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Outrageous events are avalanching, so any analysis risks becoming immediately obsolete, and even quaintly so. Just two weeks ago was the good old days. Remember when you could perform extraordinary tasks like loafing in a bar just to shoot the shit, walking down the street unperturbed or saying to a diner waitress, “Over easy, please,” then leisurely wait for the old bird to bring you your eggs?

“Here you are, honey.”

Is this a bad movie or what? And we’re all just extras, ghostly blurs flitting in the background, with our sickness or death not even a weeny tick in the constantly swelling statistics. Many, though, will insist there is no health crisis, for this is just a trumped-up mirage, orchestrated by all governments, working together.

Fact is, half of America is already under house arrest, with the remainder soon to follow, most likely. All of Italy, Spain, France, Greece and India are already in lockdown. As James Howard Kunstler points out, “At least in wartime, the bars stay open,” so this is an even worse disruption.

Growing up in wartime Saigon, I’d go to the movies, like everybody else, and we watched chopsockies, mostly, but also American flicks like Planet of the Apes and the Poseidon Adventure. For a relentlessly optimistic country that always preaches progress, America can’t stop dreaming of collective disasters and dystopias. Deep down, it always knew, somehow.

I’m writing this in South Korea. Landing here nearly a month ago, I half expected to find a country in crisis, panic and despair, but it’s much more normal here than nearly everywhere else. In Busan, folks still stroll on Dadaepo, Gwangalli and Haeundae Beaches. Arcaded markets are daily thronged with shoppers. Teenagers play basketball outside, as men lift weights nearby. At rush hours, the suits fill subway cars.

Sitting at a convenience store, I can hear two boys goofing around behind me, and see, outside the ample window, cars and pedestrians passing by. It’s an act of grace just to be a zooplankton in the stream of life. Heading for a recycling center, an old woman pulls a cart stacked with folded cardboard boxes, which she has spent all morning collecting. Nearing the end, her juices still flow, so she must exert. Led by his mom, a boy nervously crosses the street on a red tricycle.

Are you being sheltered in place, with only a screen for company?

The electronic screen hasn’t just defined, but shaped and usurped America, so there’s hardly any country left, just citizens, very loosely speaking, in solitary confinement with their magic lanterns, and that’s what we have now, most concretely.

To the rest of the world, America is not just a kaleidoscope of movies, but is itself a film, a road movie launching into space. Mesmerized, they watch from afar and fantasize about being an extra in this greatest of flicks.

In Seoul two weeks ago, I spotted an infant-sized Apollo astronaut at a TGI Fridays, so had to walk in. Sure enough, the chain restaurant was a mini temple to America. You’re there to swallow myths.

On the walls, there were images of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, John Travolta in Saturday Night Live, the Star Trek crew, Batman and Luke Skywalker. Also on display were Darth Vader and Clone Trooper helmets, a Bart Simpson mask, and signs for Hollywood Boulevard, Bourbon Street and Route 66.

Rolling down Route 66, Easy Rider ends with both Fonda and Hopper senselessly killed, just after they had a bad acid trip with two prostitutes in a New Orleans cemetery. The entire movie, though, is pretty much one bad trip, what with them being turned away from a motel, jailed, refused service in a restaurant and pummeled in their sleep, a beating that got Jack Nicholson murdered. The only real fun they had was skinny dipping with two babes in a hot spring. Mardi Gras was like some voodoo rite, with a dead cat by the side of the road.

Despite all that, the movie still seduces, because our heroes are so cool (thus quintessentially American), and the landscape looks so sweet and inviting. It is vast, yet not savage, with the only threatening beasts its rural inhabitants.

Louisiana didn’t appear too appealing in that movie, did it? Still, Morganza (pop. 610) marked the 50th anniversary of its release. An article about this in the Advocate, out of Baton Rouge, quotes recollections by several locals, including those who appeared in the film, so there is tremendous continuity there. People stay put and remember.

Seventy-year-old Elida Hebert Aronstein recalls these Hollywood invaders as “ugly, dirty men. They smelled. They’d probably been on the road all week.” Yet the village welcomed and collaborated with the filmmakers, even to the point of slandering itself as a redneck cesspool.

For a more sympathetic view of ordinary, salt of the earth Americans, one must turn to another Nicholson vehicle, Five Easy Pieces. This is sort of a road movie, since it’s about escape.

Born into an affluent, cultured and musically accomplished family, Bobby can’t stand his sterile and pretentious milieu, or his father’s expectations, so he reinvents himself as just some Joe Sixpack. Bobby works on an oil field, bowls and drinks with his best friend Elton, shacks up with a waitress and beds women. Still, he’s never satisfied, concludes his girlfriend, Rayette, superbly played by Karen Black.

Devoted to Bobby, Rayette can’t help but compulsively play Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man,” a song he’s so sick of.

Already bored and often short with Rayette, Bobby becomes enraged when she got pregnant. Elton gives him the news.

ORDER IT NOW

“She’s all torn up about it, too, which I hate to see. Well, hell, isn’t it something you just have to face up to? I’ll tell you, somewhere along the line, you even get to liking the whole idea. When Stoney first give me the news, I could have shit. Ha, ha, ha, ha!”

Bobby’s response is telling, “It’s ridiculous! I’m sitting here listening to some cracker asshole who lives in a trailer park compare his life to mine. Keep telling about the good life, Elton, because it makes me puke!”

