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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Boys II Bums

As published at LewRockwell, CounterCurrents, Unz Review and Intrepid Report, 4/6/16:

Though no millennial metrosexual, I sleep next to my laptop, and this morning, an email came from a Japanese literary journal, Monkey, to ask me to name a short story I wish I had written. Editor Motoyuki Shibata also requested a one-hundred word explanation, which I promptly knocked out while sipping an Earl Grey at my kitchen table. Done, I had a breakfast of spaghetti with tomato sauce, SPAM, salami and chunks of cheddar cheese. You had to see it.

Though I immediately thought of Borges, Kafka and even Walser, I decided on Hemingway’s “The Sea Change,” a rather obscure yet groundbreaking story about a man losing his girlfriend to a woman. It’s most pertinent to our time. As with “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” “The End of Something,” “A Very Short Story” or The Sun Also Rises, etc., macho Hemingway is dealing with male impotence. “The Sea Change,” though, is his most succinct, radical, funny and prophetic treatment of the theme.

The breaking up couple sit in a Parisian café. Exasperated, he bitches, “I don’t have it my own way. I wish to God I did.”

She replies, “You did for a long time.”

Later, he threatens violence towards his unseen, lesbian rival, “I’ll kill her.”

Calmly, she counsels, “Please don’t.”

As they argue, two men enter and fuss with the bartender over looking well or gaining weight. Queer talk, basically. Joining them at the bar after his girlfriend has left, the protagonist declares, “I’m a different man.” The gay guys have to make room for him.

“The End of Something” is also about a couple breaking up. It begins with this description of a dead town:

“In the old days Hortons Bay was a lumbering town. No one who lived in it was out of sound of the big saws in the mill by the lake. Then one year there were no more logs to make lumber. The lumber schooners came into the bay and were loaded with the cut of the mill that stood stacked in the yard. All the piles of lumber were carried away. The big mill building had all its machinery that was removable taken out and hoisted on board one of the schooners by the men who had worked in the mill. The schooner moved out of the bay toward the open lake, carrying the two great saws, the travelling carriage that hurled the logs against the revolving, circular saws and all the rollers, wheels, belts and iron piled on a hull-deep load of lumber. Its open hold covered with canvas and lashed tight, the sails of the schooner filled and it moved out into the open lake, carrying with it everything that had made the mill a mill and Hortons Bay a town.”

When “The End of Something” was published in 1925, a post-productive town like Hortons Bay was an anomaly. Now, there are thousands across America. Deprived of a manly job, the story’s male protagonist, Nick, is also neutered. Out fishing with his girlfriend, he’s cranky and won’t even eat a lunch she’s packed for him. They fight.

“You know everything,” he snaps. “That’s the trouble. You know you do.” Then, even more tellingly, “I’ve taught you everything […] What don’t you know, anyway?”

Though Marjorie tells him to shut up, she never loses her composure. She’s much more woman than he is man, for sure, and even more “man” than he is, if one indulges the entirely untrue stereotype of the female as prone to being irrational or hysterical. Nick is the bitch here.

With factories closing, farms mechanizing, families breaking up and communities disintegrating, men today are mostly tattooed husks, especially if they’re of the lower class where traditional sex roles had always been the bedrock. Many are too poor to start or maintain a family. Others are fathers only in the sense that they must send a child support check once a month. Already without authority and owning next to nothing, many can’t even use their muscles.

Manly virtue has become a quaint, snicker-provoking concept. In a world of constant flux and no memory, honor and dignity mean nothing, since just about any act, depraved or noble, is either unseen or quickly forgotten. Faceless and nameless, the feeble lash out at strangers online. Hopeless sons and failed dads, they hanker for an uber daddy, be it some politician, the Pope or even a totalitarian state.

Though most powerless, blacks swagger the most, but we all know who have the real bling. Pale nerds push dark rappers.

Though day-to-day male virtues are nearly invisible yet steadfast, role models for young men are cocky singers, badass movie stars and hypermasculine athletes. Outside the screens, ordinary men increasingly slouch and slump.

