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Jonathan Revusky was in Philly for a few days, and I had a great time showing Jon around. We went to Kensington, Fishtown, Camden, Point Breeze, Little Cambodia and Rittenhouse Square, all but the last at the sinking end of the economic scale, places I’m well familiar with. At Jack’s Famous Bar, we ordered a cheesesteak and a roast beef sandwich for just $4 each, my kind of price, and I thought our lunch excellent. In Camden, I steered Jon to a bodega where a cheesesteak was just $3.50. Jon said, “I would never have walked into a place like that, if I wasn’t with you.” Most Americans wouldn’t go to Camden, period, even if you paid them.

Jon also introduced me to an alien Philadelphia, for he treated me to fancy joints like Paradiso Italian restaurant and Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steak House. When you can burn a Ben Franklin for dinner, life certainly becomes so much more civilized and soothing, and the lower class is mostly reduced to beautiful and smiling servers. “Is there anything else I can get you?” beamed the wholesome, slim waitress with the cute dimples.

Though living comfortably in Spain, Jon is well aware that his homeland is in steep decline. Unlike me, he’s not so sure there will be civil unrest, “I go to places like Brazil, with its vast favelas, and the poor people do carry on. Perhaps Americans will just become poorer and poorer, and get used to it.”

As we strolled past Center City’s best collection of chi-chi shops and restaurants, Jon remarked, “Any top-tier Chinese city, like Shanghai, Shenzen, Guangzhou, etc., is, in most respects, so vastly superior to any American city at this point, it’s crazy. Not only do Americans not know this, but, as you pointed out, some would even get violently enraged at you if you said this. You mean this isn’t the best place in the world??!!”

Campaigning, Trump said, “Our airports are like from a third-world country,” not that anything is going to be done about it, for we’re worse than broke. Living in a near continent-sized country, it’s not easy to experience any other nation’s achievements, so few Americans have had a chance to be awed, say, by Berlin’s Central Rail Station or Seoul’s Incheon Airport.

After Jon left, I returned to one of the bars we hit to interview a bartender I’d known for a while. I thought of Katy because she had spent a decade mingling with the rich, if only as a server. As a housecleaner for many years, I did the same.

Katy agreed to talk if I would neither photograph her nor name her Center City bar. Deal!

I was born in Frankford. I went to a Catholic grade school, St. Joachim. I read, four years ago, one of the most horrific stories ever. This girl was coming home from the bus. She’s walking down Church Street, past St. Joachim. She was pulled into the school yard and raped, brutally. When the police found her, they said she was unrecognizable. It was one of the worst brutalities they had ever seen. She was in a coma for three weeks. Not only that, he gave her AIDS.

I remember reading this article and thinking, This is where I grew up. This is where I spent the first eight years of my life. Frankford is like Compton now.

I went to Little Flower, then FrankfordHigh School. It was lame growing up in the Northeast. I had no favorite subjects.

I love music. Both of my parents were jazz musicians. My mother was a jazz singer. She was so awesome! My father played drums. He was pretty well known in South Philly.

I came out of the womb with music, although I never played anything, which is kind of odd. I can sing a little. I love Miss Ella.

I went down to Delaware Avenue to hang out when I was 18. I started to bartend. I worked at the Aztec. I came in, I applied and that was it. I also worked at Rock Lobster.

It was really good money. I liked the diversity of people. It was a little glamorous. I got to meet a lot of people. At a restaurant, you don’t have to wait for a table after a while, because you may have waited on that waiter. Things like that.

I broke my toe. I was working at Rock Lobster, and I was limping. This guy went, “What’s wrong?” It turned out he was a foot doctor. I said I didn’t have any insurance. He said, “Don’t worry about it.” He operated on my toe, everything, and all for free!

I used to be really wild. I did a lot of drugs.

My friend was a bartender at the Cave. They had male strippers in the back, lots of bachelorette parties. It’s so fuckin’ hilarious. This lady, she tipped him a ten-dollar food stamp!

My manager was meeting a girl after work. She lived in Gladwyne. It’s, like, the most prestigious area in Philly. Very, very money oriented. He just smoked a bowl, so he’s a little paranoid. He thought he was going to get pulled over because he was black. They went through these back roads. He said, “What are these three Great Danes doing in the middle of the road?” They were deer! He was a manager at one of the hottest clubs, so he got a lot of ass. Ha, ha!

During the Blizzard of ’93, I went to Miami for a vacation and decided I was going to stay. I still have tons of friends down there.

You’re just in a better mood when it’s sunny out every day. When you have such a bad winter, and everything’s gray, gray, the sky, and there’s black snow on the ground, and it’s piled up, you know what I mean, and it’s freezing. You go to Miami, and it’s bright! Instead of pigeons outside, you see two dozen parrots. It’s beautiful.

I was a cocktail waitress at the number one club in the United States. It’s called the Velvet. They’re actually doing a documentary about it. It was so crowded, people would wait for hours to get in. It’s so bizarre.

We had the Money Party on Monday nights. You paid the cover, and everybody received an x amount in fake money. It was, like, anything goes. Whoever accumulated the most fake money at the end of the night won a grand prize. People would do the craziest things. Let’s put it this way, no cameras allowed! Girls would be going at it, on the bar. People would get naked. It was out of control.

We had a room called the Blue Room. One day, the Sugarhill Gang came in, so the DJ put their song on. There were, like, 14 of us in the room. He got up and he went, “See, I am Wonder Mike, and I’d like to say hello! To the black, to the white, the red and the brown, the purple and yellow!” He picked up my hand and he started singing it, so I was, like, with the lead singer of this band. It was so fuckin’ awesome! He was singing to me.

I met Charlie Sheen. He was so down-to-earth. I loved him. He’s one of my favorite people, as far as, like, famous. He started telling me jokes, and if I laughed, he gave me 20 bucks. Then I had to start telling him jokes. If he laughed, he would give me 50 bucks!

A lot of them were cheap. John Cusack was cheap. Charles Barkley was a good tipper. Dave Grohl, of the Foo Fighters, would tip people a thousand dollars.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Drugs, Poverty 

I’ve only been to New Haven four times, and last week, it was only to participate in the commemoration of the Fall of Saigon, as organized by the Vietnamese Studies Program at Yale. I was one of three poets invited. The other two were Phan Nhien Hao (b. 1967) and To Thuy Yen (b. 1938).

I’m the translator of the only book by Hao in English, Night, Fish and Charlie Parker (2005). I first met Hao in Saigon in 2000, and we’ve hung out in San Jose, Illinois and Philly. I’ve even bought a used car from the man. We’re friends, in short. Hao’s father died while fighting for South Vietnam in 1975.

To Thuy Yen, I only got to know last week at Professor Quang Phu Van’s house, where we all stayed. It’s very Vietnamese to prefer the friendlier, shared space of a home, instead of separate hotel rooms. We ate wonderful dishes cooked by Van’s wife and downed vast quantity of his beer, wine and whiskey. Our conversations lasted for hours.

Visiting Iceland in 2007, I learned that a Vietnamese water puppet troupe had performed there. At their hotel, the Vietnamese had converged into just two rooms to socialize, with many sleeping on the floor instead of returning to their own beds. The man who related this was quite bemused. With so few people, Iceland has more than enough space for everyone.

Since To Thuy Yen’s real surname is also Dinh, I brought that up immediately, but we couldn’t establish any shared regional roots. We did discover we had many mutual friends, however, despite our age difference. As a South Vietnamese colonel in charge of propaganda, Yen had many writers working under him.