Elton, “Well, if you’re saying you think you’re something better than what I am, now that’s something else. But I can’t say much of someone who could run off and leave a woman in a situation like this, and feel easy about it, and that’s all I have to say.”

This, Bobby eventually does, and that’s how the movie ends. Free, he’s moving on.

America, too, has defined freedom as a self-sanctioned license to ignore consequences, or even disasters, but suddenly, that easy ride has come to an end.

Emma Lazarus calls the Statue of Liberty the “Mother of Exiles,” and America has been certainly been an unprecedented refuge for those escaping, well, just about everything: king, poverty, debts, religious persecution, Communism, Fascism, criminal convictions or war, including many started by America itself. With your house burning, you run towards the arsonist. America has also been a beacon for many who just want more wealth, glamor or space, but what all exiles have in common is a rejection, whether anguished or ecstatic, of their homeland, which is all they have ever known.

Come and reinvent yourself, an American specialty, and this enticement is also dangled to the native-born, for it’s practically an American imperative to turn away from home, hometown, home state and especially your geeky or doofy self, so embarrassing in that high school yearbook. Outgrowing everything, you’ll tatt up, dye your hair, get a new wardrobe and move to, say, California. Though you may end up sleeping on a pissy Tenderloin sidewalk, you’ve made tremendous progress, buddy, for you’re on your own!

As the richest advance their careers and increase their wealth by networking, the poorest are constantly told they must help themselves, as independent loners, for that’s their freedom.

Lately, this escape creed has been ramped up to include even an apostasy against your own anatomy, but nature, though, has her own rules and tyranny, and disease, episodic or final, has always been her way of reminding us who has the last laugh.

Linh Dinh’s latest book is Postcards from the End of America. He maintains a regularly updated photo blog.

 
• Category: Culture/Society • Tags: Coronavirus, Hollywood 
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  1. Polemos says:

    Really well done and heart seeking. Thank you.

    • Agree: John Achterhof
    • Replies: @follyofwar
  2. Polemos says:

    “You’re there to swallow myths.”

    But then you make it a point that among all the other tall tales and memes and fantasies of America on the wall is… well, something controversially historical. Great comedy!

  3. unit472 says:

    Teddy Roosevelt warned about America becoming a polyglot boarding house and to prevent it he stoped the plutocrats of his time ( Carnegie, Rockefeller, Morgan ) from fulfilling Emma Lazarus’ dream. Ironically the Wuhan flu may allow Trump to do the same. Shut the borders and end immigration for a generation or two to Americanize the third world hustlers roaming our cities as a global depression ends their dreams and schemes of easy money

    Right now America is on the horns of this dilemma. Stand up to the virus as Brazil’s President Bolsonaro urged his countrymen and get back to work or stay locked down for months and see any hopes of a comfortable future slip away. Andrew Cuomo ( who let the virus run amok in New York with Chinese New Year parades last month) now evokes his sainted mother Matilda as the reason we cannot let our elderly die but, and its a big but, what about the 60 year old couple who HAD $2 or 3 hundred thousand put away in their retirement accounts and have watched it decline by a third or more in a month? Maybe they’d rather let their sainted 85 year old mom take her chances with the flu rather than spend the next twenty five years in poverty.

    • Agree: follyofwar
    • Replies: @Svevlad
    , @follyofwar
  4. Hacienda says:

    Lately, this escape creed has been ramped up to include even an apostasy against your own anatomy, but nature, though, has her own rules and tyranny, and disease, episodic or final, has always been her way of reminding us who has the last laugh.

    I wish this actually were true. “Nature gets her desserts.” But, science and good sense tells me that nature really doesn’t care, at least in this one sided way. I believe man is nature and the scope of man is nature, particular the earth. Man is earth, but earth is not Man.

    Man is formed by trees. We’re 90 degress to the earth’s surface because that’s what trees evolved us to be. Trees grow to light and are activated by light. Same as humanity. Trees can be reproductive sexually or asexually. Humanity can too, these days. Trees have been around hundreds of millions of years and humanity has evolved around the contour of trees. Fitted to trees. Trees point to the heavans, so man has followed in that direction both in life and in death. Trees are the past, present, future. Trees are what we see in our living years, trees are the factories that make us before being born and have helped fashion our eyes. So to see a tree is to experience both the time of living and the time of death. But I don’t see any last laughs. Possibly a cycle of laughs and tears. An eternal dance of man and trees, animals and plants on the creature that is the earth.

  5. One of your best rants!

    As I’ve just observed around here in San Jose, California, they’ve finally found a way to make this place even more soulless than it already was.

  6. Svevlad says:
    @unit472

    you know what Joker says in the new movie. I don’t think America can be saved anymore. It’s gonna explode!

  7. ken says:

    I live in a shut down state and it is no where near what Lin imagines. I drive to work six days a week without interruption, no one verifying if you work in a “vital” business. Liquor stores are open! Lots of people going out for walks and visiting with neighbors. I just miss my Sunday Mass.

  8. @Polemos

    So agree, Linh, one of your best. This over-hyped pandemic, I hope, will lead to a re-evaluation of our immigration policy. Trump is on the right track to state that those who come here should have the means to take care of themselves, and not become public charges, dependent on SSI.

    Those such as yourself, Linh, should be welcomed here. Sad that you felt you had to leave, though you seem to be in a much better part of the world. As for Zionist Emma Lazarus, however, her poem “The New Colossus” has done terrible damage to our country. I wish it could be removed from Lady Liberty.