Consider 53-year-old Joe, a lifelong resident of Fishtown, a Philly post-industrial neighborhood made infamous by Charles Murray. Joe has been a junkie, off and on, for much of his adult life. For 7 1/2 years, Joe had a Vietnamese girlfriend, Tien, but he spent four of those years locked up for credit card fraud. Inside, Joe subscribed to Asian Girls and Forty Something, he said to me. When Joe got out in ‘84, Tien bought him a decent used car and a $1,000 Rolex watch, and she was just a nursing student. Her name means “fairy,” by the way.

“Tien was not just the best girlfriend I’ve ever had, she was also the best person I’ve ever known.”

Years after he had broken up with Tien, Joe saw her walking up the steps of an elevated train station, “I was with this prostitute but I said, ‘Go over to that park and wait for me,’ then I ran to catch up with Tien. I felt this small, man,” and he kept his hands about six inches apart. “I said to her that I was broke and really needed money, so she gave me a twenty. That was the last time I ever saw Tien.”

Consider 20-year-old Jay, an unemployed college dropout who lives with his divorced dad. Jay’s parents broke up mostly because his executive dad was jobless for three years. All day, Jay’s locked inside his room, surfing the internet or steering that joystick. Jay has no friends, much less a girlfriend. Not a bad looking kid, Jay was bright and confident enough in high school to win the California Speech Championship in thematic interpretation. Jay lives in a pleasant, well-landscaped Fremont neighborhood, which is nice, I suppose, if you have somewhere to go each day. Otherwise, there’s nothing around to even be kicked out of. Even if Jay was old enough to drink, there’s no bar nearby. There’s Bombay Pizza, “Home Of The Curry Pizza,” but that’s no place to chill. In such a bedroom “community,” you’re lost if you’re not plugged in to school or work. There is nothing and no one to resocialize you, so for a young man, this means that Grand Theft Auto, Minecraft and YouJizz will be your best companions. Since Jay already had a nervous breakdown, his dad doesn’t want to push him. “What should I do? What will he do when I die?”

A third of Americans under 35 now live with their parents, and half of them spend half of their incomes servicing debts. You’re not likely to get married if you’re living with mom and dad, that’s for sure, but soon enough, we will see three generations under one roof again, out of economic necessity. We will also see more couples with their kids all in one room. Poor people worldwide already live this way, and we are poor.



LJansen said...

No quibble with your theme here, Linh. We are poor in every sense of the word.

What struck me here is your literary knowledge, the basis for your own writing.

I used to read books, but now am habituated to the computer. I keep checking books out of the library, intending to read them, but just never do.

I'm older so I guess this is not a great loss. I wonder, though, about the education of younger people.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Linda,

The computer makes concentration harder than ever, so few people can read even a short story, much less a novel. Also, teaching of the humanities has deteriorated greatly, and there's no agreement about who our great authors are. How many college graduates have read Whitman, Meville or Hemingway? You rarely see anyone walk around with a serious book any more. I didn't grow up with book reading parents, so had to teach myself, and I never even finished four years of college. What helped me when I was young was the absence of the computer, then later, a conscious decision to stay away from television and recorded music. With silence, I can concentrate.


LJansen said...

Hi, Linh. I envy your ability to concentrate, hard-earned it sounds like. I never was able to study w/music on, let alone a television. I don't have a tv now and rarely watch anything online.

I enjoy reading all the flotsam and jetsam that washes over my computer screen, but I know I am missing a lot by not being able to immerse myself in a real and serious book.

I'll keep trying. Got some books on order at the library (again!).

Thanks. Linda

Mark and Jolee said...

Linh, We can always count on you to write about a non-PC concept, like 'manly virtue', something that everyone recognizes but what with the advent of identity politics, dares not write about.

No wonder you are such a terrific writer. Like Linda, I am in awe of your vast literary knowledge. Really good piece. J and M

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Mark and Jolee,

Thanks, but I'm only too aware of my own ignorance. Ian Keenan is a guy who really knows his literature. I don't know how he does it.

I'm glad to hear you say that "everyone recognizes" manly virtue, and it's not some cartoonish muscleman attribute, as you well know.


Ian Keenan said...

