found out by the outreach. The outreach came by, especially to me and Eli, the other girl, because we’re girls and they wanted us to be careful. But yeah, no news, no…”

“And no arrest.”


Broad Street Ministry, the shelter that Lisa used to sleep at, has been closed since April 1st. It only operates in the winter.

“If a woman doesn’t have a man,” I continued, “that’s pretty fucked up, right?”


“It’s almost essential.”

“Yeah. I don’t see how you can be out here without somebody, a friend or someone that you trust to take care of you. Otherwise, you’re in jeopardy every night, really.”

“I can see a situation where a woman is out here as a single, and then has to find a man.”


“But that’s also weird, right?”


“Because that’s not… You don’t really want this.”

“Yeah, there’s a lady out here that’s like that, Tracy. She found somebody out here because she was out here by herself.”

“So it’s like a convenient boyfriend.”


“OK, one last question. What about your survival tactic? What have you learnt how to do that you didn’t know how to do before?”

“Ah, how to have thick skin! Thick skin and, ah, knowing your surroundings, knowing what’s going on around you. I used to be in this little bubble, you know, oblivious, but now I know what’s going on around me, a lot, and you have to, to be out here.”

“And being out here, you can probably observe people better than you ever did.”


“Because you, literally, have nothing else to do.”

“Yeah, and you do see a lot, when you’re sitting here. A lot of good, a lot of bad, but a lot.”

“So what have you learnt about people? I mean, aside from the nasty things.”

“Ah, there’s a lot of good people, though. There are a lot of good people who come up and are willing to help. I have a lady over on Chesnut that comes up to me everyday and just says hi and gets me coffee in the morning. There are a lot of good people in this city that outweigh the bad. The good outweighs the bad.”

“Oh, that’s good to hear.”

“Yeah. You tend to focus on the bad because it aggravates you and you don’t understand it.”

“And also for survival.”


“If you don’t focus on it, you might be dead!”

“Yeah! Exactly, exactly!”

Today, I scoured the Reading Terminal but could not find Lisa. I also didn’t see her on Walnut Street. Perhaps she’s back in New Jersey. I’ve seen a few people climb out of the pit, but I’ve seen more lose their footing.



Ian Keenan said...

The poorest one third of voters used to vote 10% Democrat but the number changed to 30%. That has been attributed partially to social issues like abortion but in the 1950s, the Democratic Party tent held the white segregationists who still blamed Lincoln on the Republicans and black voters. Segregationist John Sparkman, not picked by Stevenson, ran on the Democratic ticket in 1952. After Humphrey and Kennedy's Voting Rights Act the majority of Southern whites gradually moved to the Republican side. On religion, abortion is one wedge issue and provocations like putting 'under god' into the Pledge of Allegiance are intended to move the religious to the right, but aside from Marxists there hasn't been an attack on religion. The US has been from the beginning a haven for religious groups that were usually more conservative than the European theocracies that were persecuting them in some way.

On immigration, the consensus of analysts is that the more people come, the more it helps the Democrats long term. Obama and the Democrats are terrified of passing a comprehensive bill that can be attacked. The Republicans have both the people most intent on using undocumented labor to break unions and the rank and file that is most anti-immigration, leading to the current spectacle where Walker, who once supported immigration to drive down farm worker wages, and Cruz, a Cuban from Texas, have fashioned themselves as anti-immigration to win the primary, while being outflanked by Trump, who has been pro-immigration in the past and of course hires undocumented workers for his hotels and construction projects, who ups the ante by openly insulting Mexicans and rises in the polls while the networks drop him. An attorney for immigrants I know says W. Bush was the best president for his clients. Jeb isn't budging on his moderate position because he runs in Florida, has a Mexican wife, and could care less about white union members. No one in the Republican side has had a consistent anti-immigration position because they know the issue is going to come back to bite them, but Trump, Walker, and Cruz are trying anything to get a leg up in the primary.

x larry said...