    Your reference to “Easy Rider” brought back pleasant memories of my youth. Such movies cannot be made today.

    • Replies: @Jeff Stryker
  9. @unit472

    When I heard of Cuomo’s comment about protecting his elderly mother from Covid-19 death, I thought what a selfish oaf. He talks like he’s straight out of “The Godfather.” One rumor, reported on Tucker Carlson, is he might replace senile, incompetent Biden on the ticket.

    Heard Immunity, at this point, is the only way to go.

    • Replies: @unit472
  10. Wild Bill says:

    Well Linh, leaving the U.S. has really been the making of you as a writer. You were always a superior photographer with a good eye, but now your writing has made it over the wall into the garden.

  11. Antiwar7 says:

    Really well-written and rich, Linh. One could take almost any couple of paragraphs and expand them into their own essay. Well done.

  12. Dumbo says:

    I don’t mind if America is the way it is, but the cultural Americanization of the world has been pretty bad, now in all countries from Italy to China to Vietnam you see the same (obese) people dressed with a t-shirt with some dumb slogan, a tattoo in their arms (when not ass) eating a burger and drinking Coke.

    It was not like this until the 60s, watch earlier movies, Jacques Tati movies, Ozu movies, Americanization was starting but had not been so overwhelming. France was still French, Japan was still Japanese, etc. Well Japan at least managed to escape from mass immigration and kind of created its own form of popular degenerate culture (mangas, etc) but Europe is now fully Americanized, and demographically changed too, only that its immigrants are Muslims instead of Mexicans, but in all places, even formerly elegant Italy, you see people dressed like American slobs and ugly and tattooed and repeating lines from American movies and SJW talking points. In many cities in formerly ordered Germany there’s graffiti everywhere, you’d think they have a black population, I don’t know who makes those.

    America, culturally, has been mostly a curse.

    • Replies: @MBlanc46
    , @Loremipsum
  13. jo6pac says:

    Agree with Antiwar? and Wild Bill

    Stay safe

  14. utu says:

    What is sad however that we all seem to have difficulty describing our world and our experience w/o borrowing language , metaphor and the reference point from movies we have watched. So are we still describing the world or just creating a meta text about the moves? What is the subject of this piece? Are Quentin Tarantino films about the world or about the world of films that Tarantino watched? Are we still living in the world or in the world constructed by movies we watched?

  15. I like the bit about independent loafers. Because working together is what communists do. Capitalists–you’re not allowed to. Working together is fairy stuff. Capitalism means you can depend on yourself and nobody else. Yeah, right. I bet you can.

  16. Patricus says:

    America is terrible and depraved (except compared to all the other places on the planet).

    Those who read Mr. Dinh’s work might think the country is on the brink of collapse. As one who was born here I can’t help but counter this idea. There have always been skid rows and seedy places. Most of us try to stay away from these places and we live normal, sometimes boring, lives. Linh seeks out places of despair and generalizes about the entire nation based upon some seedy bar in South Philadelphia, for one example.

    One can make a comfortable living and it is not necessary to be a brain surgeon or rocket scientist. It is necessary to labor at some good or service that is considered useful, and that people want to pay for. Unfortunately it is difficult to earn one’s way as a poet, card shark or professional badminton player. To engage in those occupations accumulated wealth or some trust fund is necessary. We all like poetry and badminton but don’t want to spend hard earned money on these things.

    Everyone in my extended family is gainfully employed. No one sleeps in the street with needles stuck in arms. Ancestors were very poor, mostly rural people from Europe. There was no inherited wealth. A few dropped along the way from drink, drugs or mostly wars but just a few out of hundreds. Today there are doctors, lawyers and every other occupation. We are not unique. Each generation is better off than the last.

    Hollywood produces a lot of trashy entertainment and some generalize about the entire nation from these products. Personally I rarely watch movies. I have heard of Brad Pitt and the Kardashians but have no idea what distinguishes these famous people. I’m not curious. I remember Easy Rider. That was the trash of another era and had no relevance to the lives of most Americans of that time (I know because I lived here). It was another caricature like the works of Tarantino.

    Some say the sun is setting on America. We will be eclipsed by Asians, Indians and Africans, that is, once these rising folks figure out potable water and sewage treatment (if ever). Forgive me for some uncharitable skepticism. These great old civilizations have had shit in their streets for thousands of years. No, it wasn’t America that made them backward. Asians and Africans made their countries shitholes. We should reconsider whether we want any more of these supermen. I will stay in America and I expect it will be the best place to be for many generations. Great innovations are coming and a lion’s share will be made in the USA.

  17. @Patricus

    All you need to do is generations ahead of you making your way for you – there fixed it. It’s like stages on a rocket, 3 of ’em to get to the Moon, to get that little bitty thing up there.

    You must come from one of those freakish families who work together. You remind me of the line by Chet Baker in the documentary “Let’s Get Lost” where Chet, dismayed, looks at the interviewer and says he doesn’t know why his kids aren’t doing great in the world; all they have to do is do something better than anyone else in the world and they’d be set.

    Yes, it’s good to be useful. But unless one is born into money, with near zero social mobility in the USA, if you’ve got more than a tiny room to live in and a bicycle, thank your earlier generations who put you where you are.

    • Replies: @Jeff Stryker
    , @Richard B
  18. Nature my ass, nCorona virus is a gain of function bioweapon, and it ain’t organic, man. And the United States of America is a fucking banana republic headed up by a tin pot dictator in hock to Deutsch Bank.

