Postcards from the End of [the] America[n Empire]

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Monday, January 22, 2018





OREGON DINER--Oregon Avenue



VIETNAM I served--Pennsport

Man with USA jacket outside O'Jung--Pennsport

[truck and owner]


Saturday, January 20, 2018


Anti-gun billboards near Fenway--Boston 2

[never posted, from 12/17/11]


Friday, January 19, 2018


Thanks for a $20 contribution from a repeat donor in San Francisco!


Scitan in Mind

As published at Unz Review, 1/19/18:

Indoctrinated for decades by relativism, we’re supposed to consider all life styles equal and never pass judgements. There must be legitimate reasons for a culture to embrace, for example, child marriage, bride kidnapping, female circumcision, Oprah Winfrey or universal, all day long access to pornography.

Shit, though, is a hard sell, thus open sewers or public defecation don’t have too many fans. In An Area of Darkness (1964), however, V.S. Naipaul describes one, “Indians were a poetic people, he said. He himself always sought the open because he was a poet, a lover of Nature, which was the matter of his Urdu verses; and nothing was as poetic as squatting on a river bank at dawn.” The subject is a young, handsome and elegantly dressed Muslim student at “a laughable institute of education.”

With such an attitude not rare, apparently, Naipaul found “Indians defecating everywhere, on floors, in urinals for men (as a result of yogic contortions that can only be conjectured). Fearing contamination, they squat rather than sit, and every lavatory cubicle carries marks of their misses. No one notices.”

In 1990, 75.1% of Indians were defecating in the open, but by 2015, only 44.4% were, so there is progress (or regression, if you’re into venting your root chakra in the morning sun, with the birds singing, as a freight train comes into view). Counting also Indians who must use a pit, body of water or shared latrine, then it’s 56%. In 1925, Mahatma Gandhi wrote:

I learnt 35 years ago that a lavatory must be as clean as a drawing-room. I learnt this in the West. I believe that many rules about cleanliness in lavatories are observed more scrupulously in the West than in the East. There are some defects in their rules in this matter, which can be easily remedied. The cause of many of our diseases is the condition of our lavatories and our bad habit of disposing of excreta anywhere and everywhere.

In 2007, poet Vivek Narayanan wrote me from India:

The rows of shitters I pass on my morning run by the sea here in Madras (yes, not far at all from the very same marina where once Naipaul ogled, unflinching, a certain G-string) are all surly men, some with little cigarettes or joints hanging from their mouths.

I understand well the happiness and relief they must feel in being able to take their morning shits right by the waves, facing the rising sun—although I don't enjoy coming back from the run with the inevitable bits of human excreta sticking to my shoe.

The West itself has come a long way in regard to cleanliness. In The Road to Wigan Pier (1935), George Orwell talks about the undeniable stench of poor Englishmen:

Of course, as a whole, they are dirtier than the upper classes. They are bound to be, considering the circumstances in which they live, for even at this late date less than half the houses in England have bathrooms. Besides, the habit of washing yourself all over every day is a very recent one in Europe […] But the English are growing visibly cleaner, and we may hope that in a hundred years they will be almost as clean as the Japanese.

Always paying attention to details, Orwell describes one working class arrangement:

The lavatories are in the yard at the back, so that if you live on the side facing the street, to get to the lavatory or the dust-bin you have to go out of the front door and walk round the end of the block—a distance that may be as much as two hundred yards; if you live at the back, on the other hand, your outlook is on to a row of lavatories.

Imagine having to routinely run the length of two football fields just to take a dump! So 83 years ago, most Englishmen had no toilet in their home, just like contemporary India, and Orwell gave them a century to be nearly as clean as the Japanese.

Spoiled by modern plumbing and sewerage, most Americans would find Jonathan Swift’s “A Description of a City Shower” hardly believable:

Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all hues and odors seem to tell
What street they sailed from, by their sight and smell.
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,
From Smithfield or St. Pulchre’s shape their course,
And in huge confluence joined at Snow Hill ridge,
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge.
Sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts, and blood,
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.