I asked Yen how much influence did the Americans have on South Vietnamese propaganda, and he said very little, surprisingly. It was the Taiwanese who worked closely with Yen, “Since they had lost to the Communists, they had plenty of experience in dealing with them. The Taiwanese sent four advisors and maintained an office in South Vietnam for about a decade. Our people also went to Taiwan to learn.”

Wartime South Vietnam had many private newspapers, unlike the North, with its government monopoly on all publishing. “Whenever an article appeared that was somewhat favorable to the Communists, they would buy as many copies as possible, since this encouraged the editor to publish similar stories in the future. The article could also be distributed in areas under their control, for their propaganda.”

South Vietnam was also crawling with North Vietnamese agents. “One man was caught on the beach in Phan Thiet. He was originally a Southerner, so spoke like a local, but he had forgotten to adjust his watch! Back then, Hanoi was an hour ahead of Saigon. One of our policemen noticed this discrepancy.”

“That’s amazing!”

“Unfortunately, he was killed in jail by other Communists. They knew he had too much information.”

In hindsight, of course the man should have been kept separately but, as with any war, there were so many prisoners to manage. After the Fall of Saigon, Yen found himself locked up for 13 years altogether, “When they first came in, they had a guy with a red armband and an AK-47, guarding my house, then a truck came by to take all of my books away, to burn or sell as scrap.”

Before 1975, Yen sometimes interrogated Communists at a jail by the SaigonRiver. Now, he was kept in the same prison. “History is just people changing costumes,” Yen chuckled.

Like all South Vietnamese soldiers, Yen was never convicted or sentenced, but simply kept until his captors decided he was properly reeducated. After a decade, Yen was finally released. At least, he didn’t die in custody. His wife, whom I also met in New Haven, had brought food and medicines to Yen while he was imprisoned. The strength of the Vietnamese family is testified by the fact that so many women never abandoned their jailed and highly stigmatized husbands.

Life inside Vietnam was extremely difficult during those postwar years. In a 2000 interview, Phan Nhien Hao told me he had been hungry all the time, “One could hardly think of anything but food.” Luckily, Yen received cash assistance from overseas friends and admirers. Some visited him in Saigon.

When one of his poems was smuggled out and published anonymously in France, Vietnamese state intelligence quickly found out whose it was, thus Yen was again jailed, this time for three years.

“Did he apologize later?” I asked about the man who had leaked the poem. I know this prominent scholar.

“No.”

In 1993, Yen and his family were finally allowed to emigrate to the US. “The day before we left, I warned my wife and kids to watch what they say even after we get on the plane, because it’s still their territory. They can always turn that plane around. It wasn’t until we had landed in Taiwan that we could speak freely.”

Though the global powers, Russia, China and the US, certainly got involved in the Vietnam War, it was still essentially a civil conflict. All of the groups that were aligned against the Communists, such as the Catholics, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao and various nationalist parties, were active way before the Americans showed up. This shouldn’t surprise, for Vietnam, like any other country, didn’t exist simply to be pro or against America. The same Vietnamese factions are still squabbling.

For over a century ending in 1775, Vietnam was also divided, with war erupting between the two halves regularly. Into eternity, most northerners will be annoyed by the southern accent, and vice versa. Like folks everywhere, Vietnamese value their family and home town above all, so no rootless, globalist ideology can enlist them, except by deceit, temporarily. Dodging taxes, they hate centralized control.

Yen, “All societies are tribal. You protect your family and friends, and you get by on your network of allies.”

One of those Yen took under his wings is a poet friend of mine, “He started out as a captain, but went AWOL twice, so was demoted to second lieutenant when assigned to me. He was totally useless as a soldier. He would be carousing in town all day, then steal cigarettes from my drawers in the evening. I would find him sleeping on my desk! Once he sneaked into a morgue to eat the banana offerings to a corpse!”

Of course, this man’s appalling behavior was deeply unfair to those who had to fight and die, but most men are more like him than a hero under fire. Behind the myth of a John McCain or Davey Crockett is often a frightened, browbeaten, bumbling and compromised mortal. Many others simply won’t fight out of an innate revulsion to slaughter.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Vietnam, Vietnam War 

On February 18th, I was in Detroit to attend a presentation, “The War on Islam: 9/11 Revisited, Uncovered & Exposed.” Sponsored by the Nation of Islam, it featured Kevin Barrett, Richard Gage and Christopher Bollyn.

Prefacing, Ilia Rashad Muhammad remarked that 9/11 is more relevant than ever, since it has been used to curb the freedoms of all Americans, especially Muslims. Moreover, it has “literally impacted America, and the world, like never before.” As a pretext for endless war, 9/11 hasn’t just deformed this whole earth, it threatens to destroy it.

Reminding us that false flags are far from unusual, Kevin Barrett cited 10 famous examples from history: Nero allegedly burning Rome; Gunpowder Plot; sinking of the USS Maine; sending of the Lusitania, a passenger ship loaded with explosives, into a war zone; Pearl Harbor; Gulf of Tonkin Incident; Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty; bombing of the USS Cole; 1993 World Trade Center bombing; all the post 9-11 false flags, including Orlando, Charlie Hebdo and the ones in Paris in November of 2015, etc.; 9/11.

Richard Gage patiently proved that the collapse of all three WTC buildings couldn’t have been caused by fire. He paid particular attention to Building 7, which was hit by no plane and suffered almost no damage before it collapsed, at free fall speed, into its own footprint. Gage stated that nano-thermite was found in WTC dust samples, and asked why 163,000 tons of concrete pulverized in mid-air? His organization, the 2,500-strong Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, simply wants a proper investigation into what happened.

Christopher Bollyn began by thanking Louis Farrakhan as “the only religious leader in our nation who has addressed the gigantic, horrendous fraud of 9/11.” Then:

9/11 was carried out to kick start the War on Terror, a Zionist war agenda of aggression, terrorism and conquest which continues to this day [...] We will not have peace as a nation, or a world, if we continue to accept the deception of 9/11 [...] If the government and media are lying to us about 9/11, it means that they are controlled by the very same people who carried out 9/11 [...] Both 9/11 and the War on Terror were conceived and planned in Israel in the 1970’s by Israeli military intelligence [...] The War on Terror is an Israeli stratagem, a ploy pushed by Netanyahu—since 1979—to trick the United States into waging war against Israel’s enemies.

With the 1979 Jerusalem Conference on International Terrorism, the book Terrorism: How the West Can Win and speech after speech, Netanyahu’s central project is the War on Terror. Bollyn pointed out the absurdity of Bibi’s stance considering that Israel was founded on terror, is maintained by terror, and had a master terrorist, Menachim Begin, as one of its prime ministers.

All three speakers were raptly received by an audience of about two thousand, all but a dozen of them Black Muslims. Mingling afterwards, I met Rudy Dent, a retired fireman, ex cop and Vietnam vet. Flying from NYC, Dent was only in Detroit for a few hours.

This mild, affable man is known for an InfoWars interview, conducted in Times Square on September 11th, 2014. It already has 2.4 million views. Dent spoke of firemen being in Building 7 “calling for additional hand lines to mop up the isolated pockets of fire.” Because no skyscrapers had ever collapse due to fire, they never suspected this 52-story building would suddenly become their tomb.

Explaining that fire cannot, by itself, burn hot enough to melt steel, Dent related:

What we had in the WorldTradeCenter, and I saw myself, was molten, lava-like pockets of molten steel, all right? I spent the night on the pile searching for bodies, and I saw that with my own eyes. So who are you going to believe? Are you going to believe a bunch of government bureaucrats, or my fellow brothers, which I lost 343 guys that day? And I lost Tommy O’Hagan, Bruce van Hines and Kenny Cumple, and I can never forget that. I think of that before I go to bed. I think about it first thing in the morning when I wake up, and it’s in honor of them and their family that I will continue to do everything I can to make the rest of the world wake up to the fact that this was a false flag operation.