    America is not a movie, but if it was a movie it would be closer to Dumb & Dumber given the Federal Reserve Chair Powell & the Orange Oaf.

    RW

  19. unit472 says:
    @follyofwar

    I have no doubt Cuomo’s daily bitchathon is his audition to replace Biden this summer. The Democrats can’t beat Trump with an empty suit. That said I was all in favor of a 15 day lockdown to ‘flatten the curve’. The problem Cuomo can’t even enforce it even in his own New York City. People are on the subway, walking in the parks, doing as they damn well please. Enforcing it would be ‘racist’ or have a disproportionate impact so only responsible citizens adhered to it while college students and hoodrats partied. In my county of Sarasota, Florida there was a ‘block party’ on Martin Luther King Blvd the police came under gunfire from when they tried to break it up!

    Now we are going to give every ‘waitperson’ and busboy a full pay check because the virus is going to keep on keeping on and the restaurants and travel industry will have to stay closed until the virus infects everyone it can infect.

  20. Simply fantastic, Linh. I could read this all day.

  21. Meanwhile back home ….. just an image of a fakebook page, folks, ….

    I’m guessing the lady’s being hassled for being white. If only partially white, having a white name is NOT helping here. I present as “mostly” white but in Hawaii I’m The Evil Whiteman, and I’m guessing it’s the same with this lady. If I could get hassled by cops for walking down the street, it’s not too far a stretch for now, in COVID times, for whites to have a hell of a time getting through road blocks, if they can. Maybe whites will have to have non-whites take pity on them and shop for them etc. I don’t remember a lot of pity from my times as a white in Hawaii. …

    How’s life hiding in that back room, Stryker?

    • Replies: @anonymous
  22. MBlanc46 says:
    @Dumbo

    It’s modernity, not US. We got there first. Now everyone that could has caught up, and even those that can’t are coming as close as they can.

  23. Anonymous[428] • Disclaimer says:

    To the rest of the world, America is not just a kaleidoscope of movies, but is itself a film, a road movie launching into space. Mesmerized, they watch from afar and fantasize about being an extra in this greatest of flicks.

    Even to many Americans, the country is exactly that: a kaleidoscope of movies and film. One aspect of my some 30 years living in the US has been a persistent nagging sense of living a virtual life. Most of what people used as reference points for their daily lives were others who made millions living double lives acting out characters that eventually made their way back to society as fads, franchise junk and cultural icons. Colleagues at my workplace talked about movie and soap opera characters as though they were real life people and were dumbfounded to notice I couldn’t participate in their animated conversations because I just did not know of the celebrities, academy awardees, soap opera characters, their net worth, their extra-marital affairs and the like. I rarely, if ever, watched movies or soap operas.

    There were enough challenges as it was to make sense of the virtual life I saw around me. Now that I am living in a third world country, just like Linh, my sanity is restored because – despite the considerable Americanization of popular culture, people live real lives with real issues and concerns, easier to warm up to and relate to. It was truly refreshing to chat on real life issues and not the virtual world of showbiz. I don’t know if this clearly explains what I mean to convey, fully cognizant of my shortcomings in my writing skills, in contrast to the hugely talented Mr. Dinh. In spite of the inferior services offered here compared to the US, like Mr. Dinh, there’s no chance of my squandering what’s left of my retirement life by returning to the States.

  24. Anonymous[360] • Disclaimer says:
    @Patricus

    I agree with what you say, Patricus. Unfortunately, Linh Dinh picked up the Howard Zinn view of America somewhere along the way, and it has clouded his understanding of our country. That doesn’t take away from the fact that he is an interesting writer who rewards the reader who spends time with him.
    Regarding “Easy Rider” as a portrait of America in the 1960s, my father rode his BSA motorcycle from coast to coast during a high school summer vacation and had a great time, never refused accommodations at restaurant, campground or motel, and never got beat up or hassled by the cops. Of course, he wasn’t running drugs, he was just indulging in that wonderful adventure, the great American road trip.

  25. @follyofwar

    Hopper and Fonda came off as losers to me.

    They did a cocaine deal and then rode around stoned.

    In the South, they got the farewell message from some people who did not want them hanging around in a hick town.

    They persisted in hanging around and the lawyer accompanying them was killed.

    They went to a brothel (The only lively performance was from Karen Black, Nicholson’s old muse) and did acid with some hookers in a graveyard.

    They continue hanging around until some hicks blow them away.

    I just never saw the martyrdom in Fonda or Hopper, whose life was an anti-drug warning (He became sober in his fifties).

    Maybe you have to be a Boomer to appreciate this film. It was made five years before I was born.

  26. anonymous[245] • Disclaimer says:
    @alex in San Jose AKA Digital Detroit

    Why not submit your life story for publication as an article? I promise not to submit any irrelevant comments.

    Linh Dinh or our host should ask “Alex,” “Jeff” et al to move out of what has become their expatriate chat room.