I told Linh a while back that I dropped into Molly's Books in his hood, picked up Blood and Soap and Love Like Hate, told her 'now it's our secret I haven't read these.' I still don't have a smart phone, I occasionally have a dumb phone, I have the ability to read outside privately enough that I get immersed but it can get noisy here in the burbs. I listen to music but am pretty much TV free now.

Ian Keenan said...

told her = I should say Molly Russakoff of course, the poet of whom Linh's a fan

Linh Dinh said...

Hi all,

This article provoked more email responses than usual. I want to share some with you.


Christ, Dinh, you sound like me, now a curmudgeonly old fart well into his eighth decade, and one who has plenty of friends with thirty-ish offspring either living with them or being supported by them.

Luckily, all our kids are out of the house, two as military combat pilots and one in med-school, having belatedly decided at the age of thirty that she wanted to be a doctor.

Your English is so perfect that I must assume that you're second generation American and that your parents came from Vietnam, one of the most beautiful countries on earth, and also one of the most unhappily war-torn. I spent two years of my largely misspent youth there ( 1st ID and 5th SF Gp) and would happily admit that if this nation ever has to fight another war I'd certainly welcome Vietnam to be on our side. Everybody who's ever fought there ultimately has blunted their sword on the place, most recently the Chinese during that little border dispute a few years back. The place also features the most beautiful women in Asia. Being a board-certified DOM (that's Dirty Old Man) I'm well-qualified to render this judgment.


Tragically, much as I'd love to return to Vietnam, I'm now an old fart and likely couldn't survive the long plane-ride. I got rather badly shot-up during my last tour there, and while I've been able to live a pretty normal life for the last forty or so years, I'm beginning to suffer the consequences of my misspent youth. (Old age is a shipwreck).

I'll always remember Vietnam rather fondly, especially the beautiful women (the comeliest in all Asia) and the tough and tenacious soldiers on both sides. Tragically, the wrong guys won, though I believe Vietnam will become one of the foremost economic powers in SE Asia in the fairly near future.

Linh Dinh said...


Dear sir,

What a sad but real picture you portray of what the economic times and “women’s lib” have together done to our country.

The idea of three generations of family under one room doesn’t bother me. It may, in some small way, be the rebuilding of the family. Working together is another of the qualities that have been lost with rampant wealth (also known as credit card debt) and hedonism.

I myself am semi-retired because of a layoff in December of 2014, and from time to time, I still have to be financially responsible for my 47 year old daughter.

The times are not only hard economically, they are really abhorrent to those of us who were just coming of age when the “feminine revolution” hit. When it became sinful and embarrassing to actually
want to raise one’s own children, and look after the home—which isn’t eating bonbons and watching soaps, if you really care!

But divorce also became
popular at that time and so some of us really couldn’t stay at home. Not, that is, unless we wished to accept “welfare.” I was raised to work for me and mine, so, I do understand what the modern man who can’t find work goes through on a daily basis in that regard. And, also, the fact that being a traditional man and father is also denigrated—egad, where does he have to turn?

Again, thanks for your perceptive article.

Linh Dinh said...


As a 50ish American male, married father of 2, I can identify with your message and might offer a solution we must all explore.

My parents were of the "greatest generation". I was the youngest of 6. Most of my friends were raised by people who were of that next generation. As a nation, we need to go back to the values of our grandparents. This begins with the opening of our mouths and our hearts.

Those of us who can see, must be heard. Those of us who can be heard, must begin to see. The silence that has been foisted upon the individual in the name of political correctness or the malignant notion of "it's none of your business" and "who are you to judge" must be met with dignity and self confidence. In a word, we must speak. We must boldly and confidently answer the question of righteousness with a resounding YES! It is my business and I am judging you. Every success story and yes even every failure of human history has been under a society of men.

Without men, we become something else. Something without thousands of years of proven societal success.

Men need to wake up and reclaim that which nature has chosen us to be; Men, fathers, leaders, lovers, and warriors. Without men, a society can continue but to what end?

Your work here is important. It throws a mirror on our own condition. Perhaps some direction for those who chose to look at it would be in order? We need our men back, wherever they went and by whatever means they got there, we need them here and soon.

Linh Dinh said...