In Detroit, I tagged along as Dent was driven to the airport. We talked about his life, world view and, of course, experience of 9/11.

I saw the contradiction in real time, absolutely. You know, I was there in 1993. I was inside the building with the FBI. I saw the immensity of that explosion. It was surreal. I mean, it was fully intended to bring down, to topple the building. It blew a hole in the ground, through the concrete, about three stories down.

You know, they waited, then they did it again. In 2001, I was there to see the third building come down, and what caught my attention were not the explosions, because I’m used to explosions. I spent two and a half years in Vietnam, so I’m used to explosions, but when I saw my fellow firefighters jump in a panic reaction to the loud noise of an explosion, which they’re not used to, and they’re not trained for, that’s what shocked me. My fellow firefighters, they’re professional guys, but for the most part, they’re not combat veterans, right?

I looked at the building where the explosions came from, and that’s when I saw building 7 come down.

You know, the real simple thing anybody can see, from the start, is that if they look at Tower 1 or 2, it’s disintegrating from the top down. It’s being demolished, pulverized and blown up, from the top down, while the base remains solid. The difference with Building 7 is they blow it up from the bottom, and you see the whole building come down intact. That’s something any layman can look at and say, “Wait a minute! Something’s wrong here. Something is very, very wrong here.”

I spoke out right away, on FaceBook, then I met Richard Gage. That’s when I started to speak out on behalf of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth.

Richard brought it to the public’s attention. He broke into the mainstream and had them begrudgingly acknowledge that there was a Building 7. Otherwise, we would still not even know that Building 7 went down, so he was a key player. Given the legitimacy of Architects and Engineers, specifically focusing on their area of expertise, they could not be marginalized and dismissed.

The mainstream media interviewed Richard only with the intent of luring him into a trap. That is, of having him make a comment such as, “Well, it’s a conspiracy theory, you know,” but he avoided every trick and trap they tried to lure him into, and he responded by saying, “That’s a political assumption. We’re not political. We are specialists in our area of expertise, and we’re questioning the 9/11 Commission’s findings.”

I don’t know if you know this story, but Richard bought pizza for all of his associate architects, just to get them to come in and listen to him. Otherwise, nobody wanted to hear anything about “conspiracy theories,” and against the government, no less. That’s a big stretch and, you know, almost un-American.

 

My local dive, Friendly Lounge, was mentioned in I Heard You Paint Houses, a book soon to be turned into a movie by Martin Scorcese. Now Friendly’s featured quite prominently in The Last Don Standing, an account of the Philly mob by Ralph Natale. An infamous snitch, Natale still spent 27 years inside.

As I type this at Friendly, guitarist Jimmy Bruno and organist Joey DeFrancesco, both Philly guys, are killing it in the background. Anyway, this new book dubs this bar a training ground for the Mafia:

Hard case DiTullio developed an instant soft spot for the young Natale, providing a master’s class in the Mafia to his young and ambitious charge. His classroom was the Friendly Tavern on South Eight Street, where Natale proved a particularly apt pupil.

DiTullio is best known as “Skinny Razor,” father to Dominic and Marco, Friendly’s current owners. Marco loves that there’s a spotlight on this rather grungy, nondescript bar. Dom hates it. The book calls Skinny Razor a “legendary local mob killer.” A woman told me, “He was so handsome and impeccably dressed, but tough. He was a real badass!” The book:

if you were his enemy, [your] life would be considerably shortened. “We had more arms than an armory under the bar,” Natale recalled.

As far as I know, there’s only a blackjack behind bar now, and it hasn’t been used in years. The last time there was a commotion here was when a drunken Felix said to John the Hat that maybe John’s sister was pleasuring him. Absolutely not cool. John leapt off his stool, but Brad got in between them, and I, sitting next to Felix, persuaded him to apologize. Within minutes, everybody was laughing. We’re all friends here.

Another time, Johnny A.C. (for air conditioning) repeatedly screamed, in his bellowing, tenor voice, that Felix should move to Canada, all because Felix had mentioned Michael Moore. Felix actually hates Michael Moore. All across this increasingly angry nation, Americans are screaming at each other. Short fuse has become the norm. The very next day, Johnny came in with no memory of his bourbon-induced meltdown, and Felix holds nothing against him. We’re all family here.

Sometimes, though, retaliation or punishment must be met out. In the early 40’s, an insolent wise guy with a fake Irish surname showed up at Friendly. Not long before, Harry Barry had slashed a boss’ bodyguard in the face. Spotting Barry, Skinny Razor whispered to bookie Joe Panisi that he better collect whatever Barry owed him. Next morning, Barry’s corpse was discovered near the GeorgeWashingtonElementary School.

“That’s bullshit,” Dom objects. “He was found outside the police station, where the library is now. You know something else? If they were going to take out a guy, they might tip you off so you can go borrow money from him.” Dom grins. “There’s a lot Ralph Natale got wrong. My father got his nickname because he was a sharp dresser, not because he always carried a razor. Natale’s embellishing because he wants to sell books! Everyone has a story about my dad. He’s like the Paul Bunyan of South Philly.”

Dude’s a legend. At the end of “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” Louis Prima could be heard to yell, “Skinny! Skinny!”

Book, “He wasn’t flashy and never did anything for show. Killing was for business, period.”

In Friendly, there’s a charming, amateurish oil portrait of Skinny Razor in a suit and tie, smiling and smoking a cigarette. More than anything else, he resembles an insurance executive.

Dom, “It was rough back then. If you weren’t vicious, you wouldn’t survive. Guys on 9th Street all carried guns and knives. Now, they take debit cards. Get the fuck out of here!”

For all the alleged hits, Skinny Razor was never convicted, so technically, he never swatted a fly. Suave, he was seen with Kim Novak under his arm.

For all his bluster, Ralph Natale is the nadir of the Philly mob, a mascot for its most bumbling and farcical years. Natale got locked up for the first time in 1979 for torching Mr. Living Room in an insurance scheme. After a co-conspirator burnt himself, the doctor who treated him was visited by the fed, so a wise guy dropped by to tune him up. “Why beat up the fuckin’ doctor?!” Dom throws up his hands.

After Natale became a rat, soldier Angelo “Buddha” Lutz summed him up, “This guy’s like something out of Shakespeare. He was a comedy when he came in, and now he’s a tragicomedy.”

Hearing about the mob makes me think of Vietnam, where shakedowns by tax collectors and cops, and bribes to politicians, judges and professors, are all standard. With their abilities to extort, kidnap, injure or kill, the mob and government mirror each other, and in any failed or collapsing state, they become indistinguishable or the same. Like a militia, moreover, the mob may be your only protection against the government.

When the state deprives its subjects of natural, basic necessities like alcohol, drugs, paid sex or gambling, the mob fills in. Likewise, when the state fails to protect or keeps out unwanted elements. Before the Philly mob was laid low, heroin and black crimes were largely absent from South Philly.

In a healthy, prosperous society, the mob is parasitical and another layer of oppression. In a dysfunctional one, the mob isn’t just unavoidable, but essential.

Dom, “This guy screwed someone’s teenage daughter, so he was found dead, with his dick stuffed in his mouth. That’s how it was done.”

A good buddy of Skinny Razor was Frank “Blinky” Palermo, the famous fight fixer. Dom still remembers how Blinky joked with him, “Hey kid, you want to be the next middleweight champion of the world?” Working behind the scene, the mob could deform reality and mislead the masses, just like the government.