    • Replies: @Jeff Stryker
    , @Republic
  27. @alex in San Jose AKA Digital Detroit

    Let me give you a chronology of my life as young American prior to living in India and Asia (Where my water is out of sinks and not potable):

    [MORE]

    1990 I’m sixteen and living an ordinary middle-class youth in Ann Arbor. My father is a scientist and earns $50,000 a year. I enjoyed a privileged childhood. I attend a private Catholic school. We visit Europe in the summers, Bahamas in the summer. I am a fairly good athlete. But my father has been having a number of affairs and has a mistress out of town. I come from a bit of money. My paternal grandfather was a German immigrant cabinet maker who owned a profitable lumber company at one time. My maternal grandfather, also a German-American, was a geologist who discovered a mineral. Both my parents are comfortable middle class. I receive a $200 a month allowance beginning at age 14. My life is relatively idyllic in the Bush 1 era as a teenager. I am noted wrestler and judo practitioner with a pretty girlfriend, when I’m sixteen I take her to Orlando. I’m fairly spoiled-have my own car at 16.

    1991 My parents sell our house in the Ann Arbor suburbs in finalization of bad divorce when I’m 17 due to my father’s infidelities. Both parents move out of state. Sort of as an afterthought, I am sent to live in a scruffy-though white-neighborhood in a better part of Greater Detroit with my grandmother and attend high school in a rougher area. I get by and graduate, but there are a few scrapes. Minor ones. However, I befriend a teenager name Jonah who will become a professional photographer and this saves my life years later. My brother’s younger sister is an old hippie who is 40 and moved back in with my grandmother when my grandfather died. Ostensibly, to look after my grandmother in retirement. But fundamentally, because she was a hippie who woke up one day at 40 with nowhere to go and no money saved. As a result, she and my grandmother are not that thrilled that my father divorced my mother, sold his house, moved out of state and left his teen son to live with them. My grandmother makes it clear that as soon as I graduate from high school I have to move out.

    1992-1993 I attend Wayne State Community College age 19. My grandmother has made it clear I cannot live in her condominium after high school as she is not interested in taking up the slack for her son’s bad divorce and the fact that he sold the house and moved to DC for a job with Department of Agriculture. I live in the campus dorms. There is racial tension on campus, though I avoid it. A black rapist is loose on campus, raping white co-eds. There is a fair amount of crime on campus. Usually black robbing or assaulting whites.

    1993 I’m accepted to Central Michigan University. My parents had agreed the proceeds from the sale of the house would go to mine and my brother’s tuition. Initially, I’m much safer in the dormitories of Central Michigan because it is located in rural Michigan. First two years of college are uneventful.

    1994 My dorm roommate Stanley is a Polish football player and advertising major from Flint, Michigan. He tells me, rather proudly, that he impregnated a Polish-American neighborhood girl named Olga and is going to be having a baby so he is dropping out of college and returning to Flint. I privately think he has made a mistake to father a child and drop out of college but I say nothing, as Stanley is proud.

    1995 Spring I have a problem with a local hick at an off-campus job. His name is Butch and his is 52 and did time for arson. Butch objects to the way I hold the ladder. I’m not afraid of Butch, but I realize that I dislike the local uneducated hicks and quit the job. I resolve to work on campus.

    1995 Fall My problems begin after I move out of the dorms. I meet a roommate named Mike at the student library bulletin board and we become roommates off-campus. Mike is a business student who turns out to be a small-time cannabis and acid dealer. We argue, and my name is on the lease so I kick him out. It is a wise decision, as a month later Mike is busted in his new apartment and his roommate-an ROTC Marine with a promising future and officer’s commission also has his life ruined by the pot bust. Marijuana is extremely popular in US colleges in the 90’s and in the days before decriminalization many a college kid doing some dealing had their future wrecked.

    1995 Fall Tanya is a 20 year old Biology student I work in the Student Union cafeteria with. Her boyfriend is a white trash hood named Scott who works moving furniture and is already on the run from child support because he fathered a child at 19. Against some advice from acquaintances, Tanya and Scott move into my apartment with their pit bull. I am desperate. I need roommates to share rent. I’m only 21 years old.

    1995 I assist Scott in moving his furniture into my apartment. Scott lives in a trailer with his mother, who is in her forties and smokes pot all day. Scott’s mother comes on to me. “Careful, my Mom is a pervert!” Scott warns me.

    1995 Winter Tanya invites over “Scary Larry”, a 32 year old effete whose parents own an antique store who lives the off-campus apartment. While smoking marijuana, Larry is bitten by Scott and Tanya’s pit-bull while visiting them in our apartment. As a result, we are evicted from our apartment. The landlord, who is notorious for hating college-age renters, wants no trouble as Larry is threatening to sue. Scott knows Larry and retaliates by informing Larry’s probation officer than Larry is driving on a suspended license. Larry drops the lawsuit against us (Including me as my name was on the lease) as a result. I later read in the local newspaper that Larry has been sentenced to prison for having sex with a 14 year old boy.

    1996 Fall Working off campus in a Big Boy diner busing tables, I have more bad experiences with local employees. The worst is a white trash cook named Bonnie. She hates college kids. When my girlfriend comes in looking for me after one shift, she shout at my college girlfriend. I quit hurriedly, vowing to never again work off-campus. For the first time I notice that local hicks are heavily involved in meth, a drug I had not heard of up to that point (Ann Arbor is a white-collar high median income city where cocaine is not unheard of but meth is).

    1997 One night, off campus, I am followed by local yokels while leaving a fraternity party. The townies are homophobic and, for whatever reason, mistake me for a gay. I’m more bewildered than scared and merely walk into my off-campus apartment. However, I’m tired of the “towns and gowns” BS between students and local yokel hicks. I decide to move back on-campus my senior year into a dorm.