But that’s London in 1710. By 1855, the River Thames was roiling with shit, as testified by scientist Michael Farraday, “Near the bridges the feculence rolled up in clouds so dense that they were visible at the surface, even in water of this kind […] The smell was very bad, and common to the whole of the water; it was the same as that which now comes up from the gully-holes in the streets; the whole river was for the time a real sewer.” With three million people, London was the largest city ever, so it faced unprecedented problems.

The sanitation crisis culminated in the Great Stink of 1858, but from it, the English did manage to think and muscle into being a comprehensive sewer system that functioned well from 1875 onward, a feat that eludes many nations today.

According to “Out of Order, the State of the World’s Toilets 2017,” 2.3 billion people, or 32% of mankind, still don’t have a toilet at home, and of the 25 saddest countries in this regard, 23 are in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the others being Haiti and Papua New Guinea, also black nations. Here are the ten most toilet-deprived: Ethiopia (92.9%), Chad (90.5%), Madagascar (90.3%), South Sudan (89.6%), Eritrea (88.7%), Niger (87.1%), Benin (86.1%), Togo (86.1%), Ghana (85.7%) and Sierra Leone (85.5%).

Without a toilet, your whole life is a mess. “Out of Order”:
Girls who don’t have decent toilets at school or near home have to defecate in the open or use unsafe, unhygienic toilets, often shared with boys. Aside from the health risks, this is uncomfortable, embarrassing and puts them at risk of verbal or even physical abuse. To avoid the experience, they will often avoid eating and drinking during the day, making it hard to concentrate at school. Once they start their periods, girls are more likely to miss classes or drop out if there is not a decent toilet at school. In Sub-Saharan Africa, one in ten girls miss school during their period.

With such poor sanitation, Sub-Saharan Africa also leads the world in deaths by communicable diseases, which also shows up as having the shortest life spans. Of the 25 worst countries by this measurement, 24 are in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the lone exception war-torn Afghanistan.

The oldest living people are those of Hong Kong, who live 84.11 years on average, then Japan (83.56), San Marino (83.56), Italy (83.20), Singapore (83.09), Switzerland (83.02), Iceland (82.68), Spain (82.66), Australia (82.50) and Israel (82.46), all places with proper, clean toilets and no open defecation. At the bottom, you have Swaziland (48.87), Lesotho (49.96), Sierra Leone (51.31), Central African Republic (51.42), Chad (51.87), Côte d’Ivoire (51.92), Angola (52.67), Nigeria (53.05), Mozambique (55.37) and Guinea-Bissau (55.47).

An American can expect to go underground at age 79.16, just before a Cuban (79.55), Puerto Rican (79.57), Costa Rican (79.59) and Lebanese (79.63).

In 1900, global life expectancy was just 31 years, and 48.5 for citizens of the most powerful empire, British, so everyone is living longer, as well as having more cars, cellphones and toilets, etc., but don’t expect these trends to continue. With resource depletion and population overshoot, there will be fewer pots to piss in as this fornicating, defecating boat lurches forward.

All over the US, destitution and squalor are encroaching, with tent cities sprouting all over. In Philly, there are encampments on Kensington sidewalks, and across the river in Camden, there are several tent clusters. Visiting one repeatedly several years ago, I saw just one honey bucket for over a hundred people. It stank so much, I suspected many were just using the bush, so yes, many Americans also lack proper toilets, and if you have passed through Los Angeles’ Skid Row or San Francisco’s Tenderloin, just to cite two famous examples, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Coming to the States as an 11-year-old, I gradually learnt that “shit” is much more common in American English than Vietnamese, as in “dumb shit,” “I must get my shit together” or “you’re shitting me.” Though common in daily life, shit is hidden, so it must seep out in language, and since Americans rarely see excreta, they make it nearly ubiquitous in conversations. Vietnamese don’t have this compulsion and, soon enough, neither will Americans.