The DC, Wall Street and Hollywood gang has been fixing elections, stock markets, unemployment and inflation figures, daily news and history books, all aspects of our clueless lives, in short. We exist in a staggering unreality conjured up by the biggest and bloodiest mob in world history.

Linh Dinh’s Postcards from the End of America has just been released by Seven Stories Press. He maintains an active photo blog.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Crime 

Knowing you can’t run from their jokes, bus drivers will crack a few, so on the endless leg from Washington to Atlanta, the driver intoned, “I don’t believe in Lost and Found, ladies and gentlemen, only eBay. If you forget something on this bus, you can find it on eBay.” Later, he chastised us all because someone had pissed on the toilet’s floor.

As the cheapest means of traveling long distance, MegaBus is bare-boned. Most stops have no shelter, so no bathrooms. Riders may have to wait for their bus, which may be quite late, in withering heat, snow, sleet or hurricane. In Atlanta, however, there’s the amenity of a MegaBus snack truck that also sells pregnancy tests ($3), tasers ($20) and pepper sprays ($7).

What perils could possibly befall these downtrodden or cheapskate travelers? Use your imagination. If Donald Trump sat next to you and grabbed your pussy, wouldn’t you be glad you had bought that pepper spray or taser? If these failed to dissuade our commander-in-chief, you could use your pregnancy test in the bus’ john. Of course, those in the middle class or above would likely shudder at the thought of riding Greyhound, much less MegaBus.

On the bus, there was an actual comedian, Chris Thomas. As “The Mayor,” Thomas had hosted RapCity, a show on Black Entertainment Television. His best loved joke, “I saw this little white girl the other day. She said, ‘You have such big lips! I wish I had lips like yours!’ I said, ‘Bitch, hold still,’” and Thomas bunches his fist. Soft spoken, The Mayor never aimed for humor before getting off in Charlotte.

The MegaBus stop in Atlanta is right outside the CivicCenter subway station, and when it’s very cold, passengers go underground to escape the wind. I saw a ragged, middle-aged black man, likely homeless, dancing quite cheerfully. Laughing, a woman joined him. They jerked and twisted. “I’m dreaming of a black Christmas!” she growled.

There is much to love about the South, and not the least is its food. Soon after arriving in Atlanta, I had some excellent collard greens and mac and cheese with my meatloaf at Metro Deli Soul Food. About half of the merchants inside Sweet Auburn Curb Market were black, but there were also several Korean grocers.

The new South is more diverse than you think. In North Charleston in 2012, I chanced upon Lion’s Den, a bar in a black neighborhood that was owned by an Indian-American. Living there since 1982, the confident, affable man had even run for city council. He boasted of carrying four passports, American, English, Kiwi and Indian, and had visited 53 countries. His bar was decorated with a “WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS” banner and statues of Shiva, Parvati and Buddha.

Of course, two Southern states, Louisiana and South Carolina, gave us our first two Indian-American governors.

In the hills of Tennessee, an old, befuddled lady told me, “My doctor, you know, he’s not black. He’s something.” She meant Indian.

Each time I travel through the South, I’m struck by the waning of its accent. Attending high school in Northern Virginia from 1978-81, I heard Southern accents much more often than I have in recent trips to Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee. True, I haven’t wandered into rural areas, but it’s sad that natives of Savannah, Raleigh or Charleston, for example, should sound more or less like Yankees.

While television and movies have homogenized American English, the disappearance of the Southern accent can also be attributed to the national media’s relentless shaming of the South. Tired of being depicted as racist morons, many Southerners have neutered and deformed their speech.

The South still knows that Washington is the enemy, but this cognitive advantage is canceled out if you hate yourself. In Durham, I saw a sticker, “GOOD NIGHT WHITE PRIDE,” with one man about to slam a bicycle on another man, sitting on the ground. I had seen the same sticker in Leipzig, Germany.

How bad can the South be if blacks from all parts of the country are moving there? Often referred to as the capital of Black America, Atlanta has many thriving black businesses, including a bank, Citizens Trust, and a car dealer, Wade Ford Inc, that rakes in half a billion bucks yearly.

In Sweet Auburn, I encountered a tiny yet remarkable business owned by one Big Mouth Ben. What attracted me to it was a bicycle that was mostly wrapped in bright yellow tape, with an orange sign above it, “DREAMS AHEAD / PROCEED WITH DETERMINATION.”

There was also a flyer, “I WENT FROM BEING HOMELESS ON AUBURN AVE TO BEING A BUSINESS OWNER ON AUBURN AVE! COME INSIDE TO HEAR THE STORY.”

At six-years-old, Big Mouth Ben saw, at a gas station, a man return a Coke bottle for ten cents, “My eyes got that big!” so he filled his red cart that day with empties and made two bucks.

Though scoring 98 on his ASVAB to join the Air Force, Big Mouth Ben was also accepted by the University of Georgia, so he attended and thrived, but dropped out after three years to become a rap star, for he had made a name for himself in Athens.

Back in Atlanta, Big Mouth Ben floundered as a rapper, so he secured a government office job, but quit to co-found a mail-order business. He wanted to be a millionaire by 30, and a billionaire by 40. After thriving for several years, his cash cow was poleaxed by online shopping.

Destitute, Big Mouth Ben sold drugs and got hooked himself. Still, he managed to find work as a garbage man, and actually “loved it,” until a reckless car crushed his pelvis. “It was excruciating pain. If you offered me billions of dollars to go do that again, I wouldn’t do it,” he told Wesley Shelby Jr., a television host.

After willing himself through rehabilitation, Big Mouth Ben could swagger again, so used his wheelchair as a cart to peddle soft drinks, water and snacks on the streets. Always a hustler, he also sold add spaces on his modest wheels. “If you want to sell it, let me tell it.”

Wheelchairs can’t fly, however, so Big Mouth Ben switched to a bicycle, and this he wrapped in bright yellow tape, for it represented sunshine. Now, Big Mouth Ben could push refreshment in The Bluff, West End, Kirkwood, College Park and Riverdale, etc. Our hero was everywhere. A recent rap explains:

Man, I love these streets,
But, man, these streets,
They f$$k wit me.
East Point, they f$$k wit me.
Decatur, they f$$k wit me.
[…]
Big Mouth Ben loves the streets.
The streets love Big Mouth Ben.
I show you nothing but love,
And most of them are my friends.
Man, I’m well connected.
Man, I’m well respected.
[…]
Robbing me, you might get jumped
By these bystanders.
[…]
Keep my foot on the pedal.
I hustle so hard,
I deserve a gold medal.
Keep money in my pocket.
I know that’s what you don’t like.
I ain’t worried about you, though.
I got it all on my bike.
[…]
I stayed down and I prayed.
I stayed down and I made.
My dream now a reality,
I got it made in the shade.
[…]
Atlanta is my city,
For all the love they show me.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Poverty 

Say Ann Arbor and people will think of Michigan football, with the second biggest stadium in the entire world, behind only North Korea’s Rungrado May Day Stadium. The annual marijuana rally, Hash Bash, may also come to mind.

Downtown is filled with hip cafés, trendy shops, comfy brewpubs and sophisticated restaurants. These kids have money, I thought as I roamed around, searching for cheap beer. In-state tuition, in turns out, is $28,776, and out of state is $59,784. Michigan has plenty of international students, most notably Chinese.