depressing stuff. your observation is acute, that it used to be so easy to get a job. i moved all around america starting at age 19. i'd sit in my car outside some restaurant, muster up some courage, walk in and more often than not be working that night. easy travel, the whole bit. now you must apply online, the same endless stupid questions. you can't even get an interview most of the time. whatever may be said (and i don't yet understand it) about socialism, i live in an at least partially socialist country, the uk. the homeless problem here is miniscule compared to america. you rarely see people out begging, and brighton where i am is the end of the line for many here, the place where all the weirdos and destitutes go (and often enough commit suicide), still you only see the odd beggar on busy shopping streets. there's absolutely none of the fear you encounter anywhere and everywhere in america, from a relatively small town like saginaw, michigan, to toledo, to all the bigger cities, excepting largely really white places like denver, the safest big american city i've lived in.
but yes, britain is socialist. cameron and company as i speak are trying desperately to destroy this, but with a lot of opposition, including from at least a few mp's. for now there's health care, for now there's housing benefit (they pay for your housing!), and the dole (unemployment). it works just fine here (except for the right wing loonies who abound throughout the countryside and are extremely angry penny pinchers and taxpayers)--somehow there's plenty of money to, once more, PAY FOR PEOPLE'S HOUSING! so most aren't completely filled with hate and distrustful in the extreme. i know you don't agree for the most part, but i think some form of socialism is the only answer, and that americans must become accepting of this again--they not long ago (1930s) pretty much led the world in the implimentation of radical social programs and socialist thought. the situation now is so bad, so hopeless, and it can only get much worse. there's no leadership, there's no core, there is no mass organization, except for corrupt groups, ngo's. the really radical ones now read their counterpunch and are lulled to sleep by amy goodman--all must be well.
well, i've said all this many times, but i do believe it, much as i feel helpless and hopeless. i think socialism must be re-thought---or thought about in the first place. we must read marx (i've just bought 'capital volume one' and hope to start it soon), we must understand the very rich history of movement worldwide. we must understand what Master has systematically done since about 1950, his great violence in keeping all of us crushed and atomized, brainwashed, violent, intollerant, hateful and colossally stupid.

x larry said...

not to say all's perfectly well in britain. if you are on benefit, you constantly worry what's around the corner. they've got new thatcheresque programs like 'workfare' where employers get 'volutneers' (it's mandatory) to work for free for a period, and scare the 'volunteer' into getting a job, however shitty. but it's not as bad a euphemism or practice as america's 'right to work' states, where, precisely, you have the right to do your job and shut the fuck up--you have no rights whatsoever. grim, grim, grim all around

Linh Dinh said...

Hi all,

I had the wrong link for "Lisa," but it's fixed. Thanks to Ian Keenan for pointing that out.


Linh Dinh said...

Chuck Orloski:

I know a man, Joseph Walsh, who just turned 47-years old, July 21st. Every Sunday morning, I drive school bus to his Scranton Revival Baptist Church, and he serves as a guide who knows the exact locations of where people (without cars) live and who want to attend church.

Joe is cross-eyed, has mental deficiency (low I.Q.?), he's always dressed in an old 2-piece suit which one can routinely find on the racks of local Salvation Army, Thrift Stores. I know... I shopped in such places.

Joe gets government disability benefits, including monthly Food Stamps, and he consistently gets part-time jobs from local business owners who need a hand with, for example, loading & loading of goods, sometimes cleanup needs. He's very conscientious, keeps eyes peeled for passengers who tend to discard items upon my school bus floor, young kids who are tempted to toss ice pop & potato chip packages out window!

Joe's single-mother left him at an early age, he presently lives with three other guys inside an apartment above North Scranton's old Castle Restaurant, now operating on weekends as a Nightclub. (In late-1990s, my wife Carol worked as waitress at Castle Restaurant) He wants me to call him "Preacher Joe."

Every Sunday morning, he's the first person to show-up when my bus arrives in front of Revival Baptist Church. Preacher Joe boards bus, extends hand, warmly asserts, "I love you, Chuck, and so does God." Like all members of R.B.C., Preacher Joe does not like my Catholic affiliation, and he longs for me to avoid Mass at St. Ann's & come inside his church, and listen to Pastor Randy Bloem preach. He makes sincere request, and takes time to pray for my sinus & allergy condition, and for my wife's deteriorating health.

Linh Dinh said...

Chuck Orloski:

Three Sundays ago, Preacher Joe excitedly announced his birthday is on July 21st. With other church "Brothers" aboard and in ear shot, I told Preacher Joe that given time away from my daily Summer School bus runs, I'd call and take him to the downtown Melba Bar, enjoy a cold "birthday" draft beer. Excited, Joe made sure I had his government-supplied cell phone number in-hand, he excitedly said, "I'll hold you to that promise, Chuck... but just 1-beer!" Soon, with a few passengers aboard, I released bus park brake, and we were off throughout upper valley towns of Dickson City, Olyphant, Jessup, Peckville, Eynon, where often about 40 (total) church-goers stood outside humble homes, project housing -- the young and thirty-something passengers were warm, dressed in Sunday "best," they were definitely not the type headed for casinos, back yard pool parties, bar-b-ques.