    1997 Summer Break, Detroit. I’m with a friend named Mike who has just been discharged from the Navy. We are walking home from a college bar and are picked up by Ann Arbor police for fitting the description of two burglars. We spend eight hours in the police station until the investigating officers determine they have the wrong suspects and turn us loose. I return to my grandmother’s condo and I’m told by her that at the age of 74 she doesn’t want a grown man who has adult problems like being picked up by police for suspected burglary (Though we are released without charge) living in her house, job or not. I spend the rest of my summer with my family in California.

    1997 Fall It is a letdown returning to Michigan after a wonderful summer in California swimming on the beach. I move back into the dorms. Its difficult, really. I’m 23 now and roommates are fresh out of high school. I hear from a mutual female acquaintance of Tanya’s who works in the dorms named Brandy who tells me that Scott moved to Detroit and was at a raucous house party and was being beaten up and stabbed his assailant 6 times with a concealed knife. Scott was sentenced to 3 years in prison. But Tanya is already pregnant with his child.

    1998 I’m living off-campus again at Forum Apartments. My neighbor, Jason, is a 21 year old stoner (There were many of them in the 90’s) who blasts the music and gets drunk every night and fights with other college friends. Now 24, I’m tired of the moronic campus antics. I request my diploma in the mail and move to Arizona using my Visa card. I sell my 10 year old Dodge, the last vestige of spoiled middle-class youth.

    1998 Summer I find a job in Phoenix and a low-rent apartment complex by-the-month. It is all I can afford. The complex is filled with the white urban underclass and a few blacks. I get to know some of their sad stories. I befriend Michelle, an overwrought hard-working white woman of 25, is living with her single daughter Madison aged six. When Michelle was 19, an older man named Tony got her pregnant. They did not marry and he abandoned her after impregnating a stripper. Currently, Michelle has to attend court as a witness because her own father is a pervert who molested Madison’s classmate at his granddaughters sixth birthday.

    1998 Summer I’m riding with John, a new friend from work, when a white trash tow trucker rear-ends us at red light. Thankfully, we are not injured, but John’s Toyota is damaged. The tow truck driver is a big man named Troy and obviously steaming drunk. Its my first experience with Phoenix’s unfettered urban white underclass.

    1998 Fall While riding the bus, a homeless young white tweaker named Jake begins to follow me around. Jake is homeless and living on the couch of a fellow tenant in the apartment complex. Jake is druggie of nineteen years kicked out by his mother for refusing to get a job and for some reason he takes an interest in me, following me around the apartment complex. Jake has no job, no money, nothing to do. Whenever I return home from work, Jake pesters me. I don’t really know why.

    1998 Fall A black pimp named Zosa lives a few doors down and one of his girls bangs on my door and asks to use my phone to call a taxi. I allow her in and she does so and leaves. Zosa comes by my apartment the next day with a hulking black enforcer type. He accuses me of “messing with his business” because now he has to find his prostitute. Somehow, I talk my way out of it and give him and his enforcer an expensive bottle of French wine I received as a college graduation present.

    1998 Fall Two of the tweakers Jake stays with bang on my door. One tweaker was arrested at his gas station job for meth and the tweakers are convinced because of my fit, clean-cut appearance that “I am a narc”. The tweakers force their way in, one of the tweakers armed with a hammer. What saves me is are the Ann Arbor police, ironically, from when I was held without charge for the burglary the summer in 1997. I show the tweakers the paperwork and the tweakers I’m not an undercover cop and leave. I resolve to move from the apartment complex.

    1998 Winter I move into a Tempe apartment. I’ve made a friend at work named John and he helps me move. He is sympathetic about my situation. As John and I are packing my things, Jake approaches us grinning moronically. Jake even leans into the car window still grinning his drugged-out tweaker grin. “I’m tweaking” Jake says solemnly to us as he leans through the window. John reverses disgustedly out of the apartment complex and I never go there again.

    1998 Winter The next day I return to my former apartment to collect the rest of my things. My clothes, my kitchen appliances and a few pieces of furniture have been stolen. A window in my apartment is broken. I know immediately Jake and the other tweakers damaged my apartment breaking in to steal my things when they saw me moving out. I move to Tempe and hope my former slumlord will be satisfied with keeping my security deposit.

    Christmas 1998-1999 One of my friends from work, Benton, invites me to his hometown of Flagstaff for Christmas. His mother is nice but they are dealing with a huge problem-Benton’s older brother is a meth addict. He was a former US army soldier and restaurant manager who discovered crystal meth and spun out of control. He has come by for Christmas to visit and on his way out he steals the Xerox machine. Benton later tells me he was arrested for possession of an ounce of methamphetamine and sentenced to prison. Meth seems to have hit the Southwest in a major way and is ravaging blue-collar lower middle class and working class whites. Tweakers are everywhere now, on buses and on street corners. Panhandling aggressively etc.

    1999 Early Spring I am safer in Tempe. But our condominium is adjacent to the Guadalupe barrio, which is the stalking ground of Brown Pride, a local Phoenix gang. One day, I’m at the bus stop and Brown Pride gang members approach me glaring. “I don’t like this guy,” one Cholo says. The bus pulls over and I am saved from potential serious injury. I get on the bus and one of the Mexican passengers who saw the near-confrontation says to me “Those are bad guys”. I ask them who they are. The Mexican passenger, an AC mechanic, tells me that the Brown Pride leader is Ray. Ray recently was released from prison after 10 years and is a PCP addict who often randomly assaults people. I make a mental note to avoid that bus stop.