At Curtain Call, the 30-something bartender, Chris, was from Hawaii. Her dad owned a Maui bar close enough to the beach for surfers to down a few at dawn before hitting the waves. Sounded like paradise. Chris couldn’t work for her old man, however, because he was so cheap, so she ended slinging beer in Ann Arbor. Chris had originally gone there to study biochemistry at the university.

This was her first Friday night off in eleven years, Chris confessed, “I don’t know what to do with myself.”

“You should go somewhere and drink.”

“It’s been eleven years since I can do that!”

“That’s interesting.”

“For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s one drink or ten drink, I’ll still get a headache in the morning.”

“You should drink ten then!”

We laughed.

Jewish, Chris told me Ann Arbor’s best deli was Zingerman’s.

In my late 20’s, I took a girl to a Philly diner. I ordered chicken liver, a favorite to this day. Maria looked at me in horror, “What the fuck are you eating?! Chicken shit?!”

Did I tell you that Jews have been most instrumental in my life? In college, my three most supportive professors, Boris Putterman, Stephen Berg and Eileen Neff, were Jews, with Berg and Neff practically my surrogate parents, they nurtured me so much. Berg bought a painting of mine to put over his fireplace, and lent me money several times. My fiction publisher, Dan Simon, is Jewish, and Jewish Ron Unz has treated me better than any other webzine editor. Novelist Matthew Sharpe has talked me up in the fiction world. I can go on and on. Hell, my first date was with a Jewish girl, and I even lost my virginity to a Jew! I traveled through remote northwest Vietnam with photographer Mitch Epstein, and with 6-9 Lloyd Luntz, explored the Mekong Delta. Jews swarm me, fill my head, course through my veins. I can go on and on.

My next time at Curtain Call, I chatted with a 28-year-old who wished he was 25. “My last birthday, I said it was the 3rd anniversary of my 25th.”

Overhearing this, a guy down the bar shouted, “I wish I was 50!”

Another old head jumped in, “I wish I was 60!”

With two friends threatening suicide, I brought up the topic to this just-arrived, incipient man who’s already mourning his lost youth. “Don’t do it before you’re 50!” I joked.

Outside the FederalBuilding on Liberty Street, I ran into two people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Their signs, “I STAND WITH STANDING ROCK,” “CAN’T DRINK OIL / WATER IS LIFE / #NODAPL” and “BE A TSUNAMI,” among others.

Jeff’s a retired lawyer, and Mary’s a former elementary school teacher who worked at Crazy Wisdom, a tea room and bookstore. This month’s book picks include Mediumship: An Introductory Guide to Developing Spiritual Awareness and Intuition, Magicians of the Gods: Fingerprints of the Gods, Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin and The Education of Will: a Mutual Memoir of a Woman and her Dog.

I asked what they were about. Jeff, “If you feel connected to Mother Earth, then you’re going to protect Mother Earth, and you’re going to relate to the Native Americans, and what they stand for. We don’t own any of this. We think we own it, but that’s an illusion.”

Ellen, “People will say I’m not doing it, but we’re all one, so we are all doing it. We live in homes that use electricity and gas. The America first mindset has been going on for a while. Not enough of us realize that we are one with the rest of the world. If they starve, so do we. Our hearts do, even if our bodies are not. I feel responsible for the world.”

“So what are you doing personally to help?” I asked.

“Personally, I am keeping my temperature lower. I’m using less water. I am signing every petition that comes my way that I believe in. I’m contributing money to the bigger organizations that I feel can, perhaps, get their voice heard more than I can.

“So many people don’t know any different, and so they assume that everything they’re doing is fine. Many people don’t know that a lot of people in the world are suffering. They just don’t understand, and if they do know, they don’t care. It’s not their own family.

“My own stepson and his family, they work at home, they love their children, they’re good people, but he says, ‘This is my world.’ It’s his home and his family.”

Jeff, “I think the culture is so isolating. You get in your car and you drive around. You look at your phone all day. We do things that separate us, you know.

“Look where we are, close to Detroit, where they make automobiles. For me, I don’t particularly enjoy driving around in a car all day.”

I brought up the election. Ellen, “What happened is a huge amount of people who felt like they didn’t have a voice, and it was a contemptuous voice, were given it by he who should not be president. And, they feel really good now, but nothing is really going to happen for them, but they were heard. To be heard is going to be enough for them for a while.

“I do yoga with a quite introspective man, and he thinks something went wrong with America this time. It’s been building up, and I’ll admit that Hillary was a part of it too, but this election is proof positive that we are fucked!”

Jeff, “People need to speak up, and not be afraid to speak up, you know, whatever their conscience is. I’m not a fan of the media at all. People will try to steer you in their direction. You need the courage to stand alone and be a voice, a different voice. It takes courage to do it.”

Ellen, “It does, it does, and courage isn’t something Americans have in huge, ah, commodity.”

College towns proliferate in approved political statements, so in Ann Arbor, I saw a “Black Lives Matter” banner at a church, “Black Lives Matter” signs outside homes, a rainbow flag in front of a church with “God is still speaking” and a “WITH ISRAEL WE STAND” sign at a liquor store, etc. A house displayed a “PEACE” rainbow flag and a bed sheet painted with “WE SUPPORT OUR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS.”

Nowhere did I see “STOP BOMBING MUSLIMS,” “STOP SUPPORTING THE TERROR STATE OF ISRAEL” or “STOP SLANDERING AND PROVOKING RUSSIA.”

A progressive American is mostly a jerked puppet who’s outraged solely at preselected triggers. At his Deir Yassin Remembered website, lifelong Ann Arbor resident Henry Herskovitz explains:

Jackie Robinson and Jewish Power

 

And so I was back in my friend’s house in this most tranquil, on the surface, country town. Outside was a young cherry tree with three bowling balls at its base, one for each dog buried beneath. A roofer’s ashes had also been scattered over its branches, but nothing remained of the short-lived man. Before my 74-year-old friend, Rudy, reclaimed the house, the roofer lived here.

A drunken fall off a friend’s deck during a July 4th party made the roofer miss a year of work, and got him hooked on painkillers. A second fall from a roof finished the always groggy man. He was but 33.

Behind Rudy’s house was a tiny trailer formerly occupied by a lonely fellow who collected rocks and pebbles. Sworn off alcohol decades ago, he only smoked weed. After living peacefully there for years, the nearly invisible 52-year-old had to move out when a neighbor decided to rat that the trailer had no plumbing, and thus illegal. Now, the rural hermit showed up just once a week to feed his old cat, the trailer’s only resident.

Down the road was a 72-year-old farmer who wouldn’t retire because farming was what he loved best. When a thresher shattered his left leg recently, the old man calmly drove himself to the hospital, and was back to cultivating within a month. He had spent nearly his entire life within a 20 mile radius, with just one trip to Chicago. Ann Arbor was alien enough, with Detroit, another planet. Each long day over, he could barely pay attention to Fox News. He voted Trump.

On the way in, we drove past a homemade sign, “BUILD BRIDGES NOT WALLS.” Other than that, I saw no other political statements during my five-day stay in Dexter.

Rudy’s three children were grown and gone, so the house was mostly empty. I had the entire second floor to myself. Each dawn, I looked out at the paling window to see a grain silo and a red barn. It was good to be away from so much concrete and so many bricks, and to wake up to utter silence. In the corner of my shower homesteaded a spider, and there was also a lady bug on the wall. Winking at me, she smiled.

Rudy’s marriage had been troubled for more than decade, his health was crashing and, each day, he could hear less. Serenely, Rudy spoke often of suicide, so I shouted, “Before you do that, Rudy, come visit me in Philadelphia! I’ll show you around! We’ll have a good time! Then you can commit suicide! You can even do it in Philadelphia if you want!”