My unfamiliarity with the upper Lackawanna Valley streets apparent, Preacher Joe served as Sacajawea, and offered directions far ahead of each particular "stop." A human G.P.S., he often confounded me by describing necessary turns, far ahead of my driving comprehension. For example, Preacher Joe would constantly say, "OK, Chuck, make rigth on Main Street at the Olyphant anchor, go straight until you hit the bar with umbrellas and flags outside, pass Catholic Church on left, come to RR Tracks, take a left, be careful 'cause it's hard to see to the south..."

"Whoa, Joe! Please slow down with each stop? Go step at a time? My brain can not register all the directions your brain could."

At mid-point of my journey, "Brothers" would rise from seats, and they'd start to sing lively Christian music, for example "This Little Light of Mine, I'm gonna make it shine," clap hands and encourage all to join in. For a break, "Mrs. G." would begin a Bible "Jeopardy" game, for starter example, she'd ask passengers, "Who wrote the Bible?" Silence.. then Preacher Joe and a few others would reply, "God wrote it!" Mrs. G., next question, "What happened to cities of Sodom & Gomorrah?" Under breath, I muttered, "Cities went bankrupt, relocated, opened for business in the US."

At morning journey end, I pulled in front of Baptist revival church, opened bus door, and allowed passengers to safely discharge, enter church. I noted Brother Jose, on edge, hesitated and waited for all to exit. He very politely informed me about his disappointment that I spoke about downing a beer with Preacher Joe on his birthday, #47.

Earlier in his life, as a younger & wild man, Jose admits to being addicted to booze and drugs. Brother Jose sincerely said, "I hate booze, Chuck... and I am very hurt that Preacher Joe said he will love to partake in a "birthday" beer with you... I don't quite know why I continue to accept Joe as Brother, a leader of our church."

"Well, Jose, I see that Preacher Joe is a poor and hurt man. He's looking for family, he'd love to have a nice little house, and a good wife like yours and brother Bob's. I regret that you overheard my offer of goodwill, sharing of a beer, and a little brotherhood."

"No matter, Chuck! During past month, our Pastor is preaching about the sin of alcohol.. and he's right!"

"Respectfully Jose, didn't Jesus turn water into wine at Cana wedding, keep people's spirits up?

"Yea, yea, Chuck... but you know that Jesus did not make alcoholic wine like the stuff sold at liquor stores!"

"Oh, I get it, Jose. It's sort of like the "sippy" fruit drinks Preacher Joe kindly buys for the bus passengers each and every Sunday with his Food Stamps."

"You got it, Chuck! I'll see you later... Jesus would never make and pass out Mogen David to his followers."

Linh Dinh said...

Chuck Orloski:

I apologize for going off on such tangent here with regard to Linh's excellent Postcard. However, where I grew up in Taylor Borough, 1956, there were only five small new homes which working people could afford, dirt roads. Surrounding were several houses which originally served as houses for hard-drinking coal miner families. For example, the late 1940s-early 1950s settlers, the Casey and Rowlands who each had seven (7) children. As pampered only child, with a 3-bedroom house and a cellar, & in contrast to the old "shabby" homes of neighbors (friends), I felt like King Farouk, minus the arrogance.

During that time, fathers, heads of families worked jobs; the wives either worked part-time at dress factories or stayed at home, took care of children. One day, will NEVER forget, while bouncing a rubber ball upon our backyard patio, mother Mary at stove, I heard gun shots! In a dispute over a boyfriend, teenage Marlene Chompko shot her mother, the rare incident appeared in Life Magazine.

Respected matriarch of a wealthy business family, transporter of bananas, Mrs. Chompko survived the shooting, and today, I hear a lot about ISIS plans to destroy America. The poor kids who grew up in the "tight" Casey and Rowlands families all turned out quite well, married, went to church, drank alcohol, they had steady benefit of FAMILY, mothers & fathers, and family supporting jobs -- they did not need Hillary Clinton's "Village," Planned Parenthood. Frankly, I enjoyed MORE support-benefits too, and as a Scranton School bus driver now, I see (up close) how the majority of my kids (passengers) do not have a mother and father.

