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Obscured American

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Dan in Friendly Lounge, 2016
Jokers are bad news. You don’t want to sit next to one in a bar. This day, I heard, again, about a man who ordered ten shots of whiskey after getting a blow job, and a man who got a bullet in his ass while humping someone’s wife. “Had he shown up a minute earlier,... Read More
Eddie and Friends
When 46-year-old Eddie found out I’d been interviewing people, he wanted to talk. “You can write a book about me!” and that’s true enough, but then again, I’ve never met an uninteresting person. Within a minute, Eddie was showing me photos of women on his cell phone. There was plenty of skin and at least... Read More
Hank Near Liberty Bell, 2016
America has become an eviscerated country draped in a gigantic flag. Day by day, its culture becomes more grotesque and obscene, a luna park of lunacy. Leached of essence, it burps up slogans, but who’s convinced? What define America, exactly? Paul Craig Roberts narrows it down to the Constitution and Christianity, “All Americans have a... Read More
bb-at-friendly-lounge-2016x
The flame-like tree and yellow stars from Van Gogh’s Starry Night burn on B.B.’s right shoulder. Blonde, slim and 33, she bartends at Friendly Lounge twice a week. She calls everyone “darling,” as in, “Are you good, darling? You need another one?” When B.B. told me she had lived in the Tenderloin, had drifted much,... Read More
amanda-zinoman-2016x
Yes, it is a bit odd to include Amanda in my series of obscured Americans. She is a very successful editor of films that have appeared on television and in theaters. Her credits include Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider (1994), Carmen Miranda: Bananas is my Business (1994), The Lost Children of Rockdale County (1999), Drinking... Read More
Amanda in Camden, 2016
With huge tax breaks, Camden has lured several companies to this wrecked city, so a small chunk of downtown is getting spruced up. Shirtless or in wifebeaters, tattooed junkies still lurk around the Walter Rand Transportation Center, but the Third-World clothing stands have been shooed from the shadow of City Hall. Crown Chicken has moved... Read More
Eileen Walbank, 2016
In Philadelphia, I often see Chinese push their grandchildren around in strollers, so the three-generation households are evidently still common in that community. In China itself, citizens can be fined or even jailed for not visiting their aging parents enough. That there is such a law can only mean that familial bonds are weakening, however,... Read More
Felix Giordano at Home, 2016
Felix Giordano lives on the 24th floor of Riverview, a subsidized complex for senior citizens. Once a dreaded housing project, it is now pleasant and safe. Most of Felix’ neighbors are black and Asian. Although an artist, Felix keeps his one-bedroom apartment neat. There are no paint drips on the carpet. His walls are covered... Read More
Rudy List and Henry Herskovitz
Though each life is rich, some are staggeringly so. Over four days in July, I had a series of conversations with Rudy List at his house in Dexter, Michigan. A 74-year-old retired math professor, Rudy introduced me to Hua Luogeng, Zitang Zhang and Terence Tao. In return, I told him about Otto Dix, Cindy Sherman,... Read More
Detroit Gas Station, 2011
I had spent four days in Ann Arbor, Dexter and Chelsea. This stay allowed me to experience a whiter and more Norman Rockwell Michigan. On two previous trips, I was confined to mostly black and car wrecked Detroit. Flying out from DetroitAirport, I bought two National coneys and, boy, were they sad. Hotdogs, chili, onion,... Read More
My Philadelphia Neighborhood, 2016
Responding to my recent articles about race, “Marx Karl” comments at Intrepid Report: I reply: Believing racism to be strictly a white disease, many progressives conclude that all “people of color” must be in solidarity against whites. In their cartoonish world view, racist and predator whites are pitted against victimized and prejudice-free blacks, browns and... Read More
Don in Friendly Lounge, Philadelphia, 2015
Showing up in Friendly Lounge, beaming Maria said to bartender Manon, “How’s my baby? Come here and give me a hug! How are your job applications?” “Nothing yet, but I have a couple of interviews coming up.” For the last six months, Manon has been trying to get hired as a school counselor. She only... Read More
Patrick in Kensington, 2016
This week, a 55-year-old tourist from Texas was killed when he fell onto the subway tracks at 13th Street Station. He and his wife had just visited the Liberty Bell. Going by the station the next day, I half expected to see some sort of memorial, but there were no flowers, cards or candles. I... Read More
Philly Jesus and Black Israelites, 2016
Philly is blessed with a generous allotment of public space at its very center. On any day of the week, weather permitting, there are throngs of people at LovePark, DillworthPark and near the Clothespin. Around this 45-foot-tall sculpture by Claes Oldenburg, I’ve seen an assortment of petty hustlers selling everything from loosies to oddball T-shirts,... Read More
Brooklyn, 2016
Last year in Leipzig, Germany, I met a young woman who had just returned from Chicago, where her family lived in tony Lincoln Park. She had also studied at WilliamsCollege in Massachusetts, where tuition alone was near $50,000. Germany was too white, she complained, and she was ashamed of the anti-immigrant attitude shown by many... Read More
Anna in Friendly Lounge, Philadelphia, 2016
Don, Friendly Lounge owner, told me this joke, “How is a South Philly guy like Jesus? One, he’s never left his neighborhood. Two, he hangs out with the same 12 guys. Three, his mother thinks he’s God.” Angelo comes in Friendly each morning to read Don’s newspaper. After half an hour, he’d say, “Don, you... Read More
Point Breeze, Philadelphia, 2015
In the early 90’s, I sometimes worked the door at McGlinchey’s. Lurching in, 6-9 Lloyd Lunz guffawed, “Yo, heavy duty bouncer action tonight!” I was only paid $30 for five hours of carding baby-faced carousers, and it was torture to be sober while everybody got trashed. One night, there was some commotion outside, so I... Read More
Empty Friendly Lounge just before noon, Philadelphia, 2016
It’s not right. I came into the Friendly Lounge at 11:45AM, parked my bony ass there for three hours, and saw nobody. In the 90’s, I heard an exasperated crack whore kvetch, “Don’t nobody want a blow job no more!” It’s gotten much worse. In 2016, it’s, “Can’t nobody afford a beer no more?” Tony... Read More
Before interviewing 33-year-old Manon, I had never talked to her. She only bartends at Friendly Lounge one day a week. The joint was completely empty when we started at noon. Folks can hardly afford a beer anymore. An hour into our conversation, Tony the cook came in to take his midday break, then a stranger... Read More
Vernon (Right) in Friendly Lounge
Looking for Vern for over a week, I finally found him in the Friendly Lounge. Vivacious Kelly was bartending. Overhearing Vern say how he had to take his helmet off because of the letters “VC,” Kelly looked perplexed, “Why?” “Because VC stands for Viet Cong,” Vern clarified. “Viet Com?” When you’re young and beautiful, you... Read More
When I lived closer to Center City, I’d take out-of-town friends to McGlinchey’s or Dirty Frank’s, but since moving to South Philly more than a decade ago, I’d drag people to the Friendly Lounge, because it really is friendly. In Philly, black bars tend to be called “lounge,” but Friendly is the haunt of middle-aged... Read More
Linh Dinh
About Linh Dinh

Born in Vietnam in 1963, Linh Dinh came to the US in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is 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). He has 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 Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, among other places. He is also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013), and translator of Night, Fish and Charlie Parker, the poetry of Phan Nhien Hao (2006). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. His writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and he has been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Reykjavik, Toronto and all over the US, and has also published widely in Vietnamese.