Pondering his dwindling options, Rudy chuckled and shook his head.

If I don’t holler, Rudy can’t hear shit. At Dexter Pub on the town’s thriving and wholesome Main Street, there’s a sign warning against cursing, and last year, I accidentally shouted a few bad words while chatting with Rudy.

The obscene is saved for the men’s room, where there’s a poster of a blonde, bikinied babe, “Perfect Woman… Perfect Attitude.” Among the sayings of this ideal woman:

“That was a great fart! Do another one!”
“I’ve decided to stop wearing clothes around the house.”
“Your mother is way better than mine.”
“Shall I drop you and your friends off at the lap dancing club?”
“Why would I need more than three pairs of shoes?”
“Pubic hair! I hate those tight curls, I’m clean shaven.”
“I signed up for yoga so that I can get my ankles behind my head just for you.”
“God… If I don’t blow you soon, I swear I’m going to explode!”
“Listen, I make enough money for the both of us. Why don’t you retire forty years early?”
“Let’s subscribe to Hustler.”
“Honey… our new neighbor’s daughter is sunbathing again, come see.”
“Say, let’s go down to the mall so you can check out women’s asses.”
“Oh come on, not the damn mall again. Let’s go to that new strip joint.”

Though Dexter Pub was a very soothing place to enjoy pints of Two Hearted, Rudy declined to go there with me on this visit. “I’ve seen what the humans do. I don’t care anymore.”

“It’s all futile!” I piled on.

“You’re right.”

“I’m already tired, Rudy! And I’m only 53!”

Our degraded culture and politics disgust Rudy. Jewish power and Israel make him retch. When Rudy was young, chemtrails didn’t seed the sky.

Even the educated could barely write, Rudy rued, “I know a lawyer who writes ‘u,’ the letter, instead of ‘you.’ Soon, we’ll have a post-literate society!”

Unable to read or write, we will still have to obey innumerable rules. At a supermarket, the cashier asked near-death, stooping Rudy for his ID as he bought beer. “It’s the rule,” she lamented.

“They’re getting so intrusive.”

“I know.”

“And prayers aren’t going to help.”

“I agree.”

“Maybe a gun will!”

“I’m with you.”

They both laughed.

Back in the car, Rudy further observed, “Not only do they care what you do, but pretty soon, they will tell you what to do, and observe that you’re not doing it. It’s that bad.”

DexterTownship is 97.5% white, while adjacent DexterCity is 92.7% vanilla. Together, they have just over 10,000 souls. During the first decade of the 21st century, DexterCity grew 73.9%, and one can assume that its whiteness is a prime attraction for newcomers. With no violent crimes, graffiti or loud music from passing cars, the only civic discomfort seems to be the longish wait at the Dairy Queen on summer evenings.

In the middle of town is a handsome, four-sided clock on an iron post, standing on a well-tended flower bed, and on the side of the Riverview Café is painted, white on indigo, “GOD BLESS AMERICA.”

DexterHigh School’s mascot is the Dreadnaught, and its most famous alumnus in recent years is Mark Koernke, a militia leader. Son of a sheriff’s deputy, Koernke joined the Army Reserve then worked as a janitor at the University of Michigan for 15 years. In the early 90’s, he started to broadcast on shortwave radio, gained a following, then achieved national prominence when he was mistakenly identified as the mastermind behind the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Now broadcasting over the internet five times a day, five days a week, each Koernke show opens with a Thelen Paulk poem solemnly intoned, with slight variations, over ominous drum beats. It’s a state of the union and indictment of our government:

I had a dream the other night that, well, I didn’t understand.
A figure walking through the mist, with flintlock in his hand.
His clothes were torn and dirty, as he stood there by my bed,
He took off his three-cornered hat, and speaking low to me, he said:

“We fought a revolution, to secure our liberty.
We wrote the Constitution, as a shield from tyranny.
For future generations, this legacy we gave,
In this, the land of the free and home of the brave.

“The freedoms we secured for you, we hoped you’d always keep.
But tyrants labored endlessly, while your parents were asleep.
Your freedoms gone, your courage lost, you’re no more than a slave,
In this, the land of the free and home of the brave.

“You buy permits to travel, and permits to own a gun,
Permits to start a business, or to build a place for one.
On land that you believe you own, you pay a yearly rent,
Although you have no voice in saying how the money’s spent.

“Your children must attend a school that doesn’t educate,

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Poverty 

Before its rents became astronomical, I lived in CenterCity, so frequented McGlinchey’s and Dirty Frank’s. Now, I walk into Frank’s and hardly recognize anybody. Uncle Moe, Tommy Hackett and Skinny Dave are long dead, the last from an OD while in his late 30’s. Others have moved away. Last week, though, I ran into Rick, whom I hadn’t seen in 13 years.

Reminiscing, Rick pointed to a booth, “I proposed to my wife right there.” Then, to another booth, “That’s where a woman grabbed my dick. I went home with her, but didn’t cheat. I only ate her out, and she only sucked my dick. We didn’t have intercourse.”

“I don’t know how you could stop at a certain point,” I marveled. Then, “Oral sex is not cheating?”

“No, it’s not.”

“You never cheated on your wife?”

“Another time, I did sleep with a woman. I dated my wife for ten years before we got married, so it’s only twice in 40 years, if you count the blow job and eating pussy. That’s not bad.”

“You’re like a saint, man! Maybe your wife has cheated a little, too. What if she sucked a guy’s dick? Would you consider that cheating?”

“Yeah.”

“But not the other way around?”

“You do have a point.”

“Would you be pissed if she cheated twice in 40 years?”

“Definitely!”

“Shouldn’t it balance out?”

“You do have a point.”

Rick’s two lapses don’t quite constitute a double life, but who knows what he’s hiding? Even the most candid don’t confess everything.

News of high school teachers having sex with students have become blasé. Often, these are married women with children. Sobbing, a 37-year-old explained to the judge that she habitually mounted her charge because of “self-esteem issues,” a perfectly valid reason. It seems like everybody is sneaking some on the side.

If lowly schmucks are already like that, can you imagine all the inconvenient truths crammed into the closets of the super ambitious? The larger the appetite, the greater the propensity for transgressions and lies, and since this applies to entire societies, you should expect the most hubristic to commit the greatest crimes, accompanied by the grossest lies.

The shining city upon a hill is a projection, but with a real basement containing torture chambers, false flags and lots of pizzas. Fumbling through the stinking dark, one steps on corpses or zombies, discussing politics.

Even Christ may be a horny hustler, according to Cigar Tim, a drinking buddy. At Friendly Lounge, Tim said of a celebrity, “He must get more pussy than Jesus!”

Innocently, I replied, “If he gets laid once, that’s one more than Jesus!”

“So the Bible tells you,” Tim snarled. “If you’re God’s son, you’d be at every party, and you’d be, like, ‘You know who my dad is? I’m just saying. This guy’s dad owns a dealership. Guess who my dad is? My dad is God! Yeah, that’s my pop!’”

So even the greatest news may be fake. Me, I just think that behind a lie is usually another lie, is another lie, and tranquility rests on mountains of lies.

Just now, a two-star general, David Haight, is exposed as having an 11-year affair with an American military contractor he first met in Iraq. Into anonymous sex with multiple partners, they visited swingers’ clubs in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia and elsewhere. Though she targeted and pursued the married father of four, 49-year-old Jennifer Armstrong now laments to USA Today, “I gave him the best years of my life.”