With shit banished, many Americans have become fascinated by its ghost, thus you have rimming aficionados, and my friend Felix can wax about a stripper’s asshole “fluctuating,” as well as his ex-wife’s intention of having her buttcheeks tattooed with “W,” “so if she bent over, it would read WOW!”

In the landscapes of science fiction dystopias, you’ll find many broken, smoldering skyscrapers that are still picturesque, but few hints of the staggering filth awaiting us. In Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, however, there’s a Great Garbage Avalanche of 2505. I’m certain, though, the shit storms will hit us much sooner.

Idiocracy’s premise is that society will become ever crasser and more dysfunctional since stupid people are outbreeding the smart. It’s not very progressive, this vision, since each child, we’re repeatedly told, is a blank slate, with roughly equal potentials. Genes count for next to nothing. Only the environment matters. Likewise, there are no smart or stupid populations. If you agree with Judge, however, the fact that the most assbackward societies are outbreeding advanced ones can only mean this entire world will be flushed down the toilet.

OK, enough of this shit. I’m going across the street to get shit faced and talk shit. I’ve earned my shit for the day.


Sunday, January 14, 2018


Drug corner--San Leandro

Fixing hundreds of old images, I stumbled across this never posted drug corner, taken in April 14th, 2013.


Friday, January 12, 2018


Nickels--South Philly 2

Nickels. That's Jennelle's hand. Later, she put on Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy."

$3.50 for the roast beef sandwich, with all the extras. $4 for the Lagunitas.



Nickels--South Philly



Monday, January 8, 2018

Postcard from the End of America: Point Breeze

As published at OpEd News, Unz Review, TruthSeeker and Intrepid Report, 1/8/18:

Southerner Fred Reed writes about Yankee hypocrisy, “You’ve heard about white flight. In nearly about every city in the North, white people streak for the suburbs so’s not to be near black people, and then they talk about how bad Southerners are for doing the same thing […] Fact is, you can see more social, comfortable integration in a catfish house in Louisiana than you can in probably all of Washington.”

As of 2010, Philly was 41% white, 43.4% black and 6.3% Asian, and I would guess there are more whites and Asians now, thanks to obvious gentrification in several neighborhoods. See what I just did there, equating gentrification with fewer blacks? But that’s just how it is in contemporary America, where fewer blacks in any neighborhood means fewer crimes, better schools and rising house prices. Even Spike Lee can’t refute this.

I live in Passyunk Square, a white, Asian and Hispanic neighborhood that’s adjacent to Point Breeze, a gentrifying ghetto. Broad Street is the dividing line, and for the longest time, it would not be wise to cross into Point Breeze, unless you were begging for a mugging. I know one white guy who was relieved of his wallet, at gunpoint, and a white woman who was punched and kicked by a bunch of black teens, just for the fun of it.

Just before Christmas, a black acquaintance had his apartment burglarized, with the thief breaking in by taking out the air conditioner from a window. He took that, plus the television and a Michael Kor watch. “It’s weird he knew where it was. I kept it in a drawer. I think he’s a friend,” or a lover of this gay man. With 24,137 people, Point Breeze had 112 burglaries in 2017.

With its cheap rent and proximity to Center City, Point Breeze has lured many non-blacks over the years, however, and the first group to move in were poor Asian immigrants. In 1984, I visited an overcrowded house that had people sleeping in the living room. I remember a tiny pregnant woman, lying on the floor. By 2000, there were 900 Vietnamese in Point Breeze, or 12% of the population. Now, Point Breeze has Indonesian groceries and restaurants, an Indonesian storefront mosque, a Chinese Buddhist temple, and a Laotian one. At St. Thomas Aquinas, a magnificent church founded by Italian immigrants in 1885, there are Vietnamese and Indonesian services each Sunday.