    1999 Spring My friend Jonah is employed in Dubai as a photographer. He calls me just to see how I am and hearing my depression, offers me a job in Dubai. He is living here with his French girlfriend and is a photographer for a publication. He says I can live in his spare room.

    1999 Spring I take up nude modeling for art classes for extra money. I’m in very good athletic shape from my college gym days, and well-paid. I need $3000 for Dubai to start out, though I have a job there when I arrive.

    1999 Spring I am walking to Circle K for cigarettes. I am tense now and smoking like a fiend, a pack a day. A black man bumps into me rudely in the parking lot and jumps in his car and drives away screeching. So I enter the gas station and the clerk is hysterical. The black man who bumped me exiting the Circle K had just robbed it with an Uzi 9 mm.

    1999 Spring I call Jonah up and inform him I’ll accept the job in Dubai immediately. I begin to liquidate-selling my mountain bike, television etc. I submit my resignation.

    1999 Spring One of the local whiggers in my condo is Zeke, who is half Russian Jewish on his mother’s side and half white on his father’s side. He is a moron who works as a telemarketer and tags the building with graffiti on his off-hours. Zeke is 20 years old. Like Jake the tweaker, he begins to follow me around, bursting into rap lyrics. Zeke seriously annoys me. We don’t work together, but I know him because he is always outside his apartment with his roommates at night passing a blunt.

    1999 Spring I sell everything and book my flight out of LAX to Dubai. The last week I’m in the apartment complex Zeke finally gets on my nerves. Zeke bursts into a rap and I look away in disgust and Zeke shouts “Don’t ignore me Nigga! I’m a WEST COAST HOMEBOY!” I realize how eager I am to leave Phoenix. US urban society seems to be headed downhill.

    1999 June John drives me to Los Angeles, where he visits a girlfriend. I am picked up by my brother. My cousin is graduating from college and is going to Law School. His father is a California Supreme Court State judge-the younger brother of my own father. For a week, I live in luxury. My cousin M is still in high school and we ride around his town. Wistfully, I reflect on my lost youth and my own teenage years when I was middle-class comfortably living in the suburbs. One thing I notice when go into the bad side of town to eat some Mexican food is how many tweakers there are. Poor white girls are on the street. Meth seems to have hit the West Coast in a major way.

    1999 Summer I move to Dubai

    2002 Jonah marries an Australian woman and moves there. I visit Oz. It is much nicer than America. I’m amazed at how much nicer many countries in Europe or the British ex-colonies seem to be. There is none of the white trash poverty I experienced in the US.

    2005 I get in touch with Stanley on social media. He still lives in Flint and his life is now a nightmare. His property is worth nothing and he cannot afford to move from Flint because he has no house of value to sell. His neighborhood is a gang-infested crack house. He was shot. I feel grateful that I live in Dubai and left Southeast Michigan.

    2007 My grandmother moves into a nursing home and her condominium is sold. Her Detroit neighborhood has gone far downhill. The white immigrant retirees like my grandparents have been replaced by black families and the condo is now a step up from Section 8. My brother tells me that they sold it hurriedly for 70 K. And they were lucky to get that. My brother’s younger sister, now an indigent 54 year old loser hippie who has not held a job in years besides looking after her mother, inherits it all and purchases a trailer in California.

    2007 I return to Los Angeles from Dubai on business. Its a hellish week. I stay in a Motel 6. During the Bush years post-911 the economy has gone downhill and more people are poor. Homeless are everywhere. Perhaps because this is Los Angeles. A large black man, obviously an unemployed bum and obviously crazy, follows me down the street shouting obscenities. It reminds me of Ray the Cholo at the Phoenix bus stop years earlier. I’m glad to return overseas.

    • Replies: @Commentator Mike
  28. Biff says:
    @Patricus

    Those who read Mr. Dinh’s work might think the country is on the brink of collapse.

    At the moment of this writing there’s probably millions who think the same…

  29. @Patricus

    There have always been skid rows and seedy places.

    Yes, there was always Skid Row!

  30. @anonymous

    …But this article is about expatriates and we are people who live/work overseas.

    Mr. Linh is an expatriate and his articles are generally about expat life.

    We can relate to expat life. Heck, I’ve been in some of the countries Mr. Linh has been.

    • Replies: @anonymous
  31. @Jeff Stryker

    Jeff,

    I remember one time, a long long time ago, when I was in a bar in San Francisco and the white bartender was telling me that he was dreaming of moving to LA for the 3Ss: sun, sex, and snow. I hadn’t noticed a shortage of snow in SF as there was a black guy in a doorways across the road from the bar openly displaying vials of crack cocaine as I walked past. But maybe the sex in SF wasn’t to his liking. I was in a taxi with some tourist girls one night and it was packed outside with streetwalkers in their minis, so one of the girls commented: “wow, so many beautiful girls” but the driver turned around saying “they’re not girls”. When I went to LA many years later I’d seen more potholes and homeless on Hollywood Boulevard, as soon as you walked away from the stars in the pavement, than in some third world countries. And the faces on the crowded subway were so miserable, even the Latinos lost their usual colour and smiles. What a crap city. Our world is changing evermore, everywhere. It’s depressing reading about this virus that’s gone viral and will remain viral for so long – better go back to listening to old tunes on you tube – may even get around to Neil Young’s “Changes”.