Hey Hey,

If the boy, Jay, you wrote about (living with Dad, playing computer games... losing) wants to, I'll take him fishing at Lake Chabot. I drive past that curry pizza joint every day on my way home. I just moved to Hayward.

Fishing was my out and rebirth from a decade of drug addiction and feeling sorry for myself. Then again, I was a full adult, and hadn't relied on my folks, or anything else, for over a decade.

Anyway, I'll take the boy fishing, if he wants. Fishing is a great way to brood and be anti social, if that's what a person needs.

Linh Dinh said...


Hemingway is a rare writer, like Tolstoy, whose life is far more interesting than his works. Have you read his non-fiction? By Line is a good collection of some of his journalism. A lesbian, Gertrude Stein, was one of Hem's mentors. Another lesbian, Sylvia Beach, was a big supporter before he became famous. Hem was raised for the first six years of his life as a girl. His crazy mother told him that he was his sister's twin even though she was eighteen months older than him. On the summer before he started first grade his father had Hem's hair cut and took off the dress. His mother wrote on the back of Hem's early pictures of him in a dress, "My summer girl."


My eyes are fading and I can't read books. But when I did read I read on almost every subject. I've read several biographies of Hemingway, even the 6 volume Reynolds' biography. I regret that I didn't write to Hemingway, who always answered his mail from fans. I wrote a short story titled, "It's A Good Day to die, Hem."

Unfortunately, Hem, like Faulkner, Fitzgerald and others, burned out his talent with booze. Hem was a non-combatant in five major wars, two of them world wars. He was badly wounded in WWI and almost lost his right leg. It is my belief that he suffered from PTSD all of his adult life. Faced with going into dementia he blew his brains out. And right before he pulled the trigger he was thinking of his mother whom he called "that bitch."


Hemingway lived a life that would've killed a hundred lives of any one else. He was: boxer, tennis player, Alpine skier, big game fisherman, big game hunter, introduced America to bull fighting, alcoholic, journalist, author of three classics, participant in five major wars (wounded in WWI), expert marksman although he only had one good eye, married to four women, lover of many women, his body severely damaged by numerous accidents, fought against major depression, his grandfather, father, sister, oldest son, granddaughter and himself committed suicide (was suicide genetic?).

my name is link said...

" When Joe got out in ‘84, Tien bought him a decent used car and a $1,000 Rolex watch, and she was just a nursing student. Her name means “fairy,” by the way.

“Tien was not just the best girlfriend I’ve ever had, she was also the best person I’ve ever known.”

Years after he had broken up with Tien,"

In another post(card) you reflect of poetry and prose lying in what is formally the other one (poetry in a novel, prose in verse).

What I quoted above, its implicit bitterness (the rapidity of the passage from "best I ever had" to "Years after he had broken", reminded me of that.

You disappoint me when indulging in namecalling ("idiots", "dullards", "sheeple", ...) the electorate, the "led by the nose". I know it comes from ruth and sympathy, and the anger to see the more intelligent exploit and trick the others with the ease we see them doing that.
But a time should come in our life where we have the courage to accept that nobody chooses to be what they are and the way they are, and this, of course, concerns our intellect and personality like every other side of our being.

The same goes for the "criminal elite". Where have the masses been not ruled over, and exploited, by an elite, that, assuming it could be not in the principle, was turned into a criminal elite by their very power (it's the chance that makes man a thief, the saying goes)?

Can one really believe that, if a magic box featuring a button that when pressed removed the "criminal gang" from the domain of being, anything in the world would change for more than a short interval, after pressing the button?

Leopardi, an immensely underknown philosophical and poetical genius, meant what I mean here when he wrote "There will be devotees [the class of the truth holders] till there will be humanity".

Linh Dinh said...

Hi my name is link,

I have never used "dullards" or "sheeple," not once, and I've only used "idiots" twice in hundreds of essays, and not, in either case, as an attack at anyone.

I don't call names. As best I can, I identify and analyze.

As for "criminal elite," I've used it often to remind readers that we're not ruled by incompetents but criminals. I mean, Obama, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Bush, etc, are clearly all criminals. The military banking complex is criminal.



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.