Suppose it's too late for people to address the disintegration of the family as a significant part of the problem of America's fall, the End? Preacher Joe Walsh keeps looking for a family, and believes he's found one in the Revival Baptist Church. Maybe I'm wrong and there is regenerative hope in such religious communities, but like L.D. alluded to in this Postcard, the building of division and a society of "Haves & Have Nots" is a key part of our Master's business plan.

Thank you, no time to edit this rant, at Noon will do volunteer work at St. Ann's Novena, cook pizza and flip burgers. They feed me!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Linh. I've often wondered why people aren't horrified when they see pictures of 500K post war homes that used to be sold for 85K about 20 years ago in some parts of the country. I guess it requires perspective and understanding.

Housing is a racket, and a problem (like Joe Bageant described so well) for the country's history.

Even during the (for most white people) eras of more prosperity, we had epic attempts at public housing. Robert Taylor, Cabrini Green, etc, every major city across the US. Now we have debt predation and viciousness.

Right leaning Americans hate to hear it, but the Soviet Union managed to house more of their population than compared to the US.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Anonymous,

We have so many abandoned houses yet so many people living on the streets. In most cities, people with money claim the center, while the poor must take a couple of buses, or a train and a bus (or even two buses) to go to work. Many people can't even live in the same city where they work. You might have a job in Santa Fe, but can only afford an apartment in Albuquerque. In the Silicon Valley, there are so many help wanted signs for minimum wage jobs because people who make so little can't afford to live there, not unless they cram 12 into an apartment or live with their extended family.


Anonymous said...


Right on!

This was a great post-card.

And I liked Chuck O's derivative postcard. Especially the Sodom and Gomorrah aside. That had me laughing hard.

You are right to observe all these abandoned buildings and all of these homeless people. . . We should put two-and-two together right?

Unfortunately, what happens is that the looters come instantly like vultures and strip the copper. Replacing all of that stuff is an incredible impediment and then the building sits too long and dilapidates before anything is done.

The real solution is not to turn people out of the homes in the first place.


Chuck Olroski said...


Am glad you liked my "derivative" Postcard, but I sincerely felt bad (ignorant?) that I intruded upon Linh's vital offer of Lisa's picture and the superb telling of her heartfelt story.

America sorely needs to get such message out NOW, and although Lisa asserts in general that "good people outweigh the bad," the latter category, with help from MSM, tend to establish what's "cool" and further paves our nation's Infrastructure to Perdition.

One final matter to consider, Leo? Did you ever watch the classic film, "Dr. Zhivago?" If so, you might recall the dramatic scene where the angry & armed Russian proletariat entered the lavish Gromeko home (estate) and made it their own. I'm not all that certain what will happen here in the U.S.A. at the moment of CRASH, but I do sense that our Controllers are militarily prepared, and have both transportation & special housing plans ready for unemployed and restless American proles.

Thank you.

Ian Keenan said...

I obviously meant 10% - 30% Republican..

Anonymous said...

Bottom line is that the economy has been contracting for some time, regardless of what the fake statistics say. The people on top grab all they can, and everybody below is shoved down one or two notches.

Anonymous said...

Chuck O

Yeah, Dr. Zhivago is great.

Who knows what will happen. I know of resourceful folks who are already squatting out. Its just hard because the people who are still in the community dont like the presence of squatters, right? Its part of the American mentality of an arbitrary fairness: "I'm going to call the cops on these people. Why should they get to live for free when I pay taxes on my house and keep it quasi ship-shape . . ." Both sides are right, in a certain respect.

And, really, I'm not looking forward to the rabble rising up to reproduce a chaos of the Bolshevik revolution. I've read the Gulag Archipelago, I know what happens when the "common clay" take power. Lets face it, the people at the top of our Gummint are inept, greedy, corrupt, and fools, but they at least are not dropping a bomb of abject and irrational assault that only idiots are capable of.

The hurt they deliver on the common man is in some part, what could be called, collateral damage of an imperial policy.

To take a bite out of China, we can wreck our economy, the Fabian strategy, (and sure, American's will suffer) and hope that we can recover locally better than they, because, lets face it, the Chinese are stretched thin and if they suddenly have no buyers they suddenly have 100 million idle hands to do the devils work. Know what I mean? The 2008 crash was a practice run.

I predict that future will be smaller, tighter communities. More autonomy of local government. No one believes the Fed and its becoming more common for states to exercise their power.


Ian Keenan said...

I saw Ken Loach's British squatting dramedy Riff Raff when it came out - it's currently distributed by some company that put it out on limited edition Blu-ray last year so it's hard to get right now but it's one of Loach's best.


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.