    • Replies: @Jeff Stryker
  32. @Patricus

    I remember Easy Rider. That was the trash of another era and had no relevance to the lives of most Americans of that time (I know because I lived here). It was another caricature like the works of Tarantino.

    There are people who have not the eyes to see nor the ears to hear. You have to have the capacity/faculty to appreciate art, otherwise you’re response/reaction to a fugue by Bach is that of a dog or a cat.

    There are movies that capture/represent a slice of life that is alien territory to you even though you may have physically/temporally lived there. That alien territory is something that offends and repulses you but for others is a source of curiosity.

    And when you make a statement such as “everyone in my family” you fall into the fallacy of composition, your touchstone is curtailed and limited.

    Lastly your assertion that “Each generation is better off than the last” is patently/objectively false, though in the past that has tended to be true, just not any longer.

  33. Republic says:
    @anonymous

    Your are correct about JS,he just posted his resume/CV,he forgot to include his emailmail,telephone number and street address!
    Next time he should include those missing items

  34. @Commentator Mike

    Skid Row reminds of a time when even underclass youth had a father who worked and owned a house and young boys of 18 could leave home and get a job.

    I was 15 when that song was released and can still hear my school friends jeering “Ricky was a young boy…..”

    Today, Ricky would be gay and living with his single mother on welfare. He’d be covered in tattoos and instead of the defiant proud working class white outfit of the eighties-Def Leppard hairstyle, tight jeans, muscle shirt, cowboy boots-he’d be wearing sagging pants and acting black. His drug of choice would be Spice or Opoids instead of the JD and weed.

    In all fairness, UK has its rough patches. I’ve seen them. Soho, for example. Though nowadays, Soho is kinda gentrified like Times Square and maybe Disney moved in.

    UK has its share of rough sleepers as well.

  35. The writings on YouTube lectures by Thomas Dalrymple are most enlightening with regard to the British underclass. His seminal work is the book “Life At The Bottom”.

  36. anonymous[245] • Disclaimer says:
    @Jeff Stryker

    Baloney. The article is not about expatriates. It is about the cultural Americanization of other countries, particularly in Asia.

    Linh Dinh’s insights are informed by his living in various places, but he seldom writes about himself, even less so as an expatriate. You and your ilk here, though, do nothing but, as exemplified in your biography above that hadn’t even appeared when I replied to “Alex.”

    To LD and/or moderator: please rein in these bores “Jeff” and “Alex.” They are driving out the relevant commentary.

  37. @Dumbo

    After 4 solid years of living outside the US, in over 50 countries, I’d have to say that the interest in American culture is fading fast.

    From Almaty to Yangon, young people:

    –listen to Korean music, watch Korean dramas, pirate Indian or Chinese action films. There’s still a global audience for ‘cape-shit’ (Marvel) but as they push a #Metoo safespace agenda the audience drops off

    –lust after either swarthy, Africanized men of Nubian or Arab descent or permanently-prepubescent makeup-gobbed idols from Korea with permed hair and questionable genitalia

    –use Japanese (Line) or Chinese (Tiktop, WeChat) apps, spend their savings on sticker collections with cute 2d avatars in the Asian style

    –eat Sichuan, Korean, Mexican foods; burgers and pizza, neither truly American, are the last redoubt of the bloated American gastro-sphere

    –follow stylish Instagram tastemakers from Australia or Denmark and aspire to a ‘hygge’ life, not the Orange County housewife’s

    –cheer on British or Italian or Spanish soccer teams: watching African Americans in spandex grope each-other on a football field for 2 minutes out of every 20 seems pointless and creepy

    –twerk like welfare queens (ok, this is probably the last remaining American cultural contribution of the decade)

    TGI Friday’s and similar will be a curious cultural relic to the Zoomers: from an era when the world looked to the US for anything aside for an example of what not to do.

    • Replies: @Jeff Stryker
  38. @Loremipsum

    I’ve been overseas for nearly 21 of my 46 years and America stopped being the envy of the world in the year 2000 when Bush was elected.

    Even before his wars, Bush was simply detested by the rest of the world. Despised. I first moved overseas and found employment at the waning end of the sleazy Clinton era and something about his image appealed to the rest of the world, even if he was sleaze and conniving. Clinton was passably good-looking, erudite, wordly, a Rhode Scholar. Bush was none of these things.

    There was a deeper meaning there at the time, and I was young and overseas so it was part of my horizon then. The GOP who elected Bush were hicks, middle-Americans, exurban and rural, untraveled, personifying everything that Europeans disliked about lower class or middle class Americans.

    Clinton had been erudite, internationally-focused (Though a domestic president), disinterested in wars, and charming. Bush was none of these things. He fulfilled the hated image of the gauche cowboy and not the international lounge lizard.

    The Bush era saw the economic decline of the US. All of the sudden, portraits of homeless Americans and Opoid addicts choking the roads replaced the prosperity and wealth.

    All of this added up to a country the rest of the world no longer wanted to emulate.

  39. Richard B says:
    @alex in San Jose AKA Digital Detroit

    “Let’s Get Lost” where Chet, dismayed, looks at the interviewer and says he doesn’t know why his kids aren’t doing great in the world

    Well, a self-absorbed junkie would say that.

    But you don’t have to be an addict to be a clueless parent.

    Clueless parents are everywhere. Literally everywhere.

    Whether it’s from willful ignorance, mental blindness, or brain damage, the result is the same.

    Depraved Indifference toward any culture’s most precious resource – it’s children.

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