Rocky marries Adrian in this church. From its website, “St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Community, through our cultural diversity, united in our expressions of faith, lives the Gospel message in our neighborhood through worship, education, service, and advocacy.” Inside, there’s a beautiful shrine to the Vietnamese Catholic martyrs of the 18th and 19th centuries. For following the Western religion and, in many cases, supporting the invading French, at least 130,000 were tortured and killed by Vietnamese authorities.

I know all you lovers of diversity can’t wait to move into Point Breeze now, for it has every color in the rainbow, but by the time you get here, there won’t be too many African-Americans left, I’m afraid, so let me give you a quick tour of black Point Breeze. Our first stop is Scotty’s Bar, famous for its Obama shrine. Our handsome, half-white 44th president is seen smiling inside an oval, blue background frame, with tinsel and colored string lights all around him.

Other black men are honored throughout Point Breeze for, well, being shot. Walk around and you’ll run into their wall portraits, such as that of “FAT CAT.” Seen holding his daughter, he was killed in 2005 at age 23. In the bay window of a well-kept middle-class home, there are two colorful banners with purple stars and red roses. Under the message “ALWAYS AND FOREVER” is the face of a young soldier in uniform.

Nearby, there’s a framed print of a black Jesus.

Since it’s just around the corner, let’s stop in Sit on It, my favorite black bar in Point Breeze, and it’s dirt cheap too. Here, the bartenders are Miss Cynthia, Miss Mary and Miss Rose, all old ladies. Fifty-four, Rose is divorced and has four grown kids, “They’re doing OK, except my boy. He’s giving me a bit of trouble.”

Rose works three days a week, and is also a home nurse. Although Rose lives five miles away in West Philly, she still comes here to drink on her days off.

“You don’t get sick of looking at the same people?”

“No, no, I love the people here. I’m a people person!” She certainly is. Rose remembers every name and is always cheerful.

“Yours is easy. I just think of Ding a Ling!”

“That’s right!” I laughed.

Since it’s the afternoon crowd, the patrons are all old heads. With so many young black men dead or in prison, those who make into old age tend to be exceedingly mild and pleasant. The worst of the tribe cull themselves. When I walked into Sit on It on January 2nd, several strangers shouted, “Happy new year!”

In North Charleston, South Carolina, I chanced upon a ghetto bar that was owned by a South Asian who wouldn’t allow anyone younger than 35 to enter his establishment, “They cause too many problems,” he smiled. In Trenton, a Middle Easterner who owned a liquor store told me he had set up a bar, “But it wasn’t worth it. Too many fights.”

Point Breeze was home to John Blake and the Heath Brothers, but since this is 2018, you’re not going to hear any jazz in Sit on It. Even for those with white hair, it’s mostly rap, varied by a bit of rhythm and blues, soul and rock oldies.

Across the bar is an 86-year-old Korean War vet. Like us, he’s eating two small pieces of fried chicken, free of charge. It’s a bit salty, yes, but damn good! In Jackson, Mississippi, I wandered into a black bar in a frightful neighborhood littered with burnt out houses and, what do you know, they gave me a free plate of food, since it was a barbecue day. Like Sit on It, it was filled with older folks, nattily dressed.

As with many black neighborhood bars, Sit on It is actually not black-owned, but neither are most ghetto grocery stores and restaurants, and one can only conclude that blacks generally can’t compete with non-blacks in running small businesses. Even the black barbershop, that social institution, is being undercut by Asian barbers. On YouTube, there’s a hilarious commentary by Jay Love, a Philly homeboy, on black vs. Asian hair cutters:

Y’all sitting there, criticizing me, because I didn’t get my hair cut at a black barbershop […] Y’all got some motherfucking nerve, saying that shit. You goddamn right I don’t like going to black barbershops […] I don’t go to black barbershops because they’re not professional. The Asian barbershops don’t cut hair as good as the black barbershops. If you get a baldy or low fade, you go to the Asian joints, that’s all good or whatnot. I mean, they cut you down […] If I was getting a hustler two or three, I would basically have a black barber shape me up, because the Asians don’t know how to shape up for shit.

So for a basic haircut, Jay Love prefers the Asians:

I’m not gonna go to no black barbershop. They’re unprofessional […] You don’t conduct yourselves like businessmen. Every time I go to a motherfucking black barbershop, y’all motherfuckers up in the air. Instead of doing my hair, it takes you 45 minutes to do anybody’s hair, because you’re busy leaving out the barbershop, answering your cellphone in the middle of cutting somebody’s hair, leaving out the barbershop, talking to your girl for 15 minutes. I guess you must have forgotten that your client was in the chair, and maybe you think he don’t got nothing better to do with his day […] Y’all talking about Floyd Mayweather, the latest fight, this sports event or gossiping about how many bitches you fucked […] You know, nobody wants to hear that.

Providing a quicker service, Asian barbers also charge less than half of their black peers’ prices. At Da’ Thairapist Hairquarters, a haircut by Skeet da Barber costs $25, but it’s $30 if you want an appointment, which must be made at least 24 hours in advance. If not, it’s $35.

It’s curious that socialist, universal brotherhood types are usually quite militant about supporting multiculturalism, when it’s in fact a capitalist tool to drive wages down and squeeze the most from each worker. More insidiously, it can often turn him into a caricature, for in any multicultural society, each ethnic group is forced to become more specialized in its working, and thus social, roles. Just think of all the Latinos in the kitchens of American restaurants, serving whatever food.

With my chance of becoming a professional athlete near zero, I might have to paint finger and toe nails for a living. Others with longer limbs and a much better vertical leap may decide to shoot hoops all day. Before integration, there were many more black business owners, for they had to provide not just their own bars, restaurants and barbershops, but also banks, insurance companies and car dealerships, etc. Though meant to blur racial differences, integration actually accentuates them.

James Howard Kunstler dissects:

The Civil Rights victories of 1964 and 1965—the public accommodations act and voting rights act—created tremendous anxiety among African Americans about how they would fit into a desegregated society, so the rise of black separatism at exactly that moment of legislative triumph was not an accident. It offered a segment of the black population the choice of opting out of the new disposition of things. Opting out had consequences, and over several generations since then, the cohort of poorer black Americans has grown only more oppositional, antagonistic, and economically dysfunctional—with the sanction of America’s non-black “diversity” cheerleaders, who remain adamant in their own opposition to the idea of common culture.

Ah, but race, ethnicity and border are but reactionary social constructs, designed to keep us apart! Though dwelling on this resource-depleting population time bomb and babbling 7,000 languages, we are all kin. Those who think such may consider moving to, say, Equatorial Guinea, where they can decide for themselves if border, ethnicity or race matters. Most of us are bred to function reasonably well within one society only. Expelled for just an hour, most would freak. At the very least, home is where they speak your language.

At Sit on It, there’s a curious sign, “Grab Your Passport All Abroad / Cynthia’s World Travel To China / BIRTHDAY Celebration.”

Miss Rose, “Cynthia is not going to China! It’s just a China-themed party, right here!”

Cynthia has worked at Sit on It for two decades. Thoroughly at home in Point Breeze, she doesn’t really want to go anywhere, and hasn’t. The world, though, is coming right at her, and with the cut throat competition intrinsic to multiculturalism, Cynthia may even find herself evicted before too long.


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Saturday, January 6, 2018




Thursday, January 4, 2018


STREETCAT--Point Breeze

STREETCAT--Point Breeze (detail)

STREETCAT--Point Breeze (detail 2)

[Point Breeze]



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Wednesday, January 3, 2018


Mancuso's--South Philly

Mancuso's, open since 1940.

"So how much longer will you stay open?"

"Until I drop dead!"



Popeye's--South Philly



World Travel to CHINA--Point Breeze

Sit on It Bar in Point Breeze. Cynthia is not going to China. It's just a China-themed birthday party for the long-time bartender. For $20, you can also hop on a bus to go to Sugarhouse Casino, 5 miles away, and gamble for three hours.

Cynthia has worked at Sit on It for two decades.



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.