This longish preamble leads us to Rose, not her real name, whom I’ve met but twice, both at Friendly. Two years ago, Rose told me she’s from Chicago and had studied acting in college. “Three Sisters” and “The Lower Depths” were her favorites. Though the plays I had seen could be counted on two hands, or maybe just one, I had seen and read the Chekov, and read the Gorky 30 years ago. We also talked about Tennessee Williams.

One afternoon last week, Rose reappeared as a different woman. The bar owner and I heard her long before she barged into the nearly empty joint. Rose was that loud.

Slurring when not raving, Rose talked with me or her lover, Thomas, first on the phone, then in person when he showed up. With his crew cut, trimness and bomber jacket, Thomas came off as ex military, and he’s old enough to have fought in Vietnam. Rose is around 40 and perhaps three quarters white, a quarter black.

Sitting together, she did most of the talking. Awaiting his treat later, he was comically meek. The old man gladly tolerated his lover’s stream of abuses because here, right next to him, was someone of his daughter’s age. Like so many others, Thomas was cheating not just his wife, but time, God’s medium of universal punishment. Whatever guilt he felt from the first was more than drowned out by the deep, calming pleasure of the second.

Where it most mattered, this relatively young woman had accepted, forgiven and salved Thomas, so who cared if she was shooting her mouth off? Though Rose was a horror, frankly, he probably thought I was envious. Adjusting his wedding band, Thomas grinned.

At Friendly, the jukebox periodically plays by itself. Roughly five minutes after Thomas’s appearance, Tina Turner belted out “Private Dancer”:

I’m your private dancer, a dancer for money.
I’ll do what you want me to do.
I’m your private dancer, a dancer for money.
And any old music will do.

Such synchronicities are as good a proof of God’s existence as any, I believe.

For obvious reason, I couldn’t take photos of Rose or Thomas, and though the below is too brief a record of her voice, it’s still a clear enough portrait, I think.

My job? Which one?! It is very, very temporary. Ushering and ticketing. It is what it is. It ain’t no glamorous position. C’est la vie!

Yes, Thomas, how are you? I’m sorry, I don’t speak Mexican. Speak English to me! I ain’t got time for that shit. Fuck, yeah!

The rain has stopped. Here’s when the angels come back, but not at ya!

Silence, si vous plait! I talk to myself. Language is never a nice thing.

Yes, Thomas. I’m inside Friendly. Where are you? I just ordered us food from next door. Can you come inside, please. Thank you. Bye!

I don’t have a PhD, but I have a bachelor’s. I’m dating a married man, right now, the guy that’s coming in. I shouldn’t be talking, see, because I’ll get all cocky, socky.

I do love him, though. We’ve been seeing each for years, and years, and years. Just him and me. Well, apart from his little Mexican wife. Good for her!

My name ain’t Becky Quick. So, figure it out, but don’t ask me what I’m doing with a guy like that.

Next door, the sardine sandwich is the best! Aaaah! If I were to go for pho soup, I either go to 11th and Washington, or I go two doors down, but, sardine sandwich, that bitch got it figured out.

Thomas, where are you? Yes, but driving is the first fuckin’ problem! I’m not moving, from this seat that I’m in. I’ve got you a spot, OK?

Where are you at? Come meet me. I ordered food, and half of that is for you, dumb ass! You little fuckin’ German bitch! You better come to 8th and Washington and pick me up.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Poverty 

I live a block from the Italian Market, see, and its ecology is more complex than anything I could ever aspire to describe, but better something than nothing, so let me give you a little tour of the Eyetalian Market.

Italian Market, 2014

Italian Market, 2014

There are lots of restaurants on 9th Street, so naturally, there are tons of Mexicans, and since they don’t go for the dark Irish bar ambience, they congregate at the Stab and Grab, not its real name. At this Korean-owned, neon-lit oasis, all these cooks, busboys and dishwashers just sit at brutal, lonely tables to stare at each other’s shell-shocked mug nonstop, so no wonder fights sometimes break out. I’ve witnessed a couple, cholo, and I hardly ever go there.

Lisa at Friendly Lounge, December 2016

Lisa at Friendly Lounge, December 2016

Speaking of grabbing, a white waitress told me she’s been grabbed a couple of times by drunken Mexicans in this neighborhood. We all need love. I witnessed another Mexican tried to chat up a Friendly Lounge bartender. Though his English was good, he wasn’t too charming, as evidenced by these doofus lines, “Are you shy? Do you want me to buy you a shot? A soft drink? Why won’t you shake my hand?” To be fair, I’ve heard much, much worse from the native-born.

In the free ESL classes, flirting lessons should be mandatory. We must catch up with the Germans, for they’ve long offered sex tips to immigrants. “Achtung! This is how you screw the natives!”

Half a century ago, the Stab and Grab wasn’t a semi nuisance bar but butcher shop. Undercutting all competitors, this guy sold three pounds of ground beef for just a buck, but what it was was mostly fat mixed with blood, so when you cooked it up, it shrank to almost nothing. The sly one advertised his bargain with a loud speaker until, one afternoon, another butcher blasted it with a handgun.

Once, there were many hucksters here, but now, you won’t hear anyone shout, “Don’t squeeze the tomatoes, lady! Go home and squeeze your husband’s balls!” It is a crying shame.

Drunken Man on Sidewalk, Italian Market, 2015

Drunken Man on Sidewalk, Italian Market, 2015

Now walk with me, buddy, down Washington Avenue, but don’t make eye contact with that miserable broad, Typhoid Mary, for if you show the least interest, she’ll tail and hound you. I have no idea what Mary’s on, but her eyes are always turbid yet searching. She wants to do somebody, anybody, the same favors.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Mary is learning Spanish. “¿Quieres una mamada, señor? Chingar? Why not chingar?! Come back! Come back! Barato chingar!”

The first time I met Typhoid Mary, she was with a bald man who boasted, “We just got married! We spent two days in AC for our honeymoon!” In her late 40’s, with dark hair, dead eyes and mouth ajar, Mary looked as if she had trekked through a lifetime of disasters, with her soul smoldering at the bottom of a trash-strewn gully. Fleeing everything, she’s a permanent refugee. Her “husband,” it turns out, has three kids with another prostitute, this one black and currently in jail.

Now, the cashier at this bakery seems wholesome enough, but she has loosening teeth, worse nightmares, suicidal thoughts and attempted suicides, nothing in her fridge and, don’t ask me how I know this, no menstruation for two years, so do you think she’s on Xanax? Benzos? She can’t afford even a gram of blow a week.

Though she herself dealt coke recently, she’s on nothing but painkillers, actually, thanks to one raging boyfriend, a car accident and a childhood fall from a tree. To make ends meet, the young lady often sells her script. Many among us do this. “I just wanted to die,” she moaned.

When I was failing out of college, you could only sample maybe six drugs, but now there are hundreds to numb or jack up those suffering overwhelming anxiety, fear, stress, despair, pain or just plain emptiness. What are you on?

See that small, dark man contemplating a bag of carrots at Giordano’s? He fought in Cambodia for four years, then escaped Vietnam by boat. While others slept, he baled water, “to save the young ones.” Starving and exhausted, they miraculously reached Bidong. Now, the dude calls himself Jack, drinks Bud and works in a cardboard box factory. Jack married, divorced and has lived with the same white man, rent free, for over twenty years. He says they’re just friends.

A karaoke fiend, Jack can instantly pick up any song in three languages, Vietnamese, Chinese or English, so he claims. “I can sing better than Elvis, ah, what’s his name? Yes, Presley. I can sing better than Elvis Presley.”

Lin, Chinese, weaves in and out of businesses to sell pirated DVDs, including porn titles such as “The Squirt Locker,” “Texas Big Booty Brigade” and “Dr. Ava’s Guide to Prostate Pleasure.”

The middle-aged, pudgy owner of this restaurant used to be married to a handsome Syrian. She found him in Greece. When I met Johnny, not his birth name, he claimed he was just Greek, period. Johnny said he divorced her because she gambled all their money away, but listen, man, even a blind fool could see that that marriage wouldn’t last. After getting his citizenship, Johnny bolted. The frump wasn’t the first one to be dumped. Before her, an Icelander had flown Johnny to her cold, windswept village by the sullen sea. After one endless winter, Johnny belched, “See ya!”

Free, Johnny went to AC, mastered several table games, worked at casinos, bought a condo and, predictably, snatched a stunning, loving girlfriend. The suave, mustachioed playa had to make up for all those repulsive nights in Philly! Just thank God you never had to whore to become an American. After a while, though, Johnny also gave his lover the heave-ho, for it was time to return to Syria to find a traditional, virgin bride half his age.

Lottery Tickets in Italian Market

Lottery Tickets in Italian Market

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Immigration, Poverty 

A bar featuring $2 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon should never be empty. Granted, it’s a crap beer, but I’d guzzle dish water for two bucks, as long as it had some alcohol in it. So I was in The Dive for more than three hours, and during that entire time, only two other losers stumbled in. One, 30-ish, exiled himself to the furthest corner to stroke his laptop. I ended up chatting with Chris, the bar manager, and listening to his extensive playlist.

Ideally, a pub should be free from all electronic molestations, so no TV, jukebox, video games or even cellphones, say I, your next dictator. In 2012, I blundered into the Evening Star in Brighton, England, and it was paradise, I tell you, for all I heard were human voices. Lubricated by heavenly hops, intellects and dumbshits alike were spilling tales, and it was absolutely lovely. What more do you want? Our civilizational unraveling can be pinned on our increasing inability to hear each other. In 2015, I returned to the Evening Star only to discover they had installed a sound system spewing tunes nonstop.

Chris’ music did trigger a few sparks in my pickled brain. Quiz time: What do Cock Sparrer, Die Antwoord and Hank Williams III have in common? Here are some clues. From the Oi! pioneers’ “Take ‘Em All”:

We worked our way up from East End pubs
To gigs and backstage passes,
Ex boxing champs, West End clubs.
Americans in dark glasses,
Driving ten grand cars, they drink in hotel bars.
They’re even making money in bed.
They wouldn’t be no loss. They ain’t worth a toss.
It’s about time they all dropped dead.

Take ‘em all, take ‘em all,
Put ‘em up against a wall and shoot ‘em.
Short and tall, watch ‘em fall.
Come on boys, take ‘em all.

Die Antwoord’s “Rich Bitch”:

I was a victim of a kak situation,
Stuck in the system,
With no fokken assistance.
I know it sounds strange
But I used to count change
On the counter at Pick ‘n Pay
Or Shoprite Checkers.
No butter on my broodjie.
[…]
But then I got my game on.
[…]
Now I’m a rich bitch.

Hank Williams III:

Well, I was raised in a holler.
I grew up eatin’ mud,
And in my baby bottle,
It was filled with beer and blood.

Well, I got relatives here.
Some of them just don’t look quite right.
A couple of ‘em only got one eye,
That I heard that they lost in a fight.

You know why?
You got any idea, boy?
Do you know why?

Whiiiiiite trash!
Whiiiiiite trash!
Whiiiiiite trash!
Whiiiiiite trash!

Though from three different countries, England, South Africa and the U.S., and employing diverse musical styles, these acts are all expressions of the white underclass. How truly white trash are Hank Williams III and Die Antwoord is debatable, however.

With their Walmart fashion, oversized full-bodied hoodies, print boxers, discount bras, mullets, bad tattoos, coexistence with rats and toilet paper shortage, Die Antwood’s celebration of white trash stereotypes constantly verges on parody, but since they’re so defiant and cool with their white trash looks, I don’t think you can equate them with, say, Flavor Flav and his in-your-face nigger ostentation.

Likewise, Hank Williams III makes white trash hip, and I envision a day when black, brown and yellow kids will become white trash wannabes instead of posing as ghetto gangstas. It won’t happen soon, though, not with the way our mainstream media operate.

The term “white trash” started as a black vernacular in the American South. British actress Fanny Kemble explains in an 1833 journal entry, “The slaves themselves entertain the very highest contempt for white servants, whom they designate as ‘poor white trash.’” In early America, poor whites had a shorter lifespan than black slaves, and they were often hired to perform tasks deemed too dangerous for slaves, a valuable commodity.

Is there any group so mocked and caricatured as the white underclass? Though disenfranchised for generations, they’re routinely depicted as the very worst of white power. Working three jobs and on food stamps, they’re somehow oppressing the affirmative action college graduated people of colors. Downing Bud after a 12-hour day, they turn on TV to see themselves portrayed as Mama June and Honey Boo Boo. If unemployed, they can watch their similars humiliate each other nonstop on Jerry Springer, with an unctious lecture at the end on how to live.

Entire states, such as West Virginia and Tennessee, for example, are said to be inhabited by nothing but repulsive white trash, though I’ve been to both and encountered only gracious and warm individuals. To many Americans, the entire South is white trash, with some even viewing all flyover states as festering with white trash. For my Postcards book, I crisscrossed this country several times, and I always gravitated towards the cheapest drinking joints, for they suited my budget and taste. Over and over, I was welcomed.

Of course, if you keep carousing with drunks in strange towns, shit may happen, but the only time I nearly had my skull cracked was in Norristown, right outside Philly. My three harassers were two blacks and one white. Not so much trash as paranoid assholes, they thought I was a cop. Perhaps that bar was overrun with guys skipping bail or dodging a warrant, meth and coke were being dealt and the faded lady by the payphone was tricking, but, in the name of hops and barley, man, would any police department be dumb enough to send in a 5-6 Vietnamese undercover with a huge camera bag?!

Anyway, to Manhattan snobs, white trash nation begins with New Jersey, no doubt, if not Staten Island. To our coastal elites, all but themselves are trash. Further, contempt for white trash is often only thinly disguised hatred of white culture, period. These days, no white man can even whisper “white heritage” without someone nearby screaming that he’s a Nazi! Of course, only a Neo-Nazi would take pride in Erasmus, Rabelais, Rembrandt, Earl Scruggs and Milan Cathedral, etc.

Who needs Luther when you can have Martin Luther King and Luther Vandross? Who cares about Bill when you can groove to Robbie Shakespeare?

Deplored, incorrect whites seethe, but mostly discreetly or anonymously, online. Few can risk venting like the Angry Aryans:

Your Cadillac doesn’t mean a thing to me.
A bloodthirsty savage belongs overseas.

Civilization you cannot comprehend.
You cannot exist in a world of white men.

A white woman by your side,
You’re still a nigger!

A devoted life of crime,
You’re nothing but a nigger!

Uniformed in blue,
You’re still a nigger!

A lackey for the Jew,
You’re nothing but a nigger!

Of course, there are also black musicians with anti-white lyrics, but what’s different is that their race hatred is not just confined to the fringe. Take Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money.” In the video, a rich white blonde is kidnapped, stripped, hung upside down, forced to drink vodka and inhaled pot, knocked out cold, submerged under water and generally humiliated nonstop by Rihanna and two sidekicks, a Hindu and another white woman, the last inserted to blunt, not too convincingly, the song’s anti-white thrust. An idiotic, leering white cop also appears, and at the video’s end, the kidnapped blonde’s blonde husband is tied up and stabbed to death.